As promised at various points in the past, all this month we’re going to be running excerpts from our latest book, A Thousand Forests in One Acorn by Valerie Miles. This anthology—which is so much more than an anthology—features twenty-eight great writers from the past century, each of whom picked out the handful of pages representing the “aesthetic high point” of their writing career.
_Not only do you get the best of the best in here, but each author’s section is prefaced by an illuminating bio and an interview in which they address questions of influence, what they were trying to accomplish in their selected pieces, etc. This context is incredibly useful and fascinating, allowing the reader to build a sort of network . . . _
Over the next month, we’ll be posting short excerpts from the collection—both from the interviews and the works themselves—starting with the interview below in which Valerie explains the project.
Also, for the month of September, you can receive a copy of A Thousand Forests in One Acorn for $15 by purchasing it through out website and using the code “FORESTS.”
Here’s the interview, which was conducted by University of Rochester MALTS graduate Katherine Rucker.
Katherine Rucker: Which authors chose works that surprised you? Were there instances when you didn’t agree with what they chose as their “best work?
Valerie Miles: I was surprised by more than a few of the choices the writers made, which charged the whole process with a far more interesting result, and sort of verified the idea that what a critic says objectively isn’t always in sync with how a writer feels about his or her own work. Yes, of course we know that, but I wanted to go farther and find a way to prove it. Not that a writer is correct and a critic mistaken, which is obviously not the case either. Just that there is a private space in which a critic, for however expertly versed he or she is in a writer’s work, cannot enter, it belongs to a writer’s private sphere. So I wanted to appeal to the writer’s complicity to enter this more intimate creative space, ask that they open the door to their studios and hand over the secrets about what they feel is their own best work; the obsessions that have finally sparked something significant, where the space between intent and result is at its minimum. I wanted to hear about the struggles they’ve had with form, or on the contrary, the felicities of a certain character, a passage, a technical accomplishment or a particular high stakes bet that aesthetically paid off.
This is what I set out to explore, that secret and intimate distance between a writer and his work. In that sense, perhaps two of the selections that I found some of the most surprising are those of Mario Vargas Llosa and Carlos Fuentes. During my initial discussion with Mr. Vargas Llosa, which was done by email since he was in Peru at the time and I was in Madrid and later Barcelona (some of these conversations, though edited down into short introductions in some cases, were often held over a long period of time), I had mentioned novels like Conversation in the Cathedral, since it represents a truly incredible technical and structural feat, and is widely considered one of his most accomplished novels. I also thought he might choose something from The Time of the Hero, which was such an important novel in the history of twentieth-century Latin American literature, initiating the whole movement known as the “boom”, when writers emerged of the stature of Cortázar, Gabriel García Márquez, Guillermo Cabrera Infante, Carlos Fuentes. It was the launch of a generation of bold new writing from Latin America that quickly took center stage. The writers of that movement have made a mark, they brought a swing into audacious technical innovations, together with a newfound linguistic élan which lasted through the 1960s, 1970s and even 1980s (the pages of Granta magazine during the 80s give testament to how important translation from the Spanish was then. It was a time of great ebullience, and there was a sense that literature could help bring about social change, that it was imbued with significance beyond mere entertainment, an art form that was vital and challenging and pushing political discussions. Writing in the Americas was full of genius, and the new Latin American novel held a pole position on the map of world literature.
Instead, Vargas Llosa chose a piece from The Feast of the Goat, which touches on a theme that cuts across much of his writing, the abuse of political power in Latin America by merciless dictators and how their brutal behavior wreaked havoc over generations. He chose a fragment in which a young girl finally tells the secret of how she was brought to the dictator’s bed as a young girl and raped. He also chose another fragment, a scene from a book that is less widely known as some of his others, The Way to Paradise. Here, he brings Paul Gauguin to life and his grandmother, Flora Tristan, both of whom have left lives of a certain consequence to follow their individual ideals. Gauguin went to Tahiti to paint, and Flora Tristan to Paris to fight for women’s rights. It’s interesting that he would choose this fragment, which expresses a sort of Nabokovian flash of illumination with the strike of a match. The circumstances behind what brought Gauguin to paint his masterpiece, Spirit of the Dead Watching, which depicts his Tahitian mistress lying naked on her belly, terrified by the light of the match he struck when he entered his cabin late at night. She confused him with an ancestral ghost. Interestingly, they are both scenes of young girls in different sexual relationships with older men.
