5 August 13 | Chad W. Post | Comments

You may have already read this, but last week, Publishing Perspectives ran a piece I wrote about Brazil being the Guest of Honor at the Frankfurt Book Fair this fall. Below is that article in full with extra links to all the books mentioned.

(And as a sidenote, in addition to the review of João Almino’s The Book of Emotions that we ran last week, I’ll be posting reviews of a few other Brazilian works over the next few weeks.)
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Last month I was fortunate enough to be the sole American representative to take part in the Brazilian Publishing Experience 2013, a specially organized cultural exchange program designed to help promote Brazilian literature to the rest of the world. We spent ten days total in Brazil, both in Rio de Janeiro and in the unbelievable city of Paraty, where we were able to attend FLIP —the Greatest Book Festival in the World. (No, seriously. Not only was the line-up loaded with stars—Geoff Dyer, Karl Knausgaard, John Banville, Lydia Davis—but it took place in one of the most beautiful spots on earth.)

The vast majority of our discussions centered around the details of the Brazilian market. There are approximately $4 billion in sales every year, a quarter of which is government purchases for schools. Ebooks make up like 2% of the market, but this will grow thanks to the increased presence of Amazon and Kobo and Apple in Brazil. Most bookstores are in São Paulo and Rio, which is what one would expect, but there are publishers throughout Brazil, many of which will be at the Frankfurt Book Fair this fall.

In addition to simply learning about the Brazilian market, this trip also served as a opportunity for the Brazilian publishers to unveil some of the things they’re planning for Frankfurt—the attending authors, the cultural and literary programming, etc. As frequently happens to me after one of these trips, I’ve been on a Brazilian lit bender ever since I got back. (Well, a literature and caipirinha bender. Not to mention a newfound love for soccer superstar Neymar Jr.)

Anyway, for anyone interested in learning more about Brazilian literature, below is a bit of an overview of some classic Brazilian texts (available in English) and some highlights of what’s being planned for Frankfurt.

The Classics.

Brazil doesn’t get nearly the amount of literary respect it deserves. First and foremost, it’s the birthplace of Joaquim Maria Machado de Assis, one of the greatest world writers of all time. His novels The Posthumous Memoirs of Bras Cubas (a.k.a. Epitaph for a Small Winner) and Dom Casmurro are ingenious, playful books that bring to mind the meandering meta-fiction of Tristram Shandy. Also worth checking out is the new edition of The Alienist that Melville House recently published.

Thanks to the success of Benjamin Moser’s biography of Clarice Lispector, Why This World,& there’s been a resurgence of interest in her work. In the States, New Directions recently reissued five of her books in new translations— The Hour of the Star, Agua Viva, A Breath of Life, Near to the Wild Heart and The Passion of G.H. —all of which are worth reading.

On a slightly more contemporary note, the third author I’d like to mention is Rubem Fonseca, not just because Open Letter publishes his collection The Taker and Other Stories, but because he was one of the first authors to write about the dark, twisted, violent aspects of life in Brazil. His faux-detective novels, like High Art are really brilliant, as is the recently translated collection, Winning the Game (Tagus Press).

The Young.

The recent Granta special issue on the Best Young Brazilian Novelists is the best source of information about the younger generation of writers in Brazil, several of whom will be attending the Frankfurt Book Fair, including Michel Laub (who has a novel coming out in the UK), Daniel Galera, and Carola Saavedra.

The Anti-Utopian.

Two of the authors I’m most excited to meet in Frankfurt are Ignácio de Loyola Brandão (Zero, And Still the Earth, The Good-Bye Angel) and João Almino (The Book of Emotions, Five Seasons of Love). Both have written books in which the city serves as a primary character—São Paulo for Brandão and Brasilia for Almino—and the lives described are less than ideal. Brandão will participate on the “Polyphonic View” panel at 10.30 on Saturday, October 12th, and Almino will be appearing in a panel on “Allegories and Utopias” at 14:30 the same day.

The Graphic Novelists.

Another panel that I’m personally excited about is the “Meeting of Generations” graphic novel event taking place on Sunday, October 13th at 10:00. This panel brings together a couple traditional comic artists—Ziraldo and Maruicio de Sousa—along with the newer generation, including Fábio Moon & Gabriel Bá, the twin brothers behind Daytripper (Vertigo).

The Poets.

