6 January 16 | Kaija Straumanis | Comments

The latest addition to our Reviews section is by Will Eells on The Gun by Fuminori Nakamura, translated by Allison Markin Powell and out from Soho Crime.

Here’s the beginning of Will’s review:

Like any good potboiler worth its salt, Fuminori Nakamura’s The Gun wastes no time setting up its premise: “Last night, I found a gun. Or you could say I stole it, I’m not really sure. I’ve never seen something so beautiful, or that feels so right in my hand. I didn’t have much interest in guns before, but the moment I saw it, all I could think about was making it mine.”

The “I” here is a young man named Nishikawa. He’s probably in his 20s, because he’s a university student, but beyond that, there’s not much to glean from his personal life, because he’s not one for introspection. Much more fascinating is his new object of obsession, and like a man sleepwalking through life, Nishikawa finally seems to have a purpose: to use that gun.

For a debut novel, there is a lot to like here. Despite some clunky and repetitive prose, Nakamura knows how to ratchet up the tension, as we slowly progress from Nishikawa simply owning the gun, to taking care of the gun, to bringing the gun around with him, until finally, feeling like he needs to shoot that gun, at something or someone. Even as readers we know this is a foregone conclusion, but Nakamura, particularly as we barrel into the climax, knows how to employ multiple bait and switches to keep us guessing as to Nishikawa’s ultimate fate.

For the rest of the review, go here.

5 January 16 | Chad W. Post | Comments

Before getting to the main part of this post—which is admittedly a bit silly, but hopefully a good way to kick things off—I have a few quick notes.

I’ve been thinking a lot about how to make it easy for people to share their thoughts and opinions about these books—to make this really a book club and not some random Chad thoughts—and to that end I set up a Reading the World Book Club Facebook Group. Sure, you can always post in the comments section below, but to be honest, that’s not the most interactive of set-ups, and I think these automatically shut themselves off some days after the post goes live. Besides, it seems like the more ways to share your thoughts, the better.

I’ll be sure and share all of these post in the Facebook group where all Facebook users can easily join, make comments, interact with others, etc. (Invite all your friends!) Also, if you want to share your thoughts on Twitter, we can take over #RTWBC, which hasn’t been used for anything since 2012. (Ironically, or something, there is a @RTWBClub handle, which is for “Read the Whole Book Club” dedicated to reading the whole Bible every year. It has a total of two tweets, the last on January 31, 2012.)

I feel like a lot of the book club elements will come from the comments/FB posts/tweets, but if anyone out there gets really invested and wants to write a proper post for Three Percent about any of these books, just let me know. My email is chad.post [at] rochester[dot]edu.

OK, onto the first January book, The Weight of Things by Marianne Fritz, translated from the German by Adrian Nathan West.

To start things off, I thought I’d post a sort of self-interview introducing the book and asking those sorts of questions readers might want to know before getting involved in a book club. Here goes:

Is this a long book?

No! It’s only 138 pages, including the afterword. And these pages are even a bit smaller than your standard trade paperback.

Who is Marianne Fritz?

Unfortunately, Marianne Fritz passed away in 2007, but she was a Austrian writer who won the Robert Walser Prize in 1978 and the Franz Kafka Prize in 2001. (She won other awards as well, but I like the idea of starting with Walser and ending with Kafka.)

When did she write The Weight of Things?

This was actually her first book and it came out in German in 1978. It was the start of a hugely ambitious cycle of novels referred to as “The Fortress.” (So German sounding!) Her later works—Das Kind der Gewalt und die Sterne der Romani, Dessen Sprache du nicht verstehst, and the three volumes of Naturgemäß—were all part of this project.

How come this is the first book of hers to be published in English translation?

Well, that’s a bit tricky. I think the main reason is that her later works got increasingly complicated from a stylistic, linguistic perspective. According to her publisher The Weight of Things might possibly be her only translatable book.

What do you mean “complicated”?

I mean this:

Reminds me of Christine Brooke-Rose. Or maybe even Brigid Brophy.

Yeah, me too. That’s why I’m really excited to read this book.

Are there other reasons why she hasn’t been translated before?

I have no factual proof for this, but I have a gut feeling that “The Fortress” would seem “more translatable” to conventional publishers if it had been written by a man. Finnegans Wake is “untranslatable” by most standards, and yet it’s been translated into at least French, German, Japanese, Dutch, Korean, Portuguese, Polish, and Greek. It’s seen as some sort of Mt. Everest of translation feats. And I have a gross, annoying suspicion that if “The Fortress” had been written by Hans Fritz, someone would’ve undertaken the challenge. That’s just my own opinion though.

Fair enough. Has anyone famous championed her work?

Actually, quite a few people have. Nobel Prize winner Elfriede Jelinek had this to say about Naturgemäß: “It is a singular work, before which one can do nothing but stand, like a devout Muslim before the Kaaba.” W. G. Sebald dedicated a section of one of his poems to her. Closer to home, Brian Evenson blurbed this novel calling it a “tiny, shattering masterpiece.”

Any dissenters?

Oh man, the Thomas Bernhard quote in the afterword is kind of amazing. Bernhard sure had opinions about things, and wasn’t afraid to share them. Here’s a snippet: “To print and bind over 3,000 pages of mindless proletarian trash with all the bombast of a centenary event belongs, quite frankly, in the record books: as a world record of stupidity.”

Damn! Before moving on, does The Weight of Things look all crazy like that image above?

Oh, no. In terms of layout, it looks like a normal novel. Here’s the opening paragraph of the first section, which is entitled “Wilhelmine Is Not Berta”:

Of all the events of 1945, there was one Wilhelmine recalled with particularly painful clarity. Wilhelm had hung the necklace with the tiny Madonna around Berta’s neck, not hers. This although Berta’s belly clearly demonstrated that she, unlike Wilhelmine, was no longer a chaste young woman. For her own sake—and for Berta’s!—she ought to have spoken her mind. Maybe Berta had been good enough for Rudolf, but she certainly was never right for Wilhelm!

Speaking of those section titles, some of these are really great: “A Man, A Word, and Then You’re Lost,” ““Wilhelm, The Smiler, Discovers to His Relief that He Is an Average Citizen,” and “Duty Is Duty, Schnapps Is Schnapps” are three good examples.

Those are intriguing. Anything else we should know before starting the book?