Carlos Fuentes, on the other hand, tells us cryptically that his choice, the fourth chapter of Terra Nostra, largely considered one of his more obscure novels, is his greatest accomplishment because it “has the unfortunate habit of summarizing my approach to storytelling.” I would have thought he might choose Where the Air is Clear, Aura, or The Death of Artemio Cruz, largely for the same reason as I mentioned earlier with Vargas Llosa. They are the novels that made him into a huge literary sensation at a time when the Latin American novel was experiencing its zenith. This was the last interview he gave before he died, and since then, in fact, the critics have begun revisiting Terra Nostra, it’s being studied more in universities, and there are serious deliberations regarding the nature and importance of the novel that may have been the most widely misunderstood in his lifetime.
One of the reasons I wanted to organize this project in this way, also, was to learn from the writers themselves and let them give me a good reading list!
KR: This anthology tells us where Spanish-language literature has come from. Can it also tell us where it’s going? Or, if there were to be “A Thousand Forests: Volume 2” in thirty years’ time, what are some young voices that you might expect to see there?
VM: That’s a very interesting question. I do think it gives a sense of the literary back and forth, the traffic, between Europe and the US during the latter part of the twentieth century. Europe as paradise, Europe as center, Paris particularly is itself almost a protagonist. Also Faulkner, interestingly, looms large as one of the most important influences on these generations. However the U.S. was at the time more of an enemy than a friend. It seems, though, that the North and the South have grown closer in many ways, and I would venture to say that the literary traffic is now more north and south than transatlantic, which one would think should always have been natural, but it wasn’t back in the day. The Cold War, Pinochet, it was “complicated”. But New York seems to be taking the relay from Paris as the center, where the conversation is, which I find particularly exciting.
Also, if you notice, there aren’t as many female voices as I would have liked. I finally decided I had to get this book done, it had been on my mind for many years, when Cabrera Infante died and I hadn’t had the chance to ask him the question of what he considered his best pages. And García Márquez was already too ill to respond. The Mexican Daniel Sada had passed. I think the feminine voice has been growing and hopefully when it would come time to do another volume, we could be sure to have a strong crop of women writing. But not because they are token, but because they are that good . . . a new generation of Lispecters, of Silvina Ocampos, of Carmen Martin Gaites.
KR: Of the excerpts and stories included in the anthology, which ones would you most like to see translated in their entirety in the future?
VM: I would love to see someone take Hebe Uhart on, which would be a monumental challenge for a translator, a sort of Argentine version of the linguistic panache that is the trademark of Rafael Sánchez Ferlosio’s writing. She’s got such a sharp ear for language and yet she’s so terribly funny. Sánchez Ferlosio demonstrates in his choice for this anthology how the fantastic can be much more claustrophobic than any unrelenting realism! But Hebe is just one of those big old secrets just waiting to be discovered, and Andrés Neuman quoted her in the epigraph of his novel Talking to Ourselves. I think Horacio Castellanos Moya is another truly hilarious writer, but his humor is of the neurotic type, so psychologically penetrating it makes you blush, he’s an absolute master of the charming rogue. You just can’t believe he’s doing this, but there he is, just doing it! And there is nobody, and I mean nobody, as deliciously perverse as the ninety-something Aurora Venturini who had the audacity to send one of her novels in anonymously for a young writer’s award, taking it unanimously after not publishing for as many years as the age of some of the other contestants. Borges discovered her and awarded her with her first literary distinction, before she was forced into Parisian exile for having been so close to Evita Perón. Also, the Cuban writer Abilio Estévez, who is also a very talented playwright and hence so incredibly spot on with his characterization. Or the great artisan of the sensuous, the Mexican Alberto Ruy Sánchez, whose series of erotic novels are about the most arousing examples of what can be done with the form when its in the hands of such a careful, affectionate wordsmith.
