2 July 12 | Sarah Winstein-Hibbs | Comments

Click here to read the latest issue of Aldus, a new literary translation journal from Brown University. The pioneers behind this ambitious new publication are Three Percent contributors Matthew Weiss and Tim Nassau. Tim’s also a former Open Letter intern, and recently reviewed Tomas Tranströmer’s The Deleted World.

In this issue you’ll find a conversation between Steven T. Murray, translator of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, and his wife and fellow translator, Tiina Nunnally. Also included in this edition: translations from Forrest Gander, winner of the 2012 Best Translated Book Award for his translation of Kiwao Nomura’s Spectacle and Pigsty ; translations by Lytton Smith, translator of Children in Reindeer Woods and The Ambassador (both published by Open Letter); and new works by C.D. Wright, Susan Bernofsky, Andrei Codrescu, and Andrew Barrett – as well as a piece or two by Tim himself.

26 June 12 | Aleksandra Fazlipour | Comments

The latest review to our Reviews Section is a piece by Tim Nassau on Tomas Tranströmer’s The Deleted World, which is available from Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

This book promises to be an interesting read. Take a look at Tim’s review to see why:

Swedish poet Tomas Tranströmer’s winning the Nobel Prize brought to light a rare bit of translation gossip: that there’s bad blood between a few of his translators. And as there should be—a lot of people suddenly want to buy Tranströmer’s poetry; of the five plus out there, which book are you going to get? The Deleted World, Scottish poet Robin Robertson’s “versions” of Tranströmer’s poems (Robertson doesn’t like to call them “translations”), is the controversial one. Its first American publication at the end of last year, half a decade after it originally appeared from Enitharmon Press in Britain, drew new attention to the paper war abroad. In the introduction to the slim volume of fifteen poems from across Tranströmer’s career, Robertson makes it clear, “The free versions in The Deleted World were never intended as literal translations.” Not free enough for some. As David Orr chronicled in March in the New York Times Book Review, Robin Fulton, also a Scottish poet-translator of Tranströmer, and who does speak Swedish, “accused Robertson (who doesn’t speak Swedish) of borrowing from his more faithful versions while inserting superfluous bits of Robertson’s own creation — in essence, creating poems that are neither accurate translations nor interesting departures.” Robertson has barbs of his own: in reference to other Tranströmer collections, he dubs Samuel Charter’s Baltics a “good reading” and Robert Bly’s The Half-Finished Heaven “a strong American selection,” while Fulton’s Collected Poems is a delightfully back-handed “useful.” Good for a gloss, but get your poetry elsewhere.

Click here to read the entire review.

26 June 12 | Aleksandra Fazlipour | Comments

Swedish poet Tomas Tranströmer’s winning the Nobel Prize brought to light a rare bit of translation gossip: that there’s bad blood between a few of his translators. And as there should be—a lot of people suddenly want to buy Tranströmer’s poetry; of the five plus out there, which book are you going to get? The Deleted World, Scottish poet Robin Robertson’s “versions” of Tranströmer’s poems (Robertson doesn’t like to call them “translations”), is the controversial one. Its first American publication at the end of last year, half a decade after it originally appeared from Enitharmon Press in Britain, drew new attention to the paper war abroad. In the introduction to the slim volume of fifteen poems from across Tranströmer’s career, Robertson makes it clear, “The free versions in The Deleted World were never intended as literal translations.” Not free enough for some. As David Orr chronicled in March in the New York Times Book Review, Robin Fulton, also a Scottish poet-translator of Tranströmer, and who does speak Swedish, “accused Robertson (who doesn’t speak Swedish) of borrowing from his more faithful versions while inserting superfluous bits of Robertson’s own creation — in essence, creating poems that are neither accurate translations nor interesting departures.” Robertson has barbs of his own: in reference to other Tranströmer collections, he dubs Samuel Charter’s Baltics a “good reading” and Robert Bly’s The Half-Finished Heaven “a strong American selection,” while Fulton’s Collected Poems is a delightfully back-handed “useful.” Good for a gloss, but get your poetry elsewhere.

Whenever a translator feels compelled to present their work as something just a little bit different, as not quite a translation, but as an imitation, or a version, or whatever else they can come up with (“Englished” for “translated” is a favorite), my instinct is to cry bullshit. There is rarely something original enough to justify setting oneself apart from other translators and, intended or not, it smacks of apologetics: a way of excusing any potential infidelities as part of the game. When you actually read the poems, it’s clear why debating the merits of the different translations in terms of relative faithfulness is pointless. Compare these two versions of “The Couple,” originally published in 1962. The first is by Robin Fulton, which we know to be the sober, literal rendition:

They switch off the light and its white shade
glimmers for a moment before dissolving
like a tablet in a glass of darkness. Then up.
The hotel walls rise into the black sky.

The movements of love have settled, and they sleep
but their most secret thoughts meet as when
two colors meet and flow into each other
on the wet paper of a schoolboy’s painting.

It is dark and silent. But the town has pulled closer
tonight. With quenched windows. The houses have approached.
They stand close up in a throng, waiting,
a crowd whose faces have no expressions.

The second, from Robin Robertson, we expect to run roughshod over those lines:

They turn out the lamplight, and its white globe
glimmers for a moment: an aspirin rising and falling
then dissolving in a glass of darkness. Around them,
the hotel walls slide like a back-drop up into the night sky.

Love’s drama has died down, and they’re sleeping now,
but their dreams will meet as colours meet
and bleed into each other
in the dampened pages of a child’s painting-book.

All around is dark, and silent. The city has drawn in,
extinguishing its windows. The houses have approached.
They crowed in close, attentive:
this audience of cancelled faces.

Robertson adds “like a back-drop” in the fourth line, and there is certainly a good case for its not being there, but everything else can be unambiguously found in the Fulton. Robertson isn’t offering anything more new than re-configurations and re-thinkings of what’s already there — which is to say he’s translating. “The town has pulled closer together,” “The city has drawn in.” Word-for-word, one of those might be more accurate to the Swedish, but they nonetheless say the same thing. The question is which says it better.

I would make the case for Robertson here. His translation propels the reader through, where the Fulton in some parts seems to need a breath after every word (“glimmers for a moment before dissolving / like a tablet in a glass of water”). Where Robertson would seem to violate the syntax and exact words of the original, we find justification in the Fulton, such as the problems of “a crowd whose faces have no expressions” (is “whose” the word to use here? does the crowd have faces or is it a crowd of faces? does each face have no expression or no expressions?) which “this audience of cancelled faces” circumvents, though we do wonder what was wrong with “expressionless faces.” Robertson is certainly not blameless, but past reviews have focused on his occasional admittedly superfluous additions (Orr cites his simile “like the mess of a knife-fight” as the most egregious example, since it is absolutely without basis in the Swedish), without giving equal weight to the majority of the time when his changes are perfectly permissible and frequently elegant, adding rhythm to the jerks and offering up Tranströmer’s images in language that flows like water rather than dripping like ice. In a later poem, “The sun scorches. The plane flies low / throwing a shadow in the form of a large cross rushing forward on the ground” becomes “The sun is scorching. The plane comes in low, / throwing a shadow in the shape of a giant cross, rushing over the ground.”

