23 October 15 | Chad W. Post | Comments

Today’s Best Translated Book Award post is by Mark Haber of Brazos Bookstore. For more information on the BTBA, “like” our Facebook page and follow us on Twitter. And check back here each week for a new post by one of the judges.

The front cover of Wolfgang Hilbig’s The Sleep of the Righteous boasts an enormous column of black smoke rising into the sky. This cover is not only fitting, it’s ideal. Ash, smoke, dust, fog, everything a reader might expect to find from an author plumbing the depths of life in communist East Germany abounds in these mesmerizing tales.

For readers of Thomas Bernhard or Laszlo Kraznhorkai, or even Kafka, the settings are familiar; dark, ashen, bleak landscapes. Blocks of dimly-lit apartment houses line the streets; unemployment, illness and futility flourish. It’s a world where the only occupations which exist are seemingly set in boiler rooms and factories, day-long shifts carting ash to large simmering pits on the outskirts of town.

Describing the neighborhood of his childhood, a character writes:

Between the sidewalks was but a straight track of sand, perhaps once light, now since times unknown black-gray, as though in proof that a mix of many colors ultimately yields darkness. Coal dust and ash had blackened it to the pith, and then had come the reddish mass of crushed brick, the rubble from bombed-out houses that was used to even the surface. After each rain you gazed into a bed of murky, vicious mud; in the dry spells of summer the street was an endless reservoir of dust that advanced all the way into stairwells and seemed to glow in the midday sun; it covered barefoot boy’s skin up to the thighs with the black bloom of inviolability.

Happiness and peace are not options for these characters; paranoia and sickness are guaranteed and little else. Yet for all the gloom and despair the glow of Hilbig’s writing illuminates the hidden shadows and obscured corners of this bleak existence. A stunning translation by Isabel Fargo Cole only confirms the immense talent and depth of Hilbig, one of the most awarded German writers of his time.

Born in 1941, Hilbig’s generation lived divided lives: growing up in the world of communism for the first half and the liberated freedom of the West for the second. Hilbig was always a thorn in the sides of the authorities however, writing exactly what he saw with his own eyes and consequently he was able to move (exiled perhaps) to West Germany years before the wall came down. English-language readers now have the good fortune to read this brilliant author whose stories range from seeing an East-German village through childhood recollections to the day-to-day drudgery of a boiler room. Darkness thrives in these stories no doubt, however there is an affectionate, almost mythic quality to these locations; one sees it’s not so much a place Hilbig is describing as a time—ineffable, inscrutable childhood. Like East Germany, it is the place one can never return to.

The final story, “The Dark Man,” swells with paranoia and dark humor. It begins with a disembodied voice seemingly prank-calling the narrator, who insists that they meet, Only as the story progresses—criss-crossing between Mannheim, Leipzig, Frankfurt, amidst insomnia, sickness and sleeping pills—does the narrator realize the caller is an ex-Stasi official who years earlier had spied on him. A dark comedy, a snapshot of an unhappy marriage and an indictment of the German secret service follows. In other hands this may have been messy or imprecise, but the story is rigorous and focused, thanks in large part to the strength of the translation. Isabel Fargo Cole’s translation is so compelling in fact that the title story reads almost like a prose-poem:

The dark divests us of our qualities. Though we breath more greedily, struggling for life, for some fleeting web of substance from the darkness . . . it is the darkness that forms a mute block above us: intangible matter our breathes cannot lighten . . .

One reads these stories and realizes they’re in the hands of an immense talent. There’s a reason Laszlo Kraznhorkai wrote the introduction to this incredible collection, a reason Hilbig is considered the greatest prose writer to emerge from the former East Germany. I’ve mentioned other authors to give a sense of context and aesthetics, however the reader uninitiated to the likes of Thomas Bernhard or Bohumil Hrabal will enjoy the power of these stories on the strength of the writing alone.

It might be generational or simply coincidence, but three of the books I’ve read on this year’s BTBA list have been story collections authored by writer’s whose lives were ostensibly split in half by history. Brief Loves that Live Forever by Andreï Makine and Calligraphy Lesson by Mikhail Shishkin were writers that both grew up with Soviet communism and witnessed its collapse. Like Hilbig, all three saw the systems they were indoctrinated into fall apart. Similarly, all three collections are tinged by nostalgia and regret, awash with meditations on worlds gone by. Having read these books in a short period of time has only reminded me that our fates and destinies are tied inexorably to forces larger than ourselves. Read as autobiography or fiction, The Sleep of the Righteous will linger in the reader’s mind for a long time to come. It is literature of the first order.

23 October 15 | Chad W. Post | Comments

Back in September, when The Things We Don’t Do first came out, we were going to release the video below as a trailer. That didn’t end up happening, but seeing that we’re less than 100 copies away from selling out the first printing of the book, it seems like as good a time as any to share this fantastic piece.

The video was made by Lucía Martínez and the Spanish version originally made the Internet rounds some time ago, but this version features the final text in Nick Caistor and Lorenza Garcia’s translations, which is available at better bookstores everywhere.

