30 August 17 | Chad W. Post | Comments

On this week’s Two Month Review podcast, we’ll be discussing the fifth composition book and VI (pages 69-139) from Tómas Jónsson, Bestseller. As a bit of preparation, below you’ll find some initial thoughts, observations, and quotes.

You can also download this post as a PDF document.

As always, you can get Tómas Jónsson, Bestseller for 20% off from our website by using the code 2MONTH. It’s also available at better bookstores everywhere.

And be sure to join the Goodreads group and subscribe to the Two Month Review Podcast on iTunes, or wherever you get your podcasts.

Over the next few weeks—or the next few podcasts, next few chapters—you’re going to get a much clearer picture of the main themes of Tómas Jónsson, Bestseller and, more interestingly, how complicated it is to read and react to these core ideas. I don’t want to go too deep on this before we get to those sections of the book, but to provide a sort of outline of the narrative’s engine: There’s a great tension in this novel revolving around the desire to mythologize the past/masculinity/national pride/the self, and the inherent dangers in doing so.

At times Tómas is aware of how troubling this impulse can be, critical of nationalism, concerned about the men trolling the streets for drunken ladies and lewd moments. At other times we get Tómas saying some awful shit about his lodgers, and maybe doing some inappropriate things. (Although, as you’ll see, some of these implied activities are buried under heaps of ambiguous and contradictory information.)

In the “fifth composition book” we get a couple of key bits that set up future readings of Tómas’s character. Specifically, this is a chapter in which perceived humiliations—and a general discomfort with self—fuels Tómas’s current aggressive crankiness to everyone around him. This oftentimes puts the reader in an awkward position where, on the one hand, you feel sympathetic to Tómas, but on the other, he does (or says, or writes) some reprehensible shit.

Couple quick examples from this chapter, which is loaded with lines about all the disrespect Tómas has, and does, suffer.

Lying pancake-flat without moving my legs or joints in order to protect myself: the threshold, gold bronze baseboards, the faucet tips, the cabinet doors, sensitive to ridicule because of my outtie, when everyone use has a beautiful innie, each and every member of the Homeowners’ Association. I could not go to the meetings because of the risk that someone would bend down and say: There’s some sort of pimple poking out your knitted vest. Perhaps it is just a button made of bone on my trouser string, I would say. He would believe me, and soon a rumor starts that I have a wart on my belly. People’s curiosity would increase, ending with a proposal for required swimming for the organization’s members; no one is allowed to leave, or else he would lose his favorable rental terms. And when I stood there naked (having given up on finding an old-fashioned swimsuit, the sort that offers privacy above the navel; swimming trunks nowadays only cover a man’s genitals), the belly button, Angler, would be exposed (I had named my navel Angler), and they would burst out laughing and say: rent, and rent at high cost.



And then there’s this extended description of how Tómas views himself, punctuated by an invasive bit of disrespect at the end:

In a large mirror, between the nymphs and satyrs on the ashtray, I loomed large, made into a massive picture: an almost globular head with a freckled scalp and hairy ears: gray, obstinate tufts. The image turned carefully to the side: deep folds on the neck, slightly red (clear now) from friction against a stiff collar. A night-shadow beard, white and mad-spiked, peeks from the vein-split skin; a thick club nose with coarse nostrils and a greasy bridge; moss-eared; under the shoulder straps of his undershirt, by the bluish vein-marked chest, grow frost gray blotches; his abdomen swells out over thin curd-white feet which reveal the picture is sitting in a chair: the image steps onto the chair, lifts his torso and rakes white nails over the curd-white flesh of his clammy, cold belly; the image tries to perform some desperate hand movements but becomes increasingly thwarted in spite of his morning’s exercise; it presses its face fast against the mirror to examine its mouth: the red uvula dripping drool; a throat covered with blue veins; the scabrous palate; the lappet under the tongue; the darkened teeth. The treads of the teeth marked by seventy-seven years cycling past. The image got goose bumps and sighed as it thought: I’ve become this sorrowful old picture. He plunked himself on the rim of the tub and sighed again. This man deserves rewards for his age and his decency. Here you sit. This is you. No, I was not allowed to think like that for long. The door was grabbed from outside, the knob yanked, twice. What, is the door locked, who’s loitering on the toilet. I dove into my clothes, hesitated a moment, and doggedly resisted. I and I alone decide how long I will sit on the toilet, I thought.


And then there’s this succinct statement of defeat and despair:

I threw myself on the bed, defeated. Obviously I was not man enough to openly oppose disgrace even in the confines of my own home.


These self-deprecating, woe-is-me sentiments are offset in this chapter by Tómas’s general complaints about his lodgers (like the public affection between Sveinn and Katrín), and their kids, (the forever lonely Tómas is irked by both). He insults both females in various ways—the creepy bathroom scene with Katrín, then the insults of Anna as a “devious personage”—before merging them into one (Annakatrín), imaging one of them basically raping him, then creating an odd sort of folk tale in which a woman seduces the old king (stand in for Tómas) in order to get some of his royal blood into her offspring, thus giving her cause to take over the kingdom (or apartment).

Like I said at the start, there are times where you feel for this old, unrespected crank; there are times when you see him lashing out at possibly imagined abuses in ways that are pretty off-putting.

*


One more quick thing about the “fifth composition book” before moving on, and that’s the very last paragraph in which a new “I” emerges, seemingly the musician living with Tómas who gives us a hint of Tómas’s reality:

I remember how the man was utterly opposed to her dress, practically allergic to it. It sometimes happened, especially in winter, that they would meet by chance in the hallway early in the morning, as she tussled at coat hooks “herding the kids by their ass-ears,” as she put it, off to school (the children were not particularly eager to learn). They got a lot of pleasure from the electric guitar (and also its square meter sounds; it was astonishing to me that the man Tómas could measure sound in meters); I played in a dance band at night while studying at the university. If he should pass in the corridor during this tussle, she made sure to swing her hip into him, as he made a detour in attempt to avoid conflict and sneak out. This little contact resulted in the appearance the next day of red patches on the lower part of his forehead between his eyes; they spread around his nose and eyes. These spots gave way to gray scabs, a kind of dandruff crust. He was always fiddling with his nose and rubbing the dandruff from his eyebrows with his fingertips, blowing it away so the dust didn’t land on his jacket. He twitched and groped instinctively about his eyebrows. This chaffed skin plagued him typically for three to four weeks, then disappeared, but his forehead flushed in the cold. [. . .] The first day in the refectory, I was quite surprised to see old Tómas Jónsson there, sitting next to me at the table. I partially pitied the man, how cautiously he went to dinner with that skin on his forehead it was; primarily because of the appearance of these fish-scales that his eyes seemed weary of pleasure, marked by life, though food seemed to awaken pleasure in him.

*


There’s a lot that could be unpacked from “VI.” But to keep this post somewhat readable, and to keep some surprises for the podcast and your own personal reading, I’m just going to focus on two things—The Board and Tómas’s ridicule of writers.



The Board section takes place from pages 117-139, and is one of the most lucid, compelling sections of the book so far.

