22 August 14 | Chad W. Post | Comments

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.

As always you can subscribe to the podcast in iTunes by clicking here. To subscribe with other podcast downloading software, such as Google’s Listen, copy the following link.


22 August 14 | Kaija Straumanis | Comments

The latest addition to our Reviews section is a piece by P. T. Smith on Little Grey Lies by Hédi Kaddour, translated by Teresa Lavender Fagan, and published by Seagull Books.

Here’s the beginning of Patrick’s review:

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 leftovers of the war simmer to a boil, is World War II. Little Grey Lies is a war novel without war, and about the inevitability of the next. War is a filter over the book, it is life in the inescapable aftermath of war, not the destruction, not the loss of life and property, but instead the constant memory, the subconscious, ongoing afflictions. In that space, it is the intricacies of personal connections, of secrets and the desire to out them, that become the conflicts.

Max, the character we spend the most time with, is a journalist and the book is both the narrative of his discovery of the story, and the story itself. In the first pages, he witnesses a procession of veterans, in memory of the Battle of Mons, England’s first encounter with the Germans during World War I. It is from this battle that the novel finds its birth: a myth of angels as archers protecting the defeated, yet heroic troops becomes a necessary faith for some, and even those who don’t believe are awed by the legend.

At the front of the procession is Colonel William Strether, who becomes the focus of Max’s London investigation. Strether is a respected man, utterly in control with every precise movement of his body. Working as a maître d’ he plays the room like a puppeteer: “he didn’t take their order but dictated it to a server standing behind him, commented on the menu, assembled the meal while making the client feel he was doing it himself.” Strether is a true Fascist believer, a powerful leader of men, even if “he rarely spoke in public, took no defined position, he waited for when he was alone with the leaders.” He doesn’t hesitate to use violence to lead his men, to train them toward order. It’s all part of his hiding a lie—one that is again a violence, though now against himself—and part of the inevitable path to the next war.

For the rest of the piece, go here.

12 August 14 | Chad W. Post | Comments

In a different time in my life, I would’ve jumped on the chance to apply for this job at the NEA:

As the Grants Management Specialist (Literature), you will be responsible for the following tasks:

Review, organize, and process organizational grant applications from the Literature field, and follow these applications through the complete review process from receipt to final report.

Use expertise in the Literature field to serve as liaison between the Agency and field concerning applications, grants, guidelines, and related policies and issues affecting that field.

In consultation with the Grants & Contracts Office, monitor grantee performance through review of progress, interim and final reports, amendment requests, conversations with grantee, etc., to assure that the grantee is functioning in accordance with the terms and conditions of the grant.

Counsel applicants and prospective applicants about proposed projects in context of published guidelines and with knowledge of field activities and trends as well as agency funding history of specific projects.

Manage items related to special projects that arise. Duties might include managing meetings and convenings, webinar development and management, and other work items as they occur as well as processing cooperative agreements, interagency agreements, contracts, and other government documents.

The posting for this job is only open until MONDAY, AUGUST 18TH, so if you’re interested, you need to get on this right now. Also, according to Literature Director Amy Stolls, if you apply you HAVE to follow the directions exactly or everything will go awry. (Having submitted a fair share of NEA grants, there are probably more opaque directions than necessary. But still.)

12 August 14 | Chad W. Post | Comments

Also announced today is the NEA’s publication of The Art of Empathy: Celebrating Literature in Translation, a free book comprised of nineteen pieces on translation from a host of translators, publishers, advocates, professors, and readers.

Here’s a bit about the collection from NEA Director of Literature, Amy Stolls:

Translation is an art. It takes a great deal of creativity and patience to do it well, not to mention a deep knowledge of a writer’s language, place, and oeuvre. But it also takes fortitude, for translators are notoriously underpaid and underappreciated, their names often left off the covers of the books they create. In fact, we owe a good deal of thanks to a good number of hardworking people and organizations who are (and were) responsible for making translated work available, accessible, and visible to us among the fray, most notably the publishers who take the financial risk to publish and promote these books in an increasingly crowded market. Over the last 15 years, I’ve seen more and more of these advocates of translation enter the game, promoting literature in translation not just from across
the borders, but from within our own communities. [. . .]

Our goal for this book was simple: to illuminate for the general reader the art and importance of translation through a variety of points of view. Each essay tells a different story; each story adds to our understanding of this little-known art form. And in case you read through these passionate essays and find yourself inspired to make the next book you read a work in translation, we’ve asked each of our contributors to recommend three books. These are not necessarily the quintessential, canonical, must-read translations from an academic point of view, but rather three books that they simply loved and wished to share.

If you haven’t already downloaded it from the link above, I think you will after reading this table of contents:

“Hearing Voices” by Angela Rodel
A translator’s journey begins with a love of Bulgarian music.