Enjoy and share with others!

The Things We Don't Do from Open Letter Books on Vimeo.

22 October 15 | Chad W. Post | Comments

Last night I got a bunch of people excited on Twitter (my feed is a bit more . . . schizoid than the official Open Letter feed, although you should follow that one too!) about Guillermo Saccomanno’s Gesell Dome, so I thought I’d share a bit more about this book.

We signed this on a while back, shortly after translator Andrea G. Labinger won a 2014 PEN Heim Translation Grant for her work on this.1 She sent us a longish sample (similar to this one but a few times longer)

This is a novel in voices, all set within Villa Gesell, a real-life resort town a few hours from Buenos Aires. Like most resort towns, it’s very popular in the summer months, but the winter is a bit of a slog. Like most small towns, this Villa is corrupt as fuck. There’s a group of “Kennedys” who pull all the strings on public projects, awarding contracts to relatives, not really giving a shit about the local citizens who spend 700+ pages cheating on each other, killing each other, committing suicide, suffering generally.

It’s a book told in fragments, with a single story stretched out over pages as it’s interrupted by anecdotes from Dante (who runs the local newspaper), first-person reflections. ads for any number of self-help and other groups, and other random things. Given this format and given the endless violence, it’s like Dos Passos mixed with Roberto Bolaño’s “The Part about the Crimes.”

Reading books like this—a fragmentary mosaic of sorts—requires letting the rhythm of the text take you over. The hundreds of characters, dozens of voices take you over and impose themselves, creating their own tragic, comic beats. Last night I fell into this book in the most complete of ways. It went from being “really, really good” to blowing my shit away completely. Which is why I’m sharing it here.

Enjoy! The book comes out next August and I’ll post more information as the time grows closer.

You know, I had this idea, jefe, Remigio says. We could make a pile of dough. The two of us, partners.

Partners in what, Dante asks.

In a novel, Remigio goes on. A pile of dough. With the secrets I know about this Villa and your flair for writing, we’d make one hell of a novel. I tell you what I know about everybody. And you write it.

A best seller, Dante goads him on. That’s what you’re thinking of.

But secret, a secret best seller. One that’ll never get published.

I don’t get it.

Simple, jefe. You write a novel about the Villa, one chapter for each character. Chicks and dudes. When the chapter’s done, I leap into action. I go see the person and tell them someone is writing a novel about the Villa. And that the person, a chick or a dude, shows up in one chapter. I give them a copy of the chapter to read. When they read it, they’re gonna want to kill themselves. Who wants their deepest secrets made public. Imagine the Villa’s secrets, the involvements, because here everyone is involved, in one way or another, with everyone else. When the characters read their part in the novel, the first thing they’ll think of is how to keep their chapter from coming out. And they’ll pay up, for sure. Since everyone here has a price, figure it out. Bingo! Everyone pays up. We’ll make a fortune.

A secret text, Dante says.

Call it whatever you want, jefe. You’re the one in charge of words. My job’s just to collect the dirty laundry. Yours is to write about it. And then I go by to collect.

And when the novel’s finshed, Dante asks. What then.

We’re not gonna be dumb enough to publish it. Our best seller’s gonna be a secret. That’s the cool part. Whadda you say.

We’d have to think it over carefully.

I’ve already thought it over, Remigio says. The only thing left is for you to make up your mind.

And what about fame, Dante asks. Because every writer is after glory. Let’s say I like fame.

Don’t give me that fame stuff, jefe. Death isn’t serious. Besides, what do you expect from posterity, tell me: a street with your name on it. Think it over right here and now. What matters is now, enjoying life.

Now the night envelops the car as it pulls up to the first lights of the Villa. Through his dark lenses, a blink of shimmer. Dante lights another cigarette. In spite of the shadows, Remigio scrutinizes him through the rear view mirror.

Don’t tell me it’s not a good idea, he says. Look how your face has changed. Imagine for a second what it would be like. We rake in the money and split. Think it over, jefe. It’s not every day such a great opportunity comes along. And when it does, you can’t let it slip away. You could get yourself not one Chiquita, but thousands of ‘em, whichever Chiquita you like. You know how many Chiquitas are on the horizon.

If everything is written, so too is the next act. And against that one, we cannot rebel. The most we can do is to read it. In the facts, in the sky, in the wind. But our condition as readers is conditioned. Beforehand. Never afterward. We don’t know what we’re here for. Sometimes we think we suspect why. But our suspicions can never be confirmed. Among other reasons, because when we think we’re sure of a cause, the effect unnerves us: it responds to a different reason. If we are nothing but texts, we are innocent. It’s true that these lines of reasoning aim to free us of guilt. As long as we are words, we might reason, let no one be blamed. In any case, the guiltiest party is none other than the author of our days. And yes, to believe that God is the author of our story doesn’t free us of guilt, but it does offer some relief. God is our consolation. Though if we really think about the matter, God is crafty: all He does is deceive us with readings, force us to doubt everything all the time, even His own existence. And then we ask ourselves if any greater evil than that – constant doubt – can be written, a doubt that gradually becomes suspicion, and so we end up suspecting not only everyone else, but ourselves as well. No, I’m not the one who’s writing this line.


