24 April 14 | Chad W. Post | Comments

The deadline to nominate people for this year’s Ottaway Award for the Promotion of International Literature (run by Words Without Borders) is coming up fast . . . If you want to nominate someone, you have to fill out the form below and email it to Karen Phillips (karen [at] wordswithoutborders.org) before Friday, May 2nd.

Here’s all the information:

The Ottaway Award

Named in honor of the first chair of Words without Borders, the James H. Ottaway, Jr. Award for the Promotion of International Literature recognizes individuals who have taken extraordinary steps to advance literature in translation in the United States. In accordance with the mission of Words without Borders, the awardee will be selected on the basis of his or her efforts to build cultural understanding through the publication and promotion of international literature. In 2013, esteemed book editor Drenka Willen received the inaugural Ottaway Award. The 2014 award will be presented at our annual gala dinner in New York on Tuesday, October 28, 2014.

Nomination Instructions

We welcome your nomination of an editor, publisher, agent, philanthropist, or other translation advocate who has taken extraordinary steps to advance literature in translation in the United States. Please note that the Ottaway Award is not intended to recognize a particular work or works of translation. All nominations will be kept confidential.

Please complete the form below and submit it by Friday, May 2, 2014 via email to Karen Phillips (Karen [at] wordswithoutborders.org).

I. NOMINATOR INFORMATION

1. Name:

2. Affiliation (if applicable):

3. Contact email:

4. Contact phone:

II. NOMINEE INFORMATION

1. Name:

2. Affiliation (if applicable):

3. On the following page, please briefly describe the nominee’s achievements in promoting international literature:

The deadline for nomination submissions is Friday, May 2, 2014. Please send nominations and direct questions about award eligibility to Karen Phillips at karen@wordswithoutborders.org.

About Words without Borders

Founded in 2003, Words without Borders promotes cultural understanding through the translation, publication, and promotion of the finest contemporary international literature. Our publications and programs open doors for readers of English around the world to the multiplicity of viewpoints, richness of experience, and literary perspective on world events offered by writers in other languages. We seek to connect international writers to the general public, to students and educators, and to print and other media and to serve as a primary online location for a global literary conversation.

Every month we publish eight to twelve new works by international writers at wordswithoutborders.org. We have published works by Nobel Prize laureates J.M.G Le Clézio and Herta Müller, Mahmoud Darwish, Etgar Keret, Per Petterson, Fadhil Al-Azzawi, W.G. Sebald, and Ma Jian, as well as hundreds of new and rising international writers. To date we have published well over 1,700 pieces from 120 countries and 101 languages.

Words without Borders is building an education program that will provide educators with resources and content to more readily incorporate contemporary international literature into their classes. The program, Words without Borders Campus, will include a second Web site, already in development, as well as an ambitious author-classroom program that facilitates direct interactions between authors and students. We hope that in reaching out to students we can create a passion for international literature, a curiosity about other cultures, and inspire true world citizens.

In addition, we’ve partnered with publishing houses to release print anthologies. To date we have released Words without Borders: The World through the Eyes of Writers (Anchor Books); Literature from the “Axis of Evil”: Writing from Iran, Iraq, North Korea, and Other Enemy Nations (The New Press); The Wall in My Head: Words and Images from the Fall of the Iron Curtain (Open Letter); The Ecco Anthology of International Poetry; Tablet and Pen: Literary Landscapes of the Middle East; and our first e-anthology, Words without Borders: The Best of the First Ten Years.

11 February 14 | Chad W. Post | Comments

Thanks to an anonymous donor, from now until February 18th, donations up to $5,000 to Words Without Borders will be matched.

So, instead of investing in lame chocolates, or those gross crunchy heart candies, or a pandora necklace from Kay’s Jewelers, you should give your Valentine’s Day budget over to a more worthy cause . . .

4 December 13 | Chad W. Post | Comments

Aside from every stupid Buzzfeed list ever, the number one link I’ve seen on my social media networks over the past few days has been to the new Words Without Borders issue. On the one hand, this is a testament to the amazingness of WWB; on the other, it illustrates that the vast majority of my friends are book nerds who like a little constraint with their writing.

This month we’re showcasing the sparkling innovations in form and literature produced by the members of the Oulipo. The Paris-based literary collective explores how literature might arise from structures, rules, and constraints, working within restrictions—alphabetical, narrative, rhythmic, metric—to set genres and language loose. Ian Monk’s tour of an apartment building maintains a strict numeric unity in lines and words. Olivier Salon travels through a gradually dwindling alphabet. Michèle Métail claims a chain of possessives, and Anne F. Garréta offers a rogue reading of Proust. In playing with poetic forms, Jacques Bens finds sonnets easy as pi, and Jacques Jouet extends the sestina. And François Caradec’s aphorisms offer less than meets the eye. Guest editor and translator Daniel Levin Becker provides a useful key to the considerations at play in both French and English versions. Join us in marveling at the verbal gymnastics of the writers, and at the dazzling ingenuity of the translators.

To regular readers of Three Percent, it’s clear that anything Oulipo would appeal to us—even more so if Daniel Levin Becker is involved. We’ve run a mini-dissertation on the Oulipo to tie into the publication of his book, Many Subtle Channels, and we also had him on a podcast to talk about the same thing. And with so many great Oulipians involved, this is guaranteed to be one of WWB’s great issues.

Sticking with DLB for a moment, and to give anyone who’s not already brain-deep in Oulipianism a bit more of a context, here’s an excerpt from the introduction to this issue:

As the prevailing image used by book reviewers to praise literary translations is that of transparency—limpid, pellucid, crystalline—it seems clear, so to speak, how ready we are to think of language as a window onto meaning. Whatever difficulties a translator may have encountered in carrying that meaning over into a new syntactic, lexical, and cultural idiom, we tend to expect his or her fingerprints to be wiped away by the time the text arrives before us, and for the resulting view to be more or less the same as the view enjoyed by the native reader. For better and occasionally for worse, we tend to be correct.

The Oulipo—ouvroir de littérature potentielle, or workshop for potential literature, a Paris-based literary collective dedicated to exploring how literature might arise from structures, rules, and constraints borrowed from linguistics or mathematics or parlor games—presents an uncommonly acute challenge to that expectation. To write an Oulipian text is both to draw a picture and to solve a puzzle, and more often than not these two missions blur together to the point where it becomes impossible to discern where the language ends and the meaning, such as it is, begins.

So, as you might imagine, things get doubly complex when a second language comes into play. Each language is a system unto itself, with its own rules and cheat codes, its own alliances and enmities and tunnels and trapdoors—and since exploiting all of these is the very essence of Oulipian methodology, since language is not only the raw material of an Oulipian experiment but also its demonstrandum, we might ask what, in this context, translational transparency even means. What happens when, to bedevil McLuhan, the window is the view?

The selections in this issue are an attempt to hint, by demonstration, at the range of potential answers to those questions.

Exactly. Now go check it all out.

26 November 13 | Chad W. Post | Comments

The other week, we mentioned the Words Without Borders gala celebrating their first ten years of existence.

Well, to celebrate their first 10 years, WWB has released a special anthology that’s definitely worth buying—not only because it’s loaded with great writing, but also because sales of this volume go to support one of the best nonprofit publishing organizations in the country.

This volume celebrates WWB’s tenth anniversary with fiction, poetry, and essays from our first decade, translated from Dari, Rajasthani, Tigrinya, Urdu, and Yoruba, among others. The collection embraces many moods: antic tales of love triangles, deceptively sweet old ladies turned homicidal, somber accounts of bloody wars and political conflicts, and sly subversion of pompous clergy and other authorities.

There are tales of fantasy from Poland, Canada, and France, and grittier pieces from the many contributors—Iraq’s Najem Wali, Iran’s Kader Abdollah, El Salvador’s Horacio Castellanos Moya, Morocco’s Abdellah Taïa—who have had to flee their birthplaces and write from exile.

The selection of poetry varies from rhapsodic to whimsical: Slovenian lyricism; Polish and Catalan self-portraiture; Argentine and Japanese revelations. And we include two fine essays that provide a road map for full appreciation of both international writing and the translator’s role.

Contributors include Kader Abdolah, Adolfo Albertazzi, Justyna Bargielska, Lúcia Bettencourt, Carmen Boullosa, Horacio Castillo, Ismat Chughtai, Vijay Dan Detha, André Pieyre de Mandiargues, Louis de Paor, Nicholas Dickner, Ernest Farrés, Gabriella Ghermandi, Marek Huberath, Akinwumi Isola, Etik Juwita, Ilya Kaminsky, Rivka Keren, Nomura Kiwao, Fatos Lubonja, Leila Marouane, Mohammad Hussain Mohammadi, Horacio Castellanos Moya, Ambar Past, Tomaž Šalamun, Teresa Solana, Andrés Felipe Solano, Abdellah Taïa, Goli Taraghi, Jyrki Vainonen, Lawrence Venuti, Najem Wali, Ghirmai Yohannes, Yu Hua, Motoya Yukiko, and Zheng Xiaolu.

It’s available in ebook form for $11.95 from Amazon, B&N, and Apple.

