For the next several weeks we’ll be highlighting a book-a-day from the 25-title Best Translated Book of 2008 fiction longlist, leading up to the announcement of the 10 finalists. Click here for all previous write-ups.
The Taker and Other Stories by Rubem Fonseca, translated from the Portuguese by Clifford Landers. (Brazil, Open Letter)
The Taker and Other Stories by Rubem Fonseca — the one Open Letter title to make the Best Translated Book of 2008 fiction longlist — was one of the first titles that we signed on. (And just to clarify, no one affiliated with Open Letter voted for any OL titles, and won’t when it comes to the shortlist either.)
In the summer of 2007, a few years after receiving a National Endwoment for the Arts Translation Fellowship to work on a Fonseca story project, Clifford Landers e-mailed me the fully translated manuscript for what became The Taker and Other Stories. Ever since reading High Art and Vast Emotions & Imperfect Thoughts I had been interested in finding out more about Fonseca and his work.
It’s a bit tricky to find out more about Fonseca himself. He’s a notorious recluse (although he was very quick to respond to my initial e-mail about publishing his work), and is friends with Thomas Pynchon. (Which, I think, is how the Pynchon quote on the cover of our book came about. I found out about it when David Kipen, Director of Literature at the NEA and Pynchon fanatic, directed me to the Portuguese version on this site. Although I feel like I should bend the truth and tell everyone we got this from The Man Himself. Now the amazing Stewart O’Nan quote we did get . . . )
The work itself is a bit easier. Fonseca’s published eight novels, and is the author of numerous short stories (only some of which are included in this collection). He received the Juan Rulfo Award in 2003 (since renamed), and as mentioned above, a couple of his books were published in English back some years ago. His most famous literary creation is probably Mandrake, a cynical and amoral lawyer who is the basis of an HBO series of the same name.
This book was the first collection of Fonseca’s stories to be published in English. Which is somewhat surprising, since in his native Brazil, Fonseca’s short stories are what really made his reputation. (But as almost every editor in the U.S. and UK will tell you, “short stories don’t sell.” And the battle between sales and art rages on . . .)
The stories themselves are frequently violent. In the title story, a young man is pushed to grander and more destructive acts of violence thanks in part to his new girlfriend. “Night Drive,” the full text of which is available here, starts so peacefully, until the narrator goes out driving to unwind . . .
Fonseca’s depictions of the seedier side of Rio are amazing, but not all of his stories are filled with crimes. One of my personal favorites is “The Enemy,” a story about a middle-aged man thinking about the time he tried to reconnect with his high school friends to reminisce about when Roberto flew and Ulpiniano the Gentle was resurrected only to see how everyone had moved on, and remembered nothing of that mystical time. It’s a heartbreaking story, and one that made me decide that we really had to publish this collection.
“The Eleventh of May” is a funny and haunting story about an insurrection in a somewhat surreal nursing home, and “The Notebook” is a funny, and bit misogynistic, story about a man who keeps a notebook detailing all his “conquests.”
Overall, the stories in this collection are quite varied, and make up a great introduction to the fictional worlds of one of Brazil’s greatest writers.
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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. . .
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