The International Rivers Interview Series was born of two unrelated events. The first was a Roni Horn exhibit I saw some years back in New York featuring the work Still Water (The River Thames, For Example). Horn framed multiple close-up shots of the Thames passing through central London and approached the river with a number of questions. I remember Horn asking, ‘What is the color of water?’ and the elegant simplicity of that question struck me. One answer is that it has no color, that water is a body that either reflects its surroundings by throwing back a visual reply or absorbing organic matter. Water is, Horn later said, “a master chameleon. Or the ultimate mime.” Could rivers like the Thames, I wondered, reflect more than mud, trees and bridges, but history and culture too?
An idea that’s definitely worth keeping up with.
The longlist for the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize has (finally!) been announced. Here you go:
There’s only two points of contact with the Best Translated Book Award longlist, Celine Curiol’s Voice Over (which made our shortlist) and perennial Independent Foreign Fiction Prize longlister, and sometime prizewinner, José Eduardo Agualusa, whose Book of Chameleons we nominated—My Father’s Wives has yet to find an American publisher, I think.
Overall, it’s a strong list, and if you want more info we have reviews of a few of the books from the longlist:
Only two! Looks like we have some work to do.
As a number of other people have already pointed out, the new issue of Bookforum is now available, both in print and online.
This is the summer “Fiction and Politics” issues, which, in addition to a heap of good reviews, has a few features on politics novels and the like. There’s even a reflections section with short bits from host of international authors like Lydia Millet, Daniel Kehlmann, Siddhartha Deb, and Dubravka Ugresic.
(I’m particularly psyched about Dubravka’s piece on Upton Sinclair’s Oil! not because of what she has to say—which is pretty interesting about the connection, or disconnection between literature and politics—but because this is the first time I’ve seen the words “which will be published by Open Letter in September” in print.)
There’s also a nice review by Benjamin Ross of Sasa Stanisic’s How the Soldier Repairs the Gramophone (a translator reviewing a translation—I like it) and a review by Michael Wood of Adam Thirlwell’s The Delighted States.
I’ve been looking forward to reading the latter for a while now, and hopefully will be able to find a copy at BEA later this week. . . . Wood’s review is similar to the few others I’ve seen that praise the subject and ambition of the book while questioning the overall style. Nevertheless, this sounds really interesting—and definitely a book we should review:
Early in the book, Thirlwell says he has sometimes thought of it as “an inside-out novel, with novelists as characters”; he also describes it as “an atlas.” He says it’s “written with a full acceptance of the mistake, the anachronism, the side effect,” because “the history of the novel is, simultaneously, a history of an elaborate and intricate international art form—and also a history of errors, a history of waste.” This is to say that The Delighted States is itself a quirky history of the novel, a story of the textual travels of a particular mind, and I need to add that if novelists are characters here, their own fictional characters are just as important. They leave their own books and cross into others, making many of Thirlwell’s most ingenious points for him. [. . .]
The story—inside out in the extended sense just described—involves Gogol, Sterne, Chekhov, Diderot, Machado de Assis, Proust, Kafka, Gombrowicz, Schulz, Tolstoy, Svevo, and others and, in spite of Thirlwell’s many grand and fuzzy claims about style and translation (“A style is . . . as much a quirk of emotion, or of theological belief, as it is a quirk of language”; “A style is a quality of vision”; “there is no need for a style to have a single style”), finally rests on two interesting and contradictory suggestions. Each proceeds from the fact that great writers, however monolingual they may be as speakers, rarely restrict their reading to works originally written in their own language. [. . .]
The first suggestion is that the details of errors and shifts in translation are infinitely important because one of the virtues of language is its eerie specificity, or the possibility of that specificity. [. . .] The second, contrary, and, for Thirlwell, more important suggestion is that all kinds of masterpieces, supposedly cast irreplaceably in their native tongue, manage to survive bad to mediocre translation and even butchery.
I’m sure we’ll be writing about this in more detail in the not too distant future. (Like after I finish the last 600 pages of 2666 and all of What Can I Do When Everything’s On Fire?)
Each month the GBO selects a German book in translation to feature on their website. This month they selected How the Soldier Repairs the Gramophone by Saša Stanišić, which is coming out from Grove in June. The author will be in the States for the PEN World Voices Festival at the end of April, and this is a title we’re planning on reviewing. Sounds really fun:
Aleksandar Krsmanović grows up in Višegrad, a small town in Bosnia. He has inherited a talent for imaginative story-telling from his grandfather, and through these stories, Aleksandar infuses his world with a fairy tale-like vibrancy and childhood innocence. Suddenly, this idyllic world disintegrates into violence and bloodshed as civil war grips the country. Aleks and his parents flee to Germany, where Aleks’ story-telling plays a vital role for him and his family. He is able to keep alive the happiness they knew before the war and to stave off the difficulties of assimilation. Gradually, Aleksandar begins to crave a deeper understanding of what really happened in his country and what forced his family from their home. His fantasies collide with reality, and Aleks must decide where to end his stories and let reality into his life. How the Soldier Repairs the Gramophone is an accomplished, tragic-comic tale that magnificently captures the space between fantasy and reality.
The book has already received some serious praise, including this gushing blurb by Colum McCann:
“I love this book. It’s funny and it’s heartfelt and it’s brazen and it’s true. Find some space on your shelf beside Aleksandar Hemon, Jonathan Safran Foer, William Vollmann and David Foster Wallace. This is a great rattlebag of a book that will stay with you on whatever long journey you choose to go on. What a welcome voice rising up amongst the great voices. Saša Stanišić. Or Sasha Stanishitch. We should all learn how to pronounce his name, because he’s here to stay. “
In addition to all that, there’s a very funny story about how Lemony Snicket accidentally ended up on the cover playing the accordion. Basically, no one realized the picture on the cover was of Daniel Handler until someone mentioned it to Grove publisher Morgan Entrekin at sales conference . . . It’s a nice pic, and I especially like Handler’s quote about this:
“They asked me if I objected,” Handler says. “I said: ‘I think you should check with the author.’ I’d be kind of annoyed if my new novel had my friend Rick Moody on the cover. Not that Rick Moody is not a good–looking man.”
Though far from the most convincing reason to read literature in translation, one common side effect is learning of another culture, of its history. Within that, and a stronger motivation to read, is the discovery of stories not possible within. . .
Despite cries that literature is dead, dying, and self-replicating in the worst way, once in a while a book comes along to remind readers that there’s still a lot of surprise to be found on the printed page. To be. . .
“I was small. And my village was small, I came to know that in time. But when I was small it was big for me, so big that when I had to cross it from one end to the other,. . .
A few weeks after moving into a farm house in the Welsh countryside, Emilie, an expatriate from the Netherlands, starts to think about her uncle. This uncle tried to drown himself in a pond in front of the hotel where. . .
Think back to the last adventure- or action-type book you read. Wasn’t it cool? Didn’t it make you want to do things, like learn to shoot a crossbow, hack complicated information systems, travel to strange worlds, take on knife-wielding thugs,. . .
In Aira’s Shantytown, while we’re inside the characters’ heads for a good portion of the story, the voice we read on the page is really that of Aira himself, as he works out the plot of the book he’s writing.. . .
Noir is not an easy genre to define—or if it once was, that was a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away; as a quick guess, maybe Silver Lake, Los Angeles, 1935. When two books as different as. . .