12 April 17 | Chad W. Post | Comments

Between the announcement of the Best Translated Book Award longlists and the unveiling of the finalists, we will be covering all thirty-five titles in the Why This Book Should Win series. Enjoy learning about all the various titles selected by the fourteen fiction and poetry judges, and I hope you find a few to purchase and read!

The entry below is by Jennifer Croft, who is the recipient of Fulbright, PEN, and National Endowment for the Arts grants, as well as the Michael Henry Heim Prize for Translation. She has been a MacDowell Colony Fellow and holds a Ph.D. from Northwestern University and an MFA from the University of Iowa. She is a Founding Editor of the Buenos Aires Review.

Eve Out of Her Ruins by Ananda Devi, translated from the French by Jeffrey Zuckerman (Mauritius, Deep Vellum)

Chad’s Uneducated and Unscientific Percentage Chance of Making the Shortlist: 72%

Chad’s Uneducated and Unscientific Percentage Chance of Winning the BTBA: 13%

Men’s hands take hold of you before having even touched you. Once their thoughts turn toward you, they’ve already possessed you. Saying no is an insult, because you would be taking away what they’ve already laid claim to.

Like the hand snaking up my T-shirt, they need me to lift my skin so they can feel my organs, or even stop my heart from beating. Their urges won’t be constrained. Soon they’ll be nothing left to take but they’ll keep going anyway.

But why should I let them?

This is the most vivid novel I’ve read in ages, magnificently translated by Jeffrey Zuckerman. The gorgeous, profoundly poetic writing is completely mesmerizing and viscerally affecting: it gave me goose bumps several times. Cycling through four main adolescent voices in an impoverished neighborhood of Port Louis, Mauritius, the narrative slowly escalates through brilliant and memorable scenes, as well as haunting inner monologues, to its glorious conclusion that manages to somehow be both devastating and uplifting at once.

I am your double. I am your single. I have split completely and totally in two: I was Saad, sitting transfixed in my stiff chair (or stiff in my transfixed chair), and I was someone else, unmoored, observing things but pushing them away through his thoughts, his defiance, his mortality.

There is something so triumphant and so powerful in the structure of Eve, and something so real and touching in these characters, each consistent, unexpected, thought-provoking and wonderful.

My older brother Carlo is gone. He went to France ten years ago. I was little. He was my hero. When he left, he said: I’ll come back to find you. I’m waiting for him. He never came back. He calls sometimes, but only to make small talk. I don’t know what he’s doing over there. But when I hear his voice, I know he’s lying, that he hasn’t done well. When I hear his voice, I know he’s dead.

And I’d love to kill, too.

A work of profound sympathy and deep desire.

12 April 17 | Chad W. Post | Comments

On May 1st, South Korean author Bae Suah (Recitation, A Greater Music, Nowhere to Be Found, and the forthcoming North Station) will be in Rochester, NY for TWO Reading the World Conversation Series events.

The first will take place in the Humanities Center at Rush Rhees Library on the University of Rochester’s campus from 12:30-2pm. Perfect for any students, faculty, etc., who are on campus and want a little lunchtime brain stimulation!

The second will take place at Nox Cocktail Lounge (Village Gate, 302 N. Goodman) from 6-7:30pm. A very bookish bar and restaurant, Nox is one of our favorite places to host events. Great space, great staff, great food, and great cocktails.

In terms of the events themselves, at both, Bae will be read a bit from all four of her translated books and will answer a series of questions about her craft and influences. I’ve already scripted the questions, so I can say with certainty that she’ll talk a bit about how she got her start—and the Korean literary scene in general—the impact of German literature (she’s translated Kafka, Sebald, Erpenbeck, and others into Korean) on her style and literary approach, the way she creates a landscape of consciousness in her books, and much more.

One of South Korea’s most highly acclaimed writers, Bae Suah is the author of five novels and more than ten short story collections, and has received both the Hanguk Ilbo and Tongseo literary prizes. Nowhere to Be Found, translated by Sora Kim-Russell, was longlisted for the PEN Translation Prize and the Best Translated Book Award. Translations of her works have been widely praised for their beauty and precision, with Sophie Hughes summing it up wonderfully for Music & Literature:

The experience of reading the prize-winning Korean-born writer Bae Suah is simultaneously uncanny, estranting, and spellbinding, an effect that becomes perceptible the more you read . . . Bae Suah offers the chance to unknow—to see the every-day afresh and be defamiliarized with what we believe we know—which is no small offering.