14 November 13 | Chad W. Post | Comments

A couple weeks ago, Words Without Borders celebrated their 10th year with a baller fundraising gala where Drenka Willen received the inaugural James H. Ottaway, Jr. Award for the Promotion of International Literature. (The best write-up about this, and about Drenka in general, is the one Sal Robinson wrote for MobyLives. Sal rocks.)

Here is a picture from the party. And yes, that is Susan Harris with J-Franz.

21 August 13 | Chad W. Post | Comments

For the right person, this is such a great opportunity, which is why I thought I’d just post the whole listing:

Executive Director, Words Without Borders
Full time, From Home (May change in future)
Reports to: Board of Directors

Words without Borders (wordswithoutborders.org) promotes cultural understanding through the translation, publication, and promotion of the finest contemporary international literature. Our publications and programs open doors for readers of English around the world to the multiplicity of viewpoints, richness of experience, and literary perspective on world events offered by writers in other languages. We seek to connect international writers to the general public, to students and educators, and to print and other media and to serve as a primary online location for a global literary conversation.

Words without Borders is currently a virtual organization, searching for office space.
The executive director oversees the day-to-day operations, including all fundraising activity, management and oversight of the finances, oversight of programs, including the development of the education program, and supervision of staff and volunteers. The executive director works closely with the board of directors to establish policy, seek out new sources of funding, and ensure sound financial oversight.

Responsibilities include:

Fundraising and Financial Management:
• Responsible for all aspects of Words without Borders fundraising, including grant applications, corporate, foundation and private philanthropy, individual donations, and special events.
• Plan and execute annual gala for 200+ supporters.
• Work closely with the WWB board and staff to cultivate, engage, and steward donors at all levels of giving.
• Ensure prudent fiscal management of WWB, including establishment of salaries, management of expenses, strategic financial planning, and preparation of quarterly financial reports and annual budgets.
• Create Annual Report
• Work with independent auditor in the preparation of annual statements and 990

Supervision of Staff and Volunteers:
• Direct a virtual office of 2 full-time and 1 part-time employees, as well as volunteers, to execute WWB’s mission.
• Encourage professional development and continuing education of the staff.
• Provide regular feedback and advice to the staff, including annual performance reviews.

General:
• Oversee all programming, including Words without Borders, print and eBook anthologies, and education programming.
• Report to the WWB board of directors on programming, fundraising, finances, events, publications, personnel, strategic planning, and other matters.
• Coordinate full-board and committee meetings and ensure that members are provided with regular financial and programatic updates.
• Schedule and attend quarterly meetings of all board committees.
• Work with the WWB board to develop and implement a strategic plan and fundraising plan for the organization.
• Articulate Words without Borders mission to funders, volunteers, the educational community, and the media.
• Guide all external relations and collaborations, including website, publications, annual fundraising appeals, and public relations.

Qualifications:
• 3-5 years in nonprofit management and fundraising, with a background in the literary arts or literary arts education
• Grant-writing experience with a proven track record
• Experience planning and managing events
• Experience using Quickbooks or similar accounting software and knowledge of standard accounting practices
• An understanding of online publishing/media, including interpreting analytics, with experience in building audiences and conducting outreach via social media.
• Knowledge of Salesforce or similar CRM programs, HTML, and Photoshop a plus

Compensation package includes medical, dental, and eye, including dependents, after one month, and retirement contributions of 10% of salary after 2 years.

Please submit a cover letter and resume to jobs@wordswithoutborders.org.

8 April 13 | Chad W. Post | Comments

A couple weeks ago we ran an announcement about the new James H. Ottaway Award for the Promotion of International Literature—an awesome award that numerous friends deserve to win. Anyway, I just received a letter from WWB’s Executive Director, Joshua Mandelbaum, with information about nominating people for the award.

His letter is reprinted in full below, but to cut to the chase, you just have to fill out this form and mail it to him.

Dear Friends,

Earlier this year Words without Borders announced the creation of the James H. Ottaway Award for the Promotion of International Literature. Named in honor of our first chair, The Ottaway recognizes an individual who has helped promote cultural understanding through the promotion of literature in translation in the United States.

As a member of our community I am hoping you will help us find our first honoree by completing and submitting the attached nomination form by May 3, 2013. The recipient will be announced in June and the award will be presented at our October 29, 2013 gala.

You are welcome to forward this nomination form to anyone who might be interested.

I thank you in advance for your assistance. If you have any questions please do not hesitate to contact me.

Sincerely,

Joshua Mandelbaum
Executive Director

P.S. Although the award is for the promotion of literature in translation in the U.S., you do not have to reside in the United States to make a nomination.

There you have it. Now get out there and nominate!

26 March 13 | Chad W. Post | Comments

Announced yesterday by Words Without Borders, the James H. Ottaway Jr. Award for the Promotion of International Literature is one of the coolest prizes ever:

The Ottaway is named in honor of the organization’s first chair and current Chair Emeritus, James H. Ottaway, Jr., in recognition of his leadership during the organization’s formative years. It will be first presented at WWB’s 10th anniversary dinner in October of this year and thereafter at the organization’s annual benefit dinner to an individual whose work and activism have supported the mission of Words without Borders, of promoting cultural understanding through the publication and promotion of international literature. [. . .]

Nominees for The Ottaway will be solicited from the large community of translators, authors, publishers, agents, editors, and activists, and the final honoree chosen by a select jury. The Ottaway will not honor a translated work or body of work, but instead honor individuals who have succeeded in furthering literature in translation in the United States.

There are so many great individuals who deserve to win this (including one who will be speaking with my class in the near future), and I’m personally just glad that such a thing exists. Thanks, WWB and James H. Ottaway, Jr.!

For more information, please contact Joshua Mandelbaum at joshua [at] wordswithoutborders.org.

13 September 11 | Chad W. Post | Comments

Over the next couple months, we’ll be featuring some of the recent University of Rochester translation students on our weekly podcast. They’re all extremely interesting (and entertaining) people, and all working on very cool projects that we’d like to feature.

One of those students is Andrew Barrett, who you might remember from such Three Percent posts as this one about Nonnus’ Dionysiaca, the “erotic” Greek epic poem that he’s working on. Or this review of The Leg of Lamb by Benjamin Peret. Or this announcement about how Andrew was selected as the only U.S. student to attend this year’s Banff Translation Program. (Andrew also plays in April in the Orange.)

Well, Words Without Borders just published a couple Greek poems by Christopher Kontonikolis that Andrew translated.

According to Words Without Borders, Christopher Kontonikolis was born in Athens in 1981. He studied classics and is now completing a master’s degree in Byzantine literature at the University of Athens. He has composed poems in Greek and in Ancient Greek language and meter. This is his first publication in an American journal.

The two poems Andrew translated are Timon vs. Newton:

Timon and Newton were arguing about fruit.
Netwon said: “I prefer the apple
since I discovered gravity while peacefully dozing
under the shade of an apple tree.”
Timon shot back with stinging words:
“Newton, you’re an idiot, a fool
and utterly conceited in your intelligence. [. . .]

and Timoniad:

Sing, Muse,
of that misanthrope,
who was homeless and forever wandering,
since he had yet to chop down his fig tree. [. . .]

Be sure and check both of them out — along with the rest of the always excellent Words Without Borders — and for more info on the U of R’s translation programs, click here.

11 April 11 | Chad W. Post | Comments

Last month, Open Letter published its first work of poetry in translation:1 Andrzej Sosnowski’s Lodgings, translated from the Polish by Benjamin Paloff. It recently received a very nice review by E. C. Belli in Words Without Borders:

With Lodgings, translator Benjamin Paloff has made an important contribution to the body of Polish poetry currently available to readers in English. Complete with a translator’s note, a conversation between Sosnowski and Paloff, and poems that span Sosnowski’s entire career to date (1987-2010), Lodgings offers an unusual glimpse into a polyphonous, expansive, and chameleonic strain of Polish poetry. The poems included are pulled from nine of Sosnowski’s collections (including Life in Korea, A Season in Hel, Lodgings, and the most recent poemas), and they are presented, with two exceptions, in their original order.

In an interview that appeared in the Chicago Review in 2000, Polish poet and translator Piotr Sommer called Sosnowski “maybe the single most exciting younger Polish poet” for “breathtaking and very innovative” work that displays a “rich cross-fertilization of influences.” Sommer also explains that the New York School poets and OULIPO were “an important part of [Sosnowski’s] literary tradition and reading experience.” And indeed, what American readers of Lodgings will find is a poet openly in conversation with myriad writers—French ones, such as Mallarmé, and Roussell, but more importantly with Frank O’Hara, John Ashbery, John Berryman, James Schuyler, and Elizabeth Bishop. [. . .]

It is a daunting task to carry over into English Sosnowski’s language, which is a language marked by abrupt shifts in register and suggests an obsessive and ongoing rumination on various literary influences. Paloff has rendered a superb, tonally consistent volume, and has effectively stretched the barriers of his own language.

So, to celebrate this release—and excellent review—we’re giving away 5 copies to the people who “Like” us on Facebook. To enter yourself in this drawing, simply click here and either “Like” or comment on the post about giving away copies of Lodgings . . .

