29 April 15 | Monica Carter | Comments

This post is courtesy of BTBA judge, Scott Esposito. Scott Esposito blogs at Conversational Reading and you can find his tweets here.



La Grande – Juan Jose Saer, translated by from the Spanish by Steve Dolph, Argentina,
Open Letter Books

Juan Jose Saer was a towering figure in Argentine literature. Over the course of his decades-long career he carved out his very own Argentina, a lovely provincial city named Santa Fe and its environs. He also developed his very own literary style, something that deals with the trappings of genre and that leads to very engaging plots and stories—plus unforgettable characters—yet that is also highly, highly philosophical and experimental, in the way of other Argentine greats like Julio Cortázar and Ricardo Piglia.

As with the work of William Faulker and Roberto Bolaño, you can think of Saer’s fiction as all of a piece. There are things that link most of Saer’s great novels—places, people, themes—and La Grande is very much the summation of a career. It is the biggest, longest, most complex novel he produced, and it brings many of his principle characters all back together. It was the last thing Saer ever wrote, a book he didn’t quite finish before he died at a young 67 from lung cancer in 2005, but that feels very complete in the state it reaches us.

This introduction may make it sound like you need to be versed in Saer to approach La Grande, but this is not the case. The book is self-contained and utterly satisfying and complete on its own terms. What is it about? Well, it is about the good life, the very material pleasures and joys that we must remember to always make time for on this Earth. It is also a deeply philosophical work about who we are and what we are doing here, although Saer is never jargon-y or butchering or even so much as dull when he gets into philosophy. It’s also about the literary avant-garde, about seductions and affairs between men and women, about marriage and getting a second chance at life and love.

In other words, it’s a novel written by a master novelist who has lived a very rich life and is prepared to put it all down on paper one last time. Thanks to Open Letter we will continue to receive many more installments of Saer for years to come, so there will be many, many more chances for him to win the Best Translated Book Award, but La Grande should really be the one that gives him the honor. It’s just a simply great book, something that will live with you for a week or two as you read it, and then a thing that you will then recall fondly forever after you’ve finished it. It makes you feel more alive to read it, and it makes you want to enjoy life, whether you do that by consuming a fine wine, chorizo, and carnal pleasures (as do Saer’s characters) or whether you prefer other of the world’s delights. Once you’ve had your fill of earthly pleasures, La Grande then instructs you in how to contemplate it all, to give your life that spiritual, philosophical outlook it also needs to have. It also happens to have one of literature’s great last lines (it may be a good thing that Saer never got to complete this work), and it really does feel like a book that gives us our best shot at understanding just what life is and how we should live it.

So, really, there are many worthy books on the BTBA longlist, and this year it feels like there are many more titles in the running than usual, but La Grande really deserves it. It should win.

22 April 15 | Monica Carter | Comments

Jeremy Garber is the events coordinator for Powell’s Books and also a freelance reviewer.



Talking to Ourselves – Andrés Neuman, Translated from the Spanish by Nick Caistor and Lorenza Garcia, Argentina
Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Perhaps the question shouldn’t be why Andrés Neuman’s Talking to Ourselves deserves to win this year’s Best Translated Book Award – but why it doesn’t. That would be a silly query, however, as Neuman’s novel is an outstanding accomplishment in every regard. Despite being a mere 150 pages, Talking to Ourselves offers a rich and rewarding reading experience the likes of which are difficult to discover in a book two or three times its length.

Neuman, born in 1977 in Buenos Aires, has already garnered international acclaim and a number of prestigious awards (including the Alfaguara Prize and Spain’s National Critics Prize). When he was merely 22, Neuman’s debut novel, Bariloche (as yet untranslated into English), was the only finalist for the Herralde Prize – losing out to Marcos Giralt Torrente’s Paris (coincidentally, a fellow longlist title for this year’s BTBA). Neuman likely first garnered the attention of English readers via the effusive praise of the late Roberto Bolaño.

The Chilean’s claims rang more than true when Neuman’s spectacular Traveler of the Century was published in English translation in 2012. Traveler of the Century, a nearly 600-page epic of beauty, wonder, politics, poetry, love, and translation, could not be more dissimilar from Talking to Ourselves. In fact, it’s marvelous to think that these two exceptional books were even written by the same hand (or imagination, for that matter). Whereas Traveler of the Century was a weighty novel of ideas, Talking to Ourselves is a succinct look at illness, loss, literature, and familial bonds.

Writing in the voices of three disparate, but unifying characters (a wife/mother, husband/father, and their 10-year old son), Neuman captures the individual personalities and nuances of the trio with impressive dexterity. As father and son embark on what may well be their last journey together (on account of the elder’s terminal cancer), each of three characters strives to share their innermost thoughts – at least with themselves, if unable to do so with one another.