So, if you’re in Rochester, you should definitely come out to one or both of these, and even if you’re not here, you should check out one of her books. Here’s the full info on the three that are already available:

Recitation (Translated by Deborah Smith)

The meeting between a group of emigrants and a mysterious, wandering actress in an empty train station sets the stage for Bae Suah’s fragmentary yet lyrical meditation on language, travel, and memory. As the actress recounts the fascinating story of her stateless existence, an unreliable narrator and the interruptions of her audience challenge traditional notions of storytelling and identity.

A Greater Music (Translated by Deborah Smith)

Near the beginning of A Greater Music, the narrator, a young Korean writer, falls into an icy river in the Berlin suburbs, where she’s been house-sitting for her on-off boyfriend Joachim. This sets into motion a series of memories that move between the hazily defined present and the period three years ago when she first lived in Berlin. Throughout, the narrator’s relationship with Joachim, a rough-and-ready metalworker, is contrasted with her friendship with M, an ultra-refined music-loving German teacher who was once her lover.

Nowhere to Be Found (Translated by Sora Kim-Russell)

A nameless narrator passes through her life, searching for meaning and connection in experiences she barely feels. For her, time and identity blur, and all action is reaction. She can’t quite understand what motivates others to take life seriously enough to focus on anything—for her existence is a loosely woven tapestry of fleeting concepts. From losing her virginity to mindless jobs and a splintered, unsupportive family, the lessons learned have less to do with the reality we all share and more to do with the truth of the imagination, which is where the narrator focuses to discover herself.

12 April 17 | Kaija Straumanis | Comments

The latest addition to our Reviews section is by Jason Newport on Melancholy by László Földényi, and published by Yale University Press.

In addition to this book review, Jason was able to interview László Földényi about the process behind the book itself. It’s alway interesting to hear or read about a work from the author’s point of view—so look for the Jason’s interview/continuation of this post tomorrow!

Jason Newport is currently a Fulbright scholar and researcher, teaching literature and creative writing at the University of Pécs, Hungary. He serves as a writing instructor in the Department of English at Meredith College in Raleigh, North Carolina.

Here’s the beginning of his review:

In Melancholy, Hungarian author, critic, and art theorist László Földényi presents a panorama of more than two thousand years of Western historical and cultural perspectives on the human condition known as melancholia. In nine chapters, Földényi contrasts the hero worship and mystery cults of the ancient Greeks, the Hippocratic theory of bodily humors and the medieval astrology of fateful planets, the Renaissance preeminence of the individual and the Romantic inclination toward oblivion, the heartsickness of lover and beloved, the mental and neurological illnesses defined by modern medical science, and the personal dread of “real things passing” or the end of temporary existential illusion in the permanence of loss and death.

Heavy stuff—as one might expect from a title like Melancholy.

Yet readers looking for insight into their own or others’ feelings have often been drawn to such works. Admirers of Robert Burton’s magisterial 1621 volume The Anatomy of Melancholy may find themselves pleased to be introduced here to the fifteenth-century Three Books on Life by the Italian Renaissance writer Marcilio Ficino, which, according to Földényi, “alongside Burton’s massive tome, is the other most important work on melancholia.” For fans of books such as Andrew Solomon’s The Noonday Demon: An Atlas of Depression, however, Földényi’s old-school approach, with monolithic paragraphs built upon copious footnotes and a bibliography of fourteen and a half single-spaced pages of sources, could easily appear scholarly to the point of impenetrability.

For the rest of the review, go here. And be sure to come back tomorrow for the interview!

11 April 17 | Chad W. Post | Comments

On this week’s podcast, Tom and Chad discuss the potential troubles of getting paid as a freelance translator, the Missing Richard Simmons podcast, and Seed by Joanna Walsh. There are also allusions to the forthcoming BTBA shortlists, and a new podcast project that will be starting up in May . . .

This week’s music is “Here’s to the Fourth Time!” by Los Campesinos!

