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.

7 April 17 | Chad W. Post | Comments

We don’t post these updates near as frequently as we should, but here’s a rundown of some interesting recent publicity pieces for our books.



Frontier by Can Xue, translated from the Chinese by Karen Gernant and Chen Zeping

Interview between Can Xue and Porochista Khakpour (Words Without Borders)

PK: You often write of surreal realities. “Other worlds,” one might even say, or “dream realities” or the realities of subconscious. But what do you think when the surface is also so surreal? For example, America right now is in chaotic, almost psychedelic, upheaval. What happens when the truth is stranger than fiction? What do you think of Trump and the chaos in America at the moment? I know things have not been easy in China either, but how do you handle it? Do you think much about politics anymore? Do you feel it matters for art? How can readers and writers alike approach this—should we immerse or ignore?

CX: As the saying goes, “onlookers see more than the player.” As an eastern artist and a foreigner who has closely watched the changes in the United States, I don’t think the current situation in the country is that strange. Although American people have a long excellent tradition of democracy, and the system of the country is relatively good, at the same time, the country also has a long conservative tradition. This tradition usually functions as nationalism. For many years the political elite who led the country followed the principle of “political correctness.” They neither really knew their own people, nor understood people in other countries. The only thing they usually did was to hold high the banner of justice for their policymaking. So I think that the phenomenon of Trump is a great explosion of contradictions. It shows that the leaders of the country are more and more out of touch with the American people. They don’t know what people think about, and how they feel about their lives nowadays. And also, the theory the leaders depend on to rule the country, to deal with their foreign affairs, is a very old one that is not suitable for the situations of the world that is changing rapidly.

Review by Amal El-Mohtar (NPR Books)

Reading this book is like trying to solve a mystery in a dream. Like the Pleiades, it’s best glimpsed without looking at it directly. Patterns recur, but to track them or expect them to lead to something is a mistake. (Imagine a Mirkwood where the only caution is not to walk the path, because to do so is to walk it forever.) Porochista Khakpour, in a beautiful, thoughtful introduction to the book and Can Xue’s work, notes that the book seems pleasurably to lengthen as we read it — and this was absolutely my experience. Karen Gernant and Chen Zeping’s translation is that species of wonderful that makes you forget you’re reading a translation until they see fit to remind you, which is also deeply of a piece with Pebble Town’s absent-minded strangeness.

“Review by Beau Lowenstern”: (Asymptote)

As with much of Can Xue’s translated work, people and things, time and space, all tend to envelope each other like a mist. Perhaps most notable in her short stories, her ability to find careful footing in the space between the real and the surreal is unique and achieves a balance that is both remarkable and often unsettling. In Frontier (Open Letter, 2017), her newest novel to appear in English, this balance is penetrating and comes through most forcefully in the town itself. In a letter to her parents, who have left Pebble Town to return to the city, one of the primary characters, Luijin, writes, “she felt that Pebble Town was a slumbering city. Every day, some people and things were revived in the wind. They came to life suddenly and unexpectedly.” For the reader, Pebble Town both grounds and disorientates us at the same time, without interruption. It serves as neither a character nor a place, but magnifies what is around it; enhances and completes it. Can Xue leaves no landmarks or way points to light the path when navigating this curious place, except to remind us “on snowy days, one’s field of vision widens.”



Bardo or Not Bardo and Radiant Terminus by Antoine Volodine, transalted by J. T. Mahany and Jeffrey Zuckerman, respectively

Straight-A Review by Michael Orthofer for Radiant Terminus (Complete Review)

Volodine’s novel isn’t so much an end-of-times dystopia of the dime-a-dozen sort found nowadays (catastrophe, apocalypse, bla bla bla), as a philosophical-literary exploration of the literal, at-infinity end of times. And it’s a great success as such. No small part of that is due to tone and voice, a register captured just right in Jeffrey Zuckerman’s translation.

In its detail, Radiant Terminus is arguably dreary and bleak, and the novel is certainly long—but, in fact, it is thoroughly engaging, the stories unfolding, and dosed out, at the perfect pace, making for actual suspense, even beyond the constantly intellectually intriguing premises. And while an all-powerful character like Solovyei can be difficult to handle (or, for readers, to put up with . . .), Volodine deftly employs the puppet-master-man.

Tom Roberge on Bardo or Not Bardo for the Albertine Prize (Vote now to help Bardo advance to the finals!)

Like all great writers, the most enduring, [Volodine] approaches his subject matter and characters with a dazzling blend of empathy, pathos, and humor, all of which creates a pleasantly beguiling reading experience. [. . .] 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.”

Meet the Publisher: Chad Post (Asymptote)

I just gave a different interview a couple months ago about this where I was arguing that we shouldn’t try to ghettoize international literature and translations as being super separate. Most translations tend to be high works of literature because of the nature of the small presses that are publishing these books. They tend to want to do important books and not thrillers, not romance novels, not things that are like, “Who cares, in five years no one’s going to remember this book anyway; it’s just like popcorn.” They’re investing these resources and, because they’re not going to make money and are doing this out of a passion for literature, they tend to do high literary works—pure literature. And the readership for pure literature, be it written in English or German or Hungarian or Japanese or whatever, is pretty small. But if we can appeal to that audience as a whole—instead of being like, “Oh, are you a reader of translations?” saying, “Are you a reader of literature?” Dividing those readers is not useful because we’re still talking about the same sorts of books. In comparison to Dan Brown. That’s a difference. But within that realm, it’s pretty much overlapping. I think that the booksellers and the people that are tastemakers, who are reading a lot of literary works from American writers or British Writers or whomever, are reading more and more books in translation that fit into that world and are making that more a part of their conversation.



The Invented Part by Rodrigo Fresán, translated from the Spanish by Will Vanderhyden

Starred Review (Kirkus)

Think of it as a portrait of the artist as a young cultural omnivore grown old, under whose lens Heraclitus, Einstein, and Looney Tunes all have more or less equal footing. Fresán’s long novel begins with what may be a subtle nod to Proust, save that instead of retreating to a quiet room The Boy, our protagonist’s first emanation, is afoot and on the run, tearing around on street and sand, “running like that Roadrunner the Coyote can’t stop chasing.” [. . .] Studded with references to everyone from Dylan and the Beatles to Stanley Kubrick and F. Scott Fitzgerald, it adds up to a lively if sometimes-disjointed paean to creativity.

An exemplary postmodern novel that is both literature and entertainment.

9 January 17 | Chad W. Post | Comments

I don’t post on social media all that often—unless I’ve been drinking—but do generally try and share all of the reviews and publicity pieces that come up about Open Letter. And as with anything else, this tends to come in waves, including the onslaught of pieces from the past few days that I’ve been sharing. Here’s a rundown of recent publicity for the press and its authors:



Dubravka Ugresic

Well, first off, the new issue of World Literature Today is dedicated to this Neustadt Laureate, and includes her acceptance speech, Dubravka Ugresic and Contemporary European Literature by Alison Anderson, and a piece I wrote about The American Nobel. And available only through WLT’s digital edition are The Scold’s Bridle by Dubravka, Mothers and Daughters: Generational Conflict and Social Change in the Work of Dubravka Ugrešić by Emily D. Johnson, and Crafting Serious Work Out of Mass Culture: The Early Prose of Dubravka Ugrešić by Dragana Obradović.

Additionally, David Williams—who translated Europe in Sepia and part of Karaoke Culture for Open Letter—wrote a blog post for WLT entitled On the Untranslatability of Translation.

It wasn’t, however, just the money situation that inhibited me from ever introducing myself as a translator. It was equally that I just couldn’t translate to others what it meant to be a translator, let alone how I, a New Zealander with no Yugoslav roots, came to learn the language formerly known as Serbo-Croatian and translate the work of Ugrešić, one of the great living European writers. Reduced to its essence, the backstory is both fantastic and prosaic: it involves a restless young man who sought adventures on distant shores, came unstuck in a short and sad marriage, the end of which left the no-longer-so-young man searching for meaning that for a time he found in books. In New Zealand, in particular, translating all this to some dudes standing around a barbeque was pretty painful. Over time, I developed a series of useless analogies. I’d say that a translator is like the cinematographer, the author like the director. Or that the translator is like a sound engineer or producer shaping how an author “sounds.” When the dudes at the barbeque still looked puzzled, I’d just say that a translator is like a better class of wedding singer.

And finally, during the Neustadt Festival, a number of people were interviewed by the radio station KGOU, and these pieces are starting to come out online. The first is actually with me.



Justine by Iben Mondrup, translated from the Danish by Kerri A. Pierce

Complete Review just posted a review of this, giving it a “B.” (Which I’ll totally take from Michael Orthofer. I’m pretty sure he would fail me in any class I took with him.) The review is mostly summary, but does get at some of the aspects of the character and setting that make this book really interesting:

Mondrup captures the pretentious and often obnoxious (especially the professors) art-school-scene creepily well, with more the more old-fashioned grandfather-figure and the ultimately tamer, crowd-pleasing Ane as helpful counterparts to the purely pretentious, or, for example, the philosophical Vita (a fairly successful sculptor). Justine, meanwhile, is marked especially by her uncertainty. There’s a lot of anger there, too, or frustration, and she vents successfully, and even comes up with some interesting ideas, including ultimately resuscitating her lost project, but for the most part, and for most of the novel, she is flailing.

And I mentioned this in the round up of Open Letter 2016 publications, but it’s worth pointing out this Rumpus interview with Iben and Kerri one more time:

Brian S: Iben, I’ve never read de Sade’s Justine, but am I correct in thinking there are some parallels between that and your novel? Or is that coincidence?

Iben Mondrup: If there’s any comparison, it’s all about opposites, the polar opposites of De Sade’s Justine and mine. My Justine is sexual subject, she’s the one who desires, whereas De Sade’s Justine is an object of desire. She (my Justine), is aggressive, she’s going for what she wants as opposed to De Sade’s Justine, who is the target—and eventually the victim—of the desires of the world. She possesses no will.

Kerri Pierce: There’s a funny story, actually, about the graphic on the cover. One of my favorite parts of the book, and one of the editor, Kaija’s, favorite parts as well—which I also think speaks to Justine’s character—is when a one-night stand asks Justine if she’s a lesbian (and his tone is rather dismissive/incredulous) and she responds: “Wolf.”

Brian S: Kerri—I loved that moment in the book. That was brilliant.

Iben Mondrup: Exactly, she sees herself as a predator. A wolf, a lone she-wolf.



Gesell Dome by Guillermo Saccomanno, translated from the Spanish by Andrea Labinger

Kim Fay just reviewed this for the Los Angeles Review of Books and digs into one of the most salient and difficult aspects of the book:

There came a point while I was reading Gesell Dome that I cringed whenever new characters were introduced, wondering what horrible things were going to happen to them. But I somehow knew that, even as a reader, I was not allowed to look away. As I grew weary of horror after horror, all I wanted to do was turn my head—but if I did, then I would become complicit.

By using a narrator who is not shocked, who does not look away from anything, Saccomanno shines a gruesome, graphic light on what people are willing to ignore so that their comfort remains intact. He compounds this with a fearlessness when it comes to rationalization. “We’re not Auschwitz,” the narrator declares, and if someone sexually abuses a few kids, “it’s not the same as Bosnia. Give me a break. There’s no comparison.”



Radiant Terminus by Antoine Volodine, translated from the French by Jeffrey Zuckerman

Radiant Terminus comes out on February 7th (although copies will go out to subscribers this week), but in the meantime, you can read an excerpt on EuropeNow. Here’s the opening paragraph from the excerpted section:

The captain was named Umrug. His life had started somewhat chaotically. His father, Choem Mendelssohn, was a bird, and his mother, Bagda Dolomidès, was Ybür.

Also worth noting this comment Brian Evenson made on Facebook when listing his favorite books of the year:

Pleased too that I could write the intro to Antoine Volodine’s exceptionally strong Radiant Terminus, which is out from Open Letter in February. I’ve said before that I think American literature would be much better if more writers were reading Volodine and I still think this: he’s one of my half dozen favorite living writers.

You may also want to check out this “starred” review from Kirkus:

French “post-exoticist” Volodine returns with a dark view of the near future, where science fiction meets a certain kind of horror. [. . .] A landmark of modern dystopianism, portending a time to come that no one would want to live in.



