5 November 13 | Chad W. Post | Comments

As announced Friday, Mia Couto has won this year’s Neustadt International Prize for Literature:

Gabriella Ghermandi, who nominated Couto for the Neustadt Prize, said of him, “He is an author who addresses not just his country but the entire world, all human beings.”

Couto is the first Mozambican author to be nominated for and to win the Neustadt Prize. He is considered to be one of the most important writers in Mozambique, and his works have been published in more than 20 languages.

Born in 1955 in Beira, Mozambique, Couto began his literary career in the struggle for Mozambique’s independence, during which time he edited two journals. Raiz de Orvalho, Couto’s first book of poetry, was published in 1983. His first novel and the novel that was the representative text for the Neustadt, Sleepwalking Land, was published in 1992 to great acclaim and is widely considered one of the best African books of the 20th century.

Couto is known for his use of magical realism as well as his creativity with language. In her nominating statement, Ghermandi wrote, “Some critics have called Mia Couto ‘the smuggler writer,’ a sort of Robin Hood of words who steals meanings to make them available in every tongue, forcing apparently separate worlds to communicate. Within his novels, each line is like a small poem.”

This year, Couto also received the 2013 Camões Prize for Literature, a prestigious award given to Portuguese-language writers.

Sleepwalking Land is available from Serpent’s Tail, and is definitely worth reading.

ALSO worth checking out though is The Tuner of Silences, which came out recently from Biblioasis.

Translated from the Portuguese by David Brookshaw, here’s a synopsis:

Mwanito Vitalício was eleven when he saw a woman for the first time, and the sight so surprised him he burst into tears.

Mwanito’s been living in a big-game park for eight years. The only people he knows are his father, his brother, an uncle, and a servant. He’s been told that the rest of the world is dead, that all roads are sad, that they wait for an apology from God. In the place his father calls Jezoosalem, Mwanito has been told that crying and praying are the same thing. Both, it seems, are forbidden.

The eighth novel by The New York Times-acclaimed Mia Couto, The Tuner of Silences is the story of Mwanito’s struggle to reconstruct a family history that his father is unable to discuss. With the young woman’s arrival in Jezoosalem, however, the silence of the past quickly breaks down, and both his father’s story and the world are heard once more.

9 September 10 | Chad W. Post | Comments

Although it hasn’t been covered in the U.S. papers (at least to the best of my knowledge), Argentine author Rodolfo Fogwill passed away at the end of last month. He published a ton of stuff in Argentina—around 20 books—but only one—Malvinas Requiem—has been published in English translation. Typical situation, but this really blows. Malvinas Requiem is a really incredible book . . . Didn’t get much play here in the States (again, typical; again, really blows), but you can read my review of it here.

Anyway, the Guardian has a great piece on Fogwill written by Nick Caistor, who, along with Amanda Hopkinson, translated Los Pichiciegos into English. Whole obituary is worth checking out, but here are a few awesome highlights. (Which will likely make at least some of you want to read more about Fogwill):

Loud-mouthed, provocative, often downright rude, the writer Rodolfo Fogwill was a legendary figure in recent Argentinian literature. Fogwill, who has died aged 69, from pulmonary emphysema, probably exacerbated by his inveterate chain-smoking, quarrelled with everybody, was intolerant of any writing or behaviour that in his view smacked of political correctness or pretension, and yet wrote some of the most resonant short stories and novels in Argentina of the past 30 years.

The story surrounding the way he wrote one of his most important novels, Los Pichiciegos (1983), is typical. The book was a protest at the horror of the war fought between Britain and Argentina over the Malvinas/Falkland islands in the South Atlantic, and at the stupidity of war in general. Fogwill claimed to have written the book in six days during June 1982, while the war was still going on, keeping himself going with vast amounts of cocaine and whisky. [. . .]

Born in Bernal, on the outskirts of Buenos Aires, Fogwill tried to convince me his surname was English, claiming he had ancestors in Fox Hill, in Sussex. An only child, he studied medicine and sociology at the University of Buenos Aires. He began teaching there, but fell foul of the military regime that took power in 1966. “I was sacked for being a communist, the worst insult imaginable for the Trotskyist I was at the time.”

