In a few weeks, we’ll be releasing A Thousand Forests in One Acorn, one of the most impressive—and beautiful—books that we’ve ever published. It’s a 715-page beast that was put together by Valerie Miles (one of the people behind Granta’s “Best of Young Spanish-language Novelists” special issue) featuring twenty-eight Spanish-language authors, from Aurora Venturini (born 1922) to Evelio Rosero (born 1958). Of these authors, about half have been translated into English (Javier Marias, Carlos Fuentes, Enrique Vila-Matas, etc.), and the other half are making their way into English for the first time ever—like Elvio Gandolfo.
But before getting into Gandolfo, there are a couple more things to say about this book, which isn’t your typical anthology. For this collection, each author selected the piece to be included on the basis that it’s the “aesthetic high point” of their writing career. Then, they answered a number of questions about this piece and their writing life, explaining their influences, what they were trying to do in the included excerpt, etc. All of this is prefaced by insightful short biographies (written by Valerie Miles) and capped off by a bibliography of the author’s works in Spanish and in English . . . In other words: This is a damn amazing, useful, impressive book.1
Ninth Letter, a “collaborative arts and literary project produced by the Graduate Creative Writing Program and School of Art & Design at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign,” and one of the most beautiful lit mags out there, decided to run one of the pieces from A Thousand Forests in One Acorn, “The Moment of Impact” by Elvio Gandolfo, a story about a whale falling on a city.
You can read the entire story here, but to entice you, here’s a bit of what Gandolfo had to say about it:
I tried to make something impossible, at least in terms of the physical laws and limits we are bound by at this moment in science and history, plausible. In that sense, the story satisfies me fully. Besides, it seems to be written for nobody . . . At another time, I might have come up with a single short sentence (“a whale falls on a city”) and I wouldn’t have even written it down. When I did, however, I filled in all the details composing that precise moment and “the space of the impact.” The businesses, the streets, names of the residents of 1043 on Peatonal Córdoba (taken from the name plates on the building’s intercom) are (or were) real. When you use actual landmarks you discover the limits of what is really real for the people living in that place.
This is one of the outstanding voices that I discovered in working on this book, and I’m willing to bet that almost all Three Percent readers will love this piece. So go to Ninth Letter now and read it. And then preorder the book—it’s worth the $19.95 just for the production quality.
1 Over the month of September, we’ll be doing a special Three Percent promotion for this, running an excerpt from an interview or a piece of fiction every day. More on that in the near future.Tweet
There’s some kind of summer flu-plague bug going around at the office here, so we’re short on humor and personal anecdotes. Also, Rochester is a city of downpours and flash flooding and even road-caving today, so it’s a great day to cut all pretense and just read about reading books. Here’s the beginning of Tiffany’s review:
Upon completing Albertine Sarrazin’s Astragal I was left to wonder why it ever fell from print. Aside from the location, Astragal could pass as the great American novel. Its edginess and rawness capture the angst and desires we all had in our 20s, while still bearing a literary feel that is more thought provoking than The Catcher in the Rye. Perhaps this is why Patti Smith, as described in the introduction, carried around the work in her travels for so many years.
Astragal begins in a disruptive and disjointed style, evolving into a tragic love story and ending with the empowering breakup. The anti-heroine, Anne, escapes from prison only to injure her ankle after jumping from the prison wall. From there she crawls to the road, where she is picked up by a criminal, Julien, and taken to a defunct brothel on the outskirts of Paris run by Nini and Nini’s boyfriend, partners in crime. The longer Anne is in hiding the more necrotic her leg becomes, until she is eventually taken to the hospital by Nini, who poses as Anne’s sister to prevent recognition of Anne as the escapee. After numerous surgeries, Anne’s ankle bones are fused together resulting in a painful recovery and a permanent limp. This ankle injury, as you likely guessed, is a subtext for the innocence and often forgotten things in life that can cause inflated problems in our lives, i.e., prison, but once we overcome or move past them, they revert back to their innocent state—except now there is a residual existence manifested through memory and paranoia of their return.
For the rest of the review, go here.Tweet
Meg is a PhD student in Comparative Literature at the University of Michigan, a writer, and a translator from Spanish. Her translations have appeared on Words without Borders and Asymptote, among others, and her translation of Christina Peri Rossi’s Strange Flying Objects is forthcoming February 2015 from Ox and Pigeon. You can also read samples of her work at her website here.
Here’s the beginning of Meg’s review:
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 any cliché.”
Generally, I’m a suspicious reader; big claims scare me off. Having never watched a Fellini film and with only Calvino and Pavese as literary signposts, I entered the novel (guided by veteran translator Michael F. Moore) with a healthy amount of skepticism. Just a few chapters in, however, I knew that even if Genovesi hadn’t managed to overcome cliché, he had indeed created an electric book, a book that stirs, and one that you can’t help living—and living with—along the way. It’s fair to say that Genovesi’s English debut touches all the right spots and echoes back just enough universalized Weltschmerz to leave the reader cringing over mistakes they too once made. And, for that, you’re in it until the end.
Live Bait launches with a memory, as things usually do: a fused snapshot, a spark of what was circling through a narrative live wire. Yet for our antihero Fiorenzo Marelli, it is a recollection that continues on, as some would put it, in phantomlike form; he has already lost part of himself (literally) before he hits that strange, dazed, and oddly jaded limbo called high school. This first brush with emptiness has cleared the way for the Italian metalhead’s Bildungsroman to creep into being, made evident as he so casually philosophizes in the novel’s first episode: “Because real emptiness isn’t finding nothing. It’s finding nothing where there’s supposed to be something.” And not so strangely, it is just this emptiness that continues to occupy his life; it is a nebulous hollow that, like the ditches where he finds respite while fishing for bottom feeders, belies a host of other organisms underneath. Now, maybe I’m mixing my reviewer metaphors here. Even so, I’d also hedge a bet that it is by crafting just this eddy of images floating in and out of view that Genovesi grasps onto our “real” world.
For the rest of the review, go here.Tweet
If you don’t already subscribe to our (sporadic, but in good times, bi-weekly) newsletter, you can do so by clicking here.
And if you missed the one that went out earlier this week, you can see the prettified version here, or just read it all below.
In almost every issue of Publishers Weekly—the trade magazine for booksellers, publishers, agents, and authors—the editors select one title to promote as the “Pick of the Week.” It’s usually something predictably large and respectable (like the new David Mitchell book, for example), but in the July 14th issue it was Open Letter’s The Last Days of My Mother by Icelandic author Sölvi Björn Sirgdsson!
