5 November 09 | Chad W. Post | Comments [1]

We’re interrupting the longest posts known to bloggers to officially announce a grant that we received from Amazon.com to support The Wall in My Head. Here’s the official press release:

Open Letter Books has been awarded a $20,000 grant from Amazon.com to support the publication and promotion of The Wall in My Head: Words and Images from the Fall of the Iron Curtain, an anthology of fiction, non-fiction, and poetry marking the twentieth anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. In addition to supporting the publication of this book, the grant supports the Wall in My Head blog, a website featuring excerpts from the book, historical images, and new essays about life in Eastern Europe before and after the collapse of Communism.

This anthology was conceived by the editors of Words Without Borders — an online magazine specializing in international literature — and the publication of Wall on November 9th will correspond with a special issue of Words Without Borders that is also dedicated to the fall of the Berlin Wall and sponsored by Amazon.com.

The Wall in My Head includes work from more than thirty contributors and almost as many translators, as well as over seventy photographs and images of historic documents. The written pieces date from both before and after the fall of the Wall, and highlights include seminal excerpts from the work of Milan Kundera, Peter Schneider, Ryszard Kapuściński, Vladimir Sorokin, and Victor Pelevin, as well as new work from Péter Esterházy, Andrzej Stasiuk, Dorota Masłowska, Uwe Tellkamp, and Dan Sociu.

“Our goal with Open Letter Books,” according to director Chad W. Post, “is to increase the access American readers have to the best works and ideas from cultures around the world, and The Wall in My Head is a perfect example of how we achieve this. It’s especially gratifying that Amazon.com is interested in helping us to achieve this goal. Their support will definitely help us strengthen our efforts and reach a larger audience than we otherwise might have.”

Founded in 2007 at the University of Rochester, Open Letter publishes between ten and twelve titles each year, all in translation. Some of its authors include Dubravka Ugresic, Jan Kjærstad, Marguerite Duras, and Jorge Volpi. In addition, it runs Three Percent, an online blog and review site dedicated to spreading the word about international literature. Open Letter also works closely with University of Rochester students, as part of the University’s programs in Literary Translation Studies.

In addition to Open Letter, Amazon.com has awarded grants over the past six months to a diverse range of not-forprofit author and publisher groups, including 826 Seattle, Children’s Book Week, Poets & Writers, Seattle Arts and Lectures, Richard Hugo House, Artist Trust, Hedgebrook, Copper Canyon Press, National Novel Writing Month, Clarion West, and the Alliance for Young Artists & Writers. A number of the recipients — such as Pen America, Words Without Borders, and the Center for the Art of Translation — are, like Open Letter, dedicated to bringing
more international writers to the attention of English language readers.

The official publication date for The Wall in My Head is November 9, 2009. More information about this and other Open Letter titles can be found at the press’s website.

4 November 09 | Chad W. Post | Comments

I know we’ve been pretty quiet on the book reviewing front (but soon—I really want to recommend the new Brandao book . . .), but at long last, we’ve added a piece on The Wall in My Head to our Review section.

I would be tempted to apologize for the self-promotional nature of posting a review of one of our own books (god knows why, that’s exactly how other publishers use their blogs), but this book came into existence thanks to Alane Mason, Rohan Kamicheril, Sal Robinson, Gemma Bentley, and the wonderful people at Words Without Borders. They deserve a ton of credit—even more than can be delivered in this glowing review.

As a sidenote, we are having a special event for this book next Tuesday at Idlewild Books in New York City. Event starts at 6pm and features Dorota Maslowska (Poland), the author of Snow White and Russian Red, and winner of the Nike prize; Dan Sociu(Romania), the author of Urbancholia; Masha Gessen (Russia), author of Ester and Ruzya: How my Grandmothers Survived Hitler’s War and Stalin’s Peace; and Kathrin Aehnlich (Germany), author of Alle Sterben, auch Die Loeffelstoere. The event will be moderated by Eliot Borenstein, Chair of the Department of Russian and Slavic Studies at New York University, and the author of Overkill: Sex and Violence in Contemporary Russian Popular Culture.

But on with the review . . . This was written by Jessica LeTourneur, who is from Chicago, attended NYU’s Publishing Institute in 2005, has worked as a journalist, a librarian, an indie bookstore clerk, and once upon a time, at The Missouri Review and W. W. Norton & Company, and currently is pursuing a Master’s degree in History and Scholarly Publishing at Arizona State University.

