30 November 15 | Chad W. Post | Comments

This week’s Best Translated Book Award post is from Tom Roberge from New Directions, Albertine Books, and the Three Percent Podcast. He’s not actually a BTBA judge, but since he’s helping run the whole process, he thought he’d weigh in and post as well. For more information on the BTBA, “like” our Facebook page and follow us on Twitter. And check back here each week for a new post by one of the judges.

Dear Chris,

I’m just back from seeing Houellebecq’s new cover, Submission, and am writing you to try to make sense of it. My first impression is that it’s asking the viewer to do a lot of work. And I’m not entirely sure it’s successful, commercially, to have taken this approach, but it has been taken and here we are.

The canvas is bleached white, the material left untreated. No gloss. No coating at all. The visual elements consist mostly—with one enigmatic exception—of black text, all in the same elegantly simplistic serif font employed with a few variations on style and formatting. SUBMISSION itself appears in all capital letters, centered horizontally (as is all of the text). It’s also the largest of the words on the canvas, sitting atop the others in an obvious position of primacy. Below this are the words A NOVEL, also in all caps, but so much smaller that it seems almost inessential, a presumed fact, perhaps, or, on the other hand, something no one particularly cares if the viewer incorporates into the overall message. On either side of these two words, stretching to the width of the word SUBMISSION, are thin black lines that serve to separate SUBMISSION from the text below. Bracketing A NOVEL in between these division lines only further enhances the impression that the proviso was included reluctantly. That said, I admit the possibility that rather than it being a bit player in the visual drama unfolding, it might be the most subtly important clue to understanding the assemblage, a nuanced sort of knowing nod, the artist saying, basically, “I know you know it’s a novel; no need to shout.” I’m unsure. Beneath the line is Michel Houellebecq’s name, centered, with his first and last names occupying their own lines. Michel is formatted slightly smaller than Houellebecq, the latter of which is in all caps while the former is not. It seems obvious that the artist wanted HOUELLEBECQ to be as large as possible within the decided-upon design, by which I mean that it couldn’t be wider than the word SUBMISSION above. The length of the name prevents an equivalent size, and so the result is that it’s smaller. Alas. My eyes, for what’s it worth, are consistently drawn to the tail on the capital Q at the end of HOUELLEBECQ. It seems, to me, to be somewhat ostentatious, as though the font was largely designed with great restraint, apart for a few flourishes, this Q included. Lacking any other tailed letters, this Q stands out and hints at a certain disassociative quality to the work. Below HOUELLEBECQ is another line, and beneath that, in nearly the same size font as A NOVEL above, is a line that reads AUTHOR OF, and below that, in a slightly larger although still quite small all-caps letters (the three words don’t span the width of the words SUBMISSION or HOUELLEBECQ) is a previous work’s title, THE ELEMENTARY PARTICLES. All of these elements, I should add, are debossed, which definitely made me smile to myself when I realized this fact. Submission, recession, blending in… there’s something playful happening here, and I appreciate it.

There is one remaining design element to mention, one that, even as I write, I’m still trying to make sense of. Stretching from the top of the frame to the bottom, edge to edge, is a thin red line. Writing that phrase (thin red line), made me, just now, think of the Terrance Malick film, which led me to the Internet for a few minutes of research on the possible origins and meaning of the term and, perhaps, I’d hoped, an indication to its visual manifestation here. (You see what I mean about asking the viewer to do a lot of work?) Wikipedia’s page on “Red Line (Phrase)” includes the following in its “Thin Red Line” subsection:

From British English, an entirely different figure of speech for an act of great courage against impossible order or thinly spread military unit holding firm against attack, a or the “thin red line”, originates from reports of a red-coated Scottish regiment at the Battle of Balaclava during the Crimean War. A journalist described a “thin red streak tipped with a line of steel” with the appearance of the 93rd (Highland) Regiment and parts of the Turkish army as they stood before (and repelled) a vastly superior force of Russian cavalry. The reference soon became apocopated into the thin red line, and famously described by Rudyard Kipling in the poem “Tommy” as “the thin red line of ‘eroes [heroes].”

