The Millions just released it’s Most Anticipated: The Great 2013 Book Preview, and although there’s not a single Open Letter book included on this list, which, honestly makes it pretty damn suspect in my mind, since, if they’re skipping books like Tirza and the never-before translated L’Amour by Marguerite Duras, and Sergio Chejfec’s new book (out in October), they must be overlooking dozens of other books from dozens of more interesting presses, it’s a decent enough overview of numerous books you’ll be seeing on the tables of every bookstore in the country (and most Amazon recommends screen) over the next few months. Click above to read the full list, otherwise, here are the handful of translations that are highlighted:
Revenge by Yoko Ogawa: English-reading fans of the prolific and much-lauded Yoko Ogawa rejoice at the advent of Revenge, a set of eleven stories translated from Japanese by Stephen Snyder. The stories, like Ogawa’s other novels (among them The Diving Pool, The Housekeeper and the Professor, and Hotel Iris) are purportedly elegant and creepy. (Lydia)
I’m not a huge Ogawa fan, but I received a NetGalley eversion of this book, and it looks like it’s her strongest yet. And, as with everythigng Stephen Snyder works on, it’s wonderfully translated.
Ways of Going Home by Alejandro Zambra: Drop the phrase “Chilean novelist” and literary minds automatically flock to Bolaño. However, Alejandro Zambra is another name those words should soon conjure if they don’t already. Zambra was named one of Granta’s Best Young Spanish Language Novelists in 2010, and his soon-to-be-released third novel, Ways of Going Home, just won a PEN translation award. The novel has dual narratives: a child’s perspective in Pinochet’s Chile and an author’s meditation on the struggle of writing. In Zambra’s own words (from our 2011 interview): “It’s a book about memory, about parents, about Chile. It’s about the 80s, about the years when we children were secondary characters in the literature of our parents. It’s about the dictatorship, as well, I guess. And about literature, intimacy, the construction of intimacy.” (Anne)
This looks to be a much different book than Bonsai, or _The Private Lives of Trees, and could mark a huge advance in his aesthetic. We shall see whenever FSG cough gets around to sending us a galley . . .
The Bridge Over the Neroch: And Other Works by Leonid Tsypkin: Like Chekhov, Tsypkin was a doctor by trade. In fact, that was all most people knew him as during his lifetime. At the time of Tsypkin’s death, his novel Summer in Baden-Baden, one of the most beautiful to come out of the Soviet Era, remained unpublished, trapped in a drawer in Moscow. Now New Directions brings us the “remaining writings”: a novella and several short stories. (Garth)
I’ve been meaning to read Summer in Baden-Baden for a decade or so now. It’s one of those books that’s I’ve had in the backburner of my reading mind, waiting for the perfect moment to actually read it. Maybe that will happen soon . . .
How Literature Saved My Life by David Shields: Like his 2008 book The Thing About Life is that One Day You’ll Be Dead, which was nearly as much a biology text book as it was a memoir, How Literature Saved My Life obstinately evades genre definitions. It takes the form of numerous short essays and fragments of oblique meditation on life and literature; and, as you’d expect from the author of Reality Hunger, it’s heavily textured with quotation. Topics include Shields’s identification with such diverse fellows as Ben Lerner (his “aesthetic spawn”) and George W. Bush, the fundamental meaninglessness of life, and the continued decline of realist narrative fiction. (Mark)
Not a translation, but I picked up the galley of this at MLA this past weekend, and absolutely love it so far. My suggestion for the Best Event Ever: David Shields in conversation with Dubravka Ugresic about the Personal Essay. BOOM. Someone should make this happen.
Middle C by William H. Gass: Not many writers are still at the height of their powers at age 88. Hell, not many writers are still writing at 88. (We’re looking at you, Philip Roth.) But William H. Gass has always been an outlier, pursuing his own vision on his own timetable. His last novel (and magnum opus) The Tunnel took thirty years to write. Middle C, comparatively svelte at 400-odd pages, took a mere fifteen, and may be his most accessible fiction since 1968′s In The Heart of the Heart of the Country. It’s a character piece, concerning one Joseph Skizzen, a serial (and hapless) C.V. embellisher and connoisseur of more serious forms of infamy. The plot, such as it is, follows him from war-torn Europe, where he loses his father, to a career as a music professor in the Midwest. Not much happens – does it ever, in Gass? – but, sentence by sentence, you won’t read a more beautifully composed or stimulating novel this year. Or possibly any other. (Garth)
Also not translated, but it’s WILLAM FRICKIN GASS. Every Gass book is an event, considering that he may well be the greatest living American writer and reader. Since today is waxing hyperbolic, I just want to say that studying his nonfiction and fiction output together would make up the greatest year-long seminar the academy has ever known.