In addition to all the prose writers mentioned above (and a couple dozen more that will also be in attendance), Brazil is sending over a bunch of poets, including Adélia Prado and Hector Ferraz Mello, who will discuss their ironic and metaphysical approaches to poetry (“Perplexed Contemplations,” Thursday, October 10th, 16:30) and Affonso Romano de Sant’Anna and Nicolas Behr who will share their experimental, satiric poems (“Cannibal Satire,” Saturday, October 12th, 16:30).

This is just a sample of what Brazil is planning for their presence as the Guest of Honor. They’re bringing 70 authors in total, and putting on 32 literary events — a perfect opportunity to introduce Brazilian literature to the world, and show everyone that there’s more to this country than The Girl from Ipanema.

2 August 13 | Chad W. Post | Comments

The latest addition to our Reviews Section is by Chad W. Post on The Book of Emotions by João Almino, from Dalkey Archive Press.

Here’s the beginning of the review:

João Almino’s The Book of Emotions is the prototypical Dalkey Archive book. Not that all of Dalkey’s books are the same, but there is a certain set of criteria that a lot of their titles have—and which Almino’s novel has in spades:


  1. It’s a book about someone trying to write a book.

  2. bq. From Mulligan Stew to At Swim-Two-Birds to The Journalist, this is a set-up that runs through a lot of Dalkey’s titles. In this case, Cadu, a former photographer is constructing a memoir about his life in Brasília out of some of his old photos. The text alternates from his personal “current moment” experiences (which mostly revolve around trying to set up his goddaughter while sexually crushing on the girl helping him organize his photo files) and the text of his book, entitled “The Book of Emotions.”

  3. The main character’s life didn’t turn out the way he had hoped.

  4. bq. If you’ve never read the “Letters to the Editor” from the back of the Review of Contemporary Fiction, you really should. A good number of them are quite hysterical, generally featuring a decrepit old man whose life has unraveled. In the case of The Book of Emotions, the aforementioned photographer is still pining away for Joana, the woman he loved who left him for a corrupt politician. Not that our protagonist doesn’t have his share of women—it seems like he’s slept with everyone—but that never seems to work out either: the boy he fathered doesn’t know him and is in prison, the woman he marries dies tragically young, etc.

  5. The protagonist has mental or health issues.

  6. This is true of most every book in the world, but in keeping with the sad sack people who write into RCF with their problems, Cadu is blind and pretty much bed ridden. His best days are behind him, and he’s trapped with just the memories of his life, loves, and pictures. Which brings up the fourth key aspect to a “typical” Dalkey book . . .

For the rest of the review, go here

2 August 13 | Chad W. Post | Comments

João Almino’s The Book of Emotions is the prototypical Dalkey Archive book. Not that all of Dalkey’s books are the same, but there is a certain set of criteria that a lot of their titles have—and which Almino’s novel has in spades:


  1. It’s a book about someone trying to write a book.
  2. From Mulligan Stew to At Swim-Two-Birds to The Journalist, this is a set-up that runs through a lot of Dalkey’s titles. In this case, Cadu, a former photographer is constructing a memoir about his life in Brasília out of some of his old photos. The text alternates from his personal “current moment” experiences (which mostly revolve around trying to set up his goddaughter while sexually crushing on the girl helping him organize his photo files) and the text of his book, entitled “The Book of Emotions.”

  3. The main character’s life didn’t turn out the way he had hoped.
  4. If you’ve never read the “Letters to the Editor” from the back of the Review of Contemporary Fiction, you really should. A good number of them are quite hysterical, generally featuring a decrepit old man whose life has unraveled. In the case of The Book of Emotions, the aforementioned photographer is still pining away for Joana, the woman he loved who left him for a corrupt politician. Not that our protagonist doesn’t have his share of women—it seems like he’s slept with everyone—but that never seems to work out either: the boy he fathered doesn’t know him and is in prison, the woman he marries dies tragically young, etc.

  5. The protagonist has mental or health issues.
  6. This is true of most every book in the world, but in keeping with the sad sack people who write into RCF with their problems, Cadu is blind and pretty much bed ridden. His best days are behind him, and he’s trapped with just the memories of his life, loves, and pictures. Which brings up the fourth key aspect to a “typical” Dalkey book . . .

