4 September 15 | Chad W. Post | Comments

So for the past few months I’ve been too busy to actually write the really long monthly translation previews that I’ve been doing for the past year or two. I really do like writing those though, and highlighting upcoming books, but what with school starting up again, our first ever gala looming on the horizon, and all the other writing I have to do (for a semi-secretive book project you’ll find out about in the next month or so), I’m not sure when I’ll be able to get back into the habit of writing those.

Which brings me to my new idea . . .

Instead of trying to come up with funny and interesting things to say about ten books every month (and which probably aren’t all the funny or interesting), instead I’m going to try and highlight three new and forthcoming titles every week and preface it with some sort of rant or whatever.

Since I’d rather just get to the books, my only “rant” for this week is about how stupid it is to start school before Labor Day. I’m sure some of you out there are still enjoying summer vacation—which is your god given right as an American—but my kids have been in school for two days and I taught my first class of the semester on Monday. Yes, Monday, when it was still August.

This is bullshit. It violates the cycle of life. The only standing significance of Labor Day is that it marks the end of summer. It’s an extended weekend where you’re allowed to reflect back on all the things you didn’t accomplish when it was warm out and get ready for football. After this weekend of lamentations and awareness that everything will die and that the snows aren’t that far off in the future, then you can go back to the classroom and try and learn things. It’s fundamentally impossible for a brain to retain new knowledge prior to Labor Day. I’m pretty certain that science will back me on that. And we wonder why our nation’s public school system is in shambles.

The Mountain and the Wall by Alisa Ganieva. Translated from the Russian by Carol Apollonio (Deep Vellum)

This book came out back in June, but has shot up my to-read list thanks to Masha Gessen’s The Brothers. Gessen’s book about the so-called Boston Bombers is most interesting when it gets into the investigation and the way Chechens, and all immigrants, are viewed and treated in this country, but the first thing that jumped out at me when I started listening to this was how the mother of the Tsarnaev brothers was from Dagestan. This is a place I’ve never been, never really even thought of, and never read about. (Although I really love the way the woman reading the audio version of The Brothers pronounces Makhachkala. Such a wonderful name for a city. Ma-katch-ka-la.)

But now, thanks to Deep Vellum (who’s getting all the love this week), there’s actually a novel available from a Dagestan author! According to the jacket copy, it’s the first novel in English ever from Dagestan, which seems completely true.

I know next to nothing about the complicated history and situation in the Caucasus republics of Russia, but given the strife, the various conflicts with Russia, the fact that most people living there are Muslims—it’s a part of the world that I’d like to learn more about. Starting with this novel that’s set into motion by a rumor that Russia is going to build a wall to block off Dagestan from the rest of the country. Seems like a great plot point from which to launch a series of interesting observations of life in contemporary Makhachkala.

Beauty Is a Wound by Eka Kurniawan. Translated from the Indonesian by Annie Tucker (New Directions)

Home by Leila S. Chudori. Translated from the Indonesian by John H. McGlynn (Deep Vellum)

One oft-quoted cliché is that reading can take you to places and introduce you to peoples and cultures you’d otherwise not have access to. I generally don’t care much for this sort of sentiment—feels a bit like literary tourism—but with all the hype surrounding the two Eka Kurniawan books coming out this fall, I’ve become very curious about Indonesian literature. Also helps that in the past week I’ve received copies of both of these books, and that they both sound pretty damn good.

The shorthand description of Beauty Is a Wound is that it’s “Indonesian magical realism done right.” The opening lines have a sense of that: “One afternoon on a weekend in May, Dewi Ayu rose from her grave after being dead for twenty-one years. A shepherd boy, awakened from his nap under a frangipani tree, peed in his shorts and screamed, and his four sheep ran off haphazardly in between stones and wooden grave markers as if a tiger had been thrown into their midst.”

Verso is bringing out another of his novels this fall, which will likely help Kurniawan gain some traction here in the States. And maybe, just maybe, this attention will carry over to Home, which won the Khatulistiwa Award—Indonesia’s most prestigious prize (and the only one I’ve ever heard of!)—in 2012 and will be available in English translation this October.

Here’s the opening lines of her book, just to compare: “Night had fallen, without complaint, without pretext. Like a black net enclosing the city, ink from a monster squid spreading across Jakarta’s entire landscape—the color of my uncertain future.”

Both books focus on Indonesian history, including the anti-communist massacre in the mid-1960s and the overthrow of Suharto in 1998, which is another compelling reason to read these two titles in tandem.

It’s also interesting that New Directions refers to Kurniawan’s book as being “inspired by Melville and Gogol,” whereas Deep Vellum claims Home is “reminiscent of War & Peace.” So many classic authors!

3 September 15 | Chad W. Post | Comments

The longlist for this year’s prix Goncourt was announced today, and includes the latest book by Open Letter author Mathias Énard. (We’re having someone read Boussole for us right now. Hopefully I’ll have more info about that in the near future.)

Here’s the complete list of finalists, which also includes Alain Mabanckou and Jean Hatzfeld. (I think those are the only two that I’m familiar with.) And just for fun, under each of the titles is a description from the publisher’s website via Google Translate. This never gets old. Enjoy! (I think that the translation of the description of Nicolas Fargues’s Au pays du p’tit broke Google.)

  • Christine Angot, Un amour impossible (Flammarion)

Christine Angot undertakes here to expose a more complex relationship between unconditional love for mother and resentment, depicting a love uncompromising social war and the course of this woman, destroyed by this original sin: the passion dedicated to man which will ultimately destroyed all the marks she had built.

  • Isabelle Autissier, Soudain, seuls (Stock)

A couple of thirty parties to circumnavigate the world. A deserted island, between Patagonia and Cape Horn. A perfect nature, wild, which turns into a nightmare. A man and a woman in love who
find themselves suddenly alone. Their new companions: penguins, sea lions, sea elephants and rats. How to fight against hunger and exhaustion? And if we survive, how to get back in men? A novel where you travel in conditions extreme, where we shudder for these two Robinson modern. A moving story.

