Andrés Neuman has quickly become an in-house name here at Open Letter/Three Percent, and, as Jeremy hints at in his review, everyone either can’t wait to get started on reading him, or can’t wait to keep reading him. Andrés will also be at the University of Rochester at the end of April for our Reading the World Conversation Series event.
Jeremy has written for The Oregonian, the Oregon Historical Quarterly, and on Powells.com, and is a great source of reviews in general and reader of world lit. Here’s a bit from his review:
Talking to Ourselves (_Hablar solos), the second of Neuman’s books to be rendered into English, could not be more unlike its predecessor in translation—be it thematically or stylistically. Whereas Traveler of the Century was an epic novel of ideas, Talking to Ourselves is a far more intimate, personal work dealing with loss and mortality. There are no early-19th century self-rearranging german towns or cave-dwelling organ grinders to be found herein, but instead a small family forced to confront a reality teetering precariously upon the cusp of sorrow and uncertainty.
Set across an ambiguous landscape that appears to encompass both Spain and Latin America, Talking to Ourselves transcends geographical borders as easily as it does those of fidelity and compassion. Mario, afflicted with a cancer that brings him ever closer to death, sets out on (what he knows to be) a final road trip with his young son, Lito. staying behind is Mario’s wife, Elena, heartbroken over her family’s impending fate, yet able to find mild comfort within the pages of literature. With Mario’s illness looming, husband/father, wife/mother, and son are left to make sense of their inevitable realities however best they can—longing for intimacy and release, yet unable to overcome the emotional alienation imposed upon them by imminent dissolution.
Told, in turns, from the perspective of each of the three main characters, Talking to Ourselves is, narratively speaking, a most ambitious effort. Alternating between Lito, Elena, and Mario, Neuman captures the distinction and nuance of these individual voices—inhabiting their inner worlds (in one form or another) to reveal fears, hopes, misgivings, doubts, and longings. Not only is each respective chapter told from the viewpoint of one of the three—each is also conveyed in a different format altogether: Lito’s excitable, curious, and impatient stream-of-thought expression befitting a 10-year old, Elena’s ongoing and forthright diary compositions, and Mario’s series of tape recordings to be left behind for Lito after his passing. Neuman’s stylistic choice works to magnificent effect (however arduous a task it must have been to pull off), as he easily transitions between voices and forms to reveal the thoughts and feelings that seem to so overwhelm each character, despite their inability to share openly with one another.
For the rest of the review, go here.Tweet
Copies of Navidad & Matanza arrived in the office on Friday, so we’re finally able to give away 20 copies via GoodReads. All the information about the contest is below, but first, a bit about about the book itself, starting with the greatest blurb we’ve ever included on the front of one of our titles:
“Carlos Labbé’s [Navidad & Matanza] begins to fuck with your head from its very first word—moving through journalese, financial reporting, whodunit, Joseph Conrad, Raymond Chandler, Nabokov to David Lynch.”—Toby Litt
Even putting aside the very compelling statement that this book is going to “fuck with your head from its very first word,” that’s quite a line-up of influences . . . All of which are completely accurate.
This isn’t an easy book to describe—there are a few related storylines, one involving scientists making a drug of hate, and another about their attempt to play a “novel-game” in which they take turns creating a story (a game that Labbé actually played and that we’ll post more about later), which all ties into the disappearance of two children . . . Here’s my best attempt at formally describing this novel:
It’s the summer of 1999 when the two children of wealthy video game executive Jose Francisco Vivar, Alicia and Bruno, go missing in the beach town of Matanza. Long after their disappearance, the people of Matanza and the adjacent town of Navidad consistently report sightings of Bruno—on the beach, in bars, gambling—while reports on Alicia, however, are next to none. And every clue keeps circling back to a man named Boris Real . . .
At least that’s how the story—or one of many stories, rather—goes. All of them are told by a journalist narrator, who recounts the mysterious case of the Vivar family from an underground laboratory where he and six other “subjects” have taken up a novel-game, writing and exchanging chapters over email, all while waiting for the fear-inducing drug hadón to take its effect, and their uncertain fates.
A literary descendent of Roberto Bolaño and Andrés Neuman, Carlos Labbé’s Navidad & Matanza is a work of metafiction that not only challenges our perceptions of facts and observations, and of identity and reality, but also of basic human trust.