I guess there are some general plot points worth mentioning. It takes place between 1945 and 1963 and focuses on Bertha who, as we can see above, is pregnant at the start of the novel.

Are there any online resources worth pointing out?

Yes! The Paris Review ran an article by Adrian Nathan West about Fritz and translating this book, and Kate Zambreno interviewed him for The Believer. If you’re someone who likes to read reviews before starting a book, you can find a slew of them from the official Dorothy website page.

One last question: This is the third time you’ve written about this book. Did you choose it as the first book club title for purely selfish reasons?

Uh . . .

4 January 16 | Chad W. Post | Comments

I floated the idea of starting some sort of monthly book club in my year-end poetry list[1], and after Tom and I talked about it on the latest podcast, I convinced myself that this would be a fun and interesting idea to try and implement.

My general idea is that every month we would feature two Reading the World Book Club books2 here on Three Percent: one prose work (mostly fiction, but not necessarily) and one poetry collection. Every week there would be at least one post about each of these books, ranging from some general observations to interviews with the translators or authors, guest posts by booksellers and readers, podcast discussions, whatever.

I’m not sure exactly how this will develop, in part because I don’t want to overthink it, but would rather see how it could grow organically through input and participation from all of you. Here are some general thoughts though:

1) For both prose and poetry, I’d like to include authors from twelve different countries throughout the year (with maybe a maximum of two [or three?] Spanish titles);

2) There will be an equal number of books by men and women;

3) After the first few selections—which are listed below—I think it would be great to have people vote on which titles to include;

4) It would be great if the cool bookstores across the country would help support this by displaying the selected titles each month, which is why I think we should try and restrict this to mostly new titles that are likely to be in stock;

5) It would be amazing to feature at least twenty different presses throughout the year, and as wide a range of books as possible (sci-fi to literary to noir, although I’m sure it will trend towards literary); and,

6) The weekly posts could include any number of things, but mostly I don’t want them to be overly academic, or too much like book reviews. Book clubs function somewhat differently, and it would be fun to gather reactions from a lot of readers who aren’t necessarily evaluating the books on the same criteria as a professional critic. I think this will work itself out over time.

Other than that, I think this should just be fun and interesting and another way that we can move this website/blog away from news about the book industry (which I’m burnt out on) into more discussion of books that are being published.

In terms of the books to include in this, it feels like a good idea to announce the first four months right now, in hopes that this will give participants time to plan ahead. Then, at the end of February, I can post some possibilities for May and June, and everyone can vote on them.

So, first off, here are the four prose titles I pulled out from the database:

January 2016: The Weight of Things by Marianne Fritz, translated from the German by Adrian Nathan West (Dorothy Project)

February 2016: On the Edge by Rafael Chirbes, translated from the Spanish by Margaret Jull Costa (New Directions)

March 2016: The Vegetarian by Han Kang, translated from the Korean by Deborah Smith (Hogarth)

April 2016: Horses, Horses, In the End the Light Remains Pure by Hideo Furukawa, translated from the Japanese by Doug Slaymaker with Akiko Takenaka (Columbia University Press)

And for poetry:

January 2016: Twelve Stations by Tomasz Różycki, translated from the Polish by Bill Johnston (Zephyr Press)

February 2016: Monospace by Anne Parian, translated from the French by Emma Ramadan (La Presse)

March 2016: Days When I Hide My Corpse in a Cardboard Box by Natalia Chan, translated from the Cantonese by Eleanor Goodman (Zephyr Press)

April 2016: Absolute Solitude by Dulce Maria Loynaz, translated from the Spanish by James O’Connor (Archipelago)

OK, let’s see how this goes. If you have any suggestions, comments, questions, initial reactions to The Weight of Things or Twelve Stations, just email me at chad.post [at] rochester [dot] edu. And later this week I’ll post introductory remarks for both of the books.

1 I still have two lists that I want to put together—the main one being one on noir in translation—but this may have to wait a bit. I have to finish creating all the tipsheets for our September 2016-March 2017 titles and then have to spend a week in Texas at MLA, Brazos, and the Wild Detectives. Oh, and when I get back, classes start!

2 Some of you old timers might remember the Reading the World program that Karl Pohrt and I launched way back in the mid-2000s. It was a way of helping booksellers display literature in translation during the month of May (which PEN had declared Literature in Translation month once upon a time). We worked with ten publishers to promote twenty different titles at over a hundred indie stores across the country. We produced brochures, posters, web materials, and even threw a swanky party at BEA. Anyway, that idea fizzled out when I quit Dalkey and Karl got sick, but right now Michael Reynolds from Europa Editions and I are scheming up a plan for RTW 2.0 of which these book clubs could play a part. Stay tuned for more details!

4 January 16 | Chad W. Post | Comments

If you happened to read Laird Hunt’s “great review of Carlos Labbe’s Loquela in the LA Times”:http://www.latimes.com/books/la-ca-jc-carlos-labbe-20151220-story.html you’ll probably be interested in meeting the man behind this wild and wonderful book. Well, if you live in Dallas, Portland, Oakland, Chicago, or New York, then you’ll have a chance!

Before getting into the specifics of his upcoming tour, here’s a few key quotes from Laird Hunt’s review:

And here is where Loquela distinguishes itself excitingly. This is because instead of using self-reference to move away from fiction, Labbé is set on plunging, clanging alarm clock in hand, straight down the fictional rabbit hole to see what fabulous creatures might be woken. Indeed, his use of his own first name is just the first stop on a trip into a light- and dark-matter prism, a world made up of distinct but overlapping layers of narrative reality—where the dead speak to the living and the living dream of imaginary worlds—that make straightforward plot summary difficult. [. . .]

That Carlos is writing a detective story—one we catch glimpses of throughout—adds additional fuel to the engine of genre that playfully powers the book. There is death and seeking and significant doses of existential angst set to spin in these pages. So that much like Cortázar’s great Hopscotch, or Bolaño’s The Savage Detectives, or a recent work like The Story of My Teeth by Valeria Luiselli, what we encounter in Loquela is a skillful unmaking — complete with diary excerpts, missives from beyond the grave and an invented barn-burning manifesto on a literary movement, “Corporalism,” which seeks to breathe life into the “corpse” of literature — that manages to offer new ways of thinking about what the novel can do.