While Talking to Ourselves is a doleful work of fiction, it radiates a warmth and authenticity that is entirely compelling. Both Neuman’s lustrous prose and his keen insights into the inner world of the individual (and, ultimately, the questions of life, love, and death itself) meld with his natural gift for storytelling – resulting in a novel that is so beautiful, so sad, so brilliant, that one cannot imagine a single sentence out of place. It’s simply that good.

Talking to Ourselves was the very first book I read in 2014 and 51 weeks later, there wasn’t another title that had moved or captivated me so entirely. Nick Caistor and Lorenza Garcia’s translation reads fluidly and their efforts in rendering three distinct voices is in and of itself a merited accomplishment. Andrés Neuman writes gracefully and his compassion, intellect, and sheer love of storytelling are evident on every page. Talking to Ourselves deserves to win this year’s Best Translated Book Award, perhaps most of all because it does everything masterful fiction ought to: it dazzles with prose, affects our minds, touches our hearts, and, not least, reminds as that the stories we may think are ours alone are, in fact, the same the world over.

…a question only kids ask themselves for real, and then we sick people ask it again: is it okay to lie?, is it okay to be lied to?, a healthy grown-up won’t even give it a thought, the answer seems obvious, right?, we learn to tell lies the same way we learn to talk, they teach us how to talk and then how to be quiet, I don’t know, like when you play football, for example, first you kick the ball and then, unless you’re stupid, you learn not to kick it, to move around tricking the other players, kids lie too, of course, I lied all the time when I was a kid, but, what I’m saying is, until you get to a certain age, you think it’s wrong, that is the difference, I don’t think we grown-ups are any worse, you know?, every kid contains the beginnings of a possible son of a bitch, this much I know, it’s just that kids, and perhaps we adults are to blame for this, start by dividing the world into good and evil, truth and lies, the only time it’s okay for them to lie is when they’re playing, then it’s allowed, so kids become grown-ups when they play, sort of the opposite of us parents, we play so we can be kids again, well, and then you grow up, and you lie and are lied to, and it isn’t wrong, until one day, when you’re sick, you begin to worry again about lies, you worry about them every time you talk to the doctors, your wife, your family, it’s not a moral question, it’s, I don’t know, something physical, deep down you’re scared stiff of the truth, but the idea of dying with a lie scares you even more, lies help us to carry on living, don’t they?, and when you know you aren’t going to carry on, you feel they’re no use anymore, do you know what I mean?

17 April 15 | Monica Carter | Comments

Michael Orthofer runs the Complete Reviewa book review site with a focus on international fiction – and its Literary Saloon weblog.

Adam Buenosayres – Leopoldo Marechal, Translated from the Spanish by Norman Cheadle and Sheila Ethier
McGill-Queen’s University Press

Leopoldo Marechal’s Adam Buenosayres, translated by Norman Cheadle, with the help of Sheila Ethier, is a standout among the Best Translated Book Award finalist in quite a few ways. Most obviously, it’s the biggest in the bunch – nearly seven hundred pages, and a brick of a book. It’s also the oldest title in the running: despite how many deceased authors are featured among the finalists (ten of the books are by authors who have died) all the titles are nevertheless post-World War II publications (in their original languages) – a rare occurrence for the BTBA longlist – and this 1948 publication is the oldest of the lot. But size and age are the least of the reasons why Adam Buenosayres should win the Best Translated Book Award.

What is this book?

Adam Buenosayres is a largely autobiographical novel set in 1920s Buenos Aires – a time when Argentina was one of the wealthiest countries in the world and Marechal was part of the vibrant developing artistic scene. It clearly owes a debt to Joyce – Cheadle suggests it is: “the first Joycean novel to be written in Spanish-language literature” – and with the action covering just the span of a few days, concentrated entirely all across one city (Buenos Aires), and employing a variety of styles and approaches, it does resemble Ulysses. It is a roman à clef, city homage, and philosophical novel – a great period- (and place-) piece that’s also a superior literary work.

Why should it win the Best Translated Book Award?

1. Julio Cortázar – BTBA-longlisted for his sublime Fantomas versus the Multinational Vampires – hailed the book as: “an extraordinary event in Argentine literature” in reviewing it in 1949, and it is widely recognized as one of the great novels of modern Latin American literature.