For the Spanish literature obsessed out there, you may recognize Carlos Labbé’s name from Granta’s special “Young Spanish-Language Novelists” issue from a couple years back. Not only was Labbé included, but an excerpt from this book was in there. (But in Natasha Wimmer’s translation.)
If you missed that issue, you can read an excerpt from the book on our site, where you can also just pre-order the book if you don’t want to fool around with this GoodReads contest stuff.
But if you are up for trying to win a free copy, here’s how you enter:
Contest closes on February 10th, so enter today!Tweet
This is Bengtsson’s third novel, though his first published in English—the book is actually already available from House of Anansi Press in Canada, but they’ve teamed up with the wonderful Other Press to bring the book even further in its English Travels.
Here’s the beginning of Tiffany’s review:
It is destined that we will all become our parents. Some try to avoid it while others embrace the metamorphosis. Either way, it never fails— children eventually become their parents. A Fairy Tale is a psychological novel told through day-to-day activities that appear mostly normal from the narrator’s point of view and explores this exact phenomenon.
bq The novel is told in two parts: life with a runaway yet resourceful father through the eyes of his son, a child less than 10 years of age, and then the life of that son who, as an adult, attempts to avoid becoming this father through detachment from his former life. The novel follows this unnamed father and son on a journey through Denmark, mostly in Copenhagen. At first glance the pair’s numerous relocations seem innocuous, but when a closer look is taken, the reader will notice strange aspects of this transient family situation. Most apparent being the descriptions of the living conditions of the father-son pair and the mature aspects of life to which the father exposes the son, but never the relationship between the two.
After numerous rebellious actions are taken by the father to sabotage any semblance of stability, the father-son relationship is effectively destroyed when the father attempts to assassinate a well-regarded politician of the common people of Denmark. This action leads to a separation of father and son, and marks the end of the first half of the novel with no fuss, akin to the closing of a store by merely flipping the “open” sign to “closed.”
For the rest of the review, go here.Tweet
At long last, I just posted an updated 2013 Translation Database, and following the trend of recent years, the number of books has increased—significantly.
In fact, this is the first year since we started tracking the publication of never-before translated works of fiction and poetry that we surpassed 500 total books for the year. That’s huge. Very huge. Let me show you just how huge.
In 2008, we identified 360 translations in total (278 works of fiction, 82 poetry).
2009 was almost identical: 362 total translations (290 fiction, 72 poetry).
2010 was a step backwards, with only 344 translations (266 fiction, 78 poetry).
Everything got back on track in 2011 with 374 total translations coming out (304 fiction, 70 poetry).
2012 was another increase, and was the first time the total broke into the 400s. Specifically, 456 translations came out (386 fiction, 70 poetry).
And now, we’re up to 517 (427 fiction, 90 poetry). That’s a 50% increase from 2010, or, in actual terms, 173 more translations came out in 2013 than in 2010. Seems unbelievable . . .
Someone asked me about this increase the other day, and from looking at the list of publishers, it looks like two things are contributing to this increase: publishers who have traditionally published literature in translation are now doing a couple more books every year, and there are far more publishers publishing books in translation than there were just a few years ago. (In 2010, 139 publishers did at least one translation. That number jumped to 187 in 2013.)
I going to talk about this more in a later post, but this database update reinforces my belief that there’s a lot going on in the international literature world in the U.S. these days, and it’s time to transition from discussions about how little is being made available to American readers and into discussions about what great books we should be paying attention to.
For example, how many of you have heard of Lontar Foundation? Anyone? Well, as part of their programs to support Indonesian literature, they published 8 titles last year. Granted, I doubt these are available anywhere outside of Amazon, but still. Let’s talk about the interesting new projects and the should-be successes, instead of the fact that only 87 French books were published in translation last year.
And looking ahead, I think 2014 could feature another significant increase, what with Restless Books logging some titles into the Database (I’m particularly excited about Nest of Worlds because it’s Polish. And it sounds like really literary sci-fi.), AmazonCrossing continuing to expand, a whole new batch of books from Dalkey Archive, etc., etc. I’m not sure we’ll end up at 600 books, but 550? That sounds possible.Tweet
The latest addition to our Reviews Section is by Will Evans on Relocations: 3 Contemporary Russian Women Poets, a collection of poems from Zephyr Press by Polina Barskova, Anna Glazova, and Maria Stepanova, translated by Catherine Ciepiela, Anna Khasin, and Sibelan Forrester.