Others cite this as precisely what’s wrong with Robertson’s Tranströmer, that the poems are too poetic, not strange enough. Such an effect may precisely be the hardest to produce: “Sick of those who come with words,” writes Tranströmer through Robertson, “words but no language.”

26 July 11 | Chad W. Post | Comments

Back in the tumultuous summer of 2009, Timothy Nassau was an intern here at Open Letter. He read some manuscripts, he packed some orders, he listened to a variety of rants, wrote a few blog posts and reviews, and returned to Brown University a bit wiser and with ambition in his heart.

Fast-forward two years, and young little Tim has helped launch Aldus, Brown University’s Undergraduate Journal of Translation.

The first issue is available via the link above, and is pretty damn star-studded: Red Riding Hood by BTBA 2011 winner Ales Steger, translated by fellow BTBA winner Brian Henry; excerpts from A Stroll through Literature by Roberto Bolano, translated by Laura Healy; Etchings by Paul Verlaine, translated by Keith Waldrop; excerpts from Triste Tristan by Paol Keineg, translated by Rosmarie Waldrop; The Voice by Charles Baudelaire, translated by Erik-Dardan Ymeraga; The Philosophy Teacher by the Marquis de Sade, translated by Timothy Nassau; and Since Nine by C. P. Cavafy, translated by Peter Kenros and Emily Oglesby, with assistance from Daniel Mendelsohn, among many others. (And I heard from Tim that Susan Bernofsky has something the new Walser collection in the next issue . . .)

To give you a sense of the vision of this journal, here’s the letter from the editor that Tim and fellow editor Matthew Weiss wrote:

Speaking without fear of repercussions, we can organize contemporary literature around two poles: the literature that marshalls all the faculties of the soul in full cognitive stimulation, the reader’s brain lit globally on the screen of an MRI machine; and the literature of completeness, pages already cut, that tries to make story and identity cohere. These poles have always existed; today’s inheritors are post-modernism, on the one had, and the New Yorker’s fiction section, on the other. The battlelines have been drawn since the end of the last century, yet no one recognizes that today’s readers have long ago erased these lines in the sand, rushing to the shore and the ocean, their attention on the mystery of the lands beyond it.

This situation is nothing new. In 1925, when Russian literature found itself in the same predicament, Boris Eikhenbaum wrote about a recent influx of translated literature into the market. Today, he tells us, “translated literature fills a vacuum which has come about in our native literature—only a seeming vacuum perhaps, but for the reader one unquestionably there. The reader is no historian of literature . . . What he needs is to have an absorbing book on hand for leisurely reading. He needs a finished product, one ready to use.” And how do works in translation fill the space of uncertainty in the literary marketplace? A translated work is always already finished to us; it presents itself as an emissary from a completed world, removed from the pettiness of one’s own language, literature, and culture—and no matter how it is perceived in its own land, it always appears unified in another language. As such, it stands above contemporary controversies, like a manuscript from antiquity or a message from the future. It brings into view the following: that a different kind of whole is possible.

Now, the most exciting things happening in American literature bear the mark of a translator, and the authors need not be named. For when things get tough for letters, one looks abroad for new exemplars, new reminders.

This volume, brings together authors and translators speaking from across time, place, language, and genre. There is no path, exactly; each work opens up a new height and a new abyss. All together, they superpose a globe and a timeline; grasp them before they collapse.

If you want to submit something—a translator or “treatise on a related matter”—email the text (and original) to aldusjournal [at] gmail.com by October 15th.

26 April 11 | Chad W. Post | Comments

The latest addition to our Reviews Section is a piece by Tim Nassau on Yu Jian’s Flash Cards, translated from the Chinese by Wang Ping and Ron Padgett, and published by Zephyr Press last year.

Most notably, Flash Cards is a finalist for this year’s BTBA for poetry. I’ll try to handicap the poetry titles tomorrow, but based on Tim’s review, I’m not so sure this book is going to pull it off . . .

Speaking of Tim, he was an intern here some summers ago and thanks to our special brand of Open Letter guidance, he’s going to be launching a student-centric literary translation journal out of Brown University. Our quixotic nature strikes again! (And as soon as the first issue drops, we’ll have more information.)

In the meantime, here’s the opening to Tim’s review:

A few weeks ago I was visiting my grandparents in the tiny town of Kewanee, Illinois. Their house, because it is the same house where my mother grew up with her brothers and sisters, is crammed with the detritus of several childhoods and adolescences. While looking through a closet, I found a sheet of paper hand painted with beautiful calligraphic Chinese characters. It surely belonged to my uncle, but curiosity, and the feeling that it might otherwise remain in that closet forever, compelled me to take the sheet back to Providence against what some might consider the standards of being a good guest. None of my friends who speak Chinese could read the characters, so I took the mystery to Xue Di, Brown’s resident dissident poet. He of course sent me to Wikipedia, where I learned that what I had was a famous line from 7th century poet Wang Bo. It translates to: “When one has a close friend, the far ends of heaven are next door.”

Such a sentiment is the exact opposite of what you will encounter in Flash Cards, a collection of poems by Yu Jian. Born in 1954, Yu Jian has been writing since the early 1970s. For those who know what such things mean, he is considered one of “The Third Generation Poets” that followed the “Misty Poetry” movement of the early 1980s. Part of the Zephyr Press’s Jintian series dedicated to making available contemporary Chinese works, this is Yu Jian’s first collection to appear in English.

Click here to read the full piece.

And stay tuned to find out how Flash Cards fares in the BTBA . . .

26 April 11 | Chad W. Post | Comments

A few weeks ago I was visiting my grandparents in the tiny town of Kewanee, Illinois. Their house, because it is the same house where my mother grew up with her brothers and sisters, is crammed with the detritus of several childhoods and adolescences. While looking through a closet, I found a sheet of paper hand painted with beautiful calligraphic Chinese characters. It surely belonged to my uncle, but curiosity, and the feeling that it might otherwise remain in that closet forever, compelled me to take the sheet back to Providence against what some might consider the standards of being a good guest. None of my friends who speak Chinese could read the characters, so I took the mystery to Xue Di, Brown’s resident dissident poet. He of course sent me to Wikipedia, where I learned that what I had was a famous line from 7th century poet Wang Bo. It translates to: “When one has a close friend, the far ends of heaven are next door.”