  • Nathalie Azoulai, Titus n’aimait pas Bérénice (P.O.L.)

When we speak of love in France, Racine always happens in conversation, at one time or another, especially when it comes to grief, abandonment. It does not cite Corneille, Racine is quoted.

  • Olivier Bleys, Discours d’un arbre sur la fragilité des hommes (Albin Michel)

Taking as a backdrop violent transformations of contemporary China, Speech tree on the fragility of men revisits the story of the earthen pot against the iron pot.

  • Mathias Enard, Boussole (Actes Sud)

Thus unfolds a world of explorers arts and history, modern animated Orientalists of a pure desire to mixtures and discoveries that contemporary news comes slapping.

  • Nicolas Fargues, Au pays du p’tit (P.O.L.)

The hero and narrator of this novel is 44 and teaches sociology at the university. He has just published a violently anti-French essay (La France … His Ugh, her Chhht, its Rhôlâlââ … His is going to piss, his sleeping It Hits, It’s a Monday and goes like this … With its The glasses of his Jacques François and his goatees Cyril Lignac … The smell of feet of the municipal swimming pools and piss restroom cafés … His love lock, beautiful words and beautiful bastards).

  • Jean Hatzfeld, Un papa de sang (Gallimard)

In these families decimated, some grew up in silence and lies, faced spitting on the way to school, others were confronted with their parents’ behavior disorders, with a hoe on a barren plot from the adolescence.

  • Hédi Kaddour, Les Prépondérants (Gallimard)

In From California to Europe via North Africa, the paramount lead us into great turmoil of the 1920 Worlds collide, clash beings, wish to , chase each other, change. Writing alert and accurate Hédi Kaddour greenhouse closer these lives and these destinies.

  • Simon Liberati, Eva (Stock)

One evening in the winter of 1979, somewhere in Paris, I met a woman of thirteen whose reputation was so “terrible”. Twenty-five years later, it inspired my first novel that I do not know nothing more than a photo of her aparazzi. Much later, it was she who found me at a turn in my life when I had lost my way. She’s the fairy world emerged from the back of the maze that saved and revived one last time the impulse to love. For it is called extraordinary Eva, this book is his praise.

  • Alain Mabanckou, Petit piment (Seuil)

Young orphan of Pointe-Noire, Little Pepper performs his schooling in an institution under the authority of abusive and corrupt Dieudonné Ngoulmoumako. Coming soon the socialist revolution, the cards are redistributed. The adventure begins.

  • Tobie Nathan, Ce pays qui te ressemble (Stock)

This saga colors millennium sun said all of Egypt: the rise and fall of King Farouk, the last pharaoh, despot to the appearance of Prince Charming, loved his people and paralyzed neuroses.

  • Thomas B. Reverdy, Il était une ville (Flammarion)

Here the houses are worthless and people go, abandoning them altogether; the city is in tatters. We are in Detroit in 2008 and circulated a joke: the last which starts off light. Looks like it happened. It is in this city threatened bankruptcy Eugene, a young French engineer, arrives to supervise an automotive project.

  • Boualem Sansal, 2084 (Gallimard)

The Abistan immense empire, named after the Prophet Abi, “delegate” of Yölah on earth. His system is based on amnesia and submission to one God.

  • Denis Tillinac, Retiens ma nuit (Plon)

Under the tender and mischievous pen of an expert in nostalgia, the history of their passionate love affair becomes that also , gentle and cruel, a generation – the children of the baby boom clueless.

  • Delphine de Vigan, D’après une histoire vraie (JC Lattès)

Seduction, depression and betrayal are the three stages of this story that takes the reader behind the scenes of creation, where doubt appearances and pretenses behind a fearsome trap. Who is the master of the game?

3 September 15 | Chad W. Post | Comments

Yesterday I posted a little summary on two great translators, so it’s only appropriate that today I post about three great pieces that have come out about three of my favorite presses over the past few days.

First up was this Vulture piece by Three Percent favorite Boris Kachka (BORIS!!) on Graywolf Press. There’s a lot of great things in this article about how the press has exploded over the past decade, going from a modest-sized nonprofit to one of the most notable and beloved presses in the country.

Graywolf has been winning for a while. Over the past few years, as publishing conglomerates merged, restructured, and grappled with Amazon, a midwestern press snuck in and found a genuinely new way forward for nonfiction. Leslie Jamison’s The Empathy Exams entered the Times best-seller list at No. 11, while Claudia Rankine’s Citizen, a half-versified meditation on racism, stormed post-Ferguson America. Each has sold more than 60,000 copies, putting them in Graywolf’s all-time top five. Citizen just went back to press for a tenth time, putting it close to having 100,000 copies in print. That hardly puts Graywolf in league with Penguin Random House, but neither is it just a scrappy little press punching above its weight. It’s a scrappy little press that harnessed and to some extent generated a revolution in nonfiction, turning the previously unprepossessing genre of the “lyric essay” into a major cultural force. [. . .]

In 1999, McCrae won a $1 million grant by promising to take Graywolf to “yet another level.” A couple of years later, they raised another $1 million with a detailed capital plan: a grant for work in translation; a fund to increase author advances; a budget for travel to global book fairs; a New York city outpost; a “national council” of fund-raisers; and the Literary Nonfiction Prize that would launch Biss and Jamison. Just as important, Graywolf switched its distribution to prestigious Farrar, Straus and Giroux. “That signaled something,” says Jeff Shotts, Graywolf’s executive editor. “It put our books in the same conversation with Seamus Heaney.”

Graywolf reached its fund-raising goals, and just as McCrae was beginning to get impatient — “I remember thinking, Where’s the big hit?” — Graywolf’s initiatives came together to help create one: Per Petterson’s 2007 best-seller Out Stealing Horses. Acquired and promoted via Graywolf’s new global connections, listed beside giants in FSG’s catalogues, and hand-delivered on a visit to the New York Times, the Norwegian novel won the IMPAC Dublin award, scored a Times Book Review cover, and sold 70,000 copies in hardcover. Petterson has spurned corporate advances to remain with Graywolf ever since.

