14 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 Lori Feathers, co-founder of Interabang Books in Dallas, TX.



War and Turpentine by Stefan Hertmans, translated from the Dutch by David McKay (Belgium, Pantheon)

Chad’s Uneducated and Unscientific Percentage Chance of Making the Shortlist: 79%

Chad’s Uneducated and Unscientific Percentage Chance of Winning the BTBA: 24%

Regretfully I became curious about what kind of man my grandfather had been, only after his death. I know his life episodically—a wedding, births, jobs, homes, accomplishments—and these milestones orient my fragmented memories of him. Unfortunately, his emotional life, the expectations and disappointments that colored his beliefs and actions, is a blank. Stefan Hertmans’s eloquent novel, War & Turpentine, speaks to this longing to understand.

Compelled by the approaching centennial of World War I, Hertmans immerses himself in the hundreds of pages of memoir that his grandfather, Urbain Martien, gave him years earlier, shortly before he died. Throughout his life Martien was impelled by a sense of duty—the duty to support his mother and siblings after his father died; the duty to fight in the trenches during WWI instead of becoming a professional artist; and the duty to marry the older sister of his fiancé, Maria Emilia, who fell victim to the Spanish flu. These are the episodes, so to speak, of Martien’s life. Hertmans takes his grandfather’s story and determines to “. . . rediscover it in my own way” by visiting the places that Martien writes about and the original masterpieces that he reproduced with his painting. Hertmans reimagines his grandfather’s life, shining a light on the strong emotions of a man who, in Hertmans’s memory, maintained an almost stoical countenance.

Although duty set the course for Martien the enduring passions that gave his life sustenance were painting and his love for Maria Emilia. Amid his “rediscovery” Hertmans uncovers the secretive way that Martien joined the two obsessions that sustained him. War & Turpentine is a sensitive and moving hymn to an ordinary man who each day faced “. . . the battle between the transcendent, which he yearned for, and the memory of death and destruction, which held him in its clutches.” It deserves the Best Translated Book Award because it expresses so well the bittersweet regret of coming to fully appreciate the depths of another, but reaching that point only after it’s too late.

14 April 17 | Kaija Straumanis | Comments

The latest addition to our Reviews section is a double-header by Tim Lebeau on Revulsion by Horacio Castellanos Moya, published by New Directions, and Cabo De Gata by Eugene Ruge, published by Graywolf.

About Tim: After studying anthropology a and literature and completing a graduate program in religious studies, Tim has spent the past four years working with children with severe emotional disorders. He currently lives in New Orleans and continues to read and write in his free time.

Tim wrote the reviews for both books as a unified piece because of the common themes he found they both had. It’s not often that we get to publish reviews like this, but when two books find themselves in similar camps with similar resonances—resonances that the reader picks up on and draws lines between—it results in a unique look into how readers read and relate what they’ve read. Anyway, here’s the beginning of Tim’s review:

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 the romanticism found in earlier works. In Revulsion, Eguardo Vega has returned home after living 18 years in Montreal, to attend the funeral of his mother and collect his inheritance. The unnamed narrator of Cabo De Gata leaves his home in Berlin for the warmth of the coast. Both narrators struggle with their new surroundings. Neither experiences personal epiphanies, neither finds love and salvation in exotic climates. Instead, both find that they cannot escape themselves, just as the Egyptian poet C. P. Cavafy early last century, “There’s no new land, my friend, no / New sea; for the city will follow you.”

The main narrative of Revulsion is set in a bar, opening as Vega, a professor of art history in Montreal, welcomes his friend, a fictionalized version of the writer Moya, to the only place he likes in all of San Salvador. Over the course of a single paragraph that spans 83 pages, Vega proceeds to outline in detail and repetition everything about his homeland that he finds repulsive. Starting with the local beer, Vega becomes increasingly disgusted with the country’s politics, religious education, television programs, sports teams, pupusas, his brother, his brother’s children, his sister-in-law, brothels, music, the military, businessmen. Moya remains a silent witness as each new subject causes Vega the most severe revulsion.

