30 September 08 | Chad W. Post

There are a couple of decent reviews of works in translation from the Sunday papers that are worth mentioning.

The first is a review of Carlos Fuentes’s Happy Families that appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle:

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 other is of Per Petterson’s To Siberia, which was reviewed in the Washington Post:

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 . . .


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Anna Karenina
Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
Reviewed by Christopher Iacono

For the past 140 years, Anna Karenina has been loved by millions of readers all over the world. It’s easy to see why: the novel’s two main plots revolve around characters who are just trying to find happiness through love.. . .

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The Cold Song
The Cold Song by Linn Ullmann
Reviewed by David Richardson

Linn Ullmann’s The Cold Song, her fifth novel, is built much like the house about which its story orbits: Mailund, a stately white mansion set in the Norwegian countryside a few hours drive from Oslo. The house, nestled into the. . .

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This Life
This Life by Karel Schoeman
Reviewed by P. T. Smith

Karel Schoeman’s Afrikaans novel, This Life, translated by Else Silke, falls into a genre maybe only noticed by the type of reader who tends toward Wittgenstein-type family resemblances. The essential resemblance is an elderly narrator, usually alone—or with one other. . .

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A Dilemma
A Dilemma by Joris-Karl Hyusmans
Reviewed by Christopher Iacono

In Joris-Karl Hyusmans’s most popular novel, À rebours (Against Nature or Against the Grain, depending on the which translated edition you’re reading), there is a famous scene where the protagonist, the decadent Jean des Esseintes, starts setting gemstones on the. . .

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Walker on Water
Walker on Water by Kristiina Ehin
Reviewed by P. T. Smith

There are books that can only wisely be recommended to specific types of readers, where it is easy to know who the respective book won’t appeal to, and Kristiina Ehin’s Walker on Water is one these. What makes this neither. . .

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The Nightwatches of Bonaventura
The Nightwatches of Bonaventura by Bonaventura
Reviewed by J. T. Mahany

Imagine the most baroque excesses of Goethe, Shakespeare, and Poe, blended together and poured into a single book: That is The Nightwatches of Bonaventura. Ophelia and Hamlet fall in love in a madhouse, suicidal young men deliver mournful and heartfelt. . .

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Pavane for a Dead Princess
Pavane for a Dead Princess by Park Min-Gyu
Reviewed by Christopher Iacono

In 1899, Maurice Ravel wrote “Pavane pour une infante défunte” (“Pavane for a Dead Princess”) for solo piano (a decade later, he published an orchestral version). The piece wasn’t written for a particular person; Ravel simply wanted to compose a. . .

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Tram 83
Tram 83 by Fiston Mwanza Mujila
Reviewed by Caitlin Thomas

Fiston Mwanza Mujila is an award-winning author, born in the Democratic Republic of Congo, who now, at 33, lives in Austria. From what I could find, much of his work is influenced by the Congo’s battle for independence and its. . .

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Twenty-One Days of a Neurasthenic
Twenty-One Days of a Neurasthenic by Octave Mirbeau
Reviewed by Lori Feathers

Twenty-One Days of a Neurasthenic is not a novel in the traditional sense. Rather, it is a collection of vignettes recorded by journalist Georges Vasseur in his diary during a month spent in the Pyrenées Mountains to treat his nervous. . .

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Sphinx
Sphinx by Anne Garréta
Reviewed by Monica Carter

Founded in 1960 by such creative pioneers as George Perec, Raymond Queneau and Italo Calvino, the Oulipo, shorthand for Ouvroir de littérature potentielle, came about in when a group of writers and mathematicians sought constraints to find new structures and. . .

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