29 May 17 | Chad W. Post | Comments

As you hopefully already know, for the next two months we’ll be producing a weekly podcast and a series of posts all about Rodrigo Fresán’s The Invented Part. All grouped under the title “Two Month Review,” this initiative is part book club, part exercise in slow reading, and part opportunity to discuss and expand upon many of the fun and wonderful aspects of Fresán’s novel. Over the course of the next two months, we’ll serialize an interview that translator Will Vanderhyden did with Fresán. It’s broken up to somewhat align the responses with the section of the book being discussed that week on the podcast, although this is somewhat inexact.

That said, this first section offers up an introduction to Fresán’s work as a whole—written by Will Vanderhyden—and includes a few good questions that serve as openings to The Invented Part. We’ve already posted a few quotes from the first section of the book to whet your interest, and later this week there will be a post about the beginnings of Fresán’s books. Then, on Thursday, June 1st, the new podcast will be released, covering pages 1-45.

You can find all of the “Two Month Review” posts and podcasts by clicking here. And if you use the code 2MONTH on our website, you can get 20% off the book itself. And be sure to weigh in with your comments over at the Goodreads forum!

Rodrigo Fresán was born in Argentina in 1963, spent much of his adolescence in Venezuela, and moved to Barcelona in the late 90s where—apart from a brief stint in the U.S. as an Honorary Writing Fellow at the University of Iowa’s International Writing Program—he has lived ever since.

He published his first book of fiction, Historia argentina, in 1991 to great critical and commercial success, making him a reference point in a new generation of Argentinean and Latin American writers eager to escape the typecasts imposed by the global success of the Latin American Boom writers. Since that time, Fresán has published nine more books of fiction. His stories have been widely anthologized and his books translated into a variety of languages.

He has also worked as a journalist and columnist, writing prolifically for various publications in Spain, Argentina, and elsewhere. He has translated, edited, annotated, and/or written prologues for the work of numerous writers including John Cheever, Denis Johnson, Carson McCullers, Iris Murdoch, and Roberto Bolaño.

Fresán’s fiction has been praised by the likes of Jonathan Lethem, John Banville, Enrique Vila-Matas, and Osvaldo Soriano and described as “singular,” “virtuosic,” “irreverent,” “contagious,” and “kaleidoscopic.” He has been compared to Thomas Pynchon, Don Delillo, Geoff Dyer, and David Foster Wallace and called a “pop Borges,” a “genius inventor,” a “guru of literary trends,” and “the only pure postmodern writer in the Spanish language.”

Fresán’s writing is saturated with literary and pop culture references, particularly—though by no means exclusively—references to modern and contemporary English-language literature and to global pop culture of the 1960s and 70s. His books are typically sprawling in both form and content, eschewing conventional narrative structures in favor of more open and fragmentary forms and incorporating elements of science fiction, literary and cultural criticism, and rock journalism. His style is characterized by a hyper self-conscious, encyclopedic, and darkly humoristic narrative sensibility and a prose that is simultaneously playful, kinetic, and unabashedly prolix.

Across his expansive body of work, Fresán explores myriad subjects (Argentina’s dirty war and globalism in the 1980s in Historia argentina and Esperanto, religion and pop art in Vidas de santos, Mexican identity in Mantra, Peter Pan and the lysergic 60s in Kensington Gardens, and science fiction and 9/11 in The Bottom of the Sky, for example) invariably linked to his own obsessions and preoccupations—childhood, memory, the pitfalls of idealism, great literature, writers’ lives, art, and pop culture to name a few—with an approach marked by an insatiable curiosity and an irrepressible compulsion to tell stories.

In a way, The Invented Part—Fresán’s ninth book of fiction and second to be translated into English—subsumes all the books that preceded it. His most overtly autobiographical work to date, this novel—now merely the first book in a trilogy whose second volume has already been published in Spanish and whose third is well under way—is an exploration of the capacious mind and creative process of an aging writer, jaded by readers’ tweet-length attention spans and his own struggle to find a way to feel relevant and to keep on writing. That struggle plays out on the page, across seven novella-length sections that, in one way or another, are descriptions of the novel the writer is trying to write. All of it amounts to a novel (Can I call this a novel?) that is quintessentially Fresanian: a carefully orchestrated yet tornadic crescendo of big ideas, leitmotifs, extended metaphors, humorous lists, surreal and satirical set pieces, reflective digressions, story sketches, and “referential mania,” revolving around questions about what it means to live and create art in our globalized, hyper-mediated, and technologized post-millennial world.

Will Vanderhyden: How to begin . . . I suspect that—considering its subject and scope—this novel contains, in one form or another, the answer (or an answer) to any question I might come up with . . . But setting that suspicion aside for the moment, in the interest of establishing a framework for talking about this book, I think it might be helpful for newcomers to your work to start with some questions about where you think you fit in terms of literary traditions and trends. So, first off: to what extent do you consider yourself an Argentine writer? I know it’s facile to reduce writers to their nationality, but Argentina’s literary tradition is a unique one and your work seems both inextricably bound up in it and somehow external to it. What does that tradition mean to you and where do you fit in it?