2. A character closely based on Jorge Luis Borges features in it. Borges was part of the same crowd in the 1920s, and Marechal’s thinly-disguised versions of him and other notables (notably Xul Solar – who provides the cover-art for this very good-looking volume) offer often amusing insight into these famous artists. Bonus: Cheadle notes that: “Borges never forgave Marechal for his caricature as Luis Pereda and refused even to acknowledge the novel’s existence.”

3. It offers a remarkable city-portrait, a definitive one of 1920 Buenos Aires, as impressive as Joyce’s of Dublin.

4. Marechal’s narrative is playful and varied – maybe not quite to a Joycean extent, but he certainly mixes it up here. As Marechal piles it on, the amount of material can get exhausting, but the sheer inventiveness – and the humor – consistently impress and entertain.

5. This edition – the presentation of the novel-in-translation – is exemplary. Some of the longlisted books present just the translated texts themselves – which is often enough, or even preferable. After all, it’s the text that counts, and a best translated book should be able to stand well on its own. Adam Buenosayres comes seriously annotated: there are close to seventy pages of endnotes (along with a helpful introduction), and a nine-page bibliography. That, and the fact that it’s published by a university press (McGill-Queen’s University Press), might worry readers into thinking that it’s a dryly scholarly edition. Anything but, I’d suggest: obviously, given the time and place it is set in and the autobiographical elements, some background (which the introduction provides) helps in understanding the text basics, but the novel can be read and thoroughly enjoyed without worrying about the details behind everything. On the other hand, that added background layer – of who the characters are based on, historic circumstances, and local/period trivia – do make considerably more of the book, and here the endnotes are invaluable. Cheadle’s work here is a model of academic (yet still approachable) rigor, the endnotes very detailed – about the smallest detail – and thorough.

6. Norman Cheadle’s – with the help of Sheila Ethier – translation truly is a superior work. This is one of those works where it is clear that the translator has engaged with the material not just for a few months but over a much more extended period of time. As the endnotes, and Cheadle’s other writings about Marechal, demonstrate, Cheadle has immersed himself in the author and the work for many years, and he has come to know it thoroughly. His translation reflects his great understanding of and familiarity with the author and the work. Despite the challenges the novel poses – from the use of dialect and the variety of forms Marechal plays with – the translation manages also to be an artistic and not just academic success – an exuberant, comic, and clever rendering.

7. Adam Buenosayres is one of these tries-to-do-almost-everything/magnum opus books. On a longlist that features so many short-story collections and where even many of the (more-or-less-)novels are extremely slim (Fantomas versus the Multinational Vampires, Letters from a Seducer, 1914, Works) it stands out as a very different kind of work (with only Saer’s La Grande anywhere in the same league). For those who like their books big, expansive, far-reaching, Adam Buenosayres is the obvious choice.

8. It’s just a wonderful read and reading experience.

15 April 15 | Monica Carter | Comments

Madeleine LaRue is Associate Editor and Director of Publicity of Music & Literature.



Fantomas versus the Multinational Vampires – Julio Cortázar, translated from the Spanish by David Kurnick
Semiotext(e)

It almost feels unfair to make anyone compete with Julio Cortázar. His fantastically irreverent novel Fantomas versus the Multinational Vampires was originally published in 1975, and yet it has more life in its bones (or rather, in its sixty-nine pages) than many works of our own time. Subtitled “An Attainable Utopia,” Fantomas is at once a tongue-in-cheek response to the violence of the late twentieth century and a serious critique of corporate and governmental oppression.

The book opens with “our narrator” (later revealed to be Cortázar himself) on his way to his home in Paris. On the train, he reads a comic book starring the masked hero Fantomas, whose latest mission is to stop a band of anti-culture terrorists from burning down the world’s great libraries. After our narrator’s arrival in Paris, the borders between life and comic strip rapidly collapse: Fantomas himself comes crashing in through the narrator’s window, and Cortázar must help him realize the magnitude of this global problem — at least, when he’s not lusting after the superhero’s miniskirt-clad assistants or being yelled at on the phone by a convalescent Susan Sontag.