If you’re a local and your parents come for the long weekend, you’ll have to put up with your wife’s constipated expression. And if your in-laws come, try to keep your plastic smile from becoming facial paralysis. Because, tell me, who can put up with their parents or in-laws in the house for three days straight. And let’s not even talk about your sister-in-law and her boyfriend. And you know there’s a kind of vibe between you and that little slut. So you’ve gotta proceed with extreme caution. Then there are the kids. If they’re not glued to the TV all day long, you’ve got them on top of you, bitching that they’re bored. Forget about a quickie with your wife. After lunch, when you’re logy and feel like taking a nap, along comes the witch, telling you to take the family out for a ride. And you’ve gotta get them all into the car and take them for a spin. Head toward the beach, they ask you. Till they wear you out, and even though you know you could get trapped in the sand, you let them have their way and look for a road down to the beach through the dunes. For a while you feel like it was worth it to indulge them, driving along the shore. That half-adventurous, half-romantic feeling. Until it’s time to turn around and go back, and you realize that the car is starting to get stuck. Everybody out. Get out and push. Hand me a shovel. There’s no shovel, asshole. There’s gotta be one. Take out the mat and put it under the wheels. Help me dig. And the tide coming in. The tide. Call the Auto Club. It’s got no charge, stupid. You forgot to charge the cell phone. I’m cold, Dad. Me too, Dad. Get into the car. I told you, idiot, I told you we’d get stuck on the beach. Now it’s raining buckets.

And the tide. The tide. The tide.


Once there was a sea lion. It washed up on this beach, to the south. For days it was stuck in the sand. It looked like it was dying. Wounds all over, abrasions.Along its flanks the skin was open, its flesh red, purple, dark. Every so often it moved its head. It was dying slowly. The beach dogs came over to it. Although the sea lion hardly moved, none of them got too close. If the sea lion, always in the same place, moved just a little, the dogs would back up, barking. Then came a long weekend. The tourists brought their children to see the oddity. The kids gathered stones . And threw them at it. A fun game, stoning it. The boldest ones, goaded by their parents, went after sticks to poke in its wounds. The parents seemed to enjoy it more than their children. You should’ve seen how they cheered them on. Till a southeaster knocked over the crowd of adults and children. The rising tide dragged the sea lion back into the ocean. No doubt when they returned to the city, the kids would have a good story to tell. A children’s tale. And they lived happily ever after.


Look at me: if there’s one gift I’ve got, it’s talent. I had the talent to come here. Mine was a literary decision. Because there’s nowhere else as ideal as the Villa if you want to write. No sooner did I get set up in a house in the forest than I got started on a novel. With what I inherited from my old man, who was a judge, since I’m not not the spending kind, I could and still can affort art. I gave him the first half of the novel. A combination of Henry Miller and Raymond Carver, my masters, from whom I leared to seek and find my own voice. Fly, Crazy Heart, it’s called. But I didn’t finish it. What happened was, when I was halfway through I got into songwriting. Because I also have talent for music. I wrote twenty-four, all at once. For a double album: I Surrender, I was gonna call it. Romantic songs, protest songs, metaphysical stuff. Kinda like a combination of Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen, with a touch of Bob Marley, too, but with my own personal seal, because I’ve got a style. I’ve always played, since I was a boy. First I played piano. Then I turned to guitar. One afternoon when I wasn’t thinking about anything, I picked it up and that’s how it went, first one, then another, and another. And without weed or booze. I’m not trying to tell you all twenty-four are brilliant, but there’s material for an album. They’re more like variations on the theme of the novel, which is autobiographical. And there they are – any time now I’ll go back to music. What happens is that having talent isn’t so simple. For example, when I was about to sign on with an independent label, I started thinking about the album cover and I got into painting. I always had talent for the visual arts. As a kid I won several sketching contests; I went to a painting workshop and even took part in a collective exhibition. A style somewhere between Rothko and Pollock was what my first stuff was like, but with a vibe of my own. I almost had the sample ready: Fly, Crazy Heart. Of course, the images I captured had to do with my personal thing. And that’s what I was into till recently. But I hit a dry spell. Sometimes inspiration takes its time. Sometimes it comes sooner, when you least expect it. And this place, I mean, it’s ideal if you’ve got talent. Now I’m taking it easy. You know, inspiration means a lot in art. And around here there are lots of people like me, people with talent, who understand you. Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about ceramics and I’d really like to set up a little kiln out back, but I don’t want to rush things. It’s not a matter of going around starting a lot of stuff without finishing anything. It’s the risk of having talent, you know. That’s why the thing I don’t give up on is soccer. And I don’t miss a single Wednesday match with the boys. I’ve been living in the Villa for thirty-seven years and I’ve never missed a Wednesday soccer match. Because having talent for soccer and being a ten like me isn’t easy. You’ve gotta control talent like the ball. Because talent can result in a goal scored against you. What counts is precision, discipline, staying in shape.


