2 July 14 | Chad W. Post | Comments

This match was judged by Chad W. Post. For more info on the World Cup of Literature, read this, and download the updated bracket.

First off, let it be said that Barley Patch doesn’t even deserve to be playing in this match.

Sure, Mauro had his reasons for choosing Gerald Murnane’s self-conscious masterpiece over Javier Marias’s Your Face Tomorrow, but no matter what YouPoint PowerTube images he tosses out, I would rather read 12,000 pages of this:

‘What Dearlove could not bear,’ obviously I didn’t call him Dearlove, but by his real name, ‘is that his life should end like that; in short, he would find the manner of his death almost unbearable than death itself. He would, of course, be terrified to see his successful existence truncated and to lose his life, as would anyone, even if that life had been a failure; what’s more, I don’t, as I said, believe him to be a brave man, he would be terribly afraid. What most horrifies Dearlove, though, as it does other show-business people (although they may not know it), is that the end of his story should be such that it overshadows and darkens the life he’s lived and accumulated up until now, eclipsing it, almost erasing and cancelling out the rest and, in the end, becoming the only fact that counts and will be recounted.

(You know, like how Michael Hutchence of INXS died of auto-erotic asphyxiation, which is all we really remember him for. Sorry, INXS fan.)

Than even 25 pages of this:

While I was writing the first few sentences of the previous paragraph, I was unable to recall any details of the images of persons and faces that I had had in mind while I read as a child the series of short stories referred to. At some time while I was writing the last two sentences of the previous paragraph, I found myself assigning to the female character under mention the image of a face that I first saw during the early 1990s when I looked into a book that I had recently bought on the subject of horse-racing in New Zealand.

Snoo-motherfucking-ooze.

That said, Spain’s tiki-taka style of play (which, for the uninitiated, can best be summed up in this Los Campesinos! lyric, “we need more post-coital, and less post-rock, feels like the buildup takes forever and you never touch my cock”) went down in flames in the 2014 Real World Cup, so it is kind of fitting that the same happened in the World Cup of Literature.

But, Australia?! A country of poisonous flying spiders, jellyfish that are 100 meters in diameter, snakes that can kill you by looking in your eyes, and shitty Fosters beer? The best thing you ever did for literature was serve as the setting for an episode of The Simpsons.

Then again, you’re playing Mexico here. A country whose players—to steal Kaija Straumanis’s “World Cup Taunt”—hope for a green card every time the ref reaches in their pocket. Your Real World soccer team has never made it past the quarterfinals of a World Cup (failing again in 2014!), making you the least successful Spanish-speaking fútbol country ever. (Verified fact.)

Let’s put aside the actual teams—and random uninformed jokes—for now and look at more of the book itself.

The basic argument for Barley Patch is that it’s “innovative” and “new” and “erudite.” Is Murnane a smart writer? Sure. Is Barley Patch new and innovative? Not in my opinion. Murnane is kind of a poor man’s Gilbert Sorrentino (but without Sorrentino’s sense of humor) mixed with W.G. Sebald (but without Sebald’s universality).

If you haven’t read about Barley Patch before, here’s a basic summary: The narrator of this book has decided to stop writing. For 257 pages he tries to explain why he stopped writing by writing about things that he’s written, writing about his relationship to books that he read in his youth, writing about his family, writing about images that have evolved with him over time, writing about how he’s thinking about his current writing, etc. In between all of this, he asks himself “probing” questions, trying to move his narrative along in the most self-conscious way possible.

Spoiler Alert! This is all boring as shit. It’s also one of the most self-fellating books I’ve ever read.

OK, time to blast away with a few examples, like the way-too-precious opening line, “Must I write?” NO. THE ANSWER IS ALWAYS AND FOREVER, NO.

This level of the book—wherein the narrator asks himself questions and answers them dishonestly—is super pretentious, and results in “writing” that is more or less Australian Lorem Ipsum:

Have I answered yet the question why had I written?

I would be willing to admit that I have not yet answered the impending question, but only if my hypothetical questioner would admit that a question can hardly be worth asking if its answer can be delivered in fewer than ten thousand words.

Murnane is the anti-Zen monk of world literature.

But even the straightforward parts of the book are uninspired. In a section that should be interesting since it’s all about orgies and Black Masses:

The discussions at first were simple. The young man of the upstairs flat owned a copy each of several issues of the American magazine Playboy, which had recently been allowed into Australia after having been previously a prohibited import.

Holy Jesus it should not take that many words to say that! And “a copy each of several issues”? Like, if he had written “owned several issues of Playboy” anyone would’ve assumed he had a bunch of copies of the same one?

The thing is, Barley Patch isn’t even a bad book—it’s just an incredibly boring one.

Let me kill off Australia’s last goal scoring chance with this:

Something that ought to be explained is my having begun again to write fiction only a few years after I had stopped, so I thought, for good.

Four years after I stopped writing fiction, my seventh book of fiction was published. Some of the book consisted of pieces of fiction that had been published previously in so-called literary magazines, but each of the other three pieces I had written in order to explain one or another of three matter that I could have explained by no other means than by writing a piece of fiction. One of the three pieces was intended to explain to myself and to readers of good will why I had become tired of reading book after book of supposedly memorable fiction and then being unable to remember, a year or more afterwards, any sentence of the text or any detail of my experience as a reader. Another of the three pieces was intended to explain to myself and to readers of good will why I had not been misguided whenever I had struggled from time to time during the previous forty years to devise a set of racing colours in which one or another arrangement of one or another shade of blue or of green explained about me something that could have been explained by no other means than by the appearance of a set of racing colours. The third of the pieces was intended to explain to myself and to readers of good will why I had stopped writing fiction several years before (and had presumably stopped again after having written the text that explained this) and to offer to readers of good will a hint as to what sort of project I now preferred to fiction-writing. [. . .]

I find myself now in a strange situation. Nearly sixteen years ago, I stopped writing fiction. A few years later, I wrote a piece of fiction intended to explain why I had so stopped. Now, more than ten years later again, I am trying to compose a passage of fiction that might explain my explanatory piece.

Just stop. Now. Zero goals! You’ve been Ochoa-ed.

*

Given all of that, and the fact that I read Barley Patch first, expecting to have my life altered forever by the brilliance of Murnane’s images, only to be massively under-impressed, Faces in the Crowd simply had to not suck to move on to the quarterfinals.

And not only is it a trillion times more readable, enjoyable, less-pretentious, and interesting, it’s one of the best books I’ve read in 2014.

I go back to writing the novel whenever I’m not busy with the children. I know I need to generate a structure full of holes so that I can always find a place for myself on the page, inhabit it; I have to remember never to put in more than is necessary, never overlay, never furnish or adorn. Open doors, windows. Raise walls and demolish them.

That’s how you write a self-reflexive, intellectual passage without coming off as someone obsessed with proving how brilliant they are.