This reversal took him into the world of advertising, where, he claimed, he made and lost several fortunes. His work again caused him problems during the military dictatorship at the end of the 1970s, when the authorities accused him of sending a subliminal message to a banned leftwing group in a TV commercial he had produced. The authorities closed his bank accounts and arrested him for “economic subversion”. Thrown into jail, he could not pay his debts, and so eventually was tried for fraud.

Which led him to become a writer! And a brilliant one at that.

His pronouncements on literature were always trenchant: “To write seems to me easier than trying to avoid the feeling of meaninglessness that not writing brings”; or “Literature doesn’t tell stories, but ways to tell stories”.

I can’t figure out why Malvinas Requiem isn’t listed on the Serpent’s Tail site . . . I think it’s still in print (came out like two years ago, so one would hope), and it’s definitely worth checking out.

2 July 10 | Chad W. Post | Comments

The latest addition to our Reviews Section is a piece by Monica Carter on Herta Müller’s The Passport, which was translated from the German by Martin Chalmers and rapidly reprinted by Serpent’s Tail last fall when she won the Nobel Prize for Literature.

Monica Carter is one of our top reviewers and a great champion of world literature. She’s on the fiction committee for the Best Translated Book Award, works at Skylight Books in L.A., and runs the always fascinating Salonica web site.

Here’s the opening of her review:

No one quite captures the alienation of the dispossessed like Herta Müller. The Romanian-born German Nobel Laureate delves deeply into the subconscious of people suffering from the emotional and political ramifications of living life under a communist dictatorship and gives us characters whose only hope is to find a way out. Having lived through the Ceausescu dictatorship, Müller’s ability to convey the confining limits of village life under Communism is unique and unparalleled. The Passport is a shuddersome and compelling work comprised of image-laden depictions of the repressed desolation and understated anguish of the town’s inhabitants. The central protagonist, Windisch, is the town miller who wants nothing more than to escape to West Berlin with his wife and grown daughter.

Through the short, nonlinear stories, or more aptly, histories, Müller infuses the narrative with symbolism, dream sequences and superstitions. The apple tree, used as a fear-inducing specter, could represent the Communist regime devouring the freedoms of those who live by its rule:

“In the morning night watchman didn’t lie down to sleep. He went to the village mayor. He told him that the apple tree behind the church ate its own apples. The mayor laughed. The night watchman could hear fear behind the laughter. Little hammers of life were beating in the mayor’s head.”

Click here to read the full review.

And that’s it! Have a great weekend—see you back here on Tuesday!

2 July 10 | Chad W. Post | Comments

No one quite captures the alienation of the dispossessed like Herta Müller. The Romanian-born German Nobel Laureate delves deeply into the subconscious of people suffering from the emotional and political ramifications of living life under a communist dictatorship and gives us characters whose only hope is to find a way out. Having lived through the Ceausescu dictatorship, Müller’s ability to convey the confining limits of village life under Communism is unique and unparalleled. The Passport is a shuddersome and compelling work comprised of image-laden depictions of the repressed desolation and understated anguish of the town’s inhabitants. The central protagonist, Windisch, is the town miller who wants nothing more than to escape to West Berlin with his wife and grown daughter.

Through the short, nonlinear stories, or more aptly, histories, Müller infuses the narrative with symbolism, dream sequences and superstitions. The apple tree, used as a fear-inducing specter, could represent the Communist regime devouring the freedoms of those who live by its rule:

In the morning night watchman didn’t lie down to sleep. He went to the village mayor. He told him that the apple tree behind the church ate its own apples. The mayor laughed. The night watchman could hear fear behind the laughter. Little hammers of life were beating in the mayor’s head.

This is the typical eerie passage from Müller. As her terse and poetic style provides a haunting rhythm and distance, the dour reality of town life coupled with the characters’ desires to become part of the West sets an ominous tone the builds as the novel progresses. Nature itself is portrayed as a character, and its different elements make repeated appearances that are both fanciful and surreal:

“The owls have no peace, and the water has no peace,” says Windisch. “If it dies, another owl will come to the village. A stupid young owl that doesn’t know anything. It will sit on anyone’s roof.”

The night watchman looks up at the moon. “The young people will die again,” he says. Windisch sees that the air just in front of him belongs to the night watchman. His voice manages a tired sentence “Then it will be like war again,” he says.