This is not to say Loquela eschews more traditional literary pleasures. The book is full of active, interesting observation, which has been brought over from the Spanish into English with brio and precision by translator Will Vanderhyden.

That is some serious praise! And well deserved. I love what Labbé is up to in his writing—incredibly adventurous, cerebral, satisfying.

And he’s not just a writer. He’s also a musician (I think approaching Loquela as if it were an album is incredibly fruitful) and one of the forces behind Sangría Editora. (And he’s a helluva salsa dancer!)

Over the next few weeks he’ll be reading from Loquela and talking about his writing in general at the following events:

Wednesday, January 13th at 7:30pm
Reading and Conversation with Chad W. Post at The Wild Detectives
(314 W. Eighth St., Dallas, TX)

Thursday, January 14th at 7:30pm
Reading and Discussion at Powell’s on Hawthorne
(3723 SE Hawthorne Blvd., Porland, OR)

Saturday, January 16th at 7pm
Reading and Conversation with Will Vanderhyden at Diesel: A Bookstore
(5433 College Avenue, Oakland, CA)

Tuesday, January 19th at 6pm
Reading and Conversation with Victoria Saramago at 57th Street Books
(1301 E. 57th Street, Chicago, IL)

Wednesday, February 3rd at 7:30pm
Reading and Conversation at Community Bookstore
(143 7th Ave., Brooklyn, NY)

Hopefully you can catch him at one of these events, and even if you can’t, you really should get a copy of the book.

24 December 15 | N. J. Furl | Comments

This week Chad and Tom talk about this Guardian article about how indie presses are doing the work discovering new authors for the big commercial houses. Then, they talk about all the year-end lists Chad’s been creating for Three Percent and end by raving about champagne bottle sizes and ranting about book cover coverage.

This week’s season appropriate music is White Christmas, performed by Bad Religion.

Also, just a reminder, since we changed our podcast feed, you may need to unsubscribe and resubscribe to the correct feed in iTunes at that link, or right here:

Or, you can just put this feed link into whichever is your podcast app of choice:

Tell all your friends and family to also subscribe—that’s what can get us higher in that Top 200 lit podcasts list . . . And it’s also amazingly helpful in getting the podcast seen by more eyes if you can take just a moment to stop by iTunes to give us a quick rating (and a little review, too, if you’re an amazing overachiever!).

And, as always, feel free to send any and all comments or questions to threepercentpodcast@gmail.com.

23 December 15 | Chad W. Post | Comments

Rather than devolve into posting clickbait featuring cats, penguins, hedgehogs, corgis, and books, like other BuzzHole sites, I’m going hard for the rest of the week, starting with seven books by women in translation.

The gender disparity in terms of women in translation has been fairly well documented—see the Women in Translation tumblr and all of the work Meytal Radzinski has been doing—but it’s worth reiterating some of the primary numbers.

Using our own Translation Database, I calculated that between 2008 and 2014 only 26.6% of all the works of fiction and poetry published in translation were written by women. That’s pretty damn appalling.

I still might be missing some 2015 titles, but at this moment, I have logged in 552 original works of fiction and poetry in translation, 165 written by women. I don’t think this is a reason to celebrate, but at 29.9%, that is a slight uptick over the average . . .

Leaving off all of the books by women that I included on my previous lists (post listing all lists is forthcoming), and ones that I’m planning on including in the future (this will never end!), here are seven books by women from 2015 that are worth reading.

Rock, Paper, Scissors by Naja Marie Aidt, translated from the Danish by K. E. Semmel (Open Letter)

Given that this is the first Open Letter book I’ve included on these lists, I hope everyone reading this can acknowledge that I’m doing my best to include as many different presses, writers, translators as possible, and not just promoting the mind-blowingly amazing books that we’ve been bringing out.

This is Naja’s first novel and her second book to be translated into English. (The first, Baboon, translated by Denise Newman, won the PEN Translation Prize last year.) It’s a book I considered including on the “noir” list that’s forthcoming, but with all the competition for that—do you have any idea how many crime titles are published every year?—I thought it would make more sense to include her here.

Rock, Paper, Scissors centers around Thomas, a stationery-store owner whose dad dies in prison. Going through some of his belongings, Thomas discovers a mysterious package that could radically change his family’s fortunes. But as the book develops, more and more awful things start happening to him . . .

You can find out more about Naja by reading this interview with Mieke Chew in Bomb.

_The Weight of Things _ by Marianne Fritz, translated from the Germany by Adrian Nathan West (Dorothy Project)

(What’s below appeared verbatim in an earlier post, but I have nothing new to add.)

This may well be the most intriguing jacket copy I’ve read in a while.

The Weight of Things is the first book, and the first translated book, and possibly the only translatable book by Austrian writer Marianne Fritz (1948–2007). For after winning acclaim with this novel—awarded the Robert Walser Prize in 1978—she embarked on a 10,000-page literary project called “The Fortress,” creating over her lifetime elaborate, colorful diagrams and typescripts so complicated that her publisher had to print them straight from her original documents. A project as brilliant as it is ambitious and as bizarre as it is brilliant, it earned her cult status, comparisons to James Joyce no less than Henry Darger, and admirers including Elfriede Jelinek and W. G. Sebald.

My knee-jerk reaction when I see something referred to as “untranslatable” is to cry Nonsense! and bust out all sort of practical versus theoretical reasons why everything’s translatable, just maybe not in the way the speaker has in mind.

But then I Googled Marianne Fritz’s later works and found this:

Yep. That. Amazing.

The Mountain and the Wall by Alisa Ganieva, translated from the Russian by Carol Apollonio (Deep Vellum)

We have a full review of this forthcoming, so I won’t say too much here. Basically this is a genre-bending novel about what happens when rumors spread that the Russian government is going to erect a wall to block off the Caucasus republics from the rest of the country. (Shades of Trump!) It’s also one of the only (the only?) book from Dagestan to be published in English translation.

Not too many months ago, I listened to the audiobook recording of Masha Gessen’s The Brothers about the Boston Bombers. It also involves a lot about Dagestan and I totally fell in love with the way the reader pronounced “Makhachkala.” Weirdly, that got me interested in this book . . . Sometimes the way we find things to read is so random.

