As the week comes to a close, we at Open Letter Books are getting ready to join the masses of publishers, agents, authors, translators, and book people in general in for Book Expo America 2013.
In addition to getting ramped up to see familiar faces and meet new ones, we’ll be toting around a copies of a few of our forthcoming titles and plenty of shiny new catalogs to wave in your faces. And since we won’t be at a booth this year, we will instead be everywhere. In the book lines, at publishers’ booths, at snack-and-wine gatherings in the aisles, not
not crashing evening parties/events/galas, in the whispers of the wind, in the rustling of exhibit floor curtains. In your free book totes and dreams.
Creepiness aside, we’ll basically be around all week and would love to see and talk to you! If you plan on being at BEA and want to catch us, shoot us an email, or check in with us on Twitter to see what we’re up to. (We may even have a few free A Thousand Morons shirts to hand out!) You can also use the same means of contact to avoid us. As an added bonus, Chad will be speaking on panels Wednesday at the Alternative and Independent Presses panel at 10:40 a.m., and Friday at the The Translator & Editor panel at 3:30 p.m.Hope to see many of you there! Tweet
Jeremy Osner blogs about reading and translation at READIN. He is currently working on a translation of El arte de la resurrecctión (and the translated excerpts in his review are his), a novel that is looking for an English-language publisher. Here’s a bit from his review:
“The small stone plaza was floating in the midday heat. The Christ of Elqui, kneeling on the ground, his gaze thrown back on high, the part in his hair dark under the Atacaman sun—he felt himself falling into an ecstasy. It was no less than this: he had brought it to pass. Had restored to life a dead man.”
We meet Domingo Zárate Vega, “better known to all as the Christ of Elqui,” in the opening lines of Hernán Rivera Letelier’s The Art of Resurrection (Alfaguara, 2010), at the moment of realization of his greatest dream—of having mastered “the sublime art of resurrection.”
The novel follows Zárate Vega in his travels through a key week in the midpoint of his 20-year mission of penance. It is the last week of December, 1942; the randy Christ of Elqui journeys to the mining camp of Providencia in search of the woman he believes will play the role of Mary Magdalene to his messiah. His story of finding her and losing her again is an exuberantly comic, darkly sarcastic, heartfelt, and sentimental meditation on faith and loss, played out against labor unrest among the striking workers of Providencia.
Life in the mining camp is threaded together with currents in Chile’s history in a way that is characteristic of (and perhaps unique to) Rivera Letelier’s narrative voice. He has spent the past 20 years telling the stories of people who worked in the nitrate industry, an industry that formed a vital part of the story of Chile and, by extension, that of the industrialized world. (No nitrate, no industrialized agriculture!) The degree of precision and fluency in his descriptions of scene and character bring that past alive.
For the rest of the review, go here.Tweet
The latest addition to our Reviews Section is by Brendan Riley on There Once Lived a Girl Who Seduced Her Sister’s Husband, and He Hanged Himself: Love Stories by Ludmilla Petrushevskaya, from Penguin.
Brendan has written reviews for Three Percent in the past, and has worked for many years as a teacher, translator, editor, and writer. Brendan’s translations include works by Juan Velasco, Álvaro Enrigue, Juan Filloy, and Carlos Fuentes.
Petrushevskaya’s previous collection published in English, There Once Lived A Woman Who Tried To Kill Her Neighbor’s Baby (Penguin Books), came out in 2009 and was on NPR’s/Jessa Crispin’s 2009 best books list. Here’s a bit of Brendan’s review:
This slender, uncanny volume—the second, best-selling collection of stories by Russian author Ludmilla Petrushevskaya to appear in the U.S.—has already received considerable, well-deserved praise from many critics and high profile publications. Its seventeen short tales, averaging ten pages each, are grouped into four sections: “A Murky Fate”; “Hallelujah, Family!”; “My Little One”; and “A Happy Ending.” But there is little in them that readers might associate with true love or happy endings. Instead, Petrushevskaya delivers a smoking, cast-iron skillet upside the head: promiscuity, serial mendacity, domestic violence, dangerous liaisons, ineptitude, ignorance, geriatric romance, and cringing fear. Love stories? Seamy debacles. Hookup sagas set in a grim Moscow and environs. Coupling stories fraught with meanness, misery, and egregious misunderstanding. Workaday women sharing sour, collective apartments and tawdry, loveless lives. Young women who flower, suffer abuse, and wither. Collision stories: hapless women, old before their time, thwarted by brutal men. Though the men hardly fare better.