Faces in the Crowd is a short novel with three storylines: one of a young translator working at a publishing house in New York obsessed with the poet Gilberto Owen, one of a woman in Mexico City writing a book about ghosts and young translators, and one of Gilberto Owen in Philadelphia dreaming of New York. It’s made up of dozens of short bits that collage, creating a million diverse, beautiful bits, and one complex whole.

Also, Valeria Luiselli gets a goal—or three—for being funnier than Murnane. This is a bit of a lame example, but the “author” in Mexico City writes a lot of suspect things about her husband, who occasionally reads her manuscript and gets annoyed. Like when she pokes fun at his obsession with zombie films.

I don’t like zombie films. Why did you write that I like zombie films?

Because.

Please, cut the zombies.

Or a better example, in relation to Gilberto Owen’s way of defining people:

Owen would’ve said that he spoke with spelling mistakes.

If Barley Patch gets some love for being “new,” for exploring the lines between reality and fiction and how one transforms into the other, Faces in the Crowd gets another goal for this embedded explanation of its structure:

Not a fragmented novel. A horizontal novel, narrated vertically.

But the main point: Reading Faces in the Crowd is enjoyable and stimulating. Barley Patch deserves nothing. Unfortunately, a lot of the review outlets that seek out “innovative” literature seem to have given Murnane way more attention than Luiselli. I’ll red card that shit and redeem the Real Mexican team (and Robben’s god awful shitheel flop) by awarding a penalty kick.

Final result: 3-0 Mexico.

——

Chad W. Post makes people angry with his swearing, random insults, and dislike of fans of American soccer. Otherwise, he can usually be found reading or trying to buy rights to untranslated works of literature.

——

Did Faces in the Crowd Deserve to Make it to the Quarterfinals?

Yes
No


1 July 14 | Kaija Straumanis | Comments

This match was judged by Florian Duijsens. For more info on the World Cup of Literature, read this, and download the updated bracket.

To pitch anyone against W. G. Sebald is a cruel exercise, even within the high-stakes tournament that is the World Cup of Literature. More so even than Bolaño, whose fame in the English-speaking world has also grown exponentially after his death, Sebald’s posthumous stature is gargantuan, and his presence in this tournament is that of a towering flâneur facing teams of tiny tots in soccer shoes and diapers.

Still, the game has begun and a winner can and must officially be declared only after this second-round match has been played. To introduce our players then: On our left, playing for the former French colony of Algeria, there’s The Sexual Life of an Islamist in Paris by Leïla Marouane, translated by Alison Anderson, on our right, sauntering about the field and peering at the crypto-fascist stadium architecture is W.G. Sebald’s Austerlitz, translated from the German by Anthea Bell.

A cursory glance at these books’ stats suggests several points in common: occasional footnotes, a playful approach to fact and fiction, an authorial narrator who was told the story by a restless third party, that third party being the bearer of two names and two identities. Yet this reader found one book almost infinitely stronger when the last pages had been turned and the final whistle blown.

Set in Paris, Marouane’s novel, her fifth, has at its center Mohamed Ben Mokhtar, a man of Algerian descent who, at the age of 40, though very successful at his only sketchily described job in finance, still lives with his mother and still is a virgin. He describes how, early on in his career, he legally had his name changed to Basile Toquard, lightening his skin and straightening his hair, all in order to ‘pass’ among the French more easily. His impulse purchase of an expensive flat at the beginning of the novel, however, forces him to renegotiate this split identity, especially once (in a very Hollywood move) he promises his devastated mother he will marry before he and his still devout brother leave on their haj to Mecca in a few months time. Though he tries to pop his cherry and find a suitable mate, his clock soon is running out as the women he courts turn out to be quite unlike the vixens his lustful gaze had suggested. The joke is on Mohamed as the plot derails amidst authorial interventions and that move most deserving of a literary red card, the ‘dream sequence’. In a silly take on Kafka’s The Judgment, these bits see the previously overprotective mother suddenly turned into a freethinking feminist artist, rendering poor Mohamed’s hard-won independence from her meaningless; who is he without his mother?

If this indeed sounds like a trippy Muslim take on The 40-Year-Old Virgin, you should know that Marouane adds a metafictional frisson by inserting both herself into the narrative (under the pseudonym of feminist Algerian author Loubna Minbar), as well as the female protagonists of her previous novels. This does not, however, get us any closer to any of the characters (or, really, the vagaries of post-colonial identity), instead often drawing us further away while the actors turn into warring stereotypes performing an increasingly bizarre allegorical romcom of letters.

Austerlitz, on the other hand, uses its central and titular character’s quest to learn more about his unknown heritage to simultaneously illuminate the way the 20th century has scarred us all. When young Dafydd Elias learns his real name is Jacques Austerlitz and later finds out that he came to Wales alone as a child on a Kindertransport from Nazi-occupied Europe, this sets him on a course that will lead him, both consciously and subconsciously, to learn more about his family and the horror that tore it apart.

As played out in hotel lobbies and train station waiting rooms, the story of both Jacques Austerlitz and Austerlitz the novel is one born from the Sebaldian belief that:

we also have appointments to keep in the past, in what has gone before and is for the most part extinguished, and must go there in search of places and people who have some connection with us on the far side of time

Though endlessly and fascinatingly digressive, all the digressions Austerlitz leads the narrator on have a bearing on both his past and on the way history is still unspooling all around and underneath us. From casual mentions of the “murderous town of Bacharach” and Schumann’s descent into madness, to longer essayistic reportage on Fort Breendonk outside of Antwerp or the concentration camp at Terezín, Sebald’s book bears witness to a past that is barely buried. As James Wood points out in his foreword to the 10th anniversary edition, it is impossible for a contemporary reader to make her way through the book without time and time again misreading the protagonist’s name as Auschwitz, a cursed name pointedly not mentioned anywhere in the book. The interspersed and unattributed photography, meanwhile, at once reminds us that this fiction is rooted in fact, these pictured places at some point having existed somewhere real, and nags at us as we realize that surely the boy in costume on the cover cannot be the fictional character Austerlitz; relics of the past they may be, but photographs in no way can offer us conclusive proof (or comfort).

All this to say that on the metaphorical soccer field this tournament calls home, Marouane may have conjured up a shape shifting team of conflicted French Algerians dressed in outfits that range from the traditionally Muslim to high-priced finance casual, a glance at Sebald’s side of the field reveals it to be deserted, the grass rolled up to uncover the foundations of the fortified encampment that once stood in the stadium’s stead. Outside, in the dilapidated and dark little bakery where you can only hear muted honks of the echoing vuvuzelas, is a man telling another man the story of our lives, “how everything is constantly lapsing into oblivion with every extinguished life, how the world is, as it were, draining itself, in that the history of countless places and objects which themselves have no power of memory is never heard, never described or passed on”.

In the end, then, the result is the expected one: the Algerian team defeated, the stands and goals empty, the ref’s whistles always already forgotten.

Germany’s victory: 1-0.

