The second author up today in the Month of a Thousand Forests series is Eduardo Mendoza. Rather than quote from his interview, I’m just running part of the bio that Valerie Miles wrote for him along with a bit from The Truth about the Savolta Case.
As with all the other posts in this series, if you order A Thousand Forests in One Acorn from the Open Letter site and use the code FORESTS, you’ll get it for only $15.
Mendoza has acknowledged that the cult of literature within his family influenced him in his vocation as a writer. He was going to call his first novel Los soldados de Cataluña, a title that would have had trouble eluding the Francoist censor, so he decided to call it La verdad sobre el caso Savolta, a title that was more in keeping with the central storyline, the mysterious atmosphere where the plot unfolds, and better, in any case, at concealing the novel’s political undertone.
Published in 1975, a short time before Franco’s death, La verdad sobre el caso de Savolta, was a breath of fresh air in the dubious Spanish fiction of the time; in it, Mendoza presents an innovative structure, open to various narrative discourses, functioning like parts of a puzzle that, all together, end up resembling Barcelona at the beginning of the twentieth century, a city that found itself in the middle of tension and the struggles of unions and revolutionaries.
In his next novel, El misterio de la cripta embrujada (1979), he started down another literary path, the detective saga, through which he sought, via an exceedingly peculiar character (a nameless detective locked in an insane asylum), to parody the noir novel and the gothic genre and, at the same time, to offer his vision of Barcelona at that moment. In 1982, this first title was followed by El laberinto de las aceitunas; and the trilogy culminated in 2001, with La aventura del tocador de señoras. [. . .]
Humor, one of the secret weapons of Mendoza’s oeuvre, almost a genre all its own, also characterized other essential titles of his like La isla inaudita (1989), which tells of a Catalan executive’s trip to Venice in search of love; Sin noticias de Gurb (1990), which presents the delirious and personal diary of an extraterrestrial who arrives in a city that is preparing to receive the Olympic torch; or El año del diluvio, in 1992. In 2006 he published Mauricio o las elecciones primarias, a novel whose plot unfolds in the years leading up to the Transition, also set in Barcelona, and in 2008 El asombroso viaje de Pomponio Flato, a satire that explores the confines of the Roman Empire. The writer’s most recent novel, El enredo de la bolsa y la vida (2012), where he revives his famous nameless detective, has already garnered enormous popular success.
“Inspector Vázquez, you must hear me out. Just listen to what I have to tell you and you won’t be sorry. A crime is always a crime.”
Inspector Vázquez threw the papers he was reading down on the desk and focused a fulminating stare on his ragged confidant, who was rubbing his hands together and balancing first on one foot, then on the other in a desperate attempt to be noticed.
“Who the hell let this bird into my office?” bellowed the inspector, addressing the peeling paint on his ceiling.
“There was no one here, so I took the liberty . . . ,” explained his confidant, advancing toward the desk covered with newspapers and photographs.
“I swear by Christ’s blood, by the eternal salvation of my . . . !” Vázquez started to say, but he stopped when he realized he was using the same religious terminology as his annoying visitor. “Why can’t you leave me in peace? Get out!”
“Inspector, I’ve been trying to speak with you for five days now.”
There were only two days left of the seven the conspirators allotted Nemesio, and he hadn’t found a single clue related to Pajarito de Soto’s death. The Savolta murder had cut him off, and the police were concentrating on solving that crime to the exclusion of all others. Also, his efforts to find the conspirators and warn them of the fact that Inspector Vázquez was looking for them in connection with the Savolta affair had been met by an absolute rejection from every one of the sources he’d approached during those five unlucky days.
“Five days?” said the inspector. “They’ve seemed like five years to me! Let me give you some advice, buddy. Get out and stay out. The next time I see you snooping around here, I’ll have you locked up. You’ve been warned. Now get out of my sight!”
Nemesio walked out of the office and down to the ground floor filled with dire foreboding. But he was soon distracted by an unexpected incident. As he reached the bottom stair, Nemesio detected unusual movement: there were shouts, and policemen were running in every direction. Something’s going on. I’d better get out of here now. He was trying to do just that, when a uniformed policeman grabbed him by the arm and dragged him to the far corner of the room.
“Out of the way.”
“What’s going on?”
“They’re bringing in some dangerous prisoners.”
Nemesio waited, holding his breath. From his corner, he could see the entrance, and, parked in front of it, a paddy wagon. A double file of armed police formed a path from the wagon to the building. They brought the prisoners out of the wagon. Nemesio tried to run, but the policeman still held him by the arm. The silence was only broken by the clinking of chains. The four prisoners entered. The youngest was weeping; Julián had lost his beret,
had a black eye and bloodstains on his sheepskin jacket, held a manacled hand against his ribs, and his legs gave way as he walked; the man with the scar looked serene, although he had deep circles under his eyes. Nemesio thought he’d die.
“What did they do?” he whispered in the ear of the policeman guarding him.
“It looks like they’re the ones who killed Savolta.”
“But Savolta died at midnight on New Year’s Eve.”
He didn’t dare say that he’d been with the prisoners at that precise moment in the photographer’s studio, that Julián had brought him there by force. He was afraid of being implicated in the matter, so he obeyed and kept silent. Uselessly, however, because the man with the scar had seen him. He nudged Julián with his elbow, and when Julián caught sight of Nemesio, he shrieked, in a voice that seemed to boil out of his guts, “You finally sold us out, you son of a bitch!”
One of the guards hit him with the butt of his rifle, and Julián fell to the floor.
“Take them away!” ordered an individual dressed like a poor man.
The sad procession passed by Nemesio. Two agents were dragging Julián by his armpits, blood pouring out of him. The man with the scar stopped opposite Nemesio and gave him a freezing scornful smile.
“We should have killed you, Nemesio. But I never thought you’d do this.”
