7 April 14 | Chad W. Post | Comments

Following on the post about Amanda Michalopoulou’s upcoming events, here’s a list of all three Reading the World Conversation Series events taking place this month.

Women in Translation
Thursday, April 10th, 6pm

Welles-Brown Room
Rush Rhees Library
University of Rochester
Rochester, NY 14627

A conversation and reading with Bulgarian authors Albena Stambolova (Everything Happens as It Does) and Virginia Zaharieva (Nine Rabbits), and Danish author Iben Mondrup (Justine, forthcoming from Open Letter in 2016) and translator Kerri Pierce to discuss their writing and careers—both in their home countries and abroad.

Radical Politics and BFFs
Tuesday, April 15th, 6pm

Gowen Room
Wilson Commons
University of Rochester
Rochester, NY 14627

A conversation and reading with Greek author Amanda Michalopoulou and translator Karen Emmerich as they read and discuss Amanda’s Why I Killed My Best Friend.

“Flawlessly translated, Amanda Michalopoulou’s WIKMBF uses the backdrop of Greek politics, radical protests, and the art world to explore the dangers and joys that come with BFFs. Or, as the narrator puts it, ‘odiosamato,’ which translates roughly as ‘frienemies.’” –Gary Shteyngart

Latin American Literature Today
Tuesday, April 22nd, 6pm

Gowen Room
Wilson Commons
University of Rochester
Rochester, NY 14627

A conversation with two of the authors included in Granta Magazine’s “Best Young Spanish-language Novelists” issue—Andrés Neuman (Traveler of the Century, Talking to Ourselves) and Carlos Labbé (Navidad & Matanza, Loquela), and translator and University of Rochester alum Will Vanderhyden, on their latest words and current trends in Latin American Literature.

10 September 13 | Chad W. Post | Comments

I’m proud to announce that we have two great events lined up for this fall’s iteration of our annual Reading the World Conversation Series, which all of you should fly into Rochester to attend.

A Conversation with Jean-Marie Blas de Roblès

Tuesday, September 24th, 6:00pm
Welles-Brown Room, Rush Rhees Library

Publishers Weekly had this to say about Where Tigers Are at Home, the Winner of the prestigious Prix Médicis: “Blas de Roblès simultaneously channels Umberto Eco, Indiana Jones, and Jorge Amado . . . what begins as a faux metabiography turns to picaresque adventure with erotic escapades, scams, and unexpected changes of fortune.”

Come here Open Letter Books director Chad W. Post talk with Jean-Marie Blas de Roblès about his novel, about Athanasius Kircher—the bizarre, almost always wrong 17th century philosopher at the center of the book—and about Blas de Roblès’s time teaching French literature and philosophy in Brazil, China, Italy, and Taiwan.

*

A Conversation with Simon Fruelund

Tuesday, October 1st, 6:00pm
Welles-Brown Room, Rush Rhees Library

Simon Fruelund, the former editor at Gyldendal, Denmark’s largest publishing house, has burst onto the international literary scene with the publication of two books in English translations this year—_Milk and Other Stories_ and Civil Twilight—both of which have received great critical praise. As Alan Cheuse of NPR stated, “Fruelund is a master of the short form, importing some designs from our own Raymond Carver, applying them to the interstices of the European everyday, and making them his own. The title story is a masterpiece in miniature.”

His translator, K.E. Semmel, recipient of a Danish Arts Council grant and inveterate St. Louis Cardinals fan, will discuss Fruelund’s work with him, touching on issues of translation and trends in Nordic literature as a whole.

29 October 12 | Chad W. Post | Comments

This should be pretty obvious, but we’ve had to cancel Tuesday’s RTWCS: Ledig House Event.

Hopefully we’ll be able to do something with them in the spring. In the meantime, stay dry, everyone!

26 October 12 | Chad W. Post | Comments

Next Tuesday we’re going to be hosting the second event of this year’s Reading the World Conversation Series—our annual event featuring four authors currently in residence at the Ledig House.

As one of—if not the—only residencies in the U.S. dedicated to international writing and literature, the Ledig House brings dozens of fantastic writers and translators to Omi, NY every year. It’s a gorgeous space, serving an excellent mission, and I’m really thankful that D.W. Gibson helps arrange this event every year so that we can help bring some extra attention to a few of the writers staying there.