Here’s the opening of her piece:

I was born in the final decade of communism’s flailing grasp on the Eastern Bloc, and so what I know of the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of communism has long been relegated to what I learned from middle school textbooks, and teachers who had to explain to us why those maps we were so diligently studying were made obsolete overnight. The Wall in My Head: Words and Images from the Fall of the Iron Curtain has aided in filling in that gap in my education through its poignant words and images that have left an indelible impression upon me long after I turned the last page. For me, the globe I keep on top of my bookcase from the early 1980s is a quirky relic, but for those whose contributions make up this extraordinary book, those lines and colors that have been redrawn in the past two decades were once ‘home’.

With the twentieth anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall coming up—it takes place next week on November 9th—this tremendous, and at times wrenching compilation of stories and images is a truly revelatory experience for any reader, no matter what country or decade they were born into.

This book is also a prime example of the quality anthologies that Words Without Borders has put out into the marketplace over the past several years. (Other publications include Literature from the Axis of Evil: Writing from Iran, Iraq, North Korea and Other Enemy Nations, New Press, September 2006, and Words Without Borders: The World Through the Eyes of Writers, Anchor Books, March 2007).

The Wall in My Head: Words and Images from the Fall of the Iron Curtain is an exceptional anthology that is jointly published by Words Without Borders and Open Letter Books. It contains stories written by the greats whose names are immediately recognizable—Milan Kundera, Vladimir Sorokin, Peter Esterhazy, as well as those who may be lesser-known in the United States (for now), but are nonetheless astonishingly talented writers and artists.

Click here for the full review.

4 November 09 | Chad W. Post | Comments

I was born in the final decade of communism’s flailing grasp on the Eastern Bloc, and so what I know of the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of communism has long been relegated to what I learned from middle school textbooks, and teachers who had to explain to us why those maps we were so diligently studying were made obsolete overnight. The Wall in My Head: Words and Images from the Fall of the Iron Curtain has aided in filling in that gap in my education through its poignant words and images that have left an indelible impression upon me long after I turned the last page. For me, the globe I keep on top of my bookcase from the early 1980s is a quirky relic, but for those whose contributions make up this extraordinary book, those lines and colors that have been redrawn in the past two decades were once ‘home’.

With the twentieth anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall coming up—it takes place next week on November 9th—this tremendous, and at times wrenching compilation of stories and images is a truly revelatory experience for any reader, no matter what country or decade they were born into.

This book is also a prime example of the quality anthologies that Words Without Borders has put out into the marketplace over the past several years. (Other publications include Literature from the Axis of Evil: Writing from Iran, Iraq, North Korea and Other Enemy Nations, New Press, September 2006, and Words Without Borders: The World Through the Eyes of Writers, Anchor Books, March 2007).

The Wall in My Head: Words and Images from the Fall of the Iron Curtain is an exceptional anthology that is jointly published by Words Without Borders and Open Letter Books. It contains stories written by the greats whose names are immediately recognizable—Milan Kundera, Vladimir Sorokin, Peter Esterhazy, as well as those who may be lesser-known in the United States (for now), but are nonetheless astonishingly talented writers and artists.

The strength of the collection lies in its diversity—writers from all corners of Eastern Europe share their wide-ranging experiences in varying narrative form—from the epistolary in Mihaly Kornis’s “Petition” to Eugen Jebeleanu’s “Poems from Secret Weapon_”, _The Wall in My Head features a unique collection of fiction, nonfiction, photos, and images of historical documents that all together contribute to a distinctive book that sheds light on what life was, and has been for several generations of writers, activists, and artists who witnessed the collapse of Communism first-hand.

Wladimir Kaminer’s “Paris Lost” illustrates both the ridiculousness as well as the paranoia that gripped communist countries to such an extent that Kazakhstan found itself constructing its own fake Paris and London, only to later tear it down when the government’s fear that the people would discover the truth precipitated the need. In “Moving House” by Pawel Huelle a dining table comes between a marriage, until the day when its legs are (literally) cut down from underneath it:

My father, so handy at repairs, couldn’t fix Mr. Polaske’s table, or rather, couldn’t fix its uneven legs. After each cut, it would turn out that one of the legs was a little shorter than the others. Possessed by the fury of perfection, or maybe the German methodicalness, my father refused to admit defeat: he shortened and shortened the legs, until at last an extraordinary sight presented itself. On the floor, beside heaps of sawn-off bits of wood and a sea of sawdust, lay the top of Mr. Polaske’s table, legless, like a great brown shield. My mother’s eyes glittered with emotion, my father’s look was black as thunder, but nothing could stop him from finishing what he’d begun. The snarling saw began to rip into the tabletop. My father puffed and panted, and my mother held her breath, until at long last she cried: “Well, finally!”