(And let this serve as a very soft sell for Wednesday’s RTWCS event featuring Piotr Sommer and Bill Martin, who will be discussing Polish poetry in translation. More info tomorrow.)

1 We are planning on doing one work of poetry every year. Next up: The Smoke of Distant Fires by Eduardo Chirinos, translated from the Spanish by G. J. Racz.

3 January 11 | Chad W. Post | Comments

The January 2011 issue of Words Without Borders is now available, and has a number of really interesting pieces. This issue’s theme is “The Work Force,” which is elaborated on in the little intro to the issue:

Whether loathed or loved, work provides both livelihood and identity; and in times of economic depression and shrinking labor markets, jobs assume even greater importance, determining both personal and political stability. Whether reinventing themselves in a new economy or sticking it out in an old one, the characters here demonstrate the variety of the international work force.

Here’s a list of the pieces that most caught my eye:

The blue building was empty, the name of the factory had been changed, and tough shit for the men and women who had been tossed out—“report to the occupational reclassification department,” which wouldn’t reclassify many people. (I’m writing in March 2004: this reclassification task, which began fifteen months ago, was finished three months ago and still no statistics are available.)

Layoffs continue, and if we’re talking about businesses—their holy name, “business“— that employ less than fifty people, the layoffs are not even accounted for. At Fameck, the blue building is still there, looking sharp with its white gate, while the condition of cars parked in town attest to everyone else’s general health: not so great. But the serious cracks running across the surface of the old world today do not readily reveal the reasons that make them apparent.

(Translated from the French by Alison Dundy and by Emmanuelle Ertel)

The hundred people who work at the Tutto Colore clothing factory have hardly noticed me. I could have been an actor, but here I’m invisible, like an extra. I’d like to think that I’m a spy with a good cover but the truth is that I’m a guy who works in a warehouse; and I have been for a month, for ten hours per day. In the course of these four weeks at work I have repeated a handful of phrases that seldom vary: “Yes, Sir. No, Sir. I’ll do it right now.” I’ve learned to move around the second floor, where I’m stationed, with the agility of a sailfish.

Every day I warehouse garments on metal shelves that look like the skeleton of a space shuttle. I also take inventory of T-shirts and sweatsuits on a long table like the ones in high-school cafeterias and I take orders from my boss—a neurotic man who won’t let me and my coworkers listen to music—with Benedictine humility. On the other floors in the factory, people knit their brows less. They relax, listening to rancheras, merengues, ballads. We work without a sound track. If we could mumble along to any song, whatever it would be, I’m certain of two things: 1. The men I work with would stop obsessively discussing how to keep their women happy and 2. I wouldn’t keep picking my life apart as if it were a Rubik’s cube.

(Translated from the Spanish by Samantha Schnee)

The recent announcement of Shakespeare and Company’s “Paris Literary Prize,” to be awarded to the best novella by an unpublished writer, set me thinking about my inspiration to go into publishing: Shakespeare and Company’s founder Sylvia Beach. (Like many teenagers with literary aspirations, I spent an intense few months working for the bookshop’s current owner, George Whitman.) Beach’s Paris bookshop and lending library was more than just a space where writers could meet and find inspiration; it became a publishing house as well when Sylvia stepped into the breach to produce the first edition of James Joyce’s Ulysses. Sadly, without a mother in Princeton to whom I could cable “Opening bookshop in Paris. Please send money,” I was forced to take a more conventional route into publishing: I got a job as an editorial assistant at Chatto & Windus, an imprint of Random House UK. And given that I was unexcitingly conventional, it was initially hard to see how I could inspire writers to want to work with me. I couldn’t give them an exotic bookshop to hang out in, or—at that point—sign up their novels and trumpet them to influential friends in the media. The only thing of value I had to offer, I decided, was my willingness to read their books closely and carefully, and to make suggestions about how those books might be improved. Thus began my attempt to teach myself to be a good editor.

  • An excerpt from Passage of Tears, the new novel by Abdourahman A. Waberi. His first novel was on the BTBA fiction longlist last year.

Notebook # 1. Monday, October 2.

I’ve already been back three days. I returned to Djibouti for professional reasons, not to feast at the table of nostalgia or reopen old wounds. I’m twenty-nine, and I’ve just signed a contract with a North American company; my remuneration will be substantial. I must hand in the results of my investigation, which cannot fail to satisfy its gargantuan appetite: a complete file, with notes, maps, sketches, and snapshots, to be delivered to the Denver office ASAP. I have just under a week to wrap up the whole thing. I will be paid in Canadian dollars transferred to my account, based in Montreal—like me. After that, I am no longer covered by the company. It will be at my own expense. At my own risk, their legal counsel Ariel Klein repeated to me, frowning with his one long eyebrow, as bushy as Frida Kahlo’s. He wished me good luck, turned on his heel and walked away. I headed to the airport with my little trapper’s suitcase.

So here I am on assignment in the land of my birth, the land that would not or could not keep me. I have no talent for sadness, I admit. I don’t like good-byes or returns; I hate all emotional demonstrations. The past interests me less than the future and my time is very precious. It has the color of a greenback. In the world I come from, time doesn’t stretch out before you into the mist. Time is money. And money makes the world go round. Money is the stock market, with its flows of pixels, algorithms, figures, commodities, manufactured goods, rating indexes, ideas, sounds, images or simulation models that pop up on screens the world over. It is the life force of the universe, it’s about killing the competition and grabbing the coveted market.

(Translated from the French by David and Nicole Ball)

  • And finally, Quim Monzo’s Landscape with Strikers. Monzo’s Gasoline came out last spring, and we’ll be publishing Guadalajara this summer, with One Thousand Morons to follow.

At nine a.m. the few people standing around on the subway platform are watching the news on the screens provided by the Barcelona Channel. The trains comply scrupulously with the minimum-service laws. They are running half-empty and many seats are unoccupied, which would be unthinkable at this time of day any other day, when occupancy approaches that of sardines in a can.

In front of the Goya Theater, at the top of Joaquín Costa, there are fewer whores than usual. Perhaps in keeping with the minimum-service notice. The overwhelming majority of shops are closed: from supermarkets to cosmetics stores, including bakeries and auto-repair shops. On Sepúlveda a charcuterie uses the old ploy of keeping the metal gates half-open, so that if a client shows up they can serve him, but if a picketer shows up they appear to be closed. In contrast, the local bar is open, which even the strikers are grateful for. “You’re very brave,” one of them says to the owner of the establishment, as he drinks his beer. “It’s not about bravery. If we don’t work, we don’t eat.” On the sidewalks lie piles of uncollected garbage in enormous black bags, some of them split open. A beggar pisses on one of them, and when he’s finished he lies back down on his piece of cardboard.

(Translated from the Catalan by Mary Ann Newman)

As always, it’s worth checking out the whole issue . . . including the so-so review of Zone.

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.

9 July 10 | Chad W. Post | Comments [3]

Over at Words Without Borders, Andy Tepper has a great post listing interesting books to read from all participating World Cup countries:

There are some interesting books, even more so perhaps this year because the Cup is being held in Africa for the first time. But I thought it might also be fun to use the idea of the World Cup, now in its final days, to kick off a discussion of some recent (or not-so-recent) books that might otherwise be overlooked. So I started thinking of a list of some of my favorite novels and collections from Argentina, Spain, Nigeria, Brazil . . . and on and on. Why did I do this? No special reason—I thought it might be fun, lord knows books could use more attention these days, and I had some time on my hands at work. But then I ran into countries such as Serbia, Slovenia, Slovakia, not to mention Paraguay and North Korea. What was I to do? (It would’ve been so much easier if Russia, Turkey, and the Czech Republic had qualified!)

His overall list is pretty solid: Ivan Vladislavic’s Portrait with Keys: The City of Johannesburg Unlocked for South Africa (a book that I read as the WC started and ABSOLUTELY LOVED), Geoff Dyer’s Jeff in Venice, Death in Varanasi for England, Jenny Erpenbeck’s The Book of Words for Germany, Antonio Tabucchi’s Indian Nocturne for Italy, Augusto Roa Bastos’s I, the Supreme for Paraguay, Alejandro Zambra’s The Private Lives of Trees for Chile, and 26 other titles.

This is a difficult list to come up with, but I’m sure readers have other interesting suggestions. (Personally, I’d replace the Ogawa with Kobo Abe’s The Box Man because it’s so Beckett and yet so singular.) If you have additions, suggestions, etc., etc., you should post them below, or on the WWB blog. It would be fun to come up with a sort of short reading list of books from these countries . . .

5 April 10 | E.J. Van Lanen | Comments

Quim Monzó, whose Gasoline we’re releasing shortly, has two stories in Words without Borders’s PEN World Voices issue, Mr. Beneset and Honesty.

6 January 10 | E.J. Van Lanen | Comments

The January issue of Words Without Borders is online (as is their new, and Vastly improved, website), and this month it focuses on ‘flash fiction.’

Our own Quim Monzó has two stories featured, Thirty Lines and The Fork. Also featured is one of my personal favorites, José Eduardo Agualusa.

