This post is courtesy of Best Translated Book Award judge, the inimitable George Carroll. Not only is he one hell of a West Coast sales rep for publishing companies large and small, he has an inexhaustible knowledge of translated literature.
I’ve been skulking around in the shadows with The Best Translated Award submissions. Everything I’m reading is bleak. I’m even thinking about designing a t-shirt that says “I Read World Literature: I like it Dark and Depressing.”
This quick wrap-up is specific to the mysteries on that list. To be honest, the chance of a mystery working its way through this year’s submissions would be tough (unless you really think The Infatuations is a mystery) but they are there. Like Cardiff City or Crystal Palace in the EPL- they might get relegated next year, but for now, they’re here and deserve notice.
Massimo Carlotto’s At the End of Dull Day is a sequel to The Goodbye Kiss. To avoid a prison sentence, narrator Giorgio Pellegrini sells out his friends and makes a deal with crooked cops. He ends up with bags of cash and tries to buy his way into respectability. Pellegrini is sadistic, misogynistic, and cruel. In the Richard Stark novels, Parker has a few rules that he follows, one of which is that no one gets hurt or killed unless it’s necessary. Pellegrini maims or kills anyone who gets in his way or can identify him. The day after brutally beating and disfiguring a politician’s maid – just to make a point – he tells the counselor:
“I can promise you that I’ve that I’ve shown considerable restraint and offered no more than a tiny demonstration of the extent of my professional skills in the field of inflicting violence. You can’t even begin to imagine how good I am at the work I do….”
There are three qualifying Maurizio de Giovanni titles, two of them are set in 1930’s fascist Italy and feature the character Commissario Riccardi: I Will Have Vengeance and Blood Curse. Riccardi has terrifying visions of the last few seconds of victims’ violent deaths – blood pumping from knife wounds, enigmatic last words of vengeance and sorrow. For a Commissario in solving homicides, it’s a blessing and a curse.
“The body’s head lay on the tabletop, resting on the left cheek; on the right, a large fragment of mirror jutted out from the throat, reflecting a vitreous eye and a twisted mouth from which a trickle of drool oozed. Riccardi heard singing in a soft voice…”
De Giovanni uses an effective, sometimes frustrating, way of telling the story – he writes part of the narrative identified by the characters’ names but also writes sections with just pronouns. In the first book, it seems that all of the female characters are blonds with blue eyes. You’re never sure which one is contemplating what.
There’s a vulnerable, romantic aspect of Riccardi that eases the incredible sorrow he experiences from the visions he witnesses, which is very well written.
The Bone Man by Wolf Haas is the sequel to Brenner and God. Haas is much lighter than de Giovanni and Carlotto, but you can only measure noir & mysteries by degrees, right? Haas is a bit of fresh air though, a real kick-in-the-pants, very funny.
He has an engaging way of involving the reader by throwing in asides:
“You’ll have to excuse me, but it really gets on my nerves sometimes, how sanctimonious people can be. Now, where did I leave off?”
“And let’s be honest, people make an unbelievable fuss about sleep these days. It’s got to be the best bed, everything organic, and absolutely quiet of course …just because people need to park their asses somewhere.”
The plot of The Bone Man opens with human bones found in a pile of chicken bones at an Austrian chicken shack. Yummy. The plot does involve a goalie from a soccer team, which is always a plus with me. Oh, and, Blood Curse has this: “That would explain the extent of the bloodstain across the floor, a trail nearly a yard wide. We have a center forward on our hands, he thought.”
Looking forward to reading The Fire Witness, which comes with high recommendations. The jacket image has a hammer on it, so I can imagine where this one is going to go.
Many of Virginie Despentes’s books revolve around the same central idea: “To be born a woman [is] the worst fate in practically every society.” But this message is nearly always packaged in easy-to-read books that fill you with the pleasure. . .
Ilja Leonard Pfeijffer’s La Superba is appropriately titled after the Italian city of Genoa, where, after escaping the pressures of fame in his own country, the semi-autobiographical narrator finds himself cataloguing the experiences of its mesmerizing inhabitants with the intention. . .
It took reading 44 pages of Intervenir/Intervene before I began to get a sense of what Dolores Dorantes and Rodrigo Flores Sánchez were up to. Recurring throughout these 44 pages—throughout the entire book—are shovels, shovel smacks to the face, lobelias—aha!. . .
As presaged by its title, contradiction is the theme of Peter Stamm’s novel, All Days Are Night. Gillian, a well-known television personality, remains unknowable to herself. And Hubert, a frustrated artist and Gillian’s lover, creates art through the process of. . .
It’s a rare and wonderful book that begins and ends with violence and humor. At the start of Etgar Keret’s The Seven Good Years, Keret is in a hospital waiting for the birth of his first child while nurses, in. . .
Last year, Han Kang’s The Vegetarian was an unexpected critical hit. Now, it’s just been published in the U.S. and has already received a great deal of positive critical attention. The Vegetarian was a bold book to attempt as an. . .
It’s been almost a year since the publication of Nowhere to Be Found by Bae Suah, but despite being included on the 2015 PEN Translation award longlist, and some pretty vocal support from key indie presses, the book has. . .
Jorge Eduardo Benavides’ novel La paz de los vencidos (The Peace of the Defeated) takes the form of a diary written by a nameless Peruvian thirty-something intellectual slumming it in Santa Cruz de Tenerife in Spain’s Canary Islands. Recently relocated. . .
Anyone with any interest at all in contemporary Moroccan writing must start with Souffles. A cultural and political journal, Souffles (the French word for “breaths”) was founded in 1966 by Abdellatif Laâbi and Mostafa Nissabouri. Run by a group of. . .
Randall Jarrell once argued a point that I will now paraphrase and, in doing so, over-simplify: As a culture, we need book criticism, not book reviews. I sort of agree, but let’s not get into all of that. Having finished. . .