Finally, Rochester’s local alternative paper, City Newspaper ran a piece on Open Letter as a whole, with the amazing headline, “Open Letter Finishes 2016 Strong.” It starts by putting our NEA grant into a local context, then goes on to talk about some recent review coverage and our plans to make 2018—our ten year anniversary—the “Year of Open Letter.”

The last few weeks of December set Open Letter Books up for a great 2017. In mid-December, The National Endowment of the Arts awarded the small literary translation press an Art Works grant of $40,000. This was the largest amount awarded to any Rochester organization this cycle — BOA Editions and George Eastman Museum each received $20,000; the Rochester Fringe Festival received $25,000; and Gateways Music Festival and Geva Theatre Center were each awarded $10,000.

3 January 17 | Chad W. Post | Comments

Sure, the start of a new year is a good time to look to the future, make resolutions you’ll definitely break, and all of that, but it’s also a nice moment to reflect on the past twelve months. Rather than include all the things that happened with Open Letter last year—from the success of our 2nd Annual Celebration to our $40,000 NEA grant to the ninth Best Translated Book Awards to the continued growth of the Translation Database—I’m just going to recap our 2016 publications, in no particular order.



One of Us Is Sleeping by Josefine Klougart, translated from the Danish by Martin Aitken

Klougart’s novel was the first to be included in Writers & Books’ “Read Local” program, featuring great books from local (re: Rochester, NY) publishing houses. She was able to come here as part of a tour that included stops in Chicago, NY, Dallas, Houston, Portland, and San Francisco.

Here’s what Jeremy Garber from Powells had to say about her book:

The uncertainty, instability, doubt, regret, and longing that so often follow a failed relationship are richly and realistically conveyed. Klougart’s narrator’s emotional turmoil (punctuated, staccato) are quite nearly palpable and viscerally received. One of Us Is Sleeping, as much a series of thematically linked poetic offerings as a novel proper, is graceful and unforgettable. As Klougart’s narrator strives for clarity, understanding, and consolation, she’s left, as the rest of us undoubtedly are, to make sense of her own perceptions and boldly reassemble for herself the pieces of her shattered, shattering heart.

Josefine has another work in translation coming out later this year, and just released this amazing object in her home country of Denmark:






Justine by Iben Mondrup, translated from the Danish by Kerri Pierce

Sticking to Denmark, the recently release Justine is the third book in our Danish Women Writers Series. It’s been getting a lot of good attention, and was even selected by The Rumpus for their Book Club. As part of that, they ran an interview with Iben Mondrup and Kerri Pierce:

Brian Spears: Iben, I’ve never read de Sade’s Justine, but am I correct in thinking there are some parallels between that and your novel? Or is that coincidence?

Iben Mondrup: If there’s any comparison, it’s all about opposites, the polar opposites of De Sade’s Justine and mine. My Justine is sexual subject, she’s the one who desires, whereas De Sade’s Justine is an object of desire. She (my Justine), is aggressive, she’s going for what she wants as opposed to De Sade’s Justine, who is the target—and eventually the victim—of the desires of the world. She possesses no will.

Kerri Pierce: There’s a funny story, actually, about the graphic on the cover. One of my favorite parts of the book, and one of the editor, Kaija’s, favorite parts as well—which I also think speaks to Justine’s character—is when a one-night stand asks Justine if she’s a lesbian (and his tone is rather dismissive/incredulous) and she responds: “Wolf.”

Brian S: Kerri—I loved that moment in the book. That was brilliant.

Iben Mondrup: Exactly, she sees herself as a predator. A wolf, a lone she-wolf.



Chronicle of the Murdered House by Lúcio Cardoso, translated from the Portuguese by Margaret Jull Costa and Robin Patterson

Chronologically, the second “modern classic” that we brought out this year, this is the one that’s getting the most buzz right now. An epic novel detailing the downfall of a Brazilian family through a series of confessions, letters, diary entries, and the like. Recently, The Onion’s A.V. Club reviewed it, stating:

The social commentary might have been lost on audiences when it debuted, but not his genre bending. Cardoso’s approach is as expansive as the lands on which his charmless bourgeoisie have lived for generations; he was a voracious reader with a preference for Gothic fiction and Russian lit, and those influences are on full display in Chronicle’s framework and themes. From its mysterious opening—which is actually the end of one character’s story—to the exploration of morality, the novel is a near-total manifestation of his talents.



Abahn Sabana David by Marguerite Duras, translated from the French by Kazim Ali

The other “modern classic” I was alluding to, Abahn Sabana David was one of the few Open Letter titles to make it into the New York Times this year:

In this slim, raw political novel, Abahn the Jew and his double (also Abahn) spend a long night with Sabana and David, who have been sent to guard them by the Communist party boss Gringo. Fragmentary dialogue occurs about gas chambers, “Jew-dogs” and the fact that Gringo is coming by to kill Abahn(s) as a traitor. Gunshots and howling hounds are heard. By the last page, Sabana and David have allied themselves with their captive(s) and claimed the identities of Jews, the “laughter of joy . . . covering their faces.”

How to understand this text, available for the first time in English, in Kazim Ali’s translation?



A Greater Music by Bae Suah, translated from the Korean by Deborah Smith

At the start of 2016, I predicted this would be our huge breakout hit of the year. I was obviously wrong about that—at least according to sales, sheer number of reviews, random mentions on Internet lists—but I still stand by this novel as one of the best we’ve published. And after her next two translations come out—including The Owls’ Absence, which we’re doing next fall—I think readers will start to cotton on.

Of the reviews this did receive (so far), there are a number of really thoughtful, intelligent piece, such as this one from Tony’s Reading List:

With Bae Suah living in Germany, it’s tempting to see parallels with her own life here, but A Greater Music is much more than a simple confessional piece. The shorter pieces that have appeared in English have been marked by beautiful writing, punctuated by spiky, aggressive outbursts against the strictures of modern society. Here, these themes and styles are extended over a much larger canvas; it’s a fairly slow tale, at least initially, and the story is given space to breathe before coming to life in the second half.



Gesell Dome by Guillermo Saccomanno, translated from the Spanish by Andrea Labinger

The first novel to be translated into English from the two-time winner of the Dashiell Hammett Prize, it just got a glowing review in the San Francisco Chronicle:

Gesell Dome is a bizarro Robert Altman film in book form: hundreds of characters and storylines that paint a portrait of a community, but with events far stranger than anything Altman created.
If the novel has a central character, it’s the Villa, which, like other cities in Argentina, accepted Nazi war criminals as residents after World War II. Now it is home to more than 50,000 people, many of whom drive around in 4×4s and harbor prejudices against “half-breeds” and other foreigners.

These residents give Dante [local journalist] many stories to cover, including the scandal that opens the novel: Eleven kindergartners referred to as los abusaditos are abused at Nuestra Señoradel Mar, a religious school “where the snobs send their progeny.” Parents are rightfully horrified, but other residents don’t want the media to cover the story for fear of the effect the news will have on tourism.



Party Headquarters by Georgi Tenev, translated from the Bulgarian by Angela Rodel

Party Headquarters is the sixth book we’ve published from Bulgaria. To put this in context, all other publishers did a combined total of seven over the past nine years. Here’s what “The Literary Review”: had to say about it:

Clocking in at only 121 pages, Georgi Tenev’s taut novel Party Headquarters is at once a tragedy, a comedy, a love story and thriller, with echoes of A Clockwork Orange and Apocalypse Now. Translated from the Bulgarian by Angela Rodel, it tells the story of a man tasked with visiting his father-in-law, a former Communist party boss. The father-in-law then sends him on a mission to bring back a suitcase containing a million Euros suspected to be pilfered from the coffers of the Bulgarian Communist Party. The whole story is set against the backdrop of the meltdown of Chernobyl, and if the basic plot seems like the kind of high-octane premise that Hollywood would deliver, that makes sense: Tenev also writes for film and TV.



The Brother by Rein Raud, translated from the Estonian by Adam Cullen

Sticking with our shorter books from 2016, I’ll turn to Estonia and Rein Raud, whose Brother got an “A-” from Michael Orthofer:

The Brother doesn’t exactly ride into town on a white horse, and he isn’t simply all swagger, but the resemblance to the Sergio Leone-spaghetti Westerns (especially the ones with Clint Eastwood) that author Raud admits inspired him is striking. The story is almost all atmosphere and style (showing also Raud’s other big inspiration, the writing of Mr. Gwyn (etc.)-author Alessandro Baricco), and one can almost hear the (Western movie score) background music.

The relatively short chapters — each at most a few pages — are rich but stark, the essentials — of mood and incident — sketched but not belabored. Much is masterfully understated, but the full ramifications easily expand off the page for the reader. The book is short, and quite event-filled, but there’s an agreeable languor to it all too; nothing is rushed.



Bardo or Not Bardo by Antoine Volodine, translated from the French by J. T. Mahany

Volodine has been gaining steam over the past few months, and the combination of this piece from The Nation with the forthcoming release of Radiant Terminus may finally push him over the edge. (I just received a wonderful email from Unabridged Books in Chicago about Volodine that really cheered my bitter soul.) As evident his New Inquiry piece (currently unavailable?), Volodine’s world is complex and greatly rewarding. It can also be a bit daunting to enter, but of the three titles Open Letter has done/will do, I think Bardo is the best place to start. From Ben Ehrenreich:

This year, Open Letter published Bardo or Not Bardo (2004) in a translation by J.T. Mahany, who also translated Post-Exoticism in 10 Lessons, Lesson 11. It goes without saying that it is a very odd book. [. . .] But Bardo or Not Bardo has its rewards. For all its darkness, it is extremely and blessedly silly. [. . .] Yes, it’s all very strange, but in Volodine’s world, that hardly counts as a complaint.



The Clouds by Juan José Saer, translated from the Spanish by Hilary Vaughn Dobel

This is our fifth Saer book—with more in the works—and was included on NPR’s list of Five of the Year’s Best Books in Translation:

This imaginative novel traces the journey of Dr. Real and his mentor as they work treating patients at an insane asylum in Argentina. Saer’s prose, while often likened to Proust, carries a beautiful quality that is also uniquely his. Page after page, The Clouds is a poem to be savored.
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Overall, that’s a solid list. I hope you found a few books from us that you read and enjoyed last year. And stay tuned—2017 includes some insanely good titles, starting with books from Antoine Volodine, Can Xue, Rodrigo Fresan, Iceland’s James Joyce, and more . . .

2 November 16 | Chad W. Post | Comments

Part Jessica Jones, part China Miéville, Radiant Terminus (trans. by Jeffrey Zuckerman) is one of Antoine Volodine’s craziest, longest, and most compelling books to date. And you can win a copy simply by entering the GoodReads contest below.

The most patently sci-fi work of Antoine Volodine’s to be translated into English, Radiant Terminus takes place in a Tarkovskian landscape after the fall of the Second Soviet Union. Most of humanity has been destroyed thanks to a number of nuclear meltdowns, but a few communes remain, including one run by Solovyei, a psychotic father with the ability to invade people’s dreams—including those of his daughters—and torment them for thousands of years.

When a group of damaged individuals seek safety from this nuclear winter in Solovyei’s commune, a plot develops to overthrow him, end his reign of mental abuse, and restore humanity.

Fantastical, unsettling, and occasionally funny, Radiant Terminus is a key entry in Volodine’s epic literary project that—with its broad landscape, ambitious vision, and interlocking characters and ideas—calls to mind the best of David Mitchell.


Goodreads Book Giveaway

Radiant Terminus by Antoine Volodine

Radiant Terminus

by Antoine Volodine

Giveaway ends November 15, 2016.

See the giveaway details at Goodreads.

Enter Giveaway




13 July 15 | Chad W. Post | Comments

It’s been a nice couple of months for Antoine Volodine, publicity-wise. First, he had this long essay appear in The New Inquiry. Then Music & Literature honored the publication of Post-Exoticism in Ten Lessons, Lesson Eleven with a week of Volodine-related content.

And now, the Paris Review has an interview with Volodine conducted by two of his translators, J. T. Mahany and Jeffrey Zuckerman.

There are so many quotable parts from this interview . . . First, for anyone unfamiliar with “post-exoticism” here’s a clip from Volodine’s explanation of the origin of the term:

Twenty-five years ago, a reporter at Le Nouvel Observateur asked in which literary category you would place your work, and you responded that it was outside and beyond the conventional categories of existing literature. The question prompted you to invent the nearly nonsensical phrase “post-exoticism.” But eight years later, the phrase had taken on some significance, enough that you published a book around it, Post-Exoticism in Ten Lessons, Lesson Eleven. Since then, has “post-exoticism” come to mean something different for you?