(Even if you aren’t into flash fiction, the new site is worth a visit. Just about everything that kept me away before has been fixed. It’s truly a breath of fresh air. Congrats to everyone there on the new design.)

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.

3 September 09 | Chad W. Post | Comments

New issues of a bunch of my favorite magazines (online and in print) came out this week. Here’s a quick summary:

The new Bookforum is a three-month issue, so thankfully there’s a lot of great stuff. Ben Anastas on faith in fiction, a review by Matthew Shaer of Juan Gabriel Vásquez’s The Informers, a “review by Tayt Harlin” of Ben Moser’s Why This World, and a review by Kate Zambreno of Christine Montalbetti’s Western. (On the non-international literature side of things, there’s a review by Paul LaFarge of Pynchon’s Inherent Vice, a review by Hari Kunzru of Jonathan Lethem’s Chronic City, and a review by John Domini of Richard Powers’s Generosity. And much more . . .)

The new World Literature Today really deserves its own post. This is a special issue edited by Larry Venuti and dedicated to Catalan Literature. There’s a piece by J. Madison Davis on “The Inventive Crime Writers of Catalonia,” a story by Quim Monzo entitled “A Day Like Any Other” (which will appear in the Guadalajara collection Open Letter is publishing next year), several poems by Miquel Bauca, Francesc Parcerisas, and Maria-Merce Marcal, Anna Montero, Andreu Vidal, Ernest Farres, and Eva Baltasar, and a story by Albert Sanchex Pinol. There’s also an extremely interesting introductory essay by Venuti that’s available online.

This month’s Believer kicks ass. A number of interesting pieces—Damion Searls on the abridged Moby-Dick, a piece by Stephen Elliott, a reconsideration of V.C. Andrews—and reviews of two Open Letter books: a review by Lara Tupper of Jan Kjaerstad’s The Discoverer and a piece by the aforementioned Kate Zambreno on Elsa Morante’s Aracoeli. (And check out the review by Laird Hunt of Percival Everett’s I Am Not Sidney Poitier as well.)

New Open Letters Monthly (unaffiliated—it’s just a coincidence, or example of great minds thinking alike) is also available online and features a nice range of pieces, including a special “Music Portfolio.”

Finally, the September issue of Words Without Borders is up now as well, and is focused on “Walking the World”:

This month, in collaboration with Orion magazine, we embark on “Walking the World,” the second installment of our two-month focus on international nature writing. The writers in our September issue record their walks to give us a unique ground-level perspective on our natural and urban surroundings. Whether a remembrance of a haunting episode on the streets of Paris, or an account of a trek through Milan toward a distant peak, these pieces provide a rare glimpse into the realm of the writer on foot, in his element, and speaking about the world that we all navigate. This month we present the work of Siegfried Kracauer, Troub’s, Davide Sapienza, Agur Schiff, Antonio Ungar, Alexei Ivanov, and Marjan Strojan. We hope you’ll also head over to Orion to read their fantastic selections for this co-publication.

Lots of good stuff to be reading . . .

21 July 09 | E.J. Van Lanen | Comments

Alane Salierno Mason, the founder of Words Without Borders, got interviewed at Big Think about literature in translation:


They have several other videos with her as well: on publishers (as they say, “A few stoic houses are carrying the torch for literature in translation.”), on the founding of Words Without Borders, and on Oprah.

via our good friend CK.

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.)

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!

7 May 09 | Chad W. Post | Comments

Corridor of Dreams, which is the May issue of Words Without Borders, is now available online and focuses on contemporary Japanese literature. From translator and guest editor Allison Powell’s introduction:

Over the past several decades, a steady stream of fascinating writers from Japan have appeared in English, including two Nobel prize winners, Yasunari Kawabata and Kenzaburo Oe, as well as the now wildly popular Haruki Murakami. It may seem, however, that in recent years the stream has slowed to a trickle. Therefore, it has been my pleasure to act as guest editor for the Japan issue of Words Without Borders, and to have the opportunity to introduce new writing and new authors to WWB‘s audience.

The Japanese authors and works assembled here are not necessarily unified by any particular theme. I set out to showcase the robust variety of contemporary Japanese fiction, and I think these writers demonstrate just that, brilliantly. Most of the authors featured here have been writing for years and have well-established audiences in Japan. They have all been recognized with various literary awards and accolades, yet very little of their work has been published anywhere in English.

The point about how Japanese translations into English have “slowed to a trickle,” is absolutely true, although thanks to the Japanese Literature Publishing Project and Vertical, the situation is much better than it would be.

According to the Translation Database in 2008, 23 Japanese works made their way into English; so far in 2009, only 12. But of these 35 titles, 15 were published by Vertical—a press exclusively devoted to publishing Japanese literature, especially in the horror and thriller categories—and another 7 (at least) were funded by the JLPP—a program by which texts are selected, translated, and then offered to publishers. And if anyone publishes a JLPP book, the JLPP buys back a certain number of copies to send to libraries around the world.

Remove the JLPP influence and Vertical’s mandate, and you end up with only 13 Japanese titles coming out over the past two years. (Something similar happens to Arabic literature when you look beyond what the American University of Cairo Press is doing.)

Some of the fiction pieces included in this issue are: an excerpt from Sogil Yan’s Corridor of Dreams (translated by Linda Hoaglund), an excerpt from Kaho Nakayama’s Sentimental Education (translated by Allison Powell), and an excerpt from Hiromi Kawakami’s Manazuru (translated by Michael Emmerich).

And speaking of Michael Emmerich, he also has a short essay in this issue entitled “Beyond Between: Translation, Ghosts, Metaphors,” which opens with an bit about the meaning of the word “translation”:

In order for “translation” to have any meaning at all, it must be translatable into other languages; but the moment it is translated, it is swept up in a system of differentiations different from the one in which it is enmeshed in English—indeed, it doesn’t even have to be translated, because the word itself implies its own connectedness to these other systems of differentiation. Translation must be viewed as a node within which all the ideas of translation in all the languages there ever have been or could ever be might potentially congregate, intersect, mingle.

On top of all this, there are also reviews of Takashi Hiraide’s For the Fighting Spirit of the Walnut (winner of the 2009 Best Translated Book Award for Poetry) and Satoshi Azuchi’s Supermarket: A Novel (which is a JLPP book).

Very solid issue . . .

4 March 09 | Chad W. Post | Comments [3]

Lots of interesting pieces in the new issue of Words Without Borders, which focuses on Greece this month.

I have to admit that I haven’t heard of many of these writers (although the pieces by Thanassis Valtinos, Margarita Karapanou, and Ioanna Karystiani look particularly interesting), I am familiar with both Karen Emmerich, who translated a number of these pieces for this issue. Karen’s a great translator (her translation of Amanda Michalopoulou’s I’d Like was on the 2009 Best Translated Book Fiction Longlist), and in addition to translating a few pieces for this issue, she also guest edited it and wrote an introductory essay — Modern Greek Literature, Inside (and) Out:

The handful of pieces included in this issue represent only a small sample of recent Greek prose dealing with emigration and immigration, and with the challenges they pose to national, cultural, and ethnic identity. The selection is also, by design, rather eclectic, in style and form, and in the particular ways in which these works engage the issues I have been outlining. I have brought together texts about Greeks living abroad and texts about foreigners living in Greece; the selection as a whole deals with migration on a number of socio-economic levels and in a variety of historical situations. Many of the pieces included already juxtapose the figures of the emigrant and the immigrant in an attempt to make sense of the experiences of the cultural “other” by way of analogy; by presenting these writings as a group, I hope to further enable that work of empathetic comparison.

And just to put this in context—according to our translation database, four Greek books came out in the U.S. last year (in addition to the Michalopoulou, Green Integer did a collection of poetry by Nikos Engonopoulos, Etruscan Press published Alexis Stamatis’s American Fugue, and Parmenides did Pythagorean Crimes by Tefcros Michaelides) and only two titles (poetry collections by C. P. Cavafy and Katerina Anghelaki-Rooke) are on the list for 2009 . . .

3 March 09 | Chad W. Post | Comments

This started a while ago, but Rose Mary Salum of Entre los espacios has been interviewing a number of translation journals/magazines about issues of readership, editing, etc., with pretty interesting results.

Each question is a separate post, so here are links to the four already online, along with a quote from one of the responses. (Just for the record, editors from CALQUE, Absinthe, Words Without Borders, Tameme, One Edit, No Man’s Land, and CipherJournal are being interviewed.)

Question #1 is about the perceived lack of interest in international literature among English readers.

Brandon Holmquest from CALQUE: I’m not sure if I agree with the idea that readers are disinclined to read things from other countries. There are a hell of a lot of people in this country who are not readers, and a great many who read things like genre fiction. It does the publisher of serious literature, translated or not, no good to consider these people as readers. A record label that puts out hip-hop records cares about hip-hop fans, people who hate music and rock fans can take of themselves.

Question #2: What would seem to be the essential editorial challenge when working with translations?

Tim Adkins from One Edit: Make it interesting.