——

Florian Duijsens is a freelance writer/editor/translator, senior editor of Asymptote Journal, and fiction editor at Sand. He lives in Berlin.

——

Did Austerlitz Dererve to Make it to the Quarterfinals?

Yes
No


1 July 14 | Kaija Straumanis | Comments

This match was judged by Stephen Sparks. For more info on the World Cup of Literature, read this, and download the updated bracket.

The battle between Honduras and Bosnia and Herzegovina is a contrast in style. This is obvious as the two teams line up for pre-match ceremonies: on one side, Horacio Castellanos Moya’s understated Senselessness, with a few tasteful blurbs—from Roberto Bolaño, Russell Banks, and Francisco Goldman—adorning the back jacket; on the other side is Saša Stanišić’s gaudy How the Soldier Repairs the Gramophone, with its bold, ALL CAPS, multi-colored blurbs, pages and pages of extravagant praise, and a “Reading Guide,” designed no doubt to help palliate those readers concerned about the accents in the Bosnia author’s name. The packaging of How the Soldier Repairs the Gramophone feels compensatory, too showy. As it preens and struts, confident of its greatness, Senselessness gets right to work, scoring an early goal with its crisp opening salvo:

I am not complete in the mind, said the sentence I highlighted with the yellow marker and even copied into my personal notebook, because this wasn’t just any old sentence, much less some wisecrack, not by any means, but rather the sentence that astonished me more than any other sentence I read that first day on the job, the sentence that most dumbfounded me during my first incursion into those one thousand one hundred almost single-spaced printed pages placed on what would be my desk by my friend Erick so I could get some idea of the task that awaited me.

Honduras 1 – 0 Bosnia and Herzegovina

After these initial maneuvers, the Bosnians marshal their forces, realizing that a nifty kit alone does not a soccer team make, especially not in fevered battle against a righteously angry and caustic opponent. They launch an offensive, with a series of beautifully executed passes, backing the Hondurans into their own end. Stanišić’s use of chapter summaries (reminiscent of E.T.A. Hoffmann) is clever and worthy of appreciation. We learn, for instance, that Chapter Five will explain the following:

When something is an event, when it’s an experience, how many deaths Comrade Tito died, and how the once-famous three-point shooter gets behind the wheel of a Centrotrans bus

And that later, as the novel moves from more or less innocent childhood memories to war and genocide, we’ll understand:

What we play in the cellar, what peas taste like, why silence bares its fangs, who has the right sort of name, what a bridge will bear, why Asija cries, how Asija smiles

This seldom used tactic results in a goal by Stanišić’s side.

Honduras 1 – 1 Bosnia and Herzegovina

This might be the most fevered, high-strung match in the World Cup of Literature, with lulls in play coming few and far between. Each side seems intent on pummeling the other into submission, and goals are scored in bunches: Castellanos Moya’s wicked humor and coiled sentences spring into action, tilting things in Honduras’ favor . . .

Honduras 2 – 1 Bosnia and Herzegovina

. . . and Stanišić’s effective, if occasionally too cute heartstring-tugging getting the Bosnians back into the match . . .

Honduras 2 – 2 Bosnia and Herzegovina

. . . then, Senselessness gets really offensive with an STD, sending the Bosnians scurrying back on defense . . .

Honduras 3 – 2 Bosnia and Herzegovina

. . . after regrouping—nothing a little penicillin can’t cure, boys!—the Soldier and his Gramophone comes back strong, striking two goals in quick succession with a one-legged former soccer player, Kiko, and twenty pages of a No Man’s Land soccer match that involves cowardice, duplicity, a 6’9” tall lethal striker nicknamed Mickey Mouse, land mines, and a miracle comeback for the ages. The Hondurans are reeling, they can’t hold up against this onslaught. With their hyperactive exuberance, the Bosnians take the lead.

Honduras 3 – 4 Bosnia and Herzegovina

What do the Hondurans have left as we near the ninetieth minute? One last charge that falls flat against the nimble-footed Bosnian, who steals the ball, streaks toward the goal and deposits an insurance goal, putting How the Soldier Repairs the Gramophone up for good.

Honduras 3 – 5 Bosnia and Herzegovina

You can be sure that a people who “sing even when they’re killed” will be celebrating in style.

——

Stephen Sparks is a buyer at Green Apple Books. He lives in San Francisco and blogs at Invisible Stories.

——

Did How the Soldier Deserve to Make it to the Quarterfinals?

Yes
No


30 June 14 | Kaija Straumanis | Comments

This match was judged by Rhea Lyons. For more info on the World Cup of Literature, read this, and download the updated bracket.

One of the first games of the second round finds Elena Ferrante’s Days of Abandonment pitted against the Japanese juggernaut 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami.

Ferrante’s Days of Abandonment is written from the perspective of Olga, a forty-something mother of two whose husband leaves her in the opening pages for a much younger woman. With the first line, the reader is hit with a palatable shock as Olga is abandoned, seemingly without reason, after fifteen years of marriage.

Score one for Italy, 15 seconds in!

Ferrante’s opening is clean and direct, easily remained as a crisp pass from a wing to a perfectly timed cut from a striker, who drives the ball confidently into the high corner. However, as the novel progresses, Olga becomes increasingly helpless in her own rage and fury. In a scene where she encounters her husband and new lover on the street, Olga attacks him, attempting to punish him but succeeding only in making matters worse for herself. Although this begins as a brilliant second scoring attempt, it’s ultimately an untimely yellow card for the Italians, and as Olga loses her grip, the Italian team loses control of the game.

And that’s when Japan takes over. Murakami immediately makes the reader wonder at the creativity of his own world, as Ayomame, his brilliant and enigmatic assassin, escapes a traffic jam and makes the windy descent from a crowded highway. Ayomame experiences a strange feeling, and her usual ability to recall important dates becomes scrambled—but so is the readers’ ability to stay ahead of her. She deftly defies our defenses—a breakaway chance that makes you hold your breath to watch the outcome.

When she emerges past the last line of defenders, she is surprised to see a police officer dressed in a different uniform than usual, carrying a more dangerous gun than usual—she’s wide open, but it’s almost as if the game is a completely different one than she started in. Still, she’s a professional. She performs her assassination, but can’t shake the feeling that something more sinister is going on.

At the same time, her teammate Tengo is also attempting to rewrite the playbook—but in this case, by literally rewriting an incredible novel to dupe the literary world into believing this is worthy of a prestigious prize. With this sort of misdirection and intense plotting, it’s no problem for Japan to score the equalizer. Despite her ferocity, Ferrante’s Olga is slipping, and Murakami’s set up is pretty solid—sexy female assassin, alternate realities, literary mystery, and plenty of moral conflict for both narrators. It’s quickly 1-1.