As always, feel free to send any and all comments or questions to: threepercentpodcast@gmail.com. Also, if there are articles you’d like us to read and analyze, send those along as well.

And if you like the podcast, tell a friend and rate us or leave a review on iTunes!

11 April 17 | Chad W. Post | Comments

Between the announcement of the Best Translated Book Award longlists and the unveiling of the finalists, we will be covering all thirty-five titles in the Why This Book Should Win series. Enjoy learning about all the various titles selected by the fourteen fiction and poetry judges, and I hope you find a few to purchase and read!

Monica Carter is a freelance critic whose nonfiction has appeared in publications including Black Clock, World Literature Today, and Foreword Reviews. She curates Salonica World Lit, which is a virtual journal dedicated to international literature and culture.

Zama by Antonio di Benedetto, translated from the Spanish by Esther Allen (Argentina, New York Review Books)

Chad’s Uneducated and Unscientific Percentage Chance of Making the Shortlist: 80%

Chad’s Uneducated and Unscientific Percentage Chance of Winning the BTBA: 18%

Primal, erudite, hallucinatory, and brutal, Zama is a novel of disillusionment and desire. Divided into three parts by time, it covers a 9-year period between 1790–1799 in the life of former chief administrator Don Diego de Zama. Posted to Asunción in the Paraguayan hinterlands to serve the Spanish crown, he longs to return to Buenos Aires to his wife and family. Zama is a Creole and because he is not Spanish born, he can no longer hold the position of chief administrator. Originally published in the 1956, this is the first English translation of Zama, an Argentinian masterpiece. Esther Allen inhabits the essence Antonio Di Bendetto that makes this translation feel of its time while simultaneously modern.

Zama opens in 1790 with the Zama waiting for a ship to arrive with news from his wife, Marta. Di Bendetto explains right off who Zama is, “. . . was a fighting cock, or, at the very least, ringmaster of a cockfighting pit.” He is a man stuck in time and place desperately wanting to leave. He is second in command of a small port town with no real prospects of escaping. Women are his distraction and play a heavy part in parts one and two contrasting his base desires with his own high self-regard as a faithful and principled man. His action and thoughts betray his own ego when he spots a naked townswoman bathing and she spots him watching her. An Indian girl chases after him and he beats her:

Naked as she was, I took her by the throat, strangling her cry, and slapped her until my hands were dry of sweat, before sending her sprawling to the ground with a shove. She curled up with her back to me. Delivering a kick to her buttocks, I left.

With me went my anger, already yielding to bitter self-reproach. Character! My character! Ha!

My hand may strike a woman’s cheek but it is I who will endure the blow, for I shall have done violence to my own dignity.

When the violent outburst occur, Zama attempts to revert to the man he thought he was—upstanding, respectable and dignified. These periods send him further into paranoia and isolation. He dreams of a beautiful woman and tries to find her in the limited prospects available to him according to his standards. He argues with an assistant and then blames him knowing that he will be sent away. Zama’s digression into ill-fated trysts, gambling and misguided suspicion creates a vertiginous existence of despair and longing for what he lacks—a woman he dreamed, his family, his dignity.

The second part begins in 1794 when Zama is near the bottom of his descent. Unable to afford the inn where he lives and kicked out by Emilia, a Spanish widow whom bears his child, he takes up residence at a house on the edge of town owned by wizened shadowy figure, Soledo. Zama’s time there is marked by fever dreams and impulsive behavior. Di Bendetto gives this section a phantasmagorical feel, with atmospheric darkness and tone, straddling between reality and the imaginary. There are two women in the house, or maybe one. They might be Soledo’s daughter or his wife. Parts of the house are closed off to Zama and his dreamlike states muddle his perception. He grapples the visions of the two women he sees:

Immediately I was at pains to seize upon their vision, fearing it would flow from my head without leaving any clear or lasting impression. The thing was not palpable or real. It was . . . an absence. Yes. What was missing, behind the glass panes, was a pink dress. The young woman wore pink.

The other woman, who had passed in front of me a moment earlier, was dressed in green.

Therefore it was not the same woman. There had been no time for a change of clothes.”