Throughout the novel, Windisch is a sad and anxious character. A miller without money or much else searches to obtain passports from a local for himself and his family. Unable to achieve this, he endures a bleak existence not only without respect from his wife, but also resigned to her bouts of vitriol. Their freedom rests on their daughter’s sexual favors with the village militiaman and priest. This knowledge, as horrific as it is, seems like the only way out of their plodding existence that is surrounded by death and time.

Müller allows the reader no sense of redemption, constructing the same hopelessness created by a totalitarian government. Our Windisch rides through the town on his bicycle and through his eyes, everyday objects morph into phantoms that disturbs the reader. Müller is a master of a direct and breviloquent prose that heightens the harsh realities of Windisch’s life and the lives of all those imprisoned by Communist rule in Romania. Perhaps not her best work, but a startling novella that limns a world of heartbreak and obsession and the tragedy of desperation it can create.

23 April 10 | Chad W. Post | Comments

The latest addition to our Reviews Section is a piece by Jessica LeTourneur on Emine Sevgi Ozdamar’s The Bridge of the Golden Horn, which is translated from the German by Martin Chalmers and published by Serpent’s Tail.

Ozdamar was born in Turkey and moved to Berlin because of her interest in German theater. She’s the author of several plays and was awarded the Ingeborg Bachmann Prize for an excerpt from her first novel.

Jessica LeTourneur studied literature, history, and journalism at the University of Missouri, and attended New York University’s Publishing Institute in 2005. In the past, Jessica has worked as a journalist, as well as at The Missouri Review and W. W. Norton & Company. Jessica currently resides in Phoenix, Arizona and is pursuing a Master’s degree in History and Scholarly Publishing at Arizona State University. She’s also working on a review of Suzanne Jill Levine’s The Subversive Scribe . . . .

Here’s an excerpt from her review of The Bridge of the Golden Horn:

“Since their beginning, stories have pretended to take place far away. Faraway and once-upon-a-time are code words for Here and Now.” When these words from John Berger’s introduction are applied to this moving novel by Turkish playwright and actress Emine Sevgi Ozdamar, they ring inordinately true. The Bridge of the Golden Horn opens with the most well-known plotline: Once upon a time there was a young girl who sought more out of life than she currently possessed. So she left home, traveled to a faraway land, and along the way encountered a myriad of obstacles, found herself in both silly and impossible situations, all of which taught her valuable lessons by the novel’s conclusion. The end. Yet in the case of The Bridge of the Golden Horn, this familiar narrative device takes the reader along on a surprising and wholly satisfying journey with a quirky and complicated narrator. This unnamed narrator is a sixteen-year-old girl who dreams of being an actress, and so she forsakes her native Istanbul for Berlin—lying about her age in order to obtain a job as a migrant worker in a factory—in the hopes that she’ll accumulate enough money to send herself to drama school. As is usually the case in such stories, all does not go according to plan, and the novel chronicles the four year span—beginning in 1966—during which the heroine acquaints herself with love, sex, communism, and foreign languages. So she says herself: “I wanted to learn German, and then rid myself of my diamond in order to become a good actress. Here [Istanbul] I would have to come home every evening and look in my parents’ eyes. Not in Germany.”

Written in a fluid stream-of-consciousness style, Emine Sevgi Ozdamar’s semi-autobiographical novel propels the reader through the narrative with its long chapters and quick pacing; it feels like you’re straddling a cantering horse, powerless to slow down. The novel’s tone forces the reader to feel what the narrator feels at any given moment, whether it be about her family, home, sexuality, politics, or theatrical aspirations. With its clipped and direct prose, the narrative pulls you in without being sentimental or melancholy: “Every cigarette we smoked that night showed us that we had made a mistake. We had run away from the herd and now we wept for the herd. This was Berlin. This Berlin had not existed for us yet. We had our hossel [sic], and the hossel was not Berlin.”

Click here to read the full review.