“Choosing a Twin” by Gregory Pardlo
On kinship, mental yoga, and the rebirth of a poem.

“Work of Purpose, Work of Joy” by Charles Waugh
Giving voice to the invisible and forgotten in Vietnam.

“Living with Translation” by Howard Norman
A writer’s deep and enduring immersion in the joys of translation.

“The Collaborative Approach” by Sylvia Li-chun Lin and Howard Goldblatt
A married couple explains how two translators make one work of art.

“By the Light of Translation” by Natasha Wimmer
How the slowest kind of reading leads to an act of seeing.

“An Act of Imagination” by Philip Boehm
The commonalities between a translator and a theater director.

“Daring and Doubting” by Russell Scott Valentino
The translator’s claustrophobic, questioning mind.

“The Sharable Rightness of Meaning” by Esther Allen An ode to the magnificent Michael Henry Heim.

“The Myth of the ‘Three Percent Problem’” by Chad W. Post
What the statistics on translated books in America really tell us.

“A Universe of Layered Worlds” by Olivia E. Sears
The unexpected journey from the exotic to the universal.

“Recovering the Culture” by Nicolás Kanellos
Reaching the Latino community in two languages.

“The Value of Publishing Translation” by John O’Brien
How one publisher found support from other countries.

“Toward an Understanding of Translation” by Rainer Schulte
A reflection on how we communicate and translate in modern-day life.

“Engaging the World” by Susan Harris
The value of writers’ firsthand perspectives.

“Brokers of Babel” by Edward Gauvin
An argument against fidelity.

“A More Complex Occasion” by Pierre Joris
Enriching poetry through the imperfect nature of languages.

“Carrying Words Through Time” by Kazim Ali
The transformation of a poet who translates.

“The Art of Empathy” by Johanna Warren
Learning how to listen.

Go get it now. And for those of you out there who teach, this is a perfect—and free!—book to use in a class on international literature and/or publishing and/or translation.

12 August 14 | Chad W. Post | Comments

Bunch of interesting stuff from the National Endowment for the Arts today, starting with the announcement of the FY 2015 NEA Literature Translation Fellowship Recipients.

You can read the whole announcement and descriptions of all the projects here, but below is the list of the winners and a few projects that caught my eye.

First, this year’s recipients:

Rosa Alcalá
Douglas Basford
Wendy Call
Enriqueta Carrington
Alexander Cigale
Jennifer Croft
Bruce Fulton (in collaboration with Ju‐Chan Fulton)
Katherine M. Hedeen
Cynthia Hogue
Jawid Mojaddedi
Philip Pardi
Sarah Ponichtera
Jacquelyn Pope
Barbara Romaine
Adam P. Siegel
Yvette Siegert
Steven J. Stewart
Niloufar Talebi
Jeffrey Yang
Andrew Zawacki

And a few projects:

Jennifer Croft, Tiffin, IA ($12,500)
To support the translation from the Polish of Olga Tokarczuk’s novel Runners. Runners was awarded Poland’s most distinguished literary prize (the Nike) in 2008. It intertwines travel narratives and reflections on travel with observations on the body and on life and death, offering thoughts on such topics as travel‐sized cosmetics, belly dancing, maps, relics, the Maori, Wikipedia, Cleopatra, and the effects of airports on the psyche. Born in 1962, Tokarczuk recently founded her own digital publishing house in an effort to encourage Poland’s creative younger generation.

Bruce Fulton (in collaboration with Ju‐Chan Fulton), Seattle, WA ($12,500)
To support the translation from the Korean of a compilation of multigenre literary works by Ch’ae Man‐shik. One of the great talents of modern Korean literature, Ch’ae Man‐shik (1902‐50) is known as a master storyteller who gleaned material from everyday life. His command of idiom, realistic dialogue, and keen wit produced a unique fictional style. His subject matter is couched in a particular period in Korea’s turbulent modern history – the Japanese colonization of the Korean peninsula from 1910 to1945. This compilation will include six stories (including his debut story); one novella; two sketches; one travel essay; one personal essay; one critical essay; one children’s story; two plays; and two roundtable discussions involving writers and critics. Ch’ae Man‐shik is currently represented in English translation by only a few stories and a single novel, currently out of print.

Cynthia Hogue, Phoenix, AZ ($12,500)
To support the translation from the French of Joan of Arc by experimental French poet Nathalie Quintane. This serial poem, composed of fifty untitled prose poems on the subject of Joan of Arc, raises questions about the embodied experience of the actual peasant girl who lived a short life and came to a violent end in 15th‐century France. Quintaine (b. 1964) writes a feminist corrective of an iconic national heroine, written in the margins of the dramatic, inherited myth of Joan of Arc. Quintaine is at the forefront of a generation of contemporary writers whose works interrogate French capitalist, colonialist, and nationalist narratives. This project will make Quintane’s work available to English readers for the first time.