His position and his private life intersect when his new secretary, Manuel, marries Emilia and becomes the father of Zama’s son as a token of friendship. By the end of this section, Zama is recovering from a sickness under the care of Manuel and Emilia. As he ventures back to Soledo’s, he is presented with the reality that Soledo, the women and servants have all moved to Brazil weeks ago. Without a home, a family or money, he is forced to accept years have passed and his life has only become worse.

The third part opens in 1799 with Zama and Captain Parilla leading men across the flatlands to capture Vicuña Porto, a famed bandit. Zama’s existential crisis is all he has along with his hopes that this capture might award him favor with the king. Zama is the only one who knows what Porto looks like have served with him many years earlier. Eventually Zama ends up the prisoner and is left to meet his fate alone.

Di Bendetto presents a violent, tortured character so flawed and unlikeable yet utterly compelling, it’s difficult to ignore this works brilliance. Di Bendetto, a contemporary of Jorge Luis Borges, is an underserved writer whose own life is novel-worthy as well outlined by Esther Allen in her preface. Under two hundred pages, Zama feels like we have read a colonial epic. In the end a man becomes victim to his own expectations:

As I cursed the havoc within me, I felt its power. My blood’s yearning defied my bridle. I had to contain myself, punish myself.

11 April 17 | Chad W. Post | Comments

Between the announcement of the Best Translated Book Award longlists and the unveiling of the finalists, we will be covering all thirty-five titles in the Why This Book Should Win series. Enjoy learning about all the various titles selected by the fourteen fiction and poetry judges, and I hope you find a few to purchase and read!

The entry below is by Tiffany Nichols, who is currently a Ph.D .Student in the Department of the History of Science at Harvard University. Her current research focuses on the history of site selection for large-scale interferometers used to detect gravitational waves. She is also a regular reviewer for Three Percent and can be found on Twitter at “@onthemasspike.”:https://twitter.com/onthemasspike

The Young Bride by Alessandro Baricco, translated from the Italian by Ann Goldstein (Italy, Europa Editions)

Chad’s Uneducated and Unscientific Percentage Chance of Making the Shortlist: 38%

Chad’s Uneducated and Unscientific Percentage Chance of Winning the BTBA: 6%

Let’s get the awkwardness out of the way first. The Young Bride should win because there is a quite racy and intimate scene within the first thirty pages. A young woman shows up at a mansion, is greeted by the family of her fiancée who is not there, the sister requests that the woman sleep in her room instead of the guest room and then we find ourselves on page thirty. Bold!

In all seriousness, The Young Bride is a unique work in that is reminiscent in style of a Javier Marías novel, who has also been longlisted for the 2017 Best Translated Book Award. By contrast, The Young Bride is not only more daring but it is also significantly shorter. You cannot complain there. Further, whereas in the Marías work we only get to be involved in affairs by watching from a tree, in Baricco’s novel, we are directly involved.

The narrator, the young bride, tells the story of her life opening with her arrival at this mansion somewhere in the Italian countryside at a time that is hard to determine. Thus, this tale is timeless. The family spends their days by having extravagant breakfasts (not dinners) for hours on end. Each member of the family has a difficulty in life: the mother causes the death of those who have sex with her, the daughter’s leg does not function, the father has “an imprecision of the heart” thus he was on loan to life, and the uncle, who is not really the uncle but a random man who ended up living in the mansion, sleeps all day while seemingly being able to drink champagne and carry on conversations. I am not making this up; this novel is quite quirky. Further, the characters of the novel have so much clout they do not even need names, they only go by their role within a family—capitalized, of course. It should also be noted that the family has four rules: (1) no unhappiness because the family sees it as a waste of time, (2) fear the night because such a fear is an inheritable trait in this family, (3) no reading of books because they are seen as a useless distraction, and (4) no dangerous activities during the day just to keep the father, with his fragile heart, calm.

Upon the arrival of the bride, the son’s items start arriving at the mansion as if their arrival were arranged and paced to be a procession on a level akin to ancient Rome. Just for affect, the procession includes: a Danish player piano, two Welsh rams, a sealed trunk labeled as “Explosive material,” a hunting dog, a recipe book with no illustrations, an Irish harp, to name a few. Although these items continue to arrive, the son does not. The father then receives correspondence that the son has purchased a boat and has gone missing. Instead of telling the bride, the father acts as if nothing has happened, although he does take her to a brothel to find herself.