I’d like to start by correcting an error I made. I attributed this question to a Nouvel Observateur reporter. It actually came from a reporter for Le Point in July 1991. Our conversation was exactly this—“What genre do you prefer to be classified in?” “Anarcho-fantastic post-exoticism.” It was a somewhat irreverent wisecrack, but it was a way, at the time, to confirm that I didn’t belong either to science fiction, the genre in which my first four books had been classified, or to highbrow French avant-garde literature, which Éditions de Minuit, my publisher at the time, often published. I took the opportunity of the interview to proclaim this break, which seemed evident to me but which literary critics had had trouble taking into account. They hid for far too long behind the adjective unclassifiable, which I can still find in numerous publications today.

I knew at the time that I was writing a literature distinct from the main literary trends all around me. In particular, I didn’t feel attached in the least to contemporary French literature, with all that implied about traditions, schools, and debates. I was steeped in translated literature, mainly from South America, the Anglophone world, Russia, and Japan. I knew French literature well, but I placed it among the others and not as an inescapable and necessary literary mold. Starting with the publication of my first book, I completely abandoned France’s cultural heritage and went independently and alone down a path that, in a way, had come from nowhere and went nowhere. “From nowhere, to nowhere”—this phrase nicely defines the literary process of post-exoticism, and I’ve reused it many times in clarifying or explaining it. Even in my first books, post-exoticism existed with its idiosyncrasies, its refusal to belong to the mainstream, its marginalized characters, its revolts, and its murky narrators. And behind this narration was a narrative background, a “backfiction,” guided by exterior and manipulative voices.

The next Volodine book that we’re publishing is Bardo or Not Bardo, a book made up of seven overlapping vignettes, all revolving around the Tibetan Book of the Dead and mostly taking place in the Bardo, or space that exists after life and before rebirth. Despite the seriousness of the setting—every chapter includes a person’s death, and most their journey through the afterlife—it’s actually a really funny book, with characters fucking up all over the place, both purposefully (one character decides to sleep away his 49-day journey through the Bardo) and accidentally (a different character reads a Tibetan cookbook into the ear of his deceased friend instead of the Book of the Dead).

Since I just read that, I also really like this part of the Paris Review interview:

You also talk about the Bardo Thödol, the Tibetan Book of the Dead, being the only non-post-exotic text shared among the various prison cells in which the writers are detained. That book’s realm, the Bardo, in which many of your writers and characters exist, isn’t necessarily the space of dreams, but the space between life and death, right?

We love the Bardo Thödol, which describes the floating world that follows death. Although we don’t appropriate its religious folklore or mystique, we see in it an immense poetic space. Our characters are quite often dead from the first page of the books in which they appear, which is why they cross the fiction like the dead cross the undefined space-time that follows their mortal passing. In theory, after death one enters the Bardo, where there is no longer calm or agitation, up or down, hot or cold, reality or dream, memory or invention. Opposites cancel each other out. It’s extremely exciting to build a fiction on this, particularly when there is also no longer I or you, male or female, narrator or character, or even reader or author. And since we are very open to the notion of compassion, this allows us to enter into the closest possible intimacy with our characters and share their thoughts, ramblings, and pain.

According to the Book of the Dead, the deceased’s walk through the Bardo lasts seven weeks and forty-nine days and ends either with enlightenment or rebirth. In post-exotic fiction, time is no longer measured, and characters often walk much longer through the fiction’s Bardic space. In Terminus radieux, this journey lasts hundreds of years, during which everyone mentally diminishes, loses language and intelligence little by little. They walk not toward rebirth but extinction. And they attain neither. The post-exotic Bardo seems to stray enormously from the Bardo described by Tibetan monks. In any case, for us, it’s a magnificent and inexhaustible reference.

Speaking of Terminus radieux, that’s the third Volodine book Open Letter is planning to bring out. It’s still a couple years off in the future (Jeffrey Zuckerman is translating it now, but it’s a 600-page book, so . . . ) but it opens with three characters “heading toward the hot center of a nuclear disaster zone, as in Andrei Tarkovsky’s Stalker.” I can not wait!

Volodine is slowly building a nice oeuvre in English translation, with six titles already available: Minor Angels, Writers, Naming the Jungle, Post-Exoticism in Ten Lessons, Lesson Eleven, We Monks & Soldiers, and In the Time of the Blue Ball. As a publisher, I think you should start by buying our book, but as a reader, I think you should start wherever and devour them all. It’s a crazy world that Volodine has built, one that is more and more rewarding the deeper you read into it. All the various connections between the pseudonym, the books depicting this strange post-apocalyptic world, the books about the books and the post-exoticist writers—it’s all so fascinating and so much fun. Hopefully more and more readers will become ensnared in this spider’s web of a literary project as more and more of his books (from more of his pseudonyms) make their way into English.

2 April 15 | Chad W. Post | Comments

Over at The New Inquiry, there’s an extensive, amazing essay about “post-exotic novels” by Antoine Volodine, man of a few pseudonyms, author of Post-Exoticism in Ten Lessons, Lesson Eleven, winner of the Prix Médicis (for another book that Open Letter will be publishing), and creator of one of the most ambitious literary projects ever.

The essay is so long that it’s split into two posts—here’s part one and part two.

And here are some choice quotes:

Writing a novel, then, isn’t the expression we should use to sum up the intention preceding a spokesperson’s or post-exotic author’s work. Because it’s more, for him, composing a book that brings together several writing processes—quasi-novelistic, para-novelistic, poetic, sometimes theatrical, specifically post-exotic—with the goal of publicly producing a work that can be read like a novel, which is to say continuously, with a unifying thread, images, characters, and voices that structure and approach a story. Without theorizing here, the goal of every post-exotic author is certainly to give the public a way into, and certainly a stay within the novelistic domains barely or not yet explored by official literature. [. . .]

It’s true that for some time we felt some embarrassment in saying that we were writing novels. We were just starting to take part in the publishing world, we had just one spokesperson (Volodine), and, not having yet made our mark on the publishing world, we were dismayed by the overly close proximity we had to what we might in retrospect call official literature. Without giving up our soul, because we had to keep the contents of our books separate, we felt like were making a somewhat painful concession by accepting the editors’ suggestion to impose that word, which we had to agree to. When we were asked, we said that we preferred to call what we wrote “books.” More than ten years had to pass before the questions of genre could be cleared up, whether it had to do with literary genre (we belong neither to science-fiction literature nor to a dispassionate avant-garde nor to minimalism) or the appropriate category for shelving our texts in bookstores. In that sense, the work Post-Exoticism in Ten Lessons, Lesson Eleven was a fundamental step. Not foundational, because post-exoticism’s basis had already been solidly established, but illuminating.

The books mentioned here are unusual, but still novelistic. They’re filled by musical, poetic, or architectural constraints which are often unobtrusive and which, even in their specificity, do not distance them from the novelistic world, at least not enough for punctilious or sectarian academics to dream of refusing them a place. They stir up passions and images, which is how they are novels. They indissolubly interweave fiction and reality, which is how they are novels. They seek, inside and outside prisons, partners in dreams and dreaming, which is how they are novels. And they will stay this way, their authors will pursue in this way their progress in the new twenty-first century, in friendly harmony with their sympathizers, standing alongside and often ignoring official literature, without going to the trouble of following whatever trend there may be, without worrying about whether or not they’re respecting sophisticated narrative theories, ideological propriety, rules set by the academy or the marketplace for best sellers. So they will go on and on existing, not necessarily in a closed circuit, not necessarily bound to confidentiality, but indifferent to classifications, currents, and explanations.

The essay then goes into a “Summary for others as well as for ourselves and our kind or apparent kind” that consists of a bullet-pointed list containing entries like these:

• Neither revolutions nor dreams turn out well. It’s about that, too; about nostalgia overwhelmed by bolshevism which hasn’t fallen apart; about passionate, violently unforgettable and never-forgotten daydreams; about love in a vacuum; about horizons in a vacuum; always within reach, always ruined.

• In We Monks and Soldiers, for example, Lutz Bassmann sadly describes humanity in its terminal phase, already ready to give way to a civilization of tarantulas and land crabs. At the end of Dreams of Mevlido, Volodine suggests that after humanity’s extinction, its ruins will then be inhabited by house spiders and tropical spiders. In Naming the Jungle, the torrential egalitarian speech that declares Gutierrez dying is given to a public consisting solely of caranguejeiras, enormous spiders from the deep forest that several explorers claim to have seen living in organized groups. Several of our books follow in the same vein. We willingly speak to those who will people the future, we do not disregard the possibility that there may no longer be any hominids or related species.

• Humanity, in due time, will itself be shunted aside, without any ambiguity and not without any authority, by intelligent spiders.

Volodine is amazing. And his post-exoticist project is astounding. Go be indoctrinated. Once you start down the Volodine hole, you will be sucked in, reading more and more of his books—six of which are now available—constantly amazed as his world-view and the way all of these ideas and voices play off one another.

Also, special thanks to Jeffrey Zuckerman for translating this essay, and to J.T. Mahany for his work on Post-Exoticism in Ten Lessons, Lesson Eleven and Bardo or No Bardo.

9 December 14 | Kaija Straumanis | Comments

The latest addition to our Reviews section is a piece by Patience Haggin on Giuseppe Di Piazza’s The Four Corners of Palermo, translated by Antony Shugaar and published by Other Press.

Patience is a graduate of Princeton University, where she majored in comparative literature, focusing on translation. As her senior thesis, she translated a novel from the Italian, which won her the Robert Fagles Senior Thesis Prize. She hopes to spend more time in Italy in the near future.

Here’s the beginning of her review:

The Sicilian Mafia has always been a rich subject for sensational crime fiction. The Godfather, Goodfellas, and The Sopranos worked the mob’s bloody corpses and family feuds to both entertainment and artistic value. Giuseppe di Piazza’s debut novel attempts this, though with less success.

The Four Corners of Palermo is not a novel but a collection of four episodes. Each chapter takes the hero, a gritty young crime reporter, to a different quarter of the city, where he finds a new noir crime scene and a new Venus-like lover. In the first chapter, he pieces together the family drama behind a shootout in the streets. The second has him investigating car bombings, and the third chasing a father who kidnapped his own children. The fourth has him befriending a daughter whose father is found beheaded in a town square, and ultimately deciding not to publish what he learns.

Di Piazza’s sensational material and nostalgic memory of the 1980s make his stories pleasurable, though vapid. The book suffers for its episodic structure, which leaves little opportunity for the nameless reporter to make much of an impression on the reader, and even less opportunity for him to learn something. A cast of shallow, personality-free female characters surrounds a “Gary Stu” protagonist, who runs from fashion model to murder scene without a misstep. It is a fun noir romp told in cinematic jump-cut scenes, but not a gratifying novel.

For the rest of the review, go here.

5 November 14 | Kaija Straumanis | Comments

The latest addition. to our Reviews section is a piece by P. T. Smith on Antoine Volodine’s Writers, translated by Katina Rogers and published earlier this year by Dalkey Archive Press.

For those who don’t know, it was announced this week that Volodine had been awarded the Prix Médicis for his latest book, Terminus radieux. The prize, which is awarded in November of each year, is a French literary award founded in 1958 by Gala Barbisan and Jean-Pierre Giraudoux. Congratulations to Volodine, whose works have been translated into English and published (or are forthcoming) by various presses, including University of Nebraska Press, Dalkey Archive, and Open Letter Books.

Here’s the beginning of Patrick’s review:

Antoine Volodine’s vast project (40 plus novels) of what he calls the post-exotic remains mostly untranslated, so for many of us, understanding it remains touched with mystery, whispers from those “who know,” and guesswork. That’s not to say that, were one to read every book by Volodine and his pseudonyms, his driving philosophy would then become fully clear. It may not be meant to.

His novels return to the post-apocalypse, to prisons, psychiatric hospitals, interrogations, and writers. They trod familiar ground, the same characters reappear, and images are like memories half-remembered. The writers he creates not only belong in his universe, but create their own projects that fit within his—it’s turtles all the way down. Yet in the reoccurrence, there is nuance, and his universe expands—the other reality of the post-exotic becomes more grounded.