Yvette Siegert, New York, NY ($12,500)
To support the translation from the Spanish of the collected poetry of Argentine poet Alejandra Pizarnik. Born to Russian‐Jewish immigrants in Argentina, Pizarnik (1936‐72) was one of the leading avant‐garde writers of 20th‐century Latin American literature. This collection will focus on the several radical stylistic transformations Pizarnik’s work underwent, from the spare, luminous lyrics of her early poems to the dense, anguished prose poems of later works, and finally to the more dialogic, sometimes absurdist structures of the work she produced before she committed suicide at the age of 36. By that time, critics had already likened the scope of her literary influence to Arthur Rimbaud’s or Paul Celan’s.   

Steven J. Stewart, Rexburg, ID ($12,500)
To support the translation from the Spanish of House of Geishas, a collection of microfictions by Argentine writer Ana María Shua. Shua (b. 1951) has published over 80 books in a multitude of genres and won numerous national and international awards. House of Geishas is her second book of microfictions, which are short narrative pieces that are typically less than half a page each. Many of the pieces appear as fables or dreams, while others provide quirky retellings of familiar stories drawn from history, mythology, and fairy tales. The pieces in the collection explore such themes as the way we deal with otherness, the weight of expectations imposed on us by our roles in life, and the problematic nature of memory.

Niloufar Talebi, San Francisco, CA ($12,500)
To support the translation from the Persian of selected poetry, prose, and interviews by Iranian writer Ahmad Shamlou. Nominated for the Nobel Prize, Shamlou (1925‐2000) was a poet, writer, encyclopedist, translator, journalist, editor, and human rights activist. He published more than 70 books, including novels, screenplays, children’s books, volumes of poetry, short stories, and essays. His translations into Persian include the work of Mark Twain, Langston Hughes, and Anton Chekov. Elegies of the Earth: An Ahmad Shamlou Reader will be a representative and comprehensive volume of his work throughout his 60‐year career. It will include a biography, timeline, and list of his works.

Jeffrey Yang, Beacon, NY ($25,000)
To support the translation from the Chinese of City Gate Open Up, a lyrical autobiogaphy by poet Bei Dao. The recipient of numerous international awards and shortlisted for the Nobel Prize for many years, Bei Dao is the author of seven poetry collections. This project aims to translate the lyrical prose memoir of his childhood and adolescence in Beijing, where he was born in 1949. It is a book not only of the poet as a child, but of the wondrous metropolis itself, coming alive through the luminous memories of its neighborhoods and residents, gardens, and temples, schools and music and vibrant ways of life. Since the Tiananmen Square Massacre in 1989, Bei Dao had been living in forced exile, moving from countryto country, forbidden by the Chinese government to return to his homeland. The compulsion to write this book began in 2001, when Bei Dao was allowed back into China to see his sick father.   

11 August 14 | Chad W. Post | Comments

Another month, another preview that’s late. This month caught me a bit by surprise though—how is it possible that the new academic year starts in three weeks? It just doesn’t seem right.

So in the spirit of “How I Spent My Summer Vacation” essays, I thought I’d kick off this month’s list of books with some info and pics from the insane 176-mile bike ride I made to Niagara Falls and back.

I’ve been talking about doing this for years now, and friends were always intrigued to do it with me. You can ride all the way to Buffalo along the Erie Canal, it’s pleasant, there are a bunch of small towns along the way, our plan was to go slow, take the whole day, then get picked up and driven back to Rochester. Unfortunately, for one reason or anther, none of this ever panned out.

Last month, after going on numerous 20 and 30 and 40 mile bike rides, I felt like I had to give it a try. Ever since the crushing shittiness of this past winter—during which it seemed like no one ever left their house except to go to work and watch their tears freeze—I’ve been in a bit of a funk. Why not try and break out of this with an epically long bike ride? One that will leave me mentally and physically exhausted, with no energy to mull over the meaninglessness of everything?

I’m going to include a few anecdotes below, but surprisingly, nothing at all went wrong. I made it all 88 miles to a shitty hotel in Niagara Falls that I had found online, and then, the next day, I turned around and rode all the way back to Rochester, and I didn’t even die! (Mostly, my wrists just hurt from the constant vibrations of riding on an unpaved path for 14+ hours.)