He was pushed forward. It took Nemesio a few seconds to regain his composure. He tore himself violently away from the policeman holding his arm and ran back up the stairs. In the hall, he ran into Inspector Vázquez.
“Inspector, it wasn’t those men! I swear. They didn’t kill Savolta.”
The inspector looked at him as if he were seeing a cockroach walking over his bed.
“But . . . you’re still here?” he said, turning bright red.
“Inspector, this time you’ll have to listen to me whether you want to or not. Those men didn’t do it, those men . . .”
“Get him out of here!” shouted the inspector, pushing Nemesio aside and striding forward.
“Inspector!” implored Nemesio, while two powerful agents dragged him bodily toward the door. “Inspector! I was with them, I was with them when Savolta was killed. Inspector!!”
(Translated by Alfred Mac Adam)Tweet
I’m going to have to double up on these for a while in order to catch up and make sure we cover everyone before the end of September, so expect a lot of “Forests” over the next week or so.
Rafael Chirbes is up first today. I’ve been interested in his works for a while, and just today gave his newest book En la orilla to a student to do a reader’s report for me. In looking back through my email though to see if I had a PDF of Crematorio anywhere, I found an email about the “Big ABC Survey” of the best Spanish novels of the twenty-first century, which might really interest all of you. Here’s the bulk of the email:
The “Big ABC survey” that was carried out among a hundred writers, editors, literary agents and cultural figures has chosen The Feast of the Goat by Mario Vargas Llosa as the best Spanish language novel of the twenty first century.
In second place appears Crematorium by Rafael Chirbes. In ABC’s words, “In a true tête-à-tête with the winner, the work of Rafael Chirbes stands out enormously. Using a realist point of view it has understood how to depict the profound (economic, moral, almost total) crisis of Spanish society in a painful and accurate way”.
In third place appears Your Face Tomorrow by Javier Marías followed by Soldiers of Salamis by Javier Cercas, The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón, The Infatuations by Javier Marías, The Cold Skin by Albert Sánchez Piñol, Montano by Enrique Vila-Matas, Lizard Tails by Juan Marsé and The Day Tomorrow by Ignacio Martínez de Pisón.
Of the nine authors listed there (Marías appearing twice), five of them are included in A Thousand Forests in One Acorn. In fact, this collection contains excerpts from both of the top two books: Feast of the Goat and Crematorium.
More reasons that you should get a copy of A Thousand Forests in One Acorn. And through the end of the month, if you use FORESTS when you check out, you’ll get it for $15.
There are a lot of deceased authors I love crowding my bookshelves at home. I talk to them; I listen to them. From Aub and Galdós, to Tolstoy, Montaigne, Yourcenar, Lucretius and Virgil, Faulkner, Döblin, Proust, Balzac, Eça de Queiroz, and on and on. I don’t leave the house much, so I reread them either at random or impelled by some intuition that tells me that this one and no other is the dead author I should hear at a particular time. For the most part, I’m not mistaken. I also dream about the dead people I knew when they were alive; I’ve touched them, even, and now they’re nowhere, and knowing that they’re not here and that I can’t talk to them or hear their voices distresses me when I go to bed. Some nights they take control of the room: their absence leaves me breathless and I have to turn on the light so I don’t suffocate. With the light on, it’s easier to send them back to the peaceful nothingness they’re struggling to escape from.
You said once that literature is like a lover. Either you go all the way or they leave you. You have to know the value of hitting bottom.
I think texts betray any sort of imposture on the part of their authors; they’re an extremely sensitive detector. They contain what the author wants to say, but also—and almost more importantly—what’s up his sleeve. And yes, I have the impression that writing saves me—I know, I know it’s sort of a romantic idea—don’t ask me from what, even if it’s from myself, it helps me stay afloat. It puts my doubts, my anxieties, at a certain distance and, more importantly, in the service of something.
Do you think there’s an ethical place for literature or is it merely an aesthetic exercise?
I don’t believe in an aesthetic without ethics, there’s no such thing: all aesthetics suggest a particular outlook on the world, and no outlook is innocent.
You have to go up, even if it’s no more than a few feet, a few yards; after all the sky starts a few feet above your head, but you must experience height, look at things from above, even if it’s only a few yards, and then you will be able to chart a course; but the high and mighty Gothic tower refused to help me take that flight. Hermetic, closed, completely sealed off. Deaf, mute, blind stone. Unfeeling stone hewn from God knows what quarry. Showing off the fact that, in its dense structure, there wasn’t a single weakness, not a single hole to let the water of feeling seep through. Unmentionable was the god who said let there be, fiat, and there was light, who said, open, and the earth broke in two, and a hole opened up to be filled with the blue waters of the swimming pools, the multi-story abyss rose straight up and the air-conditioning units started humming on its walls; everything in the cells of the rising honeycomb switched on, the ovens in the kitchens, and the ceramic stovetops, and every cell was filled with life, those cavities were filled with the shouts of children running down the stairs of their houses with inner tubes and plastic flippers and scuba goggles: the joy of a seaside vacation. All the blue of the Mediterranean, all the calm of the Mediterranean. My God, what would the bus drivers in the big European cities do if there were no Mediterranean, the clerks, the secretaries, the welders, the butchers, what would all those poor people do if on the horizon of their sad working lives there were no Mediterranean. And what about the millionaires who like to float around on rafts, and swim without getting their clothes wet. At this point I know all of this so well it bores me. Now everything can turn stupidly transparent (despite what Guillén thinks). Through the aquarium glass the children watch how whales mate and how sharks sharpen their teeth before going for their morning swim, the world squeezed into a fish tank where everything is visible, like in the houses on those TV shows, Big Brother, The Island of who knows what, you can see everything, the enormous fish tank of the world, the sharks swimming over the heads of the aquarium visitors, showing their teeth to the kids who aren’t afraid of anything anymore. There’s something childish about that zeal for transparency, as if societies, like homes—public life is, after all, a simulacrum of private life—didn’t need to have their dark zones, the places where potential energy accumulates. We, ourselves, our own bodies, have glass walls. All it takes is the push of a button to show our insides functioning on a screen.