23 April 10 | Chad W. Post | Comments

“Since their beginning, stories have pretended to take place far away. Faraway and once-upon-a-time are code words for Here and Now.” When these words from John Berger’s introduction are applied to this moving novel by Turkish playwright and actress Emine Sevgi Ozdamar, they ring inordinately true. The Bridge of the Golden Horn opens with the most well-known plotline: Once upon a time there was a young girl who sought more out of life than she currently possessed. So she left home, traveled to a faraway land, and along the way encountered a myriad of obstacles, found herself in both silly and impossible situations, all of which taught her valuable lessons by the novel’s conclusion. The end. Yet in the case of The Bridge of the Golden Horn, this familiar narrative device takes the reader along on a surprising and wholly satisfying journey with a quirky and complicated narrator. This unnamed narrator is a sixteen-year-old girl who dreams of being an actress, and so she forsakes her native Istanbul for Berlin—lying about her age in order to obtain a job as a migrant worker in a factory—in the hopes that she’ll accumulate enough money to send herself to drama school. As is usually the case in such stories, all does not go according to plan, and the novel chronicles the four year span—beginning in 1966—during which the heroine acquaints herself with love, sex, communism, and foreign languages. So she says herself: “I wanted to learn German, and then rid myself of my diamond in order to become a good actress. Here [Istanbul] I would have to come home every evening and look in my parents’ eyes. Not in Germany.”

Written in a fluid stream-of-consciousness style, Emine Sevgi Ozdamar’s semi-autobiographical novel propels the reader through the narrative with its long chapters and quick pacing; it feels like you’re straddling a cantering horse, powerless to slow down. The novel’s tone forces the reader to feel what the narrator feels at any given moment, whether it be about her family, home, sexuality, politics, or theatrical aspirations. With its clipped and direct prose, the narrative pulls you in without being sentimental or melancholy: “Every cigarette we smoked that night showed us that we had made a mistake. We had run away from the herd and now we wept for the herd. This was Berlin. This Berlin had not existed for us yet. We had our hossel [sic], and the hossel was not Berlin.”

While Ozdamar’s lyrical writing technique contains shades of Postmodernists who have especially favored a stream of consciousness style (such as Joyce and Woolf), her writing is wholly her own:

Berlin had been like a street to me. As a child I had stayed in the street until midnight, in Berlin, I had found my street again. From Berlin I had returned to my parents’ house, but now it was like a hotel, I wanted to go back on the street again. On the ship the men took the newspapers down from their faces and looked at me. Every evening a shipful of people would come to see me on the stage as an actress. The men would fall in love with me. I suddenly realized that I was very curious about what these men who would fall in love with me would look like. I wanted to die onstage like Moliere, in the middle of the set. I saw myself onstage, other actors carried me in their arms, I bled from my mouth, died and left behind no children who had to weep after my death. The ship was just in the middle between Asian and European Istanbul. The actress came out of my body, she pushed a man and child in front of her and threw them into the Sea of Marmara. Then she came back and entered me again. When the ship reached the Asian side, I knew that I never ever wanted to get married. I could hardly wait to get home. Before I got on the bus, I called my mother. ‘I don’t want to marry, I want to go to drama school.’

In addition to being the author of The Bridge of the Golden Horn, Emine Sevgi Ozdamar has also written plays, and is a trained actress. With this experience, Ozdamar has clearly gained a masterful understanding of the nuances of language, and sheutilizes literary devices found in playwriting to push the novel’s plot towards its conclusion, a technique that works brilliantly throughout the entire novel.

At its core, though, The Bridge of the Golden Horn is a modern-day fairy tale. While few would consider 1966 “long ago”, or Istanbul and Berlin “a far away land” (in the traditional fairy-tale sense; both are pretty far away from where I sit in Phoenix), the novel contains a colorful cast of characters, heartbreaking and hilarious events, a teenage girl on the verge of womanhood, and all of this takes place in a dramatically shifting modern world – a densely wooded forest of life, iconic of a fairy tale. In his introduction, John Berger states, “perhaps story-tellers have always been listened to because they fill a lack.” Luckily for readers, Emine Sevgi Ozdamar’s profound, illuminating, and ultimately lovely novel, The Bridge of the Golden Horn is a powerful story that can fill in for whatever may be lacking.

17 November 08 | E.J. Van Lanen | Comments

To help promote the new Pawell Huelle book, The Last Supper, that’s forthcoming from Serpent’s Tail, Polish Writing has translated and posted a two-part interview (I, II) with Huelle which originally appeared in Gazeta Wyborcza:

Violetta Szostak: I’m rather nervous about this interview…

Paweł Huelle: Why should you be nervous, I should be nervous, it’s me they would like to kill…

Because of this book?

