5 January 15 | Monica Carter | Comments

George Carroll is the World Literature Editor of Shelf Awareness and an independent publishers’ representative based in the Pacific Northwest.

My day job is publishers’ representative, which is a snottier way of saying “traveling book salesman.” I present thousands (low thousands) of books twice a year to book buyers who work for independent bookstores. The key in keeping things moving along in an appointment with a bookseller is to use book shorthand. No waxing on. Nothing purple. Why is much more important than What. And, definitely, most importantly, using one word rather than ten. When I start to write something that quacks like a review, I freeze, which hopefully explains the brevity of the few BTBA blogs I’ve been asked to bang in. It’s not laziness; it’s a cultural thing.

Readers who were totally pissed off/depressed by the final Kurt Wallander book The Troubled Man, will find Henning Mankell’s An Event in Autumn, translated from the Swedish by Laurie Thompson, a reprieve, a bit of fresh air. The novella, written for a crime book promotion, immediately precedes The Troubled Man. The plot involves a skeletal hand that pokes its way out of the garden at a house Wallander considers buying.

If that sounds familiar, it’s the first episode of the third season of the BBC Wallander series. Wallander’s daughter Linda gets a nod in the book, a character that plays a much larger role in the Swedish Wallander series that came from BBC4. It reads quick, YA-sized print and includes the moment in which Wallander comes closest to joining the Choir Triumphant.

Jorn Lier Horst has won the Glass Key, Martin Beck Award, Golden Revolver, and Norwegian Booksellers Prize for his William Wisting mystery series. Two books are eligible for the 2015 BTBA award Closed for Winter and The Hunting Dogs, both translated from the Norwegian by Anne Bruce.

The main character, William Wisting, is the Chief Inspector in the Criminal Investigation Department of the Larvik Police. Who could write the character better than Jorn Lier Horst who – wait for it – is Chief Inspector in the Criminal Investigation Department of the Larvik Police.

Nice father-daughter crime-solving duo but unlike police agent Linda Wallander, Line Wisting is a journalist. I have to say the subplot in Closed for Winter is really stupid because it hits you in the head 100 pages before Wisting gets it. Both books have twists and turns in stoppage time that work well, but much more impressed with The Hunting Dogs.

There are five Pascal Garnier books eligible for this year’s award, of which I received and read but the one, How’s the Pain?, translated from the French by Emily Boyce. A pest exterminator who’s dying fast needs to hire a driver to help him finish one last job. And yes, of course, “pests” is more inclusive than rats and cockroaches. I’ve got a fever and the only prescription is more Garnier.

I recently read Mathias Enard’s (translated by Charlotte Mandell)Street of Thieves (longlist, longlist?) and the main character is an avid reader of French noir, particularly Jean Patrick Manchette. New to me, but I’m late for all kinds of parties. In The Mad and the Bad, translated from the French by Donald Nicholson-Smith, hitman Thompson is hired to off a couple of innocents who go on the run. Great jacket copy, NYRB: “Thompson pursues. Bullets Fly. Bodies Accumulate.” If I were trolling for an action movie, I’d option The Mad and the Bad in a Hollywood minute.

31 December 14 | Chad W. Post | Comments

Admittedly, this has absolutely nothing to do with international fiction, but since it is related to this week’s podcast and is incredibly hilarious, I feel like I have to share.

Here’s the setup: Back in 2008, I bought credit on Skype to call some people in India for an article I was writing. After doing the interviews, I let $30+ in credit just sit on my account for years. When we started setting things up to bring Garth Hallberg into our podcast, it became clear that the best way to do this would be to have me call him on his cell phone—which requires me to use some of my Skype credit.

So far so good, except that Skype had “deactivated” my credit for some reason. (Probably the fact that I never ever used it.) I clicked the link to “reactive” my money, but instead of allowing me to access this credit and make calls to regular phones, Skype informed me that my “account had been blocked.”

I filled out the customer survey asking “why this must be so” and got the following response:

Hello Chad,

Thank you for contacting Skype Customer Service.

We understand your concerns regarding your blocked account.

Your account has been restricted because one of your purchases has been flagged for verification by Moneybookers.

To resolve this issue, please contact Moneybookers at: http://www.moneybookers.com/app/help.pl?s=contact

Should you need more assistance, feel free to contact us again.

Best regards,

Marek D.
Skype Customer Service

Which makes no sense, since I’ve never ever ever heard of a place called Moneybookers, and most definitely did not use their services when purchasing my now locked down Skype credit. Here’s my attempt to explain that:

Ok. But really, Moneybookers? That sounds like a total scam. I’m not sure I will ever click on that link, ever.

But thanks?

Chad

OK, so maybe I could’ve tried to explain in a more cordial fashion . . . But thankfully, Skype customer service is resilient:

Hello Chad,

Thank you for your reply.

My name is Silja and your issue has been forwarded to me for further review.

I would like to apologise for the issues you are having with your Skype account.

As per previous email, please be so kind and contact your Moneybookers office to find out why they have asked us to put a restriction on your Skype account.

Unfortunately I am not able to assist you further with this request.

Best regards,

Silja

Which got me exactly nowhere, thus necessitating another response—one that’s a bit more explanatory (and angry):

Dear Silja,

This is totally 100% ludicrous and confusing. First off, you still haven’t explained who “Moneybookers” even is. This sounds like a complete scam. (I’m not sure if you’re a native English speaker, but “money” + “book” in colloquial English implies gambling and other unsavory activities.) And how am I supposed to know which “office” to contact?

