Quebecois author Patrice Martin’s first book, translated into English by Chantal Bilodeau as Kafka’s Hat and published by Talon, is strongly influenced by Italo Calvino, Jorge Luis Borges, and Paul Auster. I’m putting this up front because it is something Martin really, really wants you to know. These authors are named in the jacket copy, all three are quoted for epigraphs, all three are repeatedly mentioned, quoted, or read during the course of the book, and, in the end, all three make their own parodic appearances. There is also, of course, Martin’s claim to Kafka, with the hat of the title playing the MacGuffin and a single initial protagonist, P. However, a stronger comparison, though with less claim to groundbreaking heights, would be Murakami—strange things happen to characters for no reason; their boring, private, structured lives are broken and exchanged. . .
With two previous versions confiscated by Chinese authorities before being published in Germany in 2011, and coming now into English with an introduction by 2009 Nobel Prize winner Herta Müller, Liao Yiwu’s memoir of years spent in a human rights–violating Chinese prison comes with immediate political and social creditials; For a Song and a Hundred Songs is a book that you, the educated, enlightened reader “should” read, to learn more about that culturally relevant Other. Yet, with the author’s honesty, poetical eye and ear, and dedication to his own personal sense of China, it becomes something so much more interesting.
Opening with a brief account of his older sister’s life and her tragic death in a bus accident, Liao Yiwu makes it clear that this work is a personal endeavor, calling her his “first imaginary reader.” He begins before the student. . .
I went into this book expecting the wrong things; I thought I had picked up a novel with, y’know, plot, but the 280 pages of Gonçalo Tavares’ The Neighborhood are filled with vignettes—“chapters” ranging from tiny to small, with concise titles and little-to-no binding between them—sorted by each of six characters: the “Misters’” Valéry, Calvino, Juarroz, Kraus, Walser and Henri, each of them taking their names from one of Tavares’ literary idols. These six men live in a neighborhood outlined in one of many minimalist illustrations by Rachel Caiano, where their entertaining and sometimes outright absurd, but always thought-provoking ponderings on life and the subsequent actions that they take as a result of them create a village where philosophical bendiness can make anything true.
Tavares’ Misters have a way of taking the absurd and making it plausible, taking the patently obvious. . .
Kids these days. They think they’ve invented everything. The McOndo writers and Crack Generation, who so proudly buck the Magic Realist tendencies of García Márquez, who seek to find a place within Latin American letters sans spirits . . . they’ve got their heads in the right place even if their books aren’t always the best. But, having read the stories of Manuel Abreu Adorno, I have to wonder if the Crack and McOndo groups know that their battle was won in 1978.
And the Hippies Came, the collected stories of Abreu Adorno (not to be confused with the other Adorno, who is far less fun to read), is, as the translator’s forward tell us, a neglected classic, a book that resonated with readers upon impact and caught the attention of Julio Cortázar. No wonder: the book is daring, fun, utterly. . .
When I was about two-thirds of the way through Neuman’s very ambitious, very engrossing novel, Bromance Will Evans asked me what I thought the purpose the rapist had in this book. Not who the rapist was—something that’s held in suspense until almost the end of the book—but why he was even in there.
For the last 150 pages I thought about this and interpreted everything that happened in the book through this lens—what purpose does the rapist serve? And in the end, I think I came up with a reason . . . at least my personal reason. One that opens up the book in a few interesting ways.
Before I get to that, let me back up a bit. First off, this book—for anyone not already familiar with it—is 564 pages of philo-political discussions, talks about translation, and little. . .
“At night Amarâq is coated with a darkness as viscous as unmixed colors, neither the fjord nor the mountains, valleys, lakes, or the river exist, there is only a black mass, a void that spreads across the landscape sporadically, pressing what’s left but leaving holes that it fills with abstract elements, moving pictures, waves of light in a sea of light.
At night Amarâq becomes a broad plain that melts the two dimensions into the third, the earth with the sky—suddenly everything is sky.”
Immediately, Anna Kim’s Anatomy of a Night (translated by Bradley Schmidt) draws us in and confines us to a small, five-hour sliver of life in Amarâq Greenland: an impoverished Inuit village that is plagued by a wave of suicides. Over the course of these pages—through deep personal ties and chilling alienation—the topics of poverty, isolation, and suicide swirl. . .
If you’ve been following any of the recent Antoine Volodine talk going around Three Percent—both on the blog or on the podcasts—and have heard his fans wax obsessive over all his alter author-egos, you’re probably starting to feel some Volodine fatigue setting in. One more mention of what his books do to your dreams, of postexoticism, prison literature, Untermenschen, or people with blends of Eastern European, Mongolian, and Middle Asian names, and you’ll start bleeding from your ears, right?
Sorry, but we’re not done yet.
Yet unpublished in English, Les aigles puent, a novel by Lutz Bassmann (one of Volodine’s many reoccurring faces/names/characters), is the tale of a man named Gordon Koum who has just returned from an assassination mission for the Party, only to discover that his home city has been devastated by a (possibly nuclear) bomb. Everything is completely and. . .
Muireann Maguire’s Red Spectres is a stunning and engaging collection of eleven Russian gothic tales written by various authors during the early Soviet Era, all but two stories of which are featured in English for the first time ever. These are not your usual ghost stories, told for cheap thrills around a campfire. Instead, I found myself puzzling over these tales for far longer than I normally would while reading a short work of fiction, and several nights I awoke from dreams—nightmares?—eerily similar to what I had read the night before.
Maguire’s translation is the most noteworthy feature of each tale, transforming relatively simple stories into remarkable works of fiction. While the stories themselves are simple, they have been made immeasurably chilling, exciting, and memorable. And what’s interesting to note, as written on the Angel Classics webpage, is that this type. . .
“The small stone plaza was floating in the midday heat. The Christ of Elqui, kneeling on the ground, his gaze thrown back on high, the part in his hair dark under the Atacaman sun—he felt himself falling into an ecstasy. It was no less than this: he had brought it to pass. Had restored to life a dead man.”
We meet Domingo Zárate Vega, “better known to all as the Christ of Elqui,” in the opening lines of Hernán Rivera Letelier’s The Art of Resurrection (Alfaguara, 2010), at the moment of realization of his greatest dream—of having mastered “the sublime art of resurrection.”
The novel follows Zárate Vega in his travels through a key week in the midpoint of his 20-year mission of penance. It is the last week of December, 1942; the randy Christ of Elqui journeys to the mining camp. . .
This slender, uncanny volume—the second, best-selling collection of stories by Russian author Ludmilla Petrushevskaya to appear in the U.S.—has already received considerable, well-deserved praise from many critics and high profile publications. Its seventeen short tales, averaging ten pages each, are grouped into four sections: “A Murky Fate”; “Hallelujah, Family!”; “My Little One”; and “A Happy Ending.” But there is little in them that readers might associate with true love or happy endings. Instead, Petrushevskaya delivers a smoking, cast-iron skillet upside the head: promiscuity, serial mendacity, domestic violence, dangerous liaisons, ineptitude, ignorance, geriatric romance, and cringing fear. Love stories? Seamy debacles. Hookup sagas set in a grim Moscow and environs. Coupling stories fraught with meanness, misery, and egregious misunderstanding. Workaday women sharing sour, collective apartments and tawdry, loveless lives. Young women who flower, suffer abuse, and wither. Collision stories: hapless women,. . .