It’s not as bad as that!

...

I have written a contemporary novel. Maybe partly because critics were always saying that my novels are escapist, I thought: OK, now I will present you with a contemporary novel ‘par excellence’.

And references to living people? This is an approach that to different degrees has been used by many writers before me. One can give as an example ‘The Wedding’ by Wyspianski – which doesn’t mean I am comparing myself to Wyspianski!

The book is written fairly bluntly, because I think that we find ourselves in a moment of crisis, linked with postmodernism. We’ve lost our goals, our centre; we have fallen off the right track, and can’t create a new one. I didn’t originate this diagnosis, but I’m a participant in this crisis, it’s happened to me, so I am reacting and asking some questions. My book is fairly pessimistic, it doesn’t give a recipe to overcome this situation. I think that it is necessary to make oneself conscious of it, because a large number of us don’t realise that we are in such a difficult, strange situation.

1 November 07 | E.J. Van Lanen |

In selling literature in translation, there’s always a joke/fear that readers won’t pick up a book by an author whose name they can’t pronounce. Or if they do, that they’ll struggle dealing with names and places that are unfamiliar, with too many consonants, that are obviously foreign.

Rodolfo Fogwill’s Malvinas Requiem has a similar, yet different problem—my guess is that most U.S. readers have no idea what “Malvinas” might signify, and although “Falkland Islands” might help clarify, the Falkland War is not something frequently studied in our not-very-top-notch public school system.

Which is a shame, since Fogwill’s book is quite remarkable, deserving of the Catch-22 comparison in the jacket copy, and a very interesting, literary “war book” that is both localized and universal in its themes.

Just to refresh everyone’s memory, the Falklands War was fought in 1982 between Argentina and the United Kingdom over the disputed Falkland (or Malvinas) Islands. Argentina invaded in March, lost the war in June. About 250 Brits died in the war, and about 650 Argentines. What’s also worth noting—at least in regards to Argentina—is that this war fueled the growing protests against the Argentine military government, leading to its collapse.

Against this backdrop, Fogwill tells the story of the “dillos” (short for armadillo), a group of Argentine deserters who are living inside a cave, trading goods with both the British and Argentine armies, trying to survive the conflict.

Each newcomer was told: the Kings are in charge here, they’re the ones who started everything. The Sergeant started it all. The Sergeant had got together the Turk, Quique and Viterbo, when they began to dig the trenches. He had lined them up in front of him, grabbed them by the lapels, gave them a shaking, and asked:

‘Are you arseholes or what?’

‘Yessir!’

‘No! You lot aren’t arseholes, you lot are the smart ones. Are you smart?’ he’d screeched.

‘Yessir. Yes, Sergeant,’ the three replied.

‘Well then,’ the Sergeant said to them. ‘Here’s what you do. Go further up,’ he pointed at the mountain, ‘and dig there.’

He explained that the trenches were useless. Headquarters had designed them, drawn them on a map. He said that when it rained those trenches would flood, and that everyone would either drown or freeze like idiots, and that the smart ones should go and start digging in the mountainside, without a word to anyone.

The dillos, firmly established in their Warren, with a pack of smokes a day for everyone, and plenty of food (from giving away strategic info to the Brits), joke, talk politics, and create a livable community. But the war is always raging on in the background, and Fogwill has a tremendous ability for switching from more light, casual writing to something more jarring and violent. The use of the second-person in this passage works particularly well to disrupt the reader’s sense of comfort.

On the islands the sheep run and jump about more than the dogs do. They leap over a wire fence as if it were nothing to them: just raise their forelegs and jump. Now the human observes the sheep from a way off and thinks: ‘What a fucking stupid animal: the best it can manage is to run off!’ He carries on observing her for a while, having nothing better to do, while waiting for real night to close in, so he can return to the Warren. All of a sudden there’s a flash of light: boom! Beneath the sheep’s hooves lay a mine and when she trod on it, there was a blinding flash of fire as through the sun had suddenly risen. You could see the whole sheep suspended in mid-air. She pulls in her legs, turns her head, and looks backwards, twisting her head as if she had the neck of a giraffe. She’s flying through the air, and it’s only then that the human, at the very same instant, hears the sound of a mine exploding, blown apart by the sheep.