Such a sentiment is the exact opposite of what you will encounter in Flash Cards, a collection of poems by Yu Jian. Born in 1954, Yu Jian has been writing since the early 1970s. For those who know what such things mean, he is considered one of “The Third Generation Poets” that followed the “Misty Poetry” movement of the early 1980s. Part of the Zephyr Press’s Jintian series dedicated to making available contemporary Chinese works, this is Yu Jian’s first collection to appear in English.

The world of the poet presented here is one of constant alienation, dissociation, and feeling out of place. But all this in a sea of people—everyone is forced together by necessity, but this does not create a feeling of connectedness. The far ends of heaven are not next door: everyone is crammed together and one does not have a close friend: one has 1.3 billion people. The poems are described as constituting “a primer of modern Chinese life,” and it is hard to escape the fact of the political and social reality from whence they emanate while reading these poems, especially when several seem to reference it directly:

Morning in the park
Thousands of retired women are exercising
They’ve given birth their children are grown
scattered across the wilderness of life
The Dishes have been washed
With leisure time they want to do something for themselves
In the winter sunlight
a thousand mothers are dancing
One of them gave birth to me
Mother I call out
They all turn their heads

This is surreal, and it is skillfully ambiguous whether it is meant to be funny or horrifying (as those seem to be the main things surrealism can do), but it is quite real as well. A commentary on a nation’s desire for children it cannot have, a single man’s obsession with his own mother, a meditation on the indistinguishability of the self in a communist regime . . . It’s as if Yu Jian grafted the stereotype of the Westerner who thinks all Chinese look alike onto himself.

Of course, the only possible outcome of this is clear: poems about being yourself and poems about how poems can let you do this. A general warning sign for me when reading a book of poetry is if the poet spends too long writing poems about writing poems. In this case, the stakes are higher so it is more forgivable: in America, the concept of dissident poetry is somewhat laughable (“You mean like America?”) because though you may be jailed for indecency, you will not disappear. I do not think Yu Jian is a dissident poet (because if he were I feel like it would have been mentioned somewhere prominent), but he recognizes that poetry as self-expression in China is not just about solipsism:

The poet is hosting a meeting
but she doesn’t know how to begin
Her poems are far away
planted at Black Leopard Farm
Time’s up everyone is looking at the clock
“Stand up, everyone” she says
“Let’s sing the national anthem”

The implication that nationalism is what fills in the gap left by poetry (or art in general) is powerful and important. This is what gives Yu Jian a feeling of belonging: not the forced comradery of communism, but that “A letter traveled a thousand miles / not to explain Ulysses / but to let me know / that somebody understood / my words.” Unfortunately, a large portion of this book passes by without making much of an impact. Many poems muse on daily life and present it enigmatically, but the exotically oblique meditativeness that seems to dominate our view of Chinese poetry rarely extends past the surface; each poem gives the strange impression of being both mysterious and making perfect sense, though the latter sensation often comes to dominate, and not in a good way; ambiguities are too tidily resolved. Perhaps this feeling is strictly my own, but I think it may come from a tension in how we view works from China: on the one hand we think of political oppression and work produced in exile, and on the other we imagine quatrains seeped in nature and Confucius. The reality of Chinese literature must be different and the oversimplification comes from my end, yet Yu Jian writes,

On the garden’s eyelashes
a butterfly is catching the twilight
The evening paper has arrived
Among reports of murder and the stock market
is a poem about the butterfly

What can we do with this? Can a poem about a butterfly also be about the economy (like this one)? The question is not even Chinese: can you be philosophical while writing about the actual world you live in? It has been done, but the tension between these two strains is not dealt with satisfactorily here: most “political” poems are abstract to the point of toothlessness while the “poetic” ones feel weighed down by inescapable ideological readings. For now, I’ll read the paper and then get to that poem about the butterfly.

17 January 11 | Chad W. Post | Comments

The latest addition to our Reviews Section is a piece by Tim Nassau on Ales Steger’s The Book of Things, which is available from BOA Editions in Brian Henry’s translation from the Slovenian.

If you don’t know BOA Editions, they’re one of the premiere publishers of poetry in the U.S. and do a number of books in translation. They also happen to be based here in Rochester and their publisher is my good friend Peter Conners. In addition to guiding this admirable non-profit, Peter is a poet himself and author of two very cool works of nonfiction: Growing Up Dead: The Hallucinated Confessions of a Teenage Deadhead and the more recent The White Hand Society: The Psychedelic Partnership of Timothy Leary & Allen Ginsberg. (Yes, there is a theme here.) Anyway, Peter’s not really the focus of this, so shout out over.

Ales Steger is one of those European poets whose name comes up time and again, be it in the Boston Review or Guernica or in Graywolf’s New European Poets anthology of a couple years back. I was actually a bit surprised to find out that The Book of Things is his first collection to be published in English translation.

Tim Nassau was a summer intern back in the day, and is a bit Open Letter fan and regular contributor to Three Percent. He’s also supposed to stop by the office in the next few hours, so I feel compelled to say nice things about him.

Here’s the opening of his review:

Literary critic Edmund Wilson, writing in the 1930s, said that the pieces of Gertrude Stein’s Tender Buttons were intended to be “prose still-lifes to correspond to those of such painters as Picasso and Braque. A pattern of assorted words, though they might make nonsense from the traditional point of view, would be analogous to a Cubist canvas composed of unidentifiable fragments.” The first two sections of that book are entitled “Objects” and “Food,” and those are the main subjects of Slovenian poet Aleš Šteger’s The Book of Things (with a few animals thrown in as well). The collection, which consists of 50 poems—a poem followed by seven sections of seven “things,” from raisins and bread to tapeworms and windshield wipers—is the poet’s fourth and the first to appear in English translation. While Stein sought to portray her things by breaking them down into tiny linguistic pieces and collaging those bits back together, Šteger’s cubism is in the addition of angles: like in Toy Story, objects are given literal lives of their own that are here drawn out; the things we so often overlook become the repositories of our own human fears and dreams. The effect is often disarming and although the individual success of each poem is inconsistent, there is enough beauty and surprise in these lines for Šteger’s stature as one of Slovenia’s best young poets to be amply justified.

So, as expected, the things described in this book are defamiliarized and here, often, Šteger is at his best. The way he personifies an object, or the metaphor he uses, is never obvious, but it always makes complete sense. That when you open an umbrella “he unbuttons his too-tight tuxedo” is an image that could very well become engrained my experience of walking in the rain. The description of a cat as a “castrated transvestite in fur” also belies a strain of humor, or at least a taste for the uncanny. The effect of such language, however, can at times be discomfiting. In “Sausage” we are asked “Is your stomach rumbling again? Come, put it in your mouth. / Between the anus and the mouth the appetite of a body for a body.” Though destined to be a lifelong carnivore, the reminder that a sausage is a body in the same way that I am a body is sobering.