Question #3: Is expression in one language completely transmittable into another language?

Dwayne Hayes from Absinthe: I’m not sure the thoughts in our own heads are completely transmittable in our own language! That said, translation stands on its own as a literary work and is definitely capable of transmitting the heart of the text.

Question #4: Should the question be more about how much of a culture we try to transmit and how much we intervene, when working with our journals?

Samantha Schnee from Words Without Borders: The mission statement of WWB sums this up nicely: Words Without Borders opens doors to international exchange through translation, publication, and promotion of the world’s best writing. WWB publishes selected prose and poetry on the web and in print anthologies (the next one to focus on the Islamic world), stages special events that connect foreign writers to the general public and media, develops materials for high school teachers to use foreign literature in classrooms, and continues to build an unparalleled online resource center for contemporary global writing.

Not sure if there are more questions to come, but what’s available so far provides an interesting look into these diverse translation journals—all of which are worth checking out in their own right.

19 December 08 | E.J. Van Lanen | Comments

This time of the year the Words Without Borders staff sits around the Words Without Borders fireplace with our mugs of hot toddy, chatting about the books we’ve been reading. Into the wee hours on one such night, Joshua said, “Hey, why don’t we mention some of our favorites from the year on the blog?” And so here it is, our list along with a brief comment on each.

3 December 08 | Chad W. Post | Comments

The new issue of Words Without Borders is now online, and is entitled “The Home Front”:

This month we’re reporting on the war at home, with international dispatches on domestic conflicts. Here homeland security is both threatened and maintained, as couples tie the knot but long to cut the cord, and double lives are singled out. From Norwegian train stations to Greek port towns, in Armenian saga and Mayan myth, households are besieged but also defended as the family turns on its nuclear power. Kjell Askildsen, Constance Delaunay, Juan Forn, Espido Freire, Lena Kitsopoulou, Hagop Oshagan, Miguel Angel Oxlaj Cúmez, Mercè Rodoreda, Astrid Roemer, and Olga Tokarczuk keep the home fires burning (or burning down the house).

As usual, there are a number of great pieces included, such as the Rodoreda stories (Summer and Happiness) and the review of Suzane Adam’s Laundry, which was translated by Becka Mara McKay and published by Autumn Hill Books.

9 September 08 | Chad W. Post | Comments

The new issue of Words Without Borders is now available online, and this month’s theme is “Reversals”:

We’re prolonging summer with another month of flip-flops, as international writers contemplate the reversals of various fortunes. On the air in Sarajevo and under the radar in São Paulo, in chilly garrets and overheated classrooms, tables turn, lives go topsy-turvy, and the only order is “About-face!”

Some great authors featured in this issue, including Farewell to the Queue by Vladimir Sorokin (this is an afterword to The Queue, which is coming out this fall from NYRB, and which is fantastic), The Model by Danilo Kis, and Justice Unbalanced by Joaquim Maria Machado de Assis (I love, love, love repeating Machado de Assis’s name . . . just rolls off the tongue in a exotic, fun way).

There’s also an excerpt from Suzane Adam’s Laundry, which recently came out from Autumn Hill Books, and a review of Ana Maria Shua’s Quick Fix, from the ever interesting, White Pine Press.

There are a number of other pieces as well, all worth checking out.

5 August 08 | Chad W. Post | Comments

Another new issue that’s now available is the August version of Words Without Borders, which is dedicated to “Writings on Psychiatry.”

Ever since Freud, analysts have decamped in August, leaving their patients to fend for themselves till September. To compensate for this absence, we prescribe a healthy dose of writing about psychiatry. On dark Japanese roads and bright Swedish sidewalks, on the couch and off their rockers, writers confront demons and vanquish neuroses. Open these case files and discover the universal language of the talking cure. Francisco Proaño Arandi, Alfred Döblin, Jocelyn Dupré, Duna Ghali, Kanji Hanawa, Klas Östergren, Ana María Shua, and Goli Taraghi diagnose a world of disorders and the doctors who treat them. We trust you’ll find this therapeutic.

In addition to the new stories, there’s also an interview with Peter Esterhazy and an essay by Judith Sollosky entitled “Esterházy Per Se: A Translator’s Ball Game with a Postmodern Author” about translating Celestial Harmonies:

In his monumental work Celestial Harmonies (Magvető Kiadó, 2000; Ecco Books, HarperCollins, 2004), Esterházy, in his impish good humor, has created ample situations to challenge his translator: Can she keep pace with him? Can she turn a cartwheel half as well as he? Can she translate the untranslatable, whether because the two languages are so different by their very nature, or because he has made up a word that suits his text, or has corrupted his text grammatically and lexically on purpose? And then I haven’t mentioned the so-called culture-specific items, often obscure, sometimes made up, and not culture-specific at all!

Finally, there’s also an interesting piece by Eric Abrahamsen about the Duanlie Movement that was started by Chinese author Zhu Wen:

The Duanlie movement began May 1, 1998, when Zhu Wen and Han Dong met up to discuss a plan: a questionnaire they would circulate among fellow writers. By May 5 they had a draft questionnaire; on May 10th they began mailing. In the first three questions, respondents are asked their opinions on literary critics and professors, and the literary giants of the second half of the twentieth century. The response was a flood of bitterness and scorn, as Zhu Wen and Han Dong had anticipated: the questionnaire was not a survey, but a call to action.

As Han himself said in a 1999 interview, Duanlie was not about any particular style of writing, and the works of its members have little in common. Zhu Wen and Wei Hui seem primarily bent on challenging the moral values of Chinese society, writing of easy sex or the emptiness of traditional family connections. Lu Yang is one of the few Chinese experimenters in metafiction, subverting the traditions of the story. Han Dong has retreated into a Zen-like calm, writing quiet stories about countryside and city.

Duanlie: “Split”; “Broken”; “Break.” Any revolutionary movement involves a break, of course, but from what, exactly? At first glance, Duanlie seems aimed at assassinating the old guard—overthrowing the ideologically hidebound, and ushering in a new age of the young bloods. Except that, in China’s political climate, such an overthrow is essentially unthinkable. Asked during a conversation this past June what it would take to effect a real changing of the guard among critics and professors, Zhu Wen answered immediately, with a smile: “The complete overthrow of the Chinese Communist Party.”

2 July 08 | Chad W. Post | Comments

The new issue of Words Without Borders is now online:

In the spirit of Independence Day and Bastille Day, we salute freedom fighters of all stripes with writing about revolution. In the pulsing heat of Che’s Havana and the gray chill of Lenin’s Moscow, on ravaged battlefields and blasted domestic fronts, writers storm citadels and oust tyrants in campaigns for personal and political liberty.

Lot of interesting pieces already up, including Fransesc Seres’s A Tongue of Lead (Seres also has a piece in the “New Catalan Fiction” issue of the Review of Contemporary Fiction worth checking out) and an excerpt of Chaabi, a graphic novel by Xavier Delaporte and Richard Marazano translated by Edward Gauvin. (Edward will be participating in a Translator’s Roundtable here at the University of Rochester on October 1st and talking about the nature and difficulties of translating graphic novels. And movie scripts.)

There’s also a piece by Michael Kleeberg translated by David Dollenmayer, this year’s Helen and Kurt Wolff Translation Prize winner, and a review of Elena Ferrante’s The Lost Daughter. (We posted a review of this yesterday as well.)

2 July 08 | Chad W. Post | Comments

We usually don’t post things like this, but this is a fantastic opportunity that I’m sure some 3P readers will be interested in:

Literary Website Editor

Words Without Borders, publisher of international modern literature in translation on the Internet, seeks a web-wise editor with managerial abilities to coordinate work of New York part-time and volunteer staff, including Development Consultant and Publicity/Events Coordinator.

Primary responsibility for web-only content (blogs, forums, reading groups, online interviews; soft-tech liaison between editors and programmers, marketing, publicity and events), general coordination, marketing, publicity and events, organizational budgets, accounting, legal, and involvement in fundraising.

Please send resume and cover letter to schnee@bard.edu.

17 June 08 | Chad W. Post | Comments

A few weeks back, I mentioned the Reading the World/Words Without Borders Book Club featuring Robert Walser’s The Assistant. At the time the discussion was just getting underway, and all that was available online was Sam Jones’s excellent introduction and Susan Bernofsky’s translator’s afterword to the book.

Recently, the Translator’s Roundtable went live, including pieces by Tom Whalen, Mark Harman, Millay Hyatt, and Damion Searls.

This is one of the features of the new book club revamp that I really enjoy. Each of the four translators respond to the same set of questions (how did you first encounter Walser?, what are your favorite Walser pieces, etc.), making for an interesting series of vantage points. In particular, I really enjoy the responses to “Are there unique challenges that Walser presents, and how do you resolve them?”