Mentally, this was kind of brutal though. If you’ve never been to the Erie Canal, it looks basically like this:

Which is beautiful, but for seven straight hours? Over that period of time, while you’re doing one repetitive motion, pumping continuously, it becomes pretty monotonous, like pounding a Zen koan through your soul. It was like Extreme Meditation Yoga Ultimate Supreme. Sure, there are towns to break up the never-ending green, but these “towns” are pretty much all like Gasport, where the population is “just right”:

In my mind, before going on this journey, I figured every little town along the way would have a quaint little diner, complete with killer pie and coffee. This is absolutely not true. Instead, every town consists of a convenience store/video rental store/titty mag place run by likely meth heads. There is nothing quaint about buying overpriced Gatorade from toothless people.

Nevertheless, it was an awesome experience, one that I want to replicate next summer, but this time going east toward Syracuse.

That’s what I did over my summer “vacation.” Now onto the books!

Leg over Leg: Volumes 3 & 4 by Ahmad Faris al-Shidyaq, translated from the Arabic by Humphrey Davies (Library of Arabic Literature)

The incredible Leg over Leg has been featured on Three Percent before and the release of the final two volumes is an event to people in the know.

Just to give you a sense of why this book is so compelling and weird, Volume 3 opens with a bit about the troubles of mankind:

Are they not enough, the troubles to which men are subject by way of misery and care, effort and wear, toil and disease, hardship and dis-ease, of deprivation and lucklessness, despair and unhappiness? Men are carried to nausea and craving, born in pain and suffereing, nursed to their mothers’ detriment, weaned to their imperilment. They crawl only to stumble, climb only to tumble, walk only to lag, labor only to flag, find themselves unemployed only by hunger’s pangs to be destroyed.

This goes on for a couple paragraphs, resolving with “In addition, some are born afflicted with (among the various defects and diseases)” which is followed by a list of defects that’s 14 pages long and includes things like: “ “sa’ar, ‘smallness of the head’,” “_qan’asah, ‘extreme shortness of the neck, as in one with a hunchback’,” and “hawas, ‘a touch of insanity.’” This is all brilliant.

Susan Sontag: A Biography by Daniel Schreiber, translated from the German by David Dollenmayer (Northwestern University Press)

I’m including this on here for two very different reasons: 1) I’m sure it’s an interesting book, but I’m waiting for Ben Moser’s Sontag bio to come out, and 2) as part of a special research project I’m working on for the Publishing Task Force at the Italian Trade Agency, I’ve started collecting information on nonfiction works in translation. It’s not quite ready to be shared yet, but I’m getting there. So expect more nonfiction to pop up in these monthly previews . . .

The Last Days of My Mother by Sölvi Björn Sigurdsson, translated from the Icelandic by Helga Soffia Einarsdottir (Open Letter)

We’ve been getting a ton of love for this book, starting with PW making it their Pick of the Week and then Full Stop gushing all over it.

Rather than explain to you why I like this book, I’ll let PW do it for me:

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. Spurred by his mother’s impending expiration date, the duo set out for the Netherlands, chasing the last-ditch hope of an unlicensed miracle drug called Ukrain offered by the Low Countries clinic. In fact, his mother’s miracle drug of choice is alcohol, not to get “drunk” but rather to be pleasantly “pompette.” The novel follows the pair’s groggy adventures as they attend a Nazi ball, smoke hash, and befriend an eclectic cross-section of Amsterdam characters. Eva has strong opinions: Milan Kundera is the most beautiful man alive, the “smartest use of an airline ticket was to buy something light that gained weight the further north you went,” and more alcohol is the “best remedy for the sad syndrome others liked to refer to as a hangover.” But Hermann accepts it all, having vowed that his abiding mission is “to make Mother happy during the last days of her life.” As his mother’s illness takes its inevitable course, Hermann gains a deeper appreciation for the pleasures and purpose of life. Sigurðsson’s novel successfully straddles the line between impious gallows humor and a heartfelt depiction of a son’s love for his mother.

The Diary of the Fall by Michel Laub, translated from the Portuguese by Margaret Jull Costa (Other Press)

Michel Laub was included in Granta’s special issue on Young Brazilian writers, and as part of their promotion of that issue, Adam Thirlwell wrote a short introduction to Laub’s story:

There’s no doubt that the international reader is always an insecure, worried reader, like some supine hysteric on a couch. I mean, I know nothing of the language in which this story called ‘Animals’ was written. Or also I do not know where precisely Porto Alegre is – where this story by Michel Laub begins. It does make, I’m just saying, a reader anxious. I have to assume that it’s Brazil. And yet also I think it’s possible in some bronco way not to care about these ethical problems and instead just attend to what’s right there.

So this story looks like a list of the animals that the novelist-narrator’s owned throughout his life, but really this list is therefore a pretext for a miniature autobiography and yet, really, to redescribe it one final time, this autobiography is a pretext for defining a life in one particular way: as a systematic process of loss. And this is moving, no question, but the thing I really love about this story is how it manages its matryoshka feat – to be at once a free floating meditation, leaping like some street cat from wall to wall, while also going deeper and deeper into a single theme.

