This week’s Read This Next selection is My Two Worlds by Sergio Chejfec, an Argentinian author who currently resides in NYC. My Two Worlds is his first book to be translated into English (it’s on sale in August, published by us), although it’s his most recent work, which is, mysteriously, how things tend to work in translation—I’m the editor of this book, and I’m not even sure why it works that way.
So, rather than tell you why we chose this book for RTN, I suppose it might be more interesting to talk about why Open Letter chose to publish Chejfec, or since I don’t really remember anymore why, specifically, we signed on Chejfec (so far, we’ve signed him for three books, My Two Worlds, The Planets, and The Dark), at least say a few words about why his work appeals to me, and for that I’m going to start backwards, in an awkward place, the place where you reveal things about an author that make him sound difficult, or not salable, and then move away from that toward something slightly less awkward, to the place where potential readers might be found.
The awkward place, then: Sergio Chejfec is a writers’ writer. When I show Spanish-language writers our catalog, or talk about our new or upcoming books, they inevitably stop me at Chejfec’s name—and by they I mean a handful of writers, and by inevitably I mean each member of this handful; that is, they, inevitably; but, to be fair about my confessional fairness, this small sample is a distinguished one—and say something like, “I adore Chejfec.”
Well, what does that mean then, that people who practice at a high level have this sort admiration for one of their fellows? In this case, I think, it means that he does something with his writing that seems magical to them, magical even to people who are familiar with all the tricks and who are themselves in the process of mastering them. For example, and here I hope we’re starting to move toward the less awkward place, but slowly: My Two Worlds, Chejfec’s most recent book, the representative sample of everything he has learned to this moment in his writing life, is a one-hundred-page novel about a walk in a park.
Now, I’m a fan of the ‘walk in a park’ genre of novels (why shouldn’t the walk in the park be a genre?). My favorite is Moo Pak by Gabriel Josipovici, but Chejfec outdoes even Josipovici in his boldness. Rather than a series of conversations that take place over several days at the same park, as in Moo Pak, My Two Worlds is about a single walk, in a single park, on one day, and it takes place almost entirely in the head of its narrator. There are no other interlocutors, except us.
Well. I did say we’re moving slowly toward less awkward.
But what is magical about Chejfec is what he is able to do with this thinnest of threads. It’s what his narrator inhabits during this brief journey, how he imagines himself into the lives of those around him, the digressive reflections that this walk inspires in him—on writing, inheritance, travel, war, on pedal boats. It’s that he’s able to conjure a compelling narrative out of what is almost an anti-narrative—or anti-novel, as Enrique Vila-Matas calls it in his introduction. That he’s able to create this propulsive forward motion out of stasis, out of sitting on a park bench, and with such style, such beautiful style.
This near-magical ability of his is what drew us to Chejfec. And we hope you’ll go over to Read This Next to get a feel for what he’s capable of doing.
César Aira dishes up an imaginative parable on how identity shapes our sense of belonging with Dinner, his latest release in English. Aira’s narrator (who, appropriately, remains nameless) is a self-pitying, bitter man—in his late fifties, living again with. . .
Originally published in French in 2007, We’re Not Here to Disappear (On n’est pas là pour disparaître) won the Prix Wepler-Fondation La Poste and the Prix Pierre Simon Ethique et Réflexion. The work has been recently translated by Béatrice Mousli. . .
Even though the latest from Jean Echenoz is only a thin volume containing seven of what he calls “little literary objects,” it is packed with surprises. In these pieces, things happen below the surface, sometimes both literally and figuratively. As. . .
Who is this woman? This is the question that opens Xiao Bai’s French Concession, a novel of colonial-era Shanghai’s spies and revolutionaries, police and smugglers, who scoot between doorways, walk nonchalantly down avenues, smoke cigars in police bureaus, and lounge. . .
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.. . .
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. . .
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. . .
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. . .
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. . .
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. . .