These conversations with Sontag — all carried out over “that technological decapitation known as the telephone” — are half comedy routine and half sadly prescient analysis. At one point, the narrator presents the difficulty of their task: “Susan, the people are alienated, badly informed, deceptively informed, mutilated by a reality that very few understand.” She responds:

Yes, Julio, but reality makes itself known in other ways, too — it makes itself known in work or the lack of work, in the price of potatoes, in the boy shot down on the corner, in the way the filthy rich drive past the miserable slums (that’s a metaphor, because they take care never to get anywhere near the goddamn slums). It makes itself known even in the singing of birds, in children’s laughter, in the moment of making love. These things are known, Julio, a miner or a teacher or a bicyclist knows them, deep down everyone knows them, but we’re lazy or we shuffle along in bewilderment, or we’ve been brainwashed and we think that things aren’t so bad because they’re not flattening our houses or kicking us to death…

That paragraph, like most of Fantomas, has not aged a day since 1975. Cortázar’s highly original adventure story, his commentary on the power of literature to imagine alternative worlds (and, equally, the human failure to realize those worlds), bears a political message as relevant today as it was forty years ago. And the author, for all his revolutionary fervor, seems to have understood that in advance: “Look, mister,” a newspaper seller tells our narrator early on in the book, “history is like steak and potatoes, you can order it everywhere and it always tastes the same.” The same goes, apparently, for the present.

David Kurnick’s translation is nimble, confident, and pitch perfect; like Groucho Marx, he always gets the right amount of syllables for the joke. (One dialogue, between the narrator and Sontag: “‘But this isn’t going to be easy, baby.’ ‘No shit,’ said Susan.”) Fantomas isn’t just a marvelous read, though; as publisher Semiotext(e) presents it, it’s also a marvelous object. The book is nearly half images, and far from interrupting the flow of the text, they define it. Pages from the narrator’s comic books, bleary mass-reproduced photographs of urban landscapes, and a hilarious sequence of drawings by the lovechild of Goya and Gorey, whose central figures are all identified as the shapeshifting Fantomas, are indispensable to the storyline and account for a good deal of its jaunty charm.

That a “lost” work can waltz in so unexpectedly and become such a formidable contender is, I think, testament enough to its quality. For its intellectual honesty and sheer panache, Fantomas versus the Multinational Vampires deserves the Best Translated Book Award; moreover, I suspect it’s a title its competitors would be able to lose to with grace.

21 October 08 | Chad W. Post | Comments [1]

This originally appeared on the Frankfurt Book Fair blog.

This past spring I was fortunate enough to be able to participate in a Editors’ Week in Buenos Aires. It was an amazing experience, solidifying my lifelong interest in Argentine literature, and giving me a once-in-a-lifetime chance to visit the place where many of my favorite books are set. I also met a lot great people, and found out about a lot great authors. So personally, I’m very excited to see what Argentina does when it’s the Guest of Honor at the Frankfurt Book Fair 2010, which, in a way, the events taking place this year are building up to.

Fundacion TyPA (the same organization that sponsors the editorial trips) are putting on two key events this week, both entitled “Argentinean Publishing Inside-Out.” The first took place this afternoon, featuring European publishers talking about Argentinean books. And on Friday, the counterpart panel takes place with Argentinean publishers talking about the contemporary scene.

Geoff Mulligan, Dominique Bourgois, and Michi Strausfeld, were there today to talk about Argentinean translations they’d published. Geoff emphasized the need to find a great translator (editing a bad translation consumes more time than any of us have), while Dominique had a fantastic quote about how “publishing is a network of writers and a network of friends”.

She said that in relation to a question about how to find Argentinean authors, a question that allowed Gabriela Adamo from TyPA to present their new (first?) catalog of “30 Great Authors from Argentina.” This booklet – actually, it’s a set of 30 envelope-sized cards with info about each author in Spanish and English collected into a cardboard slipcover – is incredibly appealing and very informative. Rather than highlight the Cortazars and Borges and Macedonios of Argentine lit, none of the 30 authors included have been translated into English. Some of the authors are very young, some more established, all very interesting. You can pick up a copy of this catalog at Hall 5.1 E 955.

Note: TyPA will be sending me a pdf of the special brochure/trading cards they made for Frankfurt, and I’ll post it here as soon as possible.

9 July 08 | Chad W. Post | Comments

Over at the Guardian books blog, Karla Starr has a piece about the cost of books in Argentina:

Then it occurred to me that it’s all down to purchasing power. Take Harry Potter – as plenty did both in Argentina and the UK. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows sells for 108 pesos, which corresponds to the £17.99 list price in the UK – though you can find it for a tenner online. But the average income in the UK is £30,000, while in Argentina it’s only the same number of pesos. So buying a copy of the latest Harry Potter costs an Argentine 3% of their yearly earnings. Over in the UK it’s the price of a few cups of coffee. [. . .]

I’ve seen photography books here for 900 pesos. Maybe £150 might seem a little steep for one book even in London, but think of the real cost to an Argentine. Can you imagine paying £900 for a book?

OK, so those are some damn expensive cups of coffee to add up to £17.99 (that’s a mere $35 in weakened U.S. money), but Karla is on to something that I encountered on my recent visit to Buenos Aries, although what I heard about was a bit more complicated and involved the meta-structure of how books flow between countries and cultures.