This was one of my favorite stories in the Granta issue, so it’s exciting to see a full book of his available in English.

It’s impossible for me to reference Other Press and not mention how devastating Paul Kozlowski’s (aka PK) passing was. Moby Lives has a great piece about PK—who was going to be working for Melville House!—that gets at what an amazing person he was, and what an amazing book person. Reading the World wouldn’t have existed had it not been for PK and Karl Pohrt, and now we’ve lost both of them. They were both the best, and both played a big role in my involvement with the book world. I still recall various parts of conversations I had with both of them (one of the last times I saw PK he was giving Kaija advice on how to pitch High Tide), and when I was in Ann Arbor last week, I would’ve given anything to spend the day in Shaman Drum shooting the shit. I miss them both.

On a funnier note: Which is more embarrassing, the fact that Neymar posted a photo to Instagram of himself recovering in Ibiza with Paris Hilton (who should only be known for her spot-on cameo on The OC in which she name-checked Thomas Pynchon), or that Drake is considered the unofficial celebrity ambassador for the Toronto Raptors and got them fined for “recruiting” Kevin Durant? Sports gossip is dumb.

The Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage by Haruki Murakami, translated from the Japanese by Philip Gabriel (Knopf)

As was announced a couple months ago, first editions of this will come with stickers designed by Japanese artists. Yes, stickers. So you can pretend you’re in high school, decorating your Trapper Keeper. Well, it is Murakami, the most beloved young adult author in the world, so maybe this does make sense.

In other perplexing news . . . BuzzFeed got another $50 million in venture capital funding earlier this week to help expand their list-making abilities. Whatever. That is what it is, and considering that the company is valued at $850 million, it makes sense. But this is the part that got me:

BuzzFeed will also expand its video unit, henceforth known as BuzzFeed Motion Pictures. The unit recently moved onto a 45,000-square-foot lot in Hollywood — not bad for a site sometimes stereotyped as a home for cat videos. (from CNN Money)

BuzzFeed Motion Pictures? It’s an easy joke to make, but I really do hope that their “movies” consist of nothing but cute animals and “The 29 Most Minnesotan Things Ever.”

Globetrotter by David Albahari, translated from the Serbian by Ellen Elias-Bursac (Yale University Press)

Albahari is a stunningly good writer, and both Leeches and Gotz & Meyer are worth checking out. This one sounds like it’s going to be equally as interesting, plus, Banff!:

Narrated in a single uninterrupted paragraph, the novel takes place in the late 1990s at the Banff Art Centre in the Canadian Rockies. Three men—a painter from Saskatchewan and the narrator of the tale, a writer from Serbia, and a man whose traveling Croatian grandfather long ago jotted his name in a local museum’s guest book—become acquainted, then attached, then fatally entangled. On a climactic mountain hike that seethes with jealousy, desire, shame, and guilt, each man must engage in a final struggle. Albahari seizes his reader’s attention and never yields it in this remarkable, gripping tale.

F by Daniel Kehlmann, translated from the Germany by Carol Brown Janeway (Knopf)

Wow, this cover SUCKS. The original one, from Rowohlt is a million times better:

Also, congrats to Carol Brown Janeway on being the 2014 recipient of the Ottaway Award for the Promotion of International Literature From the press release:

Carol Brown Janeway has been a leading advocate for literature in translation during her long career at Alfred A. Knopf. The list of international writers she has published includes such luminaries as Patrick Süskind, José Donoso, Yukio Mishima, Elsa Morante, Ivan Klíma, Robert Musil, and Nobel laureates Imre Kertész, Heinrich Böll, and Thomas Mann. She is the translator of seminal works by Bernhard Schlink (The Reader), Thomas Bernhard (My Prizes), Ferdinand von Schirach (Crime), Sándor Márai (Embers), Margriet de Moor (The Storm), and Daniel Kehlmann (Measuring the World), among others.

Works”: by Edouard Levé, translated from the French by Jan Steyn (Dalkey Archive)

This is one of those conceptual books that’s a book of concepts. A list of 533 “works conceived of but not realized by its author,” it’s reminds one of the Oulipo, maybe of a more concrete counterpoint to Benabou’s Why I Have Not Written Any of My Books. Leve, who died tragically young, has developed a pretty solid cult following, and like Suicide and Autoportrait, this unique book is likely to do really well.

Moon in a Dead Eye”: by Pascal Garnier, translated from the French by Emily Boyce (Gallic Books)

Moon in a Dead Eye is one of six= Garnier books that Gallic is bringing out. In a way, this reminds me of NYRB and their Simenon program—curious and prolific author who has an extensive backlist to mine and promote.

This one sounds particularly intriguing, because gypsies!