(Translated by Emily Davis)Tweet
Peter is a producer and announcer at Vermont Public Radio, and is the organizer of the Burlington Writers Workshop. He’s also going to be helping us flesh out the Three Percent interview circuit in the near future.
Here’s the beginning of his review:
Spoiler alert: acclaimed writer Stefan Zweig and his wife Lotte kill themselves at the end of Lauren Seksik’s 2010 novel, The Last Days.
It’s hard to avoid spoiling this mystery. Zweig’s suicide actually happened, in Brazil in 1942, and since then his fans have wondered what life must have been like for him in his last few months.
Absent the mystery of what happens, what remains is why. These days it might be difficult for us to imagine why he’d want to kill himself. He was a successful writer and met devoted followers everywhere he went. He had successfully escaped Europe before Hitler’s army could capture him (though many of his friends and family members weren’t so lucky). By 1942, he was waiting out the war in warm, sunny Brazil, where alcohol-fueled celebrations in the street seemed routine. His wife, Lotte, was a picture of youth and devotion. Why commit suicide when life seemed so full of opportunities for happiness. The Last Days is Seksik’s attempt to answer that question.
The book opens in September 1941, when Zweig and Lotte move into a little house in Petrópolis, Brazil, having lived in New York and London. Once again Zweig finds himself struggling to adjust to a new place. Meanwhile, his home country is torn to pieces by the Nazis. Zweig finds it difficult to focus on new writing projects. News of the war’s advance becomes more horrific, and at one point, he realizes that “news of barbarism’s sweeping victories no longer affected him like it used to . . . Had he grown jaded?”
For the rest of the review, go here.Tweet
This week’s podcast is mostly about this BBC article on Hieroglyph, a collaborative project between scientists and science-fiction writers that was inspired by the Neal Stephenson article Innovation Starvation. Basically, this is a call to create fewer dystopian novels, and more positive sci-fi ideas that can help inspire the scientists of tomorrow. More or less.
We also read some fan letters (email us at firstname.lastname@example.org), rave about Utopia and rant about film crews.
Finally, just a reminder that we’ll be discussing Roberto Bolaño’s A Little Lumpen Novelita later this month, and we’d love to hear your thoughts about the book. Email us by September 24th with any questions, comments, thoughts, and we’ll incorporate them into our discussion.
We’re planning on doing more of these “book club” episodes in the future, with the new Denis Johnson book and Jean-Patrick Manchette’s The Mad and the Bad (and the graphic novel version, Run Like Crazy, Run Like Hell) already on the list. More details TK, and if there’s a book you think would be suitable for this, send along your suggestions.
This week’s music is the theme song from Utopia. (The composer, Juan Cristobal Tapia De Veer, won the Royal Television Society Craft & Design Award for “best original music” in November 2013. That’s great, but mostly I just want to share this quote from the jury: “Startlingly original scoring of hyper-reality, and unlike anything we’ve heard before. The winner’s work blurred the lines between sound design and score, creating a soundtrack that the jury said felt like it was being played inside your head.”)
Over the past few weeks, Mahmud Rahman/Asymptote has been publishing a four-part series “On the Dearth of South Asian Translations in the U.S.”
The whole series is worth reading, and below are a few key bits to whet your appetite . . . First off, from Part I:
A small percentage of literary books published in the U.S. are translations. The translation program at the University of Rochester maintains yearly databases of translated titles available in the U.S. South Asian languages barely make these lists: in the last five years, out of 2121 books, only 19 were from South Asian languages (only Urdu, Hindi, Bangla, Tamil). No surprise that European languages dominate, but given the vibrant literature from South Asia and a somewhat growing interest in translated literature, it’s a serious problem when so few titles and literature from so few languages find their way to American readers. [. . .]
Michael Orthofer of the Literary Saloon blog, which covers global literature, notes:
“Over the past several decades, a steady flow of English-writing authors with strong Indian (and, to a much lesser extent, Pakistani and Bangladeshi) connections/roots but also great familiarity with “the West,” from Anita Desai to Salman Rushdie, Vikram Seth, Amit Chaudhuri, Vikram Chandra, etc. etc. have filled the role of “Indian” writers for the West—and that’s been more or less good enough for them. (Even the outliers—less Western-connected R.K. Narayan, or someone like Raja Rao—have written in English). Indian writers writing in Indian languages presumably just seem too great a risk, when Indian slots can easily be filled with writers who ‘know’ Western audiences better.” [. . .]
Of course it did not help when an influential voice such as Rushdie introduced Indian writing in The New Yorker in June 1997 with words like these:
“This is it: The prose writing—both fiction and nonfiction—created in [the post-independence] period by Indian writers working in English is proving to be a stronger and more important body of work than most of what has been produced in the eighteen “recognized” languages of India. . . . The true Indian literature of the first postcolonial half century has been made in the language the British left behind.” [. . .]
Jason Grunebaum, writer, translator, and lecturer in Hindi at the University of Chicago, notes the practical side of the issue. “It’s a zero-sum game when it comes to bookstore shelf space: for every work published from a South Asian writer written in English, that means one less space for a translation.”
No one in publishing admits to this possible partiality. But it’s well known that mainstream publishers tend to be conservative with their choices. It’s not likely this will change without some remarkable new development. Daisy Rockwell suggests that this could happen when “a high profile translation breaks through with a major publishing house.”
In other words, something like a Bolaño or Knausgård. [. . .]
Part II is the one that’s probably most relevant to me personally. In this part, Mahmud focuses on a few failures to get books published in the U.S./UK despite having come out (in English translation) in India, and then highlights the (literal handful) of successes.