  7. The narrative works by illustrating the strangenesses of the character’s way of thinking.
  8. A perfect example of this is Iceland by Jim Krusoe. Or any of the Toussaint books that Dalkey has published. Actually, to be honest, you could throw a dart at a wall of Dalkey titles and whatever you hit will likely feature a quirky narrator whose prose illuminates all the bizarreness of his mind. And The Book of Emotions falls into that general grouping, with the one difference that, although the entire text consists of Cadu’s thoughts and reactions to what goes on around him, the book doesn’t quite come together with the panache and humor that is evident in the examples above. There is something intriguing about The Book of Emotions, but unfortunately, it’s not the narrator’s voice.

    What I like about this book is its overall structure—the parallel times, the numbered sections each centered around a particular (unseen) photograph—and the fact that it’s set in 2022 in Brasília and is part of Almino’s “Brasília Quintet.” (Five Seasons of Love, which is available from Host Publications features one of the characters from this novel, and the forthcoming Free City is part of this series as well.) There are some moving moments in this book, but on the whole it’s a relatively sterile, exacting depiction of a man’s life and missed opportunities.

    Unfortunately, I feel like Almino’s prose in Elizabeth Jackson’s translation falls a bit flat. There’s something too precise or rote . . . too straightforward in a way that is lacking and fails to really replicate the inner workings of the narrator’s mind:

    When Joana and I discovered that we couldn’t have children, we didn’t undergo the tests to determine whose problem it was. That impossibility was a blessing: we didn’t want to have children. However, it was unlikely the infertility was mine because many years before in Brasília another woman had conceived my child.

    That “another woman had conceived my child” is just so stiff . . . One other example of where I think the voice in this book falls short from one of the sex scenes:

    We traded the most crude and vulgar exchanges, I used the foulest profanities I knew and yelled whatever else I could to shock her. Marcela wasn’t to be outdone. She dominated that rich vocabulary better than I did and she wasn’t intimidated, as if she’d had experience with phone sex.

    This isn’t to write off Almino—I think he’s one of the most interesting Brazilian writers working today, and I’m looking forward to reading more of his titles. (Especially Where to Spent the End of the World.) I just went into this with high hopes—see list above and my belief that this would be a very Dalkeyish Dalkey book—and came to see the prose as something I had to trudge through, more out of a sense of duty and abstract interest in the plot than because I really enjoyed it.

29 March 13 | Chad W. Post | Comments

As in years past, we will be highlighting all 25 titles on the BTBA Fiction Longlist, one by one, building up to the announcement of the 10 finalists on April 10th. A variety of judges, booksellers, and readers will write these, all under the rubric of “Why This Book Should Win. You can find the whole series by clicking here. And if you’re interested in writing any of these, just get in touch.

A Breath of Life by Clarice Lispector, translated from the Portuguese by Johnny Lorenz and published by New Directions

This piece is by Will Vanderhyden (aka Willsconsin), student in the University of Rochester’s Translation Program and translator of Carlos Labbé’s Navidad and Matanza, which will be released in 2014.

Before I talk directly about why I think Clarice Lispector’s A Breath of Life deserves to win this year’s Best Translated Book Award, I want to offer a little background about how this novel’s English publication came about, mostly because it strengthens my overall argument, but also because it deals with issues relevant to literature in translation more broadly. (I realize that readers of Three Percent might already be familiar with much of the following information regarding Lispector and her English translations, so if you are one of those readers, please forgive the lengthy digression).

Although she is considered by many to be the greatest Brazilian writer of the twentieth century, Clarice Lispector has never enjoyed a large English language readership. She is wildly popular in Brazil, revered and adored to the point of idolatry. Her strange, captivating prose, epic life story, and striking beauty have made her a legendary national icon. Her books are sold in vending machines, her face adorns postage stamps, and her name appears regularly in all sorts of literary and popular media. But for whatever reason—be it the challenging nature of her work, the fact that she’s a woman, flat English translations, or a general lack of interest in Brazilian literature—she has never enjoyed the popularity among English readers of other Latin American Boom writers like Jorge Amado, Julio Cortázar, and Gabriel Garcia Marquez.

Over the last several years, New Directions and Benjamin Moser—author of Why This World: A Biography of Clarice Lispector, a finalist for the National Book Circle Critics Award in 2009—have been working to change that. In 2011, New Directions published Moser’s retranslation of The Hour of the Star (the last novel Lispector published during her lifetime), and in June of 2012 they published a series of four new translations of Lispector novels, all edited by Moser. This series includes retranslations of three of her most well known books—Near to the Wild Heart (translated by Alison Entrkin), Aqua Viva (translated by Stefan Tobler), and The Passion According to G. H. (translated by Idra Novey)—as well as the first English edition of A Breath of Life (translated by Johnny Lorenz), a novel which was published after Lispector’s death, and assembled, organized and edited by her close friend Olga Borelli.

