There are a couple of decent reviews of works in translation from the Sunday papers that are worth mentioning.
In his latest short-story collection, “Happy Families,” Mexican author Carlos Fuentes lends credence to Tolstoy’s paradigmatic line from “Anna Karenina,” demonstrating in myriad ways that, indeed, “every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”
Certainly, there aren’t many “happy families” to be found in these pages – more like miniature cyclones of emotion that oscillate between loyalty and betrayal, devotion and rebellion. These 16 stories, like most of the author’s fiction, spotlight his home country, though more often than not it’s portrayed in less-than-rose-colored hues. [. . .]
The author also uses large blocks of stream-of-consciousness thought processes, similar in style to the simultaneously emotional and philosophical prose of his Portuguese contemporary José Saramago. Combined with irregular punctuation, the effect can be dizzying, but Fuentes provides just enough connective tissue to piece things together.
He may be a few months from his 80th birthday, but Mexico’s premier novelist shows no signs of slowing down. Like Saramago, Fuentes proves there’s still pungent life in his fiction, even if the episodes don’t always cohere as tightly as they once did.
The story — such as it is — evolves in a series of highly impressionistic moments, recalled by a 60-year-old unnamed narrator whose unmitigated sorrow casts a shadow over everything she remembers. Her memories of life when she was a girl present themselves to us like visions in a dream: intense and detailed at the focal point, vague and misty around the edges. The events generally fall into chronological order, in three sections: the narrator’s childhood, the German occupation during her teen years, and her travels through Denmark and Norway in her early 20s. But there are numerous disorienting gaps and references we can’t understand until later — if ever — as the meanings of various associations slowly accrue.
Inevitably, this Petterson book is going to be contrasted with Out Stealing Horses, and since that was such a critical and commercial success, I wouldn’t be surprised if a number of reviews were a bit cautious in their praise. (Like the Post one referenced above.)
Both of these reviews remind me though that it’s time to start thinking about our Best Translated Works of 2008 list . . .
Prose translators will likely disagree, but I believe translating poetry requires a significant level of talent, a commitment to the text, and near mania, all of which suggests that the undertaking is the greatest possible challenge. The task is to. . .
The biggest issues with books like The Subsidiary often have to do with their underpinnings—when we learn that Georges Perec wrote La Disparition without once using the letter E, we are impressed. Imagine such a task! It takes a high. . .
Following The Infatuations, Javier Marías’s latest novel seems, like those that have preceded it, an experiment to test fiction’s capacity to mesmerize with sombre-sexy atmospheres and ruminative elongated sentences stretched across windowless walls of paragraphs. Thus Bad Begins offers his. . .
Death by Water, Kenzaburo Oe’s latest novel to be translated into English, practically begs you to read it as autobiography. Like The Changeling, as well as many other works not yet released in English, Death by Water is narrated in. . .
Jocelyne Saucier’s Twenty-One Cardinals is about the type of unique, indestructible, and often tragic loyalty only found in families. For a brief but stunningly mesmerizing 169 pages, Twenty-One Cardinals invited me in to the haunting and intimate world of the. . .
We know so very little; so little that what we think to be knowledge is hardly worth reckoning with at all; instead we ought to settle for being pleasantly surprised if, on the edge of things, against all expectations, our. . .
Many of Virginie Despentes’s books revolve around the same central idea: “To be born a woman [is] the worst fate in practically every society.” But this message is nearly always packaged in easy-to-read books that fill you with the pleasure. . .
Ilja Leonard Pfeijffer’s La Superba is appropriately titled after the Italian city of Genoa, where, after escaping the pressures of fame in his own country, the semi-autobiographical narrator finds himself cataloguing the experiences of its mesmerizing inhabitants with the intention. . .
It took reading 44 pages of Intervenir/Intervene before I began to get a sense of what Dolores Dorantes and Rodrigo Flores Sánchez were up to. Recurring throughout these 44 pages—throughout the entire book—are shovels, shovel smacks to the face, lobelias—aha!. . .
As presaged by its title, contradiction is the theme of Peter Stamm’s novel, All Days Are Night. Gillian, a well-known television personality, remains unknowable to herself. And Hubert, a frustrated artist and Gillian’s lover, creates art through the process of. . .