4 February 15 | Kaija Straumanis | Comments

The latest addition to our Reviews section is by Christopher Iacono on Birth of a Bridge by Maylis de Kerangal, translated by Jessica Moore and published by Talonbooks.

Snow day! We’re still recovering, mentally as much as with street parking. Hope everyone’s staying warm. Here’s the beginning of Chris’s review:

One hundred pages into Birth of a Bridge, the prize-winning novel from French writer Maylis de Kerangal, the narrator describes how starting in November, birds come to nest in the wetlands of the fictional city of Coca, California, for three weeks. While this may seem insignificant in a novel about the construction of a $3-billion project contracted to an international consortium, it actually plays an important role in the novel (more on that later). The birds also serve as a metaphor for Coca itself: Unless you were born and raised there, you stay just long enough to get the job done and leave.

For the rest of the review, go here.

3 February 15 | Chad W. Post | Comments

Just got this in the mail from Words Without Borders, and am going to share it in full and encourage all of you to nominate your favorite international lit promoter. Past winners have been Carol Janeway Brown and Drenka Willen—two amazing publishing people.

It’s really exciting to see this award continuing, and interesting to see who will win, since there are dozens of deserving candidates out there.

Dear Colleagues:

Words without Borders is seeking nominations for the 2015 Ottaway Award for the Promotion of International Literature. Named in honor of our first board chair, the Ottaway Award recognizes individuals who have taken extraordinary steps to advance literature in translation. In accordance with the mission of Words without Borders, the awardee will be selected on the basis of his or her efforts to build cultural understanding by advancing popular awareness of international writers and literatures.

The Ottaway Award is presented each fall at the annual Words without Borders Gala in New York City.

As a member of our community, we hope you will take the time to help us find our 2015 honoree by submitting a nomination through our online form by Friday, March 6, 2015. Only those nominations submitted via our online form will be reviewed. The recipient will be announced in April.

We look forward to receiving your nomination and encourage you to circulate this message within your networks.

Sincerely,
Karen Phillips
Executive Director

29 January 15 | Chad W. Post | Comments

It’s time for our annual music podcast in which Chad, Nate, and Kaija all share songs from their favorite albums of 2014. Although we only talk about four songs each on this podcast, we put together a Spotify playlist featuring 86 songs and running almost six hours. Enjoy!

Next week we’ll be back to normally scheduled book talk. Specifically, Chad and Tom will be talking with Alex Zucker about translator’s fees, forming a translators guild, and other financial aspects of publishing international literature. In the meantime, feel free to email us at threepercentpodcast@gmail.com with any questions or comments.

As always you can subscribe to the podcast in iTunes by clicking here. To subscribe with other podcast downloading software, such as Google’s Listen, copy the following link. And you can email us with complaints and comments at threepercentpodcast@gmail.com


27 January 15 | Monica Carter | Comments

Madeleine LaRue is Associate Editor and Director of Publicity of Music & Literature.

I have an embarrassing inability to remember plots. It took me three readings of The Brothers Karamazov just to be able to remember beyond a few weeks who had actually killed Fyodor Pavlovich — and The Brothers Karamazov is one of my favorite books. I have no idea why this happens; but no matter how exciting they are, plots in my brain have a very short half-life. On the other hand, the emotional or ethical texture of a book — especially a book I liked — will remain with me for years, completely unattenuated. Now that the announcement of the longlist is approaching, it’s been interesting to go back to my notes, to see which titles I’ve forgotten and which are somehow still with me.

The following books don’t have much in common, other than this tenacity (which is, of course, highly subjective) and the fact that they haven’t been talked about much on this blog. None of them, I feel, would be out of place on the longlist.

There’s a type of mysticism in Last Words from Montmartre by Qiu Miaojin (translated from the Chinese by Ari Larissa Heinrich) that recalls Clarice Lispector, but Qiu’s philosophy feels solid in a way that Lispector’s often does not. Qui’s narrator, a young, queer Taiwanese woman living in Paris, feels a pain and an ecstasy embedded in everyday objects and experiences: letters, phone calls, film screenings. Hugely important to the blossoming Taiwanese literary culture of the 1990s, Last Words from Montmartre also bears the tragic urgency of books whose authors later committed suicide. Qiu took her own life at the age of 26, but the work she left behind is astonishingly mature. Its literary merit alone would be enough to recommend Last Words from Montmartre to the longlist, but as a work of queer literature — a tradition that up to now has been disappointingly underrepresented among BTBA contenders — it deserves even more serious consideration.