In the introduction to A Breath of Life, Moser refers to New Directions series of Lispector translations as “the most important project of translation into English of a Latin American author since the complete works of Jorge Luis Borges were published a decade ago.” According to Moser, the original English translations of Lispector’s work were woefully inadequate, flattening out, “correcting,” and explaining the strange grammar, idiosyncratic syntax, and surprising word choices that define Lispector’s style. Lispector’s own response to an early French translation of Near to the Wild Heart, which upset her because of the liberties it took in translating her style, provides definitive support for Moser’s sentiment, in a letter to her editor at the time she wrote:

I admit, if you like, the sentences do not reflect the usual manner of speaking, but I assure you that it is the same in Portuguese. The punctuation I employed in the book is not accidental and does not result from ignorance of the rules of grammar. You will agree that elementary principals of punctuation are taught in every school. I am fully aware of the reasons that led me to choose this punctuation and insist that it be respected.

Though he acknowledges that, to some extent, translators invariably tend to smooth out oddities and correct “errors” present in original works, for his own translation of The Hour of the Star and for the other Lispector translations he edited for New Directions, Moser aimed for the greatest fidelity possible to the syntax and grammar of her Portuguese originals. In the afterword to The Hour of the Star, he writes: “The translator must therefore resist the temptation to explain or rearrange her prose, which can only flatten it and remove from it the ‘foreign’ aura that is its hallmark, and its glory.”

Lispector has clearly carved out her place in the canon of world literature. Her unique artistic vision, innovative narrative style, and philosophical insight situate her comfortably among the best writers of the twentieth century. And in light of the aim—and what I believe to be the success—of the Moser/New Directions project, the comparison to the translation of Borges’ complete works, which might come off as overblown at first glance, seems to me entirely appropriate. Because A Breath of Life is the only title in the New Directions series that is not a retranslation, it is the only one eligible for the BTBA. Which is not to say that it necessarily represents the significance of the entire project, but at the same time, its importance as a translated book cannot be fully appreciated outside that context.

So, finally, A Breath of Life. This novel, like much of Lispector’s work, delves into the relationships between thoughts, sensations, words, facts, and objects; into the ways language constructs and mediates what we call reality. It is structured as a sort of dialogue between a male “Author” and Angela, a character he creates. In short, alternating passages, the two voices reflect on the nature of time, meaning, death, and on the relationship between author and character, between creator and creation. As the “Author” states:

Angela and I are my interior dialogue: I talk to myself. Angela is from my dark interior: she however comes to light. The tenebrous darkness from which I emerge. Pullulating darkness, lava of a humid volcano burning intensely. Darkness full of worms and butterflies, rats and stars.

If the novel had a plot, it might be described as the “Author’s” struggle to understand Angela and his relationship to her, and Angela’s struggle to understand herself and her relationship to the “things” of the world. But it all takes place inside; there is no action, no grounding in the world, no “real” handhold.

The structure of an interior dialogue between author and character—which might be thought of as defining a split in Lispector’s mind, a divided self—undermines the distinction between form and content, laying bare the ways in which not only fiction and fictitious characters, but the “facts” of the world in which we live, and our identities, what we call “selves,” are fabrications of language. As the “Author” writes: “Reality does not exist in itself. What there is is seeing the truth through dream. Real life is merely symbolic: it refers to something else.” And: “I wouldn’t exist if there were no words.” And: “Angela goes from language to existence. She wouldn’t exist if there were no words.”

If all this sounds really abstract, well, it is. Many questions are raised and very few unambiguous answers are given. Angela tells us:

I know the secret of the sphinx. She did not devour me because I gave the right answer to her question. But I am an enigma for the sphinx and nevertheless I did not devour her. Decipher me, I said to the sphinx. And she fell mute. The pyramids are eternal. They will always be restored. Is the human soul a thing? Is it eternal? Between the hammer and the blows I hear silence.

There are many such quotable lines and Nietzsche-esque aphorisms, but in itself this probing into the nature of reality, identity, and meaning is not really what gives this book its power. It is the way Lispector’s style is able to render these ideas not only thought but also felt. The structure and rhythm of her sentences, the surprising juxtapositions, and subtle, provocative rearrangements of ordinary language are able to tap into something primordial that transcends the limits of ordinary expression. And here we readers of Lispector in English are indebted to the extraordinary work of translator Johnny Lorenz and the vision of Benjamin Moser, who, by holding true to Lispector’s unconventional grammar and syntax, sustain the jagged, hypnotic musicality that makes her prose so intellectually rewarding and so viscerally resonant.