See you next month!

11 August 14 | Chad W. Post | Comments

The new issue of the Buenos Aires Review is now online, and features the following:

BAR#2 features new fiction by Liliana Colanzi (Bolivia) and Thibault de Montaigu (France), as well as poetry by PEN/Joyce Osterweil Award-winning Ishion Hutchinson (Jamaica). Reviews and essays by Sam Rutter, Ernesto Hernández Busto and Stanley Bill and a walk through the Bibliothèque nationale de France with Victoria Liendo.

The piece from this that jumped out at me is Samuel Rutter’s The Internet as Novel, which is about Open Letter author Carlos Labbe’s latest novel, Piezas secretas contra el mundo.

A recent interview in El País identified Carlos Labbé (Santiago de Chile, 1977) as a writer at the forefront of a generation returning to the complex relationship between avant-garde literature and political engagement. In keeping with this characterization, Labbé’s latest novel, Piezas secretas contra el mundo, published in March by Editorial Periférica is an ambitious declaration of principles for a new understanding of the novel in the twenty-first century.

Those familiar with Labbé’s growing and challenging body of work, beginning with the hypertext novel Pentagonal, will recognise in this latest novel some of the tropes the author continues to address. There is a particularly textual nature to the worlds Labbé creates, where the acts of reading and writing form an essential part of the fabric of reality in which his protagonists exist. The increasingly political edge to the author’s prose manifests itself in this novel through its ecological themes, which have come to include the status of indigenous cultures in Chile. Labbé’s prose, full of surprisingly juxtaposed registers and genres, matches its form to its content and embroils the reader in the fusion of these competing elements in order to construct a meaningful, overarching narrative.

Presented in the form of a “choose your own adventure” novel, it is the reader and not the author who actively constructs the narrative of Piezas secretas. There are obvious affinities here with Cortázar’s Rayuela, which celebrates its fiftieth anniversary this year, but while Cortázar gave the reader a roadmap and left the ludic structure of his novel outside the narrative, Labbé’s work begins with a gnomic prologue that immediately involves the reader and layers the metafictional instructions inside the story, often providing the reader with several options for movement within its pages. As such, the experience of reading Piezas secretas is disruptive and alluring at the same time – as the reader constantly moves back and forth through the pages, it is impossible to know exactly how deep into the narrative one is at any given point. Considering the mechanics of Labbé’s prose is like pulling the case off a desktop computer and watching it tick—there is a constant hum of activity, with bulbs blinking in the darkness and a mass of plugs and wires leading in all directions, and just like the virtual memory of a computer, Labbé manages to give his narrative more scope than appears possible in a conventional 220 page novel.

Yes. Yes and more yes.

For those who can’t read Spanish, you should check out Labbe’s Navidad & Matanza And we’ll be bringing out another of his novels, Loquela, next fall.

11 August 14 | Chad W. Post | Comments

The Bread Loaf Translators’ Conference (which should’ve been named “Translation Loaf”) is a great new initiative that was conceived of and implemented by Jennifer Grotz, poet, translator, assistant director of the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, and Open Letter’s poetry editor, and one that a lot of you will probably want to attend.

The Bread Loaf Translators’ Conference is an annual, week-long conference based on the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference model that’s designed to provide training and community to beginning as well as experienced literary translators. A natural complement to two of Middlebury College’s signature programs—the Writers’ Conference and the renowned Middlebury Language Schools—this conference aims to strengthen the visibility and access to high quality literary translations in the United States and to acknowledge that translators require the same training and skills as writers.

2015 DATES AND LOCATION

Monday, June 1—Sunday, June 7, 2015. The conference will take place at the Bread Loaf Campus of the Middlebury College in Ripton, Vermont.

Anyone who’s been to Middlebury can back me up on this: that’s one of the most beautiful places in the country. It’s worth the price of admission to spend a week in that gorgeous atmosphere, where cell phones don’t get service, where the air smells like nature, and where there will be dozens of the best translators in the world.

PROGRAM

The conference will incorporate the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference model of small, focused, genre-based workshops coupled with lectures and classes focusing on the art of literary translation. Workshops will be limited to ten participants so that each manuscript will receive individual attention and careful critique. All participants will also meet individually with their workshop leader to amplify and refine what was said in the workshop itself.

This week-long conference of workshops, classes, lectures, readings, and discussions is for translators who want to improve their literary craft; for students mastering a foreign language and wanting to begin acquiring skills in the art of translation; for teachers interested in bringing the practice of literary translation into their classrooms; and for anyone wanting to learn more about and participate in the ever-growing community of literary translators.

Now, here’s the real selling point—the faculty.