Tove Jansson, the Swedish-speaking Finnish author best known for her children’s books about the Moomin family, was also one of the most brilliant short story writers of her time. Her stories have been slowly making their way into English for a few years now, but NYRB’s The Woman Who Borrowed Memories (translated from the Swedish by Thomas Teal and Silvester Mazzarella) is the first collection likely to attract significant attention from American audiences. I am unabashedly biased when it comes to Tove Jansson; I love her, and even though technically she’s already posthumously won the BTBA once (in 2011, for her novel The True Deceiver), her short stories could give almost anyone a run for their money.

The Elusive Moth by Ingrid Winterbach (translated from the Afrikaans by Iris Gouws and the author) is a very mysterious novel about an entomologist in a remote, desert-encircled South African town. Summer lies heavily over every sentence, sleepy, slow, and sensual, and yet throughout the novel there is a taut, nearly unbearable line of tension. As elusive as its title promises, Winterbach’s novel may not exactly be the sort to inspire rabid enthusiasm, but it is very subtly and intelligently done.

And one more word on my most recent read: Like Last Words from Montmartre, Letters from a Seducer by Hilda Hilst (translated from the Portuguese by John Keene) is passionate and epistolary, but its tone couldn’t be more different. Letters from a Seducer is an irreverent catalogue of outrageous, theatrical sexualities. Hilst delights in breaking taboos and detailing fetishistic obsessions, making constant fun of phallocentrism and bourgeois sensibilities. But she does it with a good sense of humor and often great literary panache. (Translator John Keene deserves praise for the number of euphemisms he’s managed to generate for various body parts alone.) Behind the absurdity are also flashes of deep feeling, comical desperation in the face of writing, and these meditations lend Hilst’s short novel staying power as literature, and not only as (in the author’s own words) “brilliant pornography.”

23 January 15 | Kaija Straumanis | Comments

The latest addition to our Reviews section is a by Valerie Miles on Faces in the Crowd by Valeria Luiselli, translated by Christina MacSweeney and published by Coffee House Press.

(For those who don’t remember, Faces in the Crowd was the runner-up to the 2014 World Cup of Literature Championship Game, beat out only by Chile’s Roberto Bolaño. Obviously, Luiselli can hold her own.)

Valerie Miles is an American writer, editor and translator who lives in Barcelona. In 2003, she co-founded Granta en español, and among other things, edited and created the recently-published A Thousand Forests in One Acorn: An Anthology of Spanish-Language Fiction. She also translates from the Spanish and Catalán and is a professor in the postgraduate program for literary translation at Universitat Pompeu Fabra.

Here’s the beginning of her review:

At 30, the Mexican writer Valeria Luiselli is already gathering her rosebuds. Faces in the Crowd, her poised debut novel, was published by Coffee House Press, along with her Brodsky-infused essay collection, Sidewalks. The essays stand as a theoretical map for this conceptually complex work of fiction, which comes in a petite, 144-page package. Ms. Luiselli was born in Mexico City, though her father’s diplomatic post brought them to countries like South Korea, South Africa, or India. She now lives in New York City.

Both books spend a great deal of time in subways and cemeteries asking philosophical questions, like what happens to language if you are disappearing? Why write to sustain life like Scheherazade in 1001 Nights? Why not write from death to life? Keeping in mind the Mexican rites on the Day of the Dead, when altars are built to the departed, it’s oddly appropriate that Ms. Luiselli should find in the New York subway a perfect setting for a classical “nekyia” rite, a descent into the underworld to ask ghosts about the future.