In brief, Tómas—along with seemingly all other major characters—take their meals at this particular refectory. The dining hall is split into two main sections—the inner room and the outer room. As with most any lunchroom ever, the “less important” people sit in the outer area, and the most important sit at The Board—the main table in the inner room.

Although there was no visible boundary between the rooms, except the plinths and flowers, the pensioners were divided according to their rank at work. In the inner room sat people who engaged in clean work; in the anterior were others who performed dirty work. [. . .] At the long table in the inner room, which in canteen parlance was The Board [. . .] The nucleus of the Board was four bank employees (I never reached this nucleus), a woman, two ladies who worked alternately in stationary stores or bookstores, a year at each place in sequence, they said, to make life varied and diverse. They were nicknamed the porcelains. Also in the nucleus were two middle-aged women and a housing adviser who never spoke to anyone, or rarely. The Board was considerably snobbish, looking down on we who claimed to have an all-round understanding of the human being.


This section is spectacular in its detailed account of the way The Board functions. In particualr, Ólaf and Sigurdur—both of whom were introduced earlier as bank employees, with Ólaf taking the promotion Tómas believed he deserved—are fleshed out, and act as sort of stand ins for the pompousness and blather of The Board as a whole. The Board is exactly the sort of group of people who know everything, yet like to pretend they’re intellectually curious. They debate politics in passionate tones, but switch opinions whenever it will get them more attention or score some points on their opponents. They’re incredibly proud and invested in the grand history of Iceland, yet ridicule the young students who adopt traditional Icelandic names when they come over to study the sagas and folklore. It’s a ball of contradictions, and exactly what you can imagine such a group of people would be like.

And where’s Tómas in all of this? Not on The Board, but not in the outer room either. He’s on the fringes, watching and judging, feeling both slighted and superior. Being Tómas Jónsson, in other words.

There’s so much greatness in this section, in the way that Bergsson—through the voice of Tómas—lays out the internal politics of this dining hall. It’s a section that comes at the perfect moment, grounding the reader in an entertaining fashion that also fills in some gaps about what’s come before. But again, given how fun—and relatively comprehensible—this section is, I’m just going to leave things there for now.

*


And just for fun, let’s end with some of Tómas’s comments about writers. (Once again, we have his sort of line-straddling—he’s making fun of writers, in a book that he’s writing . . . a biography . . . that’s going to be a bestseller.)

In truth, fiction is a superstition spun in the fabric of people who neither know nor want to know life itself. LIFE IS NOT IN BOOKS. If the writers and poets wrote about men at work and during their leisure, fiction would be superfluous. Should a writer, however, construct some narrative that does not exist in reality but rather takes reality’s place, i.e. the only true fiction, fantasy and imagination, then no one can understand it but the writer himself (supposing even he understands it). With this eliminated, nothing should be left but writing biographies. Fictions are useless to every living human. On the path of life, people meet others who are much closer to their problems and to real environments than those in novels.



The following reasons are the basis of why I do not read literature:

I do not read novels. They are written with secret revenge in mind, the revenge of craven writers who shrink from coming clean and spitting filth and obscenities in the faces of people on the street. [. . .] Writers are not physicians but the carriers of infection who weep from their various individual sores and bestow those same sores upon the nation. [. . .] Writers are always being revived. The dead must stay dead, I say. I want to beat them all to death. I have gained a new understanding of death: I kill a writer every time I read a book. Why should writers live longer than anyone else. Do they achieve more. They have no legal right to extra days than we who complete our full day’s work up to evening.


Of course, as he says elsewhere, “Note: I am invariably writing a veiled self-portrait.” All of Tómas’s internal contractions are about to get ramped up, so prepare yourself.

29 August 17 | Chad W. Post | Comments

It’s that time again! Listed below are all the details for this year’s Best Translated Book Award juries!

Award Dates

In terms of dates, this is subject to change, but currently we’re planning on announcing the longlists for fiction and poetry on Tuesday, April 10th, the finalists on Tuesday, May 15th, and the winners on Thursday, May 31st.


Description

The Best Translated Book Award was founded in 2007 (making this its eleventh iteration) to draw attention to the best works of translated literature that came out the following year. The award’s emphasis is on the quality of the book and translation, with the argument that you can’t have a great work of literature without both of these aspects working at a very high level.

Starting with the 2009 award (all years given are for the year in which the winners are announced; the books are from the year previous), works of fiction and poetry were awarded separately. And beginning with the 2011 award, each winning author and translator received a $5,000 cash prize thanks to the Amazon Literary Partnership program. Thanks to this program, we have given out $125,000 in prizes to international authors and their translators.


Eligibility

Any work of translation published in English for the first time ever between January 1, 2017 and December 31, 2017 is eligible for the award. A book that existed in English in a previous translation is not eligible, unless more than half of its content is new. (For example, a new collection of poems of which one-third appeared in an early translation would be eligible, but a novel with an extra ten pages added that were previously censored would not.) Books published in the UK are eligible if they are distributed in the U.S. through normal means. Self-published ebooks in translation are eligible if they have an ISBN and are available for purchase through more than one outlet.


Submission Process

To ensure that their books are given full consideration, publishers should send a copy to each of the judges in the appropriate category. Please write “BTBA 2018” on the front of the package. There are nine fiction judges and five poetry, but Open Letter’s offices are included as well for record-keeping purposes. There is no submission fee. Although e-versions are acceptable, they are not encouraged. Every book that’s submitted will be reviewed in full by at least one judge. Unlike past years, all of the 2018 judges are based in the U.S. to save publishers on shipping costs. Send the books now, but make sure you get them all in by December 31, 2017. Thanks!

Click here for mailing labels for the fiction judges (and here for one with email addresses included).

Click here for mailing labels for the poetry judges (and here for one with email addresses included).


Poetry Judges

This year’s poetry committee:

Raluca Albu is the online literature editor for BOMB, and a senior nonfiction editor with Guernica. Her writing about translation, migration, and history has appeared online in The Paris Review, The Village Voice, The Rumpus, The Guardian, and Words without Borders.

Jarrod Annis is a writer and bookseller. He manages Greenlight Bookstore in Brooklyn, NY. His work has appeared in Coldfront, Greetings, and Poems By Sunday.

Tess Lewis is a writer and translator from French and German and serves as an Advisory Editor for the Hudson Review. Her translations have won a number of awards including the 2015 ACFNY Translation Prize and a Guggenheim Fellowship.

Aditi Machado is the author of the poetry collection Some Beheadings (Nightboat Books, 2017) and the translator of Farid Tali’s novella Prosopopoeia (Action Books, 2016). Her poetry, translations, and criticism have appeared or are forthcoming in Western Humanities Review, The Chicago Review, Volt, Jacket2, World Literature Today, and elsewhere. She is the poetry editor of Asymptote, an international journal of translation.

Emma Ramadan is a literary translator based in Providence, Rhode Island, where she will soon open Riffraff, a bookstore and bar. She is the recipient of a PEN/Heim grant, an NEA Translation Fellowship, and a Fulbright in Morocco. Her translations include Anne Garréta’s Sphinx and Not One Day (Deep Vellum), Fouad Laroui’s The Curious Case of Dassoukine’s Trousers (Deep Vellum), Anne Parian’s Monospace (La Presse/Fence Books), and Frédéric Forte’s 33 Flat Sonnets (Mindmade Books). Her forthcoming translations include Virginie Despentes’s Pretty Things (Feminist Press), Delphine Minoui’s I’m Writing You From Tehran (FSG), and Marcus Malte’s The Boy (Restless Books).