The Volodine project, the pseudonyms, and the intertexual exchanges, are pushed to the forefront in responses to his work. But there are also more immediate pleasures, not dependant on his larger oeuvre. His work puts anonymous people in strange and engaging circumstances, and he lets the weirdness leave a reader to catch up, confused.

For the rest of the review, go here.

5 November 14 | Kaija Straumanis | Comments

Antoine Volodine’s vast project (40 plus novels) of what he calls the post-exotic remains mostly untranslated, so for many of us, understanding it remains touched with mystery, whispers from those “who know,” and guesswork. That’s not to say that, were one to read every book by Volodine and his pseudonyms, his driving philosophy would then become fully clear. It may not be meant to.

His novels return to the post-apocalypse, to prisons, psychiatric hospitals, interrogations, and writers. They trod familiar ground, the same characters reappear, and images are like memories half-remembered. The writers he creates not only belong in his universe, but create their own projects that fit within his—it’s turtles all the way down. Yet in the reoccurrence, there is nuance, and his universe expands—the other reality of the post-exotic becomes more grounded.

The Volodine project, the pseudonyms, and the intertexual exchanges, are pushed to the forefront in responses to his work. But there are also more immediate pleasures, not dependant on his larger oeuvre. His work puts anonymous people in strange and engaging circumstances, and he lets the weirdness leave a reader to catch up, confused.

Comprehensive understanding isn’t necessary for the oddness to be compelling. That he is creating such often bizarre, yet familiar, worlds is itself entertaining. The latest drip from his reservoir of the post-exotic, is Writers, translated by Katina Rogers, is no exception. In “The Theory of the Image According to Maria Three-Thirteen,” Maria is introduced as a woman running in the dark, her age wildly uncertain, and we realize she may not even be alive:

She feels the darkness enter her through every opening of her body. These openings that a lama should have closed this morning with wax and cotton, once the death had been verified, which is exactly what he didn’t do, for destiny opposed it. The memories of her last moments come to her then fade before they can become believable elements.

Uncertainty, and comfort with that, is essential to moving through Volodine’s world. Some grounding will come, but enjoying the groping-in-the-dark there is essential. Elements of genre—of science fiction and noir—run through Writers. Volodine is not self-serious either; there are moments of dark, and self-aware humor: “He. . . . even theorized a bit on incompleteness, at least when his friends asked him how his creations were coming along.” The touches of genre, the humor, the flights of the bizarre, entertain at the same time they fit the spirit of his project.

Writers is a collection of sort of miniature biographies. The writers are hidden in obscurity, sometimes in hospitals, sometimes on the verge of suicide or violence. They are against the world as it is, as it was, or as it will be: the time periods are uncertain, sometimes they exist in our past, sometimes our future. Their writings, whatever form they take, and their acts, toward suicide or outward violence, are all gestures of protest.

In this, they are writers of the post-exotic, however that may yet define them. The subjects of the first two biographies are identified as assassins who killed assassins. Who those latter assassins would be is never explained, other than that they have “indirectly killed hundreds of thousands and even millions of people.” Is this flung far into the future after cataclysm, or are we instead to think which people in our world indirectly kill?

These writers have more of an affect through their assassinations and other acts than through their writing. They are all utterly obscure figures, never leaving the margins of society. The voice of these biographies—whether one voice seemingly out of time or a multitude of them—is a special reader to recognize these writers, to bring them out of the spaces they have been hidden in. It doesn’t matter that this may be a hopeless task, wondering in an aside “if the term ‘known’ means anything, with regard to a writer.”

Writers is not about acknowledging unappreciated geniuses though—these writers are anything but. When the author described in “Begin-ing” wrote as a child, his “top priority wasn’t to execute feats of perfect spelling to please the teacher but to lay down the text torrentially.” At other times, writing instead takes on the form of speech, performance. In “Tomorrow Will Have Been a Lovely Sunday,” Nikita Kouriline has no “great aptitude” for writing, but he becomes a writer anyway. He interrogates the story of his birth and in the place of his grandmother’s fictions surrounding it finds the truth: tolling bells timed with his birth were gunshots of slaughter. To restore that story, to protest the violence, he begins to speak the names and lives of the dead. These dead are mostly illiterate, so his “novel” for them is on their terms, direct, oral.

If these writers are not people whose genius has been missed and needs recognizing, if their work is as fractured and strange as they are, then why should their stories be told? Because in every aspect of them, the writing and their lives, they are revolutionaries, and this puts them on the side of the humane: they are the post-exotic.
One definition of the post-exotic: “a final useless and imaginary testimony spoken by the exhausted or by the dead and for the dead.” These testimonies try to encompass the world as a defense of it. Lists are present in Writers more than once, of the dead and the living, and of nearly anything else, including “sixty thousand first and last names of victims of unhappiness” and “ten thousand names of places, rivers, and localities.”

What the writers of the post-exotic defend against is more obscure than a single entity or system. As one of the biographical subjects says,

Post-exoticism’s writers have in their memory, without exception, the wars and the ethnic and social exterminations that were carried out from one end of the 20th century to the other, they forget none and pardon none, they also keep permanently in mind the savageries and inequalities that are exacerbated among men.
They are writers of protest without a movement to be lost within. Though at points there are totalitarian systems working in a subject’s world, there is not always one, and it doesn’t necessarily matter. They are against dominant cultures and systems as an idea. Even in a time of peace and satisfaction, Volodine’s post-exotics demand that we remember the suffering that led to the peace, and the suffering that lies ahead.

In “Begin-ing,” this defiance against systems, the way they enforce violence against the individual, is made clear. The penitentiary clinic has been taken over by the mental patients. The leaders capture and violently interrogate the writer. They perform the same acts their wardens did. Order has turned to madness, but the mad institute their own order. In the face of it, the writer uses the same habits of resistance he used against the actual doctors, and sees it as only “one more painful phase in his interminable journey of imprisonment and hospitalization.” The form of rule doesn’t matter, whether totalitarian, passive, or utterly mad, these writers must be against it.

That the act of writing is often Volodine’s focus rather than the result is not incidental. Life without action is empty, and “Acknowledgements” is the testament to that. This narract (to use one of Volodine’s terms) is not a biography, but a writer crediting those who helped create his works. Sometimes, their input is direct, practical, other times indirect, even spiritual. In all of them is a lived life and lived connections. When the writer in “Tomorrow Will Have Been a Lovely Sunday” finds the facts behind his grandmother’s misremembering of his birth, it is a moral corrective, returning the true acts in the world, of those killed and of the crushing system.

Writers is a slim work, and just a glimpse into Volodine’s project, but the glimpse is a clear and honest one. Madness and sanity overlap, what the system calls madness may indeed be sanity, if the system is mad. And writing may never mean putting pen to paper, but simply being one whose “intention is to stay as long as possible alongside the humble and terrible animals, alongside humans who are killed and who are burned in ovens, alongside women who are martyrized and who are burned in ovens.”

15 July 14 | Chad W. Post | Comments

Now that the World Cup of Literature is officially over, with Roberto Bolaño’s By Night in Chile taking home the prize, it’s time to get back to writing normal blog posts, starting with this much overdue “preview” of forthcoming July translations.

My initial plan with this post was to write it “live blog” style from Las Vegas where I was last month for the American Library Association conference. Unfortunately, many things got in the way of that, starting with the $14.95/day wifi costs in my hotel (Open Letter saves its money to spend on translators, not to allow me to make dumb jokes!), not to mention the 9am kickoff for the World Cup games, and the alcohol that I drank (see insane Eiffel Tower drink below).

So, instead, I’m going to try and work some of my observations into the write-ups below. But, unlike the music industry, which hasn’t brought out much of anything good this month, publishers are dropping some awesome stuff this summer. Bitov, Robbe-Grillet, Volodine, Haas, Can Xue . . . There are some legit overviews below to go with the usual assortment of random crap.

But to set the scene a bit: Way back when, before BEA locked itself into being in Jacob Javits’s glass house for a decade (or whatever), the show was supposed to take place in Las Vegas. Given the nonsensical nature of BEA and its parties, I couldn’t wait for this show. Booksellers AND strippers??! Lowly publicity assistants blowing their per diem at the craps table?? More drunken beardos than the streets of Brooklyn after a Pavement concert! SIGN ME UP.

Unfortunately, that BEA got moved to the Western West Side and was like every other BEA: A bit unfocused, a bit depressing, and a bit self-congratulatory.

Fast-forward a bunch of years, and now, when I’m too old to fully rock out anymore of course, I finally get to attend a convention in Vegas. One with fellow nerdy book people! Heading into it, I figured this was going to be great, and that I was going to lead at least a dozen librarians into nights of bad decision making.

Just to pause for a moment though, these are the people who attend ALA:

And those are the librarians from Austin. So, yeah. Vegas. Librarians. Books, booze, and gambling. Free flowing liquor. Temps above 110. My never-ending depression. What could possibly go wrong?

The Last Lover by Can Xue, translated from the Chinese by Annelise Finegan Wasmoen (Yale University Press)

Can Xue has to be the female Chinese author with the most books translated into English. She’s been published by Henry Holt, Northwestern, Open Letter, Yale, and has appeared in a number of issues of Conjunctions. Part of this is because she’s a fucking brilliant and strange writer, part of this is due to her natural charm. I finally had a chance to meet her in person last fall at the Reykjavik International Literary Festival (see our interview) and immediately signed on another of her novels, Frontier. This isn’t much of a secret, really, but publishers like to work with people they like. I’ll happily sign on a book that’s an 8 out of 10 instead of a book that’s a 10 out of 10 if the author/translator is someone that I really respect and like working with.

Which is why certain people won’t ever translate anything for Open Letter. Ever.

And I’ll bet you were expecting the “last lover” to lead to some sort of joke about escorts and Vegas and librarians . . .

Rachel by Andrei Gelasimov, translated from the Russian by Marian Schwartz (Amazon Crossing)

This is the fourth of Gelasimov’s books that Amazon Crossing has published, three of which (including this one) are on sale for $1.99 right now. Say what you will about pricing, Hachette, and the decline of modern civilization, this is worth taking advantage of if for no other reason than the fact that Marian translated the books. She’s one of the most amazing translators we’ve got, and if she loves an author—like she does with Gelasimov—everyone should pay attention.

A Sentimental Novel by Alain Robbe-Grillet, translated from the French by D.E. Brooke (Dalkey Archive Press)

In Vegas, I stayed in Bally’s hotel, which is attached to the Paris hotel. Or rather, Le Paris hotel. For those of you who haven’t been to Vegas, consider yourselves lucky. The Paris hotel includes a huge replica of the Eiffel Tower, which you can go up in on the “Le Eiffel Tower Adventure,” the tickets for which can be purchased next to “Le Bar,” which is across the way from “Le Toilettes” by “Le Sports Book.” I’m not even fucking with you—all the signs in this hotel have “Le” appended to them. Ninety percent of the time, these make no sense—shouldn’t it be “Les Toilettes”?—and the other one-hundred and ten percent of the time this is stupid as shit. It’s like the worst simulacrum ever.

On the upside, they do sell the “Le Eiffel Daiquiri,” a two-foot tall Eiffel Tower “glass” filled with 10-12 shots of rum. All for $16.95! Well, $16.95 and most of your better judgement.

Come, Sweet Death! by Wolf Haas, translated from the German by Annie Janusch (Melville House)

The U.S. vs. Germany World Cup match took place the first morning that I was in Vegas. I had talked a lot of shit to Nick from NYRB about getting up super early, finding a crazy bar to watch it in, etc., etc., but at 8am when my alarm went off, I thought I’d rather just stay in bed and avoid all the American Outlaws. One problem: no matter where I looked, I couldn’t find the remote for my TV. Not on the TV stand, not in any of the drawers, not on top of the armoire, not under the bed, nowhere. So I rushed out, basically ran across to the one sports bar I already had scoped out, and ordered a coffee. Surprisingly, they did have coffee, but no coffee mugs . . . Instead, they served me a pint of coffee with a little sleeve so that I wouldn’t burn the shit out of my hand. A pint of coffee.

This was one of my favorite Vegas experiences though, since I was seated between two dudes who chain smoked the entire game while playing video poker and downing screwdrivers. They had clearly been there all night, and were holding on to shreds of dignity and hope. Neither of them won jack, and one guy’s friends never came to collect him from wherever they had been partying all night.