In “A Murky Fate,” an unmarried thirty-something living with her mother engineers a drab tryst with a man who services her with perfunctory courtesy and patronizing affection. But in her sterile office-life world, this confers a blissful memory: “There was nothing but pain in store for her, yet she cried with happiness and couldn’t stop.”
“The Fall” offers a dry comedy of manners at a state-run seaside resort where vacationers escaping the rainy north come together only to multiply one another’s misery. A gaudy temptress attracts a mooning pack of suitors before efficiently selecting her tall, confident “Number One.” They find the sex lovelorn travelers yearn for, only to fall prisoner to their coveted exclusion and inevitable teary separation: “Our golden couple has departed. The delicate Carmen and her faithful husband, Number One, are jetting through the frozen air away from each other, back to their children and spouses, back to the cold, and to hard, grim work.”
For the rest of the review, go here.Tweet
I think it was two summers ago that I was last in Chicago for the annual Goethe Institut Helen and Kurt Wolff Translation Prize Extravaganza. (I love these gatherings. The award ceremony, the people involved with German literature, the panels, etc. It always seems to be a beautiful couple days weather-wise as well, which makes the whole series of events even cooler. Hopefully I can get invited back sometime . . .)
Anyway, at that last Extravaganza, Susan Bernofsky was telling me that she was translating the creepiest book that she’d ever worked on—something called The Black Spider. I suspect that most everyone reading this (not including Michael Orthofer, because Michael knows about everything) is unfamiliar with this classic of world literature, about which Thomas Mann claimed, “there is scarcely a work in world literature that I admire more.” That won’t be the case this fall.
Here’s the description from NYRB:
It is a sunny summer Sunday in a remote Swiss village, and a christening is being celebrated at a lovely old farmhouse. One of the guests notes an anomaly in the fabric of the venerable edifice: a blackened post that has been carefully built into a trim new window frame. Thereby hangs a tale, one that, as the wise old grandfather who has lived all his life in the house proceeds to tell it, takes one chilling turn after another, while his audience listens in appalled silence. Featuring a cruelly overbearing lord of the manor and the oppressed villagers who must render him service, an irreverent young woman who will stop at nothing, a mysterious stranger with a red beard and a green hat, and, last but not least, the black spider, the tale is as riveting and appalling today as when Jeremias Gotthelf set it down more than a hundred years ago. The Black Spider can be seen as a parable of evil in the heart or of evil at large in society (Thomas Mann saw it as foretelling the advent of Nazism), or as a vision, anticipating H. P. Lovecraft, of cosmic horror. There’s no question, in any case, that it is unforgettably creepy.
And although this has been translated into English in the past, it’s never been translated by Susan Bernofsky. So even if you are familiar with it, I’d still recommend checking out this version, since, Susan Bernofsky.Tweet
Another favorite translator—Allison Powell—has just launched Japanese Literature in English, a website that plays to all of my databasing and list making impulses.
japanese literature in english is a searchable database that compiles all literary works translated from japanese to english and available in the united states (with some exceptions). entries are still being added, and suggestions for inclusion are welcome.
You can search by author, title, translator, subject, publication date, and publisher, and can click on various tags, such as “japanese americans, fiction” or “jesus christ, biography” (which leads to exactly one title, Endo’s A Life of Jesus).
Very helpful for those interested in finding out what’s out there, and a nice way to make sure I don’t miss too many Japanese books in the Translation Database. (Which, yes, I’m updating right now. This is a good week for mindless tasks like entering ISBNs, author names, titles, and whatnot. So expect an update soon.)Tweet
One of the exciting new trends in publishing is the consolidation of mega-companies to create a totally misbalanced marketplace that mimics the unequal distribution of wealth in America that anyone who loves freedom obviously agrees with.
Well, that or the new ways that international titles are finding their way into the U.S., especially in the form of ebooks brought to you by young, exciting companies like Frisch & Co. (more on them tomorrow) and New Vessel Press.