Anita López tells the story at Gonza’s funeral. She had trouble getting over what happened to her in the classroom. She was teaching The Slaughteryard, as she never tires of explaining, when Julián Mayorano pulled out that automatic pistol. She was writing on the board. She’d felt the class’s silence, a silence that always makes you think before turning around, because if they’re quiet it’s because they’re doing something. She turned around. It wasn’t the kind of silence she’d thought. It was the silence of terror.

Julián Mayorano, standing, poking the gun barrel into his mouth. She doesn’t remember what she said to the boy, if she managed to say anything at all. Julián didn’t look like he was listening to reason. The silence was all that could be heard. She walked toward the boy, holding out her hand, hoping he would hand over the weapon. Please, Anita said. The only thing that came out of her was that please. With her hand extended. She was close to him when Julián squeezed the trigger.

The son of a well-known family, the Mayoranos, owners of one of the important home goods stores around here, Julián had a car, a motorcycle. He was a good student, not outstanding, but a good, hard-working kid. He was dating the adorable Gabrielita Ferri, daughter of a very Catholic family. Gabi was the one who cried for him the most. That boy had everything, says Anita to anyone who wants to listen. He must’ve also had a reason to kill himself.

We found out a few months after the classroom suicide, when Gabi’s started to show. She refused to have an abortion. Julián threatened to kill himself if she carried the pregnancy to term. She replied that if she had to choose between the two deaths, she preferred his. And Julián granted her wish.

You’re welcome! You should be able to preorder this in the near future, and for now, you can always add it to your GoodReads shelf.

1 Sorry, on a footnote kick today. But does it seem wrong to anyone else that you have to live in New York to serve on the Heim Translation grant committee? As a result, I’ve never been asked to serve, and our competitors essentially have first crack at all the books submitted for the award. Doesn’t seem right to me at all . . . I mentioned this to the PEN Translation Committee when they mentioned this qualification at a public event. I call this geographical discrimination! Good thing the judges didn’t snap up all the great works. Maybe they’ll wait until we build an audience for them first. (Kidding!)

22 October 15 | Chad W. Post | Comments

I really, really want to air my massive grievances with Actes Sud and the French Publishers Agency over how poorly—and, in my opinion, unprofessionally—they handled the sales of U.S. rights to Mathias Ènard’s latest novel.

In fact, I just deleted a huge long post describing how I know it’s equally unprofessional to tweet mean things at my “colleagues,” even if those “colleagues” deceived me (and others) and treated me disrespectfully and told me that they wouldn’t sell Open Letter the rights to the new Mathias Ènard book because they needed a different press, the “right publishing house” for a work “that’s this important.” Which implies: Ènard’s earlier books aren’t that important?

It went on and on about how I was instrumental in finding Ènard a UK publisher following years of failure on the part of Actes Sud and the French Publishers Agency, but fuck little Open Letter! (Also, how is the UK press [Fitzcarraldo] still the “right publisher” for the new book, and we’re not? Can someone explain this?)1

This deleted post also went into excruciating detail about the emotional aspects of publishing—how much you put into every book, how the only reason anyone smart stays in this business is for the joy of loving the product you put out and helping connect readers to great literature. About how many times all of the players in this shitty little drama have come to me asking for favors, asking for advice, asking for data, for help, for me to take time out of my day to benefit them. And then . . . They won’t even give me a proper explanation as to why they fucked Open Letter right out of one of our foundational authors.

The post ended with me puking violent curses all over the place, lamenting over ever getting involved with French authors at all, threatening to quit publishing altogether because books don’t matter and it isn’t worth being treated like this by your “friends.” It ended with proclamations about how my new policy was to only helping people if they hire me as a consultant, and that from now on the Translation Database would be behind a paywall, data available for a commission.

It was an ugly, dumb pity party of the most therapeutic degree. (Which is probably why I started this blog way back when—cheap therapy for dealing with this industry and its egos and awfulness.)

I know we got royally fucked and unfortunately, it will take ages before I forgive the people involved. Anyone remember this?: Why Publishing Is a Thankless, Frustrating Business I haven’t forgiven that agent and laughed manically at his latest newsletter detailing all the recent sales for Grunberg books, none of which are to English publishers.

But now this is all done and I can finally move on. Tomorrow is another day. We still have a better list than at least half of the publishers out there. I’ll stand by the fact that we do more for international authors and translators than any other press there is. And even if it’s scoffed at, or underappreciated, or ignored, or ridiculed, I’m still think it’s important and will continue helping as many people in the field as I can, even when they don’t return the favor.

Besides, we still (for the time being at least) have the rights to Zone, Ènard’s masterpiece.