Rodrigo Fresán: I consider myself very Argentine in the sense that I don’t consider myself Argentine at all. There’s nothing more Argentine than this, I think. Among the many and exceedingly varied disadvantages of having been born where I was born there is—if you’re a writer—one great advantage, which Borges describes in his essay “The Argentine Writer and Tradition” and which, for me, is something like the trade’s tables of the law for someone who starts out writing as an Argentine in order to, suddenly, right away, as quickly as possible, turn, Argentineanly, into something else. There he writes: “What is Argentine tradition? I believe that this question poses no problem and can easily be answered. I believe our tradition is the whole of Western culture, and I also believe that we have a right to this tradition, a greater right than that which one of the inhabitants of one or another Western nation may have [. . .] Everything we Argentine writers do felicitously will belong to Argentine tradition, in the same way that the use of Italian subjects belongs to the tradition of England through Chaucer and Shakespeare [. . .] Therefore I repeat that we must not be afraid; we must believe that the universe is our birthright and try out every subject; we cannot confine ourselves to what is Argentine in order to be Argentine because either it is our inevitable destiny to be Argentine, in which case we will be Argentine whatever we do, or being Argentine is a mere affectation, a mask. I believe that if we lose ourselves in the voluntary dream called artistic creation, we will be Argentine and we will be, as well, good and adequate writers.”

And, it seems to me, there’s nothing more to add . . .

WV: You have described yourself as “a reader who writes.” Is that a better way to think about where you fit in terms of Argentine tradition, among writers whose work is grounded less in their nationality and more in their library?

RF: Yes, another very Argentine trait. In way, all the writers I admire and am interested in (the aforementioned Borges, Bioy Casares, Cortázar, Piglia, Pauls, Pron, Saccomanno, and on and on) are overflowing with books and writers. I have said it many times in too many interviews: I think that, while other literatures from Latin American and even from Spain have their roots firmly buried in the ground where they take place, Argentine literature’s roots are buried in the wall and, more concretely, in the wall of the library. The tradition of the Argentine writer is built more on the foundation of the figure of the reader than the figure of the writer. And this seems good to me, because when it comes down to it, to tell the truth, everyone who ends up writing does so because they started out reading. The true homeland of writer is his or her library. And a writer’s library is also an important part of his or her biography: a liferary. Nabokov said that the only possible biography for a writer would have to pass through the history of his or her style. I agree, but an important part of one’s style is formed and informed and deformed by the history of one’s readings.

WV: Continuing in the vein of facile classifications . . . I remember hearing an interview with David Foster Wallace where he responds to a question about whether or not he’s a realist by saying that he doesn’t know any writers—even so-called postmodernists like himself—who don’t consider themselves realists, in terms of writing about what life really feels like to them. He goes on to say: “I mean, a lot of stuff that is capital ‘R’ realism just seems to me somewhat hokey, because obviously realism is an illusion of realism.” The narrator of The Invented Part, The Writer, seems to have similar ideas, even ironically coining the term “logical irrealism” to contrast his own writing with “magical realism.” He says: “If magical realism is realism with irreal details, then logical irrealism is its twin opposite: irreality with realistic details . . . And yet, is there anything as irreal as so-called realism? Those stories and novels with dramatic pacing and a perfectly calculated and managed sequence of events. Like Madame Bovary. Or the neat structure and the precise pacing of most detective novels. But reality isn’t like that. Reality is undisciplined and unpredictable. Real reality is authentically irreal . . . There is more realism and verisimilitude in single day of the free and fluid and conscious drifting of Clarissa Dalloway than in the entire prolix and well-measured life and death of Anna Karenina.” Can you talk about what these various classifications mean to you and how they relate to your work?

RF: I agree with Wallace: there are many realities that are in this one just as there are many worlds that are in this one. Nabokov (a writer I’ve gone back to in recent years, more dazzled than ever), again, is useful when it comes to positioning myself on this issue in an interview: “Reality is neither the subject nor the object of true art which creates it’s own special reality having nothing to do with the average ‘reality’ perceived by the communal eye. [. . . ] You can get nearer and nearer, so to speak, to reality; but you can never get near enough because reality is an infinite succession of steps, levels of perception, false bottoms, and hence unquenchable, unattainable. You can know more and more about one thing but you can never know everything about one thing: it’s hopeless. So that we live surrounded by more or less ghostly objects. [. . .] We speak of one thing being like some other thing when what we are really craving to do is to describe something that is like nothing on earth.” And let’s go a little further: “The most we can do when steering a favorite in the best direction, in circumstances not involving injury to others, is to act as a breath of wind and to apply the lightest, the most indirect pressure such as trying to induce a dream that we hope our favorite will recall as prophetic if a likely event does actually happen. On the printed page the words ‘likely’ and ‘actually’ should be italicized too, at least slightly, to indicate a slight breath of wind inclining those characters (in the sense of both signs and personae),” he points out as a sort of editorial advice in Transparent Things. “I am no more guilty of imitating ‘real life’ than ‘real life’ is responsible for plagiarizing me,” he explains in the preface to the collected stories Nabokov’s Dozen. And more, even more Nabokov: that flower plucked by Nabokov, in that interview, as an example of how “reality is a very subjective affair” and that “I can only define it as a kind of gradual accumulation of information; and as specialization.” That, again, reality is nothing but “an infinite succession of steps, levels of perception, false bottoms.” And that, of course, there is a neutral reality that includes and involves all of us; but that, in the next breath, each of us has our own reality and entirely personal perception of that flower. And that there’s no such thing as “everyday reality” which is a term that “presupposes a situation that is permanently observable, essentially objective, and universally known.” And still more: “‘Reality’ (one of the few words which means nothing without quotes),” he concludes in the afterword to Lolita.