Oh, and fuck your corporation. Or, in the immortal words of Stephen Malkmus, “Force fed integration from the corporation, I don’t need this corporation attitude.”
Digressions aside, I think it’s great that new publishers dedicated to international literature are sprouting up here and abroad, and increasing our access to interesting writing. New Vessel is one of the more ambitious (along with Deep Vellum, about which, more some other day), and has a pretty Three Percent-y mission:
New Vessel Press, founded in New York City in 2012, is an independent publishing house specializing in the translation of foreign literature into English. Today, only about three percent of the books available in the American marketplace are translations. In a globalized world, shouldn’t our choice of books be global as well? By bringing readers foreign literature and literary non-fiction as ebooks, we offer wonderful works for a very affordable price, and in a well-designed, aesthetically pleasing format. But of course, what matters most is not where the authors hail from, or what language they write in. The most important thing is the quality of the work itself. And hence our name. We publish great books, just in a new vessel.
Knowledge of foreign languages and literatures enriches our lives, offering passageways to understand and embrace the world. But corporate mergers are shrinking publishing outlets, and English increasingly predominates as the lingua franca. We believe that literary translation is both craft and art, enabling us to traverse borders and open minds. We are committed to books that offer erudition and pleasure, provoke and scintillate, transform and transport.
Missions are great, but what’s most important are the books themselves, and their first list of six titles is rather impressive.
Some Day is a family saga in which the characters find themselves caught in cycles of repetition, as if they were “rhymes in a poem, cursed with history.” They are victims of everyday magic—enchanted recipes that bring happiness and tragedy to the cooks and diners, mysterious curses that cause people’s hair to fall out and their necks to swell, capitulation to sexual desire, eliminating rational thought and giving way to unhealthy urges.
Robert and Jacob are two down-and-out Polish con men living in Israel in the 1950s. They’re planning to run a scam on an American widow visiting the country with her young son. Robert, who masterminds the scheme, and Jacob who acts it out, are tough, desperate men, exiled from their native land and adrift in the hot, nasty underworld of Tel Aviv. Robert arranges for Jacob to run into Mary, an American widow, who has enough trouble with her young son to keep her occupied all day. Her heart is open though, and the men are hoping her wallet is too. What follows is a story of love, deception, cruelty and shame, as Jacob pretends to fall in love with the American. But it’s not just Jacob who seems to be performing a role; nearly all the characters are actors in an ugly story, complete with parts for murder and suicide.
In 1776 Fanny von Arnstein, the daughter of the Jewish master of the royal mint in Berlin, came to Vienna as an 18-year-old bride. She brought with her the intellectual sharpness and vitality of her birthplace. As the daughter of a wealthy Prussian Jew, she was influenced by the philosopher Moses Mendelssohn, a family friend who spearheaded the emancipation of German Jewry. She married a financier to the Austro-Hungarian imperial court, and in 1798 her husband became the first unconverted Jew in Austria to be granted the title of baron. Soon Fanny hosted an ever more splendid salon which attracted the leading figures of the Enlightenment.
At the age of nine, Juan Salvatierra became mute following a horse riding accident. At twenty, he began secretly painting a series of long rolls of canvas in which he minutely detailed six decades of life in his village on Argentina’s river frontier with Uruguay. After the death of Salvatierra, his sons return to the village from Buenos Aires to deal with their inheritance: a shed packed with painted rolls stretching over two miles in length and depicting personal and communal history. Museum curators from Europe come calling to acquire this strange, gargantuan artwork. But an essential one of its rolls is missing. A search that illuminates the links between art and life ensues, as an intrigue of family secrets buried in the past cast their shadows on the present.
Paris in the 1920s – dizzy and decadent. Where a young man can make a fortune with his wits . . . unless he is led into temptation. Cocaine’s dandified hero Tito Arnaudi invents lurid scandals and gruesome deaths, and sells these stories to the newspapers. But his own life becomes even more outrageous than his press reports when he acquires three demanding mistresses. Elegant, witty and wicked, Pitigrilli’s classic novel was first published in Italian in 1921 and charts the comedy and tragedy of a young man’s downfall and the lure of a bygone era. The novel’s descriptions of sex and drug use prompted church authorities to place it on a list of “forbidden” books, while appealing to filmmaker Rainer Werner Fassbinder who wrote a script based on the tale.