Is it safe to assume the artist’s intention was an allusion to this sort of militaristic framework? I mean, it’s never safe to assume such things, but we do it all the time. We’re incapable of refraining.

Having gotten these thoughts down in writing, I am still of the opinion that the cover shirks some of its responsibilities in terms of providing context or access points. But to be fair to the artist, a lot of that work has been done by the media, which has repeated Houellebecq’s name and the title and a brief (if perhaps inaccurate) summary of the work ad nauseam over the last year or so. Its fame precedes itself, as they say. And so the artist needs only to convey the bare essentials, to remind viewers of certain recent events, of discussions and articles and pictorial cues that may have already left a deep impression on the viewer. It’s communication via nudging. Everything else—the debossed text, the thin red line—is fun and games, a friendly wink to the cognoscenti.

I think I like it.

18 November 15 | Chad W. Post | Comments

This week’s Best Translated Book Award post is from Amanda Nelson, managing editor of Book Riot. For more information on the BTBA, “like” our Facebook page and follow us on Twitter. And check back here each week for a new post by one of the judges.

I once heard a theory that the American South (where I live) has such a higher crime rate than the rest of the country because of the weather. That because it’s so hot and muggy and disgusting here for so much of the year, people are extra on-edge, extra cranky, extra mean and prone to lashing out. There’s so much that’s nonsensical and completely not based in fact about the idea, of course, but it stuck with me. Maybe that’s why I’m so obsessed with cold weather whodunits. What would make someone commit a violent crime in a place with such soothing, cool, dark weather? Where you could, instead of hurting someone, sit in a cozy sweater and drink a beer?

When the books started rolling in for the BTBA judging, I snatched up the Northern European murder mysteries first. It’s hard to write a noteworthy one after the success of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, but that isn’t stopping anyone from trying. And while cold weather murder mysteries have a reputation for being very Which Pretty Young Girl Is Going To Be Murdered Next (hello, Dragon Tattoo influence), that hasn’t really been the case with this year’s crop:

Ice Queen by Nele Neuhaus, translated by Steven T. Murray

The body of a 92 year old Holocaust survivor is found in his home after he’s been shot, execution style. When his autopsy is performed, a blood marker tattoo for Hitler’s SS is found on his arm. Soon after, two similar murders of elderly people occur, and investigators realize all the victims are friends of one wealthy baroness who fled the second World War. Now she’s an elderly philanthropist and matriarch of her old family. The investigators follow the murderer’s trail back to the end of WWII and into Poland. The sleight-of-hand here is pretty heavy: you’re so focused on the obvious choice for the murderer that you don’t see the real one coming at all . . . to the point that you might feel a little cheated. But still an interesting read, especially for history buffs.

Reykjavik Nights by Arnaldur Indridason, translated by Victoria Cribb

The Inspector Erlendur series is famous already, and this prequel takes us back to a look at Erlendur as a newbie detective. This one also has a victim who isn’t a pretty dead girl (yay, let’s stop doing that altogether!) and is instead a homeless, alcoholic middle-aged man. Erlendur comes to recognize the man after he runs into him a few times while patrolling the city at night, and when he’s found dead, Erlendur is the only person who cares enough to find out if it was foul play. He chases his leads into the underbelly of Reykjavik to find out the truth. This one is a slow build: there’s no big car chases to speak of, no real glamour or ultra-violence. But that’s what I appreciated about it—it’s a good lazy Sunday book.

The Swimmer by Joakim Zander, translated by Elizabeth Clark Wessel

A political aide raised in the middle of nowhere in the Swedish archipelago by her grandparents (she’s an orphan) discovers a secret via an old lover. An aging, worn out spy who abandoned his newborn baby after watching her mother die in order to keep his cover wrestles with his past by doing laps all day in the swimming pool. When the political aide has to go on the run and the old spy finds out who she is (you can guess, surely), the two of them run for their lives across Europe. It’s a Bourne-style adventure without the amnesia, but with the thrills and political intrigue. This one is a dash of WHOdunit, with a sprinkling of whichCOUNTRYdunit, or whichCORPORATIONdunit. Thrillers are so often about what a spy’s life is like in the thick of it, it was refreshing to encounter one nearing the end of his tenure.