Click here to read the full review. (And for the official count, this is the fourth review of 2011 . . . Only 96 more to reach our goal . . .)

17 January 11 | Chad W. Post | Comments

Literary critic Edmund Wilson, writing in the 1930s, said that the pieces of Gertrude Stein’s Tender Buttons were intended to be “prose still-lifes to correspond to those of such painters as Picasso and Braque. A pattern of assorted words, though they might make nonsense from the traditional point of view, would be analogous to a Cubist canvas composed of unidentifiable fragments.” The first two sections of that book are entitled “Objects” and “Food,” and those are the main subjects of Slovenian poet Aleš Šteger’s The Book of Things (with a few animals thrown in as well). The collection, which consists of 50 poems—a poem followed by seven sections of seven “things,” from raisins and bread to tapeworms and windshield wipers—is the poet’s fourth and the first to appear in English translation. While Stein sought to portray her things by breaking them down into tiny linguistic pieces and collaging those bits back together, Šteger’s cubism is in the addition of angles: like in Toy Story, objects are given literal lives of their own that are here drawn out; the things we so often overlook become the repositories of our own human fears and dreams. The effect is often disarming and although the individual success of each poem is inconsistent, there is enough beauty and surprise in these lines for Šteger’s stature as one of Slovenia’s best young poets to be amply justified.

So, as expected, the things described in this book are defamiliarized and here, often, Šteger is at his best. The way he personifies an object, or the metaphor he uses, is never obvious, but it always makes complete sense. That when you open an umbrella “he unbuttons his too-tight tuxedo” is an image that could very well become engrained my experience of walking in the rain. The description of a cat as a “castrated transvestite in fur” also belies a strain of humor, or at least a taste for the uncanny. The effect of such language, however, can at times be discomfiting. In “Sausage” we are asked “Is your stomach rumbling again? Come, put it in your mouth. / Between the anus and the mouth the appetite of a body for a body.” Though destined to be a lifelong carnivore, the reminder that a sausage is a body in the same way that I am a body is sobering.

Yet this aspect, this theme of Šteger’s poetry is actually not quite as prevalent as one could expect. It’s hard to generalize about the poems because each thing is treated differently and what they may lack in cohesion as a whole is made up in variety (and of course, how can you treat Salmon and Shit the same?). But there are unifying themes: loss, escape from yourself, confusion perhaps, though I may just be projecting . . . For poems ostensibly about things there is certainly a lot of human in here. Consider this, entitled “Grater”:

You remember how your mother, Jocasta,
Returned from the pigsty with a gaping palm.

Inside the madness of pain a window opened.
She stepped out and stepped out of her body.

You remember how your startled father was changing a bandage,
How, mid-escape, the edges of the bandage turned red.

This time the grater’s whisper is yours. The world is being whittled away.
The apple wedge is getting smaller, but who is there for whom?

Are you merely an instrument of the apple in your palm?
Silently it grates you, a ripe Buddhist, idared samsara.

When it vanishes you, you open your eyes, like your mother
That time, on the other side of the wound.

This is, certainly, poetry—an oblique allusion, two words in a row I don’t know (“idared samsara”), a little melodrama (the madness of pain), perhaps even (though we’ll give Šteger the benefit of the doubt) a reference to the Buddhist Beats—but it is beautiful and it has power. The feeling is of a view into a private world that is not our own, a view mediated by things, here a bandage, a grater, an apple. There is something behind them: memories that are not ours and that we cannot understand, so it is a testament to Šteger’s writing (and Brian Henry’s constantly lucid translation) that we feel them. And what is important beyond that is this idea: that objects might not just be there for us or, perhaps less crazy, that they grow past functionality to become the talismans of our lives, that they are imbued with our personal histories. We create the private lives of objects, but, as Šteger writes in the poem “Ant,” they are “the invisible moving through the visible world.” The poem ends thusly: “And there aren’t names for what it is. / When it disappears into its maze, only hope remains / That at least there are names for what it isn’t.” Stein showed in Tender Buttons that the names of things cannot contain them by proving to us that language is not tantamount to the world is ostensibly describes. Šteger shows that the names of things cannot contain them because they merely denote a function rather than connoting anything richer. The epigraph to these poems is “A word does not exist for every thing.” No, but a poem does, and we all write them every day.

16 November 10 | Chad W. Post | Comments

The latest addition to our Reviews Section is a piece by Tim Nassau on the Ecco Anthology of International Poetry that was edited by Ilya Kaminsky and Susan Harris and came out earlier this year. (Most probably around April, seeing that April is National Poetry Month, which leads to a huge number of poetry collections coming out during the one month in which they may be displayed in bookstores . . .)

Anyway, Tim was an intern here in the summer of 2009 (which seems oh so long ago now), and is studying translation at Brown. (And he’s planning on starting some sort of translation magazine, but I’ll let him tell all of you about that once he’s got things set-up and underway), and has reviewed a bunch of books for us. He’s a lively writer, and his pieces are fun to read . . . Here’s the opening of the this review:

The joy of an anthology is similar to the joy of a college course in literature, of listening to the radio, of attending an art exhibition: it is the pleasure of having someone else tell you what is good and important and how it all connects together. You may find the joy of a discovery or an insight that you would probably never have stumbled upon on your own, a joy that puts them in the right. When they are wrong, your ego comes out unscarred, the validity of your own taste has been vindicated; for the reader, it is a riskless situation. Yet with an anthology such as The Ecco Anthology of International Poetry, edited by Ilya Kaminsky and Susan Harris, the stakes are higher on both ends. Reading it is the equivalent of attending a class taught by Nabokov or Nicholson Baker. Access is granted to the private preferences of one of our most promising young poets, so the fruits to be gained may be more succulent, but the disappointment more sour should they prove rotten. After all, how many friendships have ended because someone listens to too much Simon and Garfunkel? Never touch your idols: the gilding will stick to your fingers . . .

To lay any doubts to rest, however, I must say that this anthology brought me joy. All the major and well known poets of the twentieth century are here represented (Rilke, Apollinaire, Akhmatova, Reverdy, Pasternak, Lorca . . . all in the first one hundred pages), but more importantly the selections made by Kaminsky shy away from their most famous and obviously anthologizable work to present us with equally impressive B-sides (just to pick one example, rather than choose Apollinaire’s “Le Pont Mirabeau,” we get “Zone,” the spectacular five page opener of Alcools and “The Little Car” from Calligrammes, the collection of Apollinaire’s more technically experimental concrete poetry). Thus each poet we thought we knew before becomes more multi-faceted with every page of this collection. And this principle extends out to those we don’t usually think of as poets: we find a Kafka parable, poems by Brecht, Raymond Queneau, Günter Grass, and Pier Paolo Pasolini (the latter’s work as a poet often getting overshadowed by the controversy of his films). It as if this anthology singlehandedly seeks to remind us that our greatest novelists and playwrights are, at heart, simply poets.