I did end up partaking in the $2 beer specials, which was probably the reason I fell asleep at the hotel pool a few hours later and woke up as red as I’ve ever been in my life . . . I’m still peeling . . . Once you turn 40, a 9am beer is the equivalent of twelve evening drinks. This is a life lesson for all you youngsters: Enjoy your wake’n‘drink days before your body starts to hate you.

Symmetry Teacher by Andrei Bitov, translated from the Russian by Polly Gannon (FSG)

Of all the books on this list, this is the one that I’m most excited to read. I loved Bitov’s Pushkin House (which Dalkey reissued a number of years back), and Michael Orthofer gave this one an A-. Based on the description—that this is an “echo book” of a book that Bitov once read and foggily remembers, but that leads him to create a series of self-reflexive, nested stories—it sounds like a fun, complicated game of a novel. And Orthofer really sells it with this:

The different stories that make up the novel are not so much unfinished or incomplete, but rather part of an overlapping continuity that probably can best be compared to an Escher loop (or loops of Escher loops . . .): not neatly nested, à la Calvino, or adhering to some similar determined Oulipian schemes, but rather capriciously folding back on themselves across time and space, the author’s guiding hand in the frame but handing off responsibility in his layers of authorial invention, attributing a great deal to A. Tired-Boffin, who in turn credits Urbino Vanoski. etc. [. . .]

The Symmetry Teacher is about books and reading and writing that transcend the actual set text — literary echoes that arise and exist separately from what is in a fixed, written state. This is a novel where, typically, a character enthuses about his vivid memory of a particular scene — but admits he no longer can find it.

Poetics of Wonder: Passage to Mogador by Alberto Ruy Sanchez, translated from the Spanish by Rhonda Buchanan (White Pine)

Alberto Ruy Sanchez is included in our new anthology, A Thousand Forests in One Acorn, which may well be the most beautiful book we’ve ever published. Edelweiss does the design no favors, but you should click that link to see how amazing this is, and to request a digital reading copy. (Although you really should just buy the real thing.)

I’m sure most people already knew this, but Vegas has a monorail, which, every single time I saw it referenced, reminded me of this Simpson’s epidode:

Why this song isn’t playing continuously on every monorail platform is a failure on Vegas’s part.

Writers by Antoine Volodine, translated from the French by Katina Rogers (Dalkey Archive)

To prepare for our upcoming pre-sales call, I just started reading all the Open Letter titles scheduled to come out in 2015 between April-August. Antoine Volodine’s Post-Exoticism in Ten Lessons, Lesson Eleven (which, according to at least a few reviewers, is far superior to Writers), Georgi Gospodinov’s The Physics of Sorrow, Naja Marie Aidt’s Rock, Paper, Scissors, Juan José Saer’s The One Before . . . Obviously, I love the books we publish, but this is that period of time when the dyssynchrony of being in the book world are the most apparent. We got the rights to Physics of Sorrow back in September of 2012, and no one else will be able to read this before the end of the year. But I read (or rather, reread) the first 50 pages last night, and I want everyone I know to have access to this right fricking now. It’s one of the best things I’ve read all year. But by the time I can mail it out to people, I’ll be reading the book coming out in January 2016 and my desire to talk Physics with other book people will be somewhat dulled. And by the time ordinary readers (compared to booksellers and reviewers who will receive advanced reading copies) get their hands on this, we’ll be reading excerpts and signing on books for 2017.

I’m not sure I have a real point here, just that books and music are most of my life, and it’s a weird experience when you remember that huge portions of your “life” are spent reading in a social void of sorts. That and: you all must read Post-Exoticism in Ten Lessons, Lesson Eleven and The Physics of Sorrow. As soon as they come out. And then email/tweet/text me.

Crow Blue by Adriana Lisboa, translated from the Portuguese by Alison Entrekin (Bloomsbury)

I just want to point out that this book is listed on the Bloomsbury website as part of Bloomsbury Circus. What the fuck is that, you ask?

Bloomsbury Circus is a place of fine writing from all over the world. There are exciting debuts and brilliant new work from such established writers as Patrick McGrath, Lucy Ellmann, Alice McDermott and Tobias Hill. Like any good circus, it is a list that is not frightened to take risks, while always being entertaining.

So, by “all over the world,” they mean Britain, Scotland, and America? Maybe those are the “three rings” of this “circus”? Bloomsbury, your metaphor sucks. “Bloomsbury Circus” sounds like the publisher of kids books about acrobats and fucking clowns.

Matiushin Case by Oleg Pavlov, translated from the Russian by Andrew Bromfield (And Other Stories)

I think it’s pretty ironic that & Other Stories which has the URL “stories.com” is a bag/accessories/shoes/lingerie shop. Why “stories”?

Speaking of random shops though, there’s a Britney Spears Boutique in Vegas. I assume that it’s wall-to-wall signed copies of Crossroads.

Mr. Gwyn by Alessandro Baricco, translated from the Italian by Ann Goldstein (McSweeney’s Books)

I haven’t made fun of Flavorwire’s list in a while, but this one on the 35 Writers Who Run the Literary Internet deserves to be laughed at. When I clicked on this, I was hoping for some conspiracy theory shit linking an unknown writer to media leaks about how Amazon burns 13 Hachette books a day as part of some corporate ritual, or something interesting like that. Instead, it’s a list of writers with the most Twitter followers. Because Twitter equals the Internet and having the most followers is equivalent to “running it.”

(Except for Zadie Smith! “She’s one of the few big-name writers who has managed to develop a huge Internet presence without even seeming to spend much time online.” In other words, she’s a writer that people really like. How does she even fit in under the “Runs the Literary Internet” rubric? According to the description, what she “runs” is her own writing. Whatever.)

I know—and respect—some of the people on this list, others make me want to scratch my eyes out when I hear them speak on panels, most I don’t “follow” and, to be honest, don’t feel like I’m missing anything . . . Also, I know Flavorwire exists to create log-rolling lists as clickbait and to get the “listed” people to retweet the lists, generating more clicks and ensuring that these people (the listed) can end up on be on more lists and everyone can all end up at the same over-priced Brooklyn speakeasy drinking PBRs and old fashioneds. So this isn’t anything personal against anyone involved—everyone is awesome.

That said, I love this comment: “Dear Flavorwire, America is not the world, for Chrissakes.” Having fallen for way too many Flavorwire headline teases, I can assure you that, in the eyes of Flavorwire, America and Karl Ove Knausgaard ARE the world.

Secondly, the pictures of the women screaming with their mouths open? Is this a new meme? It’s very unsettling.

Also, the only good thing about the World Cup being over is that Teju Cole will no longer be tweeting about it. I know he’s got a million and one fans who will “rise as one” to annihilate me, but to be honest, I think his World Cup tweets were the worst. So self-absorbed and pedantic and boring. Kaija’s #WorldCupTaunting bits were edgier, funnier, and much more entertaining than things like “Guillermo ‘CTRL S’ Ochoa.”

Nothing was as bad as the #thetimeofthegame “idea.” Just check this out:

What’s funniest to me is that he took a screen cap of his own Twitter feed as his #thetimeofthegame entry. Twitter is like a Bloomsbury Circus of crap.

(Also, I know that these rants are why Open Letter books never make Flavorwire’s lists, for which I apologize to all our authors and translators. My jokes about things that suck shouldn’t represent Open Letter, but I’m afraid that some people take it that way.)

Guantanamo by Frank Smith, translated from the French by Vanessa Place (Les Figues)

I feel like explaining what I specifically didn’t like about Las Vegas will come off as a string of clichés . . . but that might be due to the fact that there’s no real separation from the depiction of Vegas in movies and TV shows—its excesses and bright lights and frenetic nature—and what it’s really like. The whole strip area is set up as one huge experiment in behavioral economics designed to get people to spend too much money and make terrible decisions. Every hotel is connected to every other hotel by way of thirteen areas stuffed with gamble machines. It’s all flashing and no straight path is actually straight. In between, the Paris and Bally hotels, you walk down a “hallway” that veers this way and that, coming out into a room of slots and tables and no idea which way to turn. This disorientation—a key behind shopping malls—facilitates the spending of money. The fact that there is no sense of time—it could be noon or five am—adds to this, and quickly turns a few drinks into an all-night bender involving $17 drinks with 12 shots of rum. That’s why hotel staff keeps asking “are you OK?” in that tone that implies that you might well need medical attention but just don’t realize it yet.

Vegas wants you to walk that fine line between “drunk enough to spend ten times what I was planning on” and “alcohol poisoning.” We were in a bar where you could order a kilo of cavier for $7,200. A kilo. Who the fuck says, “could I get a kilo of cavier please?” Someone who just won big at the blackjack table. Who believes this is “free money” and that the best way to get value out of this free money is to blow it in one big huge, story-creating sort of way: “Dude, I won ten grand at a poker tournament and bought Cristal and a kilo of cavier and hit up the strip joint and puked in the Bellagio fountain. It was fucking epic!”

Thing is, maybe Vegas is right. Maybe a life of books and music is totally overrated. (And that’s one more thing: culture really doesn’t seem to exist in Vegas. I’m sure it does, out in the city, in pockets, outside of the Stratosphere and the High Roller and everything else that sucks, but when you think Vegas, you think Celine and Britney and Carrot Top — Carrot Top! — none of which are interesting or novel or worth dropping $100 to see.) Vegas represents a cultural black hole where anything goes, where you can escape your normal shitty life and believe for a time that you’re a VIP, that you could win millions by betting on black, that the next drink will make you attractive. It’s supposed to be a place of ultimate freedom, but those freedoms seem, to me, as a cynical depressed bastard, to only involve cheap sex, all the drinking, and the highly unlikely dream of easy money.

Invisible Love by Eric-Emmanuel Schmitt, translated from the French by Howard Curtis (Europa Editions)

I went to two “parties” during ALA: one about “gaming and cosplay,” the other sponsored by Central Recovery Press.

No one was cosplayed up for the gaming one, and apparently, in the library world, “gaming” means “board games.” As in, twenty librarians were sitting around a well-lit room playing board games. And no, there were no drinks. I lasted less than 30 seconds. Even BEA does better than that.

Central Recovery is a very admirable press dedicated to helping people overcome their addictions. Their party was out at Vegas City Hall, which is so much more interesting than the strip. It also seems like it’s in the middle of nowhere, past the “Gambling Supplies Warehouse” and just out of sight from Circus, Circus. A special shuttle bus had to bring us there, since walking that far—even from the last monorail stop—would basically leave you dehydrated and dead. Good thing the Central Recovery party had all the Coke you could desire! (I was expecting coffee and donuts, but alas.) Anyway, aside from the fact that I’m not in AA and prefer parties with beers, this set up would’ve been totally fine if I hadn’t have overheard someone say “the speeches will start in about 15 minutes” just as the bus, the only link to civilization, pulled away. I can live without wine, but living through multiple speeches—or a poetry reading lasting more than 10 minutes—is tough . . .

Nevertheless I survived, regained my non-sobriety at the Peppermill, and made it back from Vegas with my mind only slightly broken . . .

11 June 13 | Chad W. Post | Comments

As promised, here’s an excerpt from Post-Exoticism in Ten Lessons: Lesson Eleven which we’ll be bringing out next year. It’s a pretty amazing text, which, as you’ll see, is filled with intertextuality, literary games, and horrible smells. Enjoy!