The Good Life Elsewhere is a very funny book. It is also a very sad one. In it, Moldovan writer Vladimir Lorchenkov tells the story of a group of villagers and their tragicomic efforts, against all odds and at any cost, to emigrate from Europe’s most impoverished nation to Italy for work. This is a book with wild imagination and heartbreaking honesty, grim appraisals alongside optimistic commentary about the nature of human striving.
For now, you can preorder all of these via the New Vessel website, and in the near future, all the titles will be listed on your electronic vending platform of choice. And be sure to “like” them on Facebook and follow them on Twitter.Tweet
I’ve been a bit checked out the past few weeks with event upon event, travels to London and L.A. and New York (twice), final papers to grade, illnesses to overcome, soccer to geek out about, etc., etc. But now that it’s summertime (I only have one grade left to enter), it’s about time to get back into talking up interesting books (HOLY SHIT DO I LOVE TRAVELER OF THE CENTURY), commenting on the book publishing industry (like the fact that I’m so glad the number of publishers’ branded readers communities is about to explode . . . and inevitably implode, since most publishers make dumb things), and ranting about stuff, like, I don’t know, particular agents who have recently pissed me off.
We’re going to have a ton of interns again this summer, which should free up a bit of time to let loose on this blog, which I plan to do in grand style . . . But before getting into those fun and games, I thought it would be best to ease back into the Three Percent world by highlighting some exciting new ventures, starting with The Buenos Aires Review, brought to you by one of Open Letter’s favorite translators, Heather Cleary.1
The BAR launched last week to great acclaim (including mentions by Bookforum, Granta, New Directions, and the like), and for good reason. This bilingual internet magazine “presents the best and latest work by emerging and established writers from the Americas, in both Spanish and English. We value translation and conversation. We publish poetry, fiction, essays, criticism, visual art, and interviews.”
And the inaugural issue is, to slang it up a bit, pretty baller.
Javier Calvo: The other day I saw a book by Alejandro Zambra on a list of the most anticipated books of 2013 in the United States, and I wanted to ask you this: what do you think of this phenomenon, which to me is one of the most important things that have happened in American publishing in a long time? I’m talking about the attention Spanish-language fiction has been getting since Bolaño. How have you experienced this change as a translator, reader, scout, etc?
Mara Faye Lethem: Do you see it as so distinct from the Boom? Because I don’t.
Javier Calvo: I do see significant differences from the Boom. To begin with, I think the boom was much more a strategy, and as such it had a center. And when I say strategy, I say it almost in the sense of the British Invasion: we’re going to take over North America. Here, I don’t see too much strategy, and as a matter of fact I don’t see how an editor could hope to get rich on the books of Aira or Zambra. Secondly, the Boom in America was a much more asymmetrical phenomenon, the rich neighbor’s consumption of a series of consumer elements related to exoticism and magic.
Look, for example, at the resounding failure as strategies of all the “commercial brands” of exportation of Latin American literature: McOndo, the Crack Movement . . .
In the current case it’s true that Bolaño has been sanctioned by the American world of culture as the “Chosen One” to replace GGM [Gabriel García Márquez] as the Great Novelist in Spanish, but I also see differences: it seems to me that the acceptance of the new literature in Spanish already lacks that aspect of consumption of the poor, the exotic, and the distinct. I believe that now, strangely, it already has a certain aspect of normalcy, acceptance of the two-directional cultural tides that exist between Spanish and English. Although this may perhaps be overly optimistic.
Mara Faye Lethem: Well, when they talk about Aira as the new Bolaño, yes, that implies a certain strategy of marketing. I think that the case of Bolaño has been an astounding example of the unpredictability of the editorial world, and the strategy of buying books in other people’s styles is ridiculous, but shows no signs of waning. I suppose people’s lack of vision, as well as their fear, just get bigger and bigger than their risk-taking . . .
There’s an interview with Junot Diaz featuring the intriguing pull-quote, “We exist in a constant state of translation. We just don’t like it.”