Olga continues to slip into a pitiable state of desperation— she spends hours examining her face in the mirror, trying to divine the reason her husband left her. She has a failed sexual encounter with her downstairs neighbor. She starts to forget to pick her children up for school, becomes unable to feed them. She cannot escape the prison of her own sorrow. Poor Olga can’t do anything right—leaving the Italians flopping around the field like crazy, grabbing their barely-bruised shins. It doesn’t work— they don’t get any calls their way. The Italian team suffers a self-inflicted wound: a devastating own goal. The Italian fans go silent. The Japanese fans go wild.

Thank goodness for half time. Japan leads 2-1, and the Italian morale is undeniably low. It’s clear Olga has basically stopped trying to get herself out of her misery. Yet, all isn’t completely rosy in the Japanese camp, either. Tengo feels increasingly conflicted about re-writing Air Chrysalis, and Ayomame is struggling with with her own feelings of loneliness and regret as well. If I was coaching either team I’d probably make them to watch the scene from Miracle when Kurt Russell fires up the team during the Sweden game (“a bruise on the leg is a hell of a long way from the heart, candy ass!”) But sadly, I’m not the coach here, and also, I’m not so sure the reference would translate.

Anyway. Italy begins the second half with more of the same, as Olga is doing worse than ever. Her apartment is infested by ants. Her son is suffering from a mysterious fever, and her dog, Otto, is acting sick. She realizes that they are all locked into their apartment, as she simply can’t figure out how to turn the key in the front door. If she doesn’t get some help, and quickly, her whole life will fall apart. Despite not being the greatest team-player, she employs her daughter, Ilaria, to stab her in the leg when she notices her mother staring off into space.

Now, sometimes you need a kick in the ass to jump-start a stagnant offense, and yet no real scoring chances come from it: her son is still sick, she’s still locked in the apartment, and the dog is dying. If you’re a fan of the Italians, you probably feel like crying right now…I am a neutral judge, but I admit I shed many tears watching poor Otto’s suffering.

This would be the perfect time for Japan to take advantage and the offensive, and really put this contest away . . . but 1Q84 is just such a damn slow read. While Olga is focused and determine to solve the essential problem behind her misery, Ayomame’s and Tengo’s story lines meander through past and present, taking their time to unwind. It’s a graceful performance, but time is ticking down. Although Japan has maintained possession, they haven’t managed to execute any effective scoring opportunities.

Finally, Italy takes a chance. Olga has seen her life collapse around her, and has hit rock-bottom, and that realization is the water break she needs. She finds herself feeling strangely calm. The door opens without a problem. The dog is laid to rest, and she calls a doctor for the children. More importantly, Olga realizes she is no longer in love with her scumbag husband. Like the mighty phoenix, Italy rises from the ashes and takes possession of the ball, and quickly scores not once, but twice! Olga has overcome her abandonment and has learned what she needs to to do become a courageous, wise women.

However, Olga is exhausted, and there’s still about 500 pages of 1Q84 left to go. It’s as if the refs have added an addition 30 minutes of stoppage time—it’s almost impossibly long, and you have to think Murakami’s got enough talent on his side to at least get a tie. And they are able to come off with a few nail-biting offensive chances, but Italy’s play is just too solid in the end. Shaky in the middle, but a little more dynamic than the slow-and-steady 1Q84. Just when it starts to look dire for Italy, the buzzer sounds—time really wasn’t on Ayomame and Tengo’s side after all.

ITALY WINS 3-2.

——

Rhea Lyons is a former Open Letter intern (and University of Rochester grad) who is now a literary scout at Franklin & Siegal.

——

Did Days of Abandonment Deserve to Make it to the Quarterfinals?

Yes
No


30 June 14 | Kaija Straumanis | Comments

On June 2nd, Luis Negrón’s Mundo Cruel (trans. Suzanne Jill Levine, pub. Seven Stories Press) was named recepient of the 2014 Lambda Literary Award for Gay General Fiction. Of great note is that this is the first time in Lambda Literary Award history (the first award ceremony was held in 1989) that a work of fiction in translation has won an award.

From the Seven Stories press release:

Nine short stories open a door into working class Santurce, Puerto Rico, where shoddy medical offices, Catholic churches, Mormon temples, and Santeria storefronts line the sunbaked streets. Here, a bumbling prostitute-turned-fugitive bewilderingly avoids capture. Back-biting mothers hand down judgment on their neighbors and the world at large from their front lawns. A desperate dog-owner will do anything to have his precious animal sent to a taxidermist. A young Chosen One with a curious gift helps his fellow parishioners find God.

Mundo Cruel, Luis Negrón’s debut book, elegantly presents to its readers a world both tragic and outrageous. Masterfully satirical with a discrete solemnity at its core, Mundo Cruel’s most remarkable element is its language. Several of its stories feature unnamed protagonists brought to life by their speech—colloquial, self-incriminating, and idiosyncratic—revealing Negron’s mesmerizing talent for conjuring the spoken word in all its subtlety.

LUIS NEGRÓN was born in the city of Guayama, Puerto Rico, in 1970. He is co-editor of Los otros cuerpos, an anthology of queer writing from Puerto Rico and the Puerto Rican diaspora. The original Spanish language edition of Mundo Cruel, first published in Puerto Rico in 2010 by Editorial La Secta de Los Perros, then by Libros AC in subsequent editions, is now in its third printing. It has never before appeared in English. Negrón lives in Santurce, Puerto Rico.

SUZANNE JILL LEVINE’s acclaimed translations, which include works by Guillermo Cabrera Infante (Three Trapped Tigers) and Manuel Puig (Betrayed by Rita Hayworth), have helped introduce the world to some of the icons of contemporary Latin American literature. She is also editor of Penguin Classics’ essays and poetry of Jorge Luis Borges and the author of The Subversive Scribe: Translating Latin American Fiction. She is the winner of PEN USA’s Translation Award 2012 for her translation of Jose Donoso’s The Lizard’s Tale.

For a great interview with Suzanne Jill Levine on Mundo Cruel, go here.

For information on the history of the award, go here.

For more information on the award categories, go here.

30 June 14 | Kaija Straumanis | Comments

This match was judged by Jeff Waxman. For more info on the World Cup of Literature, read this, and download the updated bracket.

It’s hard watching the first round, shoulder to shoulder with other sweating fans at wobbling tables that would sacrifice the first inch of your beer if you ever set it down. It’s hard watching your team bite it. I read The Dinner, and it might’ve even had a shot against any one of the other novels in the running. But not against By Night in Chile, one of the bookiest books in Bolaño’s sainted oeuvre. Even with officials like ours—as loathsome, venal, half-blind, and hateful as a Herman Koch antihero—Bolaño couldn’t fall. “The fix is in!” they’d shriek. And they’d be right. Didja hear about Marias? Damn.

So the better book won. And to read the play-by-play on Budapest/Dark Heart of the Night, Cameroon never really had a chance. What did Jeffrey Zuckerman say? It shocked and amazed him? I was pretty impressed, too. But as Brazil is about to learn, you can only get so far in a tournament like this one with cute jibes at the Hungarian language. And when you’re writing for this reader, you’re liable to get carded for any number of extremely subjective sins.