Lutz Bassmann passed his final days as we all did, between life and death. A rotten odor stagnated in the cell, which did not come from its occupant but from outside. The sewers in the city were fermenting, the docks in the harbor were emitting a rancid signal, the covered markets were stinking terribly, as they often did in the springtime when both the waters and the temperature began to rise. The mercury in the thermometers was never below 34 or 35° Celsius before sunrise, and it always rose back up from its nightly drop to give way to oppressive grayness. Puddles of moisture had reformed their apparitions on every wall. In the hours preceding dawn, darkness grew in power in the depths of lungs, under the bed, under the nails. Clouds burst into cataracts under the slightest pretext. The noise of the storm haunted everyone. Ever since Bassmann began to feel unwell, the rain had not ceased its patter against the prison’s façade, furnishing the silence with the sound of lead. It streamed over the exterior, crossed over the edge of the window, and gloomily drew lines of rust beneath the bars, onto the bulletin board that certain guards had baptized as the “union board” and which resembled a very old cubist or futurist collage, very dense, very faded. The water zig-zagged between the photographs and the newspaper clippings that Bassmann had pinned there, and which helped support him in his stay in the high-security sector, among us: this immobile voyage had already lasted for twenty-seven
years, twenty-seven long, long, longer-than-long years. Then, the already-dirty liquid met up with a thin blackish ribbon wending its way to the bottom of the wall, thus mixing with the infiltrations from a leak in the plumbing, perhaps in the toilet’s evacuation pipe. No doubt there, yes, in this pipe, or in a pipe of the same kind. Over several months the humidity had pierced the cement and gradually expanded. Hence, when atmospheric pressure dropped, the stench rose. Hence these waves that heavily velveted the surroundings, similar to the vapors of a cadaver on the march toward the nothing. The administration was waiting for Bassmann’s death before undertaking any renovations. With their obtuse frankness common to horrible bipeds, and without snickering, for in their impatience to see the end of history they did not even snicker anymore in front of him when they spoke of his end; the guards had made this known to the prisoner. Bassmann himself was not waiting for anything. He was sitting facing our damaged portraits and looking at them. He contemplated the spongy, almost-illegible photographs, the obsolete portraits of his friends, men and women, all dead, and he looked back on who knows what trouble and, at the same time, glimmering marvelously, that he had lived in their company, at the time when they were all free and shining, the time when all of us, from the first to the last, were something other than. But that’s not important. I have said “our” faces, among “us,” all of “us.” This is a process of the literary lie, but one which, here, plays with a truth hidden upstream of the text, with a not-lie inserted into the real reality, elsewhere rather than in fiction. Let us say, in order to simplify, that Lutz Bassmann was our spokesperson until the end, both his and that of everyone and everything. There have been several spokespeople: Lutz Bassmann, Maria Schrag, Julio Sternhagen, Anita Negrini, Irina Kobayashi, Rita Hoo, Iakoub Khadjbakiro, Antoine Volodine, Lilith Schwak, Ingrid Vogel. This list that I give contains deliberate errors and is incomplete. It follows the post-exoticist principle according to which a portion of shadow always subsists in the moment of explanation or confession, modifying the confession to the point of rendering it unusable to the enemy. To objective appearances, the list is only a sarcastic way of telling the enemy one more time that they will learn nothing. For the enemy is always part stalker, disguised and vigilant among readers. We must continue to speak in a way that denies the enemy any profit. We must do this even as we testify before a tribunal whose competence we do not recognize. We devise a solemn proclamation, in a language that appears to be the same as that of the judges, but it is one that the judges listen to with dismay or boredom, as they are incapable of making sense of it . . . We recite it for ourselves and for men and women not present . . . In no circumvention of phrase our remarks coordinating with the magistrates’ understanding . . . There was nothing extraordinary about the rain that sounded and rang out in Bassmann’s agony in this period; it was completely expected in the month of April. In this region that is touched by the tail-end of the monsoons, we were in the habit of associating springtime not with green rebirth as is the tradition in occidental literature, but with the slow and loud din of the deluge, mugginess, and mephitic atmospheres. Inside of the prison, pestilences alter in intensity by the second as they circulate in an unpredictable manner that prevents any immunization. A feeling of suffocation tormented us from dawn-to-dawn. It is not surprising to discover that psychosomatic illnesses spring up during this phase of the prison calendar. Added to the respiratory troubles are the troubles of solitude. It was extremely difficult for us to converse between cells, on account of all the background noise, from the monotonous sweeping and the trickling that kept on at every hour, muddying the content of our messages. That year, the “we” was even more than normal a literary lie, as much a convention of fiction as Lutz Bassmann was alone. Now he was alone. He had reached the moment of our common adventure that several of us had described, in books completed or otherwise, as that of ultimate defeat. While the last surviving member on the list of the dead—and, this time, it was Bassmann—stammered his final syllable, then, on this side of the story as well as beyond it, only the enemy would keep strutting straight ahead, undefeated, invincible, and, among the victims of the enemy, no spokesperson would now dare come to interpret or reinterpret any of our voices, or to love us. Lucid in spite of the split personalities corrupting his agony, Bassmann sought only to communicate with the deceased.1 He no longer tapped on the washbasin pipes or on the door, saying, for example, “Calling cell 546,” or on the ealed siphon behind the toilet bowl, asking for cell 1157, or on the bars of the window, saying “Bassmann here . . . please respond . . . Bassmann is listening . . . please respond . . .” Now he knocked nowhere. He concentrated his regard on us, the photographs of those who had preceded him in disappearance, and he made the smallest of murmurs pass through his lips, pretending not to be dead and reproducing a whispering technique that the most tantric among us had many a time used in their romånces: with an audible exhalation, the narrator prolongs, not his or her own existence, but the existence of those who are going to dwindle into nothing, because the narrator is the only one who can preserve their memory. Word by word, moan after moan, Lutz Bassmann struggled to make last the mental edifice which would eventually become once again dust. His breath merged with the putrid sewers that wandered through the prison. He still tenuously held on to reality and he managed to keep together fragments. He managed to keep his voice from giving out again. So that for one hour more, two and a half hours, one more night, the worlds that we had built with swift carpentry and defended would persist. Mental edifice . . . Worlds . . . Swift carpentry . . . What is . . . Huh? I will respond. We had called that post-exoticism. It was a construction that was connected to revolutionary shamanism and literature, literature that was either written by hand or learned by heart and recited, as the administration through the years would sometimes forbid us any paper material; it was an interior construction, a basis of withdrawal, a secret welcoming land, but also something offensive that participated in the plot in the naked hands of certain individuals against the capitalist world and its countless ignominies. This fight was now confined solely to Bassmann’s lips. It was suspended in a breath. As thirty years of incarceration had left his mind feeble, and reduced his creative spirit to scraps, his final murmurs no longer obeyed the logics of pioneers, combatants, oneiric footprints, or enthusiasm, without which the post-exoticist project had produced no more than two or three works. During his agony, Lutz Bassmann uniquely wished to move the embers that he had guarded, and not to be absorbed too quickly along with them by the nothingness. But even before, from the beginning of the ten years, maybe because he estimated that the confidants were already unattainable or no longer existed, it seemed that he had lost his creative spark. His latest works, his final romanesque jolts, took shelter under rather unattractive and uninspired titles, such as To Know How to Rot, to Know How Not to Rot, or Structure of Deconstructed Obscurity, or Walk Through Childhood. These are narrative poems and Shaggås, supposedly-compact pieces diluted into vast arrièregarde logorrheas that one can take no pleasure in reading. There are also romånces, such as About-Face Vandals, One-Thousand Nine-Hundred Seventy-Seven Years Before the World Revolution, and even The Mantis, but the brooding that inspired them has devolved into nothing communicable. Their encryption is vain, their undeniable beauty is vain, maybe simply because no one—No one listens. No living being other than Lutz Bassmann is paying attention. In such works, the idea of connivance with the reader, so oily and so generously spread onto the clockwork of official literature, has been disregarded to even the smallest detail. Here we have the terminal rumblings, the ultimate punctuated throaty rasps of post-exoticism . . . POST-EXOTICISM. That word again. Here again this heavy term. Around it we have circled, from the beginning, like vultures around a carcass. WHAT IS POST-EXOTICISM? An insolent question, very unwelcome on the day of Bassmann’s death, but its appearance here demonstrates that a half-century after
Minor Angels, by Maria Clementi, sympathizers, on the outside, have not . . . Demonstrates that the incarcerated have been left alone. A symposium on post-exoticism was organized with Lutz Bassmann’s involvement before the 00’s of the 21st century, eighteen or nineteen years ago. It lived more or less in 1997. Beyond the walls of the prison, this must have been an age of hollow editorials, or of reflux toward what official literature itself considered as the worst. Two popular chroniclers had been sent to us by a cultural magazine in general circulation, subsidized I believe by mafia industrialists in meat and construction. I say “I,” and “I believe” but this is again just a matter of pure convention. The first-person singular serves to accompany the voice of others, it signifies nothing more. Without damage to the understanding of this poem, one can consider that I have been dead for ages, and not take the “I” into account . . . For a post-exoticist narrator, anyway, there is not the thickness of a piece of cigarette paper between the first-person and others, and hardly any difference between life and death. But let us classify the problems. I spoke of two salaried employees of the dominant ideology, two virtuosos of journalism, of stardom and writing, a man and a woman who, for the occasion, had muted their mercantile convictions and come before us wearing the faded finery of intellectuals neither spineless, nor completely orthodox. They wanted, they announced, to inquire about prison literature, and shine a new and favorable light on romånces, several volumes of which had appeared outside of the prison, under the signature of one of our figureheads. I also think that General Intelligence desired to evaluate the state of our forces and to form an opinion on the persistence or extinction of our capacities to harm, on the chances of the survival of egalitarian propaganda in the new millenium. The journalists presented themselves by insisting on their capacity as novelists sometimes at odds with the authorities, as, like in all totalitarian societies, those who are approved by the censor are also those who have the right to express themselves officially against the censor, and they articulated their author names with a casual humility, hoping maybe to impress us with their notoriety, with the value that credit agencies and the public recognize, but, as we were indifferent to this kind of authority, and as their magazine had never inspired anything in us but contempt, they became again before us what they were in both reality and in the world of media: two mercenaries of speech, Niouki and Blotno, Niouki the woman, Blotno the man, capable of theorizing on art and philosophizing on the fate of the people, capable over several hours of adapting themselves to our vision of the world, of entering into a dialog with us, and even of getting friendly with us, capable of everything. They had five or six afternoons; they worked with us in turns, according to a program that we thwarted as quickly as possible. Anonymous, imperturbable, silent, a police officer attended the sessions and recorded us on a tape recorder. We were summoned to the interview room one after the other. The Blotno faced us with a notebook and pen, no doubt because he had been informed that only the police would be allowed to listen to the taped recording. As he was constantly scribbling, he hardly ever lifted his eyes in our direction, eyes that shone with a relative absence of insincerity, very blue, a myopic, almost Prussian blue. If I stray from the striking color of his irises, I now feel powerless to describe his physical attributes, the particularities of his head. In a pinch, I believe I could remember his corpulence. He was about medium-sized. The Niouki is less nonexistent in my memory. Her chest seemed to me like that of a cow or a cowgirl. Her breasts had made an impression on me, but I don’t remember exactly what that impression was. For that matter, they weren’t of any interest to. Lutz Bassmann went first and kept his mouth shut the whole time. In
order to break the drawn-out silence, the Niouki summarized the stages that, according to her, post-exoticism had passed through since Minor Angels, Maria Clementi’s first romånce, written in 1977.

1 [1. FRAGMENTARY INVENTORY OF DECEASED DISSIDENTS
Arostegui, Maria (1975)2
Bach, Mathias (1991)
Bartok, Giovan (1991)
Bassmann, Lutz (1990)
Bedobul, Kynthia (1988)
Breughel, Anton (1975)
Breughel, Istvan (1985)
Campanini, Giuseppe (1988)
Clementi, Maria (1975)
Damtew, Oleg (1998)
Dawkes, Ellen (1990)
Domrowski, Monika (1998)
Draeger, Manuela (2001)
Echenguyen, Irena (1981)
Echenguyen, Maria (1976)
Fincke, Elia (1998)
Garcia Muñoz, Maria (1985)
Gardel, Wolfgang (1975)
Gompo, Khrili (1980)
Heier, Barbara (1991)
Henkel, Maria (1980)
Hinz, Mario (1998)
Hoo, Rita (1992)
Iguacel, Maria (1975)
Khadjbakiro, Iakoub (1977)
Khorassan, Jean (1996)
Kim, Petra (1992)
Kobayashi, Irina (1991)
Koenig, Astrid (1990)
Kronauer, Elli (1999)
Kwoll, Maria (1975)
Lethbridge, William (1992)
Lukaszczyk, Vassilissa (1987)
Malaysi, Jean (1979)
Malter, Hugo (1990)
Marachvili, Türkan (1992)
Marconi, Ivo (1992)
Mayayo, Erdogan (1998)
Nachtigall, Roman (2000)
Negrini, Anita (1977)
Nordstrand, Verena (1986)
Ossorguina, Raïa (1986)
Ostiategui, Leonor (1996)
Ostiategui, Pablo (1996)
Peek, Marina (1998)
Petrokian, Aram (1992)
Pizarro, HansJürgen (1998)
Reddecliff, Dimitri (1990)
Retsch, Dorothea (1975)
Retzmayer, Rita (1979)
Retzmayer, Zeev (1976)
Samarkande, Maria (1978)
Santander, Monika (1982)
Sauerbaum, Maria (1996)
Schnittke, Maria (1980)
Schrag, Maria (1975)
Schwack, Lilith (1979)
Sherrad, Aidan (1990)
Soledad, Irena (1977)
Soudaïeva, Maria (1975)
Sternhagen, Julio (1975)
Tarchalski, Yasar (1990)
Thielmann, Maria Gabriella (1992)
Thielmann, Ralf (1982)
Velazquez, Sonia (2000)
Vlassenko, Jean (1987)
Wallinger, John (1991)
Weingand, Anita (1986)
Wernieri (1975)
Wolff, Rebecca (2001)
Wolguelam, Jean (1975)
Zhang, Yann (1977) ]

2 Year in parentheses indicates date of incarceration at highsecurity
sector.

11 June 13 | Chad W. Post | Comments

Next year we’re going to be publishing Antoine Volodine’s Post-Exoticism in Ten Lessons: Lesson Eleven, a book that I’m super excited about, and which help explain (somewhat) Volodine’s crazy-awesome project. If you’re a regular listener to the “Three Percent Podcast”: you’ve probably heard me go on and on and on about how interesting Volodine’s work is—in particular, Minor Angels and We Monks & Soldiers, both of which are masterfully translated into English by Jordan Stump. (Also worth noting is Naming the Jungle, which New Press published way back, but which I have yet to read.)