More to the point, the ONLY transaction I’ve ever had related to Skype and money is when I purchased credit from SKYPE a couple years ago. I didn’t need as much as I purchased, so it was “deactivated” (or whatever term you use). When I followed the links to reactivate it, my account was suddenly suspended and this third party (the aforementioned, possibly criminal, “Moneybookers”) was referred to as the cause. Why does my purchase have anything at all to do with this online mafia? I am very confused. Did you sell my information and credit card to this gang? If so, I will be very upset. Very.

So, before I do a single thing with this mysterious “Moneybookers” I need you to explain why they would have anything at all to do with my SKYPE account.

Go to it.

Sincerely,
Chad

I figured there was no way Silja would ever reply to this, especially since my technique relied on just insulting some mysterious third party company in ways that might be borderline libelous. But Silja (bless his soul) was up to the task. Sort of:

Hello Chad,

Thank you again for your email.

Please be so kind and accept my apologies for the delay in my response.

I am more than happy to explain to you what Moneybookers is and how you can contact them.

Moneybookers is a payment provider that can be used to purchase products for Skype and a lot of other web sites. You can use Moneybookers in combination with your credit card, debit card or your bank account to buy Skype Credit. If you already have a Moneybookers account you can buy Skype Credit instantly.

Please be so kind and click on the link below to read more about Moneybookers:

http://www.skype.com/intl/en-us/prices/ways-to-pay/moneybookers/?

Here are Moneybookers contact details:

http://www.moneybookers.com/app/help.pl?s=contact

I am very sorry but as they have requested us to restrict your Skype account, I am not able to assist you further.

Best regards,

Silja

None of this was good enough for me. Not only was that “thank you again for your email” line totally insincere, but Silja’s explanation was in no way an explanation. Plus, “I am not able to assist you further” was lame. Not going to assist me? Really? CHALLENGE ACCEPTED.

So I did a little looking into Moneybookers and found out that they just changed their name to Skrill (Moneybookers). And that they look as legitimately sketchy as I had imagined.

Seeing that logic and explanation had failed me to this point, I decided to go with a much more batshit approach. ‘Cause why not?

Hello Silja and Skrill (Moneybookers) Customer Service Representative,

Thank you again for your email and for attempting to explain Moneybookers/Skrill to me. Unfortunately, I’m still very confused by all of this . . . Let me just post my questions in order here and see if the two of you can enlighten me:

• I understand that Skrill (Moneybookers) is PayPal with a more horrifying name, but I don’t have an account with them. I bought Skype credit directly from Skype with my credit card. What right does Skrill (Moneybookers) have to suddenly step in and freeze my money? That money was paid to Skype ages ago. It has been in your hands for years. To freeze it now is more like theft than anything else.

• Skrill (Moneybookers) Customer Service Representative (from now on S/MCSR for short): Who handles your marketing and can you fire them? Moneybookers is a shady-ass name, but Skrill just sounds like an unwanted growth, or those crustaceans that adhere themselves to boats. YOU NEED TO WORKSHOP THESE THINGS BEFORE MAKING THEM PUBLIC.

• I’m a bit concerned by this page that I found on the Skrill: https://www.moneybookers.com/ads/moneybookers-scam-information/us/phishing/#info. And I quote: “Typically, an email will arrive suggesting that it is from a well-known brand – it could be a high street bank, an online retailer, Facebook or even Skrill (Moneybookers).” OR A SKYPE? “These emails will generally suggest that something has happened that requires you to click a link and log-in to your account. Some of the claims that these emails could make include:

claims that your account has been suspended”

Is this what is happening? Am I being Phished? Silja, I thought you were my friend—is this some sort of long con? Why me?

• Going back to you S/MCSR: If this isn’t an elaborate scam (IT IS), what do you have against my Skype account? How do you even know who I am? Until the other day, I’d never even heard of your company, and now I feel I must have done something wrong to you in a previous life to attract such Skrill vengeance. (Did the marketing guy get this name from a comic book? Is he a Skrillex fan? PLEASE EXPLAIN.) I’m sure you’re a perfectly acceptable online mafia (SKRILLZ FOR LIFE!), but I can’t bring myself to recommend you to anyone, since your “marketing” tactics seem to consist of making people aware of your shady services by attacking their Skype accounts. That and naming your company after a bad cold. SKRILL! GESUNDHEIT!

• As part of my job, I record a weekly podcast using the Skype. If I can’t get you to unblock my account, this week’s episode will be much horrible. (Or as my friend says, “Jūsu sūkāt būs pārtraukums Internets ir savvalas paniska bēgšana.”1) Are you looking for a vig? Will a vig make this problem . . . go away?

Thank you very much for your assistance.

Sincerely,

Chad W. Post
Skype Account: chadwpost

Obviously, this technique will never work, but at least it made me feel a bit better. (And entertained a few other people in the process.) But lo and behold, Silja came through for me and for all Three Percent podcast fans everywhere!

Hello Chad,

Thank you again for your reply.

Again, I am very sorry for the inconvenience this issue is causing you.

After checking your account further and also checking with a different department, we have decided to remove the restriction from your account.

Please note that usually we ask our customers to contact Moneybookers in such cases but it seems that in your case, you have no idea who Moneybookers are and why they have asked us to restrict your account.