Fiction Judges

This year’s fiction committee:

Caitlin L. Baker is the fiction buyer for University Book Store in Seattle, Washington.

Katarzyna (Kasia) Bartoszyńska is an English professor at Monmouth College, a translator (from Polish to English), most recently of Zygmunt Bauman’s and Stanisław Obirek’s Of God and Man (Polity), and former bookseller at the Seminary Co-op Bookstore in Chicago.

Tara Cheesman-Olmsted is a freelance book critic and National Book Critics Circle member whose recent reviews can be found at The Rumpus, Book Riot, Los Angeles Review of Books, and Quarterly Conversation. Since 2009 she’s written the blog Reader At Large (formerly BookSexy Review).

Lori Feathers is a co-owner of Interabang Books in Dallas, Texas and the store’s book buyer. She writes freelance book reviews and currently sits on the Board of the National Book Critics Circle. @lorifeathers

Mark Haber is the Operations Manager at Brazos Bookstore in Houston, Texas. A book of his short stories, Deathbed Conversions, was published in 2009 and translated into Spanish in a bilingual edition in 2017 by Editorial Argonáutica in 2017.

Adam Hetherington lives and works in Tulsa, Oklahoma. He’s the author of the forthcoming novel Ontogeny Is Beautiful.

Jeremy Keng is an avid reader, writer, artist, and photographer and freelance reviewer. He is interested in film, languages, culture, and history.

Originally from Kansas, Bradley Schmidt is based in Leipzig, Germany and has been translating contemporary German prose and poetry since 2011. Published authors include Berhard Schlink, Anna Kim, and Lutz Seiler. He is currently translating an award-winning novel featuring hooligans, forthcoming in Spring 2018 with Skyhorse.

P.T. Smith is the Creative Director for The Scofield, an Assistant Editor for Asymptote, and from time to time writes reviews.


There you go! Sometime in the next few weeks we’ll start up the BTBA blog again, to go along with our reviews and Two Month Review information.

24 August 17 | Chad W. Post | Comments

In this episode—covering Tómas Jónsson’s fourth composition book—a number of the themes of the overall novel are put on display: Tómas’s relationship to his body, the way he tries to create a narrative for himself, possible injustices he’s suffered during his life, the way his lodgers are like an army, and more. And there’s no one better to help parse these elements than author and critic Scott Esposito. He joins Chad and Lytton for an episode that may be a bit long, but is stuffed full of insight about this Icelandic masterpiece.

Also discussed in this episode is Scott’s interview with Lytton for Conversational Reading.

Feel free to comment on this episode—or on the book in general—either on this post, or at the official GoodReads Group.

Tómas Jónsson, Bestseller is available at better bookstores everywhere, and you can also order it directly from Open Letter, where you can get 20% off by entering 2MONTH in the discount field at checkout.

Follow Open Letter, Chad Post, Lytton Smith, and for more thoughts and information about upcoming guests.

You can follow Scott Esposito on Twitter and Instagram, or at Conversational Reading. And you can get his latest book, The Doubles, from Civil Coping Mechanisms.

And you can find all the Two Month Review posts by clicking here. Please rate us on iTunes and/or leave a review!

The music for this season of Two Month Review is Long Year by The Anchoress.



21 August 17 | Chad W. Post | Comments

On this week’s Two Month Review podcast, we’ll be discussing the IV composition book (pages 32-68) from Tómas Jónsson, Bestseller. As a bit of preparation, below you’ll find some initial thoughts, observations, and quotes.

You can also download this post as a PDF document.

As always, you can get Tómas Jónsson, Bestseller for 20% off from our website by using the code 2MONTH. It’s also available at better bookstores everywhere.

And be sure to join the Goodreads group and subscribe to the Two Month Review Podcast on iTunes, or wherever you get your podcasts.

On last week’s podcast, I mentioned that I wanted to try and pay attention to the patterns in Tómas Jónsson’s thoughts, try and puzzle out the internal logic to his peculiar stream-of-consciousness. This isn’t exactly the easiest thing to do—how do you not just get swept up in the torrents of prose?—but there was on extended bit in this composition book that does illuminate some of the inner workings of Tómas’s mind. (This is all from one paragraph that begins on page 35 and ends on 38.)

In any case, I managed to wake rested and refreshed after a deep sleep as the clock rang Sunday in. I was in no hurry to dress. I needed to wake, yawn, put in my teeth, release the piss from my penis, lie back under the covers, drink from my half-thermos, and lie still on my back, my hands at my sides on top of the comforter, which swells with air and feathers, take out my teeth, doze for five minutes, wake for another five, turn again to sleep, and wake in five minute intervals. [. . .] Sleeping is not respected except for where there are sick people or the decrepit or those about to die. Before you die, you must be properly asleep. Preferable to die in your sleep. Hospitals usually turn off the lights at ten o’clock at night. I need my sleep dearly. But I would rather die than be frozen inside a retirement home. Once you get to my age, an orderly lifestyle is the surest defense against the force which fills graves. A long time ago I had to give up coffee with dinner. That was a great struggle. Almost impossible. Coffee in the evening, sitting in the comfort and privacy of a divan corner with the chair’s seat clamped between my knees, the thermos within reach on the ground, morsels of letters on the back of the chair and the cup steady in the seat’s depression, alone in your company, my puss, that was my life’s true purpose, my diversion. [. . .] But you remember nothing of this. Feline instinct has little memory. Words spoken to cats in confidence are not used later in retaliation. The absence of coffee in the evenings. Life became empty and my environment impoverished in quality. So it ends. There comes a time you have to give up evening coffee and everything of quality in the world. [. . .] No one can know me in my sleep (except my dreams). I do not need to get to work until half past eight. Until that time, when it is time to prepare for my departure, I potter about in my room, tidying up around me. I am washed and brushed. I have cleaned the sleep from my face, my scrotum, and my hands with a washcloth. I brush the bad taste of sleep from my mouth with a toothbrush. I blow the sleep from my nose with a tissue. I wipe sleep from my eyes by closing them, rolling them five times in the sun’s direction then counterclockwise the same number of times. I never feel comfortable until I have scraped off my stubble. The day begins as soon as the night’s clamminess has left my flesh, the mind ready to start earning money. Dressed, I drink my morning coffee, of which I will also be robbed before long. Once in a retirement home, you get dishwater mix instead. I am prepared for the worst. I face it with the calm and tranquility of my early days. O yes. [. . .] Complete anarchy reigns in the other parts of the apartment. The kids buzz around their parents’ heads, and objects buzz around the heads of both the kids and the parents. Blind, I could go to my closet, stretch out my hand, touch the key, turn it into a semicircle in the lock, open the door, and reach for the green pencil in a jacket’s breast pocket; I could do other tricks like this. Orderliness has come in handy now that I am blind and decrepit. I leave the house as soon as my internal organizing and planning voice says: Tómas, everything is in its ideal place within your room. Even my thoughts sit in an organized series within my cerebral cortex.