Ultimately a tale that explores the process of writing a life story, this work is crafted such that the narrator unfolds her own life tale through the pages, while reminding us that she is actively writing this tale. This quirky works flows between past and present flawlessly causing the reader to completely lose sense of time within the real world. The techniques used by the author to pace the reader’s speed are perfectly timed with the ebbs and flows (and shocks) of the story’s plot. In closing, this tale will stay with readers for its eloquent outrageousness and occasional extreme awkwardness. With such a combination, how could The Young Bride not win?

10 April 17 | Chad W. Post | Comments

Between the announcement of the Best Translated Book Award longlists and the unveiling of the finalists, we will be covering all thirty-five titles in the Why This Book Should Win series. Enjoy learning about all the various titles selected by the fourteen fiction and poetry judges, and I hope you find a few to purchase and read!

The entry below is by P. T. Smith, a frequent Three Percent contributor who has also been a BTBA judge and has worked with The Scofield and Asymptote.

Oblivion by Sergei Lebedev, translated from the Russian by Antonina W. Bouis (Russia, New Vessel Press)

Chad’s Uneducated and Unscientific Percentage Chance of Making the Shortlist: 74%

Chad’s Uneducated and Unscientific Percentage Chance of Winning the BTBA: 16%

Judging from the cover copy and selected blurbs, the reason the Sergei Lebedev’s Oblivion, translated by Antonina W. Bouis, should win the 2017 BTBA is because it is an Important and Necessary novel: it “probe[s] the legacy of the Soviet prison camp system,” is “an important book above where Russia is today,” “discloses the weight of Soviet history,” and is “a haunting tale about the loss of national memory.” This is all true, sure, but would never be enough for me to pick up a novel, much less believe it deserves to win an award like the BTBA. More compelling is how it does these things, how the prose, structure, aesthetics, accomplish this. If a novel exists solely to be an important cultural, historical artifact, count me out.

So, Oblivion deserves to win because it’s a beautiful, creative, linguistically challenging novel interested in many things besides the history of Russia and its lasting influence. From his earliest pages, Lebedev sets the terms of his novel, not that it will be about Russia and history, but that essential to it all is language as something with a physical tangible presence in the world, about the land and the animals that inhabit it, and about the deeply, intimately personal. It is a gorgeous and mysterious, contextless, opening section:

Birches, snow, sky, road, fire, smoke, frost—I repeated the words that I remembered for only a slightly shorter time than I remembered myself. Birches, snow, firewood, sky, road, fire, smoke, frost—the words grew, as if they were material, had material energy; the words sounded symphonically, one through another, without blending, the frost was frosty, the fire fiery, the smoke smoky; the words became translucent, melting slightly, like pure flame, their phonetic casings lost their hardened precision, and the eye perceived the pure essence of meaning.

At any moment, the narrator may drift off, taking a minor observation and riffing in a widening gyre. When he witnesses an old woman “hilling potatoes in the garden,” he see a whole class of being: “These old women are a special breed—they don’t get tired, life to them is a daily chores—dig, water, hill, weed; they harness themselves habitually and probably only for themselves, without hope, without expectation, without haste.” You don’t need to agree with his insights, theories, explorations, don’t need to believe, or you can, but either way, they are beautiful, intelligent, and feed back on themselves, Lebedev’s way of giving personality to his unnamed narrator. Later, when of the same woman, he writes, “she had become something like a film strip or a gramophone recording that captured the image and the voice of the deceased; she did not embroider or invent things; she toiled as an eyewitness,” it’s a tacit admission that he is something other, not an eyewitness, not toiling. It’s this other role that allows the novel to work as it does.