Say Ramiro Pinilla three times in a row in front of the mirror. I dare you . . . A Fig Tree will appear.
KR: You spoke a little bit about the experience of working with the authors in your preface. Was there a common theme or thread that you saw in their experience as writers?
VM: I asked two questions that were the same to each one of the writers and by that measure, I was able to survey whether or not there were differences. And yes, as anyone who reads their answers can see, there was a very wide range of different and even contradictory answers, which I find one of the happiest results of all. There’s no rote! And then the third and fourth or fifth questions, the “coda” section, was to continue the path of the conversation set out by them.
So what does that mean? It means that there are as many doorways to the craft as people who have the keys. Each one, as an individual, has had to confront the blank page, and each one of them feels differently about just about everything involved. For example, I call the section where I ask them to talk about their selection of their best pages as “Dr. Johnson’s torture” because I could see how some writers just really had a hard time talking about their own creative process—as was the case of Eduardo Mendoza, for example, or the great Basque writer, Ramiro Pinilla, for whom Faulkner was a liberation and Algorta his own private Yoknapatawpha. Others, like Marías, took up the challenge and our conversation lasted an entire summer! His section really shows someone dedicated to the devices of literature and very consciously applying new techniques and innovations in point of view, in poetical associations between forms. Each writer inhabits their own personal labyrinth and that’s what makes the chance to compare and contrast these different approaches a rich experience.
After all, we needed Paris to tell us how important Faulkner was, and in a Telerama poll taken in France in 2009, Faulkner beat out Flaubert, Stendhal, Baudelaire, de Beauvoir, Camus and Celine, coming in second only to Proust. Early on, in the US, he was considered a mere chronicler of the Southern condition. The Boom—Fuentes, García Márquez, Vargas Llosa—are the children of Faulkner. That’s why translation is so important, it brings the periphery into the center and renews our own traditions. Sometimes we don’t see our own forest for the trees and we need a readership to appreciate what we aren’t able to see for ourselves. What would Baudelaire be without our Poe, whom Emerson used to call “the jingle man”? And what would Bolaño be without Baudelaire?Tweet
Haruki Murakami’s next book, “The Strange Library,” sounds surreal and experimental even for an author whose work features talking cats, giant frogs and malicious miniature people.
The Strange Library, which will be published in the United States by Knopf this December, is narrated by a boy who visits a library on his way home from school. An old man takes the boy hostage and forces him to memorize a large number of books. The boy eventually realizes that the man plans to absorb the information he’s memorized by eating his brain. With the help of a strange girl and a man dressed as a sheep, the captive devises an escape plan. (Men dressed as sheep have cropped up in Mr. Murakami’s work before.)
Murakami is the just the literary Hello Kitty—everywhere and unstoppable.Tweet
While I can’t claim to know whether I may be the editor Will refers to in the opening to his review (which: HAHA OH SO FUNNY WILL VERY FUNNY INDEED), I can admit to having never read a single work by Murakami. This mostly has to do with the fact that EVERYONE. ELSE. and their mothers has read and drooled over Murakami (either in earnest or forcibly), the media have done the same, and the hype just turns me off the idea of Murakami on principle. Basically: the rest of you ruined Murakami before I even managed to cracked a cover.
That said, Wills review actually has me thinking that this, a book that may not “go down as Murakami’s masterpiece,” may be the Murakami for me to start with . . . Here’s the beginning of Will’s review:
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, to a certain extent: Murakami, for better or worse, has a particular style, and with it come the trappings and clichéd Murakami-isms that, as a fan, you come to both love and loathe about the 65-year-old writer. He has become the master of a certain kind of metaphysical mystery wrapped in urban ennui. You’re either on board (like me), or you aren’t (like a certain editor of this website).
But anyone attempting to play Murakami Bingo with his latest novel, Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage, is going to lose. There are no parallel worlds, talking animals, or mysterious women. There’s only one passing reference each to wells and cats, both only as metaphors, and there’s really only one piece of music that’s talked about at any length. And it’s not even jazz.
