I’m not even going to bother setting this one up—just read the opening of this review by Gregory Leon Miller from the San Francisco Chronicle:
Quim Monzó might just be the best writer you’ve never heard of. One could say he’s Catalan’s best-known writer – in fact, the publicity materials for Monzó’s books in the English-language markets routinely say so. But given our culture’s scant attention to literature in translation, such titles, however well meant, only accentuate a writer’s obscurity.
His latest, “A Thousand Morons,” is one of the strongest short-story collections I’ve read in years. Out of material too bleak perhaps for mainstream tastes, Monzó has crafted the funniest prose.
THIS IS ALL TRUE.
Monzó is one of the best—and one of the funniest—writers writing today. He’s an incredible person and deserves all this praise and more. But don’t forget about Peter Bush!
As a translator himself – he has produced Catalan versions of authors ranging from Thomas Hardy to Truman Capote – Monzó must surely appreciate the suppleness of Peter Bush’s work here. Bush gives us Monzó’s subtle complexity without any of the clunky moments that can deform translations of comic writing in particular.
Credit must also go to Open Letter (an imprint of the University of Rochester), whose devotion to literature in translation and unpredictable roster have quietly made it one of the most important small presses in the country.
Aw shucks. That’s a really nice compliment at the end as well . . .
So, just like in my last post, if you take out a year-long subscription to Open Letter I’ll throw in both A Thousand Morons and 18% Gray. (For current subscribers, I’ll still give you 12 books for $100—don’t worry.)
Actually, I’m going to take this one step further . . . If you email me at chad.post
at rochester.edu, I’ll send you a free Thousand Morons T-shirt. Just let me know what size you want. We have S, M, L, XL, and XXL.
This is pretty depressing news:
San Francisco Chronicle books editor Oscar Villalon is leaving the paper, having taken a buyout. Buyouts have been looming at the paper, which has been suffering from worsening financial woes along with other major dailies throughout the country. Villalon’s last day will be Friday, and it is expected that deputy book editor Regan McMahon will now oversee the section, one of only a handful of print standalone book review sections still running. Villalon’s departure leaves McMahon as the only full-time staffer handling books. (from PW)
I really like Oscar—he’s an incredibly funny and sincere guy—and it sucks to see this happen. More true than ever thought that the days of extensive (and non-wire) book coverage in local newspapers are quickly becoming a thing of the past . . .
For me, Kate Foster’s review in the San Francisco Chronicle of Lieve Joris’s The Rebels’ Hour perfectly illustrates some of the ridiculous hangups Americans have when it comes to nonfiction and the representation of “truth.”
The Rebels’ Hour is in an interesting postion—it’s a work of “literary reportage” that is “based on real characters, situations, and places, without ever coinciding with them completely.” The publisher—Grove/Atlantic—categorized this as history, and included the following note on the copyright page:
The Rebels’ Hour falls into a category—literary reportage—that has a long history worldwide, but does not have an established tradition in the United States. As Joris clarifies in her preface, “the facts in this book have all been researched in minute detail, but in order to paint a realistic picture of my characters I’ve had to fill in some parts of their lives from my own imagination. It was the only way to make the story both particular and general.” The end result, as one French review noted, is a book that is “even truer than truth” (Afrique-Asia). Having had to choose between fiction and nonfiction, we felt The Rebels’ Hour belonged on the shelf marked nonfiction.
All of this is why I didn’t include the book on our translation database. I even brought this up with Lauren Wein (the book’s super-cool editor) and she agreed that it shouldn’t be counted in the translation list, since it’s clearly not fiction.
Not so, according to the Chronicle. Instead, they label Foster’s piece a “fiction review” and she explains her own viewpoint right away:
This setup, which includes changing the protagonist’s name, will make some readers uncomfortable. After all, in a war-torn country with the largest U.N. peacekeeping mission in the world, there is more than a story to tell; there is a record to set straight.
(To be honest, American readers need to be made uncomfortable. In fact, I would argue that making people uncomfortable is a mark of a great work of literature.)
Grove went out of their way to explain the book’s situation (written in a style that really is pervasive throughout the rest of the world) and Foster foregrounded that “questionable” position at the beginning of her piece—but did she then need to criticize the book based on its shortcomings as a novel?
Despite Joris’ vivid details – the putrid smells of sweaty young soldiers and death, generals constantly gabbing on cell phones, a protagonist partial to milk and Fanta – the story doesn’t read like a novel, and Assani never comes into clear focus.
And it’s not as lyrical as a book of poems either! I don’t know when this hang-up started—maybe with James Frey? (At Dalkey we encountered a bit of this in regards to Voices from Chernobyl, a collection of interviews with Chernobyl survivors that have been recast as (gasp!) monologues. Are the responses exactly the same as the actual people gave? How much did Alexievich pretty it all up? It’s worth noting that this won the NBCC Award for Nonfiction, so I think it’s clear that some people can understand and appreciate this type of “reportage.”)
Regardless, every month there’s a new scandal re: someone making shit up about their lives. Most of the time it’s an American writer elaborating on their past in order to profit and sell more books. And get on Oprah. And intentionally deceive the American public for personal gain. I completely agree—this isn’t cool and is more than shitty. But is that situation analogous to The Rebels’ Hour? Not by a long shot. But Americans, in their typical Puritanical way, are too uptight to understand that there are gray areas, that nonfiction is never objectively “true,” and that the memoirs everyone gets all bent out of shape about—when they find out they’re chocked full of lies—aren’t worth worrying about in the first place.
OK, I’m done for today . . . It’s just so discouraging that Americans seem to have a hard time enjoying/learning from other cultures because they can’t write books according to our prescriptive standards and rules . . .
Prose translators will likely disagree, but I believe translating poetry requires a significant level of talent, a commitment to the text, and near mania, all of which suggests that the undertaking is the greatest possible challenge. The task is to. . .
The biggest issues with books like The Subsidiary often have to do with their underpinnings—when we learn that Georges Perec wrote La Disparition without once using the letter E, we are impressed. Imagine such a task! It takes a high. . .
Following The Infatuations, Javier Marías’s latest novel seems, like those that have preceded it, an experiment to test fiction’s capacity to mesmerize with sombre-sexy atmospheres and ruminative elongated sentences stretched across windowless walls of paragraphs. Thus Bad Begins offers his. . .
Death by Water, Kenzaburo Oe’s latest novel to be translated into English, practically begs you to read it as autobiography. Like The Changeling, as well as many other works not yet released in English, Death by Water is narrated in. . .
Jocelyne Saucier’s Twenty-One Cardinals is about the type of unique, indestructible, and often tragic loyalty only found in families. For a brief but stunningly mesmerizing 169 pages, Twenty-One Cardinals invited me in to the haunting and intimate world of the. . .
We know so very little; so little that what we think to be knowledge is hardly worth reckoning with at all; instead we ought to settle for being pleasantly surprised if, on the edge of things, against all expectations, our. . .
Many of Virginie Despentes’s books revolve around the same central idea: “To be born a woman [is] the worst fate in practically every society.” But this message is nearly always packaged in easy-to-read books that fill you with the pleasure. . .