14 November 15 | Chad W. Post | Comments

Chad’s done a bit more number crunching since this was recorded (see the posts on his Twitter account, which is @chadwpost), but this is a good introduction to the ongoing conversation about women in translation. A lot of this discussion is based on this post from Three Percent.

This week’s music is Detachable Penis by King Missile, which is sort of fitting.

Also, just a reminder that because of some difficulties with iTunes, you may need to unsubscribe and resubscribe to the correct feed in iTunes at that link, or right here:

Or, you can just put this feed link into whichever is your podcast app of choice:

Tell all your friends and family to also subscribe—that’s what can get us higher in that Top 200 lit podcasts list . . . And it’s also amazingly helpful in getting the podcast seen by more eyes if you can take just a moment to stop by iTunes to give us a quick rating (and a little review, too, if you’re an amazing overachiever!).

13 November 15 | Kaija Straumanis | Comments

The latest addition to our Reviews section is by Vincent Francone on Rambling Jack by Micheál Ó Conghaile, translated by Katherine Duffy, and published by Dalkey Archive Press.

Vince went for a non-standard review format for this bilingual edition, favoring a flowing dialogue-style, and it’s pretty awesome. Here’s a taste of it:

“Rambling Jack—what’s that?”
“A novel. Novella, I guess.”
“Yeah, it looks short. What is it, a hundred pages?”
“Sorta. It’s a duel language book, so really, only about… 50 pages total.”
“50 pages?”
“Including illustrations.”
“And this—what is it… Dalkey Archive—they want 14 bucks for a 50 page book?”
“That’s pretty short.”
“It is, but the book is good. What does it matter how long it is if it’s a good read?”
“I guess. So is it?”
“A good read?”
“It is. Oh yeah.”
“Rambling, eh? Sounds like fun.”
“It’s not rambling like a romantic wayward hobo boxcar type of rambling, though.”

For the rest of the “conversation,” go here.

13 November 15 | Chad W. Post | Comments

This week’s Best Translated Book Award post is from Heather Cleary, translator of Sergio Chejfec, Oliverio Girondo, professor at Sarah Lawrence, and co-founder of the Buenos Aires Review. For more information on the BTBA, “like” our Facebook page and follow us on Twitter. And check back here each week for a new post by one of the judges.

I’ve been planning for weeks to write about Yuri Herrera’s Signs Preceding the End of the World, which got under my skin in a way few books do. It’s not just that it’s impossible to put down—in both Herrera’s Spanish and Lisa Dillman’s English, its language is a fever dream of mixed registers and literary allusions pulled perfectly taut across the story. This would probably be reason enough to add my voice to the chorus of praise for the novel, but it seems even more timely to talk about Signs now, less than a week after Donald Trump, the poster child for backward thinking about borders and the people who cross them, had another moment in the spotlight on Saturday Night Live. Less so because the novel tells the story of an fierce, unflappable young woman who makes the journey from what is recognizably (though not explicitly) Mexico into what is recognizably (though not explicitly) the USA in search of her missing brother—though it is indeed a compelling story—than because the novel offers a powerful, nuanced take on the negotiation of those contact zones in which not only nations, but also languages, traditions, and identities meet, complicate, and enrich one another.
We meet Makina—the protagonist of Signs Preceding the End of the World and, in the words of Francisco Goldman, the “heroine who redeems us all“—as she stands on a different, but even more intractable border: the one separating life from death. In fact, the very first words of the novel are the beautifully impossible “I’m dead,” exclaimed as the ground at her feet, weakened by centuries of rapacious silver extraction, caves in—swallowing a man as he crosses the street “and with him a car and a dog, all the oxygen around, and even the screams of passers-by.”