The “starred” review, subtitled “Goodbye to All That,” had this to say:
The setup: Hermann’s girlfriend of seven years leaves him for a French dentist, then his native Iceland’s banking system goes belly-up, and finally his 63-year-old mother, Eva, is diagnosed with a rare and terminal cancer. The punch line: a bitterly laugh-out-loud novel of Nordic misery. [. . .] Sigurdsson’s novel successfully straddles the line between impious gallows humor and a heartfelt depiction of a son’s love for his mother.
Because we switched distributors this summer to Consortium (sorry, bit of inside baseball, but this is a really good thing for Open Letter), we ended up releasing this a couple months early, so your local indie bookseller should have copies, as does your favorite online retailer. Or, you can always order it directly from our website either as a single book, or as part of a subscription . . .
With the official publication date of The Last Days of My Mother coming up in August—and to celebrate the high praise it’s already receiving—if you take out a (or renew your existing) 12-month subscription before the end of August, we’ll throw in two extra books for free. So: Over about the next 14 months, you’ll receive a big 12 Open Letter titles for the same low price of $100—and that even includes free shipping within the U.S..
This is the cheapest and best way to keep up with what’s going on in international literature. By signing up now, you’ll not only get The Last Days of My Mother, but also great titles like A Thousand Forests in One Acorn: An Anthology of Spanish-Language Fiction (probably the prettiest and most impressive book we’ve ever published), a thrilling new book from Mathias Énard (the author of Zone, our first book to sell-out in just over a month), and The Man Between, a unique, intelligent, moving collection of pieces honoring the life and activism of one of the greatest translators of all time, Michael Henry Heim.
Again: Subscribe before August 31st and you’ll get 12 books, instead of the usual 10, for $100 even.
The In case you missed it, this past month Three Percent hosted the first ever World Cup of Literature, which pitted a recent book from each of the 32 countries that qualified for this year’s Real World Cup in a head-to-head knockout tournament.
Each match was written up by a reader or reviewer or translator or bookseller explaining why one of the two titles beat the other—and by what score. The pieces are incredibly fun to read and can help guide you to interesting books from all of the various World Cup counties.
In the end it came down to four literary powerhouses: Chile (represented by Roberto Bolaño’s By Night in Chile), Germany (W. G. Sebald’s Austerlitz), Mexico (Valeria Luiselli’s Faces in the Crowd), and the United States (David Foster Wallace’s The Pale King).
If you want to find out who won, you’ll have to click here.
(We have to keep up the suspense somehow!)Tweet
Just found out that _Gulf Coast Magazine is launching a new translation prize—one that might interest some of you:
Gulf Coast is now accepting entries for the inaugural Gulf Coast Translation Prize. In 2014, the contest is open to poetry in translation. The winner receives $1,000 and publication in the journal. Two honorable mentions will also appear in issue 27.2, due out in April 2015. All entries will be considered for paid publication on our website as Online Exclusives. This year’s contest will be judged by Jen Hofer. A Los Angeles-based poet, translator, social justice interpreter, teacher, and urban cyclist. Jen Hofer is co-founder with John Pluecker of the language justice and literary activism collaborative Antena.
Poetry: Send up to 5 pages of poetry translated into English. Preference will be given to contemporary work published within the last fifty years. As part of your submission, include the text in its original language, provide a brief synopsis (no more than 200 words) of the author you are translating, and indicate whether you have, and can grant us, permission to publish the original work and the translation. If you have rights to reprint the original text in the U.S., please let us know that as well.
All the details can be found here.Tweet
It’s always interesting to read a translator’s commentary on his or her translation process. For me personally, hearing how other translators think and work only adds to my personal work and experience, alternately showing me approaches or tactics that don’t work for me and showing me approaches and tactics that I’m not alone in using or obsessing over. The below interview between Liz Kelley and translator Kareem James Abu-Zeid came to us in lieu of a review, as Liz and Kareem are friends as well as colleagues in the world of Arabic literature. I won’t write too much more so as not to steal any thunder from Liz’s own intro to the interview, but one of my favorite parts is Kareem’s thoughts regarding “faithfulness to a text“—which, I might add, are backed up by the thoughts and reactions of the author, Najwan Darwish, himself.
The interview also includes a few poems from the collection—all translated by Abu-Zeid—for your reading intrigue. And if you like what you see, make sure to pick up the entire collection here.
Translation, A Reciprocal Process
Earlier this month I spoke to Kareem James Abu-Zeid, the translator of Nothing More to Lose, a collection of poems by Najwan Darwish published in the New York Review Books poetry series. Darwish is a celebrated and well-renowned poet whose poems have been translated into at least fifteen languages. Trained as a lawyer, Darwish has also worked as an editor, cultural critic, and has been active in arts organizations in Palestine and the Arab world. In addition to translating this book of poetry by Darwish, Abu-Zeid has translated several novels from Arabic, by authors such as Rabee Jaber and Tayel Eltayeb, as well as a poetry collection by Dunya Mikhail.
During our conversation, Kareem shared with me his translation process, which was quite collaborative with the poet. He discussed his implicit rule for translating (“If it sounds translated, I’ve done it wrong”), the way that the back-and-forth of the translation process was productive and beneficial not only for the English poems but even, in some cases, for the Arabic, and why he finds translating poetry more fun than translating prose. We discussed the mechanics of selecting poems and the puzzle of organizing them into a cohesive collection. The book takes its name from its first poem, which is not only beautifully translated here, but also encapsulates the nuance and complexity of the collection as a whole.
Nothing More to Lose
Lay your head on my chest and listen
to the layers of ruins
behind the madrasah of Saladin
hear the houses sliced open
in the village of Lifta
hear the wrecked mill, the lessons and reading
on the mosque’s ground floor
hear the balcony lights
go out for the very last time
on the heights of Wadi Salib
hear the crowds drag their feet
and hear them returning
hear the bodies as they’re thrown, listen
to their breathing on the bed
of the Sea of Galilee
listen like a fish
in a lake guarded by an angel
hear the tales of the villagers, embroidered
like kaffiyehs in the poems
hear the singers growing old
hear their ageless voices
hear the women of Nazareth
as they cross the meadow
hear the camel driver
who never stops tormenting me
and let us, together, remember
then let us, together forget
all that we have heard
Lay your head on my chest:
I’m listening to the dirt
I’m listening to the grass
as it splits through my skin . . .
We lost our heads in love
and have nothing more to lose
Liz Kelley: I’ve heard you say that the translation process with Najwan Darwish was collaborative. Could you describe the translation process for these poems? How involved was he?
Kareem Abu-Zeid: What I usually start with, and I think a lot of translators do this, is trying to understand everything going on in the poem, to get the bare meaning on the page.