The thing about “logical irrealism” was just a joke (I hope a good one) to escape from the “magical realism” that—when I first started to write and publish—every foreign publisher and academic and critic seemed to be searching for, even though it wasn’t there, in Argentine literature just because it was Latin American. In any case, Colombian or Chilean or Mexican or Peruvian writers of my generation had it much worse in that sense because their past and present were much more irradiated by their totemic writers and by the luminous shadow of the Boom. In Argentina, we were never that concerned with/interested in the Boom and, besides, all the great writers from my country embraced the fantastic genre as one/another facet of reality.

We’ll be back with more of this interview next week!

26 May 17 | Chad W. Post | Comments

The first Two Month Review podcast went up just over a week ago, and the next one—covering the first section of the book, “The Real Character” (pages 1-45)—will be posted next Thursday, June 1st. Prior to each week’s podcast, we hope to have at least some sort of overview post that offers some entranceways to the section to be discussed. These posts aren’t supposed to be complete, absolute, or anything that formal. More like notes or musings, and featuring lots of quotes. They also will be—as much as humanly possible—spoiler free. So you can read them before getting into the book, or after you’ve read that particular section, or post-podcast.

You can also download this as a PDF document.

As always, you can get The Invented Part for 20% from our website by using the code 2MONTH. It’s also available at better bookstores everywhere.

And be sure to join the Goodreads group and subscribe to the Three Percent Podcast on iTunes, or wherever you get your podcasts.

I can’t think of another book with as many epigraphs as The Invented Part. Sixteen! There are quotes from David Foster Wallace, Iris Murdoch, Bret Easton Ellis, Marcel Proust, Bob Dylan, and many others. Eleven others, to be exact. Covering the first two-and-a-half pages of the book. Some of these are pithy (Juan Carlos Onetti’s “Always lie”), whereas Geoff Dyer’s runs seven full lines.

Taken as a whole, these sixteen (again, sixteen!) epigraphs make a good deal of sense and serve almost as an overture for the book. They tend to revolve around ideas about reality vs. fiction. About writing and autobiography, and the relationship of both to the truth.

All of that comes together in this one from John Cheever, which also works to frame my initial thoughts about “The Real Character” (emphasis on “real,” emphasis on
“character”), the first part of The Invented Part.

Writing is not crypto-autobiography, and it’s not current events. I’m not writing my autobiography, and I’m not writing things as they happen to me, with the exception of the use of details—thunderstorms and that sort of thing. No, it’s nothing that happened to me. It’s a possibility. It’s an idea.

It’s easy to see The Writer (the main focus of the novel, known as The Boy in this particular chapter) as a stand-in for Fresán, and maybe when we get deeper into the book, it will make more sense to write a post about that. But for now, I want to focus on the last bit of Cheever’s quote: “It’s a possibility.” Because this book is all about possibilities—the way things were, the way they could’ve been—and the interplay between the possible and the invented.


“The Real Character” is basically an origin story. It shows The Boy (who will eventually become The Writer) on vacation with his parents (or “onvacation” since he hears it as a single word), at the beach, running and playing unselfconsciously while his soon-to-divorce parents read in the sun and bicker with each other. And then there’s an event that could’ve broke any number of ways, and which, in retrospect, is the moment that serves as a secret source for all his future writings.

Is this the most important thing that’s happened to him yet?, The Boy wonders. (Who knows, he responds; and, at the other end of his story, decades later, he’ll say yes, when he realizes that the most transcendent events take place in the past but only happen in the future, when we’re truly cognizant of their importance, of the influence and weight they’ve had on everything that has and will come to pass. And it’s that which happens after that makes the before sad or happy. We need to know where we’re coming to in order to fully understand the texture of where we came from. [. . .]

This is the sort of idea that could launch a thousand weed-filled dorm room conversations. We never know what was most important until that moment is long past. In the present, we might sense the possibilities, the way our life could shift based on a single decision or accident, but we never get to see those other pathways. Except maybe in fiction, but fiction has the benefit of being able to make those choices or events part of a larger whole—whether things turned out for the best or not.