First off, here’s one of the typical stories:
Daisy Rockwell is a painter, writer, and translator. From 1992-2006, she made a detour into academia, from which she emerged with a Ph.D. in South Asian literature and a book on the Hindi author Upendranath Ashk. She had become interested in his writing as a grad student.
In an interview with CNN last year, she said: “Ashk asked me to undertake a short story collection shortly before his death, which I did somewhat reluctantly as I was more interested in translating his long novel, Falling Walls (something I’m finally working on now). It ended up being his dying wish to me, however, so I saw the project through. I finished most of the work around 2000, but had a very hard time finding a publisher, even in India.”
Her translation of Ashk’s Hats & Doctors came out from Penguin India in 2013. About her approach to U.S. publishers, she wrote: “I have tried and so far failed to get my translation published in the U.S., on numerous occasions. I have another work forthcoming and I will try with that too. We’ll see what happens. I haven’t had any explanations. So far I’ve approached them myself. Next up, my agent. Mostly I’ve tried academic presses and small presses. I haven’t tried that many, but since no one maintains a South Asia list, really, the entire thing feels kind of scatter shot and I’ve gotten discouraged easily.”
It’s amazing how many books are available in translation from HarperCollins India, Oxford India, and Penguin India that are never even submitted to American publishing houses. It’s messed up and unfortunate, and a very short-sighted.
In the last three years, however, a few translators report some success.
Fran Pritchett, who’s been teaching modern South Asian literature at Columbia, first published her translation of Basti, Intizar Husain’s partition novel in Urdu, in 1995 from HarperCollins India. It was reissued in 2007 by OUP in Delhi. Last year it was picked up by NYRB Classics. Fran writes, “I didn’t contact NYRB about the new edition of Basti; they contacted me and were very interested. I was glad to agree, and to cooperate in every way, but I don’t have much insight into why they chose Basti.”
When I reached Edwin Frank, Editor of NYRB Classics, he said that Andy McCord, a writer who translates from Urdu and has ties to the subcontinent, had brought Basti to his attention more than a decade ago. NYRB will be publishing the translation of Anantamurthy’s Samskara in 2015. About their choices, he explained that they have published a number of titles from and about the sub-continent, including Nirad Chaudhuri’s Autobiography of an Unknown Indian, Ackerley’s Hindoo Holiday, Kolatkar’s Jejuri, Upamanyu Chatterjee’s English, August. “It’s a world that is of interest to me and, I hope, to our readers. These, with the exception of Kolatkar, are all works written in English. It makes sense to go on and publish some of the great works that aren’t, and these are among them.”
There’s a lot more to quote from—like Jason Grunebaum’s letter to the New York Times that led to Yale picking up _The Girl with the Golden Parasol_—but you should just read it all yourself.
Part III is about trying to bring South Asian literature to the attention of foreign publishers, and the role that a supporting cultural institution could play in this:
I had a few exchanges with Will Evans, founder of Deep Vellum. As a new kid on the block based in Dallas, Texas, Evans is effervescent about Deep Vellum’s mission. Starting out with a list of five impressive titles translated from French, Russian, Spanish, and Icelandic, their initial plan is to publish ten books a year. In a recent interview with this blog, Evans confidently declared, “Deep Vellum is going to publish translations of literature from every language.”
My conversation with him about South Asian translations revealed that visibility is a problem. Larger publishers may have resources to scout out interesting titles (though one doesn’t see this go beyond certain languages and regions). But smaller publishers rely on information channels that are already in place.
Evans writes, “I don’t know many translators from South Asia, and the pipelines for information that exist from the French, German, and various Spanish language cultural programs don’t seem to exist in South Asia, which is a shame, because as long as there are good books to be published, of course I’m interested, and so are all my other favorite publishers.”
“It would also be awesome if some cultural organizations were formed to promote the literatures of South Asia in a meaningful way. Their inspiration could be like the German Book Office, who are an invaluable resource for the promotion of German literature in the U.S. Their New Books in German publication is a great way of knowing what is coming out from German publishers, and they coordinate a massive network of German publishers, translators, and authors, and they go out of their way to connect American publishers with the right books from Germany. I’d love that from South Asia, though of course we’re talking about a massively disparate area, not linguistically or culturally unified. But such efforts could go a long way in each individual culture or territory to making their literature more prevalent in English translation in the U.S. & U.K.”
Evans also points to the example of Korea. “The Korean literary organization LTI has done wonders for the promotion of Korean literature in English in recent years, because they are dedicated to using culture as a way of expanding Korean culture abroad more generally. And you don’t see the same thing from South Asian governments.”
Part VI is about the need for translators, and the role that they could play:
Today there are many South Asians here who have taken up creative writing. Some have become prominent. Very few have tried translation. Moazzam Sheikh, a writer who’s also a translator, says: “This situation can only be reversed if we South Asians had a different relationship with the languages of our parents. Just imagine if only a handful of South Asian writers in the U.S. spent some time translating!”
There are also many academics from South Asia who teach literature in the U.S. Only a minority among them become familiar with non-English writing from South Asia. Arnab Chakladar, who teaches at Carleton College, noted in an essay in Postcolonial Text: “Most relevant here is the educational background of the large majority of Indian literary scholars who arrived in the USA beginning in the late 1980s and whose careers, as graduate students and faculty, parallel the rise of South Asian literary studies as a more or less discrete sub-discipline in the American academy. While this group is multilingual, the primary medium of instruction through their school and college years would have been English. In high school they would likely have had another Indian language as a ‘second language’ and read a very limited amount of fiction and poetry in this language, but would not have developed any coherent sense of its literary tradition.”