Makina, however, refuses to be among those “sent packing to the underworld” that day—she has a mission to carry out. Her mother has asked her to deliver a note to her brother, who went missing after getting conned into crossing the border in search of land supposedly left to their family. To accomplish this, she first needs to visit another underworld: the lairs of three local gangsters who will help her make it to the other side. From there she travels to the border, crosses the stygian river that separates the two lands with the aid of a taciturn gentleman named Chucho (hired by said gangsters to act as her guide), is shot by vigilantes but somehow manages to escape, and is nearly arrested as she homes in on her brother’s whereabouts.

If all this sounds fairly epic, that’s because it is: one of the things that make this work so much bigger than the breadth of its spine is the way Herrera weaves allusions to pre-Columbian and Western narrative traditions throughout. Given the nine chapters that lead to our heroine’s descent into “The Obsidian Place with no Windows or Holes for Smoke,” we can pick Dante out as one of Makina’s travel companions, and the ordeals she faces as she crosses the border—not to mention her almost inhuman physical and psychological resilience—clearly bear the mark of myth.

In addition to this contact and flow between cultures past and present, zones of linguistic contact are central to the novel. As the switchboard operator and de facto interpreter of the small town where she lives, Makina, is herself a model of these modes of exchange. Though she is able to speak “native tongue,” “latin tongue,” and the “new tongue” of those who have gone up North, she knows “how to keep quiet in all three, too.”

Among the few possessions she takes on her journey is a “latin-anglo dictionary,” despite the fact that “those things were by old men and for old men.” The world, however, is not revealed to her through the neat equivalences of the dictionary, but rather through moments of non-transference between languages, when one shines through the other like a beacon. Standing firmly astride another border, a frontier almost as carefully policed as the one separating Makina from the land that swallowed her brother, Herrera deftly takes on the social politics of a language that is recognizably (though not explicitly) Spanglish:

More than a midpoint between homegrown and anglo their tongue is a nebulous territory between what is dying out and what is not yet born . . . Makina senses in their tongue not a sudden absence but a shrewd metamorphosis, a self-defensive shift. They might be talking in perfect latin tongue and without warning begin to talk in perfect anglo tongue and keep it up like that, alternating between a thing that believes itself to be perfect and a thing that believes itself to be perfect, morphing back and forth between two beasts until out of carelessness or clear intent they suddenly stop switching tongues and start speaking that other one.

It is not just that this third tongue stands alongside the other two, its fluid definitions perpetually subject to change. What is so striking about Herrera’s description is that it is precisely from this unstable position at the border between two languages that this third one creates meaning more rich than either side alone could produce:

Using in one tongue the word for a thing in the other makes the attributes of both resound: if you say Give me fire when they say Give me a light, what is not to be learned about fire, light, and the act of giving? It is not another way of saying things: these are new things.

Makina’s gaze makes things new in just this way, especially for the North American reader of Dillman’s vibrant, limber translation. Supermarkets are “cornucopias where you could have more than everyone else or something different or a newer brand,” in which the “anglogaggle at the self-checkouts” purchases their goods and then seeks to “make amends for their momentary one-up by becoming wooden again so as not to offend anyone.” (“Anglogaggle“—a felicitous play on Herrera’s “gabacherío“—may well be one of the best words I’ve ever seen in print.) Baseball is a game the anglos play every week “to celebrate who they are” on “an immense green diamond rippling in its own reflection” set among “tens of thousands of folded black chairs, an obsidian mound barbed with flint, sharp and glimmering.”

Seeing the elements of a familiar world through the lens of an unfamiliar one makes the attributes of both resound, and what is not to be learned from this?

Though the exceedingly timely and nonetheless timeless Signs Preceding the End of the World does not hold back in evoking the violence and exploitation that haunts the passage across the US-Mexico border, Herrera was both sage and skilled enough to write a book that occupies this space in a way that, in its dizzying array of registers and allusions, refuses to be confined by the socio-political reality it depicts. In this virtuosic feat, he seems to have accomplished the impossible: he has offered a new and vital way of looking at a subject too often passed through the pulverizing mill of political rhetoric.