This is jumping way ahead, but later in the book The Writer echoes this idea when talking about “logical irrealism”:

If magical realism is realism with irreal details, then logical irrealism is its twin opposite: irreality with realistic details . . . And yet, is there anything as irreal as so-called realism? Those stories and novels with dramatic pacing and a perfectly calculated and managed sequence of events. Like Madame Bovary. Or the neat structure and the precise pacing of most detective novels. But reality isn’t like that. Reality is undisciplined and unpredictable. Real reality is authentically irreal . . . There is more realism and verisimilitude in a single day of the free and fluid and conscious drifting of Clarissa Dalloway than in the entire prolix and well-measured life and death of Anna Karenina.

All this talk of fiction, possibilities, and books is the perfect segue to go back to the parents on the beach who are sort of, kind of reading the same book together:

On the beach, under the sun, the father and mother read the same book. It’s not the first time they’ve done this. That’s how they met: the two of them reading the same book. On a train, the most romantic of all modes of transit. That same book they never stop reading. And, of course, there’s no better argument than that for putting a conversation in drive and taking a ride down the tunnel of love. But as tends to happen with everything that seems charming in a romance’s initial hours, this ritual of reading separately together—of reading the same book but different books, at the same time—now just produces a kind of irritation. The kind of annoyance we experience when, after a long time, we still feel obliged to do something that we obliged ourselves to do in the first place. And, then, you can’t help but wonder, why am I doing this, damn it, damn it, how did I get here, could I be more of an idiot? [. . .]

And the father and mother don’t know it yet, but they’re reading different versions of the same novel in the same way that they’re writing different versions of their marriage and the imminent allegations of their defense and/or prosecution. Because the book’s author decided, almost desperate, just before dying, to alter the temporal flow of the plot—which wasn’t initially linear, but sinuous, present and past and present—and to reorganize it chronologically. To see—he’d just put so much work into those pages and nobody seemed that interested in them, considering them a successful failure or something like that—if, that way, the novel improved, if it was appreciated more, if it sold better. His instructions were followed post-mortem by his literary executor. The new version was considered inferior and he reverted to the original, to the one that—just like real time—moves forward and backward and forward again. But for a few years, in English and in translation, both versions existed at the same time. And The Boy—when he was no longer a boy, when he was able to read and compare them, multiple times—was never sure which his mother had read and which his father had read. Who moved straight and true from past to future and who was left spinning in place.

It’s made explicitly clear later, but the book The Boy/The Writer’s parents is reading is Tender Is the Night by F. Scott Fitzgerald. A novel that really was published in two differing orders: one that was semi-complicated and filled with flashbacks, the other that was more straightforward and chronological. With art there’s always the opportunity to rearrange things and explore other possibilities.


Another thread that runs throughout this chapter is a sort of tension about the possibility of going back in time and changing one’s life. This is most explicit with the parents, who, while they’re lying on the sand have that untoward thought that a lot of parents have at one time or another—what if I could go back to the time before I had kids?

No, the father and mother are dragged along by The Boy. The father and mother drag their feet, and a wicker basket, and an umbrella, and towels, and their own bodies. And the father and the mother are dragged by The Boy. As if he were steering them, lassoed, pulling them along, strangling them with an invisible and inseverable rope around their necks. And it’s not like the mother and father have tried to sever it, but it’s also not like they haven’t thought many times about what it would be like to cut it. And—presto!—magically return to the past, to those other beaches, where The Boy only existed as a pleasant and egotistical fantasy. The father and the mother return, further away all the time, to The Boy as a mere idea that occurred to them every so often. An idea to enjoy for a while and then hide away under lock and key (one of those keys that you can’t ever find when you look for it and that, with the aid of a pair of parentheses, seems to become invisible) in the drawers of a more or less possible future, always yet to come or, at least, a lateral future, in the possible variation of a possible future. This is what every father and mother in the universe dreams when they close their eyes, though none of them ever confess it. Right there. In that instant. Before falling asleep and dreaming of any other thing, of free falling or being naked in public—the greatest hits of the common nightmare. But first, like the trailer for a movie that will never premiere. About what it’d be like to not be parents. To wake up on a planet where there wasn’t someone resting—yet restlessly moving and making noise—in the next room. About times when they went to bed late or not at all. [. . .] And sometimes The Boy’s dreams overlap with his parents’ dreams, producing a strange phenomenon: The Boy dreams he’s running on a beach without them and his father and mother dream they’re running on a beach without him. And they’re all so happy. And yet the next morning they understand that they can’t live without each other; that, though less and less, they still need each other; that now, nothing and nobody can or will ever be able to separate them or untie the knot of their lives.

And yet, the invulnerability of that instant of pure love doesn’t last long; and now The Boy is trying get away from them, running.


One of my favorite aspects of Fresán’s writing—which he really exploits in this novel—is his endless list making. Amusing, poignant, wooly, and overflowing, these lists make manifest all the various possibilities of a given situation.

What does The Boy think about? Lots of things! A good writer would point to the racing nature of the boy’s mind, how thoughts are freer when you’re small and haven’t yet heard how stupid your voice sounds when it’s recorded, or what you look like when you dance. An equally good writer might pull out a few telling examples of what’s going on in The Boy’s mind—ideas that illuminate his character and fears, while foreshadowing the arc of his story. (I’m not sure that’s a book I would think is “good,” but whatever.) Fresán provides forty-one random examples of The Boy’s thoughts over six pages, ranging from the childish,

— Why does Superman appear to exert himself equally—the same muscle
tension, the same knit brow—when he picks up a car or alters the orbit of an
entire planet?