Bios for the four authors involved in this year’s event can be found below, but just so I don’t bury the lede, here’s all the details about the event itself:

RTWCS: Ledig House Event
Tuesday, October 30th
6:00pm
Welles-Brown Room, Rush Rhees Library
University of Rochester

OK, and here are this year’s participants, each of whom will read a short bit of their work and then answer a few questions:

Saskya Jain
(India/Germany, Fiction/Translation)

Saskya was raised in New Delhi by a German mother and Indian father. Educated at Berlin’s Free University and Columbia University, she holds an MFA in Fiction from Boston University, where she was the recipient of the Florence Engel Randall Award for Fiction and the Robert Pinsky Global Fellowship for travel to Iran. Her writing has appeared in Literary Imagination, Hyphen Magazine and The Baffler. Saskya is currently at work on her first novel.

F.G. (Francisco) Haghenbeck
(Mexico, Fiction)

Francisco was born in Mexico City and has worked as an architect, museum designer, freelance editor, and TV producer. He currently works full time writing novels and editing historical and comic books. Two of his books are available in English: Bitter Drink (AmazonCrossing) and _The Secret Book of Frida Kahlo (Atria). He loves eating his wife’s gourmet food, drinking cocktails, reading the noir novels of Raymond Chandler and, watching cartoons with his daughter, Arantza.

Andrés Felipe Solano
(Colombia, Fiction)

Andrés has published the novel Sálvame, Joe Louis, and has worked as features editor for SoHo Magazine. In 2007, he lived in Medellin, Colombia, where he rented a room in a notoriously violent neighborhood and worked in a factory for six months. Based on this experience, he wrote Seis meses con el salario mínimo, finalist for the prize awarded by the FNPI, chaired by Gabriel García Márquez. In 2010 Granta included him in their list of The Best of Young Spanish-Language Novelists. He is working on his second novel, The Cuervo Brothers.

Amanda Curtin
(Australia, Fiction)

Amanda’s first novel, The Sinkings, was published by UWA Publishing in 2008, followed by a short fiction collection, Inherited, in 2011. She has been awarded residencies at the Tasmanian Writers Centre (Australia), Hawthornden Castle (Scotland) and the Tyrone Guthrie Centre (Ireland). Amanda is an Adjunct Lecturer at Edith Cowan University in Perth. At Writers Omi, she will be working on a novella project.

And for all you Facebook users, you can find this event here where you can invite all your friends, etc.

Hope to see you there on Tuesday!

6 April 12 | Chad W. Post | Comments

With only one book left to cover, we’re reaching the end of the “25 Days of the BTBA” series, which means that the announcement of the finalists is right around the corner. Literally.

Next Tuesday, April 10th, fiction panelists Jeff Waxman will be here in Rochester for a special Reading the World Conversation Series event, during which he’ll reveal the BTBA finalists in poetry and fiction.

Before he unveils the shortlists (which will also be posted here as soon as he reads them off), we’ll talk about the evolution of the award, the role of the BTBA in general book culture landscape, how the panel came to make its decisions, and so on. Seeing that Jeff works at the University of Chicago Press and 57th St. Books, he has a unique perspective on literary awards and promoting international literature.

Following our talk and the unveiling of the finalists, we’ll read a few pages from a few of my favorite titles on the list. (We don’t have enough time to read from all of them—anyone want to camp out in the Welles-Brown room?—but we want to at least highlight a few of the books in a special way.)

(NOTE: Cover images on this were chosen randomly by Nate for design purposes only. Read nothing into this. And having the list in front of me, I can only reiterate—read nothing into this poster.)

Also, this means that over the three weeks building up to the celebration of the two winners—which will take place on Friday, May 4th at 6pm at McNally Jackson Books during the PEN World Voices Festival—we will be highlighting all of the poetry finalists and running short excerpts from the ten fiction finalists. Which means you have almost one more month of BTBA stuff to look forward to . . .

29 March 12 | Chad W. Post | Comments

A couple weeks ago, Ben Moser was in town for the unfortunately acronymed NeMLA conference. We took advantage of this to host a special RTWCS event to talk to Ben about his biography of Lispector (Why This World, Oxford University Press), his new translation of The Hour of the Star, and the four Lispector books he’s editing for New Directions.

The results were pretty entertaining, in part because Ben (who is also a contributing editor to Harper’s and on the board of the National Book Critics Circle) is so damn entertaining, and in part because Lispector is one of the most interesting literary figures of this past century.