A Map of Tulsa by Benjamin Lytal: In the 2003, “a young Oklahoman who work[ed] in New York” stole the eleventh issue of McSweeney’s from the likes of Joyce Carol Oates and T.C. Boyle with a story – well, scenario, really – called “Weena.” Maybe I only loved it so much because I, too, was from outlands like those it so lovingly described. Still, I’ve been keeping an eye out for that young Oklahoman, Benjamin Lytal, ever since. I assume that A Map of Tulsa, too, is about coming of age in Tulsa, a city that looks from the window of a passing car at night “like a mournful spaceship.” (Garth)
One final untranslated book, but it’s pretty well documented that if there’s one person Three Percent would marry if it were a person and of legal age, it’s Lytal.
The Dark Road by Ma Jian: Ma Jian, whose books and person are both banned from China, published his third novel The Dark Road in June (Yunchen Publishing House, Taipei); the English translation will be released by Penguin. The story: a couple determined to give birth to a second child in order to carry on the family line flee their village and the family planning crackdown. At Sampsonia Way, Tienchi Martin-Liao described it as “an absurd story” that uses “magical realism to describe the perverse reality in China.” The publisher describes it as “a haunting and indelible portrait of the tragedies befalling women and families at the hands of China’s one-child policy and of the human spirit’s capacity to endure even the most brutal cruelty.” Martin-Liao tells us that the book’s title, Yin Zhi Dao, also means vagina, or place of life and origin. (Sonya)
Starting to go on a mini-bender of Chinese literature, of which this book might be added to my list . . .
My Struggle: Book Two: A Man in Love by Karl Ove Knausgaard: The first part of Knausgaard’s six-part behemoth was the single most stirring novel I read in 2012. Or is the word memoir? Anyway, this year sees the publication of Part Two, which apparently shifts the emphasis from Knausgaard’s childhood and the death of his father to his romantic foibles as an adult. But form trumps content in this book, and I’d read 400 pages of Knausgaard dilating on trips to the dentist. There’s still time to run out and catch up on Part One before May rolls around. I can’t imagine many readers who finish it won’t want to keep going. (Garth)
Knausgaard is on the list for our “Book Cült” reading group. (Which went well, despite the fact that my “meh” attitude toward Amerika came off as being particularly aggressive towards academics. Touchy, touchy!) After this weekends MLA, and seeing the swarms of Knausgaard fans rave over both A Time for Everything and My Struggle, I think I’m going to have to give both of these a go . . . immediately.
Seiobo There Below by László Krasznahorkai: The novels of the great Hungarian writer László Krasznahorkai have recently begun to break through with American audiences. Thus far, however, we’ve only glimpsed one half of his oeuvre: the one that deals (darkly, complexly) with postwar Europe. Krasznahorkai has also long taken an interest in East Asia, where he’s spent time in residence. Seiobo There Below, one of several novels drawing on this experience, shows a Japanese goddess visiting disparate places and times, in search of beauty. (Garth)
All the Krasznahorkai! If you haven’t yet read Satantango, you MUST. It’s a good odds on favorite to make the BTBA shortlist, and very well could win the whole damn thing.
The Infatuations by Javier Marías: Javier Marías’s new book, translated by Marguerite Jull Costa, is his 14th novel to be published in English. It was awarded Spain’s National Novel Prize last October, but Marías turned it down out of an aversion to receiving public money. It’s the story of a woman’s obsession with an apparently happy couple who inexplicably disappear. It’s his first novel to be narrated from a woman’s perspective, so it will be interesting to see how Marias manages to accommodate his penchant for detailed descriptions of ladies crossing and uncrossing their legs. (Mark)
I still have to read the trilogy. From what I’ve heard, that—and all of his previous books, of which, I particularly love Dark Back of Time and A Heart So White, well, and everything—are better than this one . . . But that might be the normal “sell out!” reaction to an author who leaves his loving New Directions home in search of ever more money and prestige.
Rubem Fonseca’s The Taker and Other Stories continues to get some really good coverage, including two recent reviews at The Front Table and The National.