For the rest of the review, go here

14 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!

Steph Opitz is the books reviewer for Marie Claire magazine. She also works with the Association of Writers and Writing Programs (AWP), Kirkus Reviews, the Brooklyn Book Festival, and the Twin Cities Book Festival.



Moshi Moshi by Banana Yoshimoto, translated from the Japanese by Asa Yoneda (Japan, Counterpoint Press)

Chad’s Uneducated and Unscientific Percentage Chance of Making the Shortlist: 37%

Chad’s Uneducated and Unscientific Percentage Chance of Winning the BTBA: 3%

Who doesn’t love a good ghost story? Well, me. I get scared easily. But, in Banana Yoshimoto’s Moshi Moshi there’s a palatable haunting for even the biggest scardy-cats.

In her latest novel, Yoshimoto tells of a mother and daughter (Yoshie) coping with the sudden death of their patriarch. We learn in the beginning that, wildly out of character (isn’t it always?!), the father was having an affair and that his death seems to have been a murder-suicide with the mistress. What follows is more unexpected. The novel isn’t actually about all that. It’s really about a starting over, or of finding oneself, or, maybe, both.

Yoshie moves to a trendy neighborhood of Tokyo to get out of her family home, but she can’t seem to shake the details of her father’s death. Her mother soon follows and moves in, abandoning what she feels was a haunted house. Living together in this new arrangement allows the two to look at each other in a new light.

Not a lot of action happens in this book, despite the premise, and that’s it’s magic. It doesn’t rely on the gimmicks of the mysterious death like it could, but rather focuses on character development and the slow grace of someone coming out of grief and of age.

This book came out in Japan in 2010 after being serialized in the Mainichi Shimbun, Japan’s oldest newspaper. Yoshimoto is a national treasure and now that Americans are able to enjoy this book it won’t just be big in Japan.

13 April 17 | Kaija Straumanis | Comments

Following yesterday’s book review on László Földényi’s Melancholy , reviewer Jason Newport was able to supplement his reading and review by getting a hold of the author himself, to delve a bit further into the process of the book and how melancholy is perceived.

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.


Hungarian critic, essayist, and art theorist László Földényi, winner of the Blauer Salon Prize of Literature, is known in Europe as the author of works on Heinrich von Kleist, William Blake, Caspar David Friedrich, György Lukács, and Goya, among many others. His most recent book to appear in English surveys the European perspective on melancholia from antiquity to today.

Jason Newport: Thank you for taking a few questions, László. I’m glad to have this opportunity to interview you for an English-speaking audience.

László Földényi: Thank you for your interest in my book Melancholy.

JN: Melancholy was published in English last year by Yale University Press, translated from the Hungarian by Tim Wilkinson. Could you please say a bit about the genesis of this book? What prompted you to put together this particular survey of the subject? Were any of the nine chapters originally published elsewhere?

LF: I wrote the book in 1982, the first Hungarian edition came out 1984 (since then there have been three further editions), and it has been translated into seven languages. The idea was to explore the dark current of European cultural history that has been always present (even if more under the surface), but has been mostly pushed into background so that it should not disturb the “sunlit” aspect of the prevailing culture. The chapters of the book were not published elsewhere.

JN: In Chapter 5, “The Bribed,” about perceptions of melancholia during the Renaissance, you note in regard to Wolf Lepenies’s 1969 analysis Melancholie und Gesellschaft (Melancholy and Society) that if Lepenies “were to make a fresh start on writing the book today, he would most probably not only work into it newer data he would have learned about the history of melancholia, but also the experience of writing about melancholia, which itself nourishes melancholia.” How much did you feel that the act and experience of writing about melancholia affected you? If you were to make a fresh start writing about it today, how might your approach differ?