Yes, yes, that’s an incredibly long passage. And there’s so much more that I could pull out or point to! But in that bit above, we get a really good overview of the drift of Tómas’s thoughts: he wakes up and wants to put his self/clothes/thoughts into order, since orderliness is a prized attribute in his mind, and at the same time, the idea of sleep (and the Great Sleep) reminds him of his aging, of losing his evening coffee (and soon the morning cup as well), and that everything is working against him, that his life (due to his lodgers and his body’s natural entropy) is falling apart.

This idea—that there are meta-structures behind his thought patterns revealing his character—fits in well with all the references to orderliness and structure in this composition book. But at the same time, as much as he prizes these qualities, the novel itself, the “bestseller” describing his life, is so miasmic, so chaotic, that all these claims to order feel totally specious. Yet, probably aren’t?

I’m still working toward a more complete understanding of how any one of these composition books is structured as a whole, but in this particular case, we have a few mentions or motifs that play off one another and give this chapter a fairly circular structure. For example, Lóa is mentioned twice—at the beginning in reference to being raped, and at the end, when she’s taking the trash out of the bank. The above quoted section about getting ready for work and the way that Tómas organizes his mind and life is a nice complement to the bit near the end about the bank, in which he’s either passed over for a promotion because he can’t keep up with technology (“Faced with the complex electrical accounting machine, I shattered like a thermos. Here in my solitude I have demanded my brain reveal what my supervisors said. Everything is beautifully ordered, but where is the corpse.”), or because life is just unfair. There’re also two invented stories in the book, one a biography, one a sort of parody of a country folk tale. And there’s the relationship between Tómas and his body and his body in relation to women.

*


In case you haven’t noticed, Tómas talks about his body a lot. So many bodily functions! Not only peeing—which, I feel like he doesn’t take a piss that he doesn’t also feel obliged to write into his composition books—but also references to his oxygen tank, his size, even his daily washroom routine (see above). All you have as you approach the end is your body. And in this particular section, the idea of the body takes on an even greater significance:

I had a body the body is dressed on its exterior in skin under the skin there is flesh on the skin there is hair      I touch my body           I have a body      inside it: bones and entrails      But I could find no memories inside the body. I had never thought that my travels were entrusted with memories. I was told that as age increases and the flesh softens, drowsy memories awaken in the mind. That is not my experience.        for me, nostalgia awakens in the flesh


And then:

Maybe I’m too fat to be able to remember anything for more than a moment. The outer surface of my body is too far away from my soul. Aristotle probably came to this same conclusion after he grew older and fatter.


At the same time that Tómas is happy to talk about his pissing and flesh, he has a strong dislike for even allusions to sex. Like with that opening scene—which keeps being referenced, making me think that a lot of this book is taking place around this one single moment—in which he hears his lodgers getting busy in the hallway, which pisses him off. Not only are they having sex right outside his door, but they have the lights on (!), and end up ruining the cloth hook used to hang up his overcoat (!!). Not to mention that sex leads to children, and do we really have to talk about the disruptive nature of children in an apartment?

This aversion to that particular bodily function bleeds over into Tómas’s uneasy relationship to women as a whole. There’s the aforementioned allusion to Lóa being raped (a central scene to come),
followed by recounting the weird—and very inappropriate—pranks that are played on Gerður.

His thoughts about Gerður are particularly complicated in this section. At times, he describes her in fairly sexualized ways:

She perches one ass cheek on the desk’s edge beside me, dangles a foot, her thickened thighs vibrating and jarring at her old, rusty, arthritic groin. I momentarily become a street urchin       her legs have no fat


And then, after running through some of her flaws, refers to her as good wife material . . . sort of:

However flawed Miss Gerður is known to be—and she is certainly a very flawed person—she is still excellently qualified in her areas. As a wife, she would certainly stand in good stead running the apartment, keeping it hygienic and clean: she would brush dust from the baseboards daily, wash the kitchen down after every meal, open a window when she fries, go into all the corners with a floor cloth, clean the cobwebs from all the crannies, and wash her underwear nightly—but surely would neglect me, forgetting to tighten my oxygen mask at the right time.


And although his mind constantly swerves in her direction when he thinks of romance or having a family or whatever, he ends his thoughts on her in this chapter pretty harshly:

She shuffles bundles and stretches a band quick around them. The whole time I was as a joker and mockingbird; a jolly companionship. Our Tómas is becoming a comic, I make people think about me. I watch her behavior and gestures which are nothing because Miss Gerður as a woman has been pasteurized. From now on, I will only write badly of her.


(At times reading this is like reading some of the old notebooks I find that my kids have written in. My daughter one day: “Aidan is a brat and a jerk and gets away with everything.” Then, 24 hours later: “I love my brother and I’m going to write a nice thing about him in here every day and then give it to him as a present.” The next page is torn out. The end.)

*


All this is great, but really, the part that I love the best is his rant about ghostwriters and biographies:

No chance, then, that I’ll be able to commission a ghostwriter to write a bestseller in my name in time for the christmas market—I will have to write it myself—the way those others did, Schiaparelli the fashion queen, Rockefeller, and old Kalli, the lumpfish king. These are the labors of rich people in this country who do nothing for the arts, when they plead their existence, the publishers and the royalties there on the table to support writers, who do not need to focus on anything but spelling.


And then, after writing a bit of a faux biography of “old Kalli, the lumpfish king,” he drops in this amazing breakdown of those sorts of books that read like something from one of the writer’s guides that Fresán mocked in The Invented Part:

20% places and the names of people; 2% trials, peril at sea, and amazing rescues; 19% scenic descriptions scattered throughout the book’s chapters; 3% poetic sex, which runs together with the poetry of the scenic descriptions (in bestsellers it’s traditional to save sex for near the end of each chapter, so that the reader feels his brain has been mentally masturbated prior to reading the next section the next night. What’s literature but mental masturbation for the emotions?); 7% reflections and conversations with intelligent animals the character has acquired as friends; 11% food and conditions on ships (comparisons of past and present); 15% forebodings and dreams (dream women, Kalli is far too healthy to get dream pussy at sea); 7% Kalli the lumpfish king himself, the creation of this character who is, of course, “driven by powerful contrasts” as the academics term it. A “lively final surge and conflict at the culmination.” This is important stuff.


Alongside this though, there’s an absurd play that he writes for the “Icelandic Opera” followed by a sort of parody of a folk tale about a man who falls for a farmhand, which ends with three people sleeping in a bed feet-to-head and having to avoid getting toes in the crotch or the nose. What do we do with this?

Bit of a spoiler, but in the next few sections there are more of these literary inventions. And, although this is a bit obvious or almost trite to say, I see these as attempts on Tómas’s part to find the right form through which to tell his story. He’s looking for a pathway to writing a bestseller, which could take the form of a biography, or an opera, or a countryside tale in the fashion of Laxness. I don’t know that it’s necessarily that explicit, but this is something to sort of track over the next few composition books.