This is Murakami at his most straightforward and subdued, the likes of which we’ve really only seen—in novels, at least—in Norwegian Wood and South of the Border, West of the Sun. It is a relatively straightforward tale of friendship, depression, and memory. As such, it sheds a beacon on both Murakami’s core strengths and weaknesses as a writer, some thirty odd years into his career.
In this latest novel, the eponymous Tsukuru, a middle-aged train station engineer, reflects on his high school days, when he belonged to a group of friends so close that its importance to his life has become essentially mythic. Each of their names even contain a color—Aka (red), the temperamental brainiac; Ao (blue), the cool people-person; Kuro (black), the sarcastic comedian; and Shiro (white), the quiet beauty—except for Tsukuru, who they joked was “colorless.” This moniker takes on a whole new meaning for Tsukuru when the group unceremoniously and without explanation excise him from their circle after he leaves their hometown for Tokyo and college. Tsukuru’s sudden exile sends him into a wretched depression, from which he clearly did not come out entirely intact. Sixteen years later, in the present day, a casual girlfriend prompts Tsukuru to try and figure out just what exactly happened, in the hopes that he might be able to finally heal, and perhaps commit more fully to his present relationship with her.
For the rest of the review, go here.Tweet
And just like that, school’s back in session.
Having students back on campus brings up so many complicated feelings. Annoyance being the first and more obvious. It’s super irritating that from one day to the next it becomes infinitely more difficult to find a parking place for you bike, that you have to wait in line at Starbucks and listen to awkward exchanges from freshman who are still trying out different personalities and trying to define themselves—mostly through failure (“Hey, Jenny, have you seen where the Bio Med building is?” “Not yet.” “It’s hella over that way.” “You say ‘hella’?” “Yeah. Sometimes I say ‘wicked cool’ as well.”), that a whole new range of job-related functions start up again (I finished and posted my syllabus early yesterday evening), that work schedules become more rigid and sneaking away for happy hour is nearly impossible.
Labor Day usually seems like such a depressing holiday for that very reason. Hell yeah—Labor Day! All the times of summer irresponsibility are over! Back to school and back to work! Grill me a hot dog and gimme a beer! It’s like the ultimate capitalist backhanded compliment-slash-fuck you.
It might be due to all the travel I did this summer—and random multi-day bike rides possibly because of my advancing age, or the Simpsons marathon I’ve been bingeing on, but I’m sort of excited about the “regular schedule” aspect the new school year brings about.
The season premier of The League is on Wednesday. I’m drafting in a fantasy football league tonight. All the big books/albums are coming out now—David Mitchell, alt-J, even Haruki Murakami. The St. Louis Cardinals are in first place. A lot more people are wearing unbroken-in clothes. The hallways at the university are as clean as old, rundown shit can be. My daughter just bought four thousand new three-subject notebooks. Every year, these same things happen.
I think it might be a bit of nostalgia creeping in, but for the first time in ages, all of this seems more comforting than depressing—like the words “autumn sweater.” So rather than lament the end of beach days and bike rides and staying up all night, I’m going to try and embrace the routine for once.
Including getting over-excited about all the new books that are coming out over the next few months.
A Little Lumpen Novelita by Roberto Bolano, translated from the Spanish by Natasha Wimmer (New Directions)
Let’s start here with the latest (and last? well, probably not . . .) Bolaño book. Mostly I just want to remind everyone that Tom Roberge and I will be discussing this on the September 26th edition of the Three Percent Podcast. We’re hoping to more of these “book club” episodes and would love to hear from all of you about what you thought of the book, questions you might have, etc. So please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
“Into the War”: by Italo Calvino, translated from the Italian by Martin McLaughlin (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)
Remember when every post about a Houghton Mifflin book opened with a slew of insults against their insufferably bad website? Well, apparently I’ve grown up a bit, but not enough to refrain from pointing out that their company website is still a hopeless pile of shit. How bad is it exactly? This is their “Author Detail Page” for Italo Calvino. If a website was flammable, I’d light it on fire.
Last month, Peter Mendelsund—the designer of all the new Calvino covers—published his first book, What We See When We Read, a fully-illustrated meditation on the relationship between reading and internal visualization. It’s not as weighty as I would’ve personally liked, but it’s thought provoking and deserves a wide audience. He also gets bonus points for including a quote from Gilbert Sorrentino slamming John Updike.
Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay by Elena Ferrante, translated from the Italian by Ann Goldstein (Europa Editions)
This is the third of the “Neapolitan Novels,” and for a limited time, you can buy the ebook versions of the first two—My Brilliant Friend and The Story of a New Name—for only $2.99. Just visit your favorite ebook retailer and go crazy.
Running a bit counter to my “regular schedule” joy above, I kind of appreciate the fact that I’ve waited so long to start Ferrante’s trilogy, so that I can binge on it now without having to wait a year for the next installment. It’s kind of stupid to make this comparison, but Netflix has totally fucked up our consumption habits in relation to series. Although most books still slump along at a reasonable pace, with new titles coming out every year or more, we’ve come to expect TV seasons to be available all at once, or, as is the case with a lot of people I know, we just wait until the whole season has played itself out and then binge watch everything over a weekend. It’s lunacy, but fits with the everythingnowallatonce mentality of the twenty-first century.
Books don’t work all that well with this sort of binge behavior, although FSG’s experiment with Jeff VanderMeer’s “Southern Reach Trilogy”—publishing all three books in the same year, the first in March, second in May, third in September—demonstrates a willingness on the part of traditional publishers to try and take advantage of our inclinations.
Front Seat Passenger by Pascal Garnier, translated from the French by Jane Aitken (Gallic Books)
It occurs to me that publishing—at least in my little corner of it—has a sort of four-season cycle: Summer is vacations and half-day Fridays; Fall is conventions, Frankfurt, and being overwhelmed in advance of holiday sales; Winter is bookstores and publishers making bank before falling into a deep depression of either grant writing (if you’re a nonprofit) or bemoaning the lack of walk-in customers; Spring is when you prepare the lies for the rest of the year, bragging it all up at BookExpo America and sales conference. Then, Summer Fridays and hoping to see someone reading one of your books on the beach.
Nowhere People by Paulo Scott, translated from the Portuguese by Daniel Hahn (And Other Stories)
After reading the first 40 pages of this, I decided that I have to use it in my spring class on “World Literature and Transaltion.” I can usually include six to eight new translations in this class, but so far the only two I’ve decided on are Seiobo There Below and Nowhere People. Seiobo since it won last year’s Best Translated Book Award, obviously. Nowhere People is kind of perfect since it’s Brazilian and, in the first 40 pages alone, features a host of “translation” issues: it opens in Porto Alegre, rather than Rio of São Paolo; two magazines are referenced that Americans probably have never heard of, Trip and DUNDUM, the latter of which comes up in this sentence, “what girl from the interior would be sitting blithely reading DUNDUM in this place, the absolute domain of middle-aged men?” which raises a few questions; the main character picks up a Guarani Indian from the side of the road, opening up discussions about Brazilian culture and racisms; and there are a few Britishisms, such as “he goes back to the main road, takes the correct turning.” Not to mention, the book is really intriguing and Daniel Hahn is fucking brilliant. Now I just have to convince him to Skype with my class . . .
I Called Him Necktie by Milena Michiko Flašar, translated from the German by Sheila Dickie (New Vessel Press)
I’m not a fan of the title of this book—there’s something too YA about it, as if it’s going to contain the adventures of a quirky girl who calls herself Princess Frog and whose best friend committed suicide, which is why her group of unlikely cohorts called him “necktie”—but it got a ton of love at the Consortium sales conference, and New Vessel has stellar taste, so I’m 100% sure the content outweighs my weird title prejudice. Also interesting that it’s a book set in Japan written by a woman born to an Austrian father and Japanese mother who writes in German.
A Thousand Forests in One Acorn by Valerie Miles, translated from the Spanish by a number of great translators (Open Letter)
One of the most beautiful—and weighty—books we’ve ever published. And one that you’re going to be hearing about every single day this month until you finally buy a copy. (Just do it now! You won’t regret it.) Since our daily posts from the book will do a much better job of explaining this than I ever can, I want to use this opportunity to point out that this is the third title we’ve published that has “thousand” in the title. That’s called cornering the market.