— Is Jell-O animal, vegetal, mineral, or interplanetary?

to the more character-specific,

— What’s a comma doing putting itself between two numbers? Was mathematics created just to drive him crazy, a universal conspiracy in which everyone pretends to understand something that’s clearly incomprehensible and has no sense or logic? And what makes a psychotic so sure that 2 + 2 makes 5, while a neurotic knows that 2 + 2 makes 4 but just can’t handle it? And what about the person who always thinks that 2 + 2 equals 1 + 1 + 1 + 1, or the exact number of times you have to let the phone ring before answering or hanging up?

to the more philosophical wonderings a reader looking back on life as a child might think.

— Why is it that now, later on, when people sing “Happy Birthday” they seem to always be thinking about their own birthday, about how many they’ve had, how many they’ve got left, about whether or not they are happy birthdays?


Although I think the seven sections of this novel could be read in any order, “The Real Character” is a great opening piece, introducing The Boy/The Writer and Fresán’s literary style (references, digressions, lists, and sidesteps) alongside a number of key motifs, not the least of which is the idea of “the invented part,” which comes up near the end and which is where I’ll leave off for this week.

The invented part that is not, not ever, the deceitful part, but the part that actually makes something that merely happened into something as it should have happened. Something (everything to come, the rest of his life, will spring from that there and then, from that exact moment) more authentic and valuable and pure than the simple and banal and often unsubtle and sloppy truth. [. . .]

Then, unavoidably, unable to avoid it, when answering those questions, he’ll put on a parentheses face, he’ll invent something, anything, when answering how he invents the invented part. The invented part—an oh so insubstantial cloud that, nonetheless, manages to make the sun shut its mouth and stay quiet for a while—is nothing but a true shadow projecting itself across the real part.

16 May 17 | Chad W. Post | Comments

Given all the Two Month Review posts and everything else, hopefully you’ll have heard of Rodrigo Fresán’s The Invented Part by now. But in case you haven’t, below you’ll find the press release that we sent out with copies of the book to all reviewers and booksellers. (If you’re a bookseller or reviewer and need a copy, you know where to find me.)

There is a bit of an update as well. In addition to publishing The Invented Part , The Bottom of the Sky , and Mantra , we’ve just signed on The Dreamed Part the second book in the trilogy, which we’ll (hopefully) bring out in 2019.

Remember, if you use 2MONTH at checkout, you can get The Invented Part for 20% off through our website.

“A lively if sometimes-disjointed paean to creativity. Invented, and deeply inventive as well, an exemplary postmodern novel that is both literature and entertainment.”—Kirkus Reviews (STARRED REVIEW)

One of the most respected Spanish-language authors of our times, Rodrigo Fresán (Kensington Gardens) has been praised by the likes of John Banville, Jonathan Lethem, Enrique Vila-Matas, and Roberto Bolaño, and his work has earned comparisons to David Foster Wallace, Thomas Pynchon, William Gaddis, and many others.

That might all sound like hyperbole, but won’t as soon as you start reading The Invented Part, the first book in a projected trilogy (The Dreamed Part was recently released in Spanish) this novel mixes high concept science-in-fiction ideas with hilariously manic lists, and deep dives into the history of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Tender Is the Night, Kubrick’s 2001, The Kinks, and more.

The plot of The Invented Part is simple enough: an aging writer whose books about how writers and writing are no longer the preferred flavor of the literary world wants to change—and extend—his life by breaking into CERN and the Large Hadron Collider so that he can merge with the so-called “god particle” and become a consciousness outside of time, one that can rewrite reality according to his whims.

Although the overarching plot is pretty wild, the book is filled with heart and humanity, with each chapter taking a different stylistic approach to the writer’s life and times, opening with a moving story of his near-death experience at a beach while his parents’ relationship falls apart, and including a section on the writer’s sister’s marriage into a wealthy family that is as insufferable as it is bizarre, resulting in her own madness. There’s also an anxiety-ridden section with the writer in the ER, panicked that he’s having a heart attack, which triggers a tidal wave of story ideas that he hopes to be able to one day write. (If only he can merge with the god particle!)

There are also incredible sections—half historical, half invented—about Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald and Gerald and Sara Murphy, about William Burroughs, about 2001: A Space Odyssey, all of which add to the underlying exploration of the relationship between great art and the artists that give rise to it.

For all of its inventiveness and depth, The Invented Part is also an incredibly readable book. Fresán is an irrepressible and consummate stylist whose writing is imbued with great intelligence and insight, pop culture references and literary hijinks, unforgettable characters and mind-bending ideas. It’s a testament to the power and expanse of fiction, and reaffirms Fresán as one of the greatest novelists of our time. Overall, it’s a joy to immerse yourself in, and, like the best of authors, will leave you craving more.