I do understand that you do not think that Moneybookers is a legal company and their name is something that should be changed. Unfortunately I am not able to comment on this topic as they are our payment partners and if you wish to give them suggestions, you will need to send them an email.

Also, your account has been restricted for a long time, since 2009 when Moneybookers actually reported this incident to us.

Again, I am very sorry for this incident and that it took me a while to have your account open again.

For further issues/suggestions you have with Moneybookers, please be so kind and contact their customer support.

Best regards,

Silja

“I do understand that you do not think that Moneybookers is a legal company and their name is something that should be changed.” This whole long saga was worth it just to read those words. WIN!

1 This is something like “your suck will break Internet with wild stampede” translated via Google Translate into Latvian.

30 December 14 | Kaija Straumanis | Comments

Back in mid-December, the Cultural Services of the French Embassy in the U.S. announced the 2014 fall session winners of the Hemingway Prize publishing grant. Among the nine titles receiving support is Antoine Volodine’s Post-Exoticism in Ten Lessons, Lesson Eleven, translated by J. T. Mahany and forthcoming late spring 2015 from Open Letter Books:

Like with Antoine Volodine’s other works (Minor Angels, We Monks & Soldiers), Post-Exoticism in Ten Lessons, Lesson Eleven takes place in a corrupted future where a small group of radical writers—those who practice “post-exoticism“—have been jailed by those in power and are slowly dying off. But before Lutz Bassmann, the last post-exoticist writer, passes away, a couple journalists will try and pry out all the secrets of this powerful literary movement.

With its explanations of several key “post-exoticist” terms that appear in Volodine’s other books, Lesson Eleven provides a crucial entryway into one of the most ambitious literary projects of recent times: a project exploring the revolutionary power of literature.

Antoine Volodine is the author of dozens of books under a few different pseudonyms, including Lutz Bassmann and Manuela Draeger. These novels—several of which are available in English—articulate a post-exoticist universe filled with secrets, revolutionary writers, and spiders.

J. T. Mahany is a graduate of the University of Rochester’s MA in Literary Translation Studies program and is currently enrolled in the MFA program at the University of Arkansas.

The Hemingway Grant allows publishers to receive financial help for the translation and publication of a French work into English. Grant beneficiaries are selected by the Book Department of the French Embassy in the United States. For more information on the Hemingway Grant, go to the embassy’s info page here.

Other winners for the fall session include Un Raskolnikoff by Emmanuel Bove (trans. Mitch Abidor, fortcoming 2015 from Red Dust), Poésie, Théâtre, Essais et Discours by Aimé Césaire (trans. Clayton Eshleman, forthcoming 2016 from Wesleyan University), and Marseille Noir by Cédric Fabre (trans. David Ball and Nicole Ball, forthcoming 2015 from Akashic Books). The full list of fall session winners can be seen here. Congratulations to all!

29 December 14 | N. J. Furl | Comments

On this week’s podcast, Chad and Tom dish about the idea of a Translators Union, Dalkey’s Korean literature series, and the Melville House edition of the “Torture Report,” as well as a mini-rant about the Serial podcast, and a mini-rave about a dear friend who’s passed.

This week’s music is Itaewon Freedom from J. Y. Park.

As always, you can write to us at threepercentpodcast@gmail.com with complaints, suggestions, ideas for future episodes, or your own rants and raves.

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


19 December 14 | Kaija Straumanis | Comments

The writer Henri Michaux had two great missions in life: to explore the darkest parts of human consciousness, and record what he found in those explorations in the clearest possible way. That’s according to Gillian Conoley, who recently published the first English translations of three of Michaux’s books. Thousand Times Broken is a collection of three works by Michaux which he wrote while experimenting with mescalin, a drug he believed would help him explore “a state in which one part of the brain remains unillusioned and lucid during vision, fantasy, or hallucination.” Conoley joined Peter Biello (of the Burlington Writers Workshop) on behalf of Three Percent to talk about Thousand Times Broken, a collection of three books published by City Lights. This is Part II of the interview; you can catch up and read Part I here.

PB: Let’s move on to Watchtowers on Targets. This book was a collaboration between Michaux and Chilean abstract surrealist Roberto Matta. Tell us about their relationship and the product that came from it.

GC: Matta was apparently the visual artist who Michaux felt the closest affinity with as a visual artist himself. And he was very drawn to the level of movement and a kind of frenetic activity that could sometimes be in Matta’s work. The two of them decided that they would do this collaboration and the first two-thirds of the book are Michaux responding to Matta’s etching. For the last third of the book, Matta would respond to Michaux. And they began and it’s unknown as to who created the title Watchtowers on Targets, but what’s steady throughout the entire book is the sense of a human eye and a watchtower that has sprouted from it. And on the watchtower there’s an observation post, and in the observation post there’s an observer who’s looking back at the human eye. So the whole question of subject-object and perspective—who is looking at what and what is looking and what is seeing—all of that is called into question. And in Matta’s drawings you see different interpretations of what I’ve described, though they’re not ever really . . . you see it but it’s not a direct representation of a tower, for example, but pretty close when you look at the drawings.

Michaux’s writing went unrevised and unedited, which is interesting. And it’s a really wild book and it’s really fast and it’s unusual within Michaux’s oeuvre because we don’t have the narrative links you usually see in Michaux. Characters pop out of nowhere, begin to speak, and disappear. There’s a plot at the beginning—a crime is committed—but that quickly vanishes. Toward the end of that book, he’s got the postcards, and that’s the only epistolary writing that Michaux did.