However this problem does not affect simply those who’ve been educated in English. Jason Grunebaum points me towards a major failing from the subcontinent: the absence of contemporary literature from high school curricula. “Another idea that’s fairly obvious but bears emphasizing, particularly for Hindi literature, would be the wholesale shakeup of the CBSE (secondary school) Hindi curriculum in India. I’m sure the situation is similar for other Indian languages (though I always imagine that the grass is always greener on the other side), but if the sole aim of the CBSE curriculum had been to design a language and literature curriculum so boring and irrelevant that it would be guaranteed to make all students hate Hindi language and literature, they couldn’t have done a better job. It’s amazing how many Hindi students who come to the University of Chicago from India with their CBSE-tainted notions of Hindi literature and then later discover here that Hindi literature can (gasp!) be exciting and fun.”
(That last point can probably apply to every country’s high school curriculum ever. It’s kind of a miracle that anyone graduating high school—or college for that matter—reads anything at all. And there is my first truly cynical moment of the week!)
Part V is due out next week—I’ll run an update when that happens. But once again, check out the whole series here.Tweet
Welcome back from the weekend, everyone! Kjell Askildsen has a neato name. That is all.
Here’s the beginning of Patrick’s review:
To call Kjell Askildsen’s style sparse or terse would be to understate just how far he pushes his prose. Almost nothing is explained, elaborated on. In simple sentences, events occur, words are exchanged, narrators have brief thoughts. As often as translators are praised for their work with complex, tangled sentences, I often wonder if bringing life to minimalist work is as much a challenge, and Seán Kinsella brings that life:
I went down to the living room. Daniel was standing by the veranda door. The storm had put me in a conciliatory fram of mind, and I went over to him and said: Isn’t it spectacular? Spectacular? he said. The apple trees are being stripped of fruit, and look at the sugar snaps. I looked at them; some of the stalks lay on the ground.
In all that is unspoken, by narrators and between characters, in all the we can’t know, tension builds and fear of something sinister, even in the mundane, is birthed. In his sense of uncomfortable danger in human relations, Askildsen calls to mind Michael Haneke. Haneke may be most widely known for the bloodier, more dramatic violence of some of his films, but the smaller acts, the more frightful for their commonplace, can be as much an assault on the viewer. Code Unknown features two of these that stand out in my memory more than any scene from Funny Games: a scuffle in the street, a frightened mother slapping a child who carelessly put itself in danger.
For the rest of the review, go here.Tweet
Today’s entry in the Month of a Thousand Forests series is Juan Marsé, who has a few book available in English translation: Golden Girl, Lizard Tails, and Shanghai Nights.
In this excerpt he talks a bit about this background and his time in Paris, which led to Últimas tardes con Teresa.
__All this month, if you order_ A Thousand Forests in One Acorn from the Open Letter site and use the code FORESTS, you’ll get it for only $15.
Like the character of the Pijoaparte, you came from outside the powerful and influential bourgeoisie and literary groups and you made it on your own. Was that hard?
It was sudden and almost improvised in the sense that, though I liked reading a lot, I never studied at a university and barely even in secondary school. When I was thirteen years old my mother told me that I had to drop out of school and start working. This wasn’t a problem and didn’t upset me at all—I wanted to get out of that school. They made us recite the rosary every day; it was a terrifying thing. It was an awful, old-fashioned school, and I was excited to do something that would get me out of there. So, when I decided to submit my first draft to an editor, I knew no one in the literary world, I had no idea what a literary life could be like. And then I met this group of people who were very refined, but who, on the other hand, with respect to social and political ideas of the nation, were openly leftist. I realized right away that these people were “señoritos” from the country’s upper class—Goytisolo, Carlos Barral, Castellet—and for them, I was probably the first working-class person they knew. They advised me right away to get out of the country, and I’d been wanting to travel, so I published my first novel and I went to Paris. I lived with abandon. They thought while I was in Paris I would write, but I wrote absolutely nothing. I bought books—or sometimes stole them because I had no money at first—and went to the cinema to see movies that weren’t shown here, and listened to music and went to the theatre . . . in other words, I devoted myself to living. A love affair now and then . . . in the end—freedom. And I joined the Party and became close friends with Jorge Semprún, who taught us classes on international politics. And it was there I conceived of Últimas tardes con Teresa. I gave a few talks in Spanish to some young French students, they were upper class, very refined, and one of them was named Teresa. Nothing at all to do with the character, but that’s where the name came from. Then I quit my job at the Pasteur Institute with Jacques Monod, a famous researcher who won the Nobel Prize. My first novel was translated and published by Gallimard, the famous publisher who translated Faulkner and Dos Passos, Maurice-Edgar Coindreau. I worked in film; I started translating screenplays from French into Spanish for co-productions in France and Spain. But Últimas tardes was already in my head and I needed to come back. And taking advantage of a film that was being shot here and in Paris, I came with the crew and I stayed.
To finish the story, when I got back to Barcelona everyone asked: “So, how was your experience in Paris?” I told Carlos Barral, “I didn’t bring anything.” That is to say, yes, I brought an idea that I’m going to start working on right away, but it doesn’t take place in Paris, it takes place here. More than anything I remember a conversation with old man Lara, who said to me in his Andalusian accent: “How is it possible that you came back from Paris without a novel? Those French women will do anything. Not one story about a French woman? Those things sell like pastries.” Everyone was a little frustrated with me about that. And I started to work on Últimas tardes con Teresa.
Years later, looking back on that passionate summer, both of them would recall not only the suggestive light that fell on every event, its variety of golden reflections and false promises, its illusions of a free future, but also the fact that, in the middle of their mutual attraction, even in the heat of their summer kisses, there were shadows where the cold of winter was already nesting, the fog that would eclipse the mirage.
—Are you honest with me, Manolo? Sometimes I’m scared . . .
—Scared of what?
—I don’t know. Is this real, what’s happening to us?
The internal erosion of the myth took place without weakening Teresa’s growing love for the boy from the south. His true character was revealed to her precisely (and it took only three nights) when she realized she hadn’t been seduced by an idea, but by a man. First came a feeling of disorientation, a need to reevaluate certain notions about the strange world in which we live, when she made some unexpected connections, the scandalous way illusion wrapped itself around reality.