17 February 12 | Chad W. Post | Comments

OK, this took place a few months back, but because of Apple updates, program incompatibilities, forgetfulness, and other excuses Nate generated, it took until now to produce the video from the Reading the World Conversation Series event with Sergio Chejfec and Margaret Carson, and moderated by E.J. Van Lanen.

Sergio’s My Two Worlds came out last summer to a good deal of critical acclaim. And Margaret’s translation was hailed by Publishers Weekly as “magnificent” and “should be treated as a significant event.”

For fans of Chejfec, we’re bringing out his next book, The Planets, this June . . . You can preorder by clicking here, or you could simply but an Open Letter subscription and get this, Children in Reindeer Woods, My First Suicide and more . . . (End promotional plug.)

28 November 11 | N. J. Furl | Comments



Our second (and final!) Reading the World Conversation Series event of the fall is happening in just a few days. As always, it’s taking place in Rochester, NY. So, if you’re in the area, you’d better check it out—lest all your friends go without you and bond intimately over the great time they all had (true story).

Here are the rousing details:


Reading the World Conversation Series:
Sergio Chejfec & Margaret B. Carson

DECEMBER 1, 2011
Thursday, 6:00 p.m
Plutzik Library in Rare Books & Special Collections
Rush Rhees Library, University of Rochester
(Free and open to the public.)

Sergio Chejfec is the author of a dozen books, three of which are coming out from Open Letter Books: My Two Worlds (available now), The Planets (2012), and The Dark (2013). Spanish author Enrique Vila-Matas singled out My Two Worlds as one of the “best books of the year.” The English edition has been universally praised, with Publishers Weekly saying Margaret B. Carson’s “magnificent translation” should be “treated as a significant event.”

My Two Worlds is a novel about an author walking through a city in the South of Brazil. As he wanders, this unnamed narrator thinks about his walk, about his new book (which isn’t getting very good reviews), and about his life (his birthday is a few days away).

Chejfec and Carson will discuss this novel, literature, and the process of translation.

(Sponsored by The Dept. of Rare Books, Special Collections & Preservation)

Visit this event on Facebook
Or over at the Open Letter site

(This event is presented by Open Letter and University of Rochester Arts & Sciences. It is supported in part by the National Endowment for the Arts and the New York State Council on the Arts.)

25 October 11 | Chad W. Post | Comments

If you’re in the Rochester area, you should definitely come out for tonight’s Reading the World Conversation Series event. This is the first one of the 2011-12 season (which may actually be the last season due to lack of funding—another story for another post) and will feature four writers and translators who are currently staying at the Ledig House in Omi, NY.

Specifically, the four guests we have here tonight are:

  • Chika Unigwe, the author of the critically acclaimed On Black Sisters Street, a novel about four women who left their African homeland to work the red light district in Antwerp, and have their lives irrevocably altered when one of them is murdered;
  • Francesc Seres, the author of the trilogy, On Manure and Marble, about farmers in the western part of Catalonia and the changes that have occurred over the past decades. He’ll actually be reading “Elvis Presley Sings in Red Square,” which is part of the forthcoming Russian Stories, a collection featuring five invented Russian authors;
  • Mads Mygind, a Danish poet whose debut poetry collection—For vi har set os omkring—came out this past February to critical acclaim. In addition to writing poetry, Mags founded “Verbal Pupils,” an annual poetry festival; and
  • Anna Mioni, a translator from English into Italian, who will read from her translation of Tom McCarthy’s C and talk about the Italian Translators Union, which she helped found.

The event starts at 6pm and will take place in the Welles-Brown room in Rush Rhees Library here at the University of Rochester.

7 June 11 | Chad W. Post | Comments

As part of this week’s Read This Next focus on Tyrant Memory, here’s a link to the recording of Horacio Castellanos Moya’s appearance here in Rochester.

This took place last year, so it predates Tyrant Memory, but touches on some similar themes and is one of the best RTWCS events we’ve put on. (In my opinion.)

Enjoy, and check in tomorrow for a written interview with Horacio about the new book . . .

9 May 11 | Chad W. Post | Comments

A couple weeks back we held our final Reading the World Conversation Series event of the season, featuring Thomas Pletzinger (author of Funeral for a Dog) and German translator Ross Benjamin (translator of Funeral for a Dog, Roth’s Job, and others).