*


Finally, I want to end by saying how funny this book is. But that it’s a weird sort of humor in the vein of Samuel Beckett. Sure, there are straight up funny bits (see above bit about literature as masturbation for the emotions, or the story of what happens to the CEO in Switzerland after he loses the 20 million and has to have his blood completely replaced), but a lot of the humor comes from the vacillations of ironic distance between Tómas’s situation and his verbosity.

Here you have a old man, unable to get out of bed or wash himself, who is pissed about people in the hallway banging with the lights on, getting all worked up internally and on the page, but who can’t really do anything. Someone who praises himself with a Gatsby-esque list of how ordered his thoughts are throughout the day, but who loses his job because he can’t work an adding machine. And sometimes he covers up the squalor of his present moment with memories and rants against the new, weak Icelanders, but at other times, everything breaks down, collapsing into a true representation of the present, in which he’s just a man who wanted to be great but is now about to die alone, bringing out all the pathos of a more conventional epic.

And in some ways, this humor is most present when you go back to the book. In the present moment, reading it, I’ve found myself focused mostly on trying to figure out the whats and whys. Is this what’s really happening? But the second I get on the podcast with Lytton and start talking through what I just read, all the humor comes to the surface.

18 August 17 | Kaija Straumanis | Comments

As many of you may have noticed already, August is widely considered Women in Translation Month (look for the #WITMonth hashtag basically anywhere). Since Open Letter has published its fair share of baller women authors over the past ten years, we thought we’d take a few posts to highlight a handful of our all-time favorite representatives, including Marguerite Duras, Mercè Rodoreda, and Dubravka Ugresic, among others.

Next month, our friends at Politics & Prose Bookstore will feature Can Xue’s Frontier in its International Literature book group. Can Xue has long been one of Open Letter’s favorite authors—not just because of the books she writes, but also because of her incredibly intelligent self-analysis and approach to writing, and her approach to literature, theory, life, and, really, just the world around us (one of my personal favorites was a discussion she and I had during a car ride to Niagara falls, where she went into her theories on how there are two kinds of cats: Light Cats and Dark Cats). She has an incredible mind, and it has been nothing short of a pleasure to publish her and get to know her better over the years.

In this our second #WITmonth throwback, we are, of course, highlighting the great Can Xue. We’ve published two of her books over the years, but it feels like we’ve done more (and word on the grapevine is we’re lining a third one up). Both Vertical Motion and Frontier are books to get lost in and wander through, books to let be books, and texts that demand to be permitted to just happen.

Book One: Vertical Motion

Open Letter and Read This Next get excited for the upcoming release of Vertical Motion. “Plants that grow underground, blind beaked underground creatures, cotton candy that can be summoned from thin air—all of Xue’s stories challenge what you think you know, what you think you should know, and what you think you can know.”

Two of Can Xue’s translators, the wonderful duo of Karen Gernant and Chen Zeping, are interviewed by Read This Next about translating Can Xue.

A Three Percent review of Vertical Motion says of Can Xue’s approach, “Xue destabilizes the very idea of familiarity, upends what the reader believes is knowable, by stripping away the expository that we have come to expect.”

The Quarterly Conversation reviews Vertical Motion.

That time author and The Mountain Goats frontman John Darnielle publicly shared his love for Can Xue (and Mercè Rodoreda!). “The Can Xue book is incredible—short stories that I’d call “surrealist,” but it’s a kind of clear-eyed surrealism, as if dreams had invaded the physical world. The stories slip from simple descriptions or accounts of life into strange scenes of unreality that nobody in the stories is really surprised by.”

Open Letter director Chad W. Post and Can Xue talk at the Reykjavik International Literary Festival about, well, Can Xue.

It’s not our title, but we’re still stinkin’ proud! Can Xue’s The Last Lover wins the 2015 BTBA for Fiction!

World Literature Today and Publishers Weekly both run a review on Vertical Motion. From PW: “. . . Xue captures the wonder of the natural world and then, with great assurance, steps beyond into something entirely.”

Book Two: Frontier

Kirkus Reviews kicks off our Frontier times with a starred review! “Odd, atmospheric, and enchanting: a story in which, disbelief duly suspended, one savors improbabilities along with haunting images and is left wanting more.”

Author Porochista Khakpour interviews Can Xue for Words Without Borders.

NPR Books jumps on the Frontier train as well, publishing a review by Amal Eh-Mohtar that praises the book and the translation, saying “Karen Gernant and Chen Zeping’s translation is that species of wonderful that makes you forget you’re reading a translation until they see fit to remind you.”

One of our biggest joys was when Can Xue was profiled by the New Yorker. “Can Xue has likened her writing to the pioneering dance of the choreographer Isadora Duncan—a comparison that captures, in “Frontier,” the fresh, unexpected ways in which one moment flows into the next.”

Music & Literature and Numero Cinq also review Frontier. “As an accomplished and mature work with a truly engaging cast of characters, set in a community perched on the borders of everyday reality and whatever lies beyond, Frontier contains a world well worth exploring. However strangely disconcerting it can feel to surrender to the psychic geography of Can Xue’s fictional landscape, if you remember that your own dream-logic may well your best guide, the journey can be endlessly rewarding and entertaining.”

Stay tuned for more #WITmonth throwbacks!

17 August 17 | Chad W. Post | Comments

This week, Ph.D. candidate Anastasia Nikolis joins Chad and Lytton to talk about the real meat of Tómas Jónsson, Bestseller—chamber pot usage! They also discuss the way our grumpy narrator’s mind works, the way he finds beauty in ambiguity, how Lytton translated a very specific word game, and a couple cues to help keep track of “when” particular sections are taking place. A lively and learned episode—just like the novel itself.

Feel free to comment on this episode—or on the book in general—either on this post, or at the official GoodReads Group.

Tómas Jónsson, Bestseller is available at better bookstores everywhere, and you can also order it directly from Open Letter, where you can get 20% off by entering 2MONTH in the discount field at checkout.

Follow Open Letter, Chad Post, Lytton Smith, and for more thoughts and information about upcoming guests. And listen to Anastasia’s poetry podcast, Black Box Poetry, to hear more of her thoughts about writing and literature.

And you can find all the Two Month Review posts by clicking here. Please rate us on iTunes and/or leave a review!

The music for this season of Two Month Review is Long Year by The Anchoress.



16 August 17 | Kaija Straumanis | Comments

The latest addition to our Reviews section is by Emilee Brecht on A Simple Story: The Last Malambo by Leila Guerriero, published by New Directions.

Emilee was a summer intern at Open Letter this summer, and will have had a huge hand in compiling a special anthology you’ll hear more about soon… Emilee is also a BA candidate in American and British Literature at the University of Rochester.

Here’s the beginning of Emilee’s review:

Leila Guerriero’s A Simple Story: The Last Malambo chronicles the unique ferocity of a national dance competition in Argentina. The dance, called the malambo, pushes the physical and mental limits of male competitors striving to become champions of not only the historical craft of the dance, but for their families and communities.

During the author’s investigation, she is drawn to the uniquely enduring spirit of a competitor named Rodolfo González Alcántara. Her reports combine her awe and fascination for the dance with the raw observation of physical movements and events, making the novel a powerful observation of human willpower and strength. Guerriero’s reporting combined with the prose of a fiction novel creates a story that captivates its reader with ease.


For the rest of the review, go here.