One of these conceptual wanderings opens the space for the narrator to begin his recollections. Looking at his own life, the narrator meanders at length on the blindness of his elderly neighbor, known only as Grandfather II. It’s a meditation on blindness creating the consciousness of this man, and how it crafts the narrator’s perception of him, his memories of him. Grandfather II’s blindness is “why [he] did not persist in the viewer’s retina, he seeped through it, remaining a vague silhouette; you remember his profile better than his face, he somehow was always turned sideways, behind something, as if in a crowd.” As the narrator tells the story of his life with Grandfather II, making no distinction between his own memories and recollection of events before he was born, you understand that this man has some other history, and that when it is uncovered, that is when Russia’s history will be encountered. At first, the narrator seeks personal answers, to understand the role Grandfather II played in forming his childhood, and at the very moment that personal investigation becomes active, takes him to an old mining town, the space of the novel opens again, to the collective past, the narrator forced to look beyond himself, but never leaving that behind fully.

That Lebedev takes his time getting Oblivion to its destination elevates the book mightily. The novel’s structure is subtle, aligned with the moves of the narrator’s thoughts. The narrator is full of ideas, beliefs, declarations of faith and conceptual explorations, but none of it is Lebedev telling you anything, telling you the seriousness of his project, or even what that project will be. Lebedev does ask the reader to work, which is fitting for a book that should win the BTBA. The ask is rewarded as the narrator seeks answers without knowing his initial question, and uncovering more questions as he pursues answers; he’s fascinating as he stretches his language to accommodate his ideas; and throughout it all, there is the beauty in the prose and the depth of emotions found in the minor incidents that create the world of Oblivion.

10 April 17 | Chad W. Post | Comments

Between the announcement of the Best Translated Book Award longlists and the unveiling of the finalists, we will be covering all thirty-five titles in the Why This Book Should Win series. Enjoy learning about all the various titles selected by the fourteen fiction and poetry judges, and I hope you find a few to purchase and read!

The entry below is by Gwen Dawson, a long-time reader of international fiction who has contributed to Three Percent in the past, and used to run Literary License, a book review blog.

Angel of Oblivion by Maja Haderlap, translated from the German by Tess Lewis (Austria, Archipelago Books)

Chad’s Uneducated and Unscientific Percentage Chance of Making the Shortlist: 61%

Chad’s Uneducated and Unscientific Percentage Chance of Winning the BTBA: 9%

I came to Angel of Oblivion without any understanding of the larger context surrounding the story. The phrase “Carinthian Slovenes” was meaningless to me, and I resisted the urge to resort to Google. Instead, I immersed myself in Maja Haderlap’s novel and paid close attention to the details, exactly the kind of reading this novel rewards.

The first-person narrative is told from the perspective of an unnamed girl, a girl who appears to be a close reflection of young Haderlap herself. Grandmother, Father, and Mother—relationships rather than names are emphasized here—play key supporting roles. Gradually, by slipping in details throughout the early chapters, Haderlap situates her story in the far south of Austria in the Province of Carinthia, bordering Italy and Yugoslavia (now present-day Slovenia). The girl and her family belong to the Slovene-speaking ethnic minority in the province. Since the founding of the First Austrian Republic in 1919, the Carinthian Slovenes have suffered prejudice and discrimination, and they were one of the non-Jewish groups sent to Nazi concentration camps during WWII.

Angel of Oblivion is part history lesson, part memoir, and part coming of age novel. As Haderlap mentioned in an interview a few years ago, this is “the forgotten story of the Slovene minority of Carinthia.” For most American readers, this book will fill a regrettable gap in their WWII knowledge. Far from a dry recitation of facts, though, Haderlap tells this history through the personal stories of her characters, many of which are based on real life events and family members.

The narrator is born into a community she describes as “confined by politics to history’s cellar, where they are besieged and poisoned by their own memories.” Indeed, almost all of the novel’s action takes place in the past, forming the basis of stories and memories. Grandmother survived a concentration camp, and Father joined the partisans, a resistance group that fought the Nazis on both sides of the Carinthia-Yugoslavia border. The most harrowing episodes in the novel involve these past experiences, and the girl’s childhood is spent steeped in her relatives’ recollections.

So pervasive is the past in this story that it takes on the force of an active character. The past menaces and knocks on doors and is dragged behind the girl “like a rickety wooden horse on wheels.” This is a past with violent intentions:

As I listen [to family stories], something collapses in my chest, as if a stack of logs were rolling away behind me, into the time before my time, and that time reaches out to grab me and I start to give in out of fascination and fear. It’s got hold of me, I think, now it’s here with me.