Which is good, since Open Letter has already signed on two more Fresán titles, The Bottom of the Sky (May 2018) and Mantra (TBD), with plans to complete the “Parts” trilogy as well. The manuscript of The Bottom of the Sky is available for interested reviewers, and Fresán is available for interviews both in English (by phone) and Spanish (written).

Also worth noting that translator Will Vanderhyden—whose other translations include Carlos Labbé’s Loquela and Navidad & Matanza—received an NEA Translation Fellowship and a Lannan Fellowship for his work on this book. He too is available for interviews or to answer any questions about Fresán’s other books.

16 May 17 | Chad W. Post | Comments

Translator Will Vanderhyden joins Chad and Brian to provide an overview of Rodrigo Fresán’s work—especially The Invented Part. They discuss some of his earlier works (including Kensington Gardens, which is available in an English translation), different pop culture touchstones running throughout his oeuvre, related authors, and ways to approach the Invented Part.

They also talk a bit about the schedule and the future Two Month Review podcasts. The entire reading schedule is listed below, but for the next episode (June 1st), Chad and Brian will be joined by bookseller and Best Translated Book Award just Jeremy Garber to talk about “The Real Character,” pages 1-45.

Here’s the complete rundown of Two Month Review podcasts for The Invented Part:

June 1: “The Real Character” (1-45)
June 8: “Place Where the Sea Ends” (Part 1) (46-98)
June 15: “Place Where the Sea Ends” (Parts 2) (99-207)
June 22: “Place Where the Sea Ends” (Parts 3) (208-229)
June 29: “A Few Things You Happen to Think About” (230-300)
July 6: “Many Fetes” (301-360)
July 13: “Life After People” (361-403)
July 20: “Meanwhile, Once Again” (404-439)
July 27: “The Imaginary Person” (440-547)

In addition to these weekly podcasts, there will be some bonus posts here on Three Percent, and you can share your opinions and questions at the official GoodReads Group.

Additionally, we are offering a 20% discount on orders of The Invented Part from the Open Letter website. Just enter 2MONTH in the discount field at checkout. Copies are on hand and will ship out immediately. They’re also available at better bookstores everywhere.

Follow Open Letter, Chad Post, and Brian Wood on Twitter for more thoughts and information about upcoming guests.

And you can find all Two Month Review posts by clicking here.

The music for the first season of Two Month Review is Big Sky by The Kinks.

15 May 17 | Chad W. Post | Comments

As you may already know, Tómas Jónsson, Bestseller, translated by Lytton Smith, is going to be the second Two Month Review title. This “season” will take place in August and September, but you can get a head start by winning a copy of the book through GoodReads. If you’re a GoodReads user, all you have to do is click on the button below (U.S. residents only).

Here’s a bit from Sjón about the novel:

The grand old man of Icelandic literature is Guðbergur Bergsson and I keep being influenced by his modernist novels from the 60s as well as some of his later works. Luckily for English readers his early masterpiece Tomas Jonsson – Bestseller will be published by Open Letter in the U.S. next year. It is the greatest attack ever launched against the overblown ideas behind the official image of the Icelandic national character. It is a picaresque, Rabelesian, joyful experiment where the main character even assigns a passport to his penis: Occupation: Toy. Height: 18 cm. Eye color: Red. Etc. Like all works that are watershed events his best novels have made writing both easier and more difficult for those of us who followed in his wake.

And here’s a general description:

A retired, senile bank clerk confined to his basement apartment, Tómas Jónsson decides that, since memoirs are all the rage, he’s going to write his own—a sure bestseller—that will also right the wrongs of contemporary Icelandic society. Egoistic, cranky, and digressive, Tómas blasts away while relating pick-up techniques, meditations on chamber pot use, ways to assign monetary value to noise pollution, and much more. His rants parody and subvert the idea of the memoir—something that’s as relevant today in our memoir-obsessed society as it was when the novel was first published.

Considered by many to be the “Icelandic Ulysses” for its wordplay, neologisms, structural upheaval, and reinvention of what’s possible in Icelandic writing, Tómas Jónsson, Bestseller was a bestseller, heralding a new age of Icelandic literature.

Enter to win below, or read a sample here.

Goodreads Book Giveaway

Tómas Jónsson, Bestseller by Guðberger Bergsson

Tómas Jónsson, Bestseller

by Guðberger Bergsson

Giveaway ends May 31, 2017.

See the giveaway details at Goodreads.

Enter Giveaway

12 May 17 | Chad W. Post | Comments

I asked the winners of this year’s Best Translated Book Award to send in some comments—or a video—about the prize, their project, etc. The first to arrive is the following from Margaret Jull Costa and Robin Patterson about their translation of Lúcio Cardoso’s Chronicle of the Murdered House.