The Front Table is Seminary Co-op’s online newsletter/review magazine. It’s been around in one form or another for almost two decades, and the current variation is really impressive, with great reviews of interesting books and a Editors Speak section that’s really interesting. Oh, and a great review by Stan Izen of The Taker:
I am a good Hyde Park liberal: I argue vigorously on the side of equality for all and I donate monthly to Doctors Without Borders. Still, I really have no idea of the depth of despair suffered by the abandoned lonely, the poorly cared for elderly, and those bereft of hope and opportunity. Reading Rubem Fonseca’s new collection, The Taker and Other Stories, is a short walk through these foreign neighborhoods. Fonseca’s writing is rough; many of his characters are angry and disaffected, and they assuage their rage, not by brooding in their rooms and writing poetry, but by brutally murdering those they see as having everything they don’t. The reading is often upsetting but it is also revelatory, and that is the thrill of reading these stories. [. . .]
I used to read to find myself, now I read to get out of myself. Fonseca’s shocking, funny, thoughtful, fanciful stories electrify the emotions and disturb the reader. Kafka is correct, as usual, when he says: A book must be an ice-axe to break the seas frozen inside our soul. Fonseca’s writing does exactly that, in spades.
I want to give it a bit more time before getting too excited, but I have hopes that the Arts Section of Abu Dhabi’s The National could be the new New York Sun. I mean hell, they have Ben Lytal writing for them:
The Brazilian author Rubem Fonseca writes with a violence that his peers – writers of postmodern crime fiction – eschew. Think of Haruki Murakami, who has used noir plot devices to give structure and grit to adolescent dream narratives. Or Michael Chabon, who has reimagined Jewish-American history through the lens of detective fiction. Or Fonseca’s co-linguist, Jose Saramago, who in some of his recent novels has been writing like Paul Auster, making the mystery novel a vehicle for philosophical thought experiments.
None of these other authors goes to crime fiction for blood. Though some maintain an interest in evil, the consistent trend in highbrow crime fiction has been away from the dark alley and into the cerebral stratosphere. Fonseca couldn’t differ more. Vital to his stories is the troubling moment when the slashing crimes of his characters become too palpable and, to the engrossed reader, almost participatory.
It’s a very detailed, very enthusiastic review . . . But beyond the nice attention for one of our books, I’m just thrilled that Ben Lytal is back reviewing!
So long New York Sun, we’ll miss your awesome books coverage. And Ben Lytal.
From today’s issue of the New York Sun
This morning I write to you about the future of The New York Sun, which is in circumstances that may require us to cease publication at the end of September unless we succeed in our efforts to find additional financial backing. The managing editor, Ira Stoll, who is one of the founding partners in the paper, and I have shared this news with our colleagues, and we would like our readers as well to be aware of the situation. [. . .]
Even many who disagree with the views of our editorial page enjoy reading the Sun. “A fabulous read for culture,” is the way it was described in the Nation. David Remnick of the New Yorker sent a note to say how much he admired what we are doing with the Sun, which he called “just plain good.” He added: “OK, I agree with about ten percent of your editorials, but so what. ... I’m a lot happier, and richer, for having faced the Sun in the a.m.” [. . .]
There has been some success as well on the business side, where a group of loyal advertisers has awakened to our readership and made The New York Sun one of the few newspapers in America to see substantial increases in print advertising revenues not only last year and the year before but also so far this year. Yet even with those gains, the expense of producing and distributing the paper exceeds our revenues. So the Sun has yet to achieve its financial goal of making a profit.
I really hope some investors stop forward . . . Like David Remnick, I’m not a big fan of the editorial vision of the Sun, but damn, its culture section is unbelievably good. I’ve written about my love for the Sun‘s book coverage at least a dozen times over the past year, in part because I’m astounded by the quality of the section. There may not be another paper in the States that covers such a diverse, international set of books. (With a good mix of small and large presses.) I shudder at the thought of not being able to read a Ben Lytal review every week . . .
I’ve said it before, and will repeat it endlessly—Ben Lytal has one of the sweetest reviewing gigs there is. He has the opportunity to write about the latest works of international fiction, and at the same time, can write pieces like the one today on the recent New Directions reissues of Nabokov’s Laughter in the Dark and The Real Life of Sebastian Knight.