By Night in Chile has the air of a parable about it: an aged poet and critic (and priest) lies on his deathbed recounting a career that peaked during some of the darkest days of the Pinochet regime. You need to hear this plot again like you need a hole in the head—this is the second round after all. But I will emphasize that this isn’t, precisely, a political book or an apolitical book. It’s not a book about body count, even if there are a few bodies. It’s a book about the culture of books and the sometimes ambiguous place in which that culture exists. “And that’s the truth,” Bolaño writes.

We were bored. We read and we got bored. We intellectuals. Because you can’t read all day and night. You can’t write all day and all night. Splendid isolation has never been our style, and back then, as now, Chilean artists and writers needed to gather and talk, ideally in a pleasant setting where they could find intelligent company. Apart from the inescapable fact that many of the old crowd had left the country for reasons more personal than political, the main difficulty was the curfew. Where could the artists and intellectuals meet if everywhere was shut after ten at night, for, as everyone knows, night is the most propitious time for getting together and enjoying a little unbuttoned conversation with one’s peers. Artists and writers. Strange times.

1-0, Chile. Like you had to ask. You were there. You saw it.

As the narrative of a ghostwriter, a man who requires the special cadences of life itself to write and, sometimes, to translate, Budapest is awash with sex and metatextual jokes, with winks and nudges. Buarque is a writer’s writer and his sentences range across the pitch—the page!—passing forward and backward, almost offsides as often as they advance. Buarque writes:

The writing flowed spontaneously, at a pace that was not mine, and it was on Teresa’s calf that I write my first words in the local tongue. At first she kind of liked it and was flattered when I told her I was writing a book on her. Later she took it into her head to get jealous, to refuse me her body, saying I only wanted her to write on . . .

1-1. Buarque knows what he’s doing.

But like I said, Bolaño’s prose here is powerful and written from the backfield—in retrospect, I mean. And from that position, it surges forward, sentence running into sentence, pushing, driving, probing. Paragraphs hardly break. Dialogue is a series of colons (sometimes) without columns. Chile is getting somewhere and they’re getting there fast:

And Farewell: Have you been to Italy? And I: Yes. And Farewell: Everything falls apart, time devours everything, beginning with Chileans. And I: Yes. And Farewell: Do you know the stories of other popes? And I: All of them. And Farewell: What about Hadrian II? And I: Pope from 867 to 872, there’s an interesting story about him, when King Lothair II came to Italy, the pope asked him if he had gone back to sleeping with Waladra . . .

Chile scores again. And again.

There’s a parody of soccer you’ll all remember from The Simpsons:

Buarque writes like that, almost, a passing game with unexpected thrusts and he can shuffle his chapters in just such a way that the reader nods along, saying, “Ah, yes, I see what you did there. You’re skipping from location to location almost by chapter”:

And again, that’s the truth: when reading a good novel, the reader can marvel at the elegance of individual sentences, at the slow building of plot, at the construction of character. When reading a great novel, there are no sentences that aren’t a part of the whole, there’s no plot and there’s no character to admire—there’s a book. A great novel is not a house of cards, it’s a pleasure palace made of motherfucking gold. And while we mortals can aspire to the delicate work of writing something clever and wonderful and cunning, we cannot cause golden fucking palaces to spring into being. Not like Bolaño can. Shit, I’m supposed to be making sports metaphors. Who’s good? Buarque is a world-class writer, a Suárez chomping at the shoulders of great players. Bolaño is fucking Pelé-Beckham-Ronaldinho. He’s the Galloping Ghost, His Airness, the Big Kahuna, the Sultan of Swat, and the Great One all rolled up.

What I’m trying to say is Chile over Brazil, 3-1. Buarque’s Budapest is a book to love. I feel as though it has been written for me, but By Night in Chile was written for the ages.

To quote the last line in Bolaño’s book: “And then the storm of shit begins.”

——

Jeff Waxman recently left Chicago—and 57th Street Books—to work at Other Press. He’s a funny guy.

——

Did By Night in Chile Deserve to Make it to the Quarterfinals?

Yes
No


27 June 14 | Chad W. Post | Comments

The first round of the inaugural World Cup of Literature is complete! Over the past two weeks, we’ve seen sixteen books eliminated from the competition for a variety of reasons. (Click here to read all of the pieces from the first round.)

The second round starts—and finishes—next week, so for those of you following along at home, here’s an updated bracket:

And you can download a PDF version here.

Looking ahead to next week, here are the match-ups (and judges) for Round Two:

Brazil vs. Chile 6/30 – Jeff Waxman

Japan vs. Italy 6/30 – Rhea Lyons

Honduras vs. Bosnia & Herzegovina 7/1 – Stephen Sparks

Germany vs. Algeria 7/1 – Florian Duijsens

Mexico vs. Australia 7/2 – Chad W. Post

Ivory Coast vs. Uruguay 7/2 – Elianna Kan

France vs. Argentina 7/3 – Tom Roberge

USA vs. Belgium 7/3 – Lori Feathers

And once again, here’s the updated bracket:

Which matches are you most excited about? Bunch of intriguing match-ups this round: Houellebecq vs. Aira is definitely one, but so is Buarque against Bolaño. Ferrante—who has become a Twitter favorite to win it all—is taking on 1Q84. Will upstart Australian entry Barley Patch continue its winning streak? Or will Mexican Valeria Luiselli put a stop to that? No one knows. (Actually, I do, since I’m judging that match.)

Come back on Monday for four days of second round action!

27 June 14 | Chad W. Post | Comments

This match was judged by James Crossley. For more info on the World Cup of Literature, read this, and download the bracket.

It’s an alliterative pair of nations facing off in the final match of the first round, as Ghana takes on Germany. On grass this is a bit of a mismatch, with the European squad ranked second in the world heading into the tournament, 35 spots higher than its African counterpart. But things may play out differently on paper.

Ghana’s entry, Search Sweet Country by Kojo Laing, takes the field in impressive fashion, wearing a resplendent gold and green kit with red trim. (Seriously, this is a beautiful book, with nary an acacia tree to be seen on the cover. That in itself has to be seen as a small victory for Africa.) Germany, represented by W.G. Sebald’s austere, monochromatic Austerlitz looks positively meek in comparison.

There’s the kick-off, and right away we see Ghana starting strong with an unexpected style of attack. Search Sweet Country is a metropolitan novel, set not in some stereotypical rural village but in the capital city of Accra. It’s the 1970s, and most of the high hopes ushered in with independence have faded as a new era of corruption and dictatorship has begun. Multiple characters, including the intriguingly named 1/2-Allotey, rattle around this novel like pachinko balls, scheming and hustling to achieve their various goals and pontificating all the while.