This sounds like something out of a horror story: A young girl pitted against a dark and evil force, her very survival hanging in the balance. This struggle and its outcome for the girl—i.e. Haderlap herself—is the focal point of the novel, which manages to be both exciting and suspenseful even though nothing much actually happens. The past fights against the future, the Slovenian language against the German, the traditional farming life against a more modern and educated city existence. I will not reveal the outcome of this epic battle here except to say that the language in which Haderlap chose to write her story is a good clue.

I cannot end this piece without also mentioning Haderlap’s lyrical prose and Tess Lewis’s gorgeous translation. Haderlap has written three books of poetry, and that gift for language helps to brighten and elevate this novel’s grim reality. This is a community decimated by the Nazi concentration camps and haunted by memories. Yet it is also a world where the girl and her mother “sit for hours in meadows of language and speak in the rhythm of rhymes” and where “the summer days have a glittering golden border and more of the color rubs off onto [the girl’s] skin every day.” Lewis’s translation preserves the poetry and honors the cadence of Haderlap’s prose.

If you need any more reasons to read this book, consider that it already won the prestigious Ingeborg Bachman Prize in Germany as well as the Prix du Premier Roman in France. For her translation, Tess Lewis won the Austrian Cultural Forum’s translation prize and the PEN Translation Prize. Add to that its place on this year’s long list for the Best Translated Book Award, and it is difficult to find another book as worthy of your close attention as Angel of Oblivion.

10 April 17 | Chad W. Post | Comments

Between the announcement of the Best Translated Book Award longlists and the unveiling of the finalists, we will be covering all thirty-five titles in the Why This Book Should Win series. Enjoy learning about all the various titles selected by the fourteen fiction and poetry judges, and I hope you find a few to purchase and read!

The entry below is the first about the poetry longlist, and is written by Emma Ramadan, translator from the French and co-owner of Riffraff bookstore and bar in Providence, RI.

In Praise of Defeat":https://archipelagobooks.org/book/in-praise-of-defeat/ by Abdellatif Laâbi, translated from the French by Donald Nicholson-Smith (Morocco, Archipelago Books)

Chad’s Uneducated and Unscientific Percentage Chance of Making the Shortlist: 53%

Chad’s Uneducated and Unscientific Percentage Chance of Winning the BTBA: 11%

Abdellatif Laâbi’s In Praise of Defeat, translated by Donald Nicholson-Smith, is an 800+ page proof of poetic genius. I’m not sure I’ve ever read another book of poetry in translation where the electric connection between translator and author produced such gripping results. The book contains a selection of poems, chosen by the author, of his poetic work from the late 1960s to 2014, aka his entire poetic range.

hear the clash of languages
                                             in my mouth
the thirst for new births
hear the swish of sweat
                                             at my underarms
the ripple of my biceps
driven by my inner fauna
                                             springing from caves
pen bloodied
                    my head against every wall
my breath at the gallop
spewing planets
                    in its eruptions

If you’ve heard Laâbi’s name before, it might be because he co-founded the journal Souffles in 1966, during Morocco’s “years of lead,” as a way for artists and intellectuals to wage a written war for democratic ideals under a monarchy persecuting independent and progressive thinking. King Hassan II began implementing torture and imprisonment, and poets were not immune. Abdellatif Laâbi was himself tortured and then imprisoned for more than eight years for his political beliefs and writings. Many of the poems in In Praise of Defeat were in fact written while he was serving his sentence in Kenitra prison.

Write, write, never stop. Tonight and all the nights to come. Another night when I can do nothing but write, confront this silence that provokes me with its idiom of exile. I brace myself to the full to explore the voice of the prison night.

These poems give us an idea of what it means to be a Moroccan poet. For Laâbi and his compatriots, politics and poetry were one and the same, every poet a combatant, spurred on by the desperate necessity of continued resistance on the page.