On a Sunday afternoon of sun and sudden showers, it was the end of August, Teresa insisted they go into a popular dance club in Guinardó. They had taken refuge from the rain in a bar across the street from Salón Ritmo, where a crowd of boys and girls, who arrived running through the rain, were waiting to go in. Manolo mentioned that years ago that place had been his favorite dance club. “Why don’t we go in?” she said, her eyes lighting up. “You won’t like it, that place is full of degenerates,” Manolo said. But she insisted (“Rain and no car, what else can we do?”) and he had no choice but to indulge her whim. Right then the rain was coming down in torrents. Manolo took off his jacket and used it to protect the girl as they crossed the street. Teresa leaned against him and smiled. At the ticket window a fat, pink man was smoking Ideales and Teresa tried to bum one. “Don’t be rude,” joked Manolo. “Oh be quiet, hombre. This will be fun, you’ll see.” Boys: 25 pesatas, Girls: 15. “Discrimination,” said the happy university girl. One drink included in the cover. Performing: Orquesta Satélites Verdes, their singer Cabot Kim (Joaquín Cabot), Maymó Brothers (Afro-Cuban rhythms), Lucieta Kañá (young Catalan cuplé performer) and some other big names from that era. “This is going to be great,” said Teresa. From the beginning she showed an odd excitement. Exclusive, special appearance by Trio Moreneta Boys (the lovely sounds of sardana fused with modern rock). “Spectacular,” said Teresa as they went in, “I can’t wait.” The place was packed and loud, no room to move on the dance floor. Men dressed to the nines, with sardonic eyes and impertinent expressions roved around in tight packs, harassing girls, leaning over them, scrutinizing their necklines and whispering come-ons. Almost all of them were Andalusians. The fiery looks Teresa received were more than suggestive. Manolo’s constant presence at her side saved her from an advance that, if she were alone, would have moved beyond simple admiration. Fortunately, on that day she was dressed plain enough for church (white pleated skirt, blue blouse with a high neck, and a wide black belt), which, in that milieu, might have made her the subject of mockery if it hadn’t been for her long, blonde hair and lustrous, sun-flattered skin, two charms that betrayed her, that is of course if she wanted to pass unnoticed. There were stationary groups of girls in the galleries and in chairs lined up around the dance floor, whispering among themselves every now and then. At the far end, on a small stage were the Satélites Verdes dressed in sequin shirts, their singer (unusually melodic, according to popular opinion) with a thin, black mustache and a nasal, Gregorian voice. Previously, the place had belonged to an old cultural and recreational workers society (Home of the Weavers Guild), which, along with their Choir, their Library, and their Theater—now converted into Salón Ritmo—had disappeared along with the Republic. Outdated and solemn decoration: four walls with plaster crown molding embossed with bouquets of flowers, bunches of grapes, and coats of arms—a face within, an illustrious name below (Prat de la Riba, Pompeu Fabra, Clavé). Glorious Catalans, leaders of orfeó i caramelles, the long lost labor movement, whose severe profiles seemed to express scorn for the Sunday invasion of illiterate Andalusians. In the first floor gallery, through the rancid odor of the wooden box seats, wandered the ghost of a familiar, artisan spirit that reigned in the past and that today occupied one remaining refuge: the stockroom for beverages and artifacts. It had been a library and billiard room, now it housed the mutilated and still quivering remains of Catalan translations of Dostoevsky and Proust alongside Salgari, Dickens, the Patufet, and Maragall, and rusted trophies and old Home of the Weavers standards sleeping alongside the dream of oblivion.
(Translated by Will Vanderhyden)Tweet
There’s no real official start date for the judging of the Best Translated Book Award – though maybe the announcement finalizing who the judges actually are is a good starting point. While some of us have been here before – and have probably been reading with an eye towards the 2015 prize all year already – others have only been roped into the process more recently. But in fact, while we are already two-thirds into the year (the 2015 prize is for a work of fiction, never previously translated, published/distributed in the US in 2014), it really is still early days for all of us judges. Publishers have until the very last day of the year, December 31st, to submit titles to us, and while quite a few have already gotten some nice batches of books out to us (many thanks!), experience suggests that the submission piles will only really start piling up in the coming months. (Publishers don’t have to submit titles – we’ll try to consider anything that is eligible, regardless – but it certainly helps (a lot) if they do; and while the December 31 deadline isn’t actually an absolute one (yes, we’ll (try very hard to …) look at books even after then if for some reason they’ve escaped us until then) the more time we do have to consider books, the better.)
I get a lot of these titles anyway, all year long, as submissions for possible review at the Complete Review, so I don’t quite feel I’ve suddenly been thrown into a bottomless ocean of fiction-in-translation – I’ve been wading in it all year already – , but opening the spreadsheet where we track the books and share our comments on our on-going reading can feel a bit overwhelming. The spreadsheet is based on the Translation Database Chad Post keeps at Three Percent, with the ineligible works (such as anthologies) weeded out, and kept perhaps slightly more up-to-date. So while the 2014 database currently lists 384 fiction- titles, the spreadsheet – as I write this – already lists 408. (A few more of these will probably be weeded out, while a few dozen more will likely eventually be added – such as that just-announced new Murakami work.) Still,
408 409 works…..
A few books always escape us – we just can’t get our hands on even one copy – but we do try our hardest to at least consider them all. Some admittedly more than others: it only takes a quick dip into some of the books to realize there’s not much there – surprisingly few, however: translation does tend to act as a filter: all the extra work involved in getting a book published in English translation does seem to weed out most of the truly terrible stuff.