As with everything Volodine does, that last statement needs to be unpacked. See, We Monks & Soldiers is written by Lutz Bassmann, one of Volodine’s heteronyms.

Actually, that’s not entirely true either. See, Volodine is a heteronym as well for a French schoolteacher who writes this truly weird, incredibly knotty, endlessly fascinating books under a host of heteronyms. He’s like the French Fernando Pessoa, but more obsessed with the apocalypse.

So, over the past twenty-some-odd years, Volodine, along with counterparts Lutz Bassmann, Elli Kronauer and Manuela Draeger, has written some 40 books (mostly novels, but also some young adult novels, and poetry, such as Bassmann’s Prison Haikus, which will make more sense in a second), many of which inhabit one shared universe. Of sorts.

I can’t claim to know nearly as much about Volodine’s wildly imaginative—and revolutionary—project as J.T. Mahany (author of this review of Bassman’s Les aigles puent and this one of We Monk & Soldiers, and is the translator of Post-Exoticism in Ten Lessons: Lesson Eleven), but basically, in Volodine’s collective world, shit has gone wrong, or is just about to go horribly wrong. Humanity is on the decline, the spiders are taking over the interior, and capitalism—that dirty bitch—is still unstoppable and fucking is all up.

And all the post-exoticist writers are in jail. Dying.

What is post-exoticism exactly? Well, you can read our forthcoming book (of which I’ll post a sample in just a minute), but in short, it’s a literary movement that employs certain techniques to evade censorship, convey secret messages and ideas of thought, and change the world. In other words, it’s dangerous shit. Hence, the jailing.

To tie together a few of these threads: Post-Exoticism in Ten Lessons: Lesson Eleven is written by Volodine about Bassmann’s last days in prison. It explains a lot of the tenets and techniques of the post-exoticist movement (so far as they can be explained . . . for example, Lesson Five, “Let’s Talk about Something Else,” is a list of things the post-exoticists have and haven’t done. They make these long lists to deter the enemy . . .) and is a great starting point—or continuing one—for anyone entering Volodine’s world.

One interesting post-exoticist story: On the jacket copy of Minor Angels, it references the fact that Volodine doesn’t believe the meaning of the book can be found in the text itself, but rather in the dreams that the reader has while reading it. I’m prone to really strange shit entering my dreamstate, so this book was like LSD for my unconscious. But better yet: While J.T. was reading this book he woke up one winter night outside in his pyjamas having sleepwalked himself right out of his apartment. Unfortunate for him, this was a bittercold night and he had locked himself out. See! Dangerous shit.

Anyway, the main point of this post—aside from delaying the bookkeeping and database work that I should be doing right now, and giving me a chance to wax enthusiastic about one of my favorite forthcoming books—is that J.T. found the interview below with the three main Volodine heteronyms and I really wanted to share it.

Also worth noting: We’re planning on following up our Volodine book with a Bassmann one and Draeger one. Bassmann’s been published by the University of Nebraska, but Draeger has yet to be published by a nationally distributed press. Hopefully we’ll be able to do all three books within a 12-14 month window so that there’s not too much of a delay—once you get sucked into Volodine’s world, you’re going to want more . . .

Here’s the “interview,” which, to be honest, will make more sense if you’ve read Minor Angels, We Monks & Soldiers, and Post-Exoticism in Ten Lessons: Lesson Eleven:

Your main character trait

Antoine Volodine: Stubbornness.

Lutz Bassmann: Rigidity.

Manuela Draeger: Passion. More exactly, the lucidity at the heart of passion.

Your favorite animal

Antoine Volodine: Tigers. But not paper ones. And also Iponiama Oshawnee, who lives at 17 rue des Soeurs-Tchouvanes, in Valkoumeï.

Lutz Bassmann: Robins. And also cats when they’re not eating robins.

Manuela Draeger: Elephants. No, actually, wooly crabs, trying to float as high as the moon. Or no, rather, eggs. Eggs in general. They’re the promise of an animal. Last but not least, Lili Niagara, the batte, with whom I used to be madly in love.

The defeat, historical or otherwise, you consider the worst

Antoine Volodine: The collapse of the Soviet Union.

Lutz Bassmann: The New Economic Policy instantiated by Lenin in 1921.

Manuela Draeger: The Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact

Your favorite slogan

Antoine Volodine: Two or three: DON’T DREAM UNSTRAGE DREAMS! IF MISFORTUNE ARISES, YOU MUST DIE APPROPRIATELY! YOU ARE A WINDOW PANE, NO FLY CAN IMAGINE YOU!

Lutz Bassmann: I will give several: GOLDEN DRUMS, THEN SILENCE! IF YOUR FACE IS CLEAR, CUT OFF YOUR MASK! IF THERE ARE STILL RUINS, DEMOLISH THEM! IF THERE ARE STILL CRUMBS, BURN THEM!

Manuela Draeger: I think I might give a few: BLACK WAVES, SCREAM, BREAK! CHANANES’S DAUGHTERS, SING, REGROUP, ATTACK! A THOUSAND SECRET MASTIFFS IN EACH ONE OF US!

Your most oft-recurring dream

Antoine Volodine: Flying while sitting like a fakir, but without a flying carpet, about fifty centimeters off the ground, at a hopelessly slow speed.

Lutz Bassmann: I am walking around a house on a deserted coast. It’s raining, I’m taking shelter under a giant umbrella. I make a complete turn around the house. I am silently exorcising it. From time to time, people that I know try to leave, through the windows, through the doors, but they collapse before they can get outside. I know the house is going to burn. No words are spoken. Everyone is terrorized, and I continue tracing circles as I walk in the damp grass.

Manuela Draeger: I am speaking with other prisoners, with dead friends. We are on the shore of a lake at daybreak. The vegetation is luxurious. The landscape is extremely beautiful. Instead of contemplating in silence, we talk. From time to time, one of us leaves our group and approaches some wavelets. She stays unmoving, petrified, then she returns and reintroduces herself into the conversation. We talk feverishly about a clinic where you can get memory transplats. The deabte is on the sorrow provoking the transplants. I don’t know why, we know we should stop and admire the water, the light, the trees, but we keep reluctantly chatting on subjects that don’t interest us.

Your favorite landscape

Antoine Volodine: The Hoggar Tassili.

Lutz Bassmann: An urban scene. For example Victoria Harbour in Hong Kong.

Manuela Draeger: The ice field when bears walk across it.

The ritual you would like to perform

Antoine Volodine: Knocking three times before opening the shutters.

Lutz Bassmann: The last cigarette.

Manuela Draeger: Does Bolcho Pride from Eleven Dreams of Soot count as a ritual? If so, I’d like to participate in it.

The quality you appreciate most in a combattant

Antoine Volodine: In a female soldier: her coming back alive. In a male soldier: his knowing to run when all is lost.

Lutz Bassmann: Silence after the battle.

Manuela Draeger: Knowing how to walk with eyes closed until the end. Knowing how to die, knowing how not to die. Knowing how to walk with eyes open until the end.

Your favorite hero or heroine in the real, historical, or fantastical world

Antoine Volodine: The stalker in Stalker.

Lutz Bassmann: Chow Yun Fat in The Killer.

Manuela Draeger: Louise in Thelma and Louise.

What you hate the most

Antoine Volodine: Hypocritical reformism, friendly nationalism, warrior nationalism, a speaker’s bad faith, bony fish, the Russian mafia, spiders.

Lutz Bassmann: The self-satisfaction of social democrats, capitalism in all its forms, the obscene insolence of traitors. Swallowing oysters. Hearing the prison guards’ antisemitic jokes.

Manuela Draeger: Barbarism. The imbecility of barbarians, their humanistic and democratic proclamations. And also dishes with chicken gizzards. And in literature when I’m thought of as a clone of Antoine Volodine.

The fault you indulge in the most

Antoine Volodine: Sympathy for sympathizers of the ninth stinking category (intellectuals).

Lutz Bassmann: Excessive severity towards enemies of the people.

Manuela Draeger: Assassinating assassins.

What keeps you from going mad

Antoine Volodine: Having seen madness up close. The pills they give me. I don’t know what they’re called.

Lutz Bassmann: [no response]

Manuela Draeger: The fear of going mad.

The music you would like to hear when you slide into the Bardo

Antoine Volodine: Naïsso Baldakchan’s Third Golden Song.

Lutz Bassmann: If there are musicians, I would like them to try to play a quartet by Brahms or Kaanto Djylas. If there is no one, I would like to hear Grodzo tapping on the pipes and grills.

Manuela Draeger: Like in Eleven Dreams of Soot, I would like to hear at the last minute the voice of the Soviet songstress Liudmilla Zykina. The song doesn’t matter, but one like the girls were listening to in the fire: a very melancholic, very simple song, of unspeakable beauty. The first two words in Russian are “Sronila kolietchko.”

The present state of your mind

Antoine Volodine: After having the idea to listen one last time to Naïsso Baldakchan’s Third Golden Song, I’m a little worried.

Lutz Bassmann: I’m waiting.

Manuela Draeger: I’m looking at the barred window, the sky darkened by twilight, and I’m thinking that I will never see the Aurora Borealis again.

7 June 13 | Kaija Straumanis | Comments

The latest addition to our Reviews Section is by John Thomas Mahany on Les aigles puent by Lutz Bassman, from Éditions Verdier.

JT—as we know him—is an MA in Literary Translation Studies student at the University of Rochester, and a recent addition to the superfandom of Volodine’s work. He’s also working on a translation of Volodine’s Post-Exoticism in Ten Lessons: Lesson Eleven (Le Post-exotisme en dix leçons, leçon onze, Gallimard 1998), forthcoming from Open Letter Books in Fall 2015.

Here’s a bit of his review (which is followed by a little excerptfrom Les aigles puent):

If you’ve been following any of the recent Antoine Volodine talk going around Three Percent—both on the blog or on the podcasts—and have heard his fans wax obsessive over all his alter author-egos, you’re probably starting to feel some Volodine fatigue setting in. One more mention of what his books do to your dreams, of postexoticism, prison literature, Untermenschen, or people with blends of Eastern European, Mongolian, and Middle Asian names, and you’ll start bleeding from your ears, right?

Sorry, but we’re not done yet.

Yet unpublished in English, Les aigles puent, a novel by Lutz Bassmann (one of Volodine’s many reoccurring faces/names/characters), is the tale of a man named Gordon Koum who has just returned from an assassination mission for the Party, only to discover that his home city has been devastated by a (possibly nuclear) bomb. Everything is completely and irreversibly demolished, turned to black ash and soot. Everyone whom Gordon Koum loved—his wife, his children, his comrades—is dead at the hands of these “witch bombs.” As he picks through the rubble, Gordon quickly realizes that everything is hopeless, that all is lost. Maddened, irradiated, and wracked with sorrow, our protagonist sits on a bit of rock and waits for death, his only companions a dead bird stuck in the tar, and a golliwog that had miraculously survived the blast. He uses his gift for ventriloquism to converse with them, and tells them stories of his lost friends: Benny Magadane, Antar Gudarbak, his wife Maryama Koum, and many others.

