12 January 15 | Chad W. Post | Comments

If you want to download all new, up to date version of the Translation Databases, you can do it here.

These include all books that I’ve logged on through this morning, although, as always, if there’s anything missing, just email me. I have a day or two of Edelweiss catalogs to search through before the 2015 database approaches validity, and I’m sure there are a handful of 2014 books that slipped through my cracks.

As a reminder, these are works of fiction and poetry that have never appeared in English before. No new Goethe translations, no Anna Karenina. No reprint of a Polish classic that was available back in the early 1980s. Just books that English-readers would otherwise have no access to in any translation.

There’s always a lot to unpack numbers-wise in these updates, but I just want to look at two things—overall number of translations published and the top ten publishers.

Starting with overall figures, you can see the steady increase in the number of translations published and distributed in the U.S.:

2012: 460 total (387 fiction, 73 poetry)
2013: 541 total (448 fiction, 93 poetry)
2014: 587 total (494 fiction, 93 poetry)

That’s not bad at all . . . When I started this in 2008 there were only 360 books to be identified. (Is this the parenthetical where I start talking about 63% increases so that John O’Brien can shit all over my optimism and claim that my numbers are just percentages—percentages THAT DON’T BRING DALKEY ARCHIVE MORE GOVERNMENTAL SUBSIDIES?)

In terms of the top 10 publishers, there are four that have been in the top 10 each of the past three years: Dalkey Archive, AmazonCrossing, Europa Editions, and FSG.

Five have been in the top ten at least two of those years: Open Letter, Other Press, New Directions, Seagull Books, and Archipelago.

Seven of the nine presses listed above are independent/nonprofits, one is corporate (FSG), and one is Amazon.

Speaking of Amazon, in 2014 they knocked Dalkey Archive to second and took over as the top publisher of translations, bringing out 44 titles compared to Dalkey’s 30.

All of which is interesting and can be picked apart in various ways, but in the end, I hope you scan through these lists and find a few books to check out!

12 January 15 | Monica Carter | Comments

Michael Orthofer runs the Complete Reviewa book review site with a focus on international fiction – and its Literary Saloon weblog.

Some five-hundred-odd translated titles are in contention – well, at least get considered – for a book prize, the Best Translated Book Award. Not surprisingly, a number of them have previously won literary prizes of one sort of another, and it’s interesting to see how they stack up against the still-un-prized competition.

Two of the authors with books in the running are Nobel laureates – though in the case of José Saramago, the eligible title is not one which was taken into consideration in awarding him that prize: his posthumously published but very early novel, Skylight, translated by Margaret Jull Costa. 2014 Nobel laureate Patrick Modiano’s Suspended Sentences(trans. by Mark Polizzotti), on the other hand, is unusual in being a three-for-one collection, collecting three novel(las) that were originally published as stand-alones. Despite all the criticism the Swedish Academy gets for some of their Nobel selections, it’s rare that a laureate’s work isn’t worth reading. The Saramago – written in the early 1950s, and, when it was not accepted for publication, leading him to abandon writing fiction for nearly a quarter of a century – stands in every way apart from the rest of his work but already suggests many of the qualities of his later writing. The Modiano-trio, on the other hand, is from a writer at the height of his powers – and benefits some from being a triple-dose: Modiano’s work is all related – arguably part of just one very big book – and this volume nicely presents three versions of it. (On the other hand, it suffers a bit by comparison with one of the few of his other works available in English, Honeymoon(trans. by Barbara Wright), written during the same period (chronologically it belongs in the middle of these three) and still my favorite of the available-in-English Modianos.)

The literary-prize-winner that BTBA watchers might have their eye on most is (sort of) the winner of last year’s Independent Foreign Fiction Prize, which is the closest British approximation to the BTBA. (The IFFP differs from the BTBA in that it does consider re-translations (the BTBA doesn’t) and doesn’t consider books by dead authors (the BTBA does).) The IFFP went to Hassan Blasim’s The Iraqi Christ ; confusingly, the US edition of his stories eligible for this year’s BTBA, The Corpse Exhibition(trans. by Jonathan Wright), is made up of a collection of stories from that volume, as well as from a previously-published-in-the-UK volume, The Madman of Freedom Square. Twice as much Blasim as in his IFFP-winning book – that presumably can’t hurt his chances! Short story collections have historically had a hard time in the BTBA-process, but Blasim’s is certainly among the more promising contenders in recent years.