I build my BTBA piles as the books come in (fortunately not all 400+ books at once …) and try to work my way through, setting aside the ones which I think might possibly be in the running – and flinging away the ones which I think don’t deserve or have a chance (flinging carefully, since my fellow-judges might have different views and might make the case for these later in the process). For now, everything still seems reasonably manageable – the piles aren’t too high (we’re only two-thirds of the way into the year, so a lot of books haven’t been published yet and aren’t available for us to consider – I don’t think I’ve seen even close to half of the eligible titles yet), the spreadsheet isn’t yet a blur of titles – but I know from experience that it’s important to plow ahead at a steady clip, so as not to really be overwhelmed when the serious decision-making process starts early next year.
Already four months ago, just after this year’s winners were announced, I looked ahead, suggesting some of the titles I figured would be contenders for the 2015 longlist. I’ve seen and read a lot more of the eligible titles by now, but the picture is still a pretty hazy one to me – which I think is probably for the best: there are far too many more works to get through, and too many other opinions to hear and consider for anything to be set anywhere near in stone yet …..
There are, as always, some big names and some obvious contenders, but so far I haven’t been convinced there’s an obvious break-out title (we’re not going to have a Krasznahorkai three-peat – no eligible title, this time around), and there are fairly few ‘big’ books from the most prominent authors. Yes there’s a new Murakami, which I enjoyed, but it’s safe to say it’s not one of his major works; it’ll be in the longlist discussions, I assume, but I don’t think anyone will be surprised or shocked if it doesn’t make the short- or even longlist.
Two other authors who probably do qualify as literary powerhouses by now – Karl Ove Knausgaard and Elena Ferrante – are certainly in the thick of things with their new books, both of which are very strong. But they’re also (both) the third installment in multi-volume series, and so it’s possible that some reader-fatigue has or is setting in. I’m tipping Knausgaard’s final installment – number six, probably a couple of years off – as a likely future BTBA winner, but I don’t know if these middle-books can generate that top-level of excitement to consistently push them through to the shortlist. Ferrante, on the other hand, seems to have more momentum (and, this year, arguably the stronger book) – though the fact that it turns out this one isn’t the last in the series either might prove a bit deflating as well.
For now, it’s simply about reading – digesting as much as possible and getting those initial impressions. A bit of cream rises easily to the top, but it’ll be a few months – until we start discussing in earnest – before I really start thinking seriously about what books I’d like to see on the longlist and what books I might not have given a fair shot yet (as other judges make the case for books X,Y, and Z). Fun times – for now.Tweet
Next up in our Month of a Thousand Forests series is Ana María Matute who has one book already available in English—School of the Sun, which was translated by Elaine Kerrigan and published by Columbia University Press.
The piece that’s excerpted below is from Olvidado Rey Gudú which is “the book I wanted to write ever since I was a girl, all of my obsessions are in it.” According to Valerie Miles, this is “one of her most celebrated novels that, along with La torre vigía and Aranmanoth, make up a trilogy about a medieval court.
Unfortunately, Matute passed away in June, but left behind a huge catalog of works, including novels, short stories, books for children, and a few collections of articles. Given how many prizes she won over her lifetime, hopefully someone will bring out a few of these.
__And just as a reminder, all this month, if you order_ A Thousand Forests in One Acorn from the Open Letter site and use the code FORESTS, you’ll get it for only $15.
You refer to your generation as the “shadow children” and you explain how important fairy tales were for them, and the phrase “once upon a time.” You started out writing social realism but over time you’ve shifted to the fantasy novel. Why?
Some women began to make significant inroads in literature in the postwar era. Carmen Laforet was the first, and although I’m often included in the same generation as her and Cela, she was older—I’m from the generation of the fifties. But it’s not entirely true to say that I’ve switched from realism to fantasy. It is, but not entirely. My intended style of writing forms part of the magic, you understand, of the magic of literature, of literature as invention. So that has always existed in my books and stories. But you have to take into account the time in which I had to live and develop as a writer. It was the Francoist era. First, when I was eleven years old the civil war broke out right in front of me and after I was fourteen, in my adolescence, I lived through a very long postwar period. And that left a mark on all of us, marked us decisively. This explains why I had to find a lung to breathe and to fight this man and his system. Pequeño tentro or Primaria memoria are realist, but not entirely. There is always a more poetic part. I think that social realism really killed Spanish literature for a while and I wanted to get away from it. I didn’t renounce my rebelliousness or my strong social criticism by writing literature instead of social reporting. I haven’t limited myself to telling, to narrating. I imagine. I invent. In any case, I have traveled a lot and I’ve seen how women are treated in the world and I’ve come to the realization that it’s not solely the heritage of Spain. But in a country like ours and at that time there were strong inherited prejudices.
_Did this generation of “shadow children” lose their innocence because of what they
saw so young?_
I’ve known many people for whom it’s not that they’ve lost it, it’s that they never had it. But childhood is something that’s never lost. Childhood leaves a mark. I’ve often stressed that childhood, the boy or girl that we were, is something we have inside forever and it’s a very rich place for imagination and invention.
Ondina of the Depths of the Lake had lived in the loveliest spot in the Lake of Disappearances for four-hundred-and-thirty years. Ondina was extraordinarily beautiful: smooth floating hair the color of seaweed coming down to her waist, large eyes ranging from the softest gold to dark green, as changeable as the light, and bluish-white skin. Her arms waved slowly between the deep roots of the plants, and her legs moved like the fins of a carp. A steady and shining smile, which transitioned from the pearlescent white of a shell to the liquid pink of a sunrise, floated across her lips. Any human would have felt a captivating desire to study her in all of her details—with the exception of her ears, which, like all of her kind, were long and pointed at the tips, although of a soft color between rose and gold.