From Tom Whalen:

Rhymes and puns, of course, are especially difficult. For her translation of “Letter to Edith” I had tried to help Susan Bernofsky with the following: “Ich wankte in eine Konditorei, und trank im Wanken sogar noch Kognak. Zwei Musiker spielten mir zuliebe Grieg, aber der Chef des Hauses erklärte mir den Krieg. . . .” What we came up with was “I swayed now into a pastry shop café and, reeling, if I may, put away some cognac. For my benefit two musicians played Grieg, but the proprietor declared war on me….” A few years later, after Masquerade and Other Stories had appeared, Susan made the following welcome improvement: “I swayed now into a pastry shop café and, reeling, if I may, put some cognac away. To please me, Grieg was played by two musicians, but the proprietor brought out his munitions . . .”

From Mark Harman:

I have translated—among other German-language authors—two novels by Franz Kafka with whom Walser has, of course, been linked. We know that Kafka read Jakob von Gunten, which he praised, and that he also read some of Walser’s short prose. While I found little trace of Walser while rendering The Castle, I could overhear certain Walserian tones in Amerika: The Missing Person (forthcoming in November from Schocken Books). Kafka himself spoke of his conscious use of “blurry” Walserian metaphors, and I could sense, especially in the first “Stoker” chapter, parallels between the attentive but naïve voice of Kafka’s young hero Karl Rossmann and that of Walser’s clerks. Having said that, though, Robert Musil was surely right to insist that Walser was an unique case and best not imitated. What is unique about Walser is that virtually all of his writing is composed in the same voice. While this observation may sound limiting, it is not, since his voice is capable of endless modulation. The chief task of the Walser translator is to capture that flux. [Ed. Note: Can’t wait to read this new translation of Amerika.]

From Millay Hyatt:

Walser’s wily neologisms, making full use of the elasticity of the German language that allows words to be strung together ad infinitum, are delicious in the original and something is always sacrificed in translation. Compounding the nouns or the adjectives in his unexpected, even startling way creates a whole slew of meanings the translator has to disentangle and, sadly, sift—there are never as many left when they’re put back together in the second language, speaking for myself anyway. I tried to spell out as many of the intimations as possible so that I had plenty to choose from when I made my choice, doing my best to preserve as many as I could.

And from Damion Searls:

I find Walser quite easy to translate: I read and re-read him until I get into his voice and then sit down and write it out in English. The specific tics of his German style—the neologisms, the Swissisms—are far less important than the overall wide-eyed battiness of his point of view (an outsider observing the world from such strange angles; intervening in society from such strange positions). And you can’t capture dialect in translation anyway. Translating other writers is a much more plodding and scrupulous process for me, but Walser invites free translations. I don’t mean “free” in the sense of distant— as with all great stylists, I’ve found, with Walser you always improve the translation in the revision stage by bringing it closer to the weirdness of the original—but in the positive sense that words like “free” and “loose” have in contexts other than translation.

All of their responses are interesting (the section on their favorite Walser pieces is a good starting point for someone interested in reading Walser), and I hope more people post responses at the Discussion Board. We need some legit readers to run people like “Emma,” with her 5000 poems and short stories (like “Prisoner of Love,” which begins “Sure I’m a prisoner, but I don’t mind / I’m the happiest jailbird you’ll ever find!”) off the message boards . . .

5 June 08 | Chad W. Post | Comments

The newly redesigned Words Without Borders/Reading the World book clubs are now underway, and this month the book under discussion is Robert Walser’s The Assistant, which came out last year from New Directions and is translated by Susan Bernofsky.

In contrast to the old version of the book clubs—which was basically a forum for people to post comments—the new version is a huge improvement, providing readers with an extensive list of online resources, discussion questions, and interesting, in addition to an online discussion forum.

For example, the page for The Assistant has Susan Bernofsky’s afterword to the book, along with Sam Jones’s introduction to Walser, along with a list of a dozen or so articles/reviews/bios/etc. that are all available online. Coming soon are a few interesting pieces, including “The Assistant and Swiss Literature” by Peter Utz and “Composition for Robert Walser” by Tom Whalen. There are also two roundtables planned: a translators’ discussion and one on Walser and the Visual Arts.

Overall this is a great template for how to create online reading guides, using many of the advantages available to the internet to provide readers with a context to approach the book. It’ll be interesting to see if this helps spawn more discussion in the forum section . . .

18 February 08 | Chad W. Post | Comments

A couple weeks ago we linked to Lawrence Venuti’s article on Words Without Borders about the business of publishing translations. It’s a very interesting piece that was written for a panel on the To Be Translated or Not To Be report and puts forth a somewhat provocative stance on what should be published in translation:

I am suggesting that with translations publishers must take an approach that is much more critically detached, more theoretically astute as well as aesthetically sensitive. They must publish not only translations of foreign texts and authors that conform to their own tastes, but more than one foreign text and more than one foreign author, and they must make strategic choices so as to sketch the cultural situations and traditions that enable a particular text to be significant in its own culture.

Over the weekend, WWB posted an interview between Alane Mason and Venuti that explores some of these issues in depth.

The entire conversation is pretty fascinating and quotable, but this is the section that most stood out to me:

I expect PUBLISHERS, with the help of translators, to be making the publishing decisions, yet those decisions need to be made in a much more informed way than personal taste, even if that can’t be eliminated in any literary judgment. Or why not look at the problem as a matter of a publisher developing his or her taste by learning as much as possible about foreign literary traditions before choosing a foreign work for translation? The ignorance of foreign languages among US publishers is now legendary, but what about their knowledge of foreign cultures (a knowledge that cannot really be separated from language)? If a publisher can find one novel to like in a foreign literature, why not think that same publisher can find another one or three written by different writers at different times? Publishers are currently at the mercy of a selection process that in many cases may well be based on a severely limited or superficial knowledge of foreign cultures. Translations demand that a publisher know more, and translators can help, but they too need to know more about the foreign literatures from which they translate, and that more needs to be figured into their translating.

I pretty much agree with Venuti’s sentiment, although I may be biased by the fact that I have a touch of the OCD and love to research and read about different literary cultures.

One of the most useful activities I’ve engaged in—that plays into Venuti’s general idea—is going on editorial trips to various countries to learn at least a bit about a particular culture and its literary history and to network with international editors, critics, translators, and readers who can help me make informed decisions. Before going to Reykjavik and Barcelona, I knew next to nothing about Icelandic or Catalan literature. But the days spent listening to critics give me a rundown on the literary history of their county, of compiling lists of modern and contemporary authors, of meeting translators, editors, professors and the like who are all willing to share information about literary works and how these works were received was extremely, extremely valuable. (And to be honest, it doesn’t hurt that these two cities are two of the most beautiful on earth.)

I don’t claim to be an expert in either Icelandic or Catalan literature, but after reading tons and tons of information, and talking with various contacts made during these trips, I feel like I have a pretty good understanding of where the Icelandic (Bragi Olafsson) and Catalan (Merce Rodoreda and Quim Monzo) authors fit into their respective traditions, and that we’ve made pretty good choices.

On a practical side, this is just the beginning, and we need to continue to do more works from both countries, and to connect with other publishers (if there are any) doing books from these regions to help create a more well-rounded representation of Icelandic and Catalan literature. But at least we’ve taken some initial steps, both in terms of forethought and research, and making some works from these cultures available to English readers.

Anyway, these sorts of trips (we’re going to both Buenos Aires and Olso this spring on similar editorial research trips), are extremely valuable for anyone engaged in the business of publishing translations, and one example of how some of what Venuti’s calling for is actually taking place.

I can see why some people would criticize Venuti’s argument, or have a knee-jerk reaction against it. It may be both a bit utopic and a bit ivory-tower-ish all at once. On the whole though, I think that his end goal is very much in keeping with what the more admirable presses out there (by admirable, I mean ones with a mission other than to make as much money as possible) that are working together to create an audience for international literature. I only wish he left more space for readerly emotion and had more info on projects that are already going on that actually support his general theory.

In my opinion, making self-conscious, properly weighed decisions is important, but an editor’s passion about a project is equally important. I don’t think he intends it this way, but Venuti makes the acquisition project seem like a dry, boring process, when really, reading and falling in love with a particular book, culture, etc., is exciting and fun, and there’s something to be said for going ahead with a project that an editor is passionate about.

More importantly, there are a lot of publishers, cultural organizations, and translators currently doing things that relate to Venuti’s general premise—activities that deserve to be highlighted. In addition to editorial trips, there are programs like Reading the World, the intent of which is to offer a broader context for literature in translation, and there are a number of top-notch translation preses (like NYRB and New Directions and Archipelago and the like) who do collaborate instead of compete, and work together in trying to promote different literary cultures.

Both of these essays by Venuti are very thought provoking and help advance certain questions and ideas that the publishing industry (at least those devote to international literature) should be considering, debating, and discussing. These pieces are just the beginning though . . . in addition to looking at the responsibility of publishers in their editorial choices, there are issues related to marketing and promotions, how the bookstore marketplace works, etc., all of which feed into creating the appropriate context for reading, appreciating, and coming to understand works in translation.

10 January 08 | Chad W. Post | Comments

The latest Words Without Borders/Reading the World book club is now officially underway. This month James Marcus and Cynthia Haven will be leading a discussion of Zbigniew Herbert’s Collected Poems. They have a lot of interesting things lined up for the next few weeks:

The discussion will include contributions from a wide range of poets, scholars, and translators, including Peter Dale Scott, Anna Frajlich, Andrzej Franaszek, William Martin, and Alissa Valles (who translated most of the new collection). Our hope, however, is that visitors to the site will feel free to chime in, whether they’re longtime admirers of the poet or have just been introduced to his extraordinary art.