PB: You mentioned the plotless aspects of this. This was for me, at least, the least accessible of the three.

*GC:*Yes. [Laughs]

PB: I mean they’re all challenging to read, but this one is especially challenging.

GC: Yeah, it’s pretty wild. Michaux makes demands on his readers. He wasn’t afraid to do that. I think it goes all the way back to his relationship to language. It makes sense that he would be seeking some other mode of expression. The French always looked down upon the Flemish, on Belgian people. The French language is seen as more beautiful, more expressive than Flemish. Walloon is a dialect of the peasant. He’s got a complicated relationship with the language he’s writing in. He doesn’t like it. It’s like the language of someone who disapproves of his very nationality, so there’s that sort of tension. And yet he goes ahead and uses it.

PB: The third book, the first one you translated, is Four Hundred Men on the Cross. In this one, we’re really seeing Michaux struggle on the page with the inadequacy of language. He’s twisting the poems into the shape of the cross, so the words seem to crouch in the bottom left-hand corner of the page. The medium essentially becomes the message, in a sense, when the shape of the arrangement of the words becomes the message as much as the words themselves.

GC: The place that he puts you in—you can’t say you’re a reader, you can’t say you’re a viewer. You’re caught in some place in between. He achieved that. He puts you in some completely different realm than you’ve been in before, where it’s unclear whether or not you’re reading or seeing. And it’s unclear as to whether he’s writing or drawing. [Laughs] So that’s what’s really interesting. Just to be able to be in that completely different world.

PB: Finally, you’re a poet. Did translating this book change the way you write poetry?

GC: Translating is wonderful, and this is the first thing I’ve ever translated. You get to escape your own consciousness and enter someone else’s. And especially with a book like this, when consciousness is the subject matter, that was an intriguing aspect of it. But in terms of my own poetry, I had been writing long poems anyway, but I wrote a really long one that seemed to be able to expand because I had translated a poem that had done that, so it’s almost like learning to play a piece of music. You know? And then being able to do it in your own work, because you learned to play that music that someone else wrote.

——————————

Gillian Conoley is the author of seven collections of poetry, including Peace , The Plot Genie , Profane Halo , Lovers In The Used World , and Tall Stranger , a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award. Conoley earned a BA in journalism at Southern Methodist State University and an MFA at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst. She is founder and editor of the long-standing journal Volt.

——————————

18 December 14 | Kaija Straumanis | Comments

The writer Henri Michaux had two great missions in life: to explore the darkest parts of human consciousness, and record what he found in those explorations in the clearest possible way. That’s according to Gillian Conoley, a poet, the founding editor of Volt, and a translator who teaches at Sonoma State University. She’s recently published the first English translations of three of Michaux’s books. Thousand Times Broken is a collection of three works by Michaux which he wrote while experimenting with mescalin, a drug he believed would help him explore “a state in which one part of the brain remains unillusioned and lucid during vision, fantasy, or hallucination.” Gillian Conoley joined Peter Biello (of the Burlington Writers Workshop) on behalf of Three Percent to talk about Thousand Times Broken, a collection of three books published by City Lights. This is Part I of the interview; Part II will be published tomorrow.

Peter Biello: Who was Henri Michaux?

Gillian Conoley: He is one of the most influential French writers of the twentieth century. He was Belgian. And he was a double artist in that he was equally renowned in a visual art career. His work was shown in the Guggenheim and it’s collected in museums all over the world. The Museum of Modern Art in Paris. His visual career almost eclipses his writing career, and they were simultaneous activities. He first started writing when he was 22, and when he was 24 he started painting and drawing.

He was born in Namur, Belgium, which is a little town. His father was a lawyer, and his mother was from Wallonia, which is the southeast region of Belgium. She spoke Walloon, which is a dialect of French. So, growing up, there were three languages in the house: Walloon, formal French, and then Flemish.

When he was about six years old—he never got along well with his parents—they sent him to a boarding school in Antwerp. Everything was taught to him in Flemish. He was from the middle class, but the boarding school was a boarding school for the peasant class. Why they did that, I have no idea, but when he became an adolescent, they sent him to another boarding school in Brussels. All of his classes were taught in French in that school. And he describes them as these cold, dark places.

He was in the boarding school in Brussels during the German occupation, and most of it was shut down for quite a long period, except for the library, so they let the students roam around in the library. And that’s when Michaux read The Christian Mystics. And they were very influential to him. He very ardently wanted to become a priest.

PB: Why did he want to become a priest? Did he ever explain why?

GC: He just did. He had faith. His father was dead-set against it and encouraged him to go to medical school instead, so Michaux enrolled in medical school in Brussels. He stuck it out for a year. Then he experienced a kind of religious crisis because he couldn’t go do what he wanted to do, and he dropped out and joined the merchant marines. And he traveled in Asia for a couple of years and returned to Brussels for one year. And then, in 1924, he left Belgium, never to return again, and moved to Paris.

1924 is the same year that André Breton published The First Surrealist Manifesto. And Michaux saw the work of Paul Clay and Salvador Dali and Max Ernst and started to publish in literary magazines that were going on at the time. He taught and worked as a secretary to support himself and became an artist and a writer. And those two activities—writing and the visual work—went on throughout his life, up until his death in 1984 at the age of 85. He published over 30 books of poems, prose, travelogues, journals, and also just a really prodigious output in his visual career. I hear there’re something like 20,000 or 30,000 drawings in his oeuvre. And then there’re the paintings. Just a whole lot of work.