The Wall wasn’t just an architectural structure separating the East from the West. Its physical presence was a catalyst for the symbolic and mental state that also divided granddaughters from grandmothers (“My Grandmother the Censor”), brothers from sisters, (“Brother and Sister”), as well as parting lovers (“Nabokov in Brasov”). While some of the writers in The Wall in My Head embrace the past and pursue their desire to peel back the layers of their history and pasts, others clearly demarcate the wall in their head as a place where they are either unable, or unwilling to remember communism’s lingering legacy. Says Dorota Maslowska in “Faraway, So Gross”:

Do I remember Communism? But I have to remember something, right? Drag some nugget of the swirling muck of memory, strip it of superfluous detail, snap a shot of the heroes’ faces and let them march across the table, funny or forlorn, in rain slickers and stupid old boots that say “Relax” on their tags, with mesh shopping bags hanging low from the greenish, budding potatoes rumbling around inside. . . . In fact, I don’t remember anything in particular from that time, barely any event at all, barely any feeling, just this sort of grayness and nausea raised to the highest degree, such that it was almost the idea of grayness. . . . Memory is shush, a muddy puddle in which the little ships of things now sink, now surface triumphantly. I remember Communism exclusively as a style and an aesthetic category.

While there certainly hasn’t been a shortage of weighty academic tomes, dissertations, and other narratives analyzing communism and its aftereffects in the two decades since the Wall came down, The Wall in My Head offers the reader a remarkably one-of-a-kind reading experience through its variety and superiority in content, writers, and prose. Words Without Borders and Open Letter Books have really hit the mark with this brilliant collection.

28 October 09 | N. J. Furl | Comments

If you read Three Percent often, then you’ve already heard of The Wall in My Head: Words and Images from the Fall of the Iron Curtain. In case you’ve missed it, though, Wall is a collection of of stories and essays from over 30 writers (and nearly as many translators) “that witnessed the fall of the Iron Curtain firsthand with the impressions and reflections of those who grew up in its wake.” All of these written pieces are surrounded by more than 70 photos, original documents, and other images. (As you can see, Wall has a surprisingly accurate subtitle.)

Wall is also a significant book because it was tirelessly arranged and edited by the always-great Words without Borders, who have put together several excellent anthologies.

So, what’s new with Wall? Well:

-Over at the Wall in My Head blog there’s a newly posted excerpt from the book. This excerpt is part Paul Wilson’s fascinating essay “Tower of Song: How the Plastic People Helped Shape the Velvet Revolution.”

-Also, the Harvard Crimson has already run an early review.

-Finally, the books official pub. date is on Nov. 9 (the twenty-year anniversary of the wall of the Berlin Wall), but it’s freshly in from the printer, and it looks very cool.

27 August 09 | Chad W. Post | Comments

In addition to Selcuk Altan’s Turkish lit list, The Guardian also posted a top ten list of books about the Berlin Wall.

Suzanne Munshower’s list—which is presented in a narrative format with interesting details about each of the books—actually overlaps a bit with The Wall in My Head the book about the Berlin Wall that we’re bringing out on November 9th. Specifically, she mentions both Peter Schneider and Wladimir Kaminer, who both have pieces in WIMH:

Some stayed, some left, some died trying. And Peter Schneider’s The Wall Jumper tells their stories in what might be the best Wall fiction ever written. Living in the west of this metropolis, the narrator confesses, “I could orient myself better in New York than in the half-city just a little over three miles from my apartment.” Written in 1982, with the end nowhere in sight, this is a riveting portrait of a city and a people trapped by mental as well as physical walls. [. . .]

Finally, there are two post-Wall books that shouldn’t be missed: The File by Guardian columnist Timothy Garton Ash and Russian Disco by Wladimir Kaminer.

When Garton Ash returned to Berlin 15 years after living there and requested his Stasi binder, it was passed to him with the words: “You have a very interesting file.” Thereby hangs a tale, and we join him in disinterring the entries, skipping between his former life as a research student and later confrontations with the friends and colleagues who had once informed on him.

Shortly before Garton Ash revisited Berlin, Kaminer arrived, emigrating from Russia to later become Berlin’s most famous DJ and then a best-selling author. His gently sardonic Russian Disco is a collection of wry sketches best summed up by its subtitle, Tales of Everyday Madness on the Streets of Berlin. This East Berlin is closest to the trendy but still edgy east side of the city as it exists today.