I’m still not sure I fully understand what happened to Argentina’s economy (the words “got seriously fucked over” come to mind), but when I was on my recent editor’s trip, we met a ton of presses that had started up in recent years, a few of which talked about how the devaluation in 2002 lowered the entrance bar to starting a publishing house. Regardless of the economic explanations, there are a number of cool small presses (like Entropia) that have popped up in Buenos Aires. And these books—to the best of my knowledge—are generally affordable.

On the other hand, books from Spain, from the U.S., from the UK are astronomically expensive in relation to one’s net income. As Karla mentions, the prices aren’t necessarily marked up, but they remain stable across cultures, whereas the net income of the average citizen is much lower. (Using her example, I remember seeing a Philip Roth book for sale for 45 peso, which is about $15, and seems reasonable until you realize that Argentine salaries are not three times the equivalent of their American equivalents.)

An added complication is the way in which Spanish rights are sold. Generally, when Seix-Barral, or Random House Mondadori, or another large Spanish-based publisher brings out a title they have “World Spanish rights.” There is no splitting of the Spanish-language rights—the Seix-Barral edition is the one that is imported and sold in Argentina. Because of this situation, the price isn’t readjusted for the Argentine economy, and these books are prohibitively expensive.

When Rodrigo Orihuela of the Buenos Aires Herald gave me a brief overview of this situation, the first thing that came to mind was the way in which ebooks could correct this situation. As Richard Nash recently told me, I’m “radically ambivalent” about the role of ebooks in the future of publishing, but in a specific case like Argentina, I see huge benefits of publishers making titles available at a fraction of the current cost for a print version (such as 15 pesos for the Roth book instead of 45), thus making their books more readily available to an incredibly literary and hungry market. Of course, the cost of the eReader (which may or may not be necessary) could restrict this market, but still, this seems like an opportunity for publishers to use technology to cultivate a larger readership. And although I’m not positive, I’ll bet that there are a number of other South American countries in a similar situation to Argentina whose reading public would greatly benefit from reasonably priced ebooks.

26 July 07 | E.J. Van Lanen | Comments

A couple of fantastic jacket designs from Argentinian designer Juan Pablo Cambariere.

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I Remember Nightfall
I Remember Nightfall by Marosa di Giorgio
Reviewed by Talia Franks

I Remember Nightfall by Marosa di Giorgio (trans. From the Spanish by Jeannine Marie Pitas) is a bilingual poetry volume in four parts, consisting of the poems “The History of Violets,” “Magnolia,” “The War of the Orchards,” and “The Native. . .

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Joyce y las gallinas
Joyce y las gallinas by Anna Ballbona
Reviewed by Brendan Riley

This review was originally published as a report on the book at New Spanish Books, and has been reprinted here with permission of the reviewer. The book was originally published in the Catalan by Anagrama as Joyce i les. . .

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Lost in Translation: An Illustrated Compendium of Untranslatable Words from Around the World
Lost in Translation: An Illustrated Compendium of Untranslatable Words from Around the World by Ella Frances Sanders
Reviewed by Kaija Straumanis

Hello and greetings in the 2017 holiday season!

For those of you still looking for something to gift a friend or family member this winter season, or if you’re on the lookout for something to gift in the. . .

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The Size of the World
The Size of the World by Branko Anđić
Reviewed by Jaimie Lau

Three generations of men—a storyteller, his father and his son—encompass this book’s world. . . . it is a world of historical confusion, illusion, and hope of three generations of Belgraders.

The first and last sentences of the first. . .

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Island of Point Nemo
Island of Point Nemo by Jean-Marie Blas de Roblès
Reviewed by Katherine Rucker

The Island of Point Nemo is a novel tour by plane, train, automobile, blimp, horse, and submarine through a world that I can only hope is what Jean-Marie Blas de Roblès’s psyche looks like, giant squids and all.

What. . .

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The Truce
The Truce by Mario Benedetti
Reviewed by Adrianne Aron

Mario Benedetti (1920-2009), Uruguay’s most beloved writer, was a man who loved to bend the rules. He gave his haikus as many syllables as fit his mood, and wrote a play divided into sections instead of acts. In his country,. . .

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I Am a Season That Does Not Exist in the World
I Am a Season That Does Not Exist in the World by Kim Kyung Ju
Reviewed by Jacob Rogers

Kim Kyung Ju’s I Am a Season That Does Not Exist in the World, translated from the Korean by Jake Levine, is a wonderful absurdist poetry collection. It’s a mix of verse and prose poems, or even poems in the. . .

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