LF: To write about melancholy does not necessarily make one melancholic. On the contrary: while writing the book I was enthusiastic, full with new ideas. I felt very creative. I do not think my approach would be different today; perhaps I would put a greater emphasis on the fact that melancholy sharpens the sensibility for the metaphysical aspect of our life.

JN: Would the progress of medical discovery and psychological research in the MRI era alter any of your assessments? In a later chapter, “Illness,” you note the failure up to that point of “the electroencephalograph” to pinpoint “certain mental abilities or changes” such as “mania, depression, illusion.” Earlier in that chapter you compare the 1987 and 1994 editions of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-III and IV) to a related 2012 reference. Was much new information interpolated into this latest edition of the book?

LF: As for the progress of medical discoveries, I am not really interested in this aspect of melancholy. However, in the latest (American) edition I tried to complement the latest standpoints of medicine.

JN: Péter Nádas addresses your book within his 1986-88 essay “Melancholy,” from Fire and Knowledge: Fiction and Essays, in which he also analyzes paintings by Caspar David Friedrich and Georg Friedrich Kersting and references Kleist as well as Homer. Do you know this essay?

LF: I know the piece of Nádas’s—I read it still in manuscript while he was working on it.

JN: What do you think of Nádas’s piece?

LF: I find it an interesting essay, even if his view of point is different than mine.

JN: An American reader of Melancholy is likely to notice the predominance of references to male artists, thinkers, and writers throughout history, with many fewer women mentioned, including in the sections on the Romantic period. Such readers may wonder, why not Sappho? Or Héloïse? Margery Kempe? Emily Dickinson? Virginia Woolf? Frida Kahlo? Historically, is the feminine experience of melancholia underreported?

LF: You are right, the feminine aspect of melancholy is underreported: only medical handbooks write about female melancholics who are nameless, ordinary patients. But all the books on melancholy, written before the mid-nineteenth century, report only about males.

JN: In your writing today, what subjects are you currently taking the most interest in? What are you examining at the moment?

LF: At the moment I am writing shorter pieces on contemporary art and literature; a collection of these essays will come out soon, under the title In Praise of Melancholy.

JN: What would you most like to say to an American audience? What do you most want us to know?

LF: As for the American audience, I would like to present an alternative history of European culture, showing that kind of “vertical” thinking, that was dominant in the past two and a half millennia and has been replaced by a kind of “horizontal” way of thinking and seeing the world we live in.

JN: We can look forward to seeing how your new essays define that shift in perspective. Thank you again for your time and thoughts. I’m glad to help share them with readers.

LF: Interesting questions. Forgive me for my rather poor English—I tried to do my best.

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.



Doomi Golo by Boubacar Boris Diop, translated from the Wolof by Vera Wülfing-Leckie and El Hadji Moustapha Diop (Senegal, Michigan State University Press)

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

Chad’s Uneducated and Unscientific Percentage Chance of Winning the BTBA: 8%

Doomi Golo is a mesmerizing and unique novel made up of letters-in-notebooks from the delightful and profoundly astute Nguirane Faye, addressed to his vanished grandson Badou, who is in exile somewhere. Ranging from chronicles of daily life in the fictional Niarela neighborhood of Dakar, Senegal to entertaining fables, from deeply unsettling parables to tales of love and quests, Doomi Golo is both exquisitely distinct from anything I’ve ever read and perfectly relatable at once. Take this account of Senegal’s fictional dictator:

President Daour Diagne was hard at work pushing our country to the very edge of the precipice. His persistence and single-mindedness in this can only be described as diabolical. I consider it my duty to talk about the dark clouds I see gathering above our heads, and it’s out of deep concern for you that I want to tell you about my fear of impending disaster.

I sometimes have the impression President Daour Diagne secretly hates us. Does he think it’s our fault that he is old and nearly impotent, despite all his efforts to convince us of the opposite?