6 November 15 | Kaija Straumanis | Comments

The latest addition to our Reviews section is by Tiffany Nichols on The Things We Don’t Do by Andrés Neuman, translated by Nick Caistor and Lorenza Garcia, and published by Open Letter Books.

Here’s a part of of Tiffany’s review:

Many authors are compared to Roberto Bolaño. However, very few authors have the privilege of having a Roberto Bolaño quote on the cover of their work; and at that, one which states, “Good readers will find something that can be found only in great literature.” You will find this on the covers of Andres Neuman’s works. In addition, Music & Literature claims “Neuman has transcended the boundaries of geography, time, and language to become one of the most significant writers of the early twenty-first century.” Based on Neuman’s introduction to the English-speaking audience with his novel Traveler of a Century_—which I still personally believe is our modern-day _War and Peace or Anna Karenina_—I find absolute truth in the quotes from both Roberto Bolaño and _M&L.

The Things We Don’t Do_—Neuman’s latest work in English translation—does not disappoint. Admittedly, I was very reluctant to shift to a male author in the midst of my Elena Ferrante and Clarice Lispector binge. However, I was quickly reminded of why one should read Neuman. Neuman’s work consists of the combination of the reasons you should read Elena Ferrante and Clarice Lispector with the caveat being that Neuman’s talent is in his ability to capture the voices of all genders, ages, and backgrounds in his works while bringing sparse language to a new level. As _M&L said, Neuman transcends time, but also literary history and talent.

For the rest of the review, go here.

5 November 15 | Chad W. Post | Comments

As you probably know already, Open Letter Books is a non-profit publishing house. Which means that a) I go out of my way to help the field of translation/publishing as a whole (see: Best Translated Book Award, this blog, the translation database, and a dozen other things that don’t benefit us financially, but which I think are “good for culture”) and b) we need donations to survive.1

Which is why it’s really cool that B&N in Webster (suburb of Rochester, and yeah, I’ve never been there either) is hosting an event this weekend to benefit Open Letter.

Specifically, if you shop at this store any time on Saturday, November 7th, and tell the cashier you’re buying things for the “Open Letter Bookfair,” we’ll get a cut. You get what you want, we get part of B&N’s money. WIN-WIN.

If you’re not in Rochester—which, duh and or obviously—you can still help us out. Go to Barnes & Noble online between Saturday, November 7th and Thursday, November 12th, buy whatever you want to buy, and at the checkout scroll to the bottom and enter 11726759 as the “Bookfair ID.” So easy!

(Also, if you happen to be in town, you should attend Jen Grotz’s reading from Rochester Knockings at 5pm at the B&N in Webster.)


OK, to meld two things into one, and to give you an extra incentive to help us out, I thought I’d list all the books I’m teaching this spring as “suggestions” for what you should buy from BN.com. (Each link below goes to the appropriate B&N.com page.) If you buy all of these, let me know, and I’ll send you a recording of one of the conversations we have with one of the translators of these books.2

Is There a Fish in Your Ear? by David Bellos

The Delighted States by Adam Thirlwell (well, this is out of print because commercial publishers don’t give shits about culture, so try and find a used copy?)

Beauty Is a Wound by Eka Kurniawan, translated from the Indonesian by Annie Tucker

Tram 83 by Fiston Mwanza Mujila, translated from the French by Roland Glasser

Oblivion by Sergei Lebedev, translated from the Russian by Antonina W. Bouris

The Story of My Teeth by Valeria Luiselli, translated from the Spanish by Christina MacSweeney

The Large Glass by Mario Bellatin, translated from the Spanish by David Shook

The Boys by Toni Sala, translated from the Catalan by Mara Faye Lethem

I by Wolfgang Hilbig, translated from the German by Isabel Fargo Cole

Something Will Happen, You’ll See by Christos Ikonomou, translated from the Greek by Karen Emmerich

Lies, First Person by Gail Hareven, translated from the Hebrew by Dalya Bilu

So, help Open Letter out and get some great books in the process! Remember, at checkout, add the Bookfair ID 11726759. Thanks so much!