There’s fiction by Giovanna Rivero:
The pointless memories are the most beautiful ones. I must have been, what, eight years old when this guy with a bird’s name, Piri, came to my grandparents’ house. He’d come to help my grandmother with the little sausage and bakery business she’d set up in her third courtyard. It sounds unbelievable, I know, but the house really did have three courtyards and in the third, as I said, my grandmother had set up a real life steam-powered manufacturing line for chorizo and bread. If you showed up very early in the morning, you could imagine the smoke belched out by the grinders, ovens, crushers, fillers and pots being, logically, the smog that rose in a frenzy from the First World’s last generation of machines.
There’s a piece by Mariano López Seoane on Evita that opens by name-checking JLo and “Jenny from the Block.”
And there is more.
Overall, this is a solid opening issue, and one I’m sure we’ll be featuring time and again. (Oh, and while I’m plugging things that make me happy, Heather’s translation of Sergio Chejfec’s The Dark is at the printer now. So all your Chejfec/Cleary fans have something fantastic to look forward to reading this fall.
1 Actually, we love all the editors of Buenos Aires Review. Jennifer Croft, Pola Oloixarac, and Maxine Swann all deserve special shout-outs as well.Tweet
Each semester, Chad has students in both his Introduction to Publishing course and the World Literature in Translation course write book reviews as part of an assignment—we’ll be running these over the next weeks.
Rachael Daum (who is an accomplisher and recipient of all the things/fellowships, speaker of several languages, translator-in-training, and hails from England/Germany) was part of the internship and Intro to Publishing course this semester. Here’s a bit of her review:
The Urdu word “_basti_” refers to any space, intimate to worldly, and is often translated as “common place” or “a gathering place.” This book by Intizar Husain, who is widely regarded as one of the most important living Pakistani writers, traverses a number of cities, the connections between them, and the people who live in them. Within this slender book are a great number of dichotomous themes, most of them facing off with each other: tradition and innovation, Hinduism and Islam, India and Pakistan. But all of these revolve around a greater theme of change, mostly that which comes with war, and how the people involved must react to it—and possibly lose their humanity in doing so.
The book opens with Zakir as a child in India, which, at the time includes what would soon be Pakistan. He recalls growing up as a small Muslim boy alongside Hindu boys and girls. The calm of his childhood, however, is upset by an explanation of how Cain murders and buries of his brother Abel, with Zakir’s mother calling a curse on Cain’s blood, for “it was thinner than water!,” and a further discussion that Doomsday will come “when those who can speak fall silent, and shoelaces speak.” This particularly gloomy talk soon becomes appropriate in this context, however, as it clearly foreshadows the war that will rend India and Pakistan apart, and separate families and friends.
To read the rest of the review, go here.Tweet
The first time I saw The Whispering Muse was in a bookstore in Riga, Latvia, misplaced somewhere on the D-F shelf. Taking this as a sign of meant-to-be, I bought it, and promptly placed it on my to-read shelf. This was two years ago. But I’ve been itching to get to it since! And the new editions from FSG have some pretty awesome looking covers…
Here’s a bit of Vincent’s review:
The Whispering Muse, one of three books by Icelandic writer Sjón just published in North America, is nothing if not inventive. Stories within stories, shifting narration, leaps in time, and characters who transform from men to birds and back again—you’ve seen this sort of thing before in Ovid, Bulgakov, Kafka, and Rushdie to name a few. But the slim novel’s metaphysics are less striking than its blending of myths, serving the reader an exciting book that touches on the cannibalistic nature of story telling; any tale, regardless of time and place, is ripe for postmodern plucking and consumption.
To read the rest of the review, go hereTweet
Hopefully that headline got your attention. But seriously, check out this bit from the By the Book feature that appeared in the New York Times this weekend:
Are you a rereader? What books do you find yourself returning to again and again?
I don’t do much rereading anymore because I’ve been ill and feel that I’m running out of time. But recently I did reread all of Evelyn Waugh’s novels, and was pleased to find that he was almost as thoughtful as, say, Olivia Manning, although his snobbery sometimes grates. Also, I enjoyed “Lucky Jim,” by Kingsley Amis, all over again: the funniest novel I have ever read. Is there some Bulgarian equivalent, languishing untranslated? Probably not.