Also, we started working on this book over two years ago. The editing process was intense, and every single person involved in this—Will Vanderhyden for all his editorial work, all the various interns who put up with the paperwork and word-by-word proofing I assigned them, Nate for his killer design, the Spain-USA for their support and for setting up all the upcoming events—deserves a special shout-out. Every hour that we put into is worth it, and I’m sure that everyone who ends up buying, reading, and teaching this, will totally agree.
Birth of a Bridge by Maylis de Kerangal, translated from French by Jessica Moore (Talonbooks)
This reminds me a bit of Tom’s rant from last week’s Three Percent Podcast episode about Salton Sea and humans fucking up nature by trying to build something like a lake:
Told on a sweeping scale reminiscent of classic American adventure films, this Médicis Prize–winning novel chronicles the lives of these workers, who represent a microcosm of not just mythic California, but of humanity as a whole. Their collective effort to complete the megaproject recounts one of the oldest of human dramas, to domesticate—and to radically transform—our world through built form, with all the dramatic tension it brings: a threatened strike, an environmental dispute, sabotage, accidents, career moves, and love affairs . . . Here generations and social classes cease to exist, and everyone and everything converges toward the bridge as metaphor, a cross-cultural impression of America today.
(Or it’s totally different.)
Rain over Madrid by Andres Barba, translated from the Spanish by Lisa Dillman (Hispabooks Publishing)
Hispabooks just keeps on crushing it. I have to say, for all my deep-rooted cynicism, this is a great time for indie presses. Hispabooks, Deep Vellum, New Vessel, Restless all launched within the past couple years. With those four presses alone, an average reader has enough material to last all year.
Digression: The other week I was hanging out with my parents and they were talking about how my cousin was “so rich” that he bought his own house in Chippewa Falls, WI. Which, after a bit of Wikipediaing led to all of us coining the term “Wisconsin Rich.” Sure, this was mostly a joke, but in a way, it’s also a powerful concept—being a certain level of “rich” that allows you to live comfortably. We don’t all need to be “Silicon Valley Rich.” I’m happy being “University Rich,” and as such, can continue spending more time trying to pass along knowledge than trying to hustle up some additional bling. (Or whatever the kids say.) So, in a way, even though the whole 3% thing is shitty and myopic and pretty pathetic, we are “Translation Rich” when it comes to reading. All of you could read only translations all year long and you’ll never run out of good material. That’s reassuring in a way.
In terms of Barba, he was one of Granta’s best young writers and is someone Lisa Dillman (who is lovely and talented) has been talking up for years. I believe Hispabooks is doing a number of his works, which is even better, since this collection of four short stories is likely to leave readers wanting more.
Victus: The Fall of Barcelona by Albert Sánchez Piñol, translated from the Catalan by WHO KNOWS (Rupert Murdoch Sucks)
Fuck you, HarperCollins. Just fuck. You.
First of all, thanks for not sending the review copy of this that I asked for. Really appreciate that. Then again, given both reviews you’ve received for this book, obviously you don’t need anyone else to champion it.
Secondly, Piñol obviously didn’t write this in English, but you would never know that given HarperCollins’s website, a website that might have just set the bar for the worst corporate website ever. (Houghton Mifflin can rejoice!) Not only is there no info about the translator—which, fine, you don’t want to put it on the book because American readers are stupid and either a) will be more likely to buy this if they think Piñol is a traditional Texas name, or b) just don’t deserve that information, because fuck ‘em that’s why—but when you click “enlarge cover image” you get that placeholder pictured above. Con-fucking-grats at being the worst at marketing your own books!
Amazon fighting book publishers for higher margins. Result might be cheaper books, but end of all remaining book shops. Monopoly for Amazon— Rupert Murdoch (@rupertmurdoch) August 22, 2014
That’s a fine sentiment, but coming from Rupert Murdoch, it just sounds ridiculous. Just a reminder, this is the same Rupert Murdoch who owns Fox News, and whose employees were involved in a “phone-hacking and police-bribery scandal.“http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/News_International_phone_hacking_scandal We live in a world in which people retweet Rupert Murdoch because he’s “standing up for the little guy.” The world is nonsense.Tweet
In this podcast, Chad and Tom discuss Tom’s recent article in Publishing Perspectives (which he wrote in response to Amazon’s infamous letter to readers), along with some thoughts on why we shop at bookstores, and Julian Gough’s Litcoin project.