The event was really interesting—Thomas and Ross have a great rapport—and was punctuated by a pillow fight turned thunderstorm in the middle . . . Which is only the third reading of Thomas’s that got a little crazy. First there was a group of streakers in the library. Then an audience member passed out due to the queasily detailed section he read (she broke her jaw). And now, Rochester brings soaked students pounding each other with wet pillows. Yes.

11 April 11 | N. J. Furl | Comments



As mentioned in the previous post, our second RTW event of the spring is almost upon us, and it’s happening this Wednesday, April 13, at the University of Rochester. All the breathtaking details follow below.


Reading the World Conversation Series
Piotr Sommer & Bill Martin:
Polish Poetry and Translation

APRIL 13, 2011
Wednesday, 7:30 p.m
Sloan Auditorium, Goergen Hall
University of Rochester
(Presented with the Skalny Center.
Free and open to the public)

What translates and what doesn’t in contemporary poetry? What are mutual inspirations of Polish and Anglo-American poetry today? This event will feature a poetry reading by Piotr Sommer, followed by a conversation between Piotr Sommer and Bill Martin.

Piotr Sommer, preeminent Polish poet and Visiting Professor at the Skalny Center for Polish and Central European Studies, has published several dozen books, including poetry, literary criticism, and anthologies. He is also a well-known translator of contemporary English-language poets and is the editor of Literatura na Świecie (World Literature), a Warsaw-based magazine of international writing.

Bill Martin, former Literary Program Manager at the Polish Cultural Institute, was responsible for the “Polish Literature” issue of the Chicago Review, which marked the first English publication for dozens of Polish writers. His translations from Polish and German include Natasza Goerke’s Farewells to Plasma and Erich Kästner’s Emil and the Detectives.

Visit this event on Facebook.

(This event is presented by the Skalny Center for Polish & Central European Studies at the University of Rochester and hosted by Open Letter and University of Rochester Arts & Sciences. It is supported in part by the National Endowment for the Arts and the New York State Council on the Arts.)

17 November 10 | Chad W. Post | Comments [2]

It’s taken us a while, but below is the first of three recordings from this season’s Reading the World Conversation Series. (It’s been suggested that we change this to the Reading Around the World, so that the acronym would be RAWCuS . . . Not bad, not bad.)

This was actually the second event of the season, featuring Steve Dolph (translator of Juan Jose Saer’s The Sixty-Five Years of Washington and the founder of CALQUE)and Yana Genova from the NextPage Foundation in Bulgaria. It was a very interesting conversation, with Steve talking about how he became a translator, and Yana discussing translation trends and issues in “Eastern” Europe.

Check it all out here:

8 November 10 | Chad W. Post | Comments

Our next Reading the World Conversation Series event takes place tomorrow and features four international authors currently at the Ledig House, a wonderful residency program for international writers.

The event takes place at 6 p.m. in the Hawkins-Carlson room in University of Rochester’s Rush Rhees library. Totally free, totally open to the public, and totally entertaining. All the details can also be found on this Facebook event page.

And yes—we will record these readings and hopefully at some point Nate and/or E.J. will do that magic editing stuff so that I can link to them here . . . (Actually, we should be able to make all three RTWCS fall events available early next week.)

Here are the bios of the four people who will be reading and talking here tomorrow night:

Susana García Iglesias (Mexico, Fiction)

Born in Mexico City’s historic center, Susana a is the inaugural recipient of the Aura Estrada Prize, which she won for her fiction submission, Barracuda. It was praised by jury president Margo Glantz for “the enormous force and charisma of a risk-taking writing whose fury ignites like pyromania.” Susana has worked as a bartender and dog stylist; her interests include: mixology, photography, old cars, high speed, rock and roll, and literature.

Nir Baram (Israel, Fiction/Nonfiction)

Born in Jerusalem, Nir graduated with an MA in Literature from Tel-Aviv University. He has published four books, and was nominated for the Sapir Prize (The Israeli Booker award) in 2007. Nir won the Prime Minister Award for Hebrew literature in 2010. He serves as editor of the Classical World Wide Series in Am-Oved publishing house and writes for the Ha’aretz Newspaper.

Perihan Mağden (Turkey, Fiction)

Perihan was born in Istanbul. She majored in psychology and traveled extensively in Asia. She published first novel, Messenger Boy Murders, in 1991. Perihan recently left her post writing a regular column for over 12 years. She has five novels that have been translated to twelve languages.