1 Here’s some simple math: If we want to publish an average length novel in translation, it will cost us around $20,000 for the rights, translation, and printing. This doesn’t include salaries, space, marketing, distribution, etc. BUT, just sticking with the $20,000, that means that we’d have to sell about 2,500 copies JUST TO BREAK EVEN. Guess how many books of literature in translation do that? Like 3%. So if we want more literature from around the world to be available, there are a few options: 1) forget anything literary and only publish Scandinavian crime, 2) stop paying translators, or 3) raise money from governments (here and abroad), foundations, and individuals. Open Letter is at a distinct disadvantage in all of this since the University of Rochester is in charge of our fundraising and they would prefer to get untagged money for the university, instead of money for us. We’re dying here. Help! My heart can’t take many more years of this.

2 Yes, my students not only get to hear me ramble on about literature and translation and whatever, but they get to talk to each of the translators featured above. I don’t think anyone appreciates what amazing things Open Letter does for students. I would’ve killed a man for a class like this as an undergrad.

3 November 15 | Chad W. Post | Comments

This week’s Best Translated Book Award post is by Kate Garber, bookseller at 192 Books. For more information on the BTBA, “like” our Facebook page and follow us on Twitter. And check back here each week for a new post by one of the judges.

While many people assume that booksellers base their recommendations on “theme” or “setting” or other similarities of content, I think that the real trick is understanding which need or compulsion has been sated with a certain book, and then handing that book to others who have a similar desire they’d like to fulfill (be it hope, confusion, a desire to be disturbed or to be challenged, to feel set in a place—any place, not just the same country they just read about and loved—or to be drawn along by a story where they just can’t stop turning the page).

Sometimes I realize I’ve been playing a bookseller game with popular literary novels, in which (a) I don’t read a single line of the novel, and (b) I immediately forget both the jacket copy and any review I’ve ever read of it. Then I proceed to recommend the book to surprisingly correct people, knowing exactly why they’ll love it. This is possible thanks to the generosity of people who shop in bookstores, because they LOVE to talk about books.

Recently, or I guess for the past three years, I’ve been playing this game with Elena Ferrante. After finding so many satisfied readers of the Neapolitan Quartet,1 listening to which needs these books have fulfilled, and passing along the recommendation to others, I wanted to go deeper into this phenomenon and figure out not only why readers found them so gripping, but also what allowed so many readers to discover them in the first place (as my recommendations have been merely a drop in the bestselling bucket).

During the past two months, I’ve started asking everyone who buys one of the latter novels: How did you happen to pick up My Brilliant Friend in the first place?

Almost everyone I have talked to either received it from a friend, or bought it because (a) that one friend they really trust recommended it, or (b) multiple friends recommended it in a short period of time. So my new question was, Who are these friends? Who are our patient zeros and why did they buy it?

I remember that when the first of my coworkers picked it up, it was just after the James Wood review in the New Yorker a few years ago. From there, another coworker read it, and we’ve been recommending ever since. So we can conclude: Mr. Wood started one strain.

Another strain that led to our door came from a different bookseller. Buying the fourth novel at my shop, a customer said that she got My Brilliant Friend because she was at Terrace Books in Brooklyn looking for a copy of The Goldfinch, which wouldn’t be out in paperback for a couple more weeks. They told her to read the Ferrante in the meantime, she did, and is now a huge fan. Such perfect bookselling. Good work, Terrace.

Not to ignore Ferrante’s other novels (the short ones), a different introduction happened when I apparently recommended The Days of Abandonment (I don’t even remember!) and after reading that, a guy has read everything else of hers.

One regular customer at 192 Books bought a copy recently and blew through all four in a matter of weeks. I couldn’t remember whether we’d specifically recommended it, but apparently she was just in browsing and couldn’t figure out what she wanted, but had seen My Brilliant Friend on display at the shop for years on end, so she figured she would finally pick it up. This brings us to another issue: The reason she had avoided it for so long was . . . the cover. She has extremely good taste in fiction and couldn’t believe that this would be a great novel. (Decided afterwards that it certainly was.)