To read the full piece, just click here.

16 November 10 | Chad W. Post | Comments

The joy of an anthology is similar to the joy of a college course in literature, of listening to the radio, of attending an art exhibition: it is the pleasure of having someone else tell you what is good and important and how it all connects together. You may find the joy of a discovery or an insight that you would probably never have stumbled upon on your own, a joy that puts them in the right. When they are wrong, your ego comes out unscarred, the validity of your own taste has been vindicated; for the reader, it is a riskless situation. Yet with an anthology such as The Ecco Anthology of International Poetry, edited by Ilya Kaminsky and Susan Harris, the stakes are higher on both ends. Reading it is the equivalent of attending a class taught by Nabokov or Nicholson Baker. Access is granted to the private preferences of one of our most promising young poets, so the fruits to be gained may be more succulent, but the disappointment more sour should they prove rotten. After all, how many friendships have ended because someone listens to too much Simon and Garfunkel? Never touch your idols: the gilding will stick to your fingers . . .

To lay any doubts to rest, however, I must say that this anthology brought me joy. All the major and well known poets of the twentieth century are here represented (Rilke, Apollinaire, Akhmatova, Reverdy, Pasternak, Lorca . . . all in the first one hundred pages), but more importantly the selections made by Kaminsky shy away from their most famous and obviously anthologizable work to present us with equally impressive B-sides (just to pick one example, rather than choose Apollinaire’s “Le Pont Mirabeau,” we get “Zone,” the spectacular five page opener of Alcools and “The Little Car” from Calligrammes, the collection of Apollinaire’s more technically experimental concrete poetry). Thus each poet we thought we knew before becomes more multi-faceted with every page of this collection. And this principle extends out to those we don’t usually think of as poets: we find a Kafka parable, poems by Brecht, Raymond Queneau, Günter Grass, and Pier Paolo Pasolini (the latter’s work as a poet often getting overshadowed by the controversy of his films). It as if this anthology singlehandedly seeks to remind us that our greatest novelists and playwrights are, at heart, simply poets.

What I have yet to mention is that, to me at least, the majority of the poets in this collection were unknown, and therein lies its greatest pleasure. Be forewarned that while reading this anthology you may feel compelled to immediately go and snatch up the collected (or selected) works of every new find. Though this may be unorthodox in a review, the best way to convey this sense is to open the book to a random page and transcribe what is found there, though every page will be different—in theme, in style, in country . . .1 Thus, on page 343, we find the poem “Destiny” by the Romanian Marin Sorescu:

The hen I’d bought the night before,
Frozen,
Had come to life,
Had laid the biggest egg in the world
And had been awarded the Nobel Prize.

The phenomenal egg
Was passed from hand to hand,
In a few weeks it had gone round the world,
And round the sun
In 365 days.

The hen had received who knows how much strong currency
Valued in pails of grain
Which she never managed to eat

Because she was invited everywhere,
Gave lectures, granted interviews,
Was photographed.

Often the reporters insisted
That I should be there too
In the photograph
Beside her.

And so, after having served Art
All my life

Suddenly I’m famous
As a poultry-breeder.

I had never heard of Marin Sorescu before this book, yet the biographical fact that he “was the most translated Romanian writer of the latter half of the twentieth century” says much more (I hope) about the status of translation in America than about my personal ignorance. In his introduction Kaminsky writes that “It is not unusual these days to hear an American translator say that she translated partly because she lives in an empire and sees translation work as a chance to educated the American readers about the voices of the larger world.” In this, the anthology succeeds admirably and both Kaminsky and Words Without Borders are to be commended for this contribution to that effort. But there is something more at stake, something that touches on the very reason we translate. Kaminsky puts it better than I ever could: “Languages are many, says Voznesensky, poetry is one. If this is true, then perhaps an avid reader of poetry from around the globe may have a chance to glimpse into the heart of the art of poetry itself—of that which exists between languages.” What we have here are “poems of perversion and praise and lament from a century of destroyed cities, molten borders between states and nations, apartheid, Hiroshima, Auschwitz, totalitarianisms, racism, world wars, massive destruction, torture, epidemics, struggle, resistance.” This is the world we still live in, and it does not end at, or exist solely outside of, America’s frontiers. To show us, through poetry, that we all feel the same pains and love as everyone else is the essential task of this work.

And Kaminsky may be the poet best suited for this task: forced to flee Russia with his family when the Soviet Union fell, his own life crosses the borders of his work. Unlike Homer he is partially deaf, literally tuned out of the glossolalia that makes us think we are different from anyone else. But perhaps we should say he is only second best, for the collection ends with an anonymous poem:

Listen, O earth; we shall mourn because of you
Listen, shall we all die on the earth?

1 Since I can’t think of anywhere to put this in the body of my review, here seems as good a place as ever. I do have one complaint about this book. Poems are grouped by author and the authors are ordered chronologically by birth date (rather than by country), yet there is no date given to each poem, which I found extremely frustrating and which fact Ilya Kaminsky’s note in the introduction, that “we decided against accompanying poetry with lengthy biographical and critical information (only very brief notes are available at the end of the book), because those materials often affect the way poetry is read, and we feel that information ranging from awards to world wars has little to do with a ‘soul’s search for a release in language,’” though nice, hardly seems to adequately justify.

29 June 10 | Chad W. Post | Comments

The latest addition to our Reviews Section is Tim Nassau’s piece on Pierre Siniac’s The Collaborators, which is translated from the French by Jordan Stump and came out earlier this year from Dalkey Archive Press.

This is kicking off a few weeks of Dalkey reviews . . . We already have a piece on Toussaint’s Self-Portrait Abroad ready to post on Tuesday, and a review of Patrik Ourednik’s Case Closed in the works for next week . . .

But anyway. Tim — who you may remember from last summer, when he interned for Open Letter and wrote a few reviews and other pieces — does a great job summing up this complicated book, which, even though his review isn’t 100% positive, sounds pretty fun and intriguing. Here’s the opening of Tim’s piece:

The Collaborators is a novel about a novel. The book in question is called Dancing the Brown Java, volume one of a sprawling epic set in Resistance-era France, and perhaps the greatest French work since Louis-Ferdinand Céline’s Voyage to the End of the Night. The reader doesn’t learn too much about the content of this new masterpiece over the course of Pierre Siniac’s book—certain episodes of the plot are sketched out, a sentence or two is read by some character, critics praise the “little music” of its prose—for it is the events that swarm around it, the violent and even absurd machinations Dancing the Brown Java sets in motion, that constitute the almost 500 pages of this work.

