OK, granted, this came out a couple weeks ago, which is basically a million eons in Internet time, but the new(est) issue of the Quarterly Conversation is now online and is loaded with great translation-centric material. (And great reviews of Open Letter titles, and Open Letter favorites . . .)
Here are short highlights of some of the pieces I found most interesting:
“Winfried Georg Maximilian Sebald was already in his fiftieth year and his third decade of residence in East Anglia, when he began to write of the walk he had taken two years before in the Suffolk country to dispel, he tells us, the strange emptiness which had come to fill him suddenly. Ironically enough, however, the walk soon became distressing as he took in, with ever-growing uneasiness, the traces of destruction reaching far back into the past that locked his gaze wherever he turned. Such was his horror upon return, he would have us believe, that, in due course, he had to be rushed to a hospital in a state of near paralysis. But once there, what the body had lost, the mind gained, and before long it was soaring higher and higher with each tilt of the wings to view from above that Suffolk expanse, which, like the Borgesian Aleph, had now shrunk to a single spot, rightly so, devoid of all sensation.”
“For those of us following Vladislavić’s work, 2011 was a good year. It saw the release of three new works. The first is a collection of lost, abandoned, incomplete and incomplete-able stories, together with reflections on their failure to come into print, sandwiched around a central story that gives the collection its title—The Loss Library. The second is a fable, or a riddle, written from the phenomenological perspective of a character who is a word (but which word?) in a dictionary, published alongside 19 spectacular color illustrations in Sylph Editions’ Cahier series under the title, A Labour of Moles. And, of course, the third is Double Negative, a novel. Since the last novel with a continuous story by Vladislavić was his second—the 2001 masterpiece, The Restless Supermarket, the story of a retired proofreader setting about to “correct” the bewildering and rapidly changing world of post-Apartheid Johannesburg, written in a form that contains its own telling ‘errors‘—readers were especially excited about Double Negative. It was worth the wait.”
[The Loss Library is high on my list of books to read. I love Portrait with Keys.]
“Cited by The Independent as ‘the most important writer after Borges,’ he has also been described by his contemporary Ricardo Piglia as ‘one of the best writers today in any language.’ In his native Argentina he is counted among the pantheon of ‘writer’s writers’ who have left an indelible mark on the cultural landscape. English-language readers were introduced to Saer’s fiction by Margaret Jull Costa, who translated The Witness (originally El entenado) in 1990. The years that followed would see three more of Saer’s novels brought into English by Helen Lane: Nobody Nothing Never (1993), The Event (1995, originally La ocasión), and The Investigation (1999), all published by Serpent’s Tail. More recently, Open Letter Books released two more of Saer’s novels in Steve Dolph’s translation: The Sixty-Five Years of Washington (2010) and Scars (2011); a third title in the series is on the way. This recent crop is a tremendous addition, not only because it represents some of Saer’s most acclaimed work, but also because it broadens our perspective on his oeuvre, which is less a series of individual novels than an extended engagement with the different possibilities of a single, continuous narrative.
[Everyone in the world should read Saer—it may not make you a better person, but it will make you a better reader. And will cause you to start referring to everything awesome as being “madman.” For example, “Her body is madman.” Also, read Heather Cleary’s translation of Sergio Chejfec’s The Planets. That’s a good example of an insanely talented translator working on an insanely talented writer’s book.]
“The Autonomous Republic of Catalonia now holds up Mercè Rodoreda as a national treasure. Barcelona offers commemorative sculptures, libraries, gardens in her name; government-supported institutes sponsor conferences and translations; a yearlong festival marked her 2008 centennial. Her international champions include Gabriel García Márquez. Apart from two recent, welcome titles from Open Letter, her English catalog has drifted in and out of print. There is no question that Rodoreda is a uniquely difficult writer—not in her sentences, which are as clean as any in the century, but in the starkness of her emotional climate. Her subject, both in the earlier domestic books and the later irrealist ones, is the destructiveness of desire, the brutishness of power, the primacy of hunger and death. Her particular power and challenge lies in the style that she created to address them: a fearsomely pure deployment of words, empty of rhetoric, in which the bea uty of the world shines so clearly as to seem a kind of cruelty.”
[One of the best authors we’ve ever published. Hands down.]
“Authors of what’s called the New Spanish Short Story have had a great burst of creativity that began in the early 1980s and flowered during the 1990s and 2000s (the few stories that have been translated have been relegated to obscure editions unavailable in the United States). From the stories of the fantastic by Cristina Fernádez Cubas to the structural inventions of Hipólito G. Navarro and the surrealism of Ángel Zapata, Spanish short story writers have created an exciting and diverse body of work marked by its openness and dedication to pushing the boundaries of the form.”
“The idea of Clarice Lispector as fleeting, oddly unreliable, complicated, someone who could vanish is essential to her work and her reputation. In October, 1977, shortly before her death, she published the novella The Hour of the Star in which all her talents and eccentricities merged and folded in a densely self-conscious narrative dealing with the difficulty and odd pleasures of storytelling and then proceeding, when it could, to tell the story of Macabéa, a woman who, Lispector told an interviewer, ‘was so poor that all she ate were hot dogs.’ But she made clear that this was ‘not the story, though. The story is about a crushed innocence, about an anonymous misery.’”
“Barbara Epler: The whole Lispector re-launching began innocently enough: our plan had been to bring out a new edition of The Hour of the Star in the old Pontiero translation with an ardent Colm Tóibín preface. (With a backlist of our size—about 1,100 titles from 75 years of publishing—we are always trying to repackage classic backlist to reach more readers.) That was all we had planned, but then I met Ben. I’d very much admired his biography, so I have a drink with Ben when he’s in town, and he is amazingly persuasive, and I get on board the big project of four new translations with Penguin UK, for which he would serve as series editor. And suddenly, in a phone conversation a few months later about those four books, I mentioned I was going to press with our new edition of the old translation of The Hour of the Star with the Tóibín preface, and Ben came out of the bag at me.”
[All the Lispector! As a semi-recent convert to her work, this is like crack to me. Thanks, Scott Esposito for all the crack. Really.]
In terms of reviews, in this issue you can find pieces on Berlin Stories by Robert Walser; Zona by Geoff Dyer; The Faster I Walk, the Smaller I Am by Kjersti Skomsvold; The Letter Killers Club by Sigizmund Krzhizhanovsky; The Beautiful and the Damned by Siddhartha Deb; Passage of Tears by Abdourahman Waberi; Micrograms by Jorge Carrera Andrade; What’s to Become of the Boy? and The Collected Stories by Heinrich Böll; From the Mouth of the Whale by Sjón; and Autoportrait by Edouard Levé.
Whew. Seriously, this is almost too much goodness all in one issue . . . Enjoy!
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. . .