This week’s podcast is the first one Tom and I have recorded in almost a month. So after a bit of catching up, we talked about David Bellos’s new translation of Simenon’s Pietr the Latvian, the difficulties of translating “I love you” and all the swears into Japanese, and this list of “The 20 Best Books in Translation You’ve Never Read.” As necessary, we also talked about the baseball playoffs and this cute flowchart.
Since Tom can’t post here, I just want to have the final word on our discussion of the list of translations that Stephen Sparks and I put together. First off, we didn’t give it this bombastic of a title, but whatever. We did put some time into coming up with twenty books that we love and that readers of international literature may not have heard of. As readers of heaploads of translated books, we had hundreds of titles to choose from. Every list is incomplete and flawed, but Tom’s accusation that this is “intentionally esoteric” is totally off-point. It is a symptom of today’s culture though, where if someone knows more about some topic that someone else, they are dismissed. Not to get all J-Franz about the kids these days and their Twitterversing, but there’s a reason why stupid websites like Flavorwire are popular—they replace genuine knowledge with listicles that make the common reader feel good about themselves. “Hey, I’ve read 20 of the 25 lists on the “Greatest List of Lists Created by Flavorwire” list! I’m gonna tweet this.” Sorry, Tom and whomever, for trying to share a bit of the lifelong research I’ve done on international literature. Next time someone wants to know about translated books, I’ll just search the “translationsIreadinHighSchool” hashtag and call it a day.
This week’s music is Rolling Waves by The Naked and Famous.
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. . .