One of the exciting new trends in publishing is the consolidation of mega-companies to create a totally misbalanced marketplace that mimics the unequal distribution of wealth in America that anyone who loves freedom obviously agrees with.
Well, that or the new ways that international titles are finding their way into the U.S., especially in the form of ebooks brought to you by young, exciting companies like Frisch & Co. (more on them tomorrow) and New Vessel Press.
Oh, and fuck your corporation. Or, in the immortal words of Stephen Malkmus, “Force fed integration from the corporation, I don’t need this corporation attitude.”
Digressions aside, I think it’s great that new publishers dedicated to international literature are sprouting up here and abroad, and increasing our access to interesting writing. New Vessel is one of the more ambitious (along with Deep Vellum, about which, more some other day), and has a pretty Three Percent-y mission:
New Vessel Press, founded in New York City in 2012, is an independent publishing house specializing in the translation of foreign literature into English. Today, only about three percent of the books available in the American marketplace are translations. In a globalized world, shouldn’t our choice of books be global as well? By bringing readers foreign literature and literary non-fiction as ebooks, we offer wonderful works for a very affordable price, and in a well-designed, aesthetically pleasing format. But of course, what matters most is not where the authors hail from, or what language they write in. The most important thing is the quality of the work itself. And hence our name. We publish great books, just in a new vessel.
Knowledge of foreign languages and literatures enriches our lives, offering passageways to understand and embrace the world. But corporate mergers are shrinking publishing outlets, and English increasingly predominates as the lingua franca. We believe that literary translation is both craft and art, enabling us to traverse borders and open minds. We are committed to books that offer erudition and pleasure, provoke and scintillate, transform and transport.
Missions are great, but what’s most important are the books themselves, and their first list of six titles is rather impressive.
Some Day is a family saga in which the characters find themselves caught in cycles of repetition, as if they were “rhymes in a poem, cursed with history.” They are victims of everyday magic—enchanted recipes that bring happiness and tragedy to the cooks and diners, mysterious curses that cause people’s hair to fall out and their necks to swell, capitulation to sexual desire, eliminating rational thought and giving way to unhealthy urges.
Robert and Jacob are two down-and-out Polish con men living in Israel in the 1950s. They’re planning to run a scam on an American widow visiting the country with her young son. Robert, who masterminds the scheme, and Jacob who acts it out, are tough, desperate men, exiled from their native land and adrift in the hot, nasty underworld of Tel Aviv. Robert arranges for Jacob to run into Mary, an American widow, who has enough trouble with her young son to keep her occupied all day. Her heart is open though, and the men are hoping her wallet is too. What follows is a story of love, deception, cruelty and shame, as Jacob pretends to fall in love with the American. But it’s not just Jacob who seems to be performing a role; nearly all the characters are actors in an ugly story, complete with parts for murder and suicide.
In 1776 Fanny von Arnstein, the daughter of the Jewish master of the royal mint in Berlin, came to Vienna as an 18-year-old bride. She brought with her the intellectual sharpness and vitality of her birthplace. As the daughter of a wealthy Prussian Jew, she was influenced by the philosopher Moses Mendelssohn, a family friend who spearheaded the emancipation of German Jewry. She married a financier to the Austro-Hungarian imperial court, and in 1798 her husband became the first unconverted Jew in Austria to be granted the title of baron. Soon Fanny hosted an ever more splendid salon which attracted the leading figures of the Enlightenment.
At the age of nine, Juan Salvatierra became mute following a horse riding accident. At twenty, he began secretly painting a series of long rolls of canvas in which he minutely detailed six decades of life in his village on Argentina’s river frontier with Uruguay. After the death of Salvatierra, his sons return to the village from Buenos Aires to deal with their inheritance: a shed packed with painted rolls stretching over two miles in length and depicting personal and communal history. Museum curators from Europe come calling to acquire this strange, gargantuan artwork. But an essential one of its rolls is missing. A search that illuminates the links between art and life ensues, as an intrigue of family secrets buried in the past cast their shadows on the present.
Paris in the 1920s – dizzy and decadent. Where a young man can make a fortune with his wits . . . unless he is led into temptation. Cocaine’s dandified hero Tito Arnaudi invents lurid scandals and gruesome deaths, and sells these stories to the newspapers. But his own life becomes even more outrageous than his press reports when he acquires three demanding mistresses. Elegant, witty and wicked, Pitigrilli’s classic novel was first published in Italian in 1921 and charts the comedy and tragedy of a young man’s downfall and the lure of a bygone era. The novel’s descriptions of sex and drug use prompted church authorities to place it on a list of “forbidden” books, while appealing to filmmaker Rainer Werner Fassbinder who wrote a script based on the tale.
The Good Life Elsewhere is a very funny book. It is also a very sad one. In it, Moldovan writer Vladimir Lorchenkov tells the story of a group of villagers and their tragicomic efforts, against all odds and at any cost, to emigrate from Europe’s most impoverished nation to Italy for work. This is a book with wild imagination and heartbreaking honesty, grim appraisals alongside optimistic commentary about the nature of human striving.
For now, you can preorder all of these via the New Vessel website, and in the near future, all the titles will be listed on your electronic vending platform of choice. And be sure to “like” them on Facebook and follow them on Twitter.
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. . .
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. . .