A Breath of Life deserves to win the BTBA because it is the only entirely new part of a translation series that reintroduces a canonical writer to English readers; but also because it is a beautiful, original, and deeply intelligent book by a writer who leaves us, like the sphinx, mute and wondering at her genius and her mystery.

(As far as wrestling goes, no contest: Lispector will seduce all comers with her feline eyes then crush them with the weight of her brain).

25 February 13 | Chad W. Post | Comments

Next Tuesday, March 5th, at 10 am(ish), we will be unveiling this year’s BTBA Fiction Longlist. This year’s judges—click here for the complete list—did a spectacular job selecting the 25 best works of fiction in translation published last year.

In contrast to years past, this time I recommended that the nine judges agree on 16 titles, then each pick one “wild card”—a book that they personally love, but that didn’t make the list selected by the group. My hope—which seems to have worked—was to diversify the group of finalists a bit, allowing books that didn’t get quite as much play to get some attention.

That said, looking over the complete list of fiction titles, there are a few books that I thought for sure would be on there, but aren’t. So, over the next five days I’m going to highlight some of them. This isn’t to say that I disagree with the list of finalists—I think it’s pretty spectacular, and damn, is narrowing it down to 25 books a difficult task—just that I think there are a few other titles that deserve some sort of honorable mention. And besides, for those of you playing along at home, this list of non-BTBA books might give you some clues as to what did make it . . .



The Obscene Madame D by Hilda Hilst, translated from the Portuguese by Nathanaël in collaboration with Rachel Gontijo Araujo (Nightboat Books)

I wish I could write a review of this book. I read it a few weeks ago along with Água Viva by Hilst’s friend and compatriot Clarice Lispector, and was struck by a) how well these two books go together, and b) how no one writes like Lispector and Hilst wrote. These are books that blow apart the nature of fiction and how to represent consciousness, and do so in a way that is mesmerizingly strange and beautiful.

But I’m really not sure how to write about Hilst . . . This book is basically about a widowed woman who lives under the stairs in her house, has masks hanging in her window, and tries to scare all the kids by yelling crazy shit at them. And if that’s not enough to get you interested, just check out this wild prose:

look Hillé the face of God

where where?

look at the abyss and see

I don’t see anything

lean over a bit more

only fog and depth

that’s it. adore HIM. Condense mist and fathom and fashion a face. Res facta, calm down.

And let’s see now which sentences are appropriate to speak when I open the window to the society of the neighborhood:

your rotten asses

your unimaginable pestilence

mouths stinking of phlegm and stupidity

enormous behinds waiting their turn. for what? to shit into saucepans

armpits of excrement

wormhole in hollow teeth

the pig’s woody

The Obscene Madame D is 57 pages of that: a mess of beauty and obscenity describing life and god and death and sex. It’s like Celine filtered through the mind of a bipolar woman.

So how do you even approach or explain this? What is Hilst up to?

Well, over at Triple Canopy you can read “Crassus Agonicus,” a shorter piece of Hilst’s, which also features a really interesting introduction:

In 1990, the Brazilian author Hilda Hilst—a prolific writer of experimental poems, plays, and fiction, beloved by initiates and completely unknown to the broader public—declared herself fed up with the punishing obscurity of high art and started writing smut for money and fame. Really filthy stuff, like a pornographic memoir narrated by a nine-year-old girl. The literary critics, those few but loyal readers, were left baffled and betrayed. “I think money delicious,” Hilst explained, chain-smoking her way through interviews that accompanied the celebrity with which she was instantly rewarded. She said the idea came to her after witnessing the international success of The Blue Bicycle, a hugely popular erotic French novel—Fifty Shades of Gray for the 1980s. She figured she could make a buck the same way.

Or, at least, that’s one of the versions of events that Hilst slyly propagated. In fact, the bizarre series of obscene books she wrote in the early ’90s—three novels and one collection of poetry—is far from possessing broad popular appeal; the stunt brought Hilst more recognition as a personality than as a writer, and she never got to taste much money. The second installment, Contos d’escárnio / Textos grotescos—here excerpted under the title “Crassus Agonicus,” in English-language translation for the first time—has more in common with the work of Ariana Reines and Helen DeWitt than that of E. L. James. Disguising a work of art as a trashy potboiler is a special sort of perversity for an author, and Hilst’s forcefully, grotesquely avant-garde novels are as devious as they are unsavory. What they do best is not titillate but muddy the customary distinctions between pornography and art, between the pulpy best seller and the literary novel.