Tom Burke (US, Fiction)

Born in Chicago, Thomas is now the Program Manager of the Chinua Achebe Center for African Writers and Artists at Bard College. In the past he served as Director of Summer Literary Seminars in Kenya, Assistant Director of SLS in Russia, and as the Event and Promotions Manager at Words without Borders, an online magazine of international literature in translation. He received an MFA from UMASS Amherst and his work has appeared in Tin House and The Brooklyn Rail, among other publications, and is forthcoming in the St. Petersburg Review and the Collagist.

So if you’re in the area, you should definitely come out—this is always one of the best RTWCS events . . .

28 October 10 | Chad W. Post | Comments

Just a reminder for everyone in the Greater Rochester Metro Area (which is apparently the tenth smartest city in the U.S.?) that today at 6pm the next Reading the World Conversation Series event will take place. This one is entitled “The State of International Publishing” and will feature translator Steve Dolph talking about the process of translating Juan Jose Saer’s “The Sixty-Five Years of Washington“:
http://catalog.openletterbooks.org/authors/24#sixtyfive and his experiences publishing CALQUE magazine. Yana Genova from the NextPage Foundation in Bulgaria will talk about publishing in “small” markets and the social impact of translations.

It’s sure to be a lot of fun—just wait until we get into the argument about ebooks!—and I hope to see some of you there.

All the info is on the image below, but just in case—it’s taking place at 6pm in the Hawkins-Carlson Room in the Rush Rhees library.

23 September 10 | Chad W. Post | Comments

For all of you within driving distances of Rochester, you really should come out tonight for our first Reading the World Conversation Series Event of the season. Barbara Epler (publisher of New Directions) will be talking with Susan Bernofsky (translator of a number of German authors) about Robert Walser’s Microscripts, which recently came out from ND in Susan’s stellar (as always, as expected) translation.

Here’s a bit of background about Walser and the event:

Robert Walser was one of the most interesting writers of the twentieth century. His exacting, hilarious prose (see Jakob von Gunten, The Tanners, Selected Stores, etc.) has influenced a host of writers and acquired a large following.

Walser’s life story is also very intriguing, especially the fact that he was institutionalized for the last third of his life, during which time he wrote a series of “microscripts”—short stories written on scraps of paper in a script about a millimeter high. After extensive research these pieces have finally been deciphered and have recently been translated into English by Susan Bernofsky—Walser’s primary translator and one of the most prestigious German translators working today—and published by the admirable New Directions. New Directions’ publisher, Barbara Epler, will be here to talk with Susan Bernofsky about Walser, the literary passion he inspires, and his microscripts.

There’s even going to be a PowerPoint with images of the actual microscripts . . . Knowing Barbara and Susan, this is going to be an amazing and fascinating evening . . . (Followed by good food, wine, and salsa, but that’s a different sort of post.) And for those of you who can’t make it, we’ll be recording this and posting it online as soon as possible. (The event that is, not the salsa dancing. That’s an embarrassment that need not be saved for posterity’s sake.)

18 August 10 | Chad W. Post | Comments

Just so happened that a copy of Walser’s Microscripts arrived in the mail this morning from the wonderful people at New Directions, so I thought I’d follow up on the last post with a bit more info about the first event in the fall RTWCS.

On September 23rd, Barbara Epler of New Directions will talk with Susan Bernofsky (translator of Robert Walser, Jenny Erpenbeck, Yoko Tawada, and others) about Walser, his “microscripts,” and the art and practice of translation.

I suspect that most everyone reading this site is familiar with Robert Walser (we’ve written about his work enough times, and here’s an interesting piece by J. M. Coetzee from the New York Review Books), but in case not, he was one of the most important and interesting writers of the twentieth century, author of The Tanners, The Assistant, Jakob von Gunten, The Robber, and tons of short stories. He also worked as a bank clerk, a butler in a castle, and an inventor’s assistant—all jobs that greatly informed his writing. After being diagnosed with schizophrenia, Walser was hospitalized in 1933 and was institutionalized for the last twenty-three years of his life, during which time he wrote tons of “microscripts,” which were considered “undecipherable” until rather recently.