7 June 13 | Kaija Straumanis | Comments

If you’ve been following any of the recent Antoine Volodine talk going around Three Percent—both on the blog or on the podcasts—and have heard his fans wax obsessive over all his alter author-egos, you’re probably starting to feel some Volodine fatigue setting in. One more mention of what his books do to your dreams, of postexoticism, prison literature, Untermenschen, or people with blends of Eastern European, Mongolian, and Middle Asian names, and you’ll start bleeding from your ears, right?

Sorry, but we’re not done yet.

Yet unpublished in English, Les aigles puent, a novel by Lutz Bassmann (one of Volodine’s many reoccurring faces/names/characters), is the tale of a man named Gordon Koum who has just returned from an assassination mission for the Party, only to discover that his home city has been devastated by a (possibly nuclear) bomb. Everything is completely and irreversibly demolished, turned to black ash and soot. Everyone whom Gordon Koum loved—his wife, his children, his comrades—is dead at the hands of these “witch bombs.” As he picks through the rubble, Gordon quickly realizes that everything is hopeless, that all is lost. Maddened, irradiated, and wracked with sorrow, our protagonist sits on a bit of rock and waits for death, his only companions a dead bird stuck in the tar, and a golliwog that had miraculously survived the blast. He uses his gift for ventriloquism to converse with them, and tells them stories of his lost friends: Benny Magadane, Antar Gudarbak, his wife Maryama Koum, and many others.

The book is in some ways very similar to Volodine’s Minor Angels: a man in pain is reciting strange short stories about others (I would consider the “In Memory of X” and “To Make X Laugh” chapters to be narracts), including stories about himself. In the case of Les aigles puent, however, the main character is not being punished for some crime, and in fact Gordon Koum could be said to be the antithesis to Will Scheidmann—as a Party member he is working against the dominant forces of (presumably) capitalism, whereas Scheidmann ended up restoring capitalism to its former state in his world.

Another interesting thing about the novel is the mention of a man named Müller, whom
Gordon Koum has killed. In Post-Exoticism in Ten Lessons, Lesson Eleven, Müller is the name of a brutal prison guard who threatens to have the character Tarchalski beaten if he doesn’t return to his seat during his interview with another character, Blotno. Could this be a possible revenge fantasy of Bassmann’s? Post-Exoticism mentions that yet another character, Elia Fincke, has compiled a list of all the prison guards who had committed violence against the post-exotic authors between 1975 and 1999, so one might begin to wonder if all the villainous characters in these works get their names from this list.

Bassmann’s writing here is quite compelling, and the book provides a counterweight for both Minor Angels(in Gordon Koum’s similarities and differences to Will Scheidmann) and Post-Exoticism in Ten Lessons, Lesson Eleven (as we get to see now the effects of Bassmann’s imprisonment and madness on his writing).

Here’s an excerpt1 from chapter eight of Les aigles puent, “To Make Ayïsch Omonenko Laugh”, in which the narrator prepares to come face-to-face with Noë Balgagul, a ruthless ferry captain who forces his passengers into a humiliating game of charades to ensure their safe travel . . .

Noë Balgagul was the patron of a ferry that he called his ark. He was an old mercenary who pretended to have given up crimes against humanity to commit to the purifying path of spirituality. In reality, the atrocities he knew or committed had forever scrambled his senses. His vision of the world had blackened, it was inhabited by monsters and phantoms. Noë Balgagul’s religion extolled nothing, advocated no morality, and gave no explanation for the omnipresence of suffering in the fates of living creatures. It brought neither relief nor hope. It was an obscure construction, devoid of divinities and even mystic principles. It came to him while he was kneading maniacally his own private bitumen of cruelty and insanity, and no reassuring flame ever came to this tar. The spiritual principles of Noë Balgagul were reduced to a lugubrious practice, whose teachings he did not try to disseminate, except for in his immediate entourage, a band of deserters and brigands who had pledged allegiance to him.

I had been warned that Noë Balgagul performed a species of baptism as soon as crossing candidates boarded his craft. First he took their dollar, then he divided the unfortunates into several categories whose criteria were known to him alone. To these categories, all of them degrading, he attributed arbitrary names, names of animals that provoked his crew’s contempt, but which provided the foundation for a wretched role-playing game. This game lasted the entire slow crossing. A few regular clients sometimes escaped this obligation, but no one else. One by one, the passengers stepped foot onto his enormous punt. Noë Balgagul took the coin they paid him all the while examining them from feet to head. He appointed them a seat and, immediately, classified and baptized them. This selection conformed to illegible religious principles and, ultimately, its only point of origin was in Noë Balgagul’s caprices and petty irascibility. According to the title he had received, the traveler had to adopt the behaviors of a pig, a parrot, or a male or female human. He had to act them out with determination and even fervor. His fate depended on it, and in that one could find a religious relation between the totem he had been saddled with and the consequences that poor observation of the ritual could provoke. Those who were too half-hearted in miming their animal were thrown into the water by Noë Balgagul’s assistant, a specialist in fencing who delighted in the idea of then jabbing them with the gaff hook and who never objected to carrying out his employer’s murderous orders. The river was nasty, opaque, punctuated by eddies and treacherous churnings. It was several hundred meters wide and Noë Balgagul never threw out anyone before reaching the halfway point. In numerous places, algae countered the swimmers’ movements. Those from the city, who had left the hell of war to fall into the hell of peace, were powerless. Very few managed to get back to the shore.

That is what I had been told about Noë Balgagul, biological products, and the river.

1 Trans. by John Thomas Mahany

11 January 13 | Chad W. Post | Comments

The latest addition to our Reviews Section is a piece by J.T. Mahany—a grad student here in the University of Rochester literary translation program—on Lutz Bassmann’s, or rather, “Lutz Bassmann’s” We Monks & Soldiers, which is translated from the French by Jordan Stump, and available from the University of Nebraska Press.

If you haven’t heard of Antoine Volodine or Lutz Bassmann, just listen to pretty much any Three Percent podcast from the past six months—I’ve been geeking out about Volodine ever since I read Minor Angels. He’s a fascinating, unique writer whose project—the production of an invented literary movement that’s something like sci-fi surrealist postmodern game-playing experimentalism expounded upon by a series of Volodine heteronyms—is one of the most exciting and ambitious things going on in contemporary world literature.

Here’s the opening of J.T.‘s review:

Lutz Bassman’s We Monks & Soldiers is a post-exoticist collection of several interrelated stories set during the final shallow breaths of humanity. An exorcism is performed that may or may not have resulted in the slaughter of an innocent family. An agent carries out a strange mission with varying levels of success. A vast prison is detailed. Two monks make their way into a new proletarian universe and are killed almost instantly by an oppressive military institution. A race of bird-people are cruelly tended to in their dying days inside a compound in the woods.


The point of all of these vignettes is to show a world of apocalypse―the end has come and it is time to make way for the spiders. Perhaps more importantly than future spider-people and dream quests is the critique of modern neo-liberal capitalism, and the dangers of any group, be it governments or corporations, owning our souls. In fits and starts, a picture is painted for us: the Communist Global Revolution foretold since Marx has finally come about, but it was quickly co-opted and compromised by businesses, and the people were left off worse than before. There is one very important, easy to miss line of description in the section “Crisis at the Tong Fong Hotel” that provides ample implied evidence for the history of this damaged world:

“[The man] was endowed with an enormous chignon. Atop it he wore a black cap with a drooping, damaged visor and, on one side, an embroidered reproduction of a Coca-Cola calligraph in Chinese.”

Other parts of the book mention that some sort of absolutely devastating war happened, most likely with the use of nuclear weapons, involving America, and now the only safe spots left to live are on the coast as the last generation of humanity waits to die.
Something important to mention is that Lutz Bassmann is not a real person; the actual author is Antoine Volodine. Bassmann is merely one of his merely synonyms. It is also important to note that according to another text of Volodine’s, Post-Exoticism in Ten Lessons, Lesson Eleven, Lutz Bassmann is incarcerated in a high-security prison for his literary crimes, along with every other author involved in the post-exoticist movement. Considering the chapter in We Monks & Soldiers entitled “The Dive,” it would seem that Bassmann penned this novel while behind bars, awaiting his dismal end.


To read the full review, just click here.

11 January 13 | Chad W. Post | Comments

Lutz Bassman’s We Monks & Soldiers is a post-exoticist collection of several interrelated stories set during the final shallow breaths of humanity. An exorcism is performed that may or may not have resulted in the slaughter of an innocent family. An agent carries out a strange mission with varying levels of success. A vast prison is detailed. Two monks make their way into a new proletarian universe and are killed almost instantly by an oppressive military institution. A race of bird-people are cruelly tended to in their dying days inside a compound in the woods.


The point of all of these vignettes is to show a world of apocalypse―the end has come and it is time to make way for the spiders. Perhaps more importantly than future spider-people and dream quests is the critique of modern neo-liberal capitalism, and the dangers of any group, be it governments or corporations, owning our souls. In fits and starts, a picture is painted for us: the Communist Global Revolution foretold since Marx has finally come about, but it was quickly co-opted and compromised by businesses, and the people were left off worse than before. There is one very important, easy to miss line of description in the section “Crisis at the Tong Fong Hotel” that provides ample implied evidence for the history of this damaged world:

[The man] was endowed with an enormous chignon. Atop it he wore a black cap with a drooping, damaged visor and, on one side, an embroidered reproduction of a Coca-Cola calligraph in Chinese.

Other parts of the book mention that some sort of absolutely devastating war happened, most likely with the use of nuclear weapons, involving America, and now the only safe spots left to live are on the coast as the last generation of humanity waits to die.
Something important to mention is that Lutz Bassmann is not a real person; the actual author is Antoine Volodine. Bassmann is merely one of his merely synonyms. It is also important to note that according to another text of Volodine’s, Post-Exoticism in Ten Lessons, Lesson Eleven, Lutz Bassmann is incarcerated in a high-security prison for his literary crimes, along with every other author involved in the post-exoticist movement. Considering the chapter in We Monks & Soldiers entitled “The Dive,” it would seem that Bassmann penned this novel while behind bars, awaiting his dismal end.


Bassmann (Volodine) has a bit of an obsession with odors, especially unpleasant ones. The adjective ‘urinous’ is used multiple times, and bad smells are always wafting up from somewhere, from street vendors frying dough, from people packed together on a long train ride, from dead birds. My best guess is that the focus is twofold: the first is that smell possesses a powerful link to memory, but it is often our most-forgotten sense. Secondly, Volodine illustrates a cornucopia of bad smells as a way of showing what humanity really is, beyond the glossy portrayal of irreality bestowed upon the populace by corporate advertising (one might recall Nietzsche’s constant allusions to “bad air” in Beyond Good & Evil).


Volodine certainly puts forth post-exoticist theory in We Monks & Soldiers. One such concept explored (although not explicitly stated) is that of the shaggå. In Post-Exoticism in Ten Lessons, Lesson Eleven, Volodine describes the shaggå as a short story told seven times, each one somewhat modified, with no clear indication of what the truth of the matter actually is. This undertaking can be seen in the repetition (although, thankfully, only twice instead of sevenfold) of “Crisis at the Tong Fong Hotel,” wherein events unfold differently in both iterations of the story. It is definitely an intriguing concept, and casts doubt on what is real and what is fiction (as all good post-exoticist literature does), and the reader must decide for him- or herself what to take away from the text.


All in all, We Monks & Soldiers is not a book for everyone. There is no happy ending, and the writing becomes a Gordian knot in some places. It is a mystery without an easy solution (if one ever existed in the first place). I am sure that there will be plenty who will complain of the book being too dense, too pretentious, too mired in overt communist propaganda (though that last charge can easily be dismissed by the text’s overall pervasive political nihilism). However, it is continuously entertaining despite its gloomy atmosphere, and is an excellent read for the cheerfully suicidal. One final note to add is that Jordan Stump’s English translation is markedly brilliant. One can really feel his channeling of Volodine here, like some wild oneiric shaman by the sea. Overall I found this book to be thoroughly enjoyable, from the gray pastiche of New Yagayane to the live immolation of two teenage girls on a train platform.



{Silence after the review.}

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