If you’d like to see the entire text of Wall in My Head, just click here.-

12 August 09 | Chad W. Post | Comments

We’ve never really tried this before, but for a limited time, the complete galley of The Wall in My Head: Words and Images from the Fall of the Iron Curtain can be accessed via Yudu by clicking here.-

The book is absolutely gorgeous (thanks to Rohan, Nate, Sal, and many others), and has an impressive list of contributors. So check it out, share it with your friends, and then buy one five a hundred copies for you and everyone you know.

(As a sidenote: I’m not so sure about our competition, but it’s pretty cool to see that WIMH is already the 98th most popular item on Yudu this week! If only it could make the top ten . . . )

10 July 09 | Chad W. Post | Comments

Back a few weeks ago when The Guardian was running its series of short stories from Eastern Europe, I mentioned our forthcoming anthology, The Wall in My Head: Words and Images from the Fall of the Iron Curtain, which releases on November 9th, marking the twentieth anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Well, to build up to the launch of this very cool book (just wait until you see the layout and all the images), we’ve set up a special blog that, over the course of the next few months, will feature articles from a variety of translators, authors, and journalists, images both from the book and ones that we couldn’t fit in, maps of the area at the time, and a “this day in 1989” feature.

Here’s a bit from Rohan’s initial post explaining a bit more about the book itself:

The Wall in My Head dwells extensively; humorously, poignantly, quirkily, on different views of the fall of the Iron Curtain—that of the generation of writers that witnessed it and often, had played a role in bringing it down, and more recently, the generation that inherited a memory of the Cold War and who write in the shadow of its monuments of division.

We hope that the publication of this book will prompt discussion about the events of ’89 and their relevance to today’s world, one in which the prospect of change has once again assumed a vital importance. To encourage this exchange of ideas, we have asked a variety of people; writers, translators, scholars, and witnesses to the events of those last years of the Cold War, to blog for us for the next several months. Their dispatches will range from discussions of the contents of the book to observations about current events and important anniversaries, as well as posts on the art, photography and film of the last years of the Cold War. I hope you’ll follow along, and that you’ll join in with your comments, as well as your own recollections, observations and news about this important anniversary.

And seriously, if you have anything you’d like to contribute—be it a personal essay, picture, or whatever—please let me know at chad.post at rochester dot edu.

There’s also a great post by Oana Sanziana Marian about Dan Sociu’s Urbancholia, which is excerpted in the book, and is looking for an American publisher. (Hint, hint.)

In addition to the articles, this is the perfect place to pre-order the book . . . and it is pretty spectacular. Here’s the complete table of contents:

Introduction by Keith Gessen

From The Art of the Novel by Milan Kundera (Translated by Linda Asher)

From Paris Lost by Wladimir Kaminer (Translated by Liesl Schillinger)

From Omon Ra by Victor Pelevin (Translated by Andrew Bromfield)

“Petition” by Mihály Kornis (Translated by Ivan Sanders)

From Moving House by Paweł Huelle (Translated by Michael Kandel)

“Nabokov in Brasov” by Mircea Cărtărescu (Translated by Julian Semlian)

From Waltz for K by Dmitri Savitski (Translated by Kingsley Shorter)

“On Eugen Jebeleanu” by Matthew Zapruder

Poems from Secret Weapon by Eugen Jebeleanu (Translated by Matthew Zapruder)

From Imperium by Ryszard Kapuściński (Translated by Klara Glowczewska)

From The Tower by Uwe Tellkamp (Translated by Annie Janusch)

“My Grandmother the Censor” by Masha Gessen

From The Wall Jumper by Peter Schneider (Translated by Leigh Hafrey)

“Farewell to the Queue” by Vladimir Sorokin (Translated by Jamey Gambrell)

“Tower of Song: How the Plastic People of the Universe Helped to Shape the Velvet Revolution” by Paul Wilson

“The Revenge” by Annett Gröschner (Translated by Ingrid Lansford)

“The Souvenirs of Communism” by Dubravka Ugrešić (Translated by Ellen Elias-Bursać)

“The Road to Bornholm” by Durs Grünbein (Translated by Ingrid Lansford)

“Regardless of the Cost: Reflections on Péter Esterházy’s Revised Edition“ by Judith Sollosy

“Author’s Preface to Revised Edition“ by Péter Esterházy (Translated by Judith Sollosy)

From Mandarins by Stanislav Komárek (Translated by Melvyn Clarke)

“Brother and Sister” by Christhard Läpple (Translated by Steven Rendall)

“Faraway, So Gross” by Dorota Masłowska (Translated by Benjamin Paloff)

From Urbancholia by Dan Sociu (Translated by Oana Sanziana Marian)

“That Fear” by Andrjez Stasiuk (Translated by Michael Kandel)

“Speech at the Opening Session of the 13th German Bundestag” by Stefan Heym (Translated by John K. Cox)

“The Life and Times of a Soviet Capitalist” by Irakli Iosebashvili

“The War Within” by Maxim Trudolubov (Translated by Alexei Bayer)

“Any Beach But This” by David Zábranský (Translated by Robert Russell)

“The Noble School” by Muharem Bazdulj (Translated by John K. Cox)

You can also pre-order simply by clicking on the image below.