A million dollar grant! That’s one way to move up a level. (If any wealthy patrons are reading this, that’s exactly the sort of money Open Letter could use . . .)

*

Just down the road from Graywolf is Coffee House Press, another favorite of mine (EVERYONE SHOULD READ VALERIA LUISELLI), who was featured on Minnesota Public Radio yesterday:

“What we really do is connect readers and writers, and there’s a number of different ways we can do that. Publishing is a tool that we can use, but so are different kinds of programming,” said Chris Fishbach.

Coffee House, of course, still prints books. The small, independent press usually releases 18 titles in a year, including fiction, poetry and essays. But it has also started “putting writers in other contexts.”

Most people think of writers working alone at their desks, or speaking into a microphone at a reading, but Coffee House has created a residence program to put writers in new places, like libraries or even on a canoe.

Also, while we’re talking about fundraising, Coffee House is hosting a Housequake event on September 21st at the Fulton Tap Room in Minneapolis. And even if you can’t make it, you can buy an Unticket, which, for only $22.09 (weird fee rate) will get you “an exclusive chapbook of poems that you’ll be the first reader for—they’re all previously unpublished.” AND your money will go to support some of the best people in the nonprofit publishing world.

*

We haven’t done anything with #FerranteFever yet—although I have been talking about her rise to superstardom in my publishing class—but we probably will at some point. (I’m really behind on these books, having only read volume one.) In the meantime, you have to check out this article from the New York Times Style Magazine about Europa’s Objects of Desire:

Even if you haven’t heard of Europa Editions, you’ve probably heard of some of its hits. There’s Muriel Barbery’s The Elegance of the Hedgehog (more than a million copies sold); Jane Gardam’s Old Filth (now in its 20th printing); and Alexander Maksik’s You Deserve Nothing (so far, the biggest title by an American). Like any good branded product, the books have an instantly recognizable visual stamp: stiff paper covers edged with white borders that frame color-drenched matte backgrounds. According to Europa’s Australian-born editor in chief, Michael Reynolds, “When you see them all together, they draw you in like a bowl of candy.” [. . .]

But what really distinguishes Europa from other publishers of successful titles is that readers — and book buyers — see the house and its authors as equally relevant. Early in 2006, when Europa Editions had been in existence for less than a year, Toby Cox, the owner of Three Lives & Company bookstore in Manhattan’s West Village, noticed that customers were already coming in and asking “What’s new from Europa?” The press had succeeded in transforming spinach into chocolate — that is, in changing the idea of foreign fiction from “ ‘This is a translation’ to ‘This is a good story, well told,’ ” Cox says.

Of course, many eminent houses have published fine paperback fiction with éclat before Europa — notably, Penguin and Vintage — and Reynolds praises the “iconic imprints” New Directions, City Lights and Archipelago, which also specialize in writers from abroad. “I’m proud of the fact that we do work that is literary,” he says. “But I am even prouder of the fact we are doing works that are entertaining and pleasing.”

All three of these presses deserve praise like this on a regular basis. (Along with some others, such as New Directions, Archipelago, Deep Vellum, etc.) Congrats to all three! Now go out and read some of their books!

3 September 15 | Chad W. Post | Comments

I mentioned a few Brooklyn Book Fair Events in my post about all forthcoming Open Letter events (which I just updated), but the full schedule went up yesterday and, damn. If I were going, and if these were all taking place at different times, here are the panels I would attend:

Twisted Fables. Fiction has come a long way from Aesop, but the influence of fables in literature remains. Three contemporary fabulists—Lincoln Michel (Upright Beasts), Amelia Gray (Gutshot), and Porochista Khakpour (The Last Illusion)—discuss the state of the modern fable, the place of the trickster and the anthropomorphized animal in contemporary writing, and whether modern fables and fairy tales have morals and lessons to convey today. Moderated by Rahawa Haile.

The Internet: The Great Equalizer? The conventional wisdom is that the digital revolution was a democratizing force, ushering in a new era of equal participation and information sharing. Has this truth obscured a more complicated reality? Jon Ronson (So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed) looks at the overreach of virtual hordes, Astra Taylor (The People’s Platform: Taking Back Power and Culture in the Digital Age) reveals the inequity and corporate exploitation behind the new landscape, and John Seabrook (The Song Machine), tech/culture reporter for the New Yorker, explores the possibilities and dangers of streaming services and other technologies revolutionizing music. Moderated by the host of WNYC’s “Note to Self” Manoush Zomorodi.

That Global 70s Show. For American audiences, familiar images of the shaggy-haired 1970s are often evoked in literature, movies, and television. How did that pivotal decade play out in other parts of the world, and how does it powerfully inform the works of Mexican author Guadalupe Nettel (The Body Where I Was Born), Chilean author Alejandro Zambra (My Documents), and Bulgarian author Georgi Gospodinov (The Physics of Sorrow) Moderated by Anderson Tepper.

The London Review of Books Presents: Fiction, Memoir, Criticism. Panelists Renata Adler, Elif Batuman, and Gary Indiana and moderator Christian Lorentzen will discuss the panelists’ writings in the modes of fiction, memoir, and criticism as well as current problems and possibilities in American journalism and literature.

Darkness and Light. After darkness there is light, then again darkness. 2015 Man Booker International Prize winner László Krasznahorkai (Seiobo There Below), Andrés Neuman (The Things We Don’t Do), and Naja Marie Aidt (Rock, Paper, Scissors) explore the unsettling cycles and silences of everyday life, moments that are felt but rarely articulated—allowing the reader to glimpse the transcendent in the ordinary with new intensity.