That obviously involves asking Najwan a lot of questions, depending on the poem; sometimes it’s very straightforward. But then, once that first step has been taken, once I feel like I know everything going on in the poem—it doesn’t mean I actually do—but once I have the impression that I do, I will try to create a poem in English out of it.
In that first stage, I as the translator often go quite free, in order to make it as poetic as possible in English. My main rule in translating, that really, in some ways trumps all other rules, is that if it sounds like it was translated, I’ve done it wrong.
I think that’s a big problem especially with Arabic, a lot of the stuff sounds translated, and you can tell that the translators are sticking to the word order in the Arabic, the way the expressions are formed in Arabic, even grammatical constructions that don’t work the same way in English.
So I’d produce a text that was often quite free, then I’d send it back to Najwan, and that would usually begin a bit of a back and forth. Maybe he’d ask me: “Why did you translate this like this?” or he’d say: “This is too free” or “Actually, this isn’t what I meant to say here, you’ve gotten this wrong.” Through that back and forth, eventually we’d come to something we were both really happy with.
I’m lucky with Najwan in that he’s done some translating himself, and for him the main thing is not mirroring every word of the Arabic in English. For him, the main concern is for it to be poetry in English. If that means that a little bit of the literal meaning of the Arabic is sacrificed, then that’s what happens.
Also, I think his poetry allows for a certain freedom within the translation, which is really nice. There’s a lot of room for it. There are some poets who are bit more direct. With Najwan, his poetry lent itself quite well to that type of process.
LK: Do you have any examples of what that process, the back and forth, looks like? Any particular poems from this collection?
KAZ: This is hard because it gets into the nitty-gritty stuff of language. What tends to happen in the back and forth is that my translation winds up getting closer to the Arabic, usually.
One other thing, with regard to collaboration: Najwan usually doesn’t publish his poems in books in Arabic. He’s had a couple books come out, but he often publishes in magazines, journals and stuff, and a lot of the poems that made it into this book were fairly recent ones. One of the cool things about translating him is that I feel like his poetry seems to get better over time. Some of his poems from 10 or 15 years ago, when he was just starting to write, were a bit more direct, and even a bit angrier. The newer ones, I find to be much more powerful and more interesting.
I was translating texts that he hadn’t really published yet in Arabic even. Or if he had it was in journals, not in book form. One tends to think of the poem as fixed when it is in a book. Occasionally, through our work, he would change the Arabic. It didn’t happen all that often, but it happened in a few instances, where the Arabic would be changed slightly after the back and forth about the English translation. So that was kind of neat to see that, too.
In that respect, there is a lack of editing that happens in the Arabic speaking world. It’s much more pronounced with novels, you get a lot of novels that have this potential to be something amazing, and they turn into something mediocre or good, but not amazing, because no editor in the English sense of the word has been there to say: this part is weak, cut this 40 pages, etc., etc.
That’s been good in that with some of the poems, the translation process almost worked as an editing process as well. That was with a few of them, not too many. It was satisfying to me because I see, much more with novels than with poetry, I see the great potential that has been wasted. Even with some of the best novelists of the Arabic-speaking world, I think if they had an editor go through this, someone who does this professionally, you could have had something amazing. You could really be at 100% in terms of quality—whatever that means—and instead you’re left with 70%.
LK: I find that process to be super fascinating, for translation to be a reflective reading process, to provide that growth for the original and translation. Could you say a few more words about that?
KAZ: Najwan, of all the Arab writers I’ve translated, is the one least in need of an editor, he knows how to do it himself, because he’s an editor himself. With him, much less so than any of the other projects I’ve worked on, he doesn’t actually need it. But, what’s great is that because he’s an editor, he’s open to it if something comes up. He’ll even give me a text, and say, “I’m not sure about this one,” or “I’m not sure this one really works.” Occasionally, you have the texts that work great in Arabic, and I can’t get them to go in English.
Since this was a selected poems collection, there was an advantage there in that I could let go of those texts. They didn’t have to go in the book if they didn’t work.
LK: Could you tell me a bit more about the genesis of this collection? How did you choose the poems?
KAZ: I’d been translating Najwan’s stuff for several years: first for a poetry festival in San Francisco, then for a literary festival in Holland, just here and there, then for a couple journals once we had a relationship. Then, I read some of the poems at a literary translator’s residency in Banff where we did a couple of informal reading nights. I wasn’t working on this project there; I was working on a novel by Rabee Jaber. But, we did a few informal reading nights where we were supposed to read whatever we wanted, not necessarily what we were working on there. And I read some poems of Najwan’s that I had translated. One of the editors of NYRB (Jeffrey Yang) was there, because he’s also a poet and some of his poetry was being translated into German. So he was there and he said, “We’ve got this poetry series that we’re doing, I think this would be good for the series.” I was excited about that prospect because I am trying not to translate, or translate less, for specialized presses that work just on Arabic.
NYRB have only had a few books come out with this series, major European poets, an Indian poet, all in translation and very high quality. I think the last one that came out before Najwan’s was by Pierre Riverdy, and it was a big collection of poems by him. So that’s where the idea for a selected poems collection came out. Even though the book is not called “Selected Poems,” that’s what it is. Many books in the series are selected poems and don’t have a title, just the name of the poet. We decided to give this one a title because we thought “Nothing more to lose” kind of encapsulated the collection. That was actually a poem that Najwan wrote after much of the book was done, and then that one came and we were like “Oh, we have a title for the book now.”
LK: Tell me a bit more about “Nothing More to Lose”? Was it a new poem? How did you choose it as the title?
KAZ: It’s funny because I think sometimes Najwan doesn’t even know which of his poems are stronger and weaker. As soon as I read it, I knew it would be very close to the beginning of the book, if not the first poem. And then we wound up making it the title poem! When Najwan and I talked about having a title for the book—did we even want a title for the book?— “Nothing More to Lose” was the only one that really stuck. We threw a couple things out, but there wasn’t really even another candidate. It was either that or there wasn’t going to be a title for the book.
That was one of my favorites, because with “Nothing More to Lose,” you think it’s a collection all about loss, which makes sense in the Palestinian context, and that’s true. But then when you actually read that poem, the end is very different and it’s a little big ambiguous. The end is this, almost a moment of love. So that was another reason I liked that as the title poem, because you think it’s going to be one thing and then when you actually read the poem, it’s more complex than that. . . .
I have to say, it was fun. I’d never done a selected poems collection before. Getting to order the poems was fun. It was something I’d never done before. How do you order poems in a collection? What makes sense? What doesn’t?
LK: Was this a conversation you had with Najwan?
KAZ: The ordering of them? No, Najwan, chimed in after I had established the order, and then I shifted a few things around. I guess it was a conversation I had with him, but only after I had come up with a preliminary order. Then we did this back and forth thing that was almost like working on a translation.