Not that many national or regional book prizes – beyond those awarded to English-language books like the Man Booker – are well-known in the US but one that probably should be is the Nordic Council Literature Prize, the top Scandinavian prize. The list of winners is an impressive one, and several winning titles have been among the BTBA contenders in recent years. This year Baboon, by Naja Marie Aidt (trans. by Denise Newman), the 2008 winner, is in the running. Another short story collection – in a year with quite a few of these – it’s certainly a title to look out for.

While the Prix Goncourt is the major French literary prize, the Prix Renaudot is the clear runner-up – and Scholastique Mukasonga’s Our Lady of the Nile — translated by Melanie Mauthner and published by Archipelago, who always seem to have a couple of titles on the BTBA longlist – is in the BTBA-running this year.

And while genre novels always have a tough time asserting themselves in the BTBA, how about Bed of Nails, by Antonin Varenne (trans. by Sian Reynolds) – the 2009 Prix Polar Michel Lebrun- and Grand Prix Sang d’encre-winner? (The fact that it’s been such an impressive year for French noir – a quartet of Pascal Garnier novels, and a Jean-Patrick Manchette leading the way – is probably the biggest hurdle to this title making the cut.)

It’s also interesting to see what translations into other languages have been prize-winning. There’s Leonardo Padura’s Trotsky novel, The Man Who Loved Dogs, for example, a Spanish novel whose French translation won the 2011 Prix Initiales.

And then there’s a book like Maylis de Kerangal’s Birth of a Bridge(trans. by Jessica Moore): the original French won the 2010 Prix Medicis and the Prix Franz Hessel, and the Italian translation won the 2014 Premio Gregor von Rezzori. Published in English by Canadian Talonbooks, this is yet another translation that hasn’t gotten the attention it deserves but which has the stuff to go far in the BTBA, introducing a new and distinctive voice (in admirable translation) whom we’ll be hearing a lot more of.

Of course, winning a literary prize is not a guarantee of quality, and one title in the BTBA-running stands out in this regard. Winner of both the 2012 Grand Prix du roman de l’Académie française and the 2012 Prix Goncourt des Lycéens, a finalist for both the highest French literary prize, the Prix Goncourt, and the Prix Femina, you’d figure Joël Dicker’s The Truth About the Harry Quebert Affair would have to be a front-runner for the BTBA. I can’t speak for my fellow judges, who may yet vote to put this thing on the longlist…no, I think I can speak with confidence in stating that this will not be among the books that will be in anywhere near the final running. Despite – or actually in part also because of – its American setting, The Truth About the Harry Quebert Affair manages to feel foreign in all the wrong ways, certainly to American ears.

8 January 15 | Chad W. Post | Comments

This past weekend, my kids and I finally watched The Incredible Hulk—the final Marvel Cinematic Universe movie that we had to see to be all caught up before Avengers 2 comes out in May.

After the ultimately disappointing Hulk ended, my son wanted to binge on the new season of Doctor Who, which is available through our Time Warner On Demand service. This pissed his sister off in all the ways, since she’s generally offended when she’s not in charge of the situation, and especially when it involve the Doctor. (She says it a snotty British accent every time.)

Fast-forward through ten minutes of “But you ALWAYS get to choose” and “Stop being a brat,” “You’re the one who’s annoying. ALWAYS.” “Please, you two, it’s just T—” “DAD! HE punched me!” “But you just slapped his face.” “Because he was being annoying.” “AAARRRRGGGGHHHH!” And we finally agreed upon Spider-Man 3 because Aidan remembered loving the Sandman, and Chloë likes movies in which primary characters die.

So I went to Netflix. No Spider-Man 3. Amazon Prime Instant Video Extravaganza? Nope, not there. Time Warner’s Movies On Demand didn’t have it either. None of the systems that I subscribe to had this available for streaming.