For those who don’t know, Will is the face behind Deep Vellum Publishing, based in Dallas, Texas, and is also a translator of Russian. Here’s the beginning of his review:
Two women dominate the history of Russian poetry: Anna Akhmatova and Marina Tsvetaeva. Both authors transcended the label of “woman poet” and live in the realm of the eternal untouchable legends of Russian poetry. To wit, I remember a Russian professor in college correcting a short essay I wrote on an Akhmatova poem because I used a feminine noun to describe her, as what in English we would call a “poetess.” My professor crossed that word out emphatically and wrote in the column in bold Cyrillic letters: “Akhmatova is a POET,” using the masculine-gendered noun to correct a term Akhmatova and Tsvetaeva were both outspoken in rejecting. In the strictly-gendered Russian language, this choice of gender is not a trivial distinction, and provided a lesson in gender politics that has stuck with me to this day.
Yet since these two grand dames, standard bearers of the rich Russian poetic tradition and shining lights of 20th century poetry, passed away, there have been precious few Russian women poets translated into English. This is where Zephyr Press comes in, and bless them for it. Relocations: 3 Contemporary Russian Women Poets is their latest bilingual collection of contemporary poetry by Polina Barskova, Anna Glazova, and Maria Stepanova. Relocations was released around the same time as their edition of Anzhelina Polonskaya’s Paul Klee’s Boat (which I reviewed for Three Percent in late 2013), and in just two books, Zephyr Press has published more Russian women poets than all other American publishers in the last 20 years combined. And they’ve been doing it for a while now.
For the rest of the review, go hereTweet
It’s no secret that I’m very anti-techtopian people. Anyone talking about Google Glass and how it’ll “solve all publishing problems ever!” is someone I want to run away from. All the industry focus on new “apps” that will “revamp and disrupt the creation, distribution, and monetization of creative content” makes me want to stab my eyes out. Yes, recent technological advances are cool, but I’m with Morozov—a lot of the rhetoric surrounding these advances is just wacky and deluded.
Like this piece from Rob Salkowitz’s PW article The Future of Reading: 10 Trends for 2014 and Beyond:
Machine translation these days is pretty good. It’s not quite good enough for literature, technical publications, or legal contracts, but it’s getting there. The combination of algorithms, data analytics, and crowdsourcing are teaching machines the subtleties of idiom and tone in a variety of languages. Very soon, instant text translation, combined with text recognition, will be available via augmented-reality applications for mobile devices, including smartphones, tablets, and wearables like Glass. No more waiting for translations of foreign editions to become available; no more foreign rights. Think that will disrupt the publishing and localization industries much?
Kaija’s comment on hearing me read this aloud: “Not quite good enough for literature, technical publications, or legal contracts—THAT’S EVERYTHING!”
Jan’s comment after finishing this: “That’s just fucking stupid.”
Seriously. The day we’re all reading instant translations of Mircea Cartarescu on our Google Glasses is the day I just simply quit.Tweet
Jan (a.k.a. Janek) is a current student in the MA in Literary Translation Studies at the University of Rochester, and hails from Great Poland (where the potato was invented). As a Fulbright scholar and Eastern European, his duties include playing on our Literary Folk indoor soccer league team, teaching us how to make paçzki, and introducing us to some great Polish literature. He’s also a great lover of world literature in general. This review is one of several we’ll be posting in the near future, written as assignments by Chad’s Intro to Publishing students. Here’s the beginning of Janek’s review:
Passionate Nomads, by Argentinian writer María Rosa Lojo, comes to us from Aliform Publishing in a riveting translation from its Spanish original by Brett Alan Sanders. And before I get into the book’s details, allow me to first make a quick and rather bold statement: if these roughly 250 pages of prose lack anything, it’s proper marketing and getting word about it out there. Consider this an executive order, if you will, to dig deep into your pockets and buy a copy.
Behind the publishing of Passionate Nomads is also a passionate story. Sanders received a grant to translate the book, but due to external circumstances had to make a rather dramatic decision and in the end used the grant to actually publish the book. Now, if that’s not passionate enough for you, I don’t know what is. Ursula K. Le Guin blurbed the book and wrote:
“ Passionate Nomads is a most extraordinary addition to the literature of the New World . . . Lojo evokes a profound fantasy of the real—not a rewriting of history, but an imaginative recall and understanding of what has been forgotten, cannot be remembered, and yet must be remembered.”
For the rest of the review, go here.Tweet
We are just about done reading for the longlist of the Best Translated Book Award. Here are a few last books that I haven’t read yet but will be considering very closely as we come on home.