22 June 09 | Chad W. Post | Comments

The final installment in The Guardian‘s_ Stories from a New Europe series is This Part of Town Is No Place for Old-Timers by Czech author Jachym Topol. David Short translated this piece about a Czech writer remembering life before 1989, his father’s failure as a writer and dissident, and how the post-wall society is filled with crappy chain restaurants and other ways to lure in tourists:

Now don’t start drowning in nostalgia, I tell myself. It must be better here now than it was back then. In those days, the barracks across the street with the red star on the front was where Soviet soldiers used to take their meals. The Soviets with their tanks and rockets held their Czech gubernium on a tight rein, and with it one-sixth of the world, and that was horrendous; while this globalised tat – well, it’s Freedom. The God-awful tackiness of city centres is evidence of the freedom to travel, I reassure myself. It’s the same here as in Florence, Kyoto or Lisbon. People want to be alike, since difference breeds only misunderstanding and violence. And it’s hardly overstating it to say that that year, 1989, when Eastern Europe rose in revolt, we shot straight out of Orwell into Huxley. But which is better?

In the end, this was definitely my favorite of the six stories in the series. And unlike some of the other writers featured by The Guardian, if you’re interested in reading more Topol, his novel City Sister Silver is available from Catbird Press, and Gargling with Tar is currently being translated by David Short.

Probably more than any of the five pieces, this story would fit perfectly in The Wall in My Head an anthology of stories, essays, and images that we’re publishing on November 9th, to mark the twentieth anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. Words Without Borders (specifically Rohan Kamicheril and Sal Robinson) put together this fantastic collection, which includes pieces by Peter Schneider, Ryszard Kapuściński, Vladimir Sorokin and Victor Pelevin and new work from Péter Esterházy, Andrzej Stasiuk, Muharem Bazdulj, Maxim Trudolubov, Dorota Masłowska, Uwe Tellkamp, Dan Sociu, David Zábranský, Christhard Läpple, and a host of others.

You can preorder the title directly from us by clicking the link above, or you can order it from The Booksmith, our store of the month, by clicking here. Or, for the biggest savings, you could just take out an Open Letter subscription and receive the next six OL books for $65. (Or the next 12 for $120—just click the image below for more details.)

15 June 09 | Chad W. Post | Comments

To mark the twentieth anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, all this week The Guardian will be running original short stories from a host of Eastern European writers. Up first is East German writer Clemens Meyer with Of Dogs and Horses, a short story from Die Nacht, Die Lichter (published by S. Fisher in German, but is still awaiting an English publisher).

The story itself is well done—especially the dark twist at the end . . . And Katy Derbyshire (of Love German Books) did an excellent job translating this.

Back during this year’s PEN World Voice Festival, I was a last minute moderator substitute for Zaia Alexander and interviewed Clemens Meyer. As part of the discussion, we each read a bit from this particular story. He read the opening in German, and then I read the ending in English—even the racetrack bits in my best horse announcer voices . . . Anyone who was there knows how dismal that was. Clemens, on the other hand, was bad-ass—possibly from his years of attending the races. In fact, he bought the very cool glasses he was wearing after a good day at the track . . .

Richard Lea sent me the complete list of authors/stories that will appear this week, and it’s pretty impressive. I’ll post about each one as it goes live, and although these two things aren’t exactly related, this Guardian project is a great complement to The Wall in My Head, the Words Without Borders anthology of fiction, essays, and images we’re publishing on November 9th to mark the same anniversary. More on that next week . . .

14 May 09 | Chad W. Post | Comments

I’ll highlight all of the books in here one by one over the next week, but for anyone who can’t wait, you’ll find descriptions, author and translator info, and most importantly, samples from each of the books in the pdf version of the catalog.

Obviously biased, but this is a great list, with Jakov Lind’s wondrously bizarre Ergo, Macedonio Fernandez’s The Museum of Eterna’s Novel (The First Good Novel), an anthology with Words Without Borders, Jorge Volpi’s Season of Ash, and the first complete translation of Ilf & Petrov’s The Golden Calf.

Enjoy!

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