Also, as mentioned at the end of the podcast, Chad and Tom will be discussing Roberto Bolaño’s A Little Lumpen Novelita on an episode at the end of September. If you have any thoughts, questions, or opinions about the book, Bolaño, the translation, etc., please send them to email@example.com.
(You can also use that email to tell Chad and Tom that they suck, or to recommend other topics you’d like to hear on the show.)
This week’s music is War on the East Coast by The New Pornographers.
A lover of foreign literature (particularly from Eastern Europe and Russia) Brandy—a new addition to our reviewer pool—recently finished a BA in English Language and Literature at Brock University in St. Catharines, Ontario, and will be starting her MA this fall at Queen’s University, Kingston.
Here’s the beginning of her review:
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 living. Predictably enough, The Matiushin Case is nothing like Crime and Punishment, although anyone familiar with Russian literature can see how Pavlov gamely attempts to tick off certain boxes that are often associated with Serious Russian Themes: the unflinching examination of even the darkest corners of human existence, the exploration of wider social themes and problems through the careful depiction of individual experience, all heralded by a Biblical epigraph—“Am I my brother’s keeper?”—to signal the novel’s soul-searching, philosophical designs. For anyone who loves Russian literature, as I do, all of these elements are entirely welcome, but in Pavlov’s hands, the results are often mixed.
The Matiushin Case follows the relentlessly miserable life of the titular protagonist, from his troubled childhood in the shadow of his domineering father, Grigorii, and his rebellious elder brother, Yakov, to his experiences as a young man in the Soviet army. Much of the novel’s plot, such as it is, simply follows Matiushin as he sinks further and further into the deadening routine and violence of army life, first through his initiation and training, then his stint in an army hospital, and on through his life as a prison guard. This led me to consider that a more accurate comparison to Dostoevsky—if there really has to be one—would be to The House of the Dead, that wonderfully strange hybrid of memoir and fiction based on Dostoevsky’s life in a Siberian prison. This reflects the greatest strength of Pavlov’s novel, for the impression created by his detailed depictions of Matiushin’s daily struggles lend a rather haunting and bleak atmosphere to the work as a whole, offering the reader a truly vivid snapshot of army life in the declining years of the USSR.
For the rest of the review, go hereTweet
Earlier today, Asymptote published an interview between Jeremie Davies, senior editor at Dalkey Archive Press, and Spanish-language translator Steve Dolph. Over the course of the summer, the two corresponded in a great discussion about the great Argentine author Juan José Saer. Here, Part I of the interview, Steve talks about what it’s like to read and translate Saer (three Saer novels translated by Steve are available from Open Letter, including the latest, and Saer’s final work, La Grande.
Below is the beginning of the interview, title “Who’s Who in La Zona“—be sure to follow Asymptote’s posts to catch Part II of the interview.
Would you mind sharing how you first became involved with Juan José Saer’s work, as reader or translator? I mean, was he an extant enthusiasm even before your association with Open Letter?
I can’t really say when as a common reader I first came to know Saer, but I was aware of his work well before the translation project came along. I know I had seen the translations from Serpent’s Tail even before I became seriously interested in translation at all. In the constellation of contemporary Latin American novelists, he figures prominently as a kind of anti-Márquez, insofar as the mythical place he most often visits in his fiction—the city of Santa Fe—is strongly affected by globalization, and fractured. In Márquez the force of history is basically recognizable, and solid, which produces a more or less reliable narrative memory and sense of place. The opposite is the case in Saer. Everything is in doubt, especially the narrative’s ability to recreate a reliable sense of place. But for me that sense of contrast only came much later, when I’d been working on the translations for a while. Before that, he was just another monster in the vast bestiary of Latin American fiction. It took a happy accident for me to get to work on his writing in translation.
