11 January 08 | Chad W. Post

The fiftieth issue of The Believer is out and has a couple of pieces on international fiction.

The review of Havana Noir from Akashic Books is available online in full, and ends with a decent enough recommendation: “In Havana Noir, better than half the stories are truly gripping, and all of them resuscitate a dark Havana that seethes beneath the idealized island of our imagination.”

Unfortunately the review of Victor Segalen’s Steles is not, but the available excerpt captures what’s so intriguing about Segalen:

When Victor Segalen first printed Stèles in Beijing in 1912, the Republic of China had just been formed, ending two millennia of dynastic rule. When he expanded and republished the book in Paris in 1914, the Western powers were on the verge of successive world wars that would effectively end their colonial system of governance. Five years later, Segalen was dead at the age of forty-one, from either suicide or a severe foot injury suffered while taking a walk in the woods.

So when Segalen refers to “the crumbling unsteadiness of the Empire,” it’s not entirely clear to which sovereignty he’s referring, a situation made even more confusing by the fact that he was a European living in China who wrote sections of Stèles in the voice of an imaginary emperor. If this is history as an allegory for the psyche, then Segalen—unlike many writers, adventurers, and hippies before and since—didn’t go to the East to find himself. Rather, he was committed to “the intoxicating eddies of the great river Diversity,” along with a desire to saturate himself in Chinese culture.

Finally, there’s a review of Jenny Erpenbeck’s The Book of Words that has a great opening: “The Book of Words is a sinisterly lyrical novel.”

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