And expanding from an individual act of random destruction is the group chaos:

When the other sheep—if there are any—hear this, and see what happened to their mate, they stampede in the opposite direction. Instead of remaining quietly on their own, they herd together, before all rushing off as one. That’s the big mistake, because as soon as the next flash of light occurs—meaning another landmine has gone off—another sheep flies into the air like a toy animal then disintegrates, and the ten or twelve other stupid sheep around her also jump and, too far from the explosion to be blown apart, still drop down dead with their muzzles flat on the ground, after struggling in vain to get up again.

In many ways, this is a nasty, disturbing book. The reader’s comfort is constantly provoked, building up to a rather horrifying conclusion. This is much more than a war novel though, and the construction of the novel is quite interesting. As the reader finds out towards the end, the author of the book is writing it based on tapes of conversations with the dillos. Which leads to an interesting artistic question—this novel first came out 1983 and was written right after the war, when there wasn’t a lot of widespread information about what had actually happened on the islands, yet according to others, Fogwill’s descriptions are remarkably accurate, and insightful, which is one of the reasons this book is credited with helping fan the anti-military fires in Argentina.

And today, twenty-five years later, the book is definitely still work reading. The translation is fantastic—Nick Caistor and Amanda Hopkinson always do a wonderful job—and the book is interesting on so many levels, even if you have no idea where the Falkland Islands are located.

25 October 07 | Chad W. Post | Comments

I first heard about Fogwill from Javier Molea at McNally Robinson, who insisted that I read him. (I think the phrase Javier kept repeating was “mind-blowing.”) It was a great coincidence to find that Serpent’s Tail had just published Malvinas Requiem (Los Pichiciegos), and an even greater coincidence to find out that the fantastic Michael Gaeb is Fogwill’s agent . . .

Anyway, E.J. referenced this earlier, but I’m planning on reviewing this remarkable book later this week. What really struck me about the Guardian article though was it’s cultural specificity re: the Falklands conflict. It’s a truism to state that jacket copy is written with a specific audience in mind, but it’s really interesting to compare the Serpent’s Tail copy to that of the agent. . . .

First, Serpent’s Tail:

June 1982, The Falklands/Malvinas.

Twenty-four young Argentine soldiers who have deserted the army spend the last weeks of the conflict hiding out in a cave. Inside their refuge they listen to the radio, stockpile supplies and exchange stories; outside, under cover of night, they trade with the Argentine Quartermaster and with the British. Looking out over the bleak landscape, after weeks of grey skies and horizontal snow, one of them remarks that ‘you’d have to be English to want this’.

Catch-22 meets Dispatches in the Falkland Islands—Malvinas Requiem is a shocking, subtle and superbly written commentary on the utter futility of war. Darkly comic and deeply affecting, the book contributed to the defeat of the military junta in Argentina and, 25 years after its first publication, still continues to make waves.

And Michael Gaeb’s description:

Los Pichiciegos is an astonishing tale derived from the Falklands/Malvinas conflict in 1982. The Pichis are a group of Argentine deserters, who have established a subterranean settlement. They are maroons who trade with both sides (British and Argentinean) as they seek the kerosene, sugar, cigarettes, and so on that they need to survive. In this work Fogwill shows the dissolution of virtues in a world where only survival counts and the loss of national identity in the face of war. He intentionally didn’t write a story of heroes or a reflection on war or pacifism but an unsympathetic depiction of the harsh conditions of survival. In the tradition of Bioy Casares’ novel La invención de Morel, Fogwill creates a narrative universe between reality and fantasy.

Here in America, the Falklands War doesn’t hold the same fascination as it obviously does in Great Britain, but it’s interesting to me how much more Falklands specific the first description sounds in comparison to the second. To me, Michael’s copy plays up the literary side of things (and the sort of absurdity) rather than emphasizing the specificity of the book.

(As a big Bioy Casares fan—which all Lost addicts should be—it’s that reference that caught my eye.)

It’s not as if these descriptions are incongruent or anything, it’s just curious to me from a marketing perspective to see these cultural differences play themselves out.

5 September 07 | Chad W. Post | Comments

This past weekend (yes, I’m still catching up), The Independent ran an interview with Polish author Pawel Huelle under the intriguing title, “Why cult Polish author Pawel Huelle thinks he’s a camel.”