PB: How did you first discover Michaux?

GC: I first read Michaux in the 1970s when I was a young poet. He was one of the first poets I really loved. I have a vague recollection of just picking up one of his books in a bookstore and it was Richard Allman’s translation that was a selected translation of Michaux.

PB: And so, years later, you decide to translate three of his books. What made you want to translate his work?

GC: I was talking with another friend about the visual art career and the writing going on at the same time. I had been invited to give a talk the Poet’s House in New York. It’s a wonderful place. Every poetry book in the country that gets published is sent there, and they have an amazing archive right there on the Hudson. They have talks, and they asked me to give a talk, and I picked Henri Michaux. In preparing, I did a lot of research, read all the criticism about him, and there was a book I had that was specifically about his visual work coming into the written work and how it does that. It was Henri Michaux: Poetry, Painting, and the Universal Sign, by Margaret Rigaud-Drayton. In that book, she wrote about a book of his, 400 Men on the Cross, and that book is the only book where you see Michaux shaping his poems in to visual shapes. The book ties up with his lost Catholicism. He wrote this book in 1956. All three were written between 1956 and 1959. And in the book, he’s trying to draw and write the crucified Christ, and each one is a failure, and they’re shaped. Some of them are shaped into actual crucifixion; some are just part of the crucifix, like a wooden joist. And sometimes there’ll be a text within a text, like he’s carving in wood, almost. And it just sounded really interesting and unlike anything I’d ever read by Michaux because it hadn’t been translated. And I wanted to read it. So I started to translate and I was just sort of fooling around. I didn’t go to the project initially with the idea of taking it as far as it went. It just sort of took off on its own.

400 Men on the Cross is about 36 pages long, which isn’t long enough for a full-length book. Most full-length books of poetry are somewhere between 48 on up. But I went ahead. I tried to stretch it out as much as I could, and sent it to City Lights because they have a great tradition of publishing surrealist poetry, and I thought they might be interested, and they were. They said, “This is great, but it’s too short, so go find a couple of other texts to go with it.” So I went back to his original French oeuvre complet and found the other two books, Watchtowers on Targets and Peace in the Breaking, which are also considered mescaline texts.

PB: With the mescaline experiments, you write in the introduction that he’s trying to break down the barriers between language and consciousness. He’s really struggling with the ways language is insufficient.

GC: In all of his work, you find dissatisfaction with his medium, his tools, with language as a medium, and also with drawing and painting. And he complains about them. But then he goes ahead and uses them anyway, quite decisively.

What he’s interested in doing is exploring the unconscious and, in doing so, having part of the brain be rational as he’s looking at the irrational, so that he can report back. [Laughs] If that makes any sense.

PB: Yes, it’s his best attempt at making sense of it.

GC: He’s like a rationalist mystic. So that’s what’s unusual about his work, and it’s the same desire no matter what he’s writing. It’s all the way through from the very beginning to the very end.

PB: Let’s talk a little bit about the books. Peace in the Breaking starts with drawing and ends with personal essays and a poem. Describe the relationship between the visual elements and the text.

GC: There are 14 drawings at the beginning, and those are all seismographic, spine-like drawings. And when you look closely at them, you’ll notice that there are pieces of them that look like handwriting. It was one of his dual occupations along with delving into the unconscious mind, which was to create a universal language that was somewhere between picture and word. So each of those drawings is simultaneously sort of an alphabetic sign or gesture. In Peace in the Breaking, those drawings are more seismographic, body-like, with little pieces of handwriting. If you know the rest of his visual work, you’re going to make the link between each of those. The overall shape of each drawing is acting like a sign, like an alphabetic letter that is illegible.

He wanted that book to be printed in a scroll because that would have given it the sense of flow. But what he settled for in the original printing was that it was printed in the style of a legal pad, with the binding at the top, so that when you lifted up one page, you could have two drawings before you at the same time.

PB: It would give the reader the sense that the drawings were connected.

GC: And that was the closest to coming to what he was experiencing on mescaline.

PB: We should mention that Michaux was not a drug addict.

GC: No, he wasn’t at all. He was a teetotaler. The reason he did mescaline was that he had a neurologist friend who knew his work, and knew what he was doing and said, “If you’re interested in having the rational mind observe the irrational mind, that’s one of the properties of mescaline. One part of the brain stays completely lucid, while the other hallucinates.” And he was hesitant. He was 57 when he first took mescaline and apparently did mescaline a handful of times. And then he quit all together when he was 67.

So anyway, back to the drawings in Peace in the Breaking. The title poem of that book is shaped like the seismographic drawings are. It tumbles down the page, is centered, and some lines are longer, shorter, so that they look a whole lot like the drawings look. And that poem is a poem of complete ascent, the uniting of the rational and the irrational brain. There’s a peak of the sense, and there’s the pull of the poem going down the page, so it’s quite a dynamic sense of movement and energy that goes through that poem.

There was a lot of humor in his work, an arch skepticism, irony. I think the title alone is poking a little fun at that kind of critical essay, because the meaning of the drawing is like, how could someone say what that is? It just seems sort of mildly wry. But the actual writing that follows those titles, especially on the subject of Peace in the Breaking, is very beautiful. They’re sort of like prose poems—especially in that last paragraph where he talks about a poem a thousand times broken, broken to resurrect us.