Translating Books for Youth presented by the PEN American Center. A discussion about the importance of bringing books from non-English speaking countries to young readers and some of the key issues faced in translating children’s and young adult books. Join children’s book publisher Claudia Zoe Bedrick, Publisher, Enchanted Lion Books; Julia Heim, translator, from Italian to English; Mara Lethem, translator, Spanish and Catalan to English; Lyn Miller-Lachmann, translator, Portuguese and Spanish to English and Alez Zucker, co-chair, PEN Translation Committee.

Subverting Tropes: Household Appliances, Talking Dogs, and Robinson Crusoe Novelists Naja Marie Aidt (Rock, Paper, Scissors), André Alexis (Fifteen Dogs) and Christian Kracht (Imperium) in conversation about their respective use of a mystery, a moral fable, and an adventure story to explore what happens when a son discovers his criminal father’s devastating secret in a broken toaster; dogs are given human consciousness and the power of speech; and a radical vegetarian and nudist anti-hero founds a South Seas colony dedicated to coconuts and sun. What do these clever subversions of tropes and genres have to teach us about ourselves? Moderated by Rivka Galchen.

Making a Novel from Life. All manner of fact and fiction are called upon under the term novel. Mitchell S. Jackson (The Residue Years), Sarah Gerard (Binary Star), and Valeria Luiselli (The Story of My Teeth) use personal experience and investigative research in their novels, each explorations of truth and myth-making. Moderated by Molly Rose Quinn, Housing Works Bookstore Cafe.

Binary Stars. A man preoccupied with P words and women, a comedy of errors narrated by a fascinated onlooker, someone whose job and life revolves around authors meets one of his idols. Daniel Alarcón (At Night We Walk in Circles), Anakana Schofield (Martin John), and Jonathan Galassi (Muse) create realities where their characters revolve around their fixations with other people. Join them as they discuss building conflict and complicated characters. Moderated by Camille Perri, Cosmopolitan Magazine.

Redrawing Boundaries. In the work of Eduardo Halfon (The Polish Boxer), Geoff Dyer (Jeff in Venice, Death in Varanasi), and Francine Prose (Lovers at the Chameleon Club), there are outsiders trying to get in, insiders trying to get out, and all types of boundary making and breaking—from a salacious race car driver, to a jaded journalist, to a nomadic professor. Moderated by Ryan Chapman (Conversation Sparks).

Where Do We Go From Here? Income inequality together with gentrification and housing disparity is increasingly part of a critical national discussion. These issues face New Yorkers, but certainly don’t stop at the city limits. DW Gibson (The Edge Becomes the Center: An Oral History of Gentrification); Rosie Schaap (Drinking with Men); and playwright Dael Orlandersmith (Forever), Pulitzer Prize finalist and native of East Harlem, discuss whether gentrification is inevitable, the nature of the middle class today, and how race plays into these questions. Moderated by John Freeman, editor, A Tale of Two Cities: The Best and Worst of Times in Today’s New York.

The New Latin American Literature: A View from Within. A very special, freewheeling conversation among some of the leading lights of a new generation of Latin American writers—many of them both peers and friends—as they talk about how their work intersects, inspires, and speaks to each other across borders. Authors include Mexican writers Valeria Luiselli, Guadalupe Nettel, and Yuri Herrera; Chilean author Alejandro Zambra; and Argentine author Andrés Neuman. Moderated by Daniel Alarcón.

Community Bookstore presents: A Celebration of Elena Ferrante. The finale to Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan quartet arrives this fall with the publication of The Story of the Lost Child, marking an end to one of this decade’s most significant literary events. Join us for a panel discussion of Ferrante’s saga, featuring Europa publisher Michael Reynolds, translator Ann Goldstein, author Lauren Groff, and Guernica publisher Lisa Lucas.

Dark Friendships. ‘Frenemies’ is the popular phrase to convey a mild rivalry amongst friends, but what do you call it when something even deeper is going on? Join Steve Toltz (Quicksand), Sloane Crosley (The Clasp), and Alexandra Kleeman (You Too Can Have a Body Like Mine) as they discuss how their characters’ friendships morph, how allegiances change, and the sometimes hilarious and sometimes toxic results of being honest. Moderated by Steph Opitz, Marie Claire books reviewer.

And that’s not everything . . . There are a ton of events I could’ve mentioned here (but I have other things to work on). Check out the full list here.

3 September 15 | Kaija Straumanis | Comments

The latest addition to our Reviews section by Christopher Iacono one of the great Russian classics, Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina, translated by Marian Schwartz and published by Yale University Press.

I recently had a brief correspondence with Marian about [epic] classic literature and the mediums in which one can experience said literature. For my part, I’ve recently discovered that I love love LOVE the combination of reading and listening to these huge works of classic literature, particularly those that have been translated by great translators (some of whom I know personally, or have met, or have relished hearing other people gush about). There’s just something about physically seeing the translator’s work on a respective author’s work, seeing and identifying the choices said translator would have had to make in the process, and then changing it up with listening to the words, how they sound, that makes the book-enjoyment process somehow more electric for me. (And I would be remiss if I didn’t say it helps when the audiobook reader does [and expertly keeps up with] different voices for the characters.) In the past years, a few of my favorite books I’ve listen-read that come to mind are The Tin Drum by Günter Grass and translated by Breon Mitchell, and Don Quixote by Miguel Cervantes and translated by Edith Grossman. I can’t stress enough how great not only the books themselves are, but how wonderful the translations are. Call it a feeling.