On the upside, even though Actes Sud doesn’t think we’re good enough for “important” books, we publish a few of these Mercè Rodoreda, who is every bit as good as Ènard. And whose latest book, War, So Much War is excerpted in the latest Harper’s!

A large sack suspended from a tree was swinging back and forth, and from it emerged the head of a man with a straight, taut rope behind it. His face was white, his tongue black, his lips purple. By the tree, just beneath the hanged man’s feet, was a rock; I climbed on it and cut the rope. The hanged man crashed to the ground and hit his head, frightening me so much that I was sure I had killed him instead of saving him. He was young, with black hair and bushy eyebrows. Just as I was thinking that he had surrendered his soul to God, he opened one eye and immediately closed it again. He hadn’t the strength to hold my gaze. After a while he sat up halfway, and I helped him as he struggled to climb out of the sack. He snapped at me angrily, in a husky voice that seemed to come from beyond the grave: Why did you cut the rope?

For a long time, who’s to say how long, he struggled to breathe. Give me some water. . . . I’m suffocating.

To celebrate the fact that we still publish some of the best authors on the planet (no matter what some silly little French press in Arles has to say about it), until the end of the month, we’ll be selling this Rodoreda book for $10 through our website. Just use the code HARPERS at checkout.

1 There are real facts to this story that make it more than just a “Chad lost the rights to a book he wanted and he’s pissed” sort of post. Untrue implications made to various presses. A friend poaching one of our most beloved writers—the writer that, in many ways, put us on the map. Actes Sud’s insincere and lame email to me from this morning. The possibility that they just used us—and all the money and time we’ve invested in Ènard—just to get a starting offer to bring to other presses. That they were never going to sell this to us and offered it to us under false pretenses. I understand losing authors to truly big presses offering really huge advances, but everyone involved in this story has made it clear as possible that this wasn’t that—it was a personal choice that we were “second rate.” Which is exactly why I’m pissed. That and the fact that people don’t talk honestly anymore. There’s no place for passion, Chad, publishing is a business. Get over it! But is it really “just” a business? Should it be? Don’t I deserve respect for all the work I’ve done for international literature?

21 October 15 | Chad W. Post | Comments

A few months ago, Jeremiah Chamberlain invited me to participate in an indie-press roundtable on publishing translations with Barbara Epler from New Directions, Michael Reynolds of Europa Editions, Jill Schoolman of Archipelago Press, and CJ Evans of Two Lines. This ended up being a long, sprawling email conversation, that just was included in the most recent issue of Poets & Writers.

It’s a really long piece, I know, I know, but one that’s loaded with great information from the other people on the panel. Here are a few samples:

What issues do you feel are most pressing for independent publishers in general and those working with literature in translation in particular?

Michael Reynolds (Europa): In my mind, the No. 1 issue concerning the publication of work in translation is that of discoverability and promotion. I’m not entirely convinced that we have to dramatically increase the number of books in translation published here at all costs, but I definitely think that we need to grow the audience for those books that are published. Over the past ten to twenty years it seems to me that the focus has been on printing as many titles in translation as possible. But printing is not the same as publishing. I would like to see us all work more, and together, on innovative and effective ways of getting our books into the hands of a larger number of readers. [. . .]

Barbara Epler (New Directions): I agree, and also, I think the main concern is finding readers for amazing books. Not necessarily flooding the market with more and more translations—as if that vision of emulating the flood of new English-language titles will get anyone anywhere. Say we wanted to have the German ratio of translated titles. Really? If we approach 40 or 50 percent, then we would have, say, 100,000 new translated titles annually. That also seems crackers.

Jill Schoolman (Archipelago): I’d say the most mysterious [issue] is how to survive. Someone should write a how-to book on the subject. How to keep our authors and translators writing, and how to stay afloat as a press when what trickles in doesn’t always amount to what’s flowing out in various directions. Because the dimensions of the industry—publishers, booksellers, librarians, reviewers and bloggers, distributors, readers, writers, agents, translators, educators—are changing so rapidly we need to find new ways of collaborating. [. . .]

Michael Reynolds (Europa): I’d like to talk a bit about the work of “outreach.” Obviously, this kind of activity fits more squarely into the mission of a nonprofit or a press connected with a university in the way Open Letter is. But I think it is also something that all presses should engage in. We have lost the ability to talk about books in meaningful ways. Most people are unable to go much further than a thumbs-up or a thumbs-down, or appraise a work of literature with more than “I hated it” or “I loved it.” As a culture—I mean outside of our very limited clique—we have become critically illiterate; we no longer know how to understand, let alone express, the social, political, cultural, historical significance of a book. For that matter, we are almost incapable of expressing its significance for us even on a personal level. It may just be the way of the world—I think many people are conversant on the social and cultural significance of Breaking Bad, for example—and I should get over it. At the same time, I think a more critically literate readership would not only be important for the culture but would also mean that presses like ours would sell more books. Thus, perhaps efforts to grow this kind of critical literacy should be calculated more explicitly as part of our marketing budget. We are, after all, not simply trying to “break into the market” but also attempting to shape that market.

