NYRB’s monthly Letter from the Editor is by far my favorite publisher newsletter. Edwin Frank is one of the most well-read, articulate editors in the country, and with such great material to write about, his pieces are always incredibly interesting.
The most recent letter is about Pinocchio by Carlo Collodi, recently retranslated from the Italian by Geoffrey Brock, and published with an intro from Umberto Eco. As Edwin explains, this ain’t exactly the same Pinocchio as found in the Disney movie. Even from line one—which I think is one of the best openings I’ve read in a while—expectations are subverted:
Once upon a time there was. . . .
“A King!” my little readers will say at once.
No children, you’re wrong. Once upon a time there was a block of wood.
Edwin goes on to describe how interesting, odd, and complex (in comparison to the Disney version) the book’s opening really is:
The scene that follows is not only unsettling but positively spooky. A carpenter is using his hatchet to trim that piece of wood into a table leg—when, out of nowhere, a not so still small voice cries out: “You’re hurting me!” Pinocchio (who thus oddly exists before he comes into existence) stuns and terrifies the carpenter, known, because of his red and presumably alcoholic nose, as Master Cherry. Master Cherry wonders whether he isn’t just hearing things, and for a moment we wonder too. Throughout the book, a book in which “being real” is a question of paramount importance, Collodi leads us to doubt the reality at hand. Perhaps all this is nothing more than a drunken carpenter’s imaginings? Who knows? But what it is unquestionably is the beginning of a story, and once started the story will have its way. [. . .]
Pinocchio is a book of deep intelligence and pure inspiration, a beautiful work that seems, like its hero, almost to have willed itself into existence. (Collodi, though an accomplished man, never accomplished anything remotely equivalent, and in Pinocchio he amusingly depicts a gang of boys bombarding each other with his books).
When I first heard NYRB was reprinting Pinocchio I was a bit suspicious, but now I can’t wait to get a copy . . .
Though far from the most convincing reason to read literature in translation, one common side effect is learning of another culture, of its history. Within that, and a stronger motivation to read, is the discovery of stories not possible within. . .
Despite cries that literature is dead, dying, and self-replicating in the worst way, once in a while a book comes along to remind readers that there’s still a lot of surprise to be found on the printed page. To be. . .
“I was small. And my village was small, I came to know that in time. But when I was small it was big for me, so big that when I had to cross it from one end to the other,. . .
A few weeks after moving into a farm house in the Welsh countryside, Emilie, an expatriate from the Netherlands, starts to think about her uncle. This uncle tried to drown himself in a pond in front of the hotel where. . .
Think back to the last adventure- or action-type book you read. Wasn’t it cool? Didn’t it make you want to do things, like learn to shoot a crossbow, hack complicated information systems, travel to strange worlds, take on knife-wielding thugs,. . .
In Aira’s Shantytown, while we’re inside the characters’ heads for a good portion of the story, the voice we read on the page is really that of Aira himself, as he works out the plot of the book he’s writing.. . .
Noir is not an easy genre to define—or if it once was, that was a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away; as a quick guess, maybe Silver Lake, Los Angeles, 1935. When two books as different as. . .
Some time ago I read this phrase: “The page is the only place in the universe God left blank for me.”
Pedro Mairal’s short novel The Missing Year of Juan Salvatierra is more about these blank spaces than the usual full. . .
“What if even in the afterlife you have to know foreign languages? Since I have already suffered so much trying to speak Danish, make sure to assign me to the Polish zone . . .”
So reads a typical aphoristic “poem”. . .
If you somehow managed to overlook the 2012 translation of Andrés Neuman’s breathtaking Traveler of the Century (and woe betide all whom continue to do so), you now have two exceptional works of fiction from the young Argentine virtuoso demanding. . .