I think there’s something to be said for letting ourselves enjoy and appreciate books through both of these outlets. Did your parents read to you at bedtime when you were younger? If they did, do you remember it as a pleasant experience? I won’t lie, I loved it, and continued to ask my parents to read to me at night well through the 5th, and maybe even the 6th grade—stopping only once homework (and the procrastination thereof) got to be too much and my time was spent more on that. But even throughout my grade school years, even with my parents reading to me at night, I still spent most of my free time reading on my own. Looking at it now, this was perhaps my childhood way of getting both the visual and audio pleasures of reading that I today recognize as an enjoyable combination, and that I apply to my daily life. When I run, for example, I listen to audiobooks instead of music. When I drive long distances, most often I have an audiobook playing. When I have some down-time at home or when traveling, even sometimes [within reason] when I’m cooking, I read physical books. And with these gigantor classics I love doing both. I don’t have a system for when I switch off the audio and reach for the visual, or vice-versa. It could be because I can’t find my headphones; it could be because I need both hands for the cooking. But when the mood strikes, I switch, and get a different but no-less wonderful book-enjoyment experience.

My point in all this is that I wrote Marian to ask whether she knew if her translation of Anna Karenina was going to be made into an audiobook. Unfortunately, she didn’t know, but it did put the conversation in a space of mind I would be keen to spending more time digging around in. Maybe I like this kind of listen-reading because I’ve heard so many of these translators speak on their work, and I can hear them in the audio version (albeit in a different voice), working through the translation and finding the right turns of phrase, the best synonyms, hearing the alliterations and emphasis on jokes—and with the visual, hard copies of these books, I can hold their work in my hands, feel the weight of it, take in with my eyes the same layout the translator saw and pored over…

This is already long and could maybe be its own article—for which I apologize. Maybe I’ll transfer this to its own page later on and stop with the stealing of Chris’s thunder (hi, Chris!) for his great review. So I’m going to cut myself off, finally, right now, and keep my fingers crossed that someone decides to audiobook Anna Karenina in Marian’s translation. In the meantime, I’ll be reading the hard copy.

Here’s the beginning of Chris’s piece:

For the past 140 years, Anna Karenina has been loved by millions of readers all over the world. It’s easy to see why: the novel’s two main plots revolve around characters who are just trying to find happiness through love. Even though it’s a very Russian novel that occasionally addresses problems in that country during the nineteenth century, it appeals to modern-day readers because Tolstoy’s works show that the events that have the greatest impact on our lives are not the major ones, but the ordinary, everyday ones. But unlike Tolstoy’s other magnum opus, War and Peace, Anna Karenina is much more straightforward in getting that point across.

Yet, it’s not a perfect novel. This statement may surprise those who have heard it declared not just one of the greatest, but the greatest novel ever written. For the most part, the novel is brilliant in its depiction of the lives and loves of the two main characters—Konstantin Dmitrievich Levin and, of course, Anna Arkadyevna Karenin—who end up taking different moral and spiritual paths. However, one cannot help but feel that, after a while, Anna is just a supporting character in her own story.

That story begins when her brother, Stepan Arkadyevich Oblonsky, or Stiva, asks her to come to his home in Moscow to help him with his marital problems. Stiva’s wife, Dolly, discovered that her husband had been unfaithful to her, and now refuses to talk to him. Even though she is able to convince her friend to forgive Stiva, Anna herself is not exactly in a state of marital bliss. She’s no longer content with her husband, Alexei Alexandrovich Karenin, and is looking for the kind of romance one finds in the novels she enjoys reading.

For the rest of the review, go here.

2 September 15 | Chad W. Post | Comments

I guess both of these articles are a couple of weeks old now—but do things really count if they happen in August while all of Europe is on vacation?—but I still want to share them since both are really interesting and feature two great translators and friends.

First up, Asymptote has a nice profile of Danish translator K. E. Semmel, whose most recent publication is his translation of Naja Marie Aidt’s Rock, Paper, Scissors.

How did you know you would become a translator? How did you become a translator?

I didn’t really start out wanting to be a translator, I know that much. I started out wanting to be a fiction writer—and I still write fiction, it’s what I do when I’m not translating (I’ve been writing the same novel for eight years!). It wasn’t until I was living and working in Denmark that I decided to translate. I really enjoy reading Danish literature, and puzzling out issues of translation. I found myself reading books in Danish and translating words and sentences in my head. At some point I thought: why not give it a try? So I found one writer whose work I really liked, Simon Fruelund, and got started. Oh, actually, there was something else that came first, I think: I went up to Danish poet Pia Tafdrup at a reading in Washington, DC and told her I really wanted to be a translator. She graciously let me translate a few of her travel essays, and they got published in various places (Aufgabe, dirtcakes). To be honest, I can’t remember which came first. But from those two writers my translation life gathered momentum. I also owe debts of gratitude to Russian translator Marian Schwartz—who actually took time out of her schedule to talk to me, a nobody, on the telephone, and to encourage my translation work—and Danish writer Anne Mette Lundtoft, who recommended me to translate Norwegian novelist Karin Fossum’s The Caller. [. . .]

What’s your pet peeve about the translation/literary industry?

Probably the biggest pet peeve I have, though, is related to reader responses of translated texts. I’ve had people ask me what I think of Stieg Larsson’s books in translation. I’ve not read those books, in either language, but invariably I’m told that they’re not well translated. They’re bumpy. Or clumsy. Or whatever. I don’t quite know what to say to that other than, Can you read Swedish? It’s true that a smoothly flowing text will make you forget a book is translated, but the book may not have been so fluid in the original. It might’ve been bumpy or clumsy or whatever. The translator might have, in other words, chosen to hew closely to the original. Maybe the books weren’t well written in Swedish? I have no idea. But the general assumption often seems to be—when readers dislike something—that the translator is at fault, and I find this troubling. The translator is often ignored if it’s a great book, and pilloried if it’s a “bad” book. How many times do you see, say, quotes by Tolstoy or some other famous, oft-cited foreign author without any attribution of the translator’s role in the quote? Too many.

Fair enough! I wonder if Franzen’s German readers are all “hey, this book is flat and boring! Must be a bad translation” or if they realize that, well, it’s Franzen. (Sorry, that one’s gratuitous, but I can’t help myself right now after reading that Nell Zink review of Purity followed by Tom LeClair’s rant.)