Really, Clive James? Really? That’s not just ignorant, it’s kind of insulting. (“In Bulgaria, funny book writes you!”)
And ignorant. Let’s stick with that one for a moment. Over the past two years, we’ve published Milen Ruskov’s Thrown into Nature, which is extremely funny in a picaresque, Quixotesque way, and 18% Gray by Zachary Karabashliev, which is a bit more slapstick and American in its humor, but is also quite funny.
I’m sure James didn’t mean to insult all Bulgarian writers ever, and I realize he’s trying to say that there’s no Bulgarian book that’s as funny as Lucky Jim, but jesus shit does his statement come off as being dismissive in a middlebrow American sort of way.
What’s especially heartening is that Izidora Angel wrote a letter to the editor calling him out:
As someone born in Bulgaria, raised in America and educated in England, I can assure James that Bulgarian is a grammatically rich and unique language. Like the people who speak it, the Bulgarian language survived 500 years of Ottoman rule, and it is colored by Turkish, French and, currently, American and English words and phrases. Its slang is funny, touching and bittersweet.
Although Bulgaria may have given the world the Cyrillic alphabet, few of its notable works have been translated into English, except for a couple of classics from the late 19th century, like Ivan Vazov’s novel “Under the Yoke” (1893) and Aleko Konstantinov’s travelogue “To Chicago and Back” (1894). Gaining support to translate important Bulgarian works and commentary into English is an uphill economic battle. The Elizabeth Kostova Foundation is an important part of the effort.
I hope that rather than mocking a language and people he does not know, James will pick up a translation of Konstantinov’s “Bai Ganyo” and enjoy some Balkan humor.
And just to drive home my point about the arrogance and ignorance of his statement, I’d like to point out that James hails from Australia, a place utterly lacking in refined cultural humor. There’s no Lucky Jim that’s been written by a Australian, that’s for sure. Shit, the only thing they really have going for themselves humor-wise is Fosters and all the potshots the rest of the world can take at them, since we all know that the New Zealanders are a million times funnier. And prettier.Tweet
“The small stone plaza was floating in the midday heat. The Christ of Elqui, kneeling on the ground, his gaze thrown back on high, the part in his hair dark under the Atacaman sun—he felt himself falling into an ecstasy.. . .
This slender, uncanny volume—the second, best-selling collection of stories by Russian author Ludmilla Petrushevskaya to appear in the U.S.—has already received considerable, well-deserved praise from many critics and high profile publications. Its seventeen short tales, averaging ten pages each, are. . .
The Urdu word basti refers to any space, intimate to worldly, and is often translated as “common place” or “a gathering place.” This book by Intizar Husain, who is widely regarded as one of the most important living Pakistani writers,. . .
The Whispering Muse, one of three books by Icelandic writer Sjón just published in North America, is nothing if not inventive. Stories within stories, shifting narration, leaps in time, and characters who transform from men to birds and back again—you’ve. . .
Luis Negrón’s debut collection Mundo Cruel is a journey through Puerto Rico’s gay world. Published in 2010, the book is already in its fifth Spanish edition. Here in the U.S., the collection has been published by Seven Stories Press and. . .
To have watched from one of your patios
the ancient stars
from the bank of shadow to have watched
the scattered lights
my ignorance has learned no names for
nor their places in constellations
to have heard the ring of. . .
When Icelandic author Andri Snær Magnason first published LoveStar, his darkly comic parable of corporate power and media influence run amok, the world was in a very different place. (This was back before both Facebook and Twitter, if you can. . .
When starting Hi, This Is Conchita and Other Stories, Santiago Roncagliolo’s second work to be translated into English, I was expecting Roncagliolo to explore the line between evil and religion that was front and center in Red April. Admittedly, I. . .
Christa Wolf’s newly-translated City of Angels is a novel of atonement, and in this way the work of art that it resembles most to me is not another book, but the 2003 Sophia Coppola film Lost in Translation. Like that. . .
French author—philosopher, poet, novelist—de Roblès writes something approaching the Great (Latin) American Novel, about Brazilian characters, one of whom is steeped in the life of the seventeenth century polymath (but almost always erroneous) Jesuit Athanasius Kircher. Eleazard von Wogau, a. . .