Keep in mind that this is the shittiest of all Spider-Man movies, recent reboot included. It’s a total disaster with too many villains, a way too heavy reliance on random coincidences, and Peter Parker dancing all sinister-like after the black venom suit poisons his soul. (If you don’t believe me about how bad this movie sucks, listen to this episode of How Did This Get Made? or read Sam Raimi’s admission that he cocked this movie up.) This is not a Godard film, this is not art, this is barely entertainment, this isn’t something—given all the various media things I subscribe to and pay for—that I should have to really search for.

Which brings me to my old-man-yelling-at-the-trees point: If one of the significant outcomes of streaming services like Spotify, Netflix, etc., is a precipitous decline in pirated media, then studios and labels should make everything available there. This isn’t to criticize Four Tet or others who pull their stuff from Spotify on moral-financial grounds—I have issues with them, but this isn’t the article for that—but rather the creators who are already part of the system.

It used to be so much easier when you could just go to Blockbuster . . . Or when the local libraries were open every single weekend . . . It just seems ridiculous to me that my latest laptop doesn’t even have a built-in DVD player, that I pay $100 a month for cable and Netflix and Spotify and whatever, and that I resort to trolling bittorrent sites looking for a pile of crap that will finally shut down the argument my kids are having.

Oh, and thankyousoverymuch Swedish government for shutting down The Pirate Bay and making it more difficult for me to fill in the large gaps in all the services I pay for.

That’s what I became fixated on this past weekend while waiting 14,000 agonizing minutes for Spider-Man 3 to download: I used to use torrent sites and Napster and whatever just to get whatever new piece of media I was interested in. Album review sounds interesting? Swipe the album from Demonoid. I never watched a single show on actual TV, but instead downloaded all the episodes—with commercials trimmed out, naturally—and binge watched them all at the end of the season.

Part of the philosophy behind à la carte schemes and streaming services is premised upon the belief that, given a reasonably-priced, convenient option, people will pay for things that they would otherwise download illegally. (One could make the argument that cheap ebooks are helping curb some book piracy, although there are probably a billion people who don’t steal digital books because reading just isn’t part of their life.) For the most part, that has played out in my life. I watch TV via On Demand, which I assume is better for networks and their advertisers than if I just download the torrent. I listen to Spotify non-stop, and only ever download something if it’s not available there for an extended period of time. (I’m not opposed to bands holding out a couple weeks before making it available via streaming services.)

I’m more than willing to play this subscription sort of game instead of Napstering my library, so, please, Big Studios, make your awful (and good!) movies available on these services. My kids and my migraines will thank you for it.

The Vegetarian by Han Kang, translated from the Korean by Deborah Smith (Portobello)

I didn’t think about it until this very moment, but this book fits in perfectly with the situation described above . . . First of all, as you may already know from listening to the Three Percent podcast, my reading resolution for 2015 is to read more books from non-European, non-American (North and South) countries. Of the 80 books I read last year, only 8 were from African/Asian/Middle Eastern countries. That’s appalling, And my ratio of female to male authors was . . . well, embarrassing. (Only 25% of the books I read were by women.) But now I can read The Vegetarian, which fits both categories! And it’s translated by one of my favorite people, Deborah Smith. (Who will hopefully become your favorite translator when Open Letter kicks off its Korean literature series.)

Furthermore, this book—which sounds absolutely wild, with a woman deciding to become a vegetarian (essentially impossible to do in Korea), causing a rift with her husband, and eventually transforming her into a tree (?)—would fit in perfectly with my spring “World Literature & Translation” class. (I’ll post the syllabus at some point—it’s a pretty amazing list of books the students will be reading and translators they’ll be talking with.) As is destined to be, Portobello has sold the U.S. rights to The Vegetarian to Crown, so although they had the book listed on Amazon for preorders, it’s now only available in used editions. And Crown doesn’t list the book at all, so I can’t imagine it’s going to be formally launched here for some time.

Which means that my students will have to be ingenious in acquiring this. UK-based friends who can ship it over, or finding an e-version on the darknet. Or buying a used copy, bribing the library to get more than one in stock, borrowing mine. We’ll definitely figure it out—I’m determined to use this book—but it could all be so much easier . . .