Rather than complain about the covers, I’ll just present a few responses. A huge number of people complain as they come up to the register, saying that it’s such a shame—and these are mostly the people who love the books. It’s only the wild force of critical and personal acclaim that caused them to read My Brilliant Friend despite the way it looked, and they would have picked it up sooner with a different jacket.

This does make it a bit difficult when recommending, as there’s often a level of disbelief. Someone was at the register, just about to purchase it, with a hesitation we didn’t understand, and she finally asked: “Is it like a really good cheesy Lifetime movie?” Noooo, ignore the covers! And she looked relieved.

A customer was buying the fourth book and said that her best friend’s husband gave My Brilliant Friend to his wife, and several of her friends. She loves them, and when I said I haven’t read them yet but am looking forward to it, she said, “Ignore the covers! It’s really not all melodrama like it looks!”

(Disclaimer: there was one customer who told me that she picked it up at Spoonbill & Sugartown because she liked the look of them, the packaging. And a few people did mention that it was the quotation, “Imagine if Jane Austen got angry . . .” on The Story of a New Name that first interested them.)

Another funny hesitation (among those who keep up with the book world) is the following: “I don’t know, I mean I tried to read the Knausgaard books and couldn’t get into them . . .” “. . . ????”, I say. Such a weird but understandable conflation. Besides the game of Are you a Ferrante or a Knausgaard?, some people think of them as similar, just because four books in a series came out during the same years, and the same people were talking about them.

But back to the idea of melodrama: my non-scientific survey concludes that this is precisely how many Italian readers view The Neapolitan Quartet. Comments include:

“It’s like chick lit.”

“She’s not a real writer.” (Not like Alberto Moravia, for example, whom this customer doesn’t particularly like, but thinks is a Real Writer.) She believes that the reason Americans like her so much is that there’s all this stuff in the New Yorker and New York Times saying she’s so great, so everyone believes them.

Regardless of the question of Objective Quality, there’s certainly something to be said for these American responses I often hear:

  • A lot of my friends were reading the quartet and “they just had ‘that gleam’ when they talked about them.”
  • My mother read them and “she didn’t come up for air.”
  • They’re amazing, and although everyone talks about them as having great plot, the point isn’t just the story of the friendship, that’s just the device that let’s her get into deeper issues of politics and feminism and all sorts of serious topics.
  • Elena Ferrante is “the master of the run-on sentence” and although a lot of people say she’s all about the plot it’s really “her language.”

So, in conclusion, the main point I’d make is that The Neapolitan Quartet is thriving because they are loved, they are forced upon friends based on that love, and the critics may have started something but they certainly didn’t create it. A love that makes books featuring covers that most people don’t understand turn into bestsellers at many independent bookstores is a beautiful affront to tenets of publicity and marketing, as all the tricks of the trade will make for great initial sales, but won’t turn into a long-lasting flood like this.

Of course I don’t know which side I’ll take, now that I’m finally going to read them. Either way, I love people who love Elena Ferrante. And I will continue to recommend the Quartet to many people who “just want a really good book.”

1 Quickly wanted to mention that all of the books in the Neapolitan Quartet are translated by Ann Goldstein.

31 October 15 | Chad W. Post | Comments

This week’s podcast features a discussion of Nobel Prize-winner Svetlana Alexievich (who Chad helped publish at Dalkey Archive), Amazon’s recent announcement about investing $10 million into translations, and how rights work. There’s a minor rant about Chase Utley (“worst human being on earth”) and a little bit of baseball talk.

In honor of the Mets and Cubs, this week’s music is Been So Long by Win Win.

Also, just a reminder that because of some difficulties with iTunes, you may need to unsubscribe and resubscribe to the correct feed in iTunes at that link, or right here:

Or, you can just put this feed link into whichever is your podcast app of choice:

Tell all your friends and family to also subscribe—that’s what can get us higher in that Top 200 lit podcasts list . . . And it’s also amazingly helpful in getting the podcast seen by more eyes if you can take just a moment to stop by iTunes to give us a quick rating (and a little review, too, if you’re an amazing overachiever!).