Laing, who writes in English, made his bones as a poet, and he’s besotted by words in his prose as well. Why use one when several will do? A semi-randomly chosen bit of dialogue:

Now look, we are talking about the reality of Ghana politics . . . whoever told you that morality and subtlety are the moving passions? Surely a professor does not need to be told the difference between what is and what ought to be. I am for life, and you are for the ivory tower, which makes you a member of the tall elephant brigade, Hahaha! And I am the grasscutter down low in the earth, with the burrowers and worms! I am the norm and you are the normative!

Search Sweet Country is showy, vibrant, and full, a novel to sink into for a good long while, and it looks set to dominate the action throughout the match. Germany, led by coach and erstwhile fifth Beatle Joachim Low, will have to play quite a game to have any hope of countering.

At first blush, Austerlitz seems far too subdued to compete, almost passionless, in fact. It quietly tells of an eponymous character, a Czechoslovakian evacuated to England on the Kindertransport and raised by foster parents, who spends his adult years researching his family’s experiences during World War II in dusty archives scattered across Europe. Where Search Sweet Country is brash, Austerlitz is sober; where Laing swaggers, Sebald is scholarly and dry. The only thing the two authors share is a taste for packing as many words as possible between their periods:

No one today, said Austerlitz, has the faintest idea of the boundless amount of theoretical writings on the building of fortifications, of the fantastic nature of the geometric, trigonometric, and logistical calculations they record, of the inflated excesses of the professional vocabulary of fortification and siegecraft, no one now understands its simplest terms, escarpe and courtine, faussebraie, réduit, and glacis, yet even from our present standpoint we can see that towards the end of the seventeenth century the star-shaped dodecagon behind trenches had finally crystallized, out of the various available systems, as the preferred ground plan: a kind of ideal typical pattern derived from the Golden Section, which indeed, as study of the intricately sketched plans of such fortified complexes as those of Coevorden, Neuf-Brisach, and Saarlouis will show, immediately strikes the layman as an emblem both of absolute power and of the ingenuity the engineers put to the service of that power.

Phew. Under this lexical onslaught, abetted by translator Anthea Bell, Ghana begins to tire slightly. And it isn’t just relentlessness they’re facing, it’s deception. Austerlitz is only superficially the story of a sedate academic—between the lines it’s an excoriating indictment against Nazism and the institutional mentality that systematized horror and produced it more efficiently than anyone ever had before. Sebald very calmly paints an unforgettable picture of Europe as half factory, half charnel house, and Germany takes control of the game by exposing the rot in its own cultural roots. Nicely played. As the clock winds down to the 90th minute, the crowd is silent, dwelling on its own mortality and awestruck by Sebald’s dominance. By masterfully marshaling facts and mixing them with fiction, he’s godfathered a hybrid form that’s going to freshen literature for decades. Just ask David Shields.

Time expires in the match (as it will for all of us someday) and chiaroscuro has overcome color completely. It’s a devastating win for Germany, and Austerlitz has established itself as the prohibitive favorite to take home the Cup of Lit. Might as well start hanging the black crepe and playing a dirge now.

Germany 5 – 1 Ghana

——

James Crossley is a bookseller at a venerable institution just outside of Seattle, Island Books. He writes regularly for the store’s blog, “Message in a Bottle,” and is also a contributing writer for Book Riot and Northwest Book Lovers. In 1976 he saw Pelé play for the New York Cosmos in a friendly against George Best and the Los Angeles Aztecs at Sun Devil Stadium in Tempe, Arizona. They tied nil-nil.

——

Did Austerlitz Deserve to Win?

Yes
No


27 June 14 | Chad W. Post | Comments

This match was judged by Kaija Straumanis. For more info on the World Cup of Literature, read this, and download the bracket.

One of my personal concerns going into the World Cup of Literature was ending up with a book I had already read—something that quickly became not an issue at all, since out of the 32 representing titles I’d read a whopping one of them. ONE. So, unlike many of my fellow judges, I entered this with zero biases (unlike the Real World Cup, where GERMANY ALL THE WAY! You done got jawohled, USA) or existing knowledge. Which definitely made this a partly disconnected and partly ridiculous—but wholly entertaining—experience.

Representing Costa Rica in this literary matchup is Óscar Núñez Olivas’s Cadence of the Moon, which is based on the first known serial killer of Costa Rica, and is pretty much the only book written in that country, ever1. Among other things, it’s filled with chauvinism, smoking, and a lot of sultry women with huge racks who just don’t seem to get laid enough or at the right time. It’s also filled with some of the weirdest, non-standard narrative descriptors I have ever, ever read. (More on that later.)

To put the structure of Cadence of the Moon simply, think All the President’s Men, but with crappy journalism, better hair, ritualistic violence, and if Watergate had ended with everyone saying “So do we know who our culprit is? No? Oh, okay. Well . . . Hey look at how cool the moon is!”

And in case you want to know what Costa Rica was like in the mid 1990s, serial killings aside, Cadence lays on the sexism: Maricruz, our Journalist Extraordinaire and one of the main protagonists, barters with her editor, Juan José Montero, for the right to cover the story of the Psycopath murders for—any guesses?—a kiss:

“If you want to cover [the story], I’ll give it to you but the price is a little taste of those goodies.” He indicated her lips by pursing his own, musty, nicotine-stained ones.

Even though this disgusting display of, well, everything, ends up being more of a “friendly” teasing tactic the editor uses to rev up his employees, it’s apparently entirely normal; Maricruz proceeds to tells off her boss, who laughs, then they exchange a few more comments on the case, and then he gives her the assignment. No one gets slapped, no one gets fired. Same old, same old in Costa Rica. Then Maricruz is advised by her colleages to cozy up to the cop working the case, Gustavo . . . And no they don’t bang. Poor, curvy Maricruz. The plot is stilted, the characters frustratingly simple—and this is a novel sparked by a serial killer. Nixon’s shady doings dropped a far more interesting plot-brick than this. And what kind of gets me about this is that Núñez Olivas himself is a journalist. There’s even an ironic section later on, in which the newspaper’s owner, Mr. Grey, is insulting Juan José Montero’s staff, and Montero comes to his employee’s aid, saying something along the lines of “What do you think this is, the Washington Post?” . . .

Within the first 40 pages of this book, Cadence has scored an embarrassing, slow-rolling self-goal, putting Costa Rica up 1-0 before anything really even happens. And oh, by the way, NOTHING EVER HAPPENS. At this point I’m begging for someone to get bitten. But oh no, Uruguay keeps its mouth shut as Cadence continues to make things worse for itself, progressing from being Woodword and Bernstein’s Aspergersy, Canadian second-cousin to Dan Brown’s Post-it covered, Montessori-bound lovechild. I once listened to The Lost Symbol on a two-day drive from New York to Minnesota, and 10 hours into my drive I was about to lose my shit because no one had died, nothing major had happened, the plot hadn’t gone anywhere, I was in Indiana, by myself, and with a guaranteed twelve more hours left of that awful, awful book. GAH!