I tried to vary it up. It was actually kind of fun: the whole book was printed out, and I laid them out on the floor of my house. I could see all the poems together, and kept shuffling them around. It was kind of like a puzzle. I tried to keep it varied. And I wanted to frontload, at least the first 15-20 pages to be what I considered the strongest in the collection. And then of course you want to end with a very strong poem, and that sort of stuff. There are certain themes and motifs that recur. I almost categorized the poems according to those themes, and then for the most part made sure I didn’t have five poems right after another all dealing with, for instance, the Christ image. Or some of his earlier poems are more about resistance in a literal, military sense, and I didn’t want all of those to be together, either. It didn’t really make sense doing it chronologically, because I thought most of his stronger poems were more recent ones, from 2007/2008 on. I didn’t want all the prose poems together either. There’re a few prose poems in that book, and some of them are quite long. It was just kind of keeping the variety in there.
LK: You mentioned that in some cases, the back and forth resulted in a change to the Arabic? Can you give an example of that?
KAZ: In the first poem, there was something that we changed in the second to last stanza, “Lay your head on my chest” was the same “I’m listening to the dirt / I’m listening to the grass / as it splits through my skin” I don’t remember exactly what it was in the Arabic, but I know those two lines changed. All the changes were minor. It wasn’t like rewriting the whole poem; but that image was slightly better or slightly more powerful this way. There was grass involved, but it wasn’t splitting through the skin, it was doing something else. But it was interesting because when I translated, that was the image I saw, grass coming up through this corpse, so I put it there. It was an unintentional effect of the Arabic, and then Najwan decided to make the unintentional effect slightly more intentional. I kind of saw the potential in the Arabic and brought it out in the English, and he said “Oh, ok, that wasn’t quite what I meant, but let’s keep that” and then he made some slight modification to bring out that part of the image a bit more clearly. So in a way it might have been a misreading of the Arabic.
LK: But a rich and rewarding misreading! . . . Are there poems that you’re particularly proud of? That you think were particularly strong, or particularly clever, fun to translate?
KAZ: I front-loaded the ones that were my favorites, for the most parts, some are scattered around the rest of the book. The first 15 or 20 were my favorites. I really love “Jerusalem II,” it begins: “When I leave you I turn to stone, /and when I come back to you I turn to stone.” I really liked that a lot. I’m proud of that one because it stayed fairly close to the Arabic, and more than many of my other translations, there was a very clear rhythm in the Arabic and I captured a very close equivalent to that rhythm in the English. And that doesn’t often happen in English. The Arabic was almost iambic at times, and I was able to keep that. The lines in that one—usually I’ll gravitate toward shorter lines—but in that one I kept the longer lines.
It kind of went against many of the things I usually do when translating, such as shorten lines. But Arabic is a very compact language, in many ways, and English will most of the time need more words. This means that the English translations very often have more lines than the Arabic. With Najwan, that’s not always the case, but it is often the case. With other poets even more so. . . .
I have to say I was also really happy with the first one, “Nothing More to Lose,” partly because you don’t really need the notes. Obviously there are notes in the back that explain specific references, so in that one there’s Wadi Salib, there’s madrasah of Saladin, there’s the village of Lifta, which are all very specific references. The village of Lifta is a weird case where a whole village was, for whatever reason, left standing. They didn’t raze it. And yet nobody can live there. It’s a very, very specific reference that for a Palestinian has a very clear resonance, it might be the only example of something like that happening in the Arab world. And then you have Wadi Salib, where you have a similar thing; it’s a neighborhood in Haifa, where again the Israelis for whatever reason didn’t destroy these houses, they cemented them shut. So you have these weird cement boxes just standing there, almost as a memorial.
There’re notes in the back about all this, but what I liked about “Nothing More to Lose,” is that I think it still works in English even without those references. The context of the poem tells you about those even if you don’t see the notes. And that’s rare where you don’t need the references. You don’t trip over it in English. So I was really happy with that one because that’s one of the really hard things about Najwan’s book in particular is that there’s a lot of very specific references, and that’s why we put the notes in the back. And yet I think even the references that are specific to Arab culture, those poems still work without the reader necessarily knowing what that reference is. All of those cases made me happy, but I think it worked particularly well with the title poem.
LK: Its interesting to hear you talk about “Jerusalem II,” that one of the things that’s strong and successful about it is that it sticks close to the Arabic and recaptures the rhythm of the Arabic and the number of lines is at parity with the English. But your earlier comments were about a “freer” or looser translation style about sounding poetic in English.
KAZ: I don’t want to go free, but usually, literal translation sounds really, really bad. The last two months, in my work as I freelance editor, I’ve done two projects where I’ve edited a translation that someone has done from the Arabic, but the whole thing, I’m not even really looking at the Arabic, it’s just turning a very literal translation into something that reads a bit better in English. It’s very rare that you can stick that close and keep it sounding poetic and fluid and not sound like a translated text, where you don’t get the sense that “oh, this doesn’t sound quite right.” There’s a lot of that, in my opinion, in Arabic novels translated into English, and a lot of the poetry. The few big anthologies that have come out, they’re great for academics, they mirror the Arabic lines, but they don’t read poetically. But they’re at university presses. In my opinion, most of them are not poetry in English. The academic project is wonderful and great, but if that’s how we translate Arabic into English, then the only people who are going to read these translations are people who are already interested in the Arabic-speaking world, or are academics. I’m trying to break that mold a little bit as a translator, in whatever way I can.
It’s a disservice to the original poetry. People are trying to stay close and be faithful, but I think you end up with these unreadable, or very flat translations that aren’t poetic, where the Arabic was poetic. Poetry is a set of effects, in addition to meaning. It irks me a lot when I see these amazing poets who just get flattened out in English, and it’s usually by accident. It comes from a good place, that’s the thing. The desire is to be faithful to the text, to keep the line breaks the same. But the conventions are totally different in Arabic poetry and English, even in the modern era, so you can’t do that. I don’t think it is possible to keep it the same and have it be an accurate translation.
LK: How do you deal with rhythm and meter?
KAZ: As close as I can keep it to the Arabic, I do. But the problem is you often can’t. This [Jerusalem II] was a very rhythmic poem by Najwan. Not all of his poems have that rhythm. In terms of rhythm, there’s almost a set meter in this one, which he usually doesn’t do. . . . In general in translation, rhythm is one of the hardest things to carry over. When you do carry it over, it’s usually not the same rhythm that was in the original. It usually can’t be because meter works very differently in Arabic than in English.
