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.
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. . .
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. . .
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. . .
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. . .
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. . .
There’s little to say about a series of prose poems that willfully refuse to identify pronoun antecedents. Or perhaps there are a million things. The poems in Morse, My Deaf Friend— the chapbook by Miloš Djurdjević published by Ugly Duckling. . .
The Crimson Thread of Abandon is the first collection of short fiction available in English by the prolific Japanese writer and all-around avant-garde trickster Terayama Shūji, who died in 1983 at the age of 47. This collection would be important. . .
Last year, NYRB Classics introduced English-language readers to Catalan writer Josep Pla with Peter Bush’s translation of The Gray Notebook. In that book, Pla wrote about life in Spain during an influenza outbreak soon after World War I, when. . .
“Your bile is stagnant, you see sorrow in everything, you are drenched in melancholy,” my friend the doctor said.
bq. “Isn’t melancholy something from previous centuries? Isn’t some vaccine against it yet, hasn’t medicine taken care of it yet?” I. . .
What to make of Vano and Niko, the English translation of Erlom Akhvlediani’s work of the same name, as well as the two other short books that comprise a sort of trilogy? Quick searches will inform the curious reader that. . .