Let’s talk about a “critically literate readership,” the decline of which people often attribute, at least in part, to the shuttering of book pages in newspapers and decreased coverage for literature in periodicals. But at the same time, as the editor in chief of Fiction Writers Review, I also know that there are a number of venues out there for thoughtful discussion of books. So where are people having the sorts of conversations about books that you wished more readers were aware of? Or what avenues for outreach would you either direct people toward to widen those conversations or propose creating, if you’re not already engaged in doing so?

Michael Reynolds (Europa): I think you’re opening up a can of worms with this one. The conversation is long, deep, and broad. I’m going to try to condense some of my thoughts into morsels.

You’ll have to go to the full article to find those morsels . . .

21 October 15 | Chad W. Post | Comments

I just updated the 2015 Translation Database.. If you want to compare this to past years, you can find info on all translations from 2008-2015 here.

This is one of the free services Three Percent provides as a nonprofit organization, and which I work on in my spare time because I care about the field of literature. I know no one owes us anything for this, but if you’d like to see things like this—or like the Best Translated Book Awards, or the World Cup of Literature, or our summer internships—please consider supporting us with a tax-deductible donation. You can donate any amount via that link, or, if you’d prefer, you can support our first annual celebration by purchasing a ticket and gifting it to someone local who otherwise wouldn’t be able to do.

19 October 15 | Chad W. Post | Comments

This week’s Best Translated Book Award post is by reader, writer, and BTBA judge P. T. Smith. For more information on the BTBA, “like” our Facebook page and follow us on Twitter. And check back here each week for a new post by one of the judges.

For my first BTBA post, I wrote about sci-fi in translation, using reading habits as a pathway into the topic. For my second post, I’m going to repeat the pattern, except this time the topic is Quebecois literature in translation. Six or seven years ago, I obsessively read from one country at a time. For a year, it was only Japanese literature, and then after that it was German literature. If I still read that way, then around two years ago, I would have begun reading only Quebecois literature. There may be less ground to cover, a province instead of a country, and simply less translated, but it is still a vast and varied arena, and one that at this moment, is vibrant, healthy, and growing.

In Vermont, I’m only an hour from the border with Quebec, only an hour from the language of another culture, and yet oftentimes, Vermont’s greatest exposure to Quebec is either Quebecois coming here to vacation, shop, or Vermonters going to Montreal, and only Montreal, to do the same. The exchange is economic, and based on one small aspect of the province. It makes for a disheartening cultural connection, and one person reading translations from the province may not do a single thing to change that, but in my own life, and what it’s done for friendships with the Quebecois I’ve been fortunate to connect with, translation has been heartening, human connection. So often, we think of reading translation as reaching to the other side of the globe, instead of to a culture so close, yet with the language barrier in the way. That’s not to put some edifying factor as the motivation. Though these tangible, liberal arts, reasons are admittedly satisfying, I wouldn’t have fallen in love with Quebecois literature were the falling not a deeply pleasurable reading experience.

There is some strange form of sentimentality at play. Outside of genre reading, for years now I’ve mostly only read translations. There’s been little choice in the matter: it’s simply where I’ve found the most compelling books. The absence of American literature has been replaced by the dark, funhouse-skewed mirror of Quebec. The landscape, the cultural habits, the experiences, especially as a New Englander, are in so many ways familiar, but foreign, not just across border, but across language, with parallel traditions, and ever aware that it’s looking back across the mirrored plane. Reading the novels and stories on the other side of the mirror, it’s obvious how self-conscious Quebecois are in their relationship to the rest of Canada, and to the US, aware of the dominance on the other side, and as the accept the influence, remain resentful and determined to prove that they, the reflection, is a living, powerful creature.

It also happens that this is a good time for love of Quebecois literature to spring. As I mentioned, literature in Quebec is on an upward swing right now, with young publishers establishing strong reputations, and older standbys finding new authors. Step-in-step with that, English-language publishers, like House of Anansi, Biblioasis, Coach House, and Talonbooks, are publishing these authors at a growing rate. Beyond that, websites like Quebec Reads and Ambos, both run by translators, keep English-language readers in touch with reviews, translated excerpts, and interviews. So it’s easy to write and think only about such contemporary work, but there is a history that takes it to the current state.

If you’re a fan of lists, CBC Books offers “15 Translated Books That Are Essential to Canada.”: http://www.cbc.ca/books/Translationlist_CBCBooks.pdf Before going into what is absent from that list, I’d rather acknowledge two of its best choices: Anne Hébert’s Kamouraska, translated by Norman Shapiro, and Hubert Aquin’s Next Episode, translated by Sheila Fischman. The latter was published in 1965 and the former in 1970. Both are modern classics. They come with a reason to be on that list, to be considered Important and taught in classrooms. Kamouraska is a historically inspired novel, telling a version of the true nineteenth century story of the murder of a seigneur by his wife and her lover. It’s a feminist work; it’s a book about power and economy, and the way those under it squirm to find life. None of that prepares you for the prose. From the start, the reader is on unsettled ground, with a third person narrator that alternates, from moment to moment, with first, until the latter takes hold. It moves in time and perspective till Elisabeth D’Aulnières is able speak her story.