Acclaimed and award-winning translators Susan Bernofsky, Maureen Freeley, Jennifer Grotz, Bill Johnston, and Don Share will constitute the faculty in this inaugural year of the conference. In addition to their literary accomplishments, each faculty member has been specifically chosen for his or her skill at guiding developing translators in a given genre.

Information about applying and the cost ($2,000) can be found on the Translation Loaf website. I’ll definitely be there talking to people about publishing their translations and working with editors, and hopefully I’ll see a lot of you there as well!

8 August 14 | Chad W. Post | Comments

Over the past few days, a few great reviews for Open Letter authors popped up online, all of which are worth sharing and reading.

First up is P.T. Smith’s review for Full Stop of Sölvi Björn Sigurðsson’s The Last Days of My Mother, translated from the Icelandic by Helga Soffía Einarsdóttir:

As a book of drinking, endless binges of drinking, and of constant comedy, The Last Days of My Mother is a perfect book to drink to, reminding you of the shame that follows the pleasure, but comfortably letting you know that you aren’t drowning like the protagonists. In the opening pages, Sölvi Björn Sigurðsson’s two protagonists, Mother/Eva and son/Trooper, do not have the same self-censorship that most of us have, and their adventure is all the better for it. Neither seems to manage happiness, but with Eva dying, Trooper sets himself the goal “to make Mother happy during the last days of her life.” [. . .]

Their efforts only resemble plans because for the vast majority of the novel, they are in varying stages of drinking, drunk, very drunk, stoned, and planning their next drink. Throughout it all, there is dark, brutal comedy, hysterically playful comedy, and immediate switches to the serious, the poignant, without pain from whiplash. The emotional, the ongoing sadness of loss, of dead hopes, isn’t a contradiction to humor; instead they exist together, and the closer they come, the less Eve and Trooper struggle. Comedy, with all its nuances, is sometimes impossible to communicate between two people who speak the same language, so translator Helga Soffía Einarsdóttir keeping it so alive proves great skill. Last Days is a book funny enough that my housemates laughed at my laughter while otherwise quietly reading, without reading a word.

Drinking novels are familiar, death of a family member novels are familiar, dark comedies, familiar, but Last Days brings something new: a mother and son with absolutely zero boundaries between each other.

Sticking with Full Stop, Larissa Pham has an interesting piece there about Can Xue’s latest novel, The Last Lover, translated from the Chinese by Annelise Finegan Wasmoen:

The Last Lover is not an easy read. But it is incandescent and engrossing if you are okay with losing your sense of self for a few hours. Here is how I experienced it.

Hour one: I sit in a coffee shop with a paperback copy and a cup of ginger tea. The prose is dense, peculiar. The characters are given to sudden declarations.

Hour two: I am astonished to realize that I have only read less than fifty pages.

Hour three: My head hurts. I feel like I have been translating. I have stopped tweeting.

Hour four: I succumb to the book. I let it carry me. My cup is empty. I do not question anything that happens in the novel: wolfish faces; floating couples; inexplicable transformations; the motif of heads separating from bodies and hovering there, as if still connected. Nor do I question the characters’ reactions, who take all of these surreal developments gamely, as they must, as we accept the eerie faces we sometimes see in the periphery of our vision.

Hour five: I sit up and feel as though I have emerged from dreaming. I look around myself surreptitiously, suspicious that the world has flipped over while I was reading. It seems impossible that I could crawl so deep within this novel and have everything remain the same. I feel betrayed. There is a scene in The Last Lover in which the characters enter a gambling city, which is both under- and aboveground. The tunnels underground are full of smoke, which all the residents of the gambling city are used to breathing. Where is my smoke? Where are my slot machines?

And over at “Numero Cinq,“http://numerocinqmagazine.com/2014/08/04/the-decomposition-of-continuous-movement-review-of-juan-jose-saers-la-grande-richard-farrell/ Richard Farell writes up Juan José Saer’s La Grande, translated from the Spanish by Steve Dolph:

Consider hospitality. Imagine, say, a cookout, on a Sunday afternoon, with old friends gathered around a pool deck. Meat sizzles on the grill. It is autumn, but a last gasp of summer heats the day and warms the water. The party’s host, Willi Gutiérrez—a screenwriter, a sophisticated man of letters—has been living abroad in Europe for the last thirty years and has recently returned to his native Argentina. Decades have passed since many of the guests assembled here have broken bread together. The convivial atmosphere of the party crackles with laughter, with clanging wine glasses, and with stories. But just beneath that welcoming surface hides a mystery, swirling down like a river, faster and deeper as the party courses above. This mystery is one of ontology, of the deep, mystical, convoluted experience that is life, with all its secrets, its intrigue, its tragedies and its triumphs. At the very bottom, on the murky river floor where memory resides, where so much has been lost to time—betrayals, desires, the forgotten war, love, passions—here we find the source material for Juan José Saer’s La Grande. Saer reassembles the fragments. He reconstructs experience through memory, where nothing is ever quite what it appears, and yet where everything that appears is luminescent, like gold flakes panned from the silt, polished, crafted and forged into a ring.