Hot Sur by Laura Restrepo, translated from the Spanish by Ernest Mestre-Reed (AmazonCrossing)

I just got a copy of this and hope to read it over the holiday break. (Although I’ll probably spend most of my vacation reading out 2016 titles and prepping for my world lit class . . . sigh. There’s just not enough time for pleasure reading anymore.) Anyway, Restrepo is one of those “AmazonCrossing coups” that I’ve mentioned in past articles and interviews. Sure, a lot of what Amazon does are genre books, romances, thrillers, etc., but they also do a handful of big name literary authors who have been overlooked by more established publishers. Such as Restrepo.

You might remember Restrepo from last summer’s Women’s World Cup of Literature where her novel, Delirium, lost in the semifinals to Alina Bronsky’s The Hottest Dishes of the Tartar Cuisine.

Hot Sur is a more recent novel that sounds dark and edgy:

María Paz is a young Latin American woman who, like many others, has come to America chasing a dream. When she is accused of murdering her husband and sentenced to life behind bars, she must struggle to keep hope alive as she works to prove her innocence. But the dangers of prison are not her only obstacles: gaining freedom would mean facing an even greater horror lying in wait outside the prison gates, one that will stop at nothing to get her back.

This is one of those titles that I have a feeling certain booksellers would be rallying around had it come out from someone else. Which makes me feel bad for the book.

War, So Much War by Mercè Rodoreda, translated from the Catalan by Maruxa Relaño and Martha Tennent (Open Letter)

This book made Jeff VanderMeer’s list of his favorite books of 2015 and since I can’t resist the idea of having lists inside of lists (inside of lists inside of . . . ), I’m just going to quote from his write up:

War, So Much War, the latest translation of her work following volumes of short stories and the darkly sublime novel Death in Spring, is a phantasmagorical journey through a landscape of war. People disappear into the sea. Cat men made out of broken parts try to make their way in the world. A kind of anti-picturesque episodic adventure, the novel makes sense of war through the nonreal, makes us understand that in the worst circumstances the surreal is the every-day as well as the place people escape to because there is nowhere else to hide.

This book has been getting some great year-end play from booksellers and other critics. As one of my all-time favorite writers, I couldn’t be happier. Go Rodoreda! (Now if only I could find a way to learn more about Catalan culture . . . like by attending the Barcelona-Arsenal Champions League match in mid-March at Camp Nou . . . Maybe I should start a “gofundme” for this! “Send me to see some fútbol, I’ll bring back some Catalan lit!”)

The Big Green Tent by Ludmila Ulitskaya, translated from the Russian by Bela Shayevich (FSG)

I really like when Jonathan Sturgeon is given the space to write longer pieces about books for Flavorwire. He’s a very insightful, thoughtful, well-read critic, as can be evidenced in this piece about Ulitskaya’s latest:

Because the novel is flat and fast, it’s difficult to describe the next several hundred pages. I’d rather given you an example of how it reads. But first I will say that it does not just dutifully work out the fates of our three young men, their sexualities, marriages, educations, occupations, travels, interpersonal struggles, and deaths; rather, it undutifully resolves these things. The plot meanders. The narrator ice skates along the novel’s surface. And as the book expands, it does become a big (green) tent, one that deals the fates of assorted minor characters, of what the narrator bafflingly calls “C-list extras.” The problem, though, is that any extra would be thrilled to be on the C-list; accordingly, the novel’s minor characters are always clambering in the limelight. (“Vera Samuilovna was crazy about endocrinology,” for instance.) Sometimes they ruin the shot.

Still, the book is often a joy to read. It is, if you will, crack. (Reminder: crack is bad for you.) But at least it is book crack and not TV crack. By this I do not mean that books are better than TV, although this is something I do believe. (I write about books.) What I mean is that The Big Green Tent, unlike some other big works of realism published this year, does not rely too much on TV tropes. Instead, it wins the reader’s attention with narrative art and (sometimes) ingenious language.

I considered including this in my spring class, but asking students to read a 570-page book in a week is begging for a student rebellion.

The Country Road by Regina Ullmann, translated from the German by Kurt Beals (New Directions)

I don’t remember seeing a lot of coverage for this book when it first came out, which is both strange and disappointing. Her writing is weird in that way that a lot of literary readers and reviewers seem to enjoy. Robert Musil called her a “genius.” There are blurbs on the book jacket by Rainer Maria Rilke, Thomas Mann, and Hermann Hesse. Kurt Beals won a PEN Heim Translation Award for this. And here’s the opening of the title story:

Summer, but a younger summer than this one; the summer back then was no more than my equal in years. True, I still wasn’t happy, not happy to my core, but I had to be int he way that everyone is. The sun set me ablaze. It grazed on the green knoll where I sat, a knoll with an almost sacred form, where I had taken refuge from the dust of the country road. Because I was weary. I was weary because I was alone. This long country road before and behind me . . . The bends that it made around this knoll, the poplars—even heaven itself could not relieve it of its bleakness. I was ill at ease, because just a short way into my walk, this road had already dragged me into its misery and squalor. It was an uncanny country road. An all-knowing road. A road reserved for those who had been, in some way, left alone.


So go forth and read women in translation!

22 December 15 | Chad W. Post | Comments

I was hoping to have more time to write about the books on this list today, but after having technical problems recording the podcast, I’m going to have to rush through this so that I have enough time at the end of the day to mail out Loquela to all of our subscribers.

Considering how many translations are coming out from university presses these days, and how infrequently these titles receive any attention, I feel like it’s really important to highlight these six books and presses. (I was going to include Michigan State here as well—they’re doing great stuff—but since I had The Knight and His Shadow on a different list I thought I’d focus on some other notable university presses.) To be completely honest, I don’t think I read a single review of any of these titles, which might be due to the media’s dismissal of books from university presses as “too academic,” or possibly because the presses aren’t doing as much outreach to trade outlets as they could. Regardless, it’s a shame these books weren’t more talked about. Hopefully this post can at least connect these books with a handful of new readers . . .

The Lost Garden by Li Ang, translated from the Chinese by Sylvia Li-Chun Lin with Howard Goldblatt (Columbia University Press)

Columbia is one of the best sources for interesting works from East Asia, such as Atlas by Kai-Cheung Dung or Horses, Horses, In the End the Light Remains Pure by Hideo Furukawa (one of the 2016 books I’m really looking forward to). In fact, since 2008, they’ve brought out twenty-four works of fiction and poetry from China, Taiwan, Malaysia, Japan, and India. That’s a much better record for diversity than any commercial press . . .