It becomes clear early on that Dancing the Brown Java is an atypical book, not in some metaphysical or metafictional sense (like Borges’s “The Book of Sand”), but perhaps more as a MacGuffin, a mysterious force driving the action and leaving dead bodies in its wake. The Collaborators opens with an episode of Book Culture, a TV show dedicated to the literary arts. Jean-Rémi Dochin and Charles Gastinel are the stars of the evening, brought on to discuss Dancing the Brown Java, their critical and commercial hit. The two are an unlikely pair to have spawned a great work of literature: Dochin spent his life as an unemployed drifter, while Gastinel worked as a puppeteer until he became so fat his stage burst one day as he was performing beneath it. And as for being collaborators? They are decades apart in age and hardly seem to like one another . . .

Well they don’t and they aren’t. We learn very early on that Dochin wrote the book alone. Somehow, Gastinel involved Dochin in a murder and is now using this as blackmail so that he may live his dream of being a famous and esteemed author; imagine the Devil so admiring Faust’s intellect that he forced a deal on the poor scholar just to get a byline. And this is not the only time Dancing is tainted with blood. After it is published, any critic that plans on giving it a bad review quickly finds himself permanently incapacitated before a bad word about the novel can appear in print.

Click “here”: for the full review.

29 June 10 | Chad W. Post | Comments

The Collaborators is a novel about a novel. The book in question is called Dancing the Brown Java, volume one of a sprawling epic set in Resistance-era France, and perhaps the greatest French work since Louis-Ferdinand Céline’s Voyage to the End of the Night.1 The reader doesn’t learn too much about the content of this new masterpiece over the course of Pierre Siniac’s book—certain episodes of the plot are sketched out, a sentence or two is read by some character, critics praise the “little music” of its prose—for it is the events that swarm around it, the violent and even absurd machinations Dancing the Brown Java sets in motion, that constitute the almost 500 pages of this work.

It becomes clear early on that Dancing the Brown Java is an atypical book, not in some metaphysical or metafictional sense (like Borges’s “The Book of Sand”), but perhaps more as a MacGuffin, a mysterious force driving the action and leaving dead bodies in its wake. The Collaborators opens with an episode of Book Culture, a TV show dedicated to the literary arts.2 Jean-Rémi Dochin and Charles Gastinel are the stars of the evening, brought on to discuss Dancing the Brown Java, their critical and commercial hit. The two are an unlikely pair to have spawned a great work of literature: Dochin spent his life as an unemployed drifter, while Gastinel worked as a puppeteer until he became so fat his stage burst one day as he was performing beneath it. And as for being collaborators? They are decades apart in age and hardly seem to like one another . . .

Well they don’t and they aren’t. We learn very early on that Dochin wrote the book alone. Somehow, Gastinel involved Dochin in a murder and is now using this as blackmail so that he may live his dream of being a famous and esteemed author; imagine the Devil so admiring Faust’s intellect that he forced a deal on the poor scholar just to get a byline. And this is not the only time Dancing is tainted with blood. After it is published, any critic that plans on giving it a bad review quickly finds himself3 permanently incapacitated before a bad word about the novel can appear in print.

And if these weren’t mysteries enough, there is one more overarching head scratcher: how could anyone even write a good word about Dancing the Brown Java? The majority of the novel follows Dochin as he works on his magnum opus, and his opinion of his own prose is consistently low:

“I picked up one of my books, opened it, and once again discovered my pointless prose, my thick-headed wordplay, my malformed sentences trudging painfully over the page, my shallow, police-report behaviorism, my inane descriptions, my lovely syntactical screw-ups poking out here and there like weeds, my dialogue straight out of a dimestore novel or a TV series . . . Line after miserable line . . . I paged through the book, a strange weariness coming over me. The flatness of the thing hit me square in the face, just like a cream pie, only some joker had replaced the custard with cement. Talk about empty intellectual calories! I was already sure of it, and now the book in my hands made it clear as day: this was the best I could hope for, I’d never do better, never rise above this ocean of blather, this mountain of commonplaces, this forest of clichés.”

Why would someone with such a low opinion of his writing even try to get it published? The answer is Ferdinaud Céline, owner of an inn where Dochin ends up living for several years while he works on his book, and progenitor of the French title of this novel.4 A former bookstore owner, she becomes Dochin’s lover, mother, and the most avid fan of his work, maniacally pushing him to finish his book as she prepares a typed manuscript for the publishers. She has Proust on her bookshelves, so obviously she can recognize good writing, right?

Of course people, like works of literature, are never quite what they seem, and as facades begin to fall away at the end of The Collaborators, Siniac shows how deception can operate on both a literary and a real level. But I should qualify this: The Collaborators is itself a work of deception, but of the simplest kind: it is a thriller, a mystery novel. At the pure level of plot things are not as they seem, and we as readers get caught up in this and relish being led along to a surprising, twisting, and unexpected conclusion. Yet there is little more.

Siniac lampoons the literary community in his novel. He presents the silly politicking of publishing a book, of making it a success; critics savor their ability to destroy a new writer simply for its own sake, to feel important and relevant in a world where they are mere leeches. The bullshit of academese that plagues literature is hilariously mocked as a panel praises Dancing the Brown Java on Book Culture:

“So captivating, so blistering, so masterful in its descriptions, it’s terrific!, it’s tremendous!, so utterly new in its suggestivity, so irresistibly piquant in its paroxysmal sub-quintessenciation of the unsaid and the sub-experienced, in the neo-Brechtian parody of the context and the underlying depths of style.”

Unfortunately, this is easily the best line in The Collaborators, and it comes about twenty pages in . . . Again, this is a book about deception: Dochin is deceived about his ability to write and about the motivations of his friends. On another level, there are the deceptions of the publishing world. The public is deceived into thinking Dancing the Brown Java has two authors, but there are broader and more structural book culture deception as well: authors given paltry advances by publishing companies, critical jargoneers swarming around literature like piranhas at the smell of blood . . . Yet the world of publishing and all the apparatuses that feed off of it are impermanent. Written culture has evolved over thousands of years and will continue to do so with the advent of e-books and online distribution. And as in any hierarchical power structure people will be tricked, swindled, and abused. But this does not touch on the deceptive essence of literature, on its power to make you think that it is important, that the people you read about are in some way real, that it has some inherent meaning. This is essential to literature as an art, but it is the non-essentials clustered around this art that Siniac touches on. And he does so in a highly enjoyable fashion. Look no further for a brainy thriller about a topic rarely scratched by the genre . . . but if you recognize that life is more than a series of plot twists, stick with a real Céline; you’ll be satisfied with something more like Dancing the Brown Java than The Collaborators.

1 Available from New Directions. Siniac’s act of describing the greatest new French novel rather than writing it himself reminds me of the song “Tribute” by Tenacious D.