One cool factoid and product from the process of this bilingual volume of poetry coming to be, as Grant points out, is that D’Aquino and Gander spent loads of time together translating each others’ poems. That’s an intense form of tandem work that not everyone has the opportunity to experience, and I can only imagine the value such an experience could give to both authors-translators.
Here’s a bit of Grant’s review:
When I pick up a book of poems labelled “nature poetry” I expect images of autumn leaves, sunrises and sunsets, flowers in various stages from spring through the end of summer, tracking a first person reflection on life’s challenges. Roethke, Ammons, and contemporary poets such as Patti Anne Rogers craft authentic metaphorical images from nature, but for the most part nature poems can seem tired or forced. D’Aquino’s poems are deeply informed by the natural world, but his images are fresh, the reach of his poetry is into a fusion of the natural world with human experience that does not privilege one over the other.
Gander is one of the English-speaking world’s foremost translators of contemporary, living poets from Latin America. In his introduction Gander explains that D’Aquino lives a life apart from the central poetic world found in Mexico City, which Gander terms as combative. Instead D’Aquino has lived on the outskirts of Cuernavaca, in jungle-like vegetation where the poet has learned the names and uses of plants, and is an expert on the fauna. Gander and D’Aquino had significant face-to-face time, together translating each other’s works into their respective native languages—so fitting for a poet who translates between the human and natural, as if this is the node in which D’Aquino dwells. The poems are presented with the original Spanish facing the English translation.
For the rest of it, go here.Tweet
This morning, the Guardian: ran an interesting piece recapping a session on the “global novel” at the Jaipur Festival—a session that got a bit heated when Xiaolu Guo called out, well, contemporary American writing1:
“Our reading habit has been stolen and changed” said Guo. “For example I think Asian literature is much less narrative . . . but our reading habit is more Anglo-Saxon, more American . . . Nowadays all this narrative [literature is] very similar, it’s so realism, so story-telling driven . . . so all the poetry, all the alternative things, have been pushed away by mainstream society.”
“I love your work, Jonathan,” she told Franzen,2 “but in a way you are smeared by English American literature . . . I think certain American literature is overrated, massively overrated, and I really hate to read them,” she said.
Two cheers for Xiaolu Guo! I read a lot of books—written in English and from abroad—and find overrated shit from all over the globe. But percentage-wise—and this is a trick of reading in translation, since most of the really awful stuff stays in its own language—American books probably have the highest ratio of dreck to gold. There’s this whole “stylelessness” writing that’s invaded American prose, thanks to MFA programs? to the commercialization of publishing? to J-Franz? to lazy readers? to the competition of Breaking Bad and Archer? and it’s a bit of a bummer.
But that’s not my rant. I do agree with Guo in a lot of ways, and abhor the way mainstream culture hypes the shallowest of art works for reasons that are uninteresting to me personally. But we have a choice not to read/engage with this.3
The Pulitzer-winning Indian/American Jhumpa Lahiri also laid into America’s literary culture, saying that it was “shameful the lack of translation, the lack of energy put into translation in the American market”. “It is embarrassing, to me, and I think just getting out of America for a little while makes you much more conscious of that,” said Lahiri, who currently lives in Italy and has not read anything in English for the last two years.
OK, here is the seed of my rant. Lahiri’s totally right on one hand—especially with her statement about how the Italian paper listed 7 American books in their “Best of 2013” list, and how that’s something that will never happen in the U.S.—but “lack of energy put into translation” strikes a little close to home.
I’ve been on about the number of books published in translation in America since the inception of this blog, and I do feel like the number could and should be higher. There are only so many books you get to read in your lifetime—and even fewer that have a life-changing impact on you—and for those books to remain locked off from readers . . . Also, this was the promise of the Internet—everything available from everywhere at any time—and the backbone of the long tail theory.
But let’s put that aside. As of now, I’ve identified 484 works of previously untranslated works of fiction and poetry that came out in 2013, and although this is a very modest number—how many of these have Lahiri or Franzen read? And shit, I know a lot of people who have put in a LOT of time and energy and whatever into translating, publishing, and promoting these 484 works. And I’ll bet like 5 of them were invited to Jaipur, and, and this is speculation, that these panelists know next to no details about the vibrancy of the translation scene in America. They know one thing—the number of translated books per year is paltry—and then use this to categorize the entirety of translation publishing in the U.S.