In 2008 I had just come off editing Calque and was looking for a book project and shopping around some poems and stories I’d translated. Out of the blue Suzanne Jill Levine contacted me, asking if I’d be interested in translating one of Saer’s novels for Open Letter, because she was busy and couldn’t do the project. I read the book—Glosa, which was published in English as The Sixty-Five Years of Washington—sent Open Letter a sample, and because I loved the writing I asked if they were planning to do more than the one. It turned out they were planning three, and I signed up to do them all, sight unseen.
For the entire interview, go here.Tweet
Here’s the beginning of Paul’s review:
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 overwhelming number of novels in English in the years following the war that prevented their appearance. Just looking at the list of American authors, a country whose contribution was quite short, Wharton, Cather, Cummings, Faulkner, Dos Passos, and of course Hemingway with A Farewell to Arms, makes it obvious that it was a subject that once had to be written about. Still, that doesn’t explain why perhaps the most famous WWI novel is from Germany, Erich Maria Remarque’s All Quiet on the Western Front. Maybe it was that a second even more devastating war eclipsed the first one, and pushed it into the background. It is a shame, because as Paul Fussell noted, World War I was a literary war and Gabriel Chevallier’s Fear: A Novel of World War I, ably translated by Malcolm Imrie, is a long overdue addition to that literature in English.
Gabriel Chevallier (1895-1969) was called up at the beginning of the war, wounded, and after convalescing returned to the front for the remainder of the war. Fear follows a similar trajectory: call up, wounding and hospitalization, and a return to the front. It follows a typical pattern of novels written by veterans and even echoes that of Remarque. The power that comes in front line narratives is not in the intricacies of plot, but in how they can evoke the experience of war. Chevallier is successful in his descriptions of the front lines, the constant shelling, the gruesome description of the dead, and one will come away with a sense of the terror and fear men faced. At times there is a monotony in this and it seems as if all there is to the book is moving from shell hole to shell hole. Yet it is that repetition without seeming purpose, a drama played out on an isolated stage where little context exists and the characters just survive one shelling after another, that is the real story.
For the rest of the review, go here.Tweet
Considering that the fall semester and season are night, we just wanted to post a brief reminder that Three Percent is happy to add literary translation events to its Events Calendar.
To have events added to the calendar, please send all relevant event information (time, location, description, etc., and web link, if available) to kaija[dot]straumanis[at]rochester[dot]edu.
If you’re unsure whether your event qualifies, please feel free to send questions to the same email above.Tweet
With Tom on vacation, Chad recorded a special episode of the podcast with Heather Cleary and Jason Grunebaum, both of whom have a book on the National Translation Award longlist. They talk about Sergio Chejfec’s The Dark, Uday Prakash’s The Girl with the Golden Parasol, air shows, the future of the American Literary Translators Association, and other non-sports related topics. (Seriously, this is a sports-free podcast.)
As an added bonus, there’s a short conversation Chad had with Uday Prakash about his collection The Walls of Delhi.
This week’s music is Killer in the Streets from the new Raveonettes album, Pe’ahi.
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,. . .
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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. . .
In the London of Hédi Kaddour’s Little Grey Lies, translated by Teresa Lavender Fagan, peace has settled, but the tensions, fears, and anger of the Great War remain, even if tucked away behind stories and lies. Directly ahead, as those. . .
One of the greatest services—or disservices, depending on your viewpoint—Bertrand Russell ever performed for popular philosophy was humanizing its biggest thinkers in his History. No longer were they Platonic ideals, the clean-shaven exemplars of the kind of homely truisms that. . .
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When my eyes first crossed the back cover of Fabio Genovesi’s novel Live Bait, I was caught by a blurb nestled between accolades, a few words from a reviewer for La Repubblica stating that the novel was, however magically, “[b]eyond. . .
“I preferred the war to the plague,” writes Curzio Malaparte in his 1949 novel, The Skin. He speaks of World War II and the destruction it has wrought on Italy, the city of Naples in particular. But the plague he. . .
With the steady rise of feminist scholarship and criticism in recent decades, it is little wonder that the work of Louise Labé should be attracting, as Richard Sieburth tells us in the Afterword to his translation, a “wide and thriving”. . .