But “Jerusalem II,” reading it out loud, that one in particular works. It was lucky because it was one of the earlier poems I translated by him, and I had a chance to read it at a few different places in English and Arabic. That process helped me tweak the translation for the book. Reading it out loud in Arabic and then in English and really helped. That’s not all that often the case, when I think about some of the other poems. That’s a poem that, more than others, is meant to be read out loud, rather than a text to be read. Maybe that’s why the cadence was so important there. All poetry is written to be read out loud, but there’s a difference between “Jerusalem II,” and then say, there’s a short poem called “In praise of the Family.” You don’t need to read that one aloud. Whereas some of them, you do. I think also, that one has a lot of repetition, and the repetition, the sonority is very powerful when it’s read out loud.
LK: I really enjoyed reading the collection, and it has been wonderful hearing about the process of translating and putting together this collection. Any last thoughts?
KAZ: I think it’s the best thing I’ve ever done, so far. When I started translating Arabic literature, it was with poetry. I switched to prose and this reminded me how fun it is to do poetry. Especially since I have no real professional reason to translate. Doing novels isn’t paying the bills; it’s something I just do for the joy of it. But this, I think I’ll do more poetry now. This was a fun one to translate, where I really loved to translate it. It’s more fun to translate poetry than prose.
LK: Why is that? Why is it more fun to translate poetry?
KAZ: You can be a bit freer—no, why is it more fun to translate? I feel like with poetry you can . . . I spend longer on each word. I spend a lot more time per word on poetry than in a novel. You can’t pore over a novel in quite the same way you can with a book of poetry. And I do feel that translating poetry, there’s a little bit more room for “freedom” in the translation process. The emphasis is at least as much on sound and rhythm as it is on meaning. It’s not that that isn’t there in novels, but the balance of power is a little bit more on meaning in a novel. Very concrete and specific things are happening and those things need to be conveyed, relatively accurately, so that the reader isn’t confused, or else the novel is no longer effective. It’s more just about that balance of where the energy is going.
When I leave you I turn to stone
and when I come back I turn to stone
I name you Medusa
I name you the older sister of Sodom and Gomorrah
you the baptismal basin that burned Rome
The murdered hum their poems on the hills
and the rebels reproach the tellers of their stories
while I leave the sea behind and come back
to you, come back
by this small river that flows in your despair
I hear the reciters of the Quran and the shrouders of corpses
I hear the dust of the condolers
I am not yet thirty, but you buried me, time and again
and each time, for your sake
I emerge from the earth
So let those who sing your praises go to hell
those who sell souvenirs of your pain
all those who are standing with me, now, in the picture
I name you Medusa
I name you the older sister of Sodom and Gomorrah
you the baptismal basin that still burns
When I leave you I turn to stone
When I come back I turn to stone
Sleeping in Gaza
Fado, I’ll sleep like people do
when shells are falling
and the sky is torn like living flesh
I’ll dream, then, like people do
when shells are falling:
I’ll dream of betrayals
I’ll wake at noon and ask the radio
the questions people ask of it:
Is the shelling over?
How many were killed?
But my tragedy, Fado,
is that there are two types of people:
those who cast their suffering and sins into the streets so they can sleep
and those who collect the people’s suffering and sins
mold them into crosses, and parade them
through the streets of Babylon and Gaza and Beirut
all the while crying
Are there any more to come?
Are there any more to come?
Two years ago I walked through the streets
of Dahieh, in southern Beirut
and dragged a cross
as large as the wrecked buildings
But who today will lift a cross
from the back of a weary man in Jerusalem?
The earth is three nails
and mercy a hammer:
Strike with the planes
Are there any more to come?
Liz Kelley has a PhD in Anthropology from the University of California Berkeley, with a concentration in linguistic anthropology and translation studies. Her interest and studies specialize in Arabic literatures.
If you’re looking for some post-WWII-themed, summer reading with disturbing imagery that would blow Jane Yolen and her time-traveling YA hit out of the shark-infested waters (don’t ask about the sharks), this book should be on your list. The rich, blood-red cover treatment, the title, the grisly things Peter (of the Burlington Writers Workshop) mentions in his review . . . It’s enough to make you literally grimace and wonder how many episodes of Keeping up with the Kardashians you can self-medicate with to make the entire world go away but still not land yourself in the camp of comatose self-loathing. Basically, if you want a visceral and historical heebie-jeebie fest, this is it.
And yes: Kardashians and WWII. You saw that combination here first, folks.
Anyway, here’s a part of Peter’s review—and enjoy the weekend!:
The Skin is Malaparte’s description of this moral plague. He writes about a character of the same name who accompanies a band of Pollyannaish American soldiers as they go about Naples acting as both conquerors and liberators. He bears witness to the variety of horrors that come at the end of a long war: starvation, slavery, casual murder, careless disposal of the dead, and the caustic nature with which the rich feed upon the poor (both literally and metaphorically), to name a few.
But these atrocities are merely a symptom of, or coexist with, the moral plague. Malaparte bemoans the easy way Neapolitans bend to the wishes of their American conquerors. “It was enough that a child should put into its mouth a candy offered to it by an American soldier, and its innocent soul would be corrupted.” The Neapolitans are too willing to trade national identity, pride, and dignity, just to get along with the new powers that be.
The Americans, for their part, approach this horrid landscape as if they weren’t at least partially responsible, and so they become the target of Malaparte’s most acidic sarcasm. The Americans of The Skin remain ignorant of Neapolitan culture. One American repeatedly speaks French to Malaparte and others, suggesting that, to him, all cultures other than his own are more or less the same. The Americans take what they can from the country they’ve razed with bombs and tanks, all the while holding themselves blameless. It rings true.
For the rest of the review, go here.Tweet
Brandy is a new contributor to our band of reviewers, and is currently finishing an Honors BA degree in English Language and Literature in St. Catharines, Ontario.
Here’s the beginning of her review:
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” quantity and degree of attention. What is also unsurprising—and slightly depressing—is the rather gossipy nature of the comment and controversy surrounding Labé’s work, both past and present. Her contemporaries, we are told, spread rumours that she was a courtesan, albeit one with discerning taste in her clientele. In recent years, one Renaissance scholar has claimed that Labé’s poetry was actually written by a group of men, and that Labé herself never even existed. The life of a female writer, it seems, comes with some interesting occupational hazards.
Regardless of what she was or wasn’t, Labé herself is proudly conscious of her femininity in her work, and Love Sonnets & Elegies offers some rewarding insights into a pioneering female mind. In her dedicatory epistle to Clémence de Bourges, Labé expresses her desire to see women “surpass or equal men not only in beauty but in learning & worthiness,” and her poetry contains nods toward a community of presumably like-minded women, whom she addresses with a charming spirit of familiarity in “Sonnet 24” (“Don’t reproach me, ladies, for having loved”) and in “Elegy I,” in which she pleads, “Join in my sorrows, / Ladies, when you read of my regrets. / Some day, I may do the same for you.” Such disarming intimacy is hard to resist.