Despite being the granddaughter of the Great Lady of the Lake, she did not possess a shred of her wisdom, not even a speck of the slightest intelligence—as often happens with water nymphs. On the contrary, she was so sweet and gentle, and exuded such innocence, that her profound stupidity could very well be mistaken for more poignant charm and enchantment. Like all water nymphs, she was exceedingly capricious, and her great whimsy was her Collection at the Bottom, where she had cultivated her garden of Intricate Greens with care. Ondina’s collection consisted of an already considerable display of men, young and handsome, between fourteen and twenty years of age. She liked them so much that she would often drag them to the bottom, and there she preserved them, rosy and unharmed, thanks to the sap of the maraubina plant that grows once every three thousand years among the wellsprings. But soon she grew tired of them, and however much she adorned them with flowers from the lake and crowned their heads with all sorts of glittering stones, and caressed their hair, and kissed their cold lips, they said and did nothing; and so she always needed more and more young men to distract her with variety.
Every so often, cautiously approaching the shores of the Lake, she had seen how young peasant couples caressed and kissed one another, and it filled her with envy. She had confessed as much on more than one occasion to the goblins, who, out of pity, sometimes pushed men to the bottom. Among them was the Goblin of the South, to whom she had confided her wayward obsession. “This is foolishness,” the goblins told her. “Choose a dolphin from those that roam the Southern coasts to take as your husband and stop this. Considering your youth, you can be forgiven, but tread carefully so your grandmother doesn’t find out: she doesn’t tolerate human contamination, and you can only play safely with the drowned.” “That’s what I’ll do,” she said then, contritely. “I promise not to forget.” But since she was stupid to the most remote depths of her being, she not only forgot, but persisted in her foolish desire to receive caresses and kisses from a living man. “But what for?” the Goblin of the South asked her, who, after his libations had given him his post in the Castle, the Northern region of which grazed the waters of the rising Lake, had long conversations with her. “I see no reason.” “Nor do I,” responded Ondina. “I see no reason, but so it is.”
This was the state of things when the Goblin opportunely remembered about her, her naïve nature and her foolish whimsy. This is how water nymphs were, it was said. He had met another, in the South, who had taken a fancy to donkeys, and also another, farther East, who had a penchant for red-bearded soldiers. Anything could be expected from a water nymph, except common sense.
(Translated by Lisa Boscov-Ellen)Tweet
Usually, I try and feature a work of translation as part of the “weekend reading” series, but I’m making an exception this week in order to highlight Joanna Scott’s new novel, which just came out this week.
Aside from being an outstanding novelist and short story writer (Arrogance and The Manikin are particularly worth reading), Joanna is one of the most beloved English professors here at the University of Rochester and has served on Open Letter’s Executive Committee from day one.
Even if I didn’t know her personally—and hadn’t worked with her daughter a couple summers ago—I would still be really excited about De Potter’s Grand Tour. Here’s a bit from the FSG website:
In 1905, a tourist agent and amateur antiques collector named Armand de Potter mysteriously disappeared off the coast of Greece. His body is never recovered and his wife is left to manage his affairs on her own. But as she starts to piece together his life, she realizes that everything was not as he had said. Infused with details from letters and diary entries, the narrative twists forward and backward through time, revealing a lost world of fake identities, underground antiques networks, and a husband who wasn’t what he seemed. [. . .]
Told with masterful narrative agility, De Potter’s Grand Tour is a tale as grand as the tour guide at its center. Drawing on real letters, legal documents, and a trove of diaries only recently discovered, Joanna Scott points delicately toward the story’s historical basis and unfolds a detective tale of the highest order.
Given Joanna’s literary sensibilities and intimidating intelligence, I think this is going to be pretty amazing. My copy is supposed to be available today, and with a weekend of 90 degree temperatures, it seems like the perfect way to end the summer is sitting on the beach with this book.
A couple months back FSG featured De Potter’s Grand Tour in their weekly “Work in Progress” newsletter. So if you’re interested, you can read the first chapter here.Tweet
Miruna is a novella written in the voice of an adult who remembers the summer he (then, seven) and his sister, Miruna (then, six) spent in the Evil Vale with their grandfather (sometimes referred to as “Grandfather,” other times as. . .
Kamal Jann by the Lebanese born author Dominique Eddé is a tale of familial and political intrigue, a murky stew of byzantine alliances, betrayals, and hostilities. It is a well-told story of revenge and, what’s more, a serious novel that. . .
While looking back at an episode in his life, twenty-year-old Taguchi Hiro remembers what his friend Kumamoto Akira said about poetry.
Its perfection arises precisely from its imperfection . . . . I have an image in my head. I see. . .
The central concern of Sorj Chalandon’s novel Return to Killybegs appears to be explaining how a person of staunch political activism can be lead to betray his cause, his country, his people. Truth be told, the real theme of the. . .
Spoiler alert: acclaimed writer Stefan Zweig and his wife Lotte kill themselves at the end of Lauren Seksik’s 2010 novel, The Last Days.
It’s hard to avoid spoiling this mystery. Zweig’s suicide actually happened, in Brazil in 1942, and since then. . .
To call Kjell Askildsen’s style sparse or terse would be to understate just how far he pushes his prose. Almost nothing is explained, elaborated on. In simple sentences, events occur, words are exchanged, narrators have brief thoughts. As often as. . .
After a mysterious woman confesses to an author simply known as “R” that she has loved him since she was a teenager, she offers the following explanation: “There is nothing on earth like the love of a child that passes. . .
Floating around the internet amid the hoopla of a new Haruki Murakami release, you may have come across a certain Murakami Bingo courtesy of Grant Snider. It is exactly what it sounds like, and it’s funny because it’s true,. . .
The publisher’s blurb for Oleg Pavlov’s The Matiushin Case promises the prospective reader “a Crime and Punishment for today,” the sort of comparison that is almost always guaranteed to do a disservice to both the legendary dead and the ambitious. . .
One hundred years have passed since the start of World War I and it is difficult to believe that there are still novels, considered classics in their own countries, that have never been published in English. Perhaps it was the. . .