The first post is Marcus’s introduction to Herbert and his poetic mouthpiece, Mr. Cogito:

It was during his California interlude that Herbert introduced Mr. Cogito—a musing (and frequently amusing) poetic mouthpiece. [. . .] Mr. Cogito was primarily a creature of mind. He read the paper, he studied his face in the mirror, he smoked a cigarette, but as his name suggests, his main business was cogitation. (In the end, he may have more in common with Italo Calvino’s Mr. Palomar, whose telescopic contemplations took in everything but the self.)

What I find most interesting is that this twentieth-century Polish poet tried to keep politics out of his writing:

Yet he remained wary of mixing poetry and politics, famously clashing with a claque of younger writers at a 1972 poetry festival in Silesia. For a poet to flirt with ideology was, he insisted, a “punishable offense.” Engagement was a dead end, possibly a childish one. “The poet’s sphere of action,” he declared, “if his attitude toward his work is serious, is not the ‘contemporary’—which I take to mean the state of our current knowledge about society, politics, and science—but the real, the stubborn dialogue of man with the concrete reality surrounding him, with this table, with that neighbor, with this time of day: the cultivation of a dwindling capacity for contemplation.”

Helping get this book club off to a good start, there’s a second post available on WWB featuring an interview conducted by Cynthia Haven with poet and translator Peter Dale Scott. The conversation touches upon how Scott came to Herbert’s poetry, the relationship between Herbert and Milosz, and an interesting bit about why it took so long for Herbert to get a foothold with an American audience:

Scott: Herbert was far less known in America and partly for an accidental reason—the 1968 Penguin edition of his poetry was not for sale in America, and there was no U.S. edition until 1986. I have no knowledge why this was the case, but I suspect that the falling out between Miłosz and Herbert was not unrelated. A possible other reason might have been that Miłosz and I were also distant from each other in those years, thus unable to press together for an American edition.

These Words Without Borders book clubs are really remarkable, and work especially well when people log on and comment . . .

4 January 08 | Chad W. Post | Comments

At House of Mirth James Marcus offers a preview of the upcoming Words Without Borders discussion of Zbigniew Herbert’s The Collected Poems 1956-1998, which promises to be quite interesting.

Next week, Cynthia Haven and I will be overseeing a Words Without Borders book club—an online conversation, more or less—devoted to Zbigniew Herbert’s The Collected Poems 1956-1998. I’d love to say that Herbert needs no introduction, but this giant of postwar poetry, who died in 1998, is still woefully undervalued in the English-speaking world. He is certainly on par with his compatriots Czeslaw Milosz and Wislawa Szymborska, even if the Swedish Academy declined to recognize that fact. And his poems, with their pained dignity and dearth of punctuation, deliver a frisson like no other. The WWB discussion will include contributions from a wide range of Herbert experts, including (so far) Peter Dale Scott, Anna Frajlich, Andrzej Franaszek, William Martin, and Alissa Valles (who translated most of the new Ecco collection).

3 January 08 | Chad W. Post | Comments

Laila Lalami has two new posts up at Words Without Borders for the December discussion of Camara Laye’s The Radiance of the King.

In the first, she discussing the literary influences in the book, in which she points to Kafka as a huge force on the novel. The most interesting part to me—but I’m a sucker for literary lore and debate—is the bit questioning the authorship of the novel:

As I mentioned in my introduction, the publication of The Radiance of the King barely a year after The Dark Child, the differences in genres between the two books, and the slightly more existential quality of the second novel, have given rise to some questions as to whether Camara really wrote that second book. These rumors appear to be based on allegations by a Belgian critic named Lilyan Kesteloot in a work that was published after Camara’s death, and against which he could no longer defend himself. These allegations were later investigated by an American academic, Adele King, who also had to rely on second-hand accounts and hearsay, and who also cast strong doubts on the authorship of the novel.

The final post focuses on Toni Morrison’s intro to the novel, and the claim that Laye turned the typical “white man venturing into Africa” idea on its head.

It might be a bit late to join this discussion, but the January edition of the Words Without Borders/Reading the World book club should be pretty interesting. Throughout the month James Marcus and Cynthia Haven will be discussing Collected Poems by Zbigniew Herbert (translated from the Polish by Alissa Valles). As soon as the first post goes up, I’ll be sure to mention it here.

11 December 07 | Chad W. Post | Comments

The latest post in this month’s Words Without Borders/Reading the World book club is now online.

This month Laila Lalami is directing a discussion of Camara Laye’s The Radiance of the King , which sounds interesting:

I want to start our discussion of The Radiance of the King by talking about the story itself. In the novel, Clarence, a white man of undefined origin and occupation, lands on the coast of Africa (which coast, you ask? We are not told) and in short order he loses all his money, in a gambling game, to a group of white men. He is evicted from his hotel, and the owner decides to keep Clarence’s trunk as collateral for the unpaid bill. Now Clarence is desperate; he wants to figure out a way to get his belongings, since his only possessions now are the clothes on his back, which are already showing signs of wear. He stumbles onto a street celebration for a local monarch, and immediately and rather arrogantly thinks that the king might hire him as an advisor, or at least vouch for him to the hotel owner, or, at any rate, know what to do to save Clarence from the misery in which he finds himself.

5 December 07 | Chad W. Post | Comments

Now that Michael Orthofer’s discussion of Mandarins has ended, it’s time for the next Words Without Borders/Reading the World book club to start.

This month Laila Lalami will be discussing Camara Laye’s The Radiance of the King (NYRB). Her first post is now online and offers an overview of Laye’s life.

A year later, in 1954, Camara published his second novel, Le Regard du roi (translated as The Radiance of the King). This book was starkly different from the first in terms of subject matter and style. Indeed, its protagonist was not a Guinean child but a white man, shipwrecked on an unnamed coast of Africa, and the writing no longer held any nostalgia but was rather sharp in its observations of colonial attitude toward indigenous people. The differences between Camara’s first two books and the very short period of time between their publications, gave rise to questions about the true authorship of The Radiance of the King. But more on this later.

Intriguing . . .

More info about the book can be found on the NYRB website, including this description:

At the beginning of this masterpiece of African literature, Clarence, a white man, has been shipwrecked on the coast of Africa. Flush with self-importance, he demands to see the king, but the king has just left for the south of his realm. Traveling through an increasingly phantasmagoric landscape in the company of a beggar and two roguish boys, Clarence is gradually stripped of his pretensions, until he is sold to the royal harem as a slave. But in the end Clarence’s bewildering journey is the occasion of a revelation, as he discovers the image, both shameful and beautiful, of his own humanity in the alien splendor of the king.

5 December 07 | Chad W. Post | Comments

The new Words Without Borders “Goodbye to All That: Partings”—includes a translation of the Andres Barba short story Nocturne translated by Lisa Dillman.

Lisa’s review of Barba’s Katia’s Sister generated a good deal of interest, but unfortunately this book has yet to find an English publisher. (For anyone who’s interested, an excerpt from the novel is included in Spain: A Traveler’s Literary Companion from Whereabouts Press.)

4 December 07 | Chad W. Post | Comments

The final two posts from the Words Without Borders/Reading the World book club discussion of Ryunosuke Akutagawa’s Mandarins are now online.

In the first, Michael Orthofer discusses the posthumous story “The Life of a Fool” and briefly compares the two available translations (De Wolf’s from Archipelago, Rubin’s from Penguin):

De Wolf: He read a book by Anatole France, his head propped up by a pillow of skepticism exuding a rosy fragrance; the presence in that same pillow of a centaur quite escaped his notice.

Rubin: Pillowing his head on his rose-scented skepticism, he read a book by Anatole France. That even such a pillow might hold a god half-horse, he remained unaware.

I like the De Wolf version considerably better—”pillowing” and “god half-horse” are just jarring, the second sentence-order feels off —but I’m glad to have the Rubin version too. Using it almost as a gloss I think I have a much better idea of what the Japanese original must be like.

The final post focuses on the story “Cogwheels” (or “Spinning Gears” in the Rubin translation).

27 November 07 | Chad W. Post | Comments

In Michael Orthofer’s most recent post on Ryunosuke Akutagawa’s The Mandarins, he focuses on the writer himself:

As we slowly wind up the discussion, moving towards The Life of a Fool and Cogwheels (which I figure will be the appropriate notes to end on), I’m still struck by how much a proper (?) sense of the author eludes me. Try as I might, Akutagawa remains something of a mystery-man to me. And though I’m generally not big on worrying about the author behind the texts I find myself looking for more of a hold here—in part because even after reading this collection, which comes after I’ve read quite a few different Akutagawa translations over the years, I still don’t feel I know him or his writing that well.