*

Over at the LA Review of Books, translator and publisher Amanda DeMarco has a “Translator’s Note” in which, well, I’ll let her explain:

A translator must naturally take certain liberties with other people’s words in order to wrest the most truth into the text. In this essay on translation, composed strictly of quotations, I have taken the liberty of replacing select words and phrases with “translation,” “translator,” and the various verb forms of “translate.”

I have also committed untold infidelities.

What follows is exactly that. Here are a couple of examples:

Precisely there where you are not — that is the beginning of writing, but I hate traveling and explorers; the soul has to stay where it is. Translation makes the strange familiar. Essentially, it makes everyone a tourist in other people’s reality and eventually in one’s own. Remembering my country, I imagine it, and though every man is not only himself, all alone is all we are.

And I cannot explain the action of leveling, why a translation should all boil down to one uniform substance, a magma of interiors. We commonly do not remember that it is, after all, always the first person that is speaking. Because all identification with characters, deeply conceived, is an impertinence — an affront to the mystery that is human action and the human heart. The voices of the narrative come, go, disappear, overlap; we do not know who is speaking; the text speaks, that is all: no more image, nothing but language. What is inevitable in a work of art is the style. It is what is sequestered.

1 September 15 | Chad W. Post | Comments

Although I already miss the lazy days of summer, this fall is going to be amazing. First off, the St. Louis Cardinals will be in the playoffs, again, which guarantees me at least a couple weeks of emotional rollercoasting and eventual disappointment. In terms of books, there are a ton of great things coming out this fall—just see this Flavorwire preview to load up your to-read shelf. And most relevant to this post, Open Letter has two dozen events lined up for September and October. TWO DOZEN.

These events are for Naja Marie Aidt’s Rock, Paper, Scissors, Andrés Neuman’s The Things We Don’t Do, Georgi Gospodinov’s The Physics of Sorrow, and Hubert Haddad’s Rochester Knockings. To keep this as simple as possible, I’m organizing all the events chronologically, by book. This is going to be a long post, but hopefully you’ll find at least a couple of events that you can attend . . .


Rock, Paper, Scissors by Naja Marie Aidt, translated from the Danish by K. E. Semmel

Thursday, September 10th, 6:30pm
Reading and discussion with Maria Marqvard Jensen at the Scandinavia House (58 Park Ave., New York, NY)

Thursday, September 17th, 7pm
Reading the World Conversation Series with K. E. Semmel at the Daily Refresher (293 Alexander Street, Rochester, NY)

Sunday, September 20th, 1pm
b>Brooklyn Book Festival Event: Darkness and Light
After darkness there is light, then again darkness. 2015 Man Booker International Prize winner László Krasznahorkai (Seiobo There Below), Andrés Neuman (The Things We Don’t Do), and Naja Marie Aidt (Rock, Paper, Scissors) explore the unsettling cycles and silences of everyday life, moments that are felt but rarely articulated—allowing the reader to glimpse the transcendent in the ordinary with new intensity. (Borough Hall Media Room, 209 Joralemon St., Brooklyn, NY)

Sunday, September 20th, 1pm
b>Brooklyn Book Festival Event: Subverting Tropes: Household Appliances, Talking Dogs, and Robinson Crusoe
Novelists Naja Marie Aidt (Rock, Paper, Scissors), André Alexis (Fifteen Dogs) and Christian Kracht (Imperium) in conversation about their respective use of a mystery, a moral fable, and an adventure story to explore what happens when a son discovers his criminal father’s devastating secret in a broken toaster; dogs are given human consciousness and the power of speech; and a radical vegetarian and nudist anti-hero founds a South Seas colony dedicated to coconuts and sun. What do these clever subversions of tropes and genres have to teach us about ourselves? Moderated by Rivka Galchen. (Borough Hall Media Room, 209 Joralemon St., Brooklyn, NY)

Tuesday, September 29th, 6pm
Reading at the Fall for the Book Festival (Johnson Center Meeting Room D, George Mason University, Fairfax, VA)

Thursday, October 1st, 7pm
Reading with Naja Marie Aidt and Valeria Luiselli at the Community Bookstore (143 7th Ave., Brooklyn, NY)

Tuesday, October 6th, 6pm
Reading and Conversation with Susan Harris of Words Without Borders at 57th Street Books (1301 E. 57th St., Chicago, IL)

Thursday, October 8th, 7pm
Reading at Magers & Quinn (3030 Hennepin Ave., South, Minneapolis, MN)

Monday, October 12th, 7pm
Naja Marie Aidt: A Reading and Conversation with CJ Evans at Litquake (The Lab, 2948 16th St., San Francisco, CA)

Tuesday, October 13, 7pm
Reading at The Wild Detectives (314 W. Eighth St., Dallas, TX)

Wednesday, October 14, 7pm
Reading at Brazos Bookstore (2421 Bissonnet St., Houston, TX)

Friday-Sunday, November 6-8
New Literature from Europe Festival
The schedule isn’t up for this yet, but Naja Marie Aidt AND Josefine Klougart will be participating this year!


The Things We Don’t Do by Andrés Neuman, translated from the Spanish by Nick Caistor and Lorenza Garcia

Saturday, September 5th, 4:25pm
Presentation at the National Book Festival (Room 143, Washington Convention Center, Washington, DC)

Thursday, September 10th, 6pm
Reading the World Conversation Series with Chad W. Post at Buta Pub (315 Gregory St., Rochester, NY)

Saturday, September 12th, 3pm
Reading and Conversation with Chad W. Post at 57th Street Books (1301 E. 57th St., Chicago, IL)

Tuesday, September 15th, 7pm
Reading at Brazos Bookstore (2421 Bissonnet St., Houston, TX)

Wednesday, September 16th, 7:30pm
Reading at Powell’s Books (1005 W. Burnside, Portland, OR)