2 Can you imagine such a thing being popular here in the U.S.?

3 According to this book, there are no important French literary critics that aren’t men.

4 Ferdinaud Céline

10 July 09 | Chad W. Post | Comments

I’m planning on writing a post next week with the current list of books that have been nominated for the 2010 Best Translated Book Award longlist. (It’s an era of transparency, no? And besides, wouldn’t you like a bit of time to be able to read some of these titles before the longlist announcement?) I don’t think I’m giving too much away by admitting that Christensen’s Azorno is on that list.

Timothy Nassau’s review (Tim’s been doing a fantastic job interning here over the summer), pretty clearly demonstrates why at least one of our judges really likes this book:

Inger Christensen, who passed away in January of this year, is best known in America as an experimental poet, if she is known at all. Now the second of her three novels (also the second to appear in English; Harvill Press published her 1976 book The Painted Room in 2000) is finally appearing in America over forty years after it was written.

On page one of Azorno, the narrator says, “I’ve learned that I’m the woman he first meets on page eight.” Perhaps you have more patience than I, but if not, flip to page eight and be prepared for disappointment: there is no “he,” though there are two women. Unfortunately, we met them a few pages back. Perhaps, then, an error in the translation, a slight shift in font size that cooked the numbers? Perhaps… but there is no such meeting on page seven or page nine, and none to be found on six or ten for that matter. Yet lovers of metafiction need not despair, for Inger Christensen is merely setting the stage for her endlessly puzzling and dazzling novel, a contradictory work that may or may not be self-referential, but is never content with the confines of reality.

Five women—who sometimes appear as friends, sometimes as complete strangers—are, or have been, involved with the writer Sampel. It is Sampel’s most recent book’s eighth page that is referenced on the first page of this one, and the “he” who meets the woman is Azorno, the main character for both Sampel and Christensen. The novel (which is only about 100 pages, and really should be read in one sitting) does not have a central plot, but is broken up into different sections, each with a different narrator. In the first twenty pages or so, the women write a series of letters in which they argue over who the woman in Sampel’s book is supposed to be. A later section is presented as part of a novel by one of the women, Louise, but then another, Katarina, claims to be the author and admits she used her friend’s name as a pseudonym. In a third section, however, Randi also claims that she is the one writing the book. Later it will be Bet Sampel, who is Sampel’s wife, and finally by the end Sampel gets a chance to speak, but then he claims to be Azorno. If this is not confusing enough, the same details reappear again and again in different narratives and completely different contexts: a dog named Goethe, a drawing on the wall near a cigarette stain; even whole chunks of text are copied verbatim from one page onto another.

Click here for the full review.

10 July 09 | Chad W. Post | Comments

Inger Christensen, who passed away in January of this year, is best known in America as an experimental poet, if she is known at all. Now the second of her three novels (also the second to appear in English; Harvill Press published her 1976 book The Painted Room in 2000) is finally appearing in America over forty years after it was written.

On page one of Azorno, the narrator says, “I’ve learned that I’m the woman he first meets on page eight.” Perhaps you have more patience than I, but if not, flip to page eight and be prepared for disappointment: there is no “he,” though there are two women. Unfortunately, we met them a few pages back. Perhaps, then, an error in the translation, a slight shift in font size that cooked the numbers? Perhaps… but there is no such meeting on page seven or page nine, and none to be found on six or ten for that matter. Yet lovers of metafiction need not despair, for Inger Christensen is merely setting the stage for her endlessly puzzling and dazzling novel, a contradictory work that may or may not be self-referential, but is never content with the confines of reality.

Five women—who sometimes appear as friends, sometimes as complete strangers—are, or have been, involved with the writer Sampel. It is Sampel’s most recent book’s eighth page that is referenced on the first page of this one, and the “he” who meets the woman is Azorno, the main character for both Sampel and Christensen. The novel (which is only about 100 pages, and really should be read in one sitting) does not have a central plot, but is broken up into different sections, each with a different narrator. In the first twenty pages or so, the women write a series of letters in which they argue over who the woman in Sampel’s book is supposed to be. A later section is presented as part of a novel by one of the women, Louise, but then another, Katarina, claims to be the author and admits she used her friend’s name as a pseudonym. In a third section, however, Randi also claims that she is the one writing the book. Later it will be Bet Sampel, who is Sampel’s wife, and finally by the end Sampel gets a chance to speak, but then he claims to be Azorno. If this is not confusing enough, the same details reappear again and again in different narratives and completely different contexts: a dog named Goethe, a drawing on the wall near a cigarette stain; even whole chunks of text are copied verbatim from one page onto another. One metaphor that makes several appearances is particularly beautiful, and in some ways captures the reader’s strange sense of déjà vu:

Within a second my blood, my thoughts, nerves, and senses were swept back ten years and I think I felt like a diver who finds himself at the bottom of the ocean one minute and on solid ground the next, unable to hear whether the others are saying he’s dead or alive because he’s encapsulated in a silence as vast as if he’d brought the ocean up with him and it surrounded him now like a huge bell that no one could pass through without drowning.

It is difficult to penetrate the thoughts of each character, and even figure out where he or she is in time. Because the text has so many internal contradictions and just plain confusing passages (Wrap your mind around this: “Probably the truth will come out, Xenia’s letter should be called Randi’s letter; she’s always been quite a liar; I mean Randi, meaning Xenia”), it is not clear if the narrators are delusional, if they are referring to a novel-within-a-novel(-within-a-novel), or if Christensen is simply having her fun. I do not know, and I do not even know if I am supposed to know, but the result is most definitely a puzzle with pieces that can be put together in a plethora of unique and rewarding ways.

One of Christensen’s chief concerns was the relationship of language and reality, and her writing in Azorno is always lively and frequently experimental. The author’s background in poetry comes out both in the structure of the work as a whole, and from page to page. The repetition of certain paragraphs throughout the novel gives the work overall the feel of a villanelle, and lends it the circularity and shifts in perception of this poetic form, two themes perfectly suited for Azorno. Christensen owes a more direct debt to the American concrete-poets, who used words more as brush strokes than as signifiers; their arrangement on the page is as important as their meaning, and in some cases supplants it. In Azorno, this influence is melded with more traditional prose in passages like this one:

First I would work out a general explanation.

Then I would explain everything to Xenia.

Then I would explain everything to Randi, in general terms.

Then I would explain everything in general to Katarina, and, in particular, my escape.

Then I would explain everything in general to Bet Sampel, and, in particular, my escape to Rome, Via Napoli 3.

Would then explain to Sampel.

Would then explain Sampel.

Explain Azorno

Explain

Plain

In

In the late afternoon, at five o’clock, I went out again.