16 August 17 | Chad W. Post | Comments

OK, I’m supposed to be packing for my summer vacation right now, so this is going to be a lot shorter than it otherwise would be. But! I just updated the Translation Databases! Not just the spreadsheets for 2016 and 2017, but every spreadsheet I’ve ever run. There’s up to date info on 2008-2018 AND new spreadsheet with the complete listing of every work of fiction and poetry that I have logged into the database.1

I had to change the format a bit on this page, so nothing is as pretty as it could be, but have fun downloading all of this and pouring over the data. And letting me know what’s missing.

While I updated everything, I created a series of charts tracking all sorts of data about the most popular languages, countries, publishers, etc., etc. I would post some of that here, but I’m actually going to save it for a series of articles that will likely appear elsewhere and will include a lot more analysis.

But, since it’s Women in Translation Month, and since I posted some info about this already, I thought I’d share two charts.

First up is a chart with the percentage of books in translation written by men, women, or both (“both” indicating mixed gender writing teams and/or anthologies) over the period of 2008-2018. And yes, this is for the writer in the original language. The author who created the primary work.



Never really gets that close, unfortunately. In 2016 there’s a 30.01% difference between books originally written by men (63.82%) and those written by women (33.81%), but of the ten years tracked, there’s a 40%+ gap between these percentages for five of them. (The worst is 2008 in which 74.11% of the translations published were originally written by men and only 23.43% were originally written by women.)

In terms of raw numbers—and including all the updates sent in after my last post—there were 1,417 books written by women over this ten year period versus 3,351 by men. In terms of overall percentages, 28.97% were by women, 68.50% by men. This could be much closer to equal.

Then there’s the question of translators. In this case, women fare much much better.



See how those two lines converge in 2017? That’s because, as of this moment, women have translated 248 of the books published this year, and men have translated 249. So close! And a nice little bit of news for Women in Translation Month. Yes, there are still more men from around the world having their works translated into English, but more and more translation jobs are going to women.

There’s a lot more to say, but it’s late on Tuesday and I still need to pack . . . See you in a week or so!

1 Poetry. Fiction. First time ever published in translation. No reprints. No new editions. Available in America. 2008 onwards. Cool? Cool.

15 August 17 | Chad W. Post | Comments

To celebrate the official pub date for Jean-Marie Blas de Roblès’s Island of Point Nemo, you’ll find an interview below between the translator, Hannah Chute (who received a Banff Translation Fellowship to work on this book) and the author himself. You can get the book now either through our website, or from better bookstores everywhere.



A stolen diamond and three right feet, wearing shoes of a non-existent brand, that wash ashore in Scotland set into motion the first plot of Island of Point Nemo, a rollicking Jules Verne-like adventure narrative that crosses continents and oceans, involves multilingual codes, a world-famous villain, and three eccentrically loopy detectives.

Running parallel is the story of B@bil Books, an e-reader factory in France filled with its own set of colorful characters, including the impotent Dieumercie and his randy wife, who will stop at nothing—including a suspect ritual involving bees—to fix his “problem,” and their abusive boss Wang-li Wong, obsessed with carrier pigeons and spying on his employees.

With the humor of a Jasper Fforde novel, and the structure of a Haruki Murakami one, Island of Point Nemo is a literary puzzle and grand testament to the power of storytelling—even in our digital age.



Hannah Chute: I’d like to begin at the beginning. Island of Point Nemo has so many interweaving elements, so I have been wondering what the actual inception of the novel was. Did you begin with B@bil Books? With the Ananke diamond and the steampunk universe of Martial Canterel and Shylock Holmes?

Jean-Marie Blas de Roblès I generally spend a long time preparing a very detailed plan before starting to write, so the weaving of the stories was set well in advance. This book has a spiral structure where the chapters are connected vertically and linearly, like the chambers of a nautilus shell. In the same way, I spent several months doing a kind of preliminary “casting,” drawing many of my characters and some important settings, to develop a sort of graphic “story board” whose pages–hanging on lines stretched out in several rows–ended up covering almost all of the walls of the place where I live.

HC: And how did you write the book? Did you write the chapters in the order they’re in now, or did you jump around following the storylines or different characters?

JB: After this I started writing my chapters in the order in which they were published. As early as Chapter VII, though, I realized that I needed the story of the Ananke diamond in its entirety in order to work out the connections and capillary action that I wanted to set up with the world of B@bil Books. So from that point I wrote all the adventures of Martial Canterel and his crew before returning to Arnaud Méneste and the e-reader assembly plant.

HC: Several of the more far-fetched-sounding plot points in the Ananke storyline are actually drawn from real-life inspirations. I’m thinking, for example, of the Jumping Frenchmen of Maine disorder, the Skoptsy religious sect, Point Nemo itself, etc. Did you go out looking to incorporate elements like these that would perhaps sound made-up to readers who are not already familiar with them?

JB: Yes, this is the very game of fiction. Fantasy can only work using elements that are drawn, at least in part, from reality. It is the choosing and sticking-together of these elements that makes it possible to invent new stories. As in all my novels, every detail is “true”—even the most improbable depravities and the elephant catapults! It is the assembling of these details that is “fictitious” and which forms the universe of my novel.

HC: The interplay of technology and reading is strongly present in both the B@bil Books world and the Ananke world within the novel. Within the steampunk universe of Canterel and Holmes, it gradually becomes clear that physical, printed books are a thing of the past and that they have been entirely replaced by ebooks. And the factory in the “real” world is of course an e-reader factory. Its management doesn’t even seem to think that the books on these e-readers will ever be read. As Monsieur Wang believes, “The digital library was just a modern variation on the sin of pride, the sin of upstarts anxious to show of their prosperity, surrounding themselves with flashy books—even just empty bindings—that they had never read and never would read.”

Is this meant to be an omen of how a future like the one shown in the Ananke storyline could come to be? What effect do you think technology has on our desire to read and our reading itself?

JB: Island of Point Nemo is a double dystopia. One of the goals of this type of fiction is to warn the reader by pushing to their limits the dangerous aspects of a society devoted to monopolization and consumption. Same with religious and ideological dogmas. The question is how to renew our way of living in the world in such a way that man no longer sees himself as “master and possessor of nature.”

Technology, as we know, has no sign; it is neither good nor bad in and of itself. It all depends on the values that govern its use. Focusing on spectacle–the consumption of televised or digital images at the expense of reading time–creates a mental passivity in our method of accessing information. It is not impossible that this laziness gradually alienates us from the effort that reading requires, and eventually leads to a profound transformation of our relationship with writing.

As for books themselves, I agree with Jean-Claude Carrière and Umberto Eco: “The book is like the spoon, the hammer, the wheel, or scissors. Once invented, it cannot be improved.”

HC: Arnaud Méneste draws on newspaper clippings and the literature that he and his now-comatose wife have read, trying to put together a novel so great that it will wake her from her long slumber. How much does your writing philosophy resemble Méneste’s? Do you believe literature can save people?

JB: Literature–some books, in any case–has the power to change our view of the world, and thus to interact with reality. This is the power of imagination, of creative freedom. To say something is always to start to make it exist a little. It is in this sense also that “every name is an omen.”