Li Ang has received the Chevalier de L’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres award from the French government, and is considered one of the “most sophisticated contemporary Chinese-language writers.” She has a few other titles available in English, but this is the first one to come out since 1995.

The novel features two storylines: one focusing on Zhu Zuyan, who was imprisoned in the early part of the twentieth-century during Chiang Kai-shek’s rule, the other taking place in contemporary Taiwan and featuring a real estate tycoon.

The Perception of Meaning by Hisham Bustani, translated from the Arabic by Thoraya El-Rayyes (Syracuse University Press)

Just as Columbia has a focus on East Asian writers, Syracuse has one on Arabic literature. According to the Translation Database, they’ve brought out fifteen works of Arabic fiction and poetry since 2008, most of those in the last few years.

This book is interesting in part because it’s so of the moment and breaks out of the assumptions of what Arabic literature is like:

This award-winning collection of seventy-eight pieces of flash fiction presents an intense and powerful vision of today’s world seen through the eyes of an alienated and sardonic author. The Perception of Meaning reads like an alternative history to our world—a collage of small nightmares brought to life by a canon of unlikely historical figures, including Mark Zuckerberg, the lead singer of Megadeth, Stanley Kubrick, the Korean activist Lee Kyoung Hae, and the Mayan poet Humberto Akabal, among others. A dazzling exemplar of contemporary experimental Arabic literature, The Perception of Meaning deftly captures a historical moment in which Arab societies are increasingly questioning the status quo and rebelling against it.

Simone”: by Eduardo Lalo, translated from the Spanish by David Frye (University of Chicago)

There are a bunch of reasons why I’m including this book here. For one, the cover looks like a trade press cover (reminds me of a Quercus books). I also like the bold, almost over-confident phrasing at the beginning of the jacket copy: “Eduardo Lalo is one of the most vital and unique voices of Latin American literature, but his work is relatively little known in the English-speaking world. That changes now.” And the fact that Lalo is one of only five Puerto Rican writers in the Translation Database. Plus, there’s the book itself:

A tale of alienation, love, suspense, imagination, and literature set on the streets of San Juan, Puerto Rico, Simone tells the story of a self-educated Chinese immigrant student courting (and stalking) a disillusioned, unnamed writer who is struggling to make a name for himself in a place that is not exactly a hotbed of literary fame. By turns solipsistic and political, romantic and dark, Simone begins with the writer’s frustrated, satiric observations on his native city and the banal life of the university where he teaches—forces utterly at odds with the sensuality of his writing. But, as mysterious messages and literary clues begin to appear—scrawled on sidewalks and walls, inside volumes set out in bookstores, left on his answering machine and under his windshield wiper—Simone progresses into a cat-and-mouse game between the writer and his mystery stalker.

The Scarecrow by Ibrahim Al-Koni, translated from the Arabic by William Hutchins (University of Texas)

I just really like this cover. Not to mention that this final volume of Al-Koni’s trilogy opens with, “a meeting of the conspirators who assassinated the community’s leader at the end of the previous novel, The Puppet.

The Walnut Mansion by Miljenko Jergovic, translated from the Croatian by Stephen M. Dickey with Janja Pavetic-Dickey (Yale University Press)

Yale—who has been kicking ass on the translation front for years, with Can Xue, Patrick Modiano, Romain Gary, Claudio Magris, and many more—sure isn’t afraid of doing huge books. Cyclops by Ranko Marinkovic is 576 dense pages. Blindly by the aforementioned Magris is only 400 pages, but of knotty, attention-requiring prose. The Last Days of Mankind by Karl Kraus is a 647-page play. By contrast, The Walnut Mansion seems slight at only 429 pages, but you should see this typeface! These are massive, impressive Works. Most translation publishers shy away from books like this because the cost of the translation alone—not to mention the printing bill—more or less makes breaking even an impossibility. I suspect the donation that funds Yale’s “Margellos World Republic of Letters” series makes this moot, but still, they deserve some props for undertaking these massive books that most other presses would run away from. Maybe they’ll be the ones to do those 1,000-page novels by Tokarczuk and Clemens Setz . . .

The Ravens by Vidar Sundstøl, translated from the Norwegian by Tiina Nunnally (University of Minnesota Press)

It’s so perfect that University of Minnesota Press published Sundstøl’s “Minnesota Trilogy,” which concludes with this volume. According to his bio, Sundstøl lives in Southern Norway, but I assume he has some sort of connection to Minnesota. Otherwise, why would he write a series of crime novels set there, featuring the Twin Cities, Duluth, and members of the Ojibwe tribe? I hope the University of Minnesota sells thousands of copies of all of these to the really nice people of Minnesota . . .

22 December 15 | Chad W. Post | Comments

It’s year-end donation time! As I’m sure you know, there are dozens of worthy publishing (or literary) enterprises out there deserving of your support. Over the next few days, I’ll try and highlight a few of them (including Open Letter), but wanted to start with Coffee House Press, since they have a really special year-end campaign going on.

To celebrate Chris Fischbach’s 20th year at CHP (20 years!), the board of directors is making a special $20,000 match for year-end donations. This is a significant gift, and one that Coffee House definitely deserves. So donate here and help them reach their goal!

I’m sure everyone reading this is aware of Coffee House (or at least Valeria Luiselli), but here’s a bit of a run down from their donation page:

Coffee House Press began as a small letterpress operation in 1972 and has grown into an internationally renowned nonprofit publisher of literary fiction, essay, poetry, and other work that doesn’t fit neatly into genre categories.

Through our Books in Action program and publications, we’ve become interdisciplinary collaborators and incubators for new work and audience experiences. Our vision for the future is one in which a publisher is a catalyst and connector.

Adventurous readers, arts enthusiasts, community builders, and risk takers—join us by making a tax-deductible donation today!

I love all the people at CHP and hope that all of you will go over and support them as well!

And while you’re there, check out their 2016 catalog. New Rikki Ducornet, new Cynan Jones, Daniel Saldaña Paris’s first novel to appear in English, a book on pretentiousness . . . Lot of great books to look forward to!