Beyond such stylistic feats, Christensen also demonstrates a fine knack for capturing mood and emotion. In one of my favorite parts of the book, Sampel’s wife comes home while he is in bed with another woman, and there is a tremendous sense of urgency in the author describes the scene:

Sampel got up and threw on his bathrobe. The light filtered through the women’s hair. The air was green. I could clearly hear that someone was coming. On the stone staircase. On the terrace. It’s her, he whispered. By the door. On the tiled floor. Don’t move. For all the world, don’t move. Play dead. Now he was standing at the door to the stairs. She, at the door to the drawing room. She, in room after room. He, already on the stairs. She, in the dining room. He, on the stairs. She, in the living room, the sitting room. He, on the tiled floor at the foot of the stairs. She, in the garden room. He, in room after room. She, in the salon. He, in the dining room. She, in the tea salon. He, in the living room, sitting room. She, in the smoking salon. He, in the garden room. She, in the literary salon. He, in the salon. She, in the library and back again. He, in the tea salon. She, in the literary salon. He, in the smoking salon, she, in the smoking salon, he and she, in the tea salon, in the salon, in the garden room, in the sitting room, the drawing room, talking, in the dining room, in room after room, on the tiled floor, the tiled floor at the foot of the stairs, and at any moment on the staircase and right here outside the door to the bedroom where I lay while Sampel got up and threw on his bathrobe, and now he was standing with her on the tiled floor at the foot of the stairs talking and talking like a radio station that at last fades out and disappears.

Part love story, mystery, and madhouse, Azorno is an exhilarating read that leaves you guessing whether there are even any answers at all.

21 May 09 | Chad W. Post | Comments

Tim Nassau is interning at Open Letter over the summer, researching books we should have translated and writing some posts for the blog, such as the one below that gives a brief overview of a few interesting Korean authors.

The Korea Literature Translation Institute has the expressed goal “of contributing to global culture by spreading Korean literature and culture abroad,” and to that end, has produced some wonderful publications to introduce non-Korean readers to Korean authors. (CWP Note: And this page of statistics. It’s a cultural org after my number-loving heart!) I flipped through their guide on contemporary Korean novelists and uncovered a few authors that sound really interesting. Of course, most of their works are not yet available in English (though two of Yi Mun-yol’s books have been published), but hopefully will be translated soon!

My friend Teresa called Kyung-ni Park, who just died in 2008, “probably the most revered author in Korea.” The author of over ten books, she is most well known for Toji [The Land], a five part, multi-volume epic that took 25 years to complete (and takes about as long to read). The novel follows four generations of a family from the Joseon Dynasty to Korea’s liberation from Japan, showing personal change in the midst of cataclysmic societal upheaval. Unfortunately, the dozens of dialects present in the book would make it a challenge to translate, but this hasn’t deterred the French . . .

Another author fond of long yarns is Choi In-hun. Known for great historical and philosophical range, his autobiographical novel Hwadu [A Topic for Contemplation] spans two volumes and more than a thousand pages. Perhaps less ambitious, but more attention-grabbing, is Gwangjang [The Square]. Compared to Kyung-ni Park’s Sijang-gwa Jeonjang [The Market and the Battlefield] due to their objective perspectives of war, the work follows a Korean student of philosophy caught between the North and the South their conflict erupts in the 1950s. Unable to feel at home in either, he decides to flee both, but even abroad cannot escape the twin specters of capitalism and communism.

Eun Hee-kyung’s body of works offers a helpful formula for any aspiring author: sophisticated cynicism + light, humorous prose = illumination. Concerned with the everyday minutiae that prevent true human communication, her first novel, Sae-ui Seonmul [A Gift from a Bird], tells the story of a twelve-year old girl whose mother killed herself during the war. With the freedom and precociousness of a child, she exposes the absurd falsehoods from which the oblivious adults around her create their lives. (And, like the protagonist of Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, is probably ten times smarter than anyone you knew at that age.)

Though one might expect a diet version of Children of Men, Yi Mun-yol’s Saram-ui Adeul [Son of Man] bears a resemblance to the science-fiction novel in name only. Rather, it is compared to Dostoyevski’s works, in terms of plot and themes. Min Yo-seop is a seminary student grown skeptical of God. He declares Jesus a “false son of man” and seeks to create instead the “true son of man.” When he tries to return to Christianity, however, he winds up murdered, and detective Nam is put on the case. Yi Mun-yol’s first critically successful work contrasts heaven and earth, or a search for spiritual salvation versus a life free of morals dictated only by human concerns.

These four novels and authors are but a sampling of what’s out there. Dwight D. Eisenhower said “I shall make that trip. I shall go to Korea.” He should have brought back more books.

....
The Antiquarian
The Antiquarian by Gustavo Faverón Patriau
Reviewed by P.T. Smith

Gustavo Faverón Patriau’s The Antiquarian, translated by Joseph Mulligan, is a genre-blending novel, a complete immersion that delves into a lesser-used niche of genre: horror, gothic, the weird. There are visual horrors, psychological ones, and dark corners with threats lurking.. . .

Read More >

Elsewhere
Elsewhere by Eliot Weingerber (ed.)
Reviewed by Grant Barber

What a wonderful, idiosyncratic book Weinberger has written. I say book, but the closest comparison I could make to other works being published right now are from Sylph Edition’s “Cahiers Series“—short pamphlet-like meditations by notable writers such as Ann Carson,. . .

Read More >

The Hen Who Dreamed She Could Fly
The Hen Who Dreamed She Could Fly by Sun-mi Hwang
Reviewed by Chris Iacono

Early in Sun-mi Hwang’s novel The Hen Who Dreamed She Could Fly, the main character, a hen named Sprout, learns about sacrifice. After refusing to lay any more eggs for the farmer who owns her, she becomes “culled” and released. . .

Read More >

Sankya
Sankya by Zakhar Prilepin
Reviewed by Kseniya Melnik

When Sankya was published in Russia in 2006, it became a sensation. It won the Yasnaya Polyana Award (bestowed by direct descendants of Leo Tolstoy) and was shortlisted for the Russian Booker and the National Bestseller Award. Every member of. . .

Read More >

Stalin is Dead
Stalin is Dead by Rachel Shihor
Reviewed by Tiffany Nichols

Stalin is Dead by Rachel Shihor has been repeatedly described as kafkaesque, which strikes a chord in many individuals, causing them to run to the bookstore in the middle of the night to be consumed by surreal situations that no. . .

Read More >

Paradises
Paradises by Iosi Havilio
Reviewed by Andrea Reece

Paradises by cult Argentinian author Iosi Havilio is the continuation of his earlier novel, Open Door, and tells the story of our narrator, a young, unnamed Argentinian woman.

The very first sentence in Paradises echoes the opening of Camus’s The Outsider. . .

Read More >

Two Crocodiles
Two Crocodiles by Fyodor Dostoevsky; Felisberto Hernández
Reviewed by Sara Shuman

This pearl from New Directions contains one short story from Russian literary master Fyodor Dostoevsky (translated by Constance Garnett) and one short story from Uruguayan forefather of magical realism Felisberto Hernández (translated by Esther Allen). Both pieces are entitled “The. . .

Read More >