This is the first novel ever written in Wolof, rewritten in French by the author to reach a broader audience. Vera Wülfing-Leckie’s pitch-perfect translation is of the French text, though she consulted El Hadji Moustapha Diop and the author in producing the English version. With touching repeated refrains like “Shame on the nation that doesn’t listen to its little girls” (a similar statement is made of nations that ignore their poets) and thought-provoking scenes and observations (“How often in the course of your lifetime do you see your own face in the mirror, Nguirane? Probably not very often, just like the rest of us. No human being, unless he is somehow deranged, will stand in front of a mirror for hours on end, looking at himself. It is in the nature of our reflection to be fleeting.”), the novel toggles beautifully between tones and characters and makes for a fantastic and unforgettable reading experience that also addresses the act of writing itself, here in describing the protagonist’s religious inspiration, Mbaye Lô:

Malice and meanness were completely foreign to that man who managed to live in abject poverty without ever losing his dignity. As a child, I used to watch him with fascination as he was tracing symbols for hours on end. His body remained perfectly still while the quill at the end of his right hand performed its unhurried dance. Sometimes he would look up, and his eyes, lost in the distance, suddenly shone with a peculiar glow. It was as though he could hear the echo of his own silences coming back to him from another universe. I never went to the school of the Toubabs and I owe my love of the written world entirely to Mbaye Lô. The same applies to my genuine faith in God and my conviction that without the make-believe of signs and symbols, there would be no truth on this earth, neither good nor bad.

Doomi Golo is easily one of the strongest candidates for this year’s Best Translated Book Award and has my very highest recommendation to everyone.

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.

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. . .

Read More >

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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Melancholy
Melancholy by László Földényi
Reviewed by Jason Newport

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. . .

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The Hatred of Music
The Hatred of Music by Pascal Quignard
Reviewed by Jeanne Bonner

Pascal Quignard’s __The Hatred of Music_ is the densest, most arcane, most complex book I’ve read in ages. It’s also a book that covers a topic so basic, so universal—almost primordial—that just about any reader will be perversely thrilled by. . .

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Fragile Travelers
Fragile Travelers by Jovanka Živanović
Reviewed by Damian Kelleher

In Gustave Flaubert’s Madame Bovary, Flaubert attempted to highlight the ordinary, tired, and often crass nature of common expressions by italicising them within the text. When Charles, Emma Bovary’s mediocre husband, expresses himself in a manner akin to that of. . .

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Nineteen Ways of Looking at Wang Wei
Nineteen Ways of Looking at Wang Wei by Eliot Weinberger
Reviewed by Russell Guilbault

Eliot Weinberger takes big strides across literary history in his genuinely breathtaking short work, 19 Ways of Looking at Wang Wei, tracking translations of a short ancient Chinese poem from the publication of Ezra Pound’s Cathay in 1915 to Gary. . .

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Radio: Wireless Poem in Thirteen Messages
Radio: Wireless Poem in Thirteen Messages by Kyn Taniya
Reviewed by Vincent Francone

Prose translators will likely disagree, but I believe translating poetry requires a significant level of talent, a commitment to the text, and near mania, all of which suggests that the undertaking is the greatest possible challenge. The task is to. . .

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The Subsidiary
The Subsidiary by Matías Celedón
Reviewed by Vincent Francone

The biggest issues with books like The Subsidiary often have to do with their underpinnings—when we learn that Georges Perec wrote La Disparition without once using the letter E, we are impressed. Imagine such a task! It takes a high. . .

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Thus Bad Begins
Thus Bad Begins by Javier Marías
Reviewed by Kristel Thornell

Following The Infatuations, Javier Marías’s latest novel seems, like those that have preceded it, an experiment to test fiction’s capacity to mesmerize with sombre-sexy atmospheres and ruminative elongated sentences stretched across windowless walls of paragraphs. Thus Bad Begins offers his. . .

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