21 December 15 | Chad W. Post | Comments

Before getting into today’s list, I want to point out a new trend in the Great Listicle Explosion of Book List-Making of 2015™: the “overlooked list.” This has probably been going on for as long as people could count to ten (a prerequisite for list-making), but I had overlooked it (yes, groan) until I saw Lit Hub’s list of overlooked books of 2015 followed by Lit Hub’s list of overlooked books of 2015 by women back-to-back on Facebook.

First off, the main (?) Lit Hub list contains two books on my Translations Everyone Was Talking about in 2015 list, and the rest are basically from major commercial presses. Such as Aleksandar Hemon’s latest! In what world is Hemon “overlooked.” Sure, this book didn’t get the same amount of love as his last one, but here’s a review of it in the NY Times. It was also reviewed in The Guardian, LA Times, Chicago Tribune, Slate . . . (The list of overlooked women is better, although it includes a book on the general “overlooked” list and one by Jeannette Winterson. So unknown!)

It’s clear from these lists that the word “overlooked” can mean basically anything. Which, to be honest, is philosophically accurate. Who “overlooked” these books? Lit Hub? The general reading public? All of the literati at last week’s swanky lit party? Your mom? The mainstream media? Booksellers? God?

Anyway, to join in on this trend of flippant and marginally important list-making, today I’m going to post tne poetry collections I would’ve read and loved, if I read poetry. Based on my general knowledge of publishers, translators, and titles, I’m pretty much positivie that these are the best collections I should’ve read this year.

Just so you know, I do have three serious lists ready in my mind for the rest of this week, but since I’m extra-pressed for time today (in case you weren’t aware, Arsenal and Manchester City are playing at 3pm), these descriptions are going to be pretty thin. I’ll make up for it later, trust me.

Science Not for the Earth by Yevgeny Baratynsky, translated from the Russian by Rawley Grau (Ugly Duckling)

To be honest, I’m just including this one because I really like the title. That and it’s from Ugly Duckling Presse and they’ve never steered me wrong before. Plus, there’s this blurb: “Baratynsky is an oddity.“—Joseph Brodsky

Minute-Operas by Frédéric Forte, translated from the French by Daniel Levin Becker, Ian Monk, Michelle Noteboom, and Jean-Jacques Poucel (Burning Deck Press)

I actually did read a few of the poems from this collection. They are insane and wonderful. Here’s an explanation from the Burning Deck website (another poetry publisher with incredible taste):

Frédéric Forte’s Minute-Operas are poems “staged” on the page. A simple vertical line of 3 inches separates what Forte calls the stage and the wings. The poet explores the potential of this form with multiple typographic games, calling on different registers of the language, different poetic techniques and, in the second part of the book, by “fixating as minute-operas” 55 existing poetic forms (come out of various poetic traditions or more recently invented by Oulipo, the famous French “Workshop for potential literature.”)

Rilke Shake by Angelica Freitas, translated from the Portuguese by Hilary Kaplan (Phoneme Books)

I said above that I don’t read much poetry, and to be completely honest, that’s absolutely true. I read the collections we published (selected by Jennifer Grotz), anything by Kim Hyesoon, and whatever makes the Best Translated Book Award longlist, but that’s about it. It’s not that I don’t respect poetry as a form—it just rarely seized my attention at night when I finally get to sit down to read a bit for myself (instead of for work). What I like most about poetry are poets explaining what they’re up to (that heady mix of theoretical art school terminology and total bullshit is really amazing to read and listen to), and poems that are funny.

gertrude stein has a big butt slide over gertrude
stein and when she slides it makes a great noise
as though someone dragged a wet cloth across
the huge glass window of a public building [. . .]

but gertude stein is a charlatan thinks it’s fine to let one
loose under the water eh gertrude stein? it’s impossible
that anyone could so enjoy making bubbles

Wild Grass on the Riverbank by Hiromi Ito, translated from the Japanese by Jeffrey Angles (Action Books)

In case you haven’t figured this out yet, most of the books on this list are from a handful of presses—the ones that have earned a reputation for publishing the most daring, interesting works of poetry in translation. Seems to me that when it comes to poetry publishers, branding and reputation are even more crucial than they are for presses doing mostly fiction.

Anyway, from a review in Vice:

The 96-page tract demonstrates the author’s shift from verse to a more continuous, genre-bent experience, knitting a full narrative across its many still-fragmented parts. The work follows the travel of a family of many children, their mother, and a father who is both alive and dead, through fields of insane fauna, dystopian wasteland landscape, eerie haunted temporary homes, refrains of song fragments, skin plagues, and breakouts.

Reminiscent of the plunging-network narratives of Alice Notley’s Descent of Alette and Amos Tutuola’s My Life in the Bush of Ghosts, the book goes into both the multivalent psyches of the human landscape and the ground we walk on, forging between them a trek that is by turns spiritual, spasmodic, romantic, furious, contemplative, and insane.

October Dedications by Mang Ke, translated from the Chinese by Lucas Klein (Zephyr Press)

Lucas Klein is a really stand-up guy who does a lot to promote Chinese poetry. He’s also been a judge for the PEN Translation Prize, and been mistaken for me at several ALTA conferences. (I don’t know that we look all that alike, except that we both have dark hair, are white, about the same height, and smile, but this happens more than you would expect.)

He also likes to get all up in my shit about mis-alphabetizing Chinese authors in my various lists and posts. This is totally my fault, although it’s not always that easy to figure out . . . Zephyr Press doesn’t even have this book on their website (which is woefully out of date), but even if they did, it probably wouldn’t be listed as “MANG Ke” or “Mang KE,” which would immediately make clear which is the surname. Wikipedia doesn’t do this either. I did some Googling and since “Mang” is a common Chinese surname, I think this should be under “M.”

The beauty of this list that I’ve put together though is that, even if “Ke” is his surname, this book is STILL properly alphabetized. I CAN NOT BE BEATEN TODAY.

Selected Poems by Silvina Ocampo, translated from the Spanish by Jason Weiss (New York Review Books)

Silvina Ocampo was an amazing writer and literary figure in Argentina (married to Adolfo Bioy Casares, friends with Borges, sister to Victoria who ran Sur) who, thanks to NYRB, is finally getting some of the attention she deserves from English readers. I’ve not read her poems (yet!), but if these are half as good as her stories . . . damn. I’d recommend buying both of her NYRB titles: this one and Thus Were Their Faces.