Sunday, September 20th, 1pm
b>Brooklyn Book Festival Event: Darkness and Light
After darkness there is light, then again darkness. 2105 Man Booker International Prize winner László Krasznahorkai (Seiobo There Below), Andrés Neuman (The Things We Don’t Do), and Naja Marie Aidt (Rock, Paper, Scissors) explore the unsettling cycles and silences of everyday life, moments that are felt but rarely articulated—allowing the reader to glimpse the transcendent in the ordinary with new intensity. Moderator TBD. (Borough Hall Media Room, 209 Joralemon St., Brooklyn, NY)

Sunday, September 20, 4pm
b>Brooklyn Book Festival Event: The New Latin American Literature: A View from Within
A very special, freewheeling conversation among some of the leading lights of a new generation of Latin American writers—many of them both peers and friends—as they talk about how their work intersects, inspires, and speaks to each other across borders. Authors include Mexican writers Valeria Luiselli, Guadalupe Nettel, and Yuri Herrera; Chilean author Alejandro Zambra; and Argentine author Andrés Neuman. Moderated by Daniel Alarcón. (Saint Francis Auditorium, 180 Remsen St., Brooklyn, NY)

Tuesday, September 22nd, 7pm
Reading and Conversation with Heather Cleary at McNally Jackson (52 Prince St., New York, NY)


The Physics of Sorrow by Georgi Gospodinov, translated from the Bulgarian by Angela Rodel

Thursday, September 17th, 6pm
Reading and Conversation with Angelia Ilieva at Seminary Co-op (5751 S. Woodlawn Ave., Chicago, IL)

Sunday, September 20th, 12pm
b>Brooklyn Book Festival Event: That Global 70s Show
For American audiences, familiar images of the shaggy-haired 1970s are often evoked in literature, movies, and television. How did that pivotal decade play out in other parts of the world, and how does it powerfully inform the works of Mexican author Guadalupe Nettel (The Body Where I Was Born), Chilean author Alejandro Zambra (My Documents), and Bulgarian author Georgi Gospodinov (The Physics of Sorrow)? Moderated by Anderson Tepper. (Borough Hall Media Room, 209 Joralemon St., Brooklyn, NY)

Thursday, September 24th, 7pm
Reading and Conversation with Alberto Manguel at Community Bookstore (143 7th Ave., Brooklyn, NY)


Rochester Knockings by Hubert Haddad, translated from the French by Jennifer Grotz

Tuesday, September 29th, 4:30pm
Translation Panel with Jennifer Grotz, K. E. Semmel, Heather Green, and Jordan Stump at the Fall for the Book Festival (Johnson Center Meeting Room D, George Mason University, Fairfax, VA)

Saturday, October 10th, 6pm
Reading and Discussion at Barnes & Noble Collegetown (1305 Mt. Hope Ave., Rochester, NY)

Friday, October 23rd, 8pm
First Annual Open Letter Celebration at German House (315 Gregory St., Rochester, NY)

Phew. That’s a lot of events, a lot of chances to meet one of these great authors!

1 September 15 | Kaija Straumanis | Comments

The latest addition to our Reviews section is a piece by David Richardson on The Cold Song by Linn Ullmann, translated by Barbara J. Haveland and published by Other Press.

David Richardson is a writer, editor, and teacher based in New York. Here’s the beginning of his review:

Linn Ullmann’s The Cold Song, her fifth novel, is built much like the house about which its story orbits: Mailund, a stately white mansion set in the Norwegian countryside a few hours drive from Oslo. The house, nestled into the forest and cloaked in mist, belongs to the past; it has been the summer home of the Brodal family for generations, and their annual descent has endowed it with the wonder and deep mythos of childhood and family identity. The structure comes to the reader as familiar—we know it from Nabokov’s childhood summers at Vyra in Speak, Memory, and from the Ramsay’s retreat in Virginia Woolf’s _To the Lighthouse_—and so the beams of Mailund are as laden with our memories as they are with that of Siri, Jenny Brodal’s daughter, now staying at the estate with her husband Jon and their children Alma and Liv.

Milla, the teenaged daughter of an adored Norwegian photographer, joins the Brodal family at Mailund for the summer as an au pair. Siri, busy with her restaurant and frustrated with her marriage, and Jon, desperate to write the final novel of his trilogy and to keep secret his adulterous entanglements, entrust Alma and Liv to Milla. She is adoring and enthusiastic, if a bit young and striving. The arrangement is quaint enough until Siri announces,

Something was wrong . . . It had to do with Milla. Or something else. But Milla definitely had something to do with it.

For the rest of the review, go here.

26 August 15 | Kaija Straumanis | Comments

The latest addition to our Reviews section is by P. T. Smith on Karel Schoeman’s This Life, translated by Else Silke, and out from Archipelago Books.

Here’s the beginning of Patrick’s review:

Karel Schoeman’s Afrikaans novel, This Life, translated by Else Silke, falls into a genre maybe only noticed by the type of reader who tends toward Wittgenstein-type family resemblances. The essential resemblance is an elderly narrator, usually alone—or with one other unnamed, usually voiceless, person—recollecting their life, stitching together what is remembered with the forgotten, as much as they can, from beginning to end, though not necessarily in order. Archipelago is a fitting publisher for This Life, given that two of their other books, Stone upon Stone and Treatise on Shelling Beans are masterpieces of the genre. This Life doesn’t reach the heights that those works do, but contributes its own perspective to the genre.

Sussie relates not just her life, but the history of her family, from well before the Boer Wars, then through them, and into the uncertain dates of her apparent deathbed. Her family lives out their lives on a farm in the Karoo, a “[b]itter land where I was born, meager shaly soil where they will dig my grave.” For Sussie, the world outside her family’s farm, and the small village that grows around it in her later years, simply does not exist, is not glimpsed or imagined. The family members, a brother and a nephew, who do leave are burdened with the destiny of returning, silent about their time away. More than anything else, this is a novel about insular, isolated people, in an unrelenting way.