The Guard by Peter Terrin, translated from the Flemish by David Colmer (MacLehose Press)

Speaking of things that took a while, I just double-checked, and we made an offer on The Guard in 2010. Then again in 2012, after MacLehose won world rights and was looking for a U.S. publisher. Once he started distributing in the States that offer no longer made sense, and a few years later the book is finally going to be available to all of you! Publishing is so slow and frustrating sometimes. Back in 2012 my enthusiasm about this book would’ve converted ten thousand readers!

This really is a brilliant piece of strange fiction. The opening section has a lot of strong Godot tones to it, what with two guards patrolling the parking structure of a possibly abandoned building. They never leave, since there may be a war going on outside, or perhaps the world has already been destroyed, so instead they stay loyal, doing their jobs diligently. Until . . .

I think fans of Volodine and contemporary quasi-sci-fi in that vein will really enjoy this. And hopefully some other reviewers will jump on this. (I haven’t received a galley, but I assume they’re out there somewhere.)

One other thing: The cover up there on the left is for the UK version, the one on the right for the U.S. Seriously. What the shit? I think maybe they were trying to sell U.S. readers on this by making it look like it’s been made into a movie? Too bad it just looks like the cover you’d see on any number of self-published “thrillers.”

Blood-Drenched Beard by Daniel Galera, translated from the Portuguese by Alison Entrekin (Penguin Press)

Galera was one of the most interesting writers featured in Granta’s special issue on “Best Young Brazilian Novelists,” so it’s great to have one of his books fully translated into English.

In addition to that, I’m excited to read this book because a) Galera has translated David Mitchell into Portuguese, and b) the main character, seeking information about how his grandfather really died, has a neurological condition that prevents him from recognizing faces. I know a girl with mild prosopagnosia and I think it’s kind of fascinating. You could make a terrible _50 First Dates_-esque movie out of this condition, or something way, way cooler . . .

Tesla: A Portrait with Masks by Vladimir Pistalo, translated from the Serbian by Bogdan Rakic (Graywolf Press)

Similar to my love for Philip K. Dick, I don’t think I’ll ever tire of reading about Tesla and his life. His life and mind are fascinating, and have inspired a few great books, including Samantha Hunt’s The Invention of Everything Else and Jean Echenoz’s Lightning. It will be interesting to see how Pistalo’s portrait of Tesla fits in with the others.

And, in case you aren’t convinced of the awesomeness of Tesla, I give you this:

Thus Were Their Faces by Silvina Ocampo, translated from the Spanish by Daniel Balderston; Select Poems by Silvina Ocampo, translated from the Spanish by Jason Weiss (NYRB)

Silvina Ocampo is one of those authors who a lot of Latin American literary enthusiasts have heard of, but probably never read. I mean, her stories have been published, but my sense is that she’s always been overshadowed by her sister Victoria (founder of the journal Sur and publisher of Borges and that generation of Argentine writers), by her husband Adolfo Bioy Casares, and by other (primarily male) Argentina writers of the mid-twentieth century. Which sucks, and is thankfully being somewhat rectified by NYRBs two publications: a comprehensive selection of her short fiction, pulling stories from her seven collections; and the first volume of her poetry to ever appear in English. This is huge, this is classic, this is worth getting your hands on.

If you’re not yet convinced, here’s a selling line from Jorge Luis Borges’s preface to Thus Were Their Faces: “In Silvina Ocampo’s stories there is something I have never understood: her strange taste for a certain kind of innocent and oblique cruelty.”

Frog by Mo Yan, translated from the Chinese by Howard Goldblatt (Viking)

This is the first book Mo Yan has published since winning the Nobel Prize, and I’m very interested in seeing how the critics and readers react to it. In contrast with Pow! this seems to be more of a critique of China, focusing on a midwife who proves her loyalty to the Communist Party by performing late-term abortions and making everyone in her village adhere to the one-child policy. I haven’t read much of Mo Yan’s work, but what I have read is much more literary, stylized, playful, and interesting than a straightforward social critique. Regardless, he is a prose-master, and this book seems like as good a place as any to getting in to his oeuvre.