In this regard, Hilst’s Obscene Tetralogy, as it became known, was an affront to the vulgar demands of the mass market and likewise to the values of the surprisingly prudish Brazilian literary scene. “Crassus Agonicus” in particular is a “fuck you” to both kinds of readers, but also a veiled love letter—a contradictory expression befitting the great passion Hilst felt for the audience she courted. As she insisted: “I wanted to be consumed before I died.” And by breeding her own style of transgressive, erotic literature with the seedier conventions of pornography (bestiality, infantile sexuality, and incest), she succeeded in making something so controversial it could not be ignored.

Anyway, The Obscene Madame D is definitely worth checking out (not to mention, purchasing this book will help Nightboat—a really quality small press), even though it didn’t make this year’s BTBA longlist.

19 October 12 | JT Mahany | Comments

The latest addition to our Reviews Section is a piece written by Camila Santos on The Book of Emotions, by João Almino, translated from the Portuguese by Elizabeth Jackson and published by Dalkey Archive Press.

The Book of Emotions is Almino’s second novel translated into English, the first being The Five Seasons of Love (also translated by Elizabeth Jackson), published by Host Publications.

Here is a bit of the review:

João Almino, the novelist and diplomat, is—like the narrator of The Book of Emotions—a photographer and an outsider to Brasília. He was born in Mossoró, in the Brazilian Northeast. This is a poor region that has, much like the American South, produced a long list of influential writers such as Jorge Amado, Graciliano Ramos, João Cabral de Melo Neto, and Guimarães Rosa. In the beginning of Almino’s career, one of his biggest dilemmas was whether to set his fiction in the Northeast or in Brasília, where he had lived for ten years. He decided on Brasília because it offered him the freedom to “trace a path that had not yet been followed, to try and create the sort of literature that had little to do with the picturesque, with clichés, with what was already so well know.” In an online interview for Saraiva Conteúdo, the portal for one of Brazil’s largest bookstore, he says, “Brasília is a place with an open, erratic, multiple identity that can assimilate what comes from the outside.”

To read the whole review, click here.

19 October 12 | JT Mahany |

At its inauguration in 1960, Brasília was baptized “The Capital of Hope.” It is a city that was carved out from scratch in the cerrado, a woodland savannah in the middle of Brazil, in just 41 months of construction. It is also a city completely planned out, a city born without any residents.

When Clarice Lispector, one of Brazil’s most famous writers, visited the new capital in the early seventies, she was struck by how large Brasília loomed over its residents, how its infinite spaces could conjure such unbearable loneliness, how everyone who lived there was from somewhere else. “Brasília,” she wrote “has no inhabitants as of yet who are typical of Brasília.” The oldest citizens born in Brasília are only fifty-two years old today.

João Almino, the novelist and diplomat, is—like the narrator of The Book of Emotions—a photographer and an outsider to Brasília. He was born in Mossoró, in the Brazilian Northeast. This is a poor region that has, much like the American South, produced a long list of influential writers such as Jorge Amado, Graciliano Ramos, João Cabral de Melo Neto, and Guimarães Rosa. In the beginning of Almino’s career, one of his biggest dilemmas was whether to set his fiction in the Northeast or in Brasília, where he had lived for ten years. He decided on Brasília because it offered him the freedom to “trace a path that had not yet been followed, to try and create the sort of literature that had little to do with the picturesque, with clichés, with what was already so well know.” In an online interview for Saraiva Conteúdo, the portal for one of Brazil’s largest bookstore, he says, “Brasília is a place with an open, erratic, multiple identity that can assimilate what comes from the outside.”

Almino has published several previous books, all of which have been set in Brasília, including The Five Seasons of Love (translated by Elizabeth Jackson and published by Host Publications in 2008), and the to date untranslated Idéias para Onde Passar o Fim do Mundo [Ideas for Where to Spend the End of the World], Samba-Enredo [Samba Story], and Cidade Livre [Free City]. The Book of Emotions, Almino’s second novel published in English, by Dalkey Archive Press was also translated by Elizabeth Jackson.