Stop by tomorrow for Part II.

——————————

Gillian Conoley is the author of seven collections of poetry, including Peace , The Plot Genie , Profane Halo , Lovers In The Used World , and Tall Stranger , a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award. Conoley earned a BA in journalism at Southern Methodist State University and an MFA at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst. She is founder and editor of the long-standing journal Volt.

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15 December 14 | Kaija Straumanis | Comments

The latest addition to our Reviews section is a piece by P.T. Smith on The Madmen of Benghazi by Gerard de Villiers, translated by William Rodarmor and out from Vintage/Black Lizard.

Sometimes you want a book to be good. You want it to be amazing, mind-blowing, and one of the best things you’ll have read in months. Sometimes you base this want off of seemingly irrelevant things, like de Villiers’s hat:

And sometimes, judging a book by bit its author’s headgear turns out not that great. But sometimes you can walk away from that book, all eye-rolling aside, having enjoyed certain aspects of it. Isn’t that still in favor of the book and author, to some extent? That the reader still finds something within the text to grab on to? I’d personally say: in some cases, certainly. (Plus, I really, REALLY had high hopes for Villiers’s hat. Sorrynotsorry.)

Here’s the beginning of Patrick’s review:

Reading a genre book—whether fantasy, science fiction, crime, thriller, etc.—which begins to seem excessively, stereotypically bad, I have to make sure to ask myself: is this parodying the flaws of the genre? Usually, this questioning takes its time coming. In Gerard de Villiers The Madmen of Benghazi, it happened on the sixth page. The aspiring king of Libya, who turns out to be no more than a patsy, is compared to a “sexual tornado” and within six sentences, Villiers assures us that al-Senussi has “an unusually long cock” and his lover, Cynthia, tells him “You’re very big.” As the opening page describes his lover’s body, we know we’re in for absurdly terrible sex scenes—the type that idealize an oil rig as a sexual metaphor and make you hope that the author isn’t as “good” a sex partner as his male heroes, otherwise it’s easy to feel bad for lovers he’s had. This leads to the hope that the book is a winking parody. In this case, the curiosity is heightened by the author photo: is that hat a straight-faced joke, or does he think that dead animal on his head is working for him? Unfortunately, the suspicious remains that it’s the latter, in both situations.

The hero of the book, part of a series of around 200, is Malko Linge, a freelance CIA agent, hired this time solely for his ability to “seduce any woman alive,” the target being Cynthia. Villiers’s work is compared to Ian Fleming, Malko to James Bond, and the connection is easy to see, in both the positives and the negatives. Unfortunately, in reading Fleming, the sexism, the touches of racism (strong in Fleming, mild in Villiers and more due sloppily conceived minor characters in general), are easier to overlook with the adjustment that you are reading fifty-year-old books. It’s rougher when the book is both contemporary and outdated.

Linge is hired, other than to seduce Cynthia, to find out which Muslim terrorists are trying to kill the would-be-king. It is this, the pure spy thriller based aspects that make the rest of Villiers writing so frustrating. The Madmen of Benghazi is set during the time of Gaddafi’s overthrow and the struggle for control of Libya. Villiers uses this historical setting to put multiple factions into play. Different groups—the CIA, journalists, tribal leaders, terrorists—have their own motivations, leading to alliances being drawn and broken, then new ones made. His other books also take place in real-world situations and time periods. By setting his books this way, they separate from Fleming and have a new appeal. It opens the opportunity for an entertaining combination of the news and an over the top spy-world version of it.

For the rest of the review, go here.

15 December 14 | Kaija Straumanis | Comments

Last week I wrote a post that, among other things, included a brief rant on year-end book lists (one of our favorite things to rant about here). Already before the post’s draft stage, I had been scheming up the foundation to a more translation-inclusive year-end list than the other lists out there this year, and soon after started talking to friends and colleagues from across the spectrum of publishing-and-book related occupations. Thus was conceived, completed, and born a list of 50 spectacular books in translation from 50 spectacular (and mostly indie!) presses publishing books in translation.

To recap, the driving questions were approximately as follows: Why are the same books (and at times presses) always on the lists when there are SO MANY AWESOME BOOKS in translation being published every year by SO MANY PRESSES that work with books in translation? And when the list is a translation-centric list, why list several books published by the same press when you could branch out? Why hasn’t anyone really branched out? And: It can’t be that hard, so, dammit, we’re doing it ourselves. There are too many hardworking and talented people who translate and who publish these works for them to be constantly turned into the red-headed stepchild of literature, shoved into a corner, and made to wear its older sibling’s hand-me-downs.

And, lo.

Ideally, I would like to be able to come up with a list this extensive by myself. But I honestly don’t think I could have—although the easiest part was naming 50 presses that do publish books in translation (and remember, I mentioned here that a list put together by Barbara Epler contained 86 presses, and was still incomplete). Since we started this list, I’ve personally added some more titles to my to-read pile, and have also confirmed my suspicions or expectations for titles I’ve both wanted to read, and titles I’ve simply heard great things about. The reality, I think, is that better lists would be put together by more than one person; it’s one integral aspect of book reading to participate in an information exchange on what we’ve read, liked, disliked, and to go forth from there and read more things.