God Loves Haiti by Dimitry Elias Léger (HarperCollins)

I read a chunk of this way back when, at a time when Dimitry sent this to us on submission. He compared it to José Saramago with a plot more in the Graham Greene mold. In terms of the prose, “it’s English mixed with French and hip-hop slang, befitting my Haitian-Brooklyn and former rap music editor roots.” And damn, it really is a great book. But at the time—and still, I suppose—we were focusing on translations, whereas this was written in English, and didn’t feel like we could adequately promote a book like this with our existing reputation.

Dimitry and I stayed friends though (in part through our joint love of Arsenal—GO GUNNERS!), and I have to admit, after seeing on Facebook all the promotions he’s doing for this—NY launch parties, events with Francisco Goldman, interviews on NPR, blurbs from Junot Diaz, Edwidge Danticat, a review in the New York Times—I’m really glad we passed on this. Obviously HarperCollins can do more for a book than Open Letter, and it makes me smile to see all the great things that are happening for God Loves Haiti and Dimitry.

This is the sort of book that I think I could get our Rochester book club to read, and one that I will be personally reviewing on Three Percent—fulfilling a promise I made to Dimitry some years ago.

The Alphabet of Birds by SJ Naudé, translated from the Afrikaans by the author (And Other Stories)

And Other Stories continues to impress, book after book, and this story collection from this new voice in South African fiction is no exception. Here’s a bit from Damon Galgut’s introduction that both explains the title and gets at what makes Naudé’s writing interesting:

It’s ironic that a writer like Naudé, who uses words with elegant exactness, should find them so obstructive, but he does. “You’ve talked enough,” one character is told. “Talking is over.” What will replace speech, in this instance, is violence, but in other stories the implications are gentler: “You should learn to do without words,” a character says. “There are better things.” He means dance, which is another sort of language. Or maybe music will lead to the truth. And if that doesn’t work, even harmony can be broken down: a noise machine, which speaks with hisses and roars and bands—maybe that will do the trick.

But how can there be an answer, if we don’t even know the question? Like their central characters, the stories seem to begin and end in mid-air. Who will finish writing them for us? The birds, Naudeé tells us. A bird trapped in a house eventually flies out, leaving shit “on the interior walls, like crooked letters. Like Eastern calligraphy. Maybe that is an ending.”

Maybe it is. But in order to understand, you would have to speak in impossible symbols. It is this missing resolution, cryptic letters written in bird-shit, that embodies the mystery at the heart of these narratives. Cool and intelligent, unsettling and deeply felt, Naudé’s voice is something new in South African writing.

Minute-Operas by Frédéric Forte, translated from the French by Daniel Levin Becker, Ian Monk, Michelle Noteboom, and Jean-Jacques Poucel (Burning Deck)

I do an awful job of including poetry on these monthly preview write-ups, partially because I feel way out of the loop in terms of contemporary international poetry, and partly because I never know what to say about these books. (Not that I never go on tangents or rants or anything . . .) I’m going to do a better job of including poetry, especially when it looks like this:

And is described like this:

Frédéric Forte’s Minute-Operas are poems “staged” on the page. A simple vertical line of 3 inches separates what Forte calls the stage and the wings. The poet explores the potential of this form with multiple typographic games, calling on different registers of the language, different poetic techniques and, in the second part of the book, by “fixating as minute-operas” 55 existing poetic forms (come out of various poetic traditions or more recently invented by Oulipo, the famous French “Workshop for Potential Literature.”)

The Dark Ship by Sherko Fatah, translated from the German by Martin Chalmers (Seagull Books)

This is probably the heaviest book I could’ve chosen to end this month’s column . . . A young Kurdish boy growing up Sadaam Hussain’s Iraq, witness to the atrocities that defined that era, a boy who is then captured by jihadists and ends up joining them before narrowly escaping to Germany . . . Not exactly a laugh a minute, but then again, not all art that you experience should be, at least in my opinion.

Speaking of, Nick Horby kicked the proverbial hornet’s nest with his recent statements, no?

Nick Hornby, the bestselling novelist, has argued readers should put down difficult books immediately if they are not enjoying them.