For the rest of the review, go here.Tweet
Now that the World Cup of Literature is officially over, with Roberto Bolaño’s By Night in Chile taking home the prize, it’s time to get back to writing normal blog posts, starting with this much overdue “preview” of forthcoming July translations.
My initial plan with this post was to write it “live blog” style from Las Vegas where I was last month for the American Library Association conference. Unfortunately, many things got in the way of that, starting with the $14.95/day wifi costs in my hotel (Open Letter saves its money to spend on translators, not to allow me to make dumb jokes!), not to mention the 9am kickoff for the World Cup games, and the alcohol that I drank (see insane Eiffel Tower drink below).
So, instead, I’m going to try and work some of my observations into the write-ups below. But, unlike the music industry, which hasn’t brought out much of anything good this month, publishers are dropping some awesome stuff this summer. Bitov, Robbe-Grillet, Volodine, Haas, Can Xue . . . There are some legit overviews below to go with the usual assortment of random crap.
But to set the scene a bit: Way back when, before BEA locked itself into being in Jacob Javits’s glass house for a decade (or whatever), the show was supposed to take place in Las Vegas. Given the nonsensical nature of BEA and its parties, I couldn’t wait for this show. Booksellers AND strippers??! Lowly publicity assistants blowing their per diem at the craps table?? More drunken beardos than the streets of Brooklyn after a Pavement concert! SIGN ME UP.
Unfortunately, that BEA got moved to the Western West Side and was like every other BEA: A bit unfocused, a bit depressing, and a bit self-congratulatory.
Fast-forward a bunch of years, and now, when I’m too old to fully rock out anymore of course, I finally get to attend a convention in Vegas. One with fellow nerdy book people! Heading into it, I figured this was going to be great, and that I was going to lead at least a dozen librarians into nights of bad decision making.
Just to pause for a moment though, these are the people who attend ALA:
And those are the librarians from Austin. So, yeah. Vegas. Librarians. Books, booze, and gambling. Free flowing liquor. Temps above 110. My never-ending depression. What could possibly go wrong?
The Last Lover by Can Xue, translated from the Chinese by Annelise Finegan Wasmoen (Yale University Press)
Can Xue has to be the female Chinese author with the most books translated into English. She’s been published by Henry Holt, Northwestern, Open Letter, Yale, and has appeared in a number of issues of Conjunctions. Part of this is because she’s a fucking brilliant and strange writer, part of this is due to her natural charm. I finally had a chance to meet her in person last fall at the Reykjavik International Literary Festival (see our interview) and immediately signed on another of her novels, Frontier. This isn’t much of a secret, really, but publishers like to work with people they like. I’ll happily sign on a book that’s an 8 out of 10 instead of a book that’s a 10 out of 10 if the author/translator is someone that I really respect and like working with.
Which is why certain people won’t ever translate anything for Open Letter. Ever.
And I’ll bet you were expecting the “last lover” to lead to some sort of joke about escorts and Vegas and librarians . . .
Rachel by Andrei Gelasimov, translated from the Russian by Marian Schwartz (Amazon Crossing)
This is the fourth of Gelasimov’s books that Amazon Crossing has published, three of which (including this one) are on sale for $1.99 right now. Say what you will about pricing, Hachette, and the decline of modern civilization, this is worth taking advantage of if for no other reason than the fact that Marian translated the books. She’s one of the most amazing translators we’ve got, and if she loves an author—like she does with Gelasimov—everyone should pay attention.
A Sentimental Novel by Alain Robbe-Grillet, translated from the French by D.E. Brooke (Dalkey Archive Press)
In Vegas, I stayed in Bally’s hotel, which is attached to the Paris hotel. Or rather, Le Paris hotel. For those of you who haven’t been to Vegas, consider yourselves lucky. The Paris hotel includes a huge replica of the Eiffel Tower, which you can go up in on the “Le Eiffel Tower Adventure,” the tickets for which can be purchased next to “Le Bar,” which is across the way from “Le Toilettes” by “Le Sports Book.” I’m not even fucking with you—all the signs in this hotel have “Le” appended to them. Ninety percent of the time, these make no sense—shouldn’t it be “Les Toilettes”?—and the other one-hundred and ten percent of the time this is stupid as shit. It’s like the worst simulacrum ever.
On the upside, they do sell the “Le Eiffel Daiquiri,” a two-foot tall Eiffel Tower “glass” filled with 10-12 shots of rum. All for $16.95! Well, $16.95 and most of your better judgement.
Come, Sweet Death! by Wolf Haas, translated from the German by Annie Janusch (Melville House)
The U.S. vs. Germany World Cup match took place the first morning that I was in Vegas. I had talked a lot of shit to Nick from NYRB about getting up super early, finding a crazy bar to watch it in, etc., etc., but at 8am when my alarm went off, I thought I’d rather just stay in bed and avoid all the American Outlaws. One problem: no matter where I looked, I couldn’t find the remote for my TV. Not on the TV stand, not in any of the drawers, not on top of the armoire, not under the bed, nowhere. So I rushed out, basically ran across to the one sports bar I already had scoped out, and ordered a coffee. Surprisingly, they did have coffee, but no coffee mugs . . . Instead, they served me a pint of coffee with a little sleeve so that I wouldn’t burn the shit out of my hand. A pint of coffee.
This was one of my favorite Vegas experiences though, since I was seated between two dudes who chain smoked the entire game while playing video poker and downing screwdrivers. They had clearly been there all night, and were holding on to shreds of dignity and hope. Neither of them won jack, and one guy’s friends never came to collect him from wherever they had been partying all night.
I did end up partaking in the $2 beer specials, which was probably the reason I fell asleep at the hotel pool a few hours later and woke up as red as I’ve ever been in my life . . . I’m still peeling . . . Once you turn 40, a 9am beer is the equivalent of twelve evening drinks. This is a life lesson for all you youngsters: Enjoy your wake’n‘drink days before your body starts to hate you.