The sun is dying
with human murmurs on its lips
Chaos will come and clear the stage
of this old tragedy
told a thousand times
by an idiot
in an empty theater
There will be another eternity
of roiled absence
dueling masks
and the failure to write

7 April 17 | Chad W. Post | Comments

A Contrived World by Jung Young Moon, translated from the Korean by Mah Eunji and Jeffrey Karvonen (Dalkey Archive Press)

I’ve been reading Jung Young Moon’s A Contrived World in preparation for an upcoming class (we’ll be talking about his Vaseline Buddha) and god damn do I love this book. Why, you ask? Here are three quotes, starting with the longest one, the one mentioned on the forthcoming Three Percent Podcast:

Before I begin to list the things that I think are fun, I would like to take a moment to list the things that I do not consider fun: noises of all kinds, nearly every kind of music, violent things, depression, conventional works of fiction, fiction that reflects the times, novels that discuss scars, consolation and healing, novels in which characters’ actions weigh more than their thoughts, grandiose novels, touching novels (perhaps speaking of the dull nature of the critics who fawn over such novels could be somewhat fun, but not really, so let us just say that the reason for their behavior is that they either have no talent as critics or have no self-esteem as human beings, or both), growth novels, all-too-serious novels, novels that don’t exude an excess of self-consciousness, proverbial poems, things explained by common sense, obvious ploys (and those responsible for them), flawless people, people with nothing peculiar about them, people whose entire being exudes authority, people who are diligent and eager, people who want to contribute to society, people who have no interest in clouds, simple folk, talkative people, overly greedy people, people who know jokes but are without humor, unspeakably dull people who make me speechless (they are really dull), racial chauvinists, self-conscious women who act coy while pretending to be nonchalant (such women can be found everywhere in the world, but more so in Korea than anywhere else; since there has never been formal research, their exact number is unknown, but it is certainly more than the number of a certain species of near-extinct penguins in the South Pole), men who show off their strength and manliness (such men also exist in large numbers in South Korea; among them are those who tense up and crack their bulked-up necks noisily and walk with an exaggerated swagger; such a man might be a good match for a self-conscious woman who acts coy while pretending to be nonchalant), conservatives, and economic issues. I could probably add to this list endlessly. (Adding endlessly to this list is sometimes fun and sometimes dull.)

This sort of list-making gets me right away, especially when I a) generally agree with the observations, and b) these observations are entertaining without becoming too cutesy. Another thing that sucks me in? Talk about hobos.

He told me this and that about hobos. The world has its share of people who talk without being asked, and he seemed to be one of them. He told me that drifters are people who roam from one place to the next, and that drifters can be divided into tramps, who only work when absolutely necessary; bums, who never work and are not so different from beggars; and hobos, who find work as they roam. He said that hobos have held an annual American hobo convention since 1900, and that hobos have their own code of ethics, which prescribes that they must help other hobos in difficult situations, and have control over their own lives. Hobo culture is a weighty subject matter in American literature. Many authors, including Jack Kerouac, Jack London, Eugene O’Neill, and John Steinbeck, lived as hobos and wrote about hobos, coining numerous new terms, such as possum belly, a term that describes free-riders lying flat on their bellies on the roof of a train car so as not to be swept away by the wind. The hobo added that San Francisco is like a holy ground for hobos. These were all things I’d read about hobos. I listened carefully and quietly to catch inaccurate information, but everything he said checked out. It was as if he had memorized the content of some hobo manual.

These two quotes pretty much capture the tone and nature of this book. The narrator/author is in America, things happen around him, he reflects on them in an entertaining, occasionally insightful way, and the narrative follows his eccentric train of thought. It’s a real joy to read—exactly what I’ve been looking for. And since I’m sort of childish, I’ll close with a quote that’s a bit sillier and more juvenile than the ones above.

I would have liked to put my underwear back on and move on to something normal, but it suddenly occurred to me that I must not have let out a respectable fart since my buttock had become so unsightly. It seemed only logical that a person with a nice-looking butt would fart respectably. In order to test this theory, I tried solemnly to fart, to see what sort of unrespectable fart would come out, but I couldn’t break wind. I wished to release several farts in a row, rather than letting out one lousy fart, but there was nothing. I was angry at the gas that would not be released. My failed attempt reaffirmed the fact that trying to fart on purpose for whatever reason doesn’t work. This fact, too, seemed logical. I was not at all proud that I’d become aware of two very useless logical facts in a short time. I’m making this up, actually. From the get-go, I didn’t believe I’d be able to far, so I did not try.

Buy this book!

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