The title is taken from Ezra Pound’s fourteen-word Imagist poem titled “In a Station of the Metro”: “The apparition of these faces in the crowd / Petals on a wet, black bough.” The unnamed female character (hilariously catty, telling fibs and swiping things from friends) unreliably narrates Pound’s shock after seeing his friend, Henri Gaudier-Brzeska, in a train station in Haarlem, a month after he died in a trench at Neuville St. Vaast. “The doors of the train car opened and he saw the face of his friend appear among the people.” Pound pruned the poem down to an essential image that was “as brief as his dead friend’s appearance, exactly as startling.” This image and this style inaugurate Ms. Luiselli’s novel, which breathes life into the famous Mexican poet and diplomat, Gilberto Owen, who died in Philadelphia half blind and in a delirium tremens, in 1952.

For the rest of the review, go here

22 January 15 | Chad W. Post | Comments

This week’s podcast is all about Denis Johnson’s The Laughing Monsters, which came out last year and is “a high-suspense tale of kaleidoscoping loyalties in the post-9/11 world that shows one of our great novelists at the top of his game.”

Writer, critic, and Johnson fan Patrick Smith (here’s a recent review of his in 3:AM and one about Liminov in Music & Literature) joined us for this book club discussion, which goes off in a few different directions—how everyone’s untrustworthy and willing to sell each other out, how Johnson got all this detail about Africa, etc.—with the general consensus that this is a pretty great book and one that fans of Graham Greene and/or spy novels and/or well-crafted fiction in general would like.

(For another analysis/conversation of the book, I highly recommend this discussion between Paul Maliszewski and Jesse Pearson.)

We’ll update you in the future when we have a specific date set, but the next book we’ll be discussing in this “book club” format is Apocalypse Baby by Virginie Despentes, translated from the French by Sian Reynolds and available from Feminist Press. (Then I think we’ll be doing Ann Morgan’s The World Between Two Covers, and may even have her on that podcast.)

This week’s music—and I apologize for bludgeoning your ears with this, but it will make sense by the end—is Fall Out Boy’s Centuries. (I literally cringed writing that sentence. Again, so sorry. We’ll make up for it next week with our annual music podcast.)

As always you can subscribe to the podcast in iTunes by clicking here. To subscribe with other podcast downloading software, such as Google’s Listen, copy the following link. And you can email us with complaints and comments at threepercentpodcast@gmail.com


21 January 15 | Kaija Straumanis | Comments

The latest addition to our Reviews section is a piece by Cameron Rowe on Julio Cortázar’s Fantomas Versus the Multinational Vampires: An Attainable Utopia, translated by David Kurnick and published by Semiotext(e).

Cameron (some of you may have met her at ALTA last fall) is a current student in the MA in Literary Translation Studies program here at the University of Rochester, and will be doing her thesis on a translation from Spanish into English. She’s also a fellow-Minnesotan, and has been known to rock out to Taylor Swift. Here’s the beginning of her review:

Fantomas Versus the Multinational Vampires: An Attainable Utopia (narrated by Julio Cortázar) is, not disappointingly, as wild a book as its title suggests. It is a half-novella half-graphic novel story about . . . what, exactly? A European tribunal, Latin American literary figures, a comic book superhero, international conspiracies, an attack on culture, multinational vampires.

Fantomas begins with “the narrator” reading a Mexican newspaper on a Belgian train (it was the only paper available at the train station), increasingly distracted, in spite of himself, by the comic book he finds inside—an issue of Fantomas: “Inteligencia en llamas.” It becomes clear that the protagonist, referred to by the narrator as “the narrator,” is actually Cortázar himself. “The narrator’s” narrative bleeds into that of the comic book he is reading, which pulls in other figures of contemporary literary history, including Octavio Paz, Susan Sontag, and Gabriel García Marquez.

The writing is quick and snappy and very funny. It’s also very strange and a little perplexing. A woman at the train station in Brussels only has Mexican newspapers to sell, thinks Mexico is “over near Asia, everyone knows that,” and discusses the delicacies of radioactive hake, all over the course of a page and a half. Later on, the narrator tells Susan Sontag to fuck off. (Actually, not quite. He tells her he “loves her too much to tell her to fuck off.”)

For the rest of the review, go here.