I don’t know any of these panelists personally—except for J-Franz, who I met at an event for the NEA where he publicly made fun of Dalkey Archive and the work I was doing there—but my suspicion is that, like with the generalization behind the “American fiction is massively overrated” comment, they’re all thinking and talking about mainstream publishing. The Big Five, Four, Two, whatever it is. Of those 484 books I mentioned above, Random House published 14 titles and Penguin 16. The largest publishing company in the world—responsible for 25% of the English books produced yearly throughout the world—accounted for just over 6% of all the translations published in America last year.
That’s pretty shitty for The world’s first truly global trade book publishing company.
So here’s my overall point: If you’re lamenting the lack of translations in America, you should start looking for them. There could always be more, but ENERGETIC people like myself are brining attention to hundreds a year, and you could easily familiarize yourself with what’s available—and maybe find a great book in the process—and with who’s doing what and what it is their doing with a simple Google search.
I’m all for popular authors sounding off on issues like this, but I’m kind of sick of them using the platform to lament something they’re only tangentially involved with. Use the Jaipur festival to sing the praises of Archipelago Books or Melville House or Restless Books. Talk about the recent increases in quality fiction from Russia and Brazil. Speak in specifics—this is the Age of Information and all that you need to know to make an intelligent comment on the translation situation is at your fingertips.4
1 I think this statement needs a lot of qualifiers. A sentiment that sort of ties into the rest of my rant. There are a ton, absolute TON, of lazy, bad, realist, mainstream, boring, shitty, Franzen-esque writers writing in English. And some others—a much smaller percentage to be sure, if only for the reason that qualifying something as “great” means that it’s in the top XX%—are writing really interesting, strange books. (A mere 340 pages into Eleanor Catton’s The Luminaries, I’d put her in that second camp.) But we all know the process and situation that Guo is talking about.
2 I hope she guffawed internally when she said this.
3 Sort of. There are commercial forces at work that draw in young, talented writers with promises of unlimited Petrón cocktails and trips to exotic literary conferences like in, well, Jaipur. In today’s publishing landscape, you can choose to write whatever you want and find a way to get it out to the public—via self-publishing, ebook only deals, any thousand micropresses out there—but the money still tends to flow down from the coffers of the Penguin Random Amazon Times.
4 Somehow I managed not to attack all my usual suspects in this rant. So, for good measure: Just saying something like “the only translation I’ve heard of recently is Bolaño’s 2666, so obviously there’s a problem” is like relying on Flavorwire to give you all the info you need on contemporary writing. BOOM. POST OUT.Tweet
Though far from the most convincing reason to read literature in translation, one common side effect is learning of another culture, of its history. Within that, and a stronger motivation to read, is the discovery of stories not possible within. . .
Despite cries that literature is dead, dying, and self-replicating in the worst way, once in a while a book comes along to remind readers that there’s still a lot of surprise to be found on the printed page. To be. . .
“I was small. And my village was small, I came to know that in time. But when I was small it was big for me, so big that when I had to cross it from one end to the other,. . .
A few weeks after moving into a farm house in the Welsh countryside, Emilie, an expatriate from the Netherlands, starts to think about her uncle. This uncle tried to drown himself in a pond in front of the hotel where. . .
Think back to the last adventure- or action-type book you read. Wasn’t it cool? Didn’t it make you want to do things, like learn to shoot a crossbow, hack complicated information systems, travel to strange worlds, take on knife-wielding thugs,. . .
In Aira’s Shantytown, while we’re inside the characters’ heads for a good portion of the story, the voice we read on the page is really that of Aira himself, as he works out the plot of the book he’s writing.. . .
Noir is not an easy genre to define—or if it once was, that was a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away; as a quick guess, maybe Silver Lake, Los Angeles, 1935. When two books as different as. . .
Some time ago I read this phrase: “The page is the only place in the universe God left blank for me.”
Pedro Mairal’s short novel The Missing Year of Juan Salvatierra is more about these blank spaces than the usual full. . .
“What if even in the afterlife you have to know foreign languages? Since I have already suffered so much trying to speak Danish, make sure to assign me to the Polish zone . . .”
So reads a typical aphoristic “poem”. . .
If you somehow managed to overlook the 2012 translation of Andrés Neuman’s breathtaking Traveler of the Century (and woe betide all whom continue to do so), you now have two exceptional works of fiction from the young Argentine virtuoso demanding. . .