Hit Parade: The Orbita Group edited by Kevin Platt, translated from the Russian by fifteen different translators (Ugly Duckling)

The Orbita group is a creative collective of four poets—Sergej Timofejev, Artur Punte, Semyon Khanin, and Vladimir Svetlov—who live in Riga, Latvia and write poetry in Russian.

In part, I’m including this book because of Kaija’s Latvian heritage, although I know that Latvian Latvians have some mixed feelings about Russian Latvians . . . Anything Russian tends to bring up bad memories of that whole occupation and Soviet thing.

Regardless, this group sounds really interesting, and a few paragraphs from introduction makes this all clear:

These poems were written in Russian, yet they are not simply Russian poems. For one thing, they are written in free verse, and Russians are a bit particular about rhyme and meter. [. . .] For another thing, the primary context in which this poetry shoudl be seen is that of Latvia. The poets of Orbita participate actively in a bilingual cultural scene drawing from the multiple literary traditions of an intimately multinational society. [. . .]

Which is not to say that this is not Russian literature, too. Orbita has made a name for itself in Russia over the past decade or so with its sui generis texts that [. . .] push the boundaries of “mainland” Russian poetic traditions and expectations, charting out new possibilities of Russian literautre in the context of twenty-first-century “transnational Russian Culture.” This is Russian poetry out of bounds. [. . .]

Since the collapse of the USSR, Russian cultural life in the Baltic has, on the whole, become somewhat attenuated and rather conservative—if not provincial. Being in Europe, as it turns out, is sometimes challenging for Latvia’s sizable Russian-speaking minority in the twenty-first century. On the whole, the majority of Russians in Latvia feel cut off from the cultural homeland of the Russian Federation [. . .] and marginalized in Latvia.

Worth reading for that cultural context alone!

Twelve Stations by Tomasz Rozycki, translated from the Polish by Bill Johnston (Zephyr Press)

I can’t remember where, but I’m almost positive that I heard Bill Johnston read part of this aloud . . . Maybe at Translation Loaf this past summer? Regardless of where I heard it, I remember wanting to grab a review copy of this when I got back to the office. Unfortunately, I can’t find it now to give you all a quote, so you’ll just have to take my word for it that this epic poem is really interesting.

Besides, it’s Bill Johnston. That man could translate scraps of MFA garbage and I’d probably read it.

Wild Words: Four Tamil Poets by Malathi Maithri, Salma, Kutti Revathi, Sukirtharani, translated from the Tamil by Lakshmi Holmstrom (HarperCollins India)

It’s pretty rare that HarperCollins India sells their books into the U.S. market. Almost as rare as it is to have access to poetry by a female poet writing in Tamil . . .

To explain why I’m including this here, I’ll just quote the beginning of this introduction:

In 2003, at a time when politicians and other establishment figures of Tamil Nadu were caught up in a surge of Tamil chauvinism, a group of men and women, setting themselves up as guardians of Tamil culture, objected publicly to the language of a new generation of women poets, particularly in the work of Malathi Maithri, Salma, Kutti Revathi and Sukirtharani. They charged the women with obscenity and immodesty.

These women poets came into prominence at the same time; their first collections of poetry were published between the years 2000 and 2002, when they were in their late twenties and early thirties. Though each of these poets is unique in what she has to say in her poetry, there are some themes which are common to all of them, notably the politics of sexuality and a woman’s relationship to her body. For the moral police, such language was not permissible for Tamil women. So the poets were condemned and vilified. The debate gained focus with the publication of Kutti Revathi’s Mulaigal (Breasts, 2002). The poets received abusive letters from individuals as well as literary organizations. The media had a field-day. A popular song writer for films gave a much publicized interview to a literary journal condemning women writers in general. This was followed by another film-song writer, Snehithan, who appeared on television declaring that these women should be lined up on Mount Road in Chennai, doused with kerosene oil and burnt alive.

This is horrifying and disturbing, and probably happens more than any of us want to know. Fuck those people; buy and read this book. The poetry looks fairly straightforward, lyrical, with a political undercurrent that rings true even if you’re not familiar with the particular situation in Tamil Nadu.

The Nomads, My Brothers, Go Out to Drink from the Big Dipper by Abdourahman Waberi, translated from the French by Nancy Naomi Carlson (Seagull Books)

I love Abdourahman Waberi’s novels, which is why I wanted to include this here. It’s got a great, fun title, and it will be the only collection of poetry from Djibouti that you’ll read this year. (Most likely.)

Translated by Nancy Naomi Carlson, Waberi’s voice is intelligent, at times ironic, and always appealing. His poems strongly condemn the civil wars that have plagued East Africa and advocate tolerance and peace. In this compact volume, such ideas live side by side as a rosary for the treasures of Timbuktu, destroyed by Islamic extremists, and a poem dedicated to Edmond Jabès, the Jewish writer and poet born in Cairo.


OK, now that I’ve put this all together, I’m thinking that in 2016, I should try and read more poetry. I think it would be more interesting to read these with a group of people—especially people who actually know shit about poetry. Maybe, and this is one of those momentary ideas I probably won’t follow through on, we could start a sort of “International Book Club” via Three Percent and feature a new work of fiction and poetry every month. Each week we could have a post on both of these—from me, or from someone who actually knows something—about the author, the themes, some interesting tidbits, whatever. Readers could join in on Twitter or the Facebook or, if you’re old school, in the comments section. This could be interesting . . .

18 December 15 | Chad W. Post | Comments

Before getting into today’s lists, I want to draw your attention to Largehearted Boy’s List of ‘Best of 2015’ Book Lists.. This is just absurd—and it doesn’t even include all of these lists! Even if you eliminate all the entries on here that include Kazuo Ishiguro’s The Buried Giant (bad) and Franzen’s Purity (garbage), you’d still have enough book recommendations to stretch around the equator twice. Sometimes I feel like we live in an age of constant, all-consuming noise . . .

When I came up with the idea for today’s list—the funniest translations of 2015—I thought this would be easy. I was certain that I’d read a lot of humorous books over the past year, like . . . well, parts of Bellatin are funny, I guess, but I wouldn’t call his books funny. Maybe Vila-Matas? But not really. Those have a humorous tone at times, but are much more than that.