In The Book of Emotions, set in the year 2022, Almino depicts a Brasília that goes far beyond the Three Powers Square, the cluster of massive residential blocks known as superquadras, or the capital’s legendary sunsets. The city serves as a backdrop and also as a reflection of inner turmoil, failure, and loss. The book’s narrator, Cadu, is living alone in Brasília, blind and nearing the end of his life. One of his friends suggests that Cadu return to working on a photographic memoir he had kept in 2002, when he left Rio de Janeiro and moved to Brasília. Even though Cadu cannot see, he is able to reconstruct his photographic chronicles from memory with the help of a young assistant. “Those photographs reveal themselves in rich detail in my memory, even more than if it were possible to see them. They’re like Stieglitz clouds; each one equals an emotion. My blindness reveals their essence, for in the end, to best see a photograph, you have to close your eyes.”

The Book of Emotions is an attempt to follow the contours of memory. Almino sets up the novel as a memoir within a diary. The italicized diary entries describe Cadu’s day-to-day life in 2022. Interspersed with these entries is his memoir-in-progress, also entitled “The Book of Emotions.” Each entry from Cadu’s “The Book of Emotions” is based upon a photograph taken during his first years in Brasília, before he went blind. It is through this memoir that we learn of the important facts of Cadu’s life: his unemployment, the jailed son whom he has never met, an unsuccessful exhibit of his photographs, and his obsession with women, especially with his ex-lover, Joana. Through the fragments of his memories, Cadu tries to piece together his life, a life that for no apparent reason simply ruptured into a million pieces.

Memory is non-linear, sporadic, and self-selecting, and so are Cadu’s recollections of his past. The novel functions as a dialogue between an older Cadu and a younger Cadu, much as in the Borges story, The Other. “The idea for ‘The Book of Emotions,’” the narrator explains in one of his first entries, “is that the person speaking will not be me but rather another Cadu, someone twenty years younger who can see and who composes a photographic diary.”

Elizabeth Jackson’s translation clearly sets and strives to preserve the original flavor of the Portuguese throughout the novel. She is most successful in her translations of Cadu’s descriptions of Brasília, capturing Almino’s lush Portuguese beautifully:

The night covered us with its dense, long blankets and carried us to the bottom of its black precipices. We decided to stretch it between silent stars and gusts of truth, and we heard the applause of the angels at the end of time. We were bathed more in certainty than in hope.

A good translation takes its readers to a different world, one which they have not experienced first-hand. The only way for many of us to experience what it’s like to live in distant places is through words:

The efficiency of the waiters was measured by the speed with which they brought another draft beer as soon as the glass was empty. Mine emptied five or six times, and Mauricio began to play with the cork coasters printed in red with the beer logo that came with every glass.

There are moments, however, when Jackson’s translation becomes clumsy as she strains to capture the book’s Brazilian flavor. In a passage in which Cadu describes how he experiences Brasília, he refers to “the rot of the power dungeons, the spilt tears and laughs heard in the corridors of Congress.” The phrase “the rot of the power dungeons” fails to convey Almino’s reference to the constant corruption scandals, past and present, that Brasília has faced. A more elegant and accessible phrase might have referenced, say, power’s dirty underbelly.

There are in fact quite a few culturally specific references in Almino’s novel: religion, Brasília’s architecture, literary references, and nicknames. General explanations for the reader might have been offered unobtrusively on occasion. For instance, when Cadu and his girlfriend visit a religious temple whose followers believe in the healing power of spirits, the bishop gives them a blessing and a bottle of water that the bishop claims was magnetized by the temple’s spirits. This spiritually blessed water has been translated as “fluidized water,” a choice that might not make much sense for a reader who is not aware of the hybrid form of Catholicism, Evangelical cult and Spiritism practiced in Brazil. Simply describing the water as “water magnetized by the temple’s spirits, through its mediums” might have made more sense.

It is through photography that Cadu attempts to make peace with his ghosts: past lovers, family, past failures, the myth of Brasília, the beauty of youth. As he recalls each photograph, Cadu simultaneously recreates and shatters the image he had of himself. “I’m no longer sure that I’m the handsome Brasiliarian of Clarice’s [Lispector] stories, which I listened to again.” In this novel of sensations and desires, Almino’s narrative is like a photograph that mesmerizes his readers as Cadu filters his past through “the camera’s objective eye, an eye that sometimes surprises by seeing more than the human eye.”