We are absolutely thrilled to have won the 2017 Best Translated Book Award, for the very obvious reason that it’s a great honour, but also because Chronicle of the Murdered House was our first co-translation, and proved to be such a happy collaboration that we are now working on a second project. Then there is the book itself, which is one of the most remarkable works either of us has ever read, and a fascinating challenge for us as translators: all those different voices—the hysterical, anguished prose of André, the Pharmacist’s rather pompous accounts, Nina’s wheedling letters to Valdo, Ana’s guilt-laden outpourings and so on. There can rarely have been a more searing and, at times, gut-wrenching description of death and decay or, indeed, of the lengths to which sexual desire can go. Our thanks to Chad and all at Open Letter for thinking we were up to the challenge! And thanks, too, to the judges for being as blown away by the novel as we were.

12 May 17 | Chad W. Post | Comments

Antoine Volodine’s Bardo or Not Bardo, translated by J. T. Mahany has won the first ever Albertine Prize—a reader’s choice award celebrating contemporary French fiction. The book had to go through two rounds of public voting, moving from a longlist of ten titles, to a three title shortlist before eventually winning.

Here’s a bit from the official press release:

One of Volodine’s funniest books, Bardo or Not Bardo (Open Letter Books) takes place in his universe of failed revolutions, radical shamanism, and off-kilter nomenclature. In each of these seven vignettes, someone dies and has to make his way through the Tibetan afterlife, also known as the Bardo, where souls wander for forty-nine days before being reborn with the help of the Book of the Dead.

Antoine Volodine is the primary pseudonym of a French writer who has published twenty books under this name at les éditions du Seuil, several of which are available in English translation. He also publishes under the names Lutz Bassmann (éditions Verdier) and Manuela Draeger (éditions de l’Olivier and Ecole des Loisirs). Most of his works take place in a post-apocalyptic world where members of the “post-exoticism” writing movement have all been arrested as subversive elements. Together, these works constitute one of the most inventive, ambitious projects of contemporary writing.

It’s amazing that Open Letter titles have won two major awards over the past week, and spectacular that Antoine Volodine is getting some more attention for his ambitious, fascinating body of work. I want to take two seconds though to sing the praises of J. T. Mahany, who came to the University of Rochester a few years ago, straight out of undergrad, discovered Volodine while he was in grad school, learned all he could about translation, and then won this prize. It’s always gratifying to see someone grow and succeed like that, but it’s especially meaningful that this happened to J. T. Incredibly smart and very humble, J. T. is a perfect exemplar of the hard-working translator. He puts a ton of thought into his translations, and is always open to editing and other suggestions. His attention to detail and his knowledge of Volodine’s gigantic oeuvre makes him an absolute joy to work with. He’s currently getting his MFA from the University of Arkansas, and I think you’ll be hearing a lot more from him in the future.

Going back to Bardo or Not Bardo, a couple big fans of the press helped make this award happen. First up, Tom Roberge wrote a piece for the Albertine site about the book:

Volodine’s genius is apparent from the first page. Like all great writers, the most enduring, he approaches his subject matter and characters with a dazzling blend of empathy, pathos, and humor, all of which creates a pleasantly beguiling reading experience. In Bardo or Not Bardo we’re presented with a series of recently deceased individuals who must, of course, pass through Bardo (the Tibetan afterlife) before being reincarnated. Volodine, however, echoing Samuel Beckett’s macabre-absurdist tradition, refuses to allow anyone to attain enlightenment without a certain number of missteps, misunderstandings, and outright failures. These vignettes are rife with both slapstick comedy and cutting political commentary, with mysticism and raw fear, with optimism and dread. Taken together, the collection offers a beautiful symposium on the nature of change and self-awareness, something that is—sadly—very rare indeed, but much needed and greatly appreciated .

And then, after the book make the shortlist, Jeff Waxman gave this presentation.

Thanks to everyone who made this possible, and if you haven’t read Volodine yet, this is a great place to start! It’s available at better bookstores everywhere, and through our website.

And if you’re interested in the background to the prize itself, check out this short video.

5 May 17 | Chad W. Post | Comments

The tenth annual Best Translated Book Awards were announced this evening at The Folly in New York City, and at The Millions with Lúcio Cardoso’s Chronicle of the Murdered House, translated from the Portuguese by Margaret Jull Costa and Robin Patterson, winning for fiction, and Alejandra Pizarnik’s Extracting the Stone of Madness, translated by Yvette Siegert, winning for poetry.

With four books on the Best Translated Book Award fiction longlist, Margaret Jull Costa had pretty good odds that one of her projects would win the prize. This is the first time Jull Costa, Robin Patterson, and Open Letter Books have received the award.

According to BTBA judge Jeremy Garber (Powell’s Books), “Though it took longer than 50 years to finally appear in English, Lúcio Cardoso’s Chronicle of the Murdered House was well worth the wait. Epic in scope and stunning in its execution, the late Brazilian author’s 1959 masterpiece is a resounding accomplishment. Thanks to the translational prowess of Margaret Jull Costa and Robin Patterson, Cardoso’s saga of familial scheming and salacious scandal deservingly comes to an even wider audience.”