On their farm, far from neighbors, the mother resistant to visitors, the family—father, mother, two brothers, and Sussie—is not just secluded from outsiders, but from each other. They are, as she tells it, “inextricably connected in our isolation, and nonetheless irrevocably divided, with no hope that the rift would ever be healed.” No matter what changes, nothing changes. When Sofie, little older than a child, marries Sussie’s oldest brother, Jakob, she briefly brings relief, even pleasure, to Sussie, but before long the “monotony and isolation of her life with us” overwhelms her.

For the rest of the review, go here

24 August 15 | Chad W. Post | Comments

This has been in the works for a number of months now, but we’re finally ready to unveil some of the details about the first annual celebration of Open Letter and Rochester, including how you can buy tickets and support all of our programs. (Spoiler alert: Buy the tickets here.)

The celebration is set to take place at the Historic German House (315 Gregory St, Rochester, NY) on Friday, October 23rd at 8pm, and is primarily based around our forthcoming release, Rochester Knockings by Hubert Haddad. Which only makes sense, since Haddad’s novel is all about the Fox Sisters, three of the most famous (or infamous?) Rochesterians of the nineteenth century.

Growing up in a supposedly haunted house just outside of Rochester (the basis of this movie), the two youngest sisters started “communicating” with the dead through a series of “knockings” or “rappings.” They became instantly popular and put on a number of performances—at the now demolished Corinthian Hall and Carnegie Hall in NY—leading to the creation of dozens, if not hundreds, of mediums who toured America in the years following the Civil War, helping explore the “new science” of speaking to the deceased.

Local poet and professor Jennifer Grotz translated this book for us, and will read from the book and talk about it at the celebration.

In addition to a talk from Jen, the celebration will feature the Fox Sisters, a local rock band that will definitely enliven this whole event. There will also be food, drinks, and a silent auction—all of which will go to benefit Open Letter and our myriad programs.

As you can see on the official page, there are three levels of support for this: For $20 you get entry to the party, for $25 you get into the party AND get a copy of the book, and for $100, you get all of that along with entry to a VIP reception with Jennifer Grotz where we will serve up some Fox Sister Cocktails.

I really hope all of you reading this can make it to the event itself, but even if you can’t, I’d love for you to consider buying a ticket anyway as a way of supporting the organization. (Obviously, we’ll send you a copy of the book even if you can’t make it to the celebration.) Donations from readers like you are what allow us to continue all our programs—from publishing and promoting great literature, to maintaining the Translation Database and the Best Translated Book Award, to working closely with young translators trying to break into the business—all of which are designed to connect English readers with the rest of the world.

Thanks in advance for all your support and I hope to dance with you in October!

Anna Karenina
Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
Reviewed by Christopher Iacono

For the past 140 years, Anna Karenina has been loved by millions of readers all over the world. It’s easy to see why: the novel’s two main plots revolve around characters who are just trying to find happiness through love.. . .

Read More >

The Cold Song
The Cold Song by Linn Ullmann
Reviewed by David Richardson

Linn Ullmann’s The Cold Song, her fifth novel, is built much like the house about which its story orbits: Mailund, a stately white mansion set in the Norwegian countryside a few hours drive from Oslo. The house, nestled into the. . .

Read More >

This Life
This Life by Karel Schoeman
Reviewed by P. T. Smith

Karel Schoeman’s Afrikaans novel, This Life, translated by Else Silke, falls into a genre maybe only noticed by the type of reader who tends toward Wittgenstein-type family resemblances. The essential resemblance is an elderly narrator, usually alone—or with one other. . .

Read More >

A Dilemma
A Dilemma by Joris-Karl Hyusmans
Reviewed by Christopher Iacono

In Joris-Karl Hyusmans’s most popular novel, À rebours (Against Nature or Against the Grain, depending on the which translated edition you’re reading), there is a famous scene where the protagonist, the decadent Jean des Esseintes, starts setting gemstones on the. . .

Read More >

Walker on Water
Walker on Water by Kristiina Ehin
Reviewed by P. T. Smith

There are books that can only wisely be recommended to specific types of readers, where it is easy to know who the respective book won’t appeal to, and Kristiina Ehin’s Walker on Water is one these. What makes this neither. . .

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The Nightwatches of Bonaventura
The Nightwatches of Bonaventura by Bonaventura
Reviewed by J. T. Mahany

Imagine the most baroque excesses of Goethe, Shakespeare, and Poe, blended together and poured into a single book: That is The Nightwatches of Bonaventura. Ophelia and Hamlet fall in love in a madhouse, suicidal young men deliver mournful and heartfelt. . .

Read More >

Pavane for a Dead Princess
Pavane for a Dead Princess by Park Min-Gyu
Reviewed by Christopher Iacono

In 1899, Maurice Ravel wrote “Pavane pour une infante défunte” (“Pavane for a Dead Princess”) for solo piano (a decade later, he published an orchestral version). The piece wasn’t written for a particular person; Ravel simply wanted to compose a. . .

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Tram 83
Tram 83 by Fiston Mwanza Mujila
Reviewed by Caitlin Thomas

Fiston Mwanza Mujila is an award-winning author, born in the Democratic Republic of Congo, who now, at 33, lives in Austria. From what I could find, much of his work is influenced by the Congo’s battle for independence and its. . .

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Twenty-One Days of a Neurasthenic
Twenty-One Days of a Neurasthenic by Octave Mirbeau
Reviewed by Lori Feathers

Twenty-One Days of a Neurasthenic is not a novel in the traditional sense. Rather, it is a collection of vignettes recorded by journalist Georges Vasseur in his diary during a month spent in the Pyrenées Mountains to treat his nervous. . .

Read More >

Sphinx
Sphinx by Anne Garréta
Reviewed by Monica Carter

Founded in 1960 by such creative pioneers as George Perec, Raymond Queneau and Italo Calvino, the Oulipo, shorthand for Ouvroir de littérature potentielle, came about in when a group of writers and mathematicians sought constraints to find new structures and. . .

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