Aquin’s Next Episode is a political novel about the Quebecois separatist movement, of which Aquin was a part. Yet here too, the narrative layers are complex and intertwined, the structure and the prose more compelling than any message, while being completely conjoined. His narrator is a separatist, held in a psychiatric ward: his acts of protest against power, his desire for a free Quebec, what he sees as salvation and personal freedom, condemn him to be a madman. It is mad to want to be free. There, he tries to write, to write a spy novel and a confession, and to make that writing a protest too. It’s a thriller that fights with the rules of a thriller, because those rules too this separatist cannot stand. Aquin packs madness, intrigue, violence, desire into this tiny little novel.

The most significant absence from the list is likely Réjean Ducharme. He too established himself in the 60s, then continued writing through the 70s. Ducharme then went quiet, going fourteen years without publishing a novel. Like Aquin and Hébert, his prose is abstract, strange, unsettled, springing away from normal sense. Yet they are earthy in their subjects, whether it is love and passion, rebellion against those with power, in political or personal relationships. And they are ever-Quebecois, writing tied to place and to land. In ways, this is the legacy of Quebecois writing in the 60s, the formative authors for many writing today, which brings us to the BTBA.

For the 2016 BTBA, there are six eligible books from Quebecois writers: Arvida by Samuel Archibald, translated by Donald Winkler (Biblioasis); Atavisms by Raymond Bock, translated Pablo Strauss (Dalkey); Guano by Louis Carmain and Twenty-One Cardinals by Jocelyne Saucier, both translated by Rhonda Mullins (Coach House); Keeper’s Daughter by Jean-François Caron and translated by W. Donald Wilson (Talon); and Ravenscrag by Alain Farah, translated by Lazer Lederhendler (House of Anansi). This little list of course leaves out those translations that unfortunately go without US distribution. Without that barrier, even more Quebecois books would be eligible for the award, and I’d be willing to bet that next year more will be.

In that list, only one Quebecois publisher has more than one entry: Le Quartanier, with Arvida, Atavisms, and Ravenscrag. The two story collections, Arvida and Atavisms (a selfish moment, my review is here) are excellent, and distance themselves from many American collections in that they are not stories written in an MFA program, work-shopped and work-shopped, not scattered stories written over some length of time between novels in order to maintain a magazine or lit journal presence. Instead, they are careful collections, stories that reach far beyond Montreal, expressing the strange land of rural Quebec, stories that are dependant on oral storytelling, of people and their strange pasts, of the visceral reality of the supernatural, and the ineffable mundane. They are meant to be read in order, each story weighed against the other, discomforts and suspicions carrying though, leaving you uncertain whether a new character deserves them or not.

These three are markedly different from the classics mentioned above in that their prose does not have the excess, the experiments and the fractures of Aquin, Hébert, and Ducharme. The beauty in the prose is simply a different one, pushing the strange beneath the surface instead of in your face. They carry forward other traditions, though. They are about Quebec, and look at their province with both pride and anguish. Many of these Quebecois novels hide what they’re about. Their realism is deceptive: a thriller is not just a thriller, a woman murdering her land-owner husband in the nineteenth century may be about something much more contemporary, a monster story may be about a man, and a story of a man may be about a monster, when a story introduces itself, look for the other one.

15 October 15 | Chad W. Post | Comments

I’ve made reference to this a few different times—in a couple posts, on the podcast—but this article in today’s Frankfurt Show Daily (also available as a PDF) is the first official mention of the book that I’m writing with Stephen Sparks of Green Apple Books. (Granted, we don’t have a publisher yet, but we do have an agent — Marleen Seegers at 2Seas — so hopefully that will change soon. And besides, I’m not going to let that minor detail derail my excitement about this project and this article!)

Tentatively entitled 100 Best Translations of the Century (So Far), the book will be a sort of guide to the most interesting books that have come out (in their original language) in the past fifteen years and are also available in English translations. We plan on including representatives from as many countries as possible, highlighting titles that appeal to us for one reason or another—this could be because of the book’s structure, it’s political import, or because it has a special connection to our lives.

As you can see in the article, we want this to be fun and personal; a book that’s smart but not elitist or drily academic. I personally want people to argue with our choices of what we decided to include. I also think that readers already immersed in the world of translated literature will discover new things in this—threads connecting works from disparate cultures, ideas from one book that are reflected in another, idiosyncratic juxtapositions that open up various titles.

In addition to these hundred entries, there will be longer framing essays about different topics in international literature: international poetry, crime fiction, women in translation, books from “smaller” languages, etc.

Anyway, I hope you enjoy this article/sampler, which does unveil ten of the hundred books we will be including . . . .