That said, this list is not to be taken as a be-all, end-all of lists or of books in 2014. There also were some roadblocks along the way—but that doesn’t mean any press or book not on this list is to be scoffed at—these are just 50 amazing books (fiction, poetry, other) in translation, published by 50 individual presses that publish translations, that we’ve read, or our friends have read, but which have undeniably spoken to us this year and gotten us excited about reading all over again. And we want to share them with you.

Before getting to the list, I’d like to thank Katrine Øgaard Jensen, Chad W. Post, Tom Roberge, Patrick Smith, Stephen Sparks, and Jeff Waxman (who let me rant about this over empanadas) for their enthusiastic help (and tolerance) in creating the list, their knowledge, and their equally obsessive book-reading tendencies. Second, I’d like to challenge others—bloggers, reviewers, general readers—to make their own, more-inclusive lists. Start with 25 books, a good old standard. Push it to 50. See if 80 is possible. Get to 100 and you’re probably the first. Third, I was going to try and add one-liners built using ISBN-13s, but I didn’t. So—9780802121110.

50/50: FIFTY BOOKS IN TRANSLATION FROM FIFTY PRESSES

And Other Stories: Sworn Virgin by Elvira Dones, trans. Clarissa Botsford

Antilever Press: Alma Venus by Pere Gimferrer, trans. Adrian West

Action Books: Sorrowtoothpaste Mirrorcream by Kim Hyesoon, trans. Don Mee Choi

Archipelago Books: My Struggle: Book Three by Karl Ove Knausgaard; trasn. Don Bartlett

Bellevue Literary Press: Aaron’s Leap by Magdalená Platzová, trans. Craig Cravens

Biblioasis: Granma Nineteen and the Soviet’s Secret by Ondjaki, trans. Stephen Henighan

City Lights: Thousand Times Broken by Henri Michaux, trans. Gillian Conoly

Coach House Books: Guyana (by Élise Turcotte, trans. Rhonda Mullins

Coffee House Press: Faces in the Crowd by Valeria Luiselli, trans. Christina MacSweeney

Contra Mundum Press: Towards the One and Only Metaphor by Miklós Szentkuthy, trans. Tim Wilkinson

Dalkey Archive Press: Collected Stories by Kjell Askildsen, trans. Seán Kinsella

David R. Godine Press: Temple of the Iconoclasts by J. Rodolfo Wilcock, trans. Lawrence Venuti

Deep Vellum Publishing: Texas: The Great Theft by Carmen Boullosa, trans. Samantha Schnee

Dzanc/DISQUIET Books: Sankya by Zakhar Prilepin, trans. Mariya Gusev & Jeff Parker

Europa Editions: Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay by Elena Ferrante, trans. Ann Goldstein

Feminist Press: The Silent Woman by Monika Zgustova, trans. Mathew Tree

Farrar, Straus, and Giroux: The Symmetry Teacher by Andrei Bitov, trans. Polly Gannon

Graywolf Press: Karate Chop by Dorthe Nors, trans. Martin Aitken

Grove Atlantic: Twilight of the Eastern Gods Ismail Kadare/David Bellos

Hispabooks: Paris by Marcos Giralt Torrente, trans. Margaret Jull Costa

McSweeney’s: McSweeney’s 46: 13 Crime Stories from Latin America by various, trans. various

Melville House: The Nose by Nikolai Gogol, trans. Ian Dreiblatt

New Directions: End of Days by Jenny Erpenbeck, trans. Susan Bernofsky

New Press: Viviane by Julia Deck, trans. Linda Coverdale

New Vessel Press: Who is Martha? by Marjana Gaponenko, trans. Arabella Spencer

Nightboat Books: Mausoleum of Lovers by Hervé Guibert, trans. Nathanaël

New York Review Books: The Mad and the Bad by Jean-Patrick Manchette, trans. James Sallis

NYU Press: Leg Over Leg [Vol. 2] by Ahmad Faris al-Shidyaq, trans. Humphrey Davies

Oneworld Publications: The Hilltop by Assaf Gavron, trans. Steven Cohen

Open Letter Books: La Grande by Juan José Saer, trans. Steve Dolph

Other Press: Diary of the Fall by Michel Laub, trans. Margaret Jull Costa

Otis Books: Panic Cure by various, trans. by Forrest Gander

Penguin Classics: The Time Regulation Institute by Ahmet Hamdi Tanpinar, trans. Alexander Dawe & Maureen Freely

Pushkin Press: The Hunting Gun by Yasushi Inoue, trans. Michael Emmerich

Seagull Books: Privy Portrait by Jean-Luc Benoziglio, trans. Tess Lewis

Seven Stories Press: Natural Histories by Guadalupe Nettel, trans. J.T. Lichtenstein

Serpent’s Tail: Sila’s Fortune by Fabrice Humbert, trans. Frank Wynne

Siete Vientos (7Vientos): Flowers and Mishima’s Illustrated Biography by Mario Bellatin, trans. Kolin Jordan

SOHO Press: Last Winter, We Parted by Fuminori Nakamura, trans. Allison Markin Powell

Sylph Editions: Stalin is Dead by Rachel Shihor, trans. Ornan Rotem

Talon Books: Birth of a Bridge by Mylis de Kerangal, trans. Jessica Moore

Tam Tam Books: The Death Instinct by Jacques Mesrine, trans. Robert Greene & Catherine Texier