Set in Berlin, Laughter in the Dark is a highly entertaining but mean-spirited portrait of the German people, with whom Nabokov was forced to live, in exile, after his college graduation. Its hero, an art critic named Albinus who “was not a particularly gifted man,” lives in Berlin, a city that seems soggy with perpetually falling wet snow. Albinus falls in love with Margot, the young ticket girl at a local cinema, and leaves his pale wife and pitiful daughter. But Margot plays Albinus for a fool, and conspires with the cartoonist Axel Rex to deprive him of his solid bourgeois fortune. Axel Rex — a model for Quilty in Lolita — has the best line on Berlin, “where people were, as they always had been, at the mother-in-law stage of humor.”
Though Laughter in the Dark is an initial version of the story told in Lolita, Nabokov didn’t know that at the time. He was merely trying to write a book that would make a good movie.
Of course, Hollywood didn’t pay attention to Nabokov, at least not until Lost came around . . . (It’s funny, Flann O’Brien—whose Third Policeman was also featured on Lost—had a real desire to break into Hollywood as well. He wrote a few TV scripts in fact, although none of them really caught on . . . )
The Real Life of Sebastian Knight is a very different, more writerly book. For one thing, it would be impossible to film. Written for the deadline of a British literary competition, Sebastian Knight is a story about an author. Born in St. Petersburg, Sebastian Knight left Russia after the revolution, attended Cambridge (like Nabokov himself), and settled in London. He died young, and was immediately served with a backbiting biographical study authored by his former assistant, Goodman. Now his half-brother, known to the reader as V., sets out to write a better book, but in doing so he also records his own search, circling around the lacunae in Knight’s life.
It’s great that ND has reissued both of these titles. And a overview like this makes me want to put aside some of the other books I’m reading . . .
In the Sun, Ben Lytal provides a brief overview to the new translation of Kafka’s stories by Michael Hofmann. It certainly sounds like it’s worth picking up, as are the Shocken translations he mentions, if you don’t have them already.
Now a new volume, “Metamorphosis and Other Stories” (Penguin, 320 pages, $14), also translated by Mr. Hofmann, rounds out this generation of major Kafka translations. By positioning this volume as a collection of everything that Kafka published in his lifetime, Mr. Hofmann pokes another hole in the old image of Kafka as “someone we are encouraged to think of as a publication-averse recluse.” Many of the stories collected here, especially the title story, are extremely well-known. But by packaging “The Metamorphosis” — which has lost the definite article in this translation — with 42 other stories and prose sketches in a Penguin Classics Deluxe Edition, the publishers make a bid to change the way new readers are introduced to Kafka.
Like many recent Penguin Classics Deluxe Editions, the cover of “Metamorphosis” has been illustrated by a well-known graphic artist (“Candide” got Chris Ware, “Metamorphosis” gets Sammy Harkham). The stark, modernist faces of yesterday’s Kafka paperbacks are gone. One of Harkham’s drawings, for instance, shows a messy bourgeois scene: Three men sit grumpily at dinner, while a young woman plays a violin and an older man snores in his armchair. A preponderance of detail — armchair, side whiskers, grandfather clock — combines to give the illustration a 19th-century, rather than modern, ambience. And over the whole image looms what seems at first to be a giant willow tree, massing in wavy black bunches that somehow droop, dividing into tendrils, over the bourgeois furniture — until we realize that the black bunches are no tree but, quite sensibly, hordes of little black beetles.
From Ben Lytal’s column in the New York Sun
But the book that, this year, I have most wanted to recommend is almost totally unknown. “Missing Soluch” (Melville House, 507 pages, $16.95) is Mahmoud Dowlatabadi’s first novel translated into English, and it has hardly been reviewed at all. I’ve found references to Mr. Dowlatabadi in articles about Iranian censorship, but that’s all. “Missing Soluch” is an Iranian book, and I don’t know how to place it in that national literature. It has stayed with me because I don’t know where to leave it; it remains a question mark.
“Missing Soluch” is not a perfect book, but it makes a deep impression. It reads like an ancient thing. Its characters could not be called mythic or epic, but they inhabit a village in pre-revolutionary Iran that belongs to a genre other than that of the bourgeois novel. To see them come alive in Mr. Dowlatabadi’s book is to see how the novel works, and how reliable a medium it can be. His heroine, the stoic Mergan, would never guess that a novel is being written about her.
Does sound fascinating, and did make our best translations list.
It seems like a while since my last Ben Lytal post . . . Thankfully today in the NY Sun he has an interesting review of Daniil Kharms’s Today I Wrote Nothing, edited and translated by Matvei Yankelevich.