As I recount in this novel, it was through reading Les Misérables and The Count of Monte Cristo that the cigar makers of Cuba were convinced of the merits of rising up against social injustice, to the point of engaging in revolution. I do not believe in any “salvation,” but rather in this shift in focus that allows our lives to move in a new direction at one point or another.

HC: And is reality, as Méneste says, “a subservient mirror of what has already happened in novels”? When he reads the chapters of his novel to the factory workers at B@bil Books, is he changing them, or are they changing him?

JB: I do not think there is a reality apart from the perception we have of it. That is to say, reality and fiction are inextricably intertwined in my mind, to the point that reality can sometimes be considered a lesser variant or bad copy of fiction. When Méneste calls on our memory as readers to construct his novel, he unconsciously creates an extremely powerful reaction, an alchemy capable of upsetting the world order, connecting parallel universes, inverting reality and fiction. It is this transmutation that is at work in both him and his wife, as well as in all those who attend his readings.

HC: I ran across a reader review of the book online in which the reader complained that the novel would have been great for children if it weren’t for all the sex and violence. In the U.S. in particular, I think there is a certain idea that adventure stories (such as those written by Jules Verne, Alexandre Dumas, and Victor Hugo) are just “fun” stories for kids, and that they can’t be serious literature. Why do you think this trope exists? Is there a difference between “real” literature and “popular” literature?

JB: There are different literary genres—popular novels, detective fiction, science fiction, fantasy, etc.—and none of them is “inferior” to the others, but only those texts that do not leave the reader unscathed belong to literature. I make no distinction between these books, whatever their genre, and others. And these others can be captivating and successful, and give me great pleasure in reading them, but I know as I read them that they are “outside of literature.”

“The supreme effort of the writer as of the artist,” writes Marcel Proust, “is partially to lift the veil of ugliness and insignificance which leaves us without curiosity about the world. So he tells us [. . .] look! Learn to see! And at that moment he disappears.”

A book belongs to literature when it succeeds in this unveiling that makes visible, with reverence and the approximation of chiaroscuro, the complex beauty of things. Through an original perspective of reality (not its servile representation), the “literary” work leaves me by myself, free to measure my being against this unexpected opening. My view of the world is thus enlarged by the vision of another, and I am enriched, because the world is enriched by my reading.

The literary event, when it occurs, flows through novels, aphorisms, poems, essays, and any other form of writing. I have not gained more knowledge from reading On the Genealogy of Morality, De rerum natura, or A Short History of Decay than from Gargantua, Anabasis, Last Exit to Brooklyn, or The Magic Mountain: with each I learned to see better for myself; each of these readings changed my worldview, and so helped me become what I am.

HC: There are monsters of many kinds in Island of Point Nemo. The monsters in the Ananke storyline are more viscerally horrifying (for example, the deep-sea creatures that the crew of the ship Black Orpheus encounters as they near Point Nemo, or worse the foul murderer the Noh Straddler). But thinking of the sex-starved and desperate Carmen Bonacieux, the cold and cruel Monsieur Wang, or the pitiful but grotesque Marthe, some of the characters in the “real world” seem more monstrous still. What makes a real monster?

JB: According to its Latin etymology, monstrosity is a wonder, an aberration that one points at, unable to find the right words to name it. A departure from the norm that makes us aware of a border between “normal” and “abnormal.” This frontier has kept evolving over the centuries, and fortunately physical deformities are no longer exhibited at fairs or Barnum circuses. Moral deformities, however, continue to cause problems. What terrifies us today is less the disgrace of the body than that of the spirit. As Gerard Amiel points out, “man’s lack of spirit and his total plasticity open him to all possibilities, including the worst. Anyone, under these conditions, can become a tormentor. What fascinates us today is no longer the exceptional nature of monstrosity, but its banality. The humanization of monsters gradually forces us to recognize the monstrosity of man. We tried to drive the monstrous to the edges of humanity, then to eliminate it, but it found refuge in us.”

My interest in monsters is part of this questioning of human nature. The “real monsters” are individuals who for one reason or another—pathological disorder, extreme faith in a divinity or ideology, voluntary conditioning, etc.—no longer possess the minimum of empathy with others that would prevent them from being torturers, or just from deliberately harming others. “Winter is coming,” the refrain of Games of Thrones, refers to this internal monstrosity that constantly threatens us, more than an external danger that we should protect ourselves from.

HC: The characters of Island of Point Nemo range all across the globe, as you yourself have done during your life. Considering all the traveling you’ve done and the number of places you’ve lived, do you consider yourself a French writer? An international writer?

JB: By my native language, I am obviously a French writer, but this does not prevent me from feeling connected to the rest of the planet. Hence the importance, to me, of this American translation.

HC: What is next for you? You’ve mentioned that you are planning to write a series of novels to expand on themes from the stories in your collection La Mémoire de riz. Is your latest novel, Dans l’épaisseur de la chair, a part of this?

JB: The twenty-two short stories of La Mémoire de riz play with the symbolism of the major arcana of the Tarot of Marseilles. Each of my books since then has been, to some degree, part of this initial context. This is a way of considering and exploring the general coherence that I perceive in my work, without clearly distinguishing it. Dans l’épaisseur de la chair follows this constraint: it contains several characters already present in La Mémoire de riz. I am unlikely to succeed, but ideally—for aesthetic reasons—I would like to leave behind twenty-two volumes of a novelistic mosaic from which perhaps would emerge something like a single compendium of the world.

14 August 17 | Kaija Straumanis | Comments

As many of you may have noticed already, August is widely considered Women in Translation Month (look for the #WITMonth hashtag basically anywhere). Since Open Letter has published its fair share of baller women authors over the past ten years, we thought we’d take a few posts to highlight a handful of our all-time favorite representatives, including Marguerite Duras, Mercè Rodoreda, and Dubravka Ugresic, among others.

As many of you also may know, Open Letter is gearing up to celebrate its 10th anniversary next year (WHOO! OPEN LETTER FOREVER! FOREVER AND EVER! OPEN LETTER DOT COM!)—and to mark our tenth anniversary we’ll be publishing not one, but TWO new titles in 2018 by Dubravka Ugresic—the first author Open Letter ever published. Dubravka is one of the greatest of the greats (most recently she’s the 2016 recipient of the Neustadt Prize), and we’re beyond thrilled to continue publishing and working with her. If you’ve read any of her books, you know why we love her and her work so much; if you’re a Ugresic virgin, now is as good a time as any to get started on her oeuvre.

For our throwbacks, we’ve decided to do is fish through our archives and bring back some author-related interviews, reviews, and general crush-posts. Even though this is just skimming off one layer of our Ugresic archives, this was no clean and simple feat, as there was a lot of reformatting and unglitching to do with older posts since the server “update” a year or so ago, but what better time to spring clean than, well, summer?

Since we’ve published a total of three of Dubravka’s books, our throwback arsenal for her is pretty damn extensive. We hope you enjoy browsing our history as much as we enjoyed dusting it off!

Book One: Nobody’s Home

Dubravka in The Telegraph. Wherein we kick off our Dubravkafest almost 10 years ago with a Telegraph sneak peek of one of the pieces in Nobody’s Home.