And, as always, feel free to send any and all comments or questions to threepercentpodcast@gmail.com.

The books discussed on this episode include:
Voices from Chernobyl by Svetlana Alexievich
Zone and Street of Thieves by Mathias Énard
Summer of Hate by Chris Krause
Target in the Night by Ricardo Piglia
Rochester Knockings: A Novel of the Fox Sisters by Hubert Haddad

26 October 15 | Chad W. Post | Comments

Huge congratulations to Dubravka Ugresic for winning the “2016 Neustadt International Prize for Literature!” From the press release:

World Literature Today, the University of Oklahoma’s award-winning magazine of international literature and culture, announced late Friday evening that novelist and essayist Dubravka Ugrešić has been named the 24th laureate of the renowned Neustadt International Prize for Literature. Awarded in alternating years with the NSK Neustadt Prize for Children’s Literature, the Neustadt Prize recognizes outstanding literary merit in literature worldwide.

Born in the former Yugoslavia and now residing in Amsterdam, Ugrešić is considered one of Europe’s most distinctive novelists and essayists. Marked by a combination of irony and compassion, her books have been translated into more than 20 languages, and she is the winner of several other major literary prizes, including the Austrian State Prize for European Literature (1998) and Jean Améry Essay Prize (2012). She was also a finalist for the Man Booker International Prize in 2009, and her work Karaoke Culture (2011) was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award for Criticism.

Allison Anderson, an American literary translator and writer residing in Switzerland, nominated Ugrešić and served as one of nine jurors on the 2016 Neustadt Prize panel. She commented that “Dubravka’s win is a double win for me because she is a non-[native] English speaker and a woman. I came across her work back in 1997 when I was on contract to teach English in Croatia and fell in love with her essays. As someone who voluntarily went into exile, she describes the shared experience of solitude with her stories of refugees. She covers injustice, corruption and everything that’s wrong in the world, but in a quiet way.” [. . .]

Highly respected within the literary community for its recognition of excellence, the Neustadt Prize is often referred to as the “American Nobel” for its reputation as a lead-up to the Swedish Academy’s annual selection. Any living author writing from anywhere in the world is eligible for the Neustadt prize. The jury is comprised of acclaimed international authors, and that fact helps to keep external pressure from booksellers, publishers, and others who may have interest in influencing the outcome. [. . .]

The Neustadt Prize is the first international literary award of this scope to originate in the United States and is one of the very few international prizes for which poets, novelists and playwrights are equally eligible. Winners are awarded $50,000, a replica of an eagle feather cast in silver and a certificate.

I discovered Dubravka back in the Dalkey days, when I read an interview with her in BOMB in which she talked about a book of essays she’d written and was having trouble publishing because it was so critical of all the facets of the book industry. Immediately sold! This book became “Thank You for Not Reading“http://www.dalkeyarchive.com/product/thank-you-for-not-reading/ and is probably the book—along with Karaoke Culture—through which most readers have discovered her distinctive voice.

Fun trivia fact: The first book ever published by Open Letter was Dubravka’s Nobody’s Home. Since then we’ve brought out Karaoke Culture and most recently Europe in Sepia.

Having read every bit of her work that’s been published in English—Dubravka is most definitely one of my all-time favorite authors, and a cornerstone of the Open Letter catalog—I could go on and on about which titles of hers you should read and why. If I limit myself to six, I would choose: Thank You for Not Reading, Karaoke Culture, The Museum of Unconditional Surrender, Baba Yaga Laid an Egg, Lend Me Your Character and Europe in Sepia. So go buy all of those and read them!


This is the last time I’m going to mention it (promise!), but having been involved in the publication of both of this year’s Nobel Prize and Neustadt Prize winners, I’m pretty sure we publish “important” books. (And I think my rage over the Ènard situation is officially over. We’ve been kicking a lot of ass over the past week, and there’s no way I’m letting some silly foreign rights agent taint that.)

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