In La Grande, Saer masterfully creates a fictional world at once brimming with life, detail, and imagery. Recursive themes appear, connect, and eventually assemble into a story. For nearly 500 pages, La Grande patterns many different but deeply connected narratives across those thirty years, two continents and dozens of characters. The novel opens as Gutierréz leads Nula on a walk along the Parana River, toward a café in the countryside. Saer always evokes place through movement and memory, and as they walk, the young wine merchant becomes mesmerized by his older friend, who has reentered this world—abandoned for thirty years—as if no time has passed at all. Nula wants to understand Gutiérrez. Who is he? Why did he leave? Why has he returned? Saer may not directly answer these questions, but they constitute the main impulse of the novel. [. . .]

Flannery O’Connor once remarked that a good story resists paraphrase. La Grande isn’t about parties, wine sales, sex or even ultimately about Argentine history. And yet it contains all of these and so much more. The experience, the joy, of reading this book comes from an appreciation of Saer’s ability to keep these various pieces in motion. Saer-as-maestro teases apart story lines, only to carefully reconnect them hundreds of pages later, so that, by novel’s end, when the various actors have gathered at the party in Gutiérrez’s home, “even the things that are familiar to us are unfamiliar, if only because we’ve allowed ourselves to forget the mysterious things about them.” The mundane becomes strange, significant, filled with meaning, so that each story, each character, each plot step even, appears consequential. Nothing is ever wasted.

8 August 14 | Chad W. Post | Comments

English PEN’s “World Bookshelf” blog has a fantastic piece by Ottilie Mulzet on the complexities of translating László Krasznahorkai’s Seiobo there Below, which won the both of them last year’s Best Translated Book Award.

The whole article is worth reading, but here are a few really interesting key points:

As you may have gathered, the amount of ground that Seiobo covers and the level of erudition displayed by the author are both formidable. This collage in my head of all the fragments of material acquired while translating it is, by necessity, enticingly eclectic and incomplete. Some of my discoveries were like poignant codas, scattered hints embedded in the real world, perhaps only to be found by a more assiduous reader. But, of course, it’s the translator who should always be the most assiduous reader of all.

The question of the writer’s voice when translating is crucial, and when translating a writer such as Krasznahorkai, it is even more so. The narrative voice in Seiobo first overwhelms the reader, then proceeds to harangue, mystify, and baffle. This voice carries the weight of so much fateful knowledge that the reader is not so informed by it as infected by the weight of all the human episteme. For all its encyclopaedic awareness, however, the voice is elusive, endlessly shifting between an anonymous narrator, anonymous protagonists, and objects themselves. I wondered at times if this torrent of words, seemingly drawing us nearer to these objects, was actually functioning as a kind of protective screen for the Divine – the principle of the Sacred – which is represented by the goddess Seiobo and by visitations of Andrei Rublev’s angels in the book, to cite just two examples. A torrent of words as a shield from the irrevocable crassness and damage of our secular world.

*

Both in interviews and in the book, the author uses a Hungarian verb that is hard to translate, elles, which consists of the main verb les with the addition of the verbal prefix el-. Les means to lie in wait for something (usually not with the best of intentions) but with the prefix el-, the verb is glossed as ‘to observe secretly and closely.’ The Magyar Értelmező Kis Szótár dictionary gives these definitions: ‘1. to learn something from somebody by observing, whilst remaining unobserved. 2. to happen upon something: He ~ my secret.’

This is not the time or place to embark upon a rapturous appreciation of Hungarian dictionaries, but the very existence of such a verb in Hungarian, expressing such a complex notion in a mere two syllables, is striking. Perhaps an even greater sphere of complexity resides in this one word than in the phenomena of the medieval workshop or the Asian master-apprenticeship, both of which are brought to light in the book. No, this is not just any sort of observation, but a ‘secret’ observation: the kind that does not encumber its object with the knowledge of being observed. Observation and perception are perhaps the most crucial elements in Seiobo. The wealth of material absorbed to make writing this book possible, and Krasznahorkai’s observations on the process of observation itself, suggest that it is the most fundamental aspect of acquiring skill. That, coupled with the grinding reality of the immense distances the author must have had to travel to witness all the experiences and facts that are communicated in this book, is perhaps a powerful rebuttal of the global ‘cyber-brain’ that is the Internet, which has otherwise become a universal mental prosthesis.

Read this, then read Seiobo.

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Little Grey Lies by Hédi Kaddour
Reviewed by P. T. Smith

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Reviewed by Brandy Harrison

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