Tavern Books: Collected Translations by various, trans. David Wevill

Twisted Spoon: Miruna, a Tale by Bogdan Suceavă, trans. Alistair Ian Blyth

Two Lines: Baboon by Naja Marie Aidt, trans. Denise Newman

Ugly Duckling Presse: Diana’s Tree by Alejandra Pizarnik, trans. Yvette Siegert

Unnamed Press: Walker on Water by Kristiina Ehin, trans. Ilmar Lehtpere

Wakefield Press: The Physiology of the Employee by Honoré de Balzac, trans. André Naffis-Sahely

Wave Books: Wallless Space by Ernst Meister, trans. Graham Faust & Samuel Frederick

Yale University Press: Suspended Sentences: Three Novellas by Patrick Modiano, trans. Mark Polizzoti

9 December 14 | Kaija Straumanis | Comments

For those of you who haven’t yet seen the Facebook posts and re-posts, we are thrilled (and grateful) that Open Letter has once again received an Arts Works grant from the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA). The grant awarded to the press for 2015 was one of the largest awarded this year.

From the press release published by the University of Rochester:

“The $60,000 grant will support the publication and promotion of several books in 2015, including Rochester Knockings, a novel based on the Rochester-based religious movement of Spiritualism and the famous Fox Sisters.

‘We’re extremely grateful to the NEA for this generous award,’ said Open Letter Publisher Chad W. Post. ‘To be awarded the third largest grant in the literature category is one of the highest honors a nonprofit publisher can receive. But even more importantly is that this award allows us to introduce English readers to six amazing new books.’

The press was one of 55 organizations to receive a grant in this year’s literature category. In 2014, the NEA received more than 1,400 applications for Arts Works grants, requesting more than $75 million in funding.

. . .

In addition to supporting the publication of Rochester Knockings (translated by Jennifer Grotz, associate professor of English at Rochester), the grant will support the publication of five additional books: Post-Exoticism in Ten Lessons, Lesson Eleven (translated by J.T. Mahany ’13); Traces of Time; Rock, Paper, Scissors; So Much, So Much War; and Loquela (translated by Will Vanderhyden ’13).”

For the full release and more information, go here.

For more information on the NEA and its work, go here.

9 December 14 | Kaija Straumanis | Comments

The latest addition to our Reviews section is a piece by Patience Haggin on Giuseppe Di Piazza’s The Four Corners of Palermo, translated by Antony Shugaar and published by Other Press.

Patience is a graduate of Princeton University, where she majored in comparative literature, focusing on translation. As her senior thesis, she translated a novel from the Italian, which won her the Robert Fagles Senior Thesis Prize. She hopes to spend more time in Italy in the near future.

Here’s the beginning of her review:

The Sicilian Mafia has always been a rich subject for sensational crime fiction. The Godfather, Goodfellas, and The Sopranos worked the mob’s bloody corpses and family feuds to both entertainment and artistic value. Giuseppe di Piazza’s debut novel attempts this, though with less success.

The Four Corners of Palermo is not a novel but a collection of four episodes. Each chapter takes the hero, a gritty young crime reporter, to a different quarter of the city, where he finds a new noir crime scene and a new Venus-like lover. In the first chapter, he pieces together the family drama behind a shootout in the streets. The second has him investigating car bombings, and the third chasing a father who kidnapped his own children. The fourth has him befriending a daughter whose father is found beheaded in a town square, and ultimately deciding not to publish what he learns.

Di Piazza’s sensational material and nostalgic memory of the 1980s make his stories pleasurable, though vapid. The book suffers for its episodic structure, which leaves little opportunity for the nameless reporter to make much of an impression on the reader, and even less opportunity for him to learn something. A cast of shallow, personality-free female characters surrounds a “Gary Stu” protagonist, who runs from fashion model to murder scene without a misstep. It is a fun noir romp told in cinematic jump-cut scenes, but not a gratifying novel.

For the rest of the review, go here.

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. . .

Read More >

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. . .

Read More >

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 Madmen of Benghazi
The Madmen of Benghazi by Gerard de Villiers
Reviewed by P. T. Smith

Reading a genre book—whether fantasy, science fiction, crime, thriller, etc.—which begins to seem excessively, stereotypically bad, I have to make sure to ask myself: is this parodying the flaws of the genre? Usually, this questioning takes its time coming. In. . .

Read More >

The Four Corners of Palermo
The Four Corners of Palermo by Giuseppe Di Piazza
Reviewed by Patience Haggin

The Sicilian Mafia has always been a rich subject for sensational crime fiction. The Godfather, Goodfellas, and The Sopranos worked the mob’s bloody corpses and family feuds to both entertainment and artistic value. Giuseppe di Piazza’s debut novel attempts this,. . .

Read More >

Writers
Writers by Antoine Volodine
Reviewed by P. T. Smith

Antoine Volodine’s vast project (40 plus novels) of what he calls the post-exotic remains mostly untranslated, so for many of us, understanding it remains touched with mystery, whispers from those “who know,” and guesswork. That’s not to say that, were. . .

Read More >

My Brilliant Friend
My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante
Reviewed by Acacia O'Connor

It hasn’t quite neared the pitch of the waiting-in-line-at-midnight Harry Potter days, but in small bookstores and reading circles of New York City, an aura has attended the novelist Elena Ferrante and her works. One part curiosity (Who is she?),. . .

Read More >

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