Part of the problem with being able to identify a “Akutagawa story,” may be the various translations made of Akutagawa’s work, and the nature and quality of these early translations. Quoting from Donald Richie, Orthofer brings to the forefront the negative effect marketing can have on the publication of translations:

“Another problem with the foreign translations, besides their sheer number, is that Akutagawa was translated early. As a result, these first translations range from the unscholarly to the appalling. One of their unwelcome qualities is that they insist upon the exotic—this being one of the few ways to sell Japanese literature in the early days. An unfortunate result is that Akutagawa is made to seem quaint and curious, a mere purveyor of the exotic.”

I’m not so sure things have changed that much when it comes to selling Japanese books, or any country’s literature for that matter. Although nowadays there seems to be two marketing trends that reflect some of the things we’ve been discussing in terms of the goal of translation: emphasize the foreignness, the oddness or make the book so smooth it doesn’t appear to be a translation at all.

14 November 07 | Chad W. Post | Comments

Over at WWB, Michael Orthofer has a couple new posts in the month-long discussion of Ryunosuke Akutagawa’s Mandarins.

The first is about the title story, and, well, it’s title:

When I hear (read) Mandarins, especially in an East Asian context, I think: Chinese wise men. Something along those lines, anyway. But the mandarins that give this collection—and the opening story—its title refer to the citrus fruit. Confusing matters further, the Japanese title of the story—Mikan—refers to a fruit that, while mandarin-like, is quite different. Others have apparently translated the title of the story as The Tangerines—not quite accurate either, but at least less ambiguous.

Is it just me, or does this title—and the impression it gives—cause some confusion?

The most recent post is about “An Evening Conversation,” one of the never-before translated stories included in this collection.

Translator De Wolf says in his notes that: “it follows in a long Japanese literary tradition of rambling conversations among males concerning life, love, and art,” and with that title one presumably shouldn’t expect anything different.

It is a curious approach to story-telling Akutagawa takes here, in An Evening Conversation: not quite story-in-a-story (i.e. someone simply recounting a tale, the telling of the tale little more than a framing device), but also not quite just table-talk.

This is one of the best WWB book clubs to date. Orthofer is very complete in his readings, and great at generating conversation. I can’t recommend this highly enough.

6 November 07 | Chad W. Post | Comments

This month’s Words Without Borders book club is just getting underway, with Michael Orthofer of Complete Review discussing Ryunosuke Akutagawa’s Mandarins, which is published by Archipelago Books..

Orthofer is a book club master, so this should be a lot of fun.

26 October 07 | Chad W. Post | Comments

The conversation about The Rebels continues today with an interview between Mark Sarvas and Arthur Philips.

MS: Perhaps I’m reading too much into your New Yorker review, but the sense that I got was that you were at some pains to say nice things about a lesser work. I’ve mentioned that I think there’s a problem for modern readers in coming to Márai in a sort of reverse order. Do you think there’s a fundamental problem coming to Márai in this order, and that readers might be better served going straight for Embers? Or is there a strong case to be made for The Rebels on its own merits?

AP: I think Rebels does just fine on its own. It’s a younger man’s book with younger characters, written at a time when Márai hadn’t seen all hell break loose in his country yet. I wasn’t trying to prop up a lesser book. And, I really don’t know what else is out there; there are a lot of Márai books still only in Hungarian. So I don’t know the direction his style took. Embers is certainly more stylistically interesting to me than Rebels, but Rebels was funny, and the language more outlandish, more under the influence, I think, of Gyula Krúdy. Embers may not be his best or most characteristic novel, so I won’t say that the way to go is to start with Embers. There are some who will get more out of starting with the memoirs, I suppose. Even Casanova in Bolzano, maybe.

23 October 07 | Chad W. Post | Comments

It’s never too late to jump into the book group on Marai’s The Rebels that Mark Sarvas of The Elegant Variation is hosting over at Words Without Borders.

The most recent post is an interview with David Leavitt, novelist and editor of Subtropics about how he came to excerpt part of The Rebels in his magazine.

Next month’s WWB/RTW book club will be on Ryunosuke Akutagawa’s short story collection Mandarins and will be hosted by the Complete Review’s Michael Orthofer.

4 October 07 | Chad W. Post | Comments

All this month at Words Without Borders, Mark Sarvas will be leading a book discussion on Sandor Marai’s The Rebels.

The Rebels was a Reading the World 2007 title.

Mark’s introductory post should be up at the WWB Blog soon, but for now, here’s his post about the club, and his introductory paragraph:

The long and interesting literary life of Sándor Márai (or Márai Sándor, as a true Hungarian would call him) suggests that, to paraphrase Fitzgerald, even Hungarians can enjoy second acts. A prolific and respected author of the Hungarian middle class, Márai only became known to American readers when Knopf published Embers in 2001, in a translation from the German – about which more anon – by Carol Brown Janeway. Márai was suddenly enjoying the sort of posthumous success that writers, if they’re honest, hope for, not unlike the attention that’s being given today to Irene Nemirovsky’s lost corpus. Some days it seems a European writer can’t catch a break in America until he’s dead. (In Márai’s case, it’s especially galling as he made San Diego his home in his later years, dying there in 1989.)

4 September 07 | Chad W. Post | Comments

The September Issue of Words Without Borders is now online and features Portuguese writing from Portugal, Mozambique, Angola, and Brazil, “with Jose Eduardo Agualusa, Rosa Alice Branco, Alexander Cuadros, Mia Couto, Manoel de Barros, Augusta Faro, Rubem Fonseca, Teolinda Gersao, Milton Hatoum, Conceicao Lima, Alberto Martins, Joao Melo, Ondjaki, Paulo Polzonoff, and Ana Paula Tavares, set to a soundtrack provided by DJ Spooky.”

And the Reading the World Book Club for September is underway. Along with Mark Binelli (Sacco and Vanzetti Must Die!), I’m co-hosting this, and we’re going to be reading/discussing Georges Simenon’s The Engagement.

27 August 07 | Chad W. Post | Comments

Frank Wilson’s review of Simenon’s The Engagement is pretty much just a plot summary, but it does point to the aspect of the book that I found most intriguing:

Human beings, as portrayed in this novel, range narrowly from the merely ordinary and banal to the mean-spirited, bitter, and grasping. What makes it bearable to read about them is the sense that no grand statement is being attempted: This is just one group of people behaving in a particular way under certain specific circumstances. They represent only themselves, not humanity.

Along with Mark Binelli, I’ll be co-hosting an online book club for this title starting next week. I’m really glad I finally started reading Simenon (hopefully we’ll be posting a review of Red Lights soon), and as a short (135 pages), gripping book, it’s worth picking up a copy of The Engagement and joining in on the message boards.

16 August 07 | Chad W. Post | Comments

Yesterday there were two reviews of Bruce Watson’s new book Sacco and Vanzetti: The Men, the Murders and the Judgment of Mankind (one appeared in the New York Times, the other in the New York Sun) and both neglected to mention the best book about S&V — Sacco and Vanzetti Must Die! by Mark Binelli. Seriously, this book is hilarious and amazing. And much more entertaining than this Watson book . . .

And bringing this all back full-circle, Binelli and I are going to be co-hosting the Words Without Borders/Reading the World book club for Georges Simenon’s The Engagement starting after Labor Day. It’s a very interesting book, and I the online discussion should be a lot of fun, so I hope any and everyone reading this will participate.

7 August 07 | Chad W. Post | Comments

The August issue of Words Without Borders—“Dreams of Our Russian Summer”—is now online. Material is being added to WWB more frequently these days, including an excerpt from “A Drawing Textbook” by Maxim Kantor that’s worth checking out.

30 July 07 | E.J. Van Lanen | Comments

Bookslut has an interview with Dedi Felman from Words Without Borders, in which she discusses their new site design and how difficult it is to pull this amazing literary resource together.

24 July 07 | Chad W. Post |

Beginning in September, Words Without Borders will launch a series of Reading the World Book Clubs. The final schedule is still being set, but I can say that in September I’ll be moderating a discussion about Georges Simenon’s The Engagement. (We should have a review of this up shortly.)

Other moderators in the WWB/RTW Book Clubs will include Michael Orthofer and James Marcus, and Mark Sarvas leading the discussion on Sandor Marai’s The Rebels, and Laila Lailami on Carmara Laye’s The Radiance of the King.

15 June 07 | Chad W. Post |

The June issue of Words Without Borders is now online and features new work from “Those Cool Scandinavians.”

Also included is an excerpt and review of Per Petterson’s Out Stealing Horses, which recently won the Dublin IMPAC award.

....
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. . .

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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?),. . .

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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’. . .

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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. . .

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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. . .

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I Called Him Necktie
I Called Him Necktie by Milena Michiko Flašar
Reviewed by Christopher Iacono

While looking back at an episode in his life, twenty-year-old Taguchi Hiro remembers what his friend Kumamoto Akira said about poetry.

Its perfection arises precisely from its imperfection . . . . I have an image in my head. I see. . .

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Return to Killybegs
Return to Killybegs by Sorj Chalandon
Reviewed by Vincent Francone

The central concern of Sorj Chalandon’s novel Return to Killybegs appears to be explaining how a person of staunch political activism can be lead to betray his cause, his country, his people. Truth be told, the real theme of the. . .

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