Battling through them, he said, would only condition people to believe reading is a chore, leaving a “sense of duty” about something you “should do”.

Instead, Hornby argued, reading should be seen more like television or the cinema, and only undertaken as something people “want to do”. [. . .]

“My real campaign is to get everybody – adult, kids, everybody – to read something that they’re loving.

“And if they’re not loving it, stop reading it.”

He added: “Every time we pick up a book for a sense of duty and we find that we’re struggling to get through it, we’re reinforcing the notion that reading is something you should do but telly is something you want to do.

“It shouldn’t be like that. Novels should be like TV. It shouldn’t be hard work and we should do ourselves a favour.

“It doesn’t mean you have to read easy books, because you can have very complicated connections to very difficult books, but as long as you’re racing through it, that’s the thing.”

This is definitely something I think Tom and I should talk about on the podcast. In one sense, I agree with Hornby—being forced to read something you hate isn’t going to make you want to read more, and at the same time, a lot of readers will quite enjoy books that are “difficult” and find “easy” ones to be the ones that are a chore to get through. (Not to mention, my like for superhero movies and shows is pretty well-established, so it’s not like I do nothing but read Important, Challenging Texts all the time.)

On the other hand though, there’s a fine line between “enjoyment” and “uncomfortableness,” and I suspect a ton of readers hearing his advice will conflate the two and stop reading any and every book that has a character they “can’t relate to.” There is a path leading from his statement to a cotton candy world in which you only read things that reinforce your prejudices, and that sort of scares me.

Also, the comparison with TV is a bit strained, since your brain on TV is different than your brain on books, which is a part of the reason why watching TV is so “easy.” Even when a TV show is a slog, or “difficult,” you can passively let the boring parts drift by, and suddenly it’s over. The way TV and books are consumed is different, in my opinion. I guess I have a bit of a knee-jerk reaction to flippant comments like this because I’ve seen the way readers feel intimidated by even the most straightforward of books, and enabling them to constantly avoid anything that might seem like “work” to them could lead to an even more vapid culture. “Fuck The Catcher in the Rye! This isn’t as fun as the Kardashians! TV RULES!”

5 January 15 | Monica Carter | Comments

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

31 December 14 | Chad W. Post | Comments

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

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

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

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

Hello Chad,

Thank you for contacting Skype Customer Service.

We understand your concerns regarding your blocked account.

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

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

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

Best regards,

Marek D.
Skype Customer Service

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

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

But thanks?


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

Hello Chad,

Thank you for your reply.

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

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

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

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

Best regards,


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

Dear Silja,

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

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

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

Go to it.


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

Hello Chad,

Thank you again for your email.

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

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

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

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


Here are Moneybookers contact details:


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

Best regards,


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

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

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

Hello Silja and Skrill (Moneybookers) Customer Service Representative,

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

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

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

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

claims that your account has been suspended”

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

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

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

Thank you very much for your assistance.


Chad W. Post
Skype Account: chadwpost

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

Hello Chad,

Thank you again for your reply.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Best regards,


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

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

30 December 14 | Kaija Straumanis | Comments

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

29 December 14 | N. J. Furl | Comments

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

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

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

As always you can subscribe to the podcast in iTunes by clicking here. To subscribe with other podcast downloading software, such as Google’s Listen, copy the following link. And you can email us with complaints and comments at threepercentpodcast@gmail.com

19 December 14 | Kaija Straumanis | Comments

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

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

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

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

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

*GC:*Yes. [Laughs]

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


18 December 14 | Kaija Straumanis | Comments

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

Peter Biello: Who was Henri Michaux?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

PB: How did you first discover Michaux?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stop by tomorrow for Part II.


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


15 December 14 | Kaija Straumanis | Comments

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

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

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

Here’s the beginning of Patrick’s review:

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

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

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

For the rest of the review, go here.

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At 30, the Mexican writer Valeria Luiselli is already gathering her rosebuds. Faces in the Crowd, her poised debut novel, was published by Coffee House Press, along with her Brodsky-infused essay collection, Sidewalks. The essays stand as a theoretical map. . .

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