Here’s some info from Susan Bernofsky’s introduction:

Robert Walser, one of high modernism’s quirkiest, most mischievous storytellers, wrote many of his manuscripts in a shrunken-down form that remains enigmatic even a century later. These narrow strips of paper covered with tiny, antlike markings ranging from one to two millimeters, came to light only after their author’s death in 1956. At first his literary executor, Carl Seelig, assumed that Walser had been writing secret code, a corollary of the schizophrenia with which he’d been diagnosed in 1929. Unsure what to make of these tiny texts, Seelig published a handful of them as enlarged facsimiles int he magazine Du with a note describing them as “undecipherable,” and then put them away for safekeeping.

Naturally, these turned out to be decipherable, and Werner Morlang and Bernhard Echte spent a decade analyzing the texts, using a technique more like guesswork than reading:

It isn’t possible to just sit down and read a microscript. Morlang and Echte report that one doesn’t so much read these tiny words as guess at what they might psay and then verify the accuracy of the hypothesis.

Part of this is based on the size of the script, but there’s also the interesting nature of the script itself:

The writing that looked like secret code in Carl Seelig’s eyes turned out to be a radically miniaturized Kurrent script, the form of handwriting favored in German-speaking countries until the mid-twentieth century, when it was replaced by a Latinate form similar to that used in English. Kurrent is medieval in its origins, all up-and-down slanting angles. It is a form of script better suited to compression than modern handwriting, though its graphic simplicity—an e is represented by a simple pair of vertical ticks like a quotation mark, an s by a mere slash—means that shrinking it down results in a dramatic loss of detail and comprehensibility.

All of this is fascinating, making me anxious to dive into the writings themselves. And to speed up time so that it can suddenly be September 23rd . . . Barbara and Susan are both absolutely amazing, and it will be a real treat to see them on stage together.

18 August 10 | Chad W. Post | Comments

And here it is—the official Fall RTWCS schedule. We have three great events lined up with a possible surprise fourth in the works (more info on that when/if it happens), and hopefully any and everyone in the Central NY area will come out for these. And if you’re not living in the CNY, you can always fly in . . . Anyway, here are the specifics:



Robert Walser and His “Microscripts”

September 23, 2010
Thursday, 6:00 p.m.
Welles-Brown Room, Rush Rhees Library
University of Rochester
(free and open to the public)

Susan Bernofsky (German translator of Walser, Yoko Tawada, and more) will talk with Barbara Epler (publisher of New Directions) about the legendary Swiss author Robert Walser and his recently deciphered “microscripts,” published in English translation by New Directions.


The State of International Publishing

October 28, 2010
Thursday, 6:00 p.m.
Hawkins-Carlson Room, Rush Rhees Library
University of Rochester
(free and open to the public)

Yana Genova (Bulgarian translator, Next Page Foundation), Steve Dolph (Spanish translator, CALQUE publisher), and Chad W. Post (Open Letter publisher) will discuss the ins and outs of publishing translations, touching on a host of topics from international funding to ebooks.


Ledig House Roundtable

November 9, 2010
Tuesday, 6:00 p.m.
Hawkins-Carlson Room, Rush Rhees Library
University of Rochester
(free and open to the public)

Four International Writers in Residence at the Ledig House will read from their works and discuss literary trends from around the world.

We’ll post more information about each event as the time grows nearer, and will make videos of all the events available as well.

29 April 10 | Chad W. Post | Comments

This past Monday we celebrated the third year of Open Letter with a very special event at which ten different University of Rochester faculty members, deans, and students read short bits from ten different Open Letter books. One of the most entertaining, rapid, enjoyable events we’ve ever hosted. And in contrast to some of the others—all of which have been really amazing—I think this might be the most watchable one online. The breaks between readers are natural places to pause if you need to do something, the topic keeps shifting every 5 minutes or so, everyone who read did an amazing job, people actually laughed at some of the jokes . . .

Anyway, for anyone who couldn’t be there, here’s a link to the video:

8 April 10 | Chad W. Post | Comments [1]

This is not a post about my mental state—which is quite fine, thanks for asking—but a long-winded intro to next Monday’s event with Horacio Castellanos Moya. The event is at 6:30 in the Rush Rhees Library in Rochester, so everyone in CNY should come out. Horacio is an incredible writer whose work has been praised by dozens of luminaries, including Roberto Bolano.

Senselessness is a difficult book to pitch. Over the past few days, I’ve waxed enthusiastically about this brilliant novel to several friends, a bartender, my neighbor, some random guy in the park . . . And I’ve been met with a lot of perplexed stares and a bit of “umm, yeah, it sounds . . . interesting“ trepidation.