Clearly, lots of PTSD cropping up while working through Cadence. But then, out of completely nowhere, Costa Rica whips out its shiny bits. This otherwise boring, sluggish, based-on-real-events novel with a cover that smacks of self-publishing, suddenly started spitting out some of the most curious, awkward, brilliant sentences like:

“What?” Maricruz lit up with the brilliance that is seen in the faces of adventurers, archeologists and taxonomists.

(Whatever taxonomy Núñez Olivas has researched, it must be goddamn glorious. Classify these samples, you say? Sure thing—just give me a second in the bathroom alone with this spreadsheet . . .)

And:

[Camila] is twisting like a snake, gyrating, licking her lips. She lifts a breast with her right hand and offers it to me. “Suck it!” her half-open lips seem to say, although she says nothing, she just offers the large, dark breast, whose formidable hardness is a last glory amid so much ruin.

(Sweet Jesus. Is this guy about to get pistol-whipped by some cougar’s fake tit as she trashes epileptically on top of him like a charmed cobra? For his sake, I’m hoping Núñez Olivas is either a virgin, or gay, because no sexually active straight man should ever have to experience this, or know how to describe it so vividly.)

And:

“You’ve got a date!” Gustavo exclaimed in the voice of someone announcing the arrival of aliens.

(This sentence both baffles and tickles me. What does it sound like when you announce the arrival of aliens? Fear? Surprise? Arousal? All of the above? I’m going to use this tone the to announce to someone I won’t be paying back their $20.)

There’s just such a wacky brand of specificity to the writing at times that does seem journalistic in its descriptive nature, but is so, so entirely off in terms of human behavior and real-life situations. No book should read like this, no sentences this entertaining should be embedded in something so blah. And yet, I kind of love it.

Costa Rica points to the sky and then flicks Uruguay in their dongles while the ref isn’t looking, and equalizes during the commotion. The score is now 1-1.

Uruguay’s representative, Mario Benedetti, ends up being somewhat of a dark horse. It’s not often that I’m compelled to sit and read a 300-page book of short stories in one go, but Benedetti manages to keep things relatively interesting, very smooth, fairly metered, and overall well-trained. The Rest Is Jungle & Other Stories is a fair opponent, blending various narrative voices with various themes—political, social, gender roles—and even though the text itself isn’t that mind-blowing, the stories roll at a steady and clean pace.

What Uruguay had in this case that Costa Rica didn’t was presence. It can be hard to pit a historical-type novel against short stories, but short story collections can so often work against themselves. The Rest Is Jungle is a collection that knows what it’s doing, where it’s going, where it’s from. (Unlike Benedetti, apparently, who writes in an epigraph: “We are a small nook of America which has neither oil, nor Indians, nor minerals, nor volcanoes, nor even an army dedicated to coups. We are a small country of short stories.” Oh honey. America? You’re Argentina’s fanny-pack at best.)

From the very first story, Benedetti establishes his abilities to switch narrative voice. His narrators move from a precocious cleaning lady who decides to marry her way into the rich family she once worked for, to a dog observing its owners argue, to two boys sneaking into a ceiling passageway over a sports or youth club to spy on girls in the showers. The stories alternate from amusing to disturbing, from familiar to uncomfortable.

One of the most poignant stories was “The Cups,” in which a woman, her husband, and his brother are sitting in the living room about to have coffee. The husband has some kind of disease that has rendered him blind. At the time of the story, the three are sitting around, talking, trying to convince the husband to go to the doctor for a check-up, which he refuses to do. The three make conversation, and then we learn—and see—that the brother-in-law has been recently comforting the wife; we see him silently massaging her neck, cupping the back of her head in his hand, simple touches that give her strength and compassion where her husband has started to lose his. (And no, they don’t bang. At least not in this scene.) They have their “routine” down pat, conducting every calculated, dead-quiet caress right there on the sofa in front of the blind husband coordinated and dead quiet. The story gets emotional for the wife, how she’s had to learn to deal, etc. etc. Then the story closes with the coffee being ready to serve, and as the wife sets down the coffee cups, which she rotates each week so each person is drinking from a different color, the husband mumbles something that sounds like “No, dear. Today I want to drink from the red cup.” End scene.

Not all the stories captured my attention, but I do appreciate the experimentation Benedetti employs to get his words across.

“The Big Switch,” for example, is written in a format that is very non-standard compared to the rest of the pieces. In it, a police officer is swearing (“Shit on the holy whore.”) about all the arrest warrants he has to sign, his broken pen, and the idiots working around him. But the paragraph breaks and shifts to the other story line, where a singer named Lito Suárez BITES EVERYONE IN SIGHT AND THEN THE WHOLE BOOK IS DONE. Kidding. But if only . . .

A singer named Lito Suárez announces to TV viewers that he’s come up with a new song, a kind of song-game, called the “Big Switch,” in which everyone watching will learn the four verses/lines of the song, the proceed to sing these lyrics all day, every day, for the whole week. At the end of the week, Lito will reconvene on TV and announce a change to the first line. Suggestions are welcome from the audience, but only if they follow certain guidelines. Interesting paragraph breaks, drawn out and mashed-up words . . . It’s visually exciting as well:

Lito Suárez is going to announce how “The Big Switch” sounds after the first transformation. “or one week we’ve all sung the song I taght you last Sunday. . . . I’ received 5,473 suggestions to change the first verse. In the end, I selected this one: ‘Sothat thewoundwill ooooooopen.’ Yaaaaaaaaaaaay, says the channel’s young audience. . . . Disappointed, Julita stops eating her nails. Her brilliant suggestion ended up among the 5,472 rejects. “Within a week, we’ll replace the second verse. Agreed?” Yesssssss, scream the audience

the colonel displays his teeth. “Yes, Fresnedo, I’m with you. The new songs are idiotic. But what’s wrong with that? . . . What does it sound like? Wait, wait. Even I know it by heart: ‘Sothat thewoundwill ooooooopen, so thatyourl ooooooooove awaken, foryouI render myv ooooooooice, formeo oooooooonly loving you.’

So even though The Rest Is Jungle doesn’t wow me, doesn’t make me want to snake-dance on top of people and slap them with my anatomy, Uruguay puts in a far more solid performance via Benedetti’s work. Uruguay scores another point, putting the game at 2-1 in their favor, and Costa Rica would scream in frustration, but their mouths are taped over by serial-killer-grade newspaper tape (what is that stuff on the cover, anyway??).

But then again . . . Maybe Costa Rica has one more shot on goal? One more approach from Cadence:

[Camila] entered the office and spoke in the authoritarian tone that had worked infallibly during 22 years of marriage

“Home!” she said. “You have to rest.”

Bill Grey did not even lift his eyes from the keyboard. He barely arched an eyebrow and replied with astonishing lucidity.

“Why don’t you take one of your sometimes lovers? I am busy.”

It was the first time that he had reproached his wife for her sexual adventures, which she had supposed he was ignorant of. Disconcerted by his response, Camila set off for her office without saying a word, afflicted by a sudden onset of diarrhoea.