15 October 15 | Chad W. Post | Comments

New day, new Amazon press release related to literature in translation:

AmazonCrossing, the literary translation imprint of Amazon Publishing, today announced a commitment to publish exceptional works of literature from Indonesian authors translated into English beginning in early 2016. The announcement coincides with Indonesia’s participation as Guest of Honor at the Frankfurt Book Fair this week. [. . .]

Indonesian titles planned for publication include:

Nirzona, a love story by Abidah El Khalieqy, set against the backdrop of the Aceh tsunami, a rare moment in recent history when the world’s eyes turned to Indonesia

English-language originals The Oddfits and The More Known World, the first two titles in the Oddfits series from Indonesia-born Tiffany Tsao, a translator and past Indonesia editor at large for Asymptote Journal

Paper Boats, a new adult love story written in glittering, quotable prose from popular novelist, actress, and singer Dee Lestari

A new edition of Laksmi Pamuntjak’s acclaimed A Question of Red and her latest, Aruna and Her Palate, which follows a food writer’s travels through Indonesia

Hummingbird, a stunning work of magical realism from Nukila Amal [. . .]

The Indonesia spotlight program follows similar AmazonCrossing programs in past years featuring literature from Finland, Iceland and Brazil. The Finnish spotlight program included Katri Lipson’s European Union Prize for Literature-winning literary thriller The Ice Cream Man, as well as books by Leena Lehtolainen, Jari Järvelä, Marko Hautala, and Risto Isomäki. The Brazilian spotlight program launched in 2013 and has included the release of a dozen books of full-length fiction and short stories from Brazilian authors including Luiz Ruffato, Cristovão Tezza, Josy Stoque, and Eliane Brum. In 2012, the Iceland spotlight program included ten Icelandic books, three of which—The Hitman’s Guide to Housecleaning by Hallgrimur Helgason, The Flatey Enigma by Viktor Arnar Ingolfsson, and House of Evidence by Viktor Arnar Ingolfsson—became Kindle Top Ten best sellers.

Taken in combination with the relative success of the recent releases by Eka Kurniawan (Beauty Is a Wound, Man Tiger) and Leila Chudori (Home), this is a great time for Indonesian lit. (Just to put it in perspective: From 2008 until this year, only nine works of Indonesian fiction were published in the U.S.)

My favorite line from this is “a new adult love story written in glittering, quotable prose.” I shudder to think of “quotable prose” being used as a positive adjective. A lot of readers post lines from her work on GoodReads!

Also, the only food writers I read are these ones.

14 October 15 | Chad W. Post | Comments

A press release about this came out yesterday, and at least a few people have written about it or at least mentioned it on social media, but AmazonCrossing announced “a $10 million commitment over the next five years to increase the number and diversity of its books in translation.”

There’s not a lot of specifics in their press release, but there is some information about a new site they set up:

To support this growing commitment to books in translation, AmazonCrossing editors today opened a new website for authors, agents and publishers to suggest titles for translation at translation.amazon.com/submissions. AmazonCrossing is now accepting submissions in mystery, thriller, women’s fiction, historical fiction, literary fiction, memoir, science fiction and fantasy categories. In addition to this new streamlined process for submissions, AmazonCrossing editors will accept submissions for translation consideration in person at the Frankfurt Book Fair on October 14th from 11:00 am-1:00 pm in Hall 3.0, K31.

It’ll be interesting to see how this develops over the next few years. They published 35 books so far this year, and 47 last year, and with a $2 million investment, they could easily up that to 60 or 70. What I think we’re all hoping is that a good chunk of this money goes directly to the translators. AmazonCrossing really is in a position to help the field as a whole, essentially creating more jobs for translators, which is really important given the growing number of young people getting into this field.

As Sarah Jane Gunter mentions in the press release, AmazonCrossing is one of the largest publishers of translated literature in the United States. And they publish a much wider range of books than, say, Open Letter or Dalkey Archive. This is the thing that I most respect about them as a publisher. They’re making books available to English readers that a lot of translation-centric presses don’t even consider.

Over the past five years, AmazonCrossing has published significant works such as German author Oliver Pötzsch’s million copy best-selling Hangman’s Daughter series, Korean author Bae Suah’s acclaimed novella Nowhere to Be Found and Turkish author Ayse Kulin’s Kindle best seller Last Train to Istanbul. The 2016 list will continue a commitment to translating books by exceptional foreign-language authors including award-winning and best-selling Mexican author of Like Water for Chocolate, Laura Esquivel. Her novel Pierced by the Sun, a gripping tale of murder and redemption translated from Spanish by Jordi Castells, will be published in June 2016. In July 2016, AmazonCrossing will publish award-winning Polish crime writer Zygmunt Miloszewski’s Rage, translated from Polish by Antonia Lloyd-Jones, winner of the 2014 Paszport Polityka prize for literature.

I highly recommend that Bae Suah book, and I’m looking forward to reading the Laura Restrepo book that they’re doing as well.

I’ll bet the AmazonCrossing folks are going to be in high demand at ALTA this year!

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Reviewed by Vincent Francone

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