21 January 15 | Chad W. Post | Comments

We’re just about prepared to announce the official dates of this year’s American Literary Translators Conference (I can say that it will be the weekend of Halloween and will be in Tucson, AZ), but in the meantime, listed below is the official call for proposals. You have some time—the deadline isn’t until May—but it’s always best to get your thoughts and plans together sooner rather than later.

ALTA 2015: TRAFFIC & TRANSLATION

The annual American Literary Translators Association (ALTA) conference is the largest gathering of literary translators all year. In a different city each fall, hundreds of literary translators, editors, students, professors, and others come together for three days of panels, workshops, roundtables, readings, and meetings with editors.

Translators traffic in words, sounds, meaning, styles, perception, politics, images, information, and voices. Our traffic as translators—whether literary, poetic, or otherwise—shapes larger-scale flows of people, resources and culture across time, space, and thought. Our translations traverse borders, silences, regions, and ages, often unaccompanied by those of us who made them. To paraphrase Mary Louise Pratt: by translating, we become part of the traffic in meaning, though that becoming doesn’t always mean we can control the traffic too. The 2015 ALTA conference in Tucson will explore, among other things, our roles in the traffic in meaning—as translators, scholars, readers, editors, students, publishers, citizens, and teachers.

The ALTA Conference Committee invites session proposals for panels, workshops, and roundtables for the ALTA 2015 Conference, which will take place in the fall of 2015 in Tucson, AZ (dates and venue to be announced).

Session Proposals deadline May 1, 2015. Click here to submit.
Bilingual Readings Series deadline July 1, 2015. Click here to submit.

Questions may be sent to Conference Committee Chair Chad Post at chad.post@rochester.edu or ALTA Managing Director Erica Mena at erica@literarytranslators.org.

19 January 15 | Monica Carter | Comments

Daniel Medin teaches at the American University of Paris, where he helps direct the Center for Writers and Translators and is Associate Series Editor of The Cahiers Series.

The January 2015 Translation Issue that I edited for The White Review recently went live. Nearly a year in the making, it gathers various kinds of texts: recent poems, excerpts from forthcoming titles, new and newly translated interviews, and works rendered into English expressly for this number. I’m not just mentioning The White Review because its dedication to literature in translation aligns it with projects like Three Percent; I’ve made it the focus of this post because judging The Best Translated Book Award has proven invaluable for my other editorial activities. To state the obvious: there’s no discovery without a search.

Two contributions to this issue resulted directly from past readings for BTBA. Minae Mizumura’s A True Novel, translated by Juliet Winters Carpenter, was one of last year’s most delightful surprises. She is represented here with the opening to a novel whose original title reads 私小説 from left to right. As you can see in the snapshots below, the book does interesting things with language and form—especially for the Japanese reader.


But Mizumura is a gifted storyteller, as anyone familiar with A True Novel knows. That is evident in even an extract this short. Rumor has it that a different novel of hers is on its way into English. In the meantime, I’m priming for it with Mizumura’s recently published polemic, The Fall of English in the Age of English, translated by Mari Yoshihara and Juliet Winters Carpenter (Columbia University Press).

The other work inspired by the 2014 BTBA is a 6000+ word interview with Guatemalan master Rodrigo Rey Rosa, conducted and translated by my fellow judge Scott Esposito. Like A True Novel, Rey Rosa’s The African Shore, translated by Jeffrey Gray, posed the most serious challenges to last year’s winner. Rey Rosa covers fascinating territory here, from the two novels recently published by Yale University Press (one of which, Severina is eligible for the 2015 prize in Chris Andrews’s excellent translation) to the influence of Borges and Kafka and Wittgenstein. Here is Rey Rosa’s wonderful response to a question concerning the virtues of the baggy novel with cosmic ambitions—in this case Roberto Bolaño’s 2666 (trans. by Natasha Wimmer).

I believe that all kinds of novels are important. The ‘totalising novel’, that can claim to cover the world or contain an entire epoch (although, or course, it can’t actually do that), seems to me as important as the short novel or the fragmentary one. A novel’s particular importance doesn’t depend on its size or theme or intention, only its execution. What matters is the literary experience, what happens to us as we are reading it. Reading 2666 is a unique experience, and because of this it is important. It presents us with a point of view, a ‘segment’ of reality that did not exist before we read it.