Symmetry Teacher by Andrei Bitov, translated from the Russian by Polly Gannon (FSG)
Of all the books on this list, this is the one that I’m most excited to read. I loved Bitov’s Pushkin House (which Dalkey reissued a number of years back), and Michael Orthofer gave this one an A-. Based on the description—that this is an “echo book” of a book that Bitov once read and foggily remembers, but that leads him to create a series of self-reflexive, nested stories—it sounds like a fun, complicated game of a novel. And Orthofer really sells it with this:
The different stories that make up the novel are not so much unfinished or incomplete, but rather part of an overlapping continuity that probably can best be compared to an Escher loop (or loops of Escher loops . . .): not neatly nested, à la Calvino, or adhering to some similar determined Oulipian schemes, but rather capriciously folding back on themselves across time and space, the author’s guiding hand in the frame but handing off responsibility in his layers of authorial invention, attributing a great deal to A. Tired-Boffin, who in turn credits Urbino Vanoski. etc. [. . .]
The Symmetry Teacher is about books and reading and writing that transcend the actual set text — literary echoes that arise and exist separately from what is in a fixed, written state. This is a novel where, typically, a character enthuses about his vivid memory of a particular scene — but admits he no longer can find it.
Poetics of Wonder: Passage to Mogador by Alberto Ruy Sanchez, translated from the Spanish by Rhonda Buchanan (White Pine)
Alberto Ruy Sanchez is included in our new anthology, A Thousand Forests in One Acorn, which may well be the most beautiful book we’ve ever published. Edelweiss does the design no favors, but you should click that link to see how amazing this is, and to request a digital reading copy. (Although you really should just buy the real thing.)
I’m sure most people already knew this, but Vegas has a monorail, which, every single time I saw it referenced, reminded me of this Simpson’s epidode:
Why this song isn’t playing continuously on every monorail platform is a failure on Vegas’s part.
Writers by Antoine Volodine, translated from the French by Katina Rogers (Dalkey Archive)
To prepare for our upcoming pre-sales call, I just started reading all the Open Letter titles scheduled to come out in 2015 between April-August. Antoine Volodine’s Post-Exoticism in Ten Lessons, Lesson Eleven (which, according to at least a few reviewers, is far superior to Writers), Georgi Gospodinov’s The Physics of Sorrow, Naja Marie Aidt’s Rock, Paper, Scissors, Juan José Saer’s The One Before . . . Obviously, I love the books we publish, but this is that period of time when the dyssynchrony of being in the book world are the most apparent. We got the rights to Physics of Sorrow back in September of 2012, and no one else will be able to read this before the end of the year. But I read (or rather, reread) the first 50 pages last night, and I want everyone I know to have access to this right fricking now. It’s one of the best things I’ve read all year. But by the time I can mail it out to people, I’ll be reading the book coming out in January 2016 and my desire to talk Physics with other book people will be somewhat dulled. And by the time ordinary readers (compared to booksellers and reviewers who will receive advanced reading copies) get their hands on this, we’ll be reading excerpts and signing on books for 2017.
I’m not sure I have a real point here, just that books and music are most of my life, and it’s a weird experience when you remember that huge portions of your “life” are spent reading in a social void of sorts. That and: you all must read Post-Exoticism in Ten Lessons, Lesson Eleven and The Physics of Sorrow. As soon as they come out. And then email/tweet/text me.
Crow Blue by Adriana Lisboa, translated from the Portuguese by Alison Entrekin (Bloomsbury)
I just want to point out that this book is listed on the Bloomsbury website as part of Bloomsbury Circus. What the fuck is that, you ask?
Bloomsbury Circus is a place of fine writing from all over the world. There are exciting debuts and brilliant new work from such established writers as Patrick McGrath, Lucy Ellmann, Alice McDermott and Tobias Hill. Like any good circus, it is a list that is not frightened to take risks, while always being entertaining.
So, by “all over the world,” they mean Britain, Scotland, and America? Maybe those are the “three rings” of this “circus”? Bloomsbury, your metaphor sucks. “Bloomsbury Circus” sounds like the publisher of kids books about acrobats and fucking clowns.
Matiushin Case by Oleg Pavlov, translated from the Russian by Andrew Bromfield (And Other Stories)
I think it’s pretty ironic that & Other Stories which has the URL “stories.com” is a bag/accessories/shoes/lingerie shop. Why “stories”?
Mr. Gwyn by Alessandro Baricco, translated from the Italian by Ann Goldstein (McSweeney’s Books)
I haven’t made fun of Flavorwire’s list in a while, but this one on the 35 Writers Who Run the Literary Internet deserves to be laughed at. When I clicked on this, I was hoping for some conspiracy theory shit linking an unknown writer to media leaks about how Amazon burns 13 Hachette books a day as part of some corporate ritual, or something interesting like that. Instead, it’s a list of writers with the most Twitter followers. Because Twitter equals the Internet and having the most followers is equivalent to “running it.”
(Except for Zadie Smith! “She’s one of the few big-name writers who has managed to develop a huge Internet presence without even seeming to spend much time online.” In other words, she’s a writer that people really like. How does she even fit in under the “Runs the Literary Internet” rubric? According to the description, what she “runs” is her own writing. Whatever.)
I know—and respect—some of the people on this list, others make me want to scratch my eyes out when I hear them speak on panels, most I don’t “follow” and, to be honest, don’t feel like I’m missing anything . . . Also, I know Flavorwire exists to create log-rolling lists as clickbait and to get the “listed” people to retweet the lists, generating more clicks and ensuring that these people (the listed) can end up on be on more lists and everyone can all end up at the same over-priced Brooklyn speakeasy drinking PBRs and old fashioneds. So this isn’t anything personal against anyone involved—everyone is awesome.
That said, I love this comment: “Dear Flavorwire, America is not the world, for Chrissakes.” Having fallen for way too many Flavorwire headline teases, I can assure you that, in the eyes of Flavorwire, America and Karl Ove Knausgaard ARE the world.
Secondly, the pictures of the women screaming with their mouths open? Is this a new meme? It’s very unsettling.
Also, the only good thing about the World Cup being over is that Teju Cole will no longer be tweeting about it. I know he’s got a million and one fans who will “rise as one” to annihilate me, but to be honest, I think his World Cup tweets were the worst. So self-absorbed and pedantic and boring. Kaija’s #WorldCupTaunting bits were edgier, funnier, and much more entertaining than things like “Guillermo ‘CTRL S’ Ochoa.”
Nothing was as bad as the #thetimeofthegame “idea.” Just check this out:
What’s funniest to me is that he took a screen cap of his own Twitter feed as his #thetimeofthegame entry. Twitter is like a Bloomsbury Circus of crap.
(Also, I know that these rants are why Open Letter books never make Flavorwire’s lists, for which I apologize to all our authors and translators. My jokes about things that suck shouldn’t represent Open Letter, but I’m afraid that some people take it that way.)