Fellow judge Mark Haber (Brazos Bookstore) adds “Chronicle has hints of Dostoyevsky, Garcia Marquez and William Faulkner, yet the DNA is wholly Cardoso’s, who was not only a friend, but a mentor to Clarice Lispector. This novel is not only beautifully written and strangely profound, but a joy to read. The dramas of a prestigious family in a provincial Brazilian jungle, complete with gossip, backstabbing, cross-dressing and suicide attempts all take place beneath a single roof. There’s a fully-formed universe in this run-down mansion rotting away in the woods. Chronicle of the Murdered House is a novel about family, trust, madness, betrayal, human nature, all heavy themes really, yet handled with aplomb. . . . its translation feels long overdue.”

Extracting the Stone of Madness is the fourth collection of Alejandra Pizarnik’s to be translated by Yvette Siegert, but the first to win the Best Translated Book Award. It is published by New Directions—who has won the BTBA on three past occasions, twice for fiction, once for poetry—and collects all of Pizarnik’s middle and late works, including some posthumous pieces.

Judge Emma Ramadan (Riffraff Bookstore) said, “The judges were extremely impressed by Donald Nicholson-Smith’s translation of Abdellatif Laâbi’s In Praise of Defeat, but ultimately chose Yvette Siegert’s translation of Alejandra Pizarnik’s Extracting the Stone of Madness as this year’s poetry winner. It’s a book screaming and barking with jagged solitude and beautiful pain, each poem’s broken melody attempting to fill a void we can all see lurking. Yvette Siegert perfectly inhabits Pizarnik’s tortuous, vivid world and allows us to do the same.”

For the sixth year in a row, the winning books will receive $10,000 each (split equally between the authors and translators) thanks to funding from the Amazon Literary Partnership. Over this period, the Amazon Literary Partnership has contributed more than $120,000 to international authors and their translators through the BTBA.

“By sharing new voices with English-language readers, the Best Translated Book Awards highlight literary excellence from around the globe while also shrinking the world a bit, fostering empathy through storytelling,” said Neal Thompson, Amazon’s Director of Author and Publishing Relations. “The Amazon Literary Partnership is proud to continue its support of the diverse voices of BTBA’s international authors and their translators.”

Nine judges served on this year’s fiction jury: Trevor Berrett (The Mookse and the Gripes), Monica Carter (Salonica World Lit), Rachel Cordasco (Speculative Fiction in Translation), Jennifer Croft (translator, co-founder of the Buenos Aires Review), Lori Feathers (Interabang Books), Jeremy Garber (Powell’s Books), Mark Haber (writer, Brazos Bookstore), George Henson (World Literature Today, Latin American Literature Today, University of Oklahoma), and Steph Opitz (Marie Claire).

The poetry jury was made up of: Jarrod Annis (Greenlight Bookstore), Katrine Øgaard Jensen (EuropeNow), Tess Lewis (writer and translator), Becka McKay (writer and translator), and Emma Ramadan (translator, Riffraff Bookstore).

Past winners of the fiction award include: Signs Preceding the End of the World by Yuri Herrera, translated from the Spanish by Lisa Dillman; The Last Lover by Can Xue, translated from the Chinese by Annelise Finegan Wasmoen; Seiobo There Below and Satantango, both by László Krasznahorkai, and translated from the Hungarian by Ottilie Mulzet and George Szirtes respectively; Stone Upon Stone by Wiesław Myśliwski, translated from the Polish by Bill Johnston; and The True Deceiver by Tove Jansson, translated from the Swedish by Thomas Teal.

In terms of the poetry award, past winners include: Rilke Shake by Angélica Freitas, translated from the Portuguese by Hilary Kaplan; Diorama by Rocío Cerón, translated from the Spanish by Anna Rosenwong; The Guest in the Wood by Elisa Biagini, translated from the Italian by Diana Thow, Sarah Stickney, and Eugene Ostashevsky; Wheel with a Single Spoke by Nichita Stănescu, translated from the Romanian by Sean Cotter; and Spectacle & Pigsty by Kiwao Nomura, translated from the Japanese by Kyoko Yoshida and Forrest Gander.

4 May 17 | Kaija Straumanis | Comments

In this week’s episode, following an unintentional s***storm started on social media, Chad and Tom talk about the obligations of publishers and freelance translators, the cascade of things that can go wrong in the publication process, the necessary sales needed for translations to break even (and how likely that is/isn’t), and a variety of new models publishers could employ to stay afloat.

This week’s music is Murder Me Rachael by The National.

As always, feel free to send any and all comments or questions to: threepercentpodcast@gmail.com. Also, if there are articles you’d like us to read and analyze (or just make fun of), send those along as well.

And if you like the podcast, tell a friend and rate us or leave a review on iTunes!

4 May 17 | Chad W. Post | Comments

The winners of this year’s Best Translated Book Awards will be announced at 7pm tonight, both on The Millions and live at The Folly (92 W. Houston, NYC).

Tom Roberge will be emcee, a number of judges will be there to make the announcements and celebrate the two winning titles.

In case you need to be reminded of which books are still in the running, check out the posts about “Why Each Finalist Should Win” for fiction and poetry. Or see this post with my ludicrous charts of each book’s chances of winning.

See you tonight!

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