(Noooooope.)

And on that note . . . Costa Rica literarily-literally shits the bed in its final shot on goal, before tucking its tail and turning to head home—giving the game to Uruguay, 2-1, and leaving a wake of streak marks behind it.

1 It’s actually more like the only Costa Rican book to be translated into English, which should be remedied because OH MY GOD.

——

Kaija Straumanis is the editorial director at Open Letter, and translates from both Latvian and German.

——

Did The Rest Is Jungle Deserve to Win?

Yes
No


27 June 14 | Kaija Straumanis | Comments

The latest addition to our Reviews section is by P.T. Smith on The Pendragon Legend by Antal Szerb, translated by Len Rix, and published by Pushkin Press.

If there’s one thing you should know immediately about Pushkin Press, it’s that their latest Pushkin Series covers are some of the coolest things I’ve ever seen. The book formats are great, too—compact, French flaps, with a nice texture to the cover . . . I want all of them like I want one of these. I’ve used the pony comparison more than once, I know. But I hope it illustrates how serious I am.

In addition to being a regular reviewer, Patrick was also a judge for the France vs. Ecuador match in the World Cup of Literature this month. France moved on in Patrick’s round, and will be going up against Argentina in the second bracket.

Here’s the beginning of his review:

Literature in translation often comes with a certain pedigree. In this little corner of the world, with so few books making it into this comforting nook, it is often those of the highest quality that cross through, and attention is paid to these books. Put out by presses more focused on quality than profit, it is a definition of quality as challenging literature, beautiful prose, new directions for the novel—and that’s all wonderful. But sometimes, other quality is overlooked. We know that Scandinavian crime novels can be counted on to make it into translation, but horror, science fiction, fantasy, comedy? They seem to be more rare, and for someone who reads as all over the map as possible (both the map of nations and the metaphorical map of literature types), it can be disappointing. Then comes along something like The Pendragon Legend, a gothic tale and gothic parody, written by Hungarian author Antal Szerb, translated by Len Rix and published by Pushkin Press.

The Pendragon Legend is about a Hungarian scholar, János Bátky, narrating his story of scholarly obsession with English mysticism and legend. He isn’t quite a believer, but is willing to be. Soon enough, and without fail—considering the genre—mysterious strangers begin to show up, he gets himself invited to a castle in Wales inhabited by the current head of the Pendragon family of legend, and soon there is death, the quest for immorality, terror, possible cults, mystery, a ruined castle, kidnappings, chases, fleeings, romance with one woman, sex with another (dangerous) woman, etc. On top of this, Szerb’s writing is self-aware and mocking, along the line between a genre piece and a parody of one—a challenging task, but Szerb manages. That the book was originally published in 1934 likely helped this success. Though well past the heyday of the gothic genre, there was still life left in it, and such life is necessary for genre and parody to co-exist in the a work. It may drag a bit in the third quarter, but if the weakness of a novel is that the meandering occasionally takes over the fun, and keeps the final reveals out of sight a little too long, then with patience, or some quick reading, the fun still far outweighs any boredom.

While engrossed in his studies of “English mystics of the seventeenth century,” János is introduced to the Earl of Gwynedd, Owen Pendragon, the current resident of the new Pendragon castle, whose family is found repeatedly in János’s studies, wrapped up in the Rosicrucians, alchemists, and magic. He manages himself an invite to the castle, meets, “coincidentally,” another man, the entertaining Malony—who also just happens to be invited to the castle—and soon the two encounter hauntings, conspiracies around an old death that was possibly murder, and an inheritance on the line. When enemies begin to surface, and allies are hard to discern, it’s unclear if their motivation is that inheritance, instead related to the Pendragon family motto “I believe in the resurrection of the body” and possible mystic truths behind that faith, or if the two are tied together.

For the rest of the review, go here.

The Skin
The Skin by Curzio Malaparte
Reviewed by Peter Biello

“I preferred the war to the plague,” writes Curzio Malaparte in his 1949 novel, The Skin. He speaks of World War II and the destruction it has wrought on Italy, the city of Naples in particular. But the plague he. . .

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Love Sonnets & Elegies
Love Sonnets & Elegies by Louise Labé
Reviewed by Brandy Harrison

With the steady rise of feminist scholarship and criticism in recent decades, it is little wonder that the work of Louise Labé should be attracting, as Richard Sieburth tells us in the Afterword to his translation, a “wide and thriving”. . .

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Conversations
Conversations by César Aira
Reviewed by Tiffany Nichols

In Conversations, we find ourselves again in the protagonist’s conscious and subconscious, which is mostly likely that of Mr. César Aira and consistent with prototypical Aira style. This style never fails because each time Aira is able to develop a. . .

Read More >

Nothing Ever Happens
Nothing Ever Happens by José Ovejero
Reviewed by Juan Carlos Postigo

You are not ashamed of what you do, but of what they see you do. Without realizing it, life can be an accumulation of secrets that permeates every last minute of our routine . . .

The narrative history of. . .

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The Pendragon Legend
The Pendragon Legend by Antal Szerb
Reviewed by P. T. Smith

Literature in translation often comes with a certain pedigree. In this little corner of the world, with so few books making it into this comforting nook, it is often those of the highest quality that cross through, and attention is. . .

Read More >

Mr. Gwyn
Mr. Gwyn by Alessandro Baricco
Reviewed by Paul Doyle

Alessandro Baricco’s Mr. Gwyn is a set of two loosely interlinked novellas that play with narrative and the construction of character. Ably translated by Ann Goldstein, Mr. Gwyn plays some subtle metafictional games as Baricco delves into what it means. . .

Read More >

Bombay Stories
Bombay Stories by Saadat Hasan Manto
Reviewed by Will Eells

I must admit upfront that I went into reading Saadat Hasan Manto’s Bombay Stories almost entirely blind. I have not read Salman Rushdie. I have read, perhaps, two short stories by Jhumpa Lahiri. I might shamefully add that I really. . .

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The Gray Notebook
The Gray Notebook by Joseph Pla
Reviewed by Christopher Iacono

Throughout his work The Gray Notebook, Josep Pla mentions many different authors, some of whom have inspired him to pick up a pen. One of them is Marcel Proust. Even though Pla normally prefers nonfiction, he lauds the French novelist. . .

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I am the Beggar of the World: Landays from Contemporary Afghanistan
I am the Beggar of the World: Landays from Contemporary Afghanistan by Various
Reviewed by Grant Barber

On that September 11th I had a conversation with a professor friend who was teaching a creative writing class that evening. He questioned, “What can I possibly teach when all of this has happened?” While the dismay and grief were. . .

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The Guest Cat
The Guest Cat by Takashi Hiraide
Reviewed by Robyn Kaufman

In a story of two emotionally distant people, Japanese author Takashi Hiraide expertly evokes powerful feelings of love, loss, and friendship in his novel The Guest Cat. The life of the unnamed narrator and his wife, both writers, is calm. . .

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