That’s the title of the extremely long article I wrote about Antonio Lobo Antunes for the new issue of Quarterly Conversation. (More on that issue later.)
If you’ve read this blog at all, you’ve probably come across one or more posts in which I wax poetic about the awesomeness of Antunes’s writing. (Here are a few samples: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 . . . ) In fact, the current Read This Next title is Antunes’s Splendor of Portugal, and if you visit that link, you can read an extended preview of the book, and an interview with translator Rhett McNeil.
Anyway, back to the Quarterly Conversation article . . . This primarily focuses on three novels by Antunes — The Land at the End of the World, Fado Alexandrino, and The Splendor of Portugal — and a range of reasons why you should read him. Here’s part of the opening:
I first discovered Antunes over a decade ago, when I was asked to review The Natural Order of Things, the fourth of six novels of his published by Grove Press. Reading it was like discovering that once-in-a-lifetime band whose music just sounds right straight away. As if the patterns were constructed precisely for you to hear them. It was at once familiar and new and exciting. A whole new way of constructing art—one that was smart and jarring, both on the surface and at the level of deeper emotions.
Immediately hooked, I went back and read Act of the Damned and An Explanation of the Birds and begged to be able to review each new title of his as it was released—to date, eleven have made their way into English, a remarkable number for a “difficult” Portuguese author whose books probably don’t sell all that well. (To put this in perspective, Nobel Prize winner and fellow countryman Jose Saramago has thirteen novels available in English translation.)
Publishing is a profession of people and individual taste, and Antunes has been in great hands in the U.S., having been backed by Morgan Entrekin (Grove), Bob Weil (W.W. Norton), and John O’Brien (Dalkey Archive). He’s also received a wealth of critical praise, from a New Yorker profile—“One of the most skillful psychological portraitist writing anywhere”—to numerous New York Times reviews. He’s been compared to Faulkner, Dos Passos, García Márquez, Céline, Cormac McCarthy, Malcolm Lowry, Proust, Woolf, Canetti, Gogol, Camus, Cortazar, and Nabokov. The real challenge for reviewers is coming up with a new Master of World Literature Antunes hasn’t been compared to.
But what does all this praise mean? That’s one hell of a mad amalgam of influences, and it gives a basis for the sense of familiarity and newness that I experienced when I first encountered his work. It also makes you appreciate that, with such a thorough connection to the literary history of the twentieth century, Antunes is greatly underappreciated. Which, to be completely honest, sort of makes sense. His books truly do embody everything Americans are supposedly afraid of: most of his novels focus around a war and a coup unfamiliar to many readers; the books aren’t very uplifting; they can be difficult to piece together. In thinking about this article, I’ve set myself the task of trying to convince an imaginary reader why he/she should invest his/her mental energy and time into this particular quasi-obscure, complicated novelist . . .
Click here to read the entire piece.
One of the greatest services—or disservices, depending on your viewpoint—Bertrand Russell ever performed for popular philosophy was humanizing its biggest thinkers in his History. No longer were they Platonic ideals, the clean-shaven exemplars of the kind of homely truisms that. . .
The best way to review Alejandra Pizarnik’s slim collection, A Musical Hell, published by New Directions as part of their Poetry Pamphlet series, is to begin by stating that it is poetry with a capital P: serious, dense, and, some. . .
Upon completing Albertine Sarrazin’s Astragal I was left to wonder why it ever fell from print. Aside from the location, Astragal could pass as the great American novel. Its edginess and rawness capture the angst and desires we all had. . .
When my eyes first crossed the back cover of Fabio Genovesi’s novel Live Bait, I was caught by a blurb nestled between accolades, a few words from a reviewer for La Repubblica stating that the novel was, however magically, “[b]eyond. . .
“I preferred the war to the plague,” writes Curzio Malaparte in his 1949 novel, The Skin. He speaks of World War II and the destruction it has wrought on Italy, the city of Naples in particular. But the plague he. . .
With the steady rise of feminist scholarship and criticism in recent decades, it is little wonder that the work of Louise Labé should be attracting, as Richard Sieburth tells us in the Afterword to his translation, a “wide and thriving”. . .
In Conversations, we find ourselves again in the protagonist’s conscious and subconscious, which is mostly likely that of Mr. César Aira and consistent with prototypical Aira style. This style never fails because each time Aira is able to develop a. . .
You are not ashamed of what you do, but of what they see you do. Without realizing it, life can be an accumulation of secrets that permeates every last minute of our routine . . .
The narrative history of. . .
Literature in translation often comes with a certain pedigree. In this little corner of the world, with so few books making it into this comforting nook, it is often those of the highest quality that cross through, and attention is. . .
Alessandro Baricco’s Mr. Gwyn is a set of two loosely interlinked novellas that play with narrative and the construction of character. Ably translated by Ann Goldstein, Mr. Gwyn plays some subtle metafictional games as Baricco delves into what it means. . .