I am indebted to the BTBA for Indian novelist Uday Prakash as well. We read The Girl with the Golden Parasol for the 2014 competition. It failed to make the longlist, but the novel was compelling enough for me to seek out Walls of Delhi when Seven Stories published it this year. Prakash’s story for The White Review, “Judge Sa’b,” is set just outside of Delhi but it’s consistent in theme and tone to the three novellas in Walls. All three of these works by Prakash are rendered brilliantly into English by Jason Grunebaum.

It is perhaps too soon to tell, but other contributions to the Translation Issue strike me as potential contenders for the 2016 BTBA. The Vegetarian by South Korean novelist Han Kang, translated by Deborah Smith for Portobello Books, already has a US contract. Had it been published before December 31st, Daniel Sada’s One Out of Two would have undoubtedly made my own shortlist; it is an extraordinary book. Graywolf will release the novel in November (in a brilliant translation by Katherine Silver); in the meantime, you can read its first pages here. Lastly, there’s Max Blecher’s Adventures in Immediate Irreality, which New Directions will publish next month in the late Michael Henry Heim’s masterful translation from Romanian. We’ve accompanied a self-contained episode from Adventures with an essay by Herta Müller that introduces readers to Blecher’s genius.

The crop of French titles competing for the 2015 BTBA is strong. Perhaps it’s no coincidence that two of my recent favorites were both translated by Jordan Stump. (Like Margaret Jull Costa and Daniel Hahn, Stump is making a strong showing among eligible titles.) I admired the muted strangeness of Self-Portrait in Green by Marie NDiaye, which Two Lines Press published earlier this autumn.

And a thousand cheers to Stump and Dalkey Archive for Éric Chevillard’s wonderful The Author and Me. A cross between Beckett’s Molloy and Monty Python, it is the funniest novel I’ve read yet for the competition. (The villain is a cauliflower gratin.) Halfway through, the novel descends into a footnote, whose story—as it were—consists of the narrator and a growing entourage following an ant. What better way to finish this post than to share its helpful advice for the new year:

Friend, when misfortune strikes, when hard times befall you, entrust your fate to an ant. An ant always knows where to go, and the well chosen path will serve you far better than any endless wandering. May I tatoo this axiom on your forehead? HE WHO WALKS BEHIND AN ANT WILL NEVER AGAIN BE CALLED A VAGABOND. At long last you have a goal, even if you don’t know what it is. What matters is that you will draw strength from the ant’s tenacity. You’ll be galvanized by her glorious ardor. And in your loins, in your once faltering legs, there will be her drive. No more doubt, no more procrastination. Forward! From here on you will cleave the waves.
15 January 15 | Chad W. Post | Comments

For all of the translators out there rushing to get their Heim Translation Grant applications finished on time . . . pause. Relax. You have another two weeks.

The official deadline for submissions is now January 30th. And if you need the details on how to apply, click here or read below:

The PEN/Heim Translation Fund was established in the summer of 2003 by a gift of $730,000 from Priscilla and Michael Henry Heim in response to the dismayingly low number of literary translations currently appearing in English. Its purpose is to promote the publication and reception of translated world literature in English. [. . .]

Who is eligible

The PEN/Heim Translation Fund provides grants to support the translation of book-length works of fiction, creative nonfiction, poetry, or drama that have not previously appeared in English in print or have appeared only in an outdated or otherwise flawed translation.

There are no restrictions on the nationality or citizenship of the translator, but the works must be translated into English.

The Fund seeks to encourage translators to undertake projects they might not otherwise have had the means to attempt.

Anthologies with multiple translators, works of literary criticism, and scholarly or technical texts do not qualify.

As of 2008, translators who have previously been awarded grants by the Fund are ineligible to reapply for three years after the year in which they receive a grant. 

In addition, projects that have already been submitted and have not received a grant are unlikely to be reconsidered in a subsequent year.

Translators may only submit one project per year.