Guantanamo by Frank Smith, translated from the French by Vanessa Place (Les Figues)
I feel like explaining what I specifically didn’t like about Las Vegas will come off as a string of clichés . . . but that might be due to the fact that there’s no real separation from the depiction of Vegas in movies and TV shows—its excesses and bright lights and frenetic nature—and what it’s really like. The whole strip area is set up as one huge experiment in behavioral economics designed to get people to spend too much money and make terrible decisions. Every hotel is connected to every other hotel by way of thirteen areas stuffed with gamble machines. It’s all flashing and no straight path is actually straight. In between, the Paris and Bally hotels, you walk down a “hallway” that veers this way and that, coming out into a room of slots and tables and no idea which way to turn. This disorientation—a key behind shopping malls—facilitates the spending of money. The fact that there is no sense of time—it could be noon or five am—adds to this, and quickly turns a few drinks into an all-night bender involving $17 drinks with 12 shots of rum. That’s why hotel staff keeps asking “are you OK?” in that tone that implies that you might well need medical attention but just don’t realize it yet.
Vegas wants you to walk that fine line between “drunk enough to spend ten times what I was planning on” and “alcohol poisoning.” We were in a bar where you could order a kilo of cavier for $7,200. A kilo. Who the fuck says, “could I get a kilo of cavier please?” Someone who just won big at the blackjack table. Who believes this is “free money” and that the best way to get value out of this free money is to blow it in one big huge, story-creating sort of way: “Dude, I won ten grand at a poker tournament and bought Cristal and a kilo of cavier and hit up the strip joint and puked in the Bellagio fountain. It was fucking epic!”
Thing is, maybe Vegas is right. Maybe a life of books and music is totally overrated. (And that’s one more thing: culture really doesn’t seem to exist in Vegas. I’m sure it does, out in the city, in pockets, outside of the Stratosphere and the High Roller and everything else that sucks, but when you think Vegas, you think Celine and Britney and Carrot Top — Carrot Top! — none of which are interesting or novel or worth dropping $100 to see.) Vegas represents a cultural black hole where anything goes, where you can escape your normal shitty life and believe for a time that you’re a VIP, that you could win millions by betting on black, that the next drink will make you attractive. It’s supposed to be a place of ultimate freedom, but those freedoms seem, to me, as a cynical depressed bastard, to only involve cheap sex, all the drinking, and the highly unlikely dream of easy money.
Invisible Love by Eric-Emmanuel Schmitt, translated from the French by Howard Curtis (Europa Editions)
I went to two “parties” during ALA: one about “gaming and cosplay,” the other sponsored by Central Recovery Press.
No one was cosplayed up for the gaming one, and apparently, in the library world, “gaming” means “board games.” As in, twenty librarians were sitting around a well-lit room playing board games. And no, there were no drinks. I lasted less than 30 seconds. Even BEA does better than that.
Central Recovery is a very admirable press dedicated to helping people overcome their addictions. Their party was out at Vegas City Hall, which is so much more interesting than the strip. It also seems like it’s in the middle of nowhere, past the “Gambling Supplies Warehouse” and just out of sight from Circus, Circus. A special shuttle bus had to bring us there, since walking that far—even from the last monorail stop—would basically leave you dehydrated and dead. Good thing the Central Recovery party had all the Coke you could desire! (I was expecting coffee and donuts, but alas.) Anyway, aside from the fact that I’m not in AA and prefer parties with beers, this set up would’ve been totally fine if I hadn’t have overheard someone say “the speeches will start in about 15 minutes” just as the bus, the only link to civilization, pulled away. I can live without wine, but living through multiple speeches—or a poetry reading lasting more than 10 minutes—is tough . . .
Nevertheless I survived, regained my non-sobriety at the Peppermill, and made it back from Vegas with my mind only slightly broken . . .Tweet
After a wild World Cup of Literature ride, what better way to wind down or frustrations or victorious cries than to talk about them (or bite each other over them)? And because I lack the attention span to get all existential and tie the title of Conversations to something deep and meaningful—and because I happen to have a bit more self dignity than usual today: just look at the brightly colored word bubbles bleeding into each other. Aren’t you mesmerized?
Anyway, here’s the beginning of Tiffany’s review:
In Conversations, we find ourselves again in the protagonist’s conscious and subconscious, which is mostly likely that of Mr. César Aira and consistent with prototypical Aira style. This style never fails because each time Aira is able to develop a uniquely bogus set of facts that feels as realistic as waking up each morning and going to work, despite their fantastical and unrealistic qualities.
The protagonist opens the work by telling us that he entertains himself by remembering the daily conversations he has had with his friends. Each night, he relives those conversations while drifting off to sleep. His life goal is focused on engaging in a level of conversation that is “consistently high” to the point of obsession, leaving the reader truly concerned for his mental health.
Once the protagonist’s world is established, Aira dives into a conversation between the protagonist and his friend about a movie shown on television. The ones “they show on cable channels without commercial interruptions” prevents the viewer time to run to the restroom or kitchen, resulting in voids in the story lines which are imperative to the plot of the forgettable film. From here, the protagonist has a debate over the film starring a poor man with a Rolex watch. The protagonist’s position is that the Rolex is an atrocity to the realism of the film, while the friend argues that this is merely a minor point to be ignored. The friend posits that the protagonist should just suspend reality. Of course, this is an impossibility to the protagonist since conversations and their accuracy are of the utmost importance to him.
For the rest of the piece, go here.Tweet
Upon completing Albertine Sarrazin’s Astragal I was left to wonder why it ever fell from print. Aside from the location, Astragal could pass as the great American novel. Its edginess and rawness capture the angst and desires we all had. . .
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”. . .
In Conversations, we find ourselves again in the protagonist’s conscious and subconscious, which is mostly likely that of Mr. César Aira and consistent with prototypical Aira style. This style never fails because each time Aira is able to develop a. . .
You are not ashamed of what you do, but of what they see you do. Without realizing it, life can be an accumulation of secrets that permeates every last minute of our routine . . .
The narrative history of. . .
Literature in translation often comes with a certain pedigree. In this little corner of the world, with so few books making it into this comforting nook, it is often those of the highest quality that cross through, and attention is. . .
Alessandro Baricco’s Mr. Gwyn is a set of two loosely interlinked novellas that play with narrative and the construction of character. Ably translated by Ann Goldstein, Mr. Gwyn plays some subtle metafictional games as Baricco delves into what it means. . .
I must admit upfront that I went into reading Saadat Hasan Manto’s Bombay Stories almost entirely blind. I have not read Salman Rushdie. I have read, perhaps, two short stories by Jhumpa Lahiri. I might shamefully add that I really. . .
Throughout his work The Gray Notebook, Josep Pla mentions many different authors, some of whom have inspired him to pick up a pen. One of them is Marcel Proust. Even though Pla normally prefers nonfiction, he lauds the French novelist. . .