Aside from the false steps in my pitch (“it’s a book about an editor editing a book chronicling thousands of tortures and other abuses performed by the government on the indigenous people of an unnamed country”), the fact that the humor is in the prose not in the situation (“but her feet reek! Funny, no? No?”), and that the main literary influence (Bernhard) is not the most recognized or appreciated of authors (by the average Rochester reader, at least), the main problem is really conveying the humanity and power found in this book.

This starts to point at the question/problem of what people read for. If you’re most interested in plot, Senselessness might not sound all that appealing. (Is there anyone out there craving a little “Editor Lit”?) And if you want uplifting, you might want to step away from the page-long descriptions of massacres and other absolutely horrifying acts.

That all said, this book is one of the most poetic (frighteningly, shockingly so) and compelling novels I’ve read in a long time—mainly because it’s so character-driven.

And by that I don’t mean that there are a lot of quirky, memorable characters, rather that the way the narrative works—with its spiraling, run-on, page-long sentences that digress upon digression—it clearly and beautifully brings to life the inner workings of one man’s mind: a man who, despite all his boozing, womanizing, and good humor, is being driven, quite possibly with good reason, into a state of intense paranoia.

The narrator of this novel—whose mind we inhabit, whose viewpoint we are limited to—is working on this manuscript of horrors for the Catholic church. This project is being kept secret, for obvious reasons. (The military is generally not keen on exposés like this.) So naturally, the narrator is a bit wary of the government . . .

But what I found more interesting in rereading Senselessness is the ultimate amount of power given to this book, this collection of testimonies, the way that it infects the narrator’s mind, not only with the quasi-grammatical and powerfully poetic lines he comes across and writes in his little notebook (such as I am not complete in the mind, and for always the dreams they are there still, and wounded, yes, is hard to be left, but dead is ever peaceful, and we all know who are the assassins), but also in the way these testimonies both feed his paranoia (if the military is capable of these acts, they’re quite literally capable of anything) and cause him, on a few occasions, to try and imagine himself in the shoes of the aggressors, a devilish twist demonstrating how reading can expose you to different viewpoints. This manuscript the narrator edits is powerful. Powerful politically—exposing the truth is always a danger to the status quo, especially when said status quo is essentially evil—but also powerful in a very personal, very intimate way.

One final thing about this book: Although the sentences are paragraph-long and the paragraphs as long as short chapters, this work never feels as claustrophobic as Bernhard. I’m not exactly sure what it is that allows Moya’s novel to breathe, or have moments of escape, although it may be as simple as the fact that there’s more mobility to Moya’s character—he’s not stuck in a single setting, wheelchair, or situation. He experiences things, and although as readers we’re trapped in his head the whole time, he’s not nearly as self-deprecating, or as self-obsessed as the typical Bernhard character. So don’t be intimidated! Read the first two chapters of this book and I’m sure you’ll be hooked.

One final thing about Moya: His other books (at least the ones in English) are much different than this one. Dance with Snakes is a politically charged fantasy involving a guy who terrorizes a town with a group of near-magical snakes. And The She-Devil in the Mirror is very Puig-like novel in which we hear a series of one-sided conversations about a murder. And definitely check out this piece on the “Myth of Roberto Bolano.”

Finally: Come to the event on Monday at 6:30pm. It should be really interesting. And if you can’t come, we will record this and post it by the end of next week.

29 March 10 | Chad W. Post | Comments

Last Monday we kicked off the spring season of the Reading the World Conversation Series with an event featuring the husband and wife translating team of Konstantin Gurevich and Helen Anderson. They talked with Open Letter editor E.J. Van Lanen about the process of translating Ilf & Petrov’s The Golden Calf, which is definitely one of the funniest books I’ve ever helped publish. (If you doubt me, simply read this excerpt which is part of what I read to kick off the RTWCS event.)

Anyway, here’s the video of the event:

The next event in the series will take place on Monday, April 12th at 6pm in the Hawkins-Carlson room in the Rush Rhees Library on U of R’s campus. I’ll be having a discussion with Horacio Castellanos Moya about his work (Senselessness, Dance with Snakes, and The She-Devil in the Mirror have all been published in English translation) and about world literature in general. Including Horacio’s thoughts on The Bolano Myth.

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