I’m not sure why I didn’t think of this sooner, but starting with this year’s grants, Open Letter is going to donate a copy of The Man Between: Michael Henry Heim & A Life in Translation to all the recipients. It’s only appropriate that they have a copy of the book about the man who made the grant possible . . .

On a tangential note, we recently signed on Guillermo Saccomanno’s Gesell Dome, which we found out about when Andrea Labinger received a Heim award last year. According to the PEN website, 78% of the winning books from the first five years of the Fund have found publishers. So even if you don’t have a publisher lined up for your work, you should definitely apply—you might just find one!

The History of Silence
The History of Silence by Pedro Zarraluki
Reviewed by P. T. Smith

Pedro Zarraluki’s The History of Silence (trans. Nick Caistor and Lorenza García) begins with the narrator and his wife, Irene, setting out to write a book about silence, itself called The History of Silence: “This is the story of how. . .

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Flesh-Coloured Dominoes
Flesh-Coloured Dominoes by Zigmunds Skujiņš
Reviewed by P. T. Smith

There are plenty of reasons you can fail to find the rhythm of a book. Sometimes it’s a matter of discarding initial assumptions or impressions, sometimes of resetting oneself. Zigmunds Skujiņš’s Flesh-Coloured Dominoes was a defining experience in the necessity. . .

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Iraqi Nights
Iraqi Nights by Dunya Mikhail
Reviewed by Vincent Francone

In a culture that privileges prose, reviewing poetry is fairly pointless. And I’ve long since stopped caring about what the world reads and dropped the crusade to get Americans to read more poems. Part of the fault, as I’ve suggested. . .

Read More >

Three-Light Years
Three-Light Years by Andrea Canobbio
Reviewed by Tiffany Nichols

I would like to pose the argument that it is rare for one to ever come across a truly passive protagonist in a novel. The protagonist (perhaps) of Three Light-Years, Claudio Viberti, is just that—a shy internist who lives in. . .

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The Little Horse
The Little Horse by Thorvald Steen
Reviewed by P. T. Smith

The last five days of the eleventh-century Icelandic politician, writer of sagas, and famous murder victim Snorri Sturleleson (the Norwegian spelling, Snorre, is preserved in the book) make up Thorvald Steen’s most recently translated historical fiction, The Little Horse. Murdered. . .

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Guys Like Me
Guys Like Me by Dominique Fabre
Reviewed by Peter Biello

We all know Paris, or at least we think we know it. The Eiffel Tower. The Latin Quarter. The Champs-Élysées. The touristy stuff. In Dominique Fabre’s novel, Guys Like Me, we’re shown a different side of Paris: a gray, decaying. . .

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Birth of a Bridge
Birth of a Bridge by Maylis de Kerangal
Reviewed by Christopher Iacono

One hundred pages into Birth of a Bridge, the prize-winning novel from French writer Maylis de Kerangal, the narrator describes how starting in November, birds come to nest in the wetlands of the fictional city of Coca, California, for three. . .

Read More >

Faces in the Crowd
Faces in the Crowd by Valeria Luiselli
Reviewed by Valerie Miles

At 30, the Mexican writer Valeria Luiselli is already gathering her rosebuds. Faces in the Crowd, her poised debut novel, was published by Coffee House Press, along with her Brodsky-infused essay collection, Sidewalks. The essays stand as a theoretical map. . .

Read More >

Fantomas Versus the Multinational Vampires: An Attainable Utopia
Fantomas Versus the Multinational Vampires: An Attainable Utopia by Julio Cortázar
Reviewed by Cameron Rowe

Fantomas Versus the Multinational Vampires: An Attainable Utopia (narrated by Julio Cortázar) is, not disappointingly, as wild a book as its title suggests. It is a half-novella half-graphic novel story about . . . what, exactly? A European tribunal, Latin. . .

Read More >

Self-Portrait in Green
Self-Portrait in Green by Marie NDiaye
Reviewed by Lori Feathers

Marie NDiaye has created a tiny, psychological masterpiece with her Self-Portrait in Green. In it she explores how our private fears and insecurities can distort what we believe to be real and can cause us to sabotage our intimate relationships.. . .

Read More >

The next few events from our Translation Events Calendar: See More Events >