The Guardian runs a profile on Dubravka and her work.

Bookforum reviews Nobody’s Home and gets what Ugresic is about. “The notion that a literary text must bear the burden of identification tags is, for Ugresic, an affront; it entails tacit approval of the idea that “the field of literature is nothing more than a realm of geopolitics.”

Dubravka goes on the Leonard Lopate show with Breyten Breytenbach.

Dubravka’s Nobody’s Home keeps smashing with reviews, including at Literary License and BoingBoing: “. . . this collection of essays puts her on par with Zizek or Baudrillard for observation and critique – and maybe a cut above for courage to speak the truth. There’s something decidedly female about this writing as well, which exposes a bit of the bias of the rest of post-modernism.”

One of Dubravka’s marvelous translators, Ellen Elias-Bursac, shares her thoughts on Nobody’s Home.

More reviews for Nobody’s Home in Booklit and Front Table “She is a world traveler, an exile of her homeland, but no matter what has changed politically and culturally, there is always that longing of émigrés for the familiarity of the native.”

Book Two: Karaoke Culture

That time we got excited about our second Ugresic book, Karaoke Culture.

The Paris Review posts an excerpt from _Karaoke_—the memorable showdown with the hotel minibar. (Which The Millions liked so much they posted about and linked to it!)

In one Three Percent review, a student intern calls Karaoke Culture a book “well in control of itself and in control of its reader, utterly convincing and entertaining.”

Kirkus Reviews posts an interview by Jessa Crispin of Bookslut with Dubravka.

The New Republic runs an article in which Ruth Franklin” refers to Karaoke as one of the five books she wished she’d reviewed.

A review from By the Firelight aptly analyzes Karaoke Culture by beginning: “To even write this review is to participate in the Karaoke Culture the Dubravka Ugresic criticizes.”

Carolyn Kellogg of the L.A. Times gives a great review of Karaoke Culture, stating “Karaoke Culture is an essential investigation of our times.”

That time Karaoke Culture was a finalist for the NBCC Award for Criticism!.

Book Three: Europe in Sepia

Our third Ugresic book, Europe in Sepia, hits the ground running”. World Literature Today says of the collection: “. . . these acerbic, angry essays lay bare what shapes our world and ourselves: envy, greed, and the forces they unleash—anarchy and revolution.”

Full Stop posts a hugely insightful review of Europe in Sepia, stating. “[Ugresic’s] interested, rather, in talking about the particularity of now as it scrambles out of the past and lurches towards the future—unpredictable, nonlinear, but worth observing with whatever amount of critical distance an author can access. Ugresic is interested in the committed losers, whose narratives might take on unfamiliar shapes, without so many peaks and valleys. She is invested in traveling the winding, bumpy back roads of the excluded.”

The Millions reviews Europe and gives a shout-out to all the fellow losers. “Ugrešić’s writing is unified by her sharp wit, cunning mind, absurdist sensibility, and its fragmentation. Her “patchwork” fiction is littered with references to Kafka and Isaac Babel and interspersed with patterns and recipes and articles from women’s magazines. Ugrešić’s essays are just as fragmented, with her mind racing the hyperkinectic speed of her travels, it seems.”

Music & Literature joins in on the Europe fun with its review. which recognizes in her a dark humor but straight-shooting realism that’s hard to not admire: “Ugrešić is always the first to subvert her own glamour. Indeed, she has distinguished herself throughout her thirty-year career by refusing to accept the romance, by staring down nostalgia until it splinters apart like her former homeland.”

The Complete Review says of Ugresic’s Europe “She captures modern rootlessness particularly well—a rootlessness that extends beyond the mere geographic and linguistic, to other aspects of identity. . .”

The Mookse and the Gripes says of Europe “. . . an excellent collection in which Ugresic finds herself, by virtue of living long enough, in the “brighter future.”

Stay tuned for more of our Open Letter #WITMonth throwbacks!

I Am a Season That Does Not Exist in the World
I Am a Season That Does Not Exist in the World by Kim Kyung Ju
Reviewed by Jacob Rogers

Kim Kyung Ju’s I Am a Season That Does Not Exist in the World, translated from the Korean by Jake Levine, is a wonderful absurdist poetry collection. It’s a mix of verse and prose poems, or even poems in the. . .

Read More >

Kingdom Cons
Kingdom Cons by Yuri Herrera
Reviewed by Sarah Booker

Yuri Herrera is overwhelming in the way that he sucks readers into his worlds, transporting them to a borderland that is at once mythical in its construction and powerfully recognizable as a reflection of its modern-day counterpart. Kingdom Cons, originally. . .

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The Invented Part
The Invented Part by Rodrigo Fresán
Reviewed by Tiffany Nichols

Imagine reading a work that suddenly and very accurately calls out you, the reader, for not providing your full attention to the act of reading. Imagine how embarrassing it is when you, the reader, believe that you are engrossed in. . .

Read More >

A Simple Story: The Last Malambo
A Simple Story: The Last Malambo by Leila Guerriero
Reviewed by Emilee Brecht

Leila Guerriero’s A Simple Story: The Last Malambo chronicles the unique ferocity of a national dance competition in Argentina. The dance, called the malambo, pushes the physical and mental limits of male competitors striving to become champions of not only. . .

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The Little Buddhist Monk & The Proof
The Little Buddhist Monk & The Proof by Cesar Aira
Reviewed by Will Eells

Aira continues to surprise and delight in his latest release from New Directions, which collects two novellas: the first, The Little Buddhist Monk, a fairly recent work from 2005, and The Proof, an earlier work from 1989. There are a. . .

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Agnes
Agnes by Peter Stamm
Reviewed by Dorian Stuber

The narrator of Peter Stamm’s first novel, Agnes, originally published in 1998 and now available in the U.S. in an able translation by Michael Hofmann, is a young Swiss writer who has come to Chicago to research a book on. . .

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Class
Class by Francesco Pacifico
Reviewed by Vincent Francone

The thing about Class is that I don’t know what the hell to think about it, yet I can’t stop thinking about it. I’ll begin by dispensing with the usual info that one may want to know when considering adding. . .

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The Dispossessed
The Dispossessed by Szilárd Borbély
Reviewed by Jason Newport

To be, or not to be?

Hamlet’s enduring question is one that Szilárd Borbély, acclaimed Hungarian poet, verse-playwright, librettist, essayist, literary critic, short-story writer, and, finally, novelist, answered sadly in the negative, through his suicide in 2014, at the. . .

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A Greater Music
A Greater Music by Bae Suah
Reviewed by Pierce Alquist

A Greater Music is the first in a line of steady and much-anticipated releases by Bae Suah from key indie presses (this one published by Open Letter). Building off of the interest of 2016 Best Translated Book Award longlist nominee. . .

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Two Lost Souls: on "Revulsion" and "Cabo De Gata"
Two Lost Souls: on "Revulsion" and "Cabo De Gata" by Horacio Castellanos Moya; Eugen Ruge
Reviewed by Tim Lebeau

The dislocation of individuals from the countries of their birth has long been a common theme in contemporary literature. These two short novels recently translated into English appear firmly rooted in this tradition of ex-pat literature, but their authors eschew. . .

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