Kharms was part of the OBERIU—a group of avant-garde, Russian writers, who are often categorized as “absurdists.”
To frame this renaissance, Mr. Yankelevich wants to banish the term “absurd” in favor of OBERIU-specific terms. Beckett and Ionesco might be useful points of reference, but talk of Russian absurdism is a misnomer and, according to Mr. Yankelevich, ultimately a lazy attempt to fit OBERIU into familiar dichotomies: “absurdist writer in a repressive society” or “artist writing under Stalin.” [. . .]
Where previous poets experimented with phonetics, the Oberiuty would experiment with semantics — they would invent crazy situations, but describe them in terms anyone would understand. An example from an early poem by Kharms, written in 1927, around the time of the manifesto, is as realistic as a Chagall: “A room. The room’s on fire. / A child juts out of the cradle. / Eats his kasha. Up above, / just below the ceiling now, / the nanny’s napping upside-down.”
As Lytal points out later, there’s an “alogic” or “anti-logical” that powers Kharms’s writings, which are generally very funny, like Events.
Thankfully, Ben Lytal of the New York Sun somewhat rectified the situation.
The book sounds pretty interesting in and of itself—according to Melville House, it’s “the first [Iranian novel] ever written in the everyday language of the Iranian people”—but what caught my eye was that the Association of American Publishers’ Freedom to Publish Committee “joined in launching this book to support the publication of voices censored by the State Department’s ban of books from the ‘Axis of Evil.’ “
As always, Melville House deserves praise for the political edge to their publishing mission, and I hope this sentiment catches on. More publishers out there should be out there discovering and promoting great books from “our” ideological enemies.
(I may be repeating myself, but seriously, Ben gets to review the cream of the crop . . . )
The book sounds interesting, but also seems to be one of those mishmash books of essays and discarded fiction that is interesting in part, but isn’t worth reading all 400-pages. . . . I’m really looking forward to the new novel that’s on its way. I believe it’s part of a trilogy that FSG will be publishing. Supposedly it’s on the scale of The Book of Memories, which I’ve heard FSG (or Picador, I forget) is reissuing this soon.
Ben Lytal—who is blessed with constantly getting only the best books to review—has a piece in the New York Sun about two Latin American authors from New Directions: Jorge Luis Borges and Enrique Vila-Matas.
The article is mostly about the recent reissue of Labyrinths complete with new preface by William Gibson, which is a fantastic thing for the world. There’s no one like Borges, and as Lytal points out, his influence spans generations and genres.
“The Garden of the Forking Paths,” “The Library of Babel,” “The Aleph,” some of the best stories of the twentieth century . . .
It’s surprising to see Lytal say that Vila-Matas is his least favorite ND Latin American author, but I think he means this as praise for ND as a whole. Bolano, Aira, Borges, are pretty good company to keep, and tough to compete with.
There are books that can only wisely be recommended to specific types of readers, where it is easy to know who the respective book won’t appeal to, and Kristiina Ehin’s Walker on Water is one these. What makes this neither. . .
Imagine the most baroque excesses of Goethe, Shakespeare, and Poe, blended together and poured into a single book: That is The Nightwatches of Bonaventura. Ophelia and Hamlet fall in love in a madhouse, suicidal young men deliver mournful and heartfelt. . .
In 1899, Maurice Ravel wrote “Pavane pour une infante défunte” (“Pavane for a Dead Princess”) for solo piano (a decade later, he published an orchestral version). The piece wasn’t written for a particular person; Ravel simply wanted to compose a. . .
Fiston Mwanza Mujila is an award-winning author, born in the Democratic Republic of Congo, who now, at 33, lives in Austria. From what I could find, much of his work is influenced by the Congo’s battle for independence and its. . .
Twenty-One Days of a Neurasthenic is not a novel in the traditional sense. Rather, it is a collection of vignettes recorded by journalist Georges Vasseur in his diary during a month spent in the Pyrenées Mountains to treat his nervous. . .
Founded in 1960 by such creative pioneers as George Perec, Raymond Queneau and Italo Calvino, the Oulipo, shorthand for Ouvroir de littérature potentielle, came about in when a group of writers and mathematicians sought constraints to find new structures and. . .
There’s little to say about a series of prose poems that willfully refuse to identify pronoun antecedents. Or perhaps there are a million things. The poems in Morse, My Deaf Friend— the chapbook by Miloš Djurdjević published by Ugly Duckling. . .