Looking through the list of everything published in 2015, I realized that most of us doing translations love to focus on the heavy, the important, the serious. Sure, there are things like The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared, which seems funny in a goofy sit-com sort of way, and there are dozens of Dalkey backlist titles that contain “darkly funny” on the back cover. But looking at just the past year, I had a difficult time coming up with books that I would read when I just wanted to laugh and enjoy myself. (If I do this again in 2016, Volodine’s Bardo or Not Bardo will definitely be on here.) I’m probably being too strict with this—not duplicating books from earlier lists, leaving off story collections that aren’t entirely funny, trying to figure out what most people would find funny instead of sticking with my own sick sense of humor—but I was able to find four that I could include for various reasons. So here goes.

The Indian by Jón Gnarr, translated from the Icelandic by Lytton Smith (Deep Vellum)

Not all that surprising given that Gnarr made his name as a comedian, but of the people I asked about this, no one actually mentioned this book. But I can guarantee it would be at the top of my daughter’s list.

She read this before meeting Jón and his lovely family when they were in Rochester last spring and couldn’t stop talking about it. Every post-it note in Chloë’s copy of the book marks a passage that she thought was funny.

There’s a lot of juvenile humor in here (I mean, it is about a troubled kid with a proclivity for goofing off), so if you’re not into that, you might focus more on the awful way in which Jón was treated, but still, the overall tone of the book is really fun and enjoyable.

The Dirty Dust by Máirtín O Cadhain, translated from the Irish by Alan Titley (Yale University Press)

This is my personal pick for the funniest translation of 2015. Taking place in an Irish graveyard, in which all of the buried never shut up and never stop insulting everyone, it’s a vocal tour-de-force that washes over you, rant by rant.

Don’t know if I am in the Pound grave, or the Fifteen Shilling grave? Fuck them anyway if they plonked me in the Ten Shilling plot after all the warnings I gave them. The morning I died I calls Patrick in from the kitchen, “I’m begging you Patrick, I’m begging you, put me in the Pound grave, the Pound grave! I know some of us are buried in the Ten Shilling grave, but all the same . . . “

That’s how it opens, with Caitriona Paudeen flipping her shit about how everyone treated her in life and death—a rant that goes on and on, despite being interrupted by any number of other dead souls. This book is hysterical and definitely worth reading. Also, I highly recommend listening to the translator read a few chapters.

As a side note, there’s a second translation of it coming out from Yale next year. I haven’t seen it yet, but from the description is sounds a bit more academic and footnoted. Should be interesting to compare the two . . .

Mirages of the Mind by Mushtaq Ahmed Yousufi, translated from the Urdu by Matt Reeck and Aftab Ahmad (New Directions)

I don’t know too much about this book, but I saw Patrick Smith reference it in a tweet about how pleased he was to finally be reading a funny book. This was a book I had set aside, mostly because I hate the cover. Eyes are kind of gross when they’re disembodied, and dozens of them floating on a red background like a teenager’s photoshop project? Nope.

But after hearing about it from Patrick, I picked it up, and based on the few bits that I’ve read, it does have that sort of rambling, digressive humor that I really respond to. There are crazy section titles like “Wow! You Can’t Praise Enough This New Earthen Jar!” and “The Bad Fortunes of the Station, Lumber Market, and Red-Light District.”

I’m not finding any great quotes to illuminate the sort of joyous sense of humor that seems to underpin this book, but there is a quote on the back of the book from Wired (which is apparently a good source for information about literature?) referring to Yousufi’s “singularly elastic wit.” And Time Out New Delhi stated “Rarely have I encountered a book which made me laugh so freely.” So there’s that!


I’m sure I’ve skipped over a number of really funny, truly worthy books. So if you have any suggestions, please send them my way and maybe I’ll update this. I could use some more humor in my life, so I think I’m going on a personal quest to find more funny books to read . . .

Berlin by Aleš Šteger
Reviewed by Vincent Francone

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. . .

Read More >

The Gun
The Gun by Fuminori Nakamura
Reviewed by Will Eells

Like any good potboiler worth its salt, Fuminori Nakamura’s The Gun wastes no time setting up its premise: “Last night, I found a gun. Or you could say I stole it, I’m not really sure. I’ve never seen something so. . .

Read More >

This Place Holds No Fear
This Place Holds No Fear by Monika Held
Reviewed by Lori Feathers

Heiner Resseck, the protagonist in Monika Held’s thought-provoking, first novel, This Place Holds No Fear, intentionally re-lives his past every hour of every day. His memories are his treasures, more dear than the present or future. What wonderful past eclipses. . .

Read More >

The Room
The Room by Jonas Karlsson
Reviewed by Peter Biello

If you’ve ever worked in a corporate office, you’ve likely heard the phrase, “Perception is reality.” To Björn, the office worker who narrates Jonas Karlsson’s novel The Room, the reality is simple: there’s a door near the bathroom that leads. . .

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Thérèse and Isabelle
Thérèse and Isabelle by Violette Leduc
Reviewed by Kaija Straumanis

I recently listened to Three Percent Podcast #99, which had guest speaker Julia Berner-Tobin from Feminist Press. In addition to the usual amusement of finally hearing both sides of the podcast (normally I just hear parts of Chad’s side. . .

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On the Edge
On the Edge by Rafael Chirbes
Reviewed by Jeremy Garber

Let’s not deceive ourselves, man is nothing very special. In fact, there are so many of us that our governments don’t know what to do with us at all. Six billion humans on the planet and only six or seven. . .

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Rambling Jack
Rambling Jack by Micheál Ó Conghaile
Reviewed by Vincent Francone

“Rambling Jack—what’s that?”
“A novel. Novella, I guess.”
“Yeah, it looks short. What is it, a hundred pages?”
“Sorta. It’s a duel language book, so really, only about… 50 pages total.”
“50 pages?”
“Including illustrations.”
“And this—what. . .

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The Things We Don't Do
The Things We Don't Do by Andrés Neuman
Reviewed by Tiffany Nichols

Many authors are compared to Roberto Bolaño. However, very few authors have the privilege of having a Roberto Bolaño quote on the cover of their work; and at that, one which states, “Good readers will find something that can be. . .

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Private Life
Private Life by Josep Maria de Sagarra
Reviewed by Christopher Iacono

In Josep Maria de Sagarra’s Private Life, a man harangues his friend about literature while walking through Barcelona at night:

When a novel states a fact that ties into another fact and another and another, as the chain goes on. . .

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Dinner by César Aira
Reviewed by Lori Feathers

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. . .

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