6 May 13 | Chad W. Post

Hopefully that headline got your attention. But seriously, check out this bit from the By the Book feature that appeared in the New York Times this weekend:

Are you a rereader? What books do you find yourself returning to again and again?

I don’t do much rereading anymore because I’ve been ill and feel that I’m running out of time. But recently I did reread all of Evelyn Waugh’s novels, and was pleased to find that he was almost as thoughtful as, say, Olivia Manning, although his snobbery sometimes grates. Also, I enjoyed “Lucky Jim,” by Kingsley Amis, all over again: the funniest novel I have ever read. Is there some Bulgarian equivalent, languishing untranslated? Probably not.

Really, Clive James? Really? That’s not just ignorant, it’s kind of insulting. (“In Bulgaria, funny book writes you!”)

And ignorant. Let’s stick with that one for a moment. Over the past two years, we’ve published Milen Ruskov’s Thrown into Nature, which is extremely funny in a picaresque, Quixotesque way, and 18% Gray by Zachary Karabashliev, which is a bit more slapstick and American in its humor, but is also quite funny.

I’m sure James didn’t mean to insult all Bulgarian writers ever, and I realize he’s trying to say that there’s no Bulgarian book that’s as funny as Lucky Jim, but jesus shit does his statement come off as being dismissive in a middlebrow American sort of way.

What’s especially heartening is that Izidora Angel wrote a letter to the editor calling him out:

As someone born in Bulgaria, raised in America and educated in England, I can assure James that Bulgarian is a grammatically rich and unique language. Like the people who speak it, the Bulgarian language survived 500 years of Ottoman rule, and it is colored by Turkish, French and, currently, American and English words and phrases. Its slang is funny, touching and bittersweet.

Although Bulgaria may have given the world the Cyrillic alphabet, few of its notable works have been translated into English, except for a couple of classics from the late 19th century, like Ivan Vazov’s novel “Under the Yoke” (1893) and Aleko Konstantinov’s travelogue “To Chicago and Back” (1894). Gaining support to translate important Bulgarian works and commentary into English is an uphill economic battle. The Elizabeth Kostova Foundation is an important part of the effort.

I hope that rather than mocking a language and people he does not know, James will pick up a translation of Konstantinov’s “Bai Ganyo” and enjoy some Balkan humor.

BOOM.

And just to drive home my point about the arrogance and ignorance of his statement, I’d like to point out that James hails from Australia, a place utterly lacking in refined cultural humor. There’s no Lucky Jim that’s been written by a Australian, that’s for sure. Shit, the only thing they really have going for themselves humor-wise is Fosters and all the potshots the rest of the world can take at them, since we all know that the New Zealanders are a million times funnier. And prettier.


Comments are disabled for this article.
....
The Dispossessed
The Dispossessed by Szilárd Borbély
Reviewed by Jason Newport

To be, or not to be?

Hamlet’s enduring question is one that Szilárd Borbély, acclaimed Hungarian poet, verse-playwright, librettist, essayist, literary critic, short-story writer, and, finally, novelist, answered sadly in the negative, through his suicide in 2014, at the. . .

Read More >

A Greater Music
A Greater Music by Bae Suah
Reviewed by Pierce Alquist

A Greater Music is the first in a line of steady and much-anticipated releases by Bae Suah from key indie presses (this one published by Open Letter). Building off of the interest of 2016 Best Translated Book Award longlist nominee. . .

Read More >

Two Lost Souls: on "Revulsion" and "Cabo De Gata"
Two Lost Souls: on "Revulsion" and "Cabo De Gata" by Horacio Castellanos Moya; Eugen Ruge
Reviewed by Tim Lebeau

The dislocation of individuals from the countries of their birth has long been a common theme in contemporary literature. These two short novels recently translated into English appear firmly rooted in this tradition of ex-pat literature, but their authors eschew. . .

Read More >

Melancholy
Melancholy by László Földényi
Reviewed by Jason Newport

In Melancholy, Hungarian author, critic, and art theorist László Földényi presents a panorama of more than two thousand years of Western historical and cultural perspectives on the human condition known as melancholia. In nine chapters, Földényi contrasts the hero worship. . .

Read More >

The Hatred of Music
The Hatred of Music by Pascal Quignard
Reviewed by Jeanne Bonner

Pascal Quignard’s __The Hatred of Music_ is the densest, most arcane, most complex book I’ve read in ages. It’s also a book that covers a topic so basic, so universal—almost primordial—that just about any reader will be perversely thrilled by. . .

Read More >

Fragile Travelers
Fragile Travelers by Jovanka Živanović
Reviewed by Damian Kelleher

In Gustave Flaubert’s Madame Bovary, Flaubert attempted to highlight the ordinary, tired, and often crass nature of common expressions by italicising them within the text. When Charles, Emma Bovary’s mediocre husband, expresses himself in a manner akin to that of. . .

Read More >

Nineteen Ways of Looking at Wang Wei
Nineteen Ways of Looking at Wang Wei by Eliot Weinberger
Reviewed by Russell Guilbault

Eliot Weinberger takes big strides across literary history in his genuinely breathtaking short work, 19 Ways of Looking at Wang Wei, tracking translations of a short ancient Chinese poem from the publication of Ezra Pound’s Cathay in 1915 to Gary. . .

Read More >

Radio: Wireless Poem in Thirteen Messages
Radio: Wireless Poem in Thirteen Messages by Kyn Taniya
Reviewed by Vincent Francone

Prose translators will likely disagree, but I believe translating poetry requires a significant level of talent, a commitment to the text, and near mania, all of which suggests that the undertaking is the greatest possible challenge. The task is to. . .

Read More >

The Subsidiary
The Subsidiary by Matías Celedón
Reviewed by Vincent Francone

The biggest issues with books like The Subsidiary often have to do with their underpinnings—when we learn that Georges Perec wrote La Disparition without once using the letter E, we are impressed. Imagine such a task! It takes a high. . .

Read More >

Thus Bad Begins
Thus Bad Begins by Javier Marías
Reviewed by Kristel Thornell

Following The Infatuations, Javier Marías’s latest novel seems, like those that have preceded it, an experiment to test fiction’s capacity to mesmerize with sombre-sexy atmospheres and ruminative elongated sentences stretched across windowless walls of paragraphs. Thus Bad Begins offers his. . .

Read More >