That’s explained away pretty quickly—he has two humps—and most of the interview focuses on Huelle’s new novel Castorp, just out from Serpent’s Tail and based on a throwaway line from The Magic Mountain.

“When I first read Mann’s The Magic Mountain, the story of a young German called Hans Castorp, it had a hypnotic effect on me. I was 16 and extremely ill, and had to lie in bed for several weeks. So my mother brought me books to read; unfortunately, in spite of my illness, I still read so fast she couldn’t keep up. No sooner had she found me another novel than I’d finished it. One day, however, she brought in this great, fat book and said triumphantly ‘I think this’ll last you for at least 10 days.’ Secretly I think she hoped I’d find it such heavy going I’d get better before I finished it. But I read it in five days, simultaneously becoming even more feverish and, although I didn’t understand everything in it, that book cast a spell on me. One sentence in particular stuck in my mind; it was the start point for my own novel.” He picks up his copy of Castorp and reads the quotation at the beginning: “‘He had spent four semesters at the Danzig Polytechnic.’”

“I grew up in Gdansk – Danzig, as it used to be called. Just imagine a writer you really, really like creating a literary hero who you discover may have lived in the house next door to you. Your imagination goes crazy: where did he live? Where did he go? Where did he get his hair cut? For years I wondered: what did Castorp do in Gdansk?”

Overall, Huelle, who used to be published in the States by Harcourt, sounds like a writer worth looking into. Especially since Hrabal and Sabato are two of his literary idols.

4 September 07 | Chad W. Post | Comments

Following on E.J.‘s call to make the texts of books available for free online, comes this announcement today from Serpent’s Tail about Nobel Prize winning author Elfriede Jelinek publishing her latest novel Envy on her website.

According to the notice, “Chapters appear on Jelinek’s website as she writes them. Jelinek has described the work as a ‘mixture of blog and prose’.”

....
The Madmen of Benghazi
The Madmen of Benghazi by Gerard de Villiers
Reviewed by P. T. Smith

Reading a genre book—whether fantasy, science fiction, crime, thriller, etc.—which begins to seem excessively, stereotypically bad, I have to make sure to ask myself: is this parodying the flaws of the genre? Usually, this questioning takes its time coming. In. . .

Read More >

The Four Corners of Palermo
The Four Corners of Palermo by Giuseppe Di Piazza
Reviewed by Patience Haggin

The Sicilian Mafia has always been a rich subject for sensational crime fiction. The Godfather, Goodfellas, and The Sopranos worked the mob’s bloody corpses and family feuds to both entertainment and artistic value. Giuseppe di Piazza’s debut novel attempts this,. . .

Read More >

Writers
Writers by Antoine Volodine
Reviewed by P. T. Smith

Antoine Volodine’s vast project (40 plus novels) of what he calls the post-exotic remains mostly untranslated, so for many of us, understanding it remains touched with mystery, whispers from those “who know,” and guesswork. That’s not to say that, were. . .

Read More >

My Brilliant Friend
My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante
Reviewed by Acacia O'Connor

It hasn’t quite neared the pitch of the waiting-in-line-at-midnight Harry Potter days, but in small bookstores and reading circles of New York City, an aura has attended the novelist Elena Ferrante and her works. One part curiosity (Who is she?),. . .

Read More >

Stealth
Stealth by Sonallah Ibrahim
Reviewed by Christopher Iacono

From the late 1940s to the early 1950s, Egypt was going through a period of transition. The country’s people were growing unhappy with the corruption of power in the government, which had been under British rule for decades. The Egyptians’. . .

Read More >

Miruna, a Tale
Miruna, a Tale by Bogdan Suceavă
Reviewed by Alta Ifland

Miruna is a novella written in the voice of an adult who remembers the summer he (then, seven) and his sister, Miruna (then, six) spent in the Evil Vale with their grandfather (sometimes referred to as “Grandfather,” other times as. . .

Read More >

Kamal Jann
Kamal Jann by Dominique Eddé
Reviewed by Lori Feathers

Kamal Jann by the Lebanese born author Dominique Eddé is a tale of familial and political intrigue, a murky stew of byzantine alliances, betrayals, and hostilities. It is a well-told story of revenge and, what’s more, a serious novel that. . .

Read More >