13 July 12 | Aleksandra Fazlipour | Comments

The latest addition to our Reviews Section is a piece by Quantum Sarah on Clarice Lispector’s Near to the Wild Heart, which is translated from the Portuguese by Alison Entrekin and is available from New Directions.

Here is part of her review:

“He was alone. He was unheeded, happy, and near to the wild heart of life.” This is the epigraph, borrowed from Joyce’s Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, that captures the modernist spirit so essential to Clarice Lispector’s revolutionary novel, Near to the Wild Heart. As her fierce and precocious protagonist struggles through adolescence and young adulthood, Lispector offers a wealth of luminous meditations on human nature, consciousness, individuality, and God. In this new translation by Alison Entrekin (New Directions, 2012), the intensity and brilliance of Lispector’s prose thrills to life. Surprising, powerful, and revelatory, Near to the Wild Heart recounts with unforgettable candor the life of an audacious young woman in modern society.

Lispector’s breakthrough novel rose to instant and lasting fame in Brazil upon publication in 1943, and it’s no wonder: the ideas presented within are mind-blowing. Take, for instance, Joana’s description of what it feels like to be in a relationship:

Click here to read the entire review.

13 July 12 | Aleksandra Fazlipour | Comments

“He was alone. He was unheeded, happy, and near to the wild heart of life.” This is the epigraph, borrowed from Joyce’s Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, that captures the modernist spirit so essential to Clarice Lispector’s revolutionary novel, Near to the Wild Heart. As her fierce and precocious protagonist struggles through adolescence and young adulthood, Lispector offers a wealth of luminous meditations on human nature, consciousness, individuality, and God. In this new translation by Alison Entrekin (New Directions, 2012), the intensity and brilliance of Lispector’s prose thrills to life. Surprising, powerful, and revelatory, Near to the Wild Heart recounts with unforgettable candor the life of an audacious young woman in modern society.

Lispector’s breakthrough novel rose to instant and lasting fame in Brazil upon publication in 1943, and it’s no wonder: the ideas presented within are mind-blowing. Take, for instance, Joana’s description of what it feels like to be in a relationship:

Just as the space surrounded by four walls has a specific value, provoked not so much because it is a space but because it is surrounded by walls. Otávio made her into something that wasn’t her but himself and which Joana received out of pity for both. . . Besides: how could she tie herself to a man without allowing him to imprison her? How could she prevent him from developing his four walls over her body and soul?

This startling metaphor is remarkably precise: haven’t we all felt, at one time or another, “enclosed” by a loved one, albeit protected? Don’t the structural walls of relationships also compromise our identity, defining us with a substance that is not ourselves? Add to these astute insights Lispector’s radical writing style, which mirrors the process of thinking – much like in Woolf’s The Waves. Though nominal events do take place in the text – Joana’s father dies; Joana goes to live with her aunt; Joana attends boarding school, gets married, and leaves her husband – inner mental life constitutes the book’s central concern. Fraught with dense introspection, many pages are devoted solely to Joana’s philosophical quandaries:

. . .She asked herself many questions, but she could never answer herself: she’d stop in order to feel. How was a triangle born? As an idea first? Or did it come after the shape had been executed? Would a triangle be born fatally? Things were rich. – She would want to spend time on the question. But love invaded her. Triangle, circle, straight lines. . . As harmonious and mysterious as an arpeggio. Where does music go when it’s not playing? -She asked herself. And disarmed she would answer: may they make a harp out of my nerves when I die.

Indeed, Joana is a beautiful thinker, but the wilderness of her imagination also isolates her from others. Other characters perceive her with confusion, sometimes labeling her “evil” or “unfeeling”: “She’s a cold viper, Alberto, there’s no love or gratitude in her,” her aunt says. On the other hand, her husband, Otávio, is baffled by the fatal mix of attraction and repulsion Joana arouses in him. Nonetheless, he can’t deny the way she profoundly impacts his life: “She would rise up in him, not in his head like a common memory, but in the center of his body, vague and lucid, interrupting his life like the sudden pealing of a bell.” A sort of irony emerges in the push-pull attitude Joana exhibits toward relationships, alternately embracing others for the comfort they promise and rejecting them when they burden her.

I question whether the actions and emotions Joana unleashes are really “evil” – they’re intense, for sure, but I think Joana is better described as amoral. And it’s precisely this lack of conventional mores that allows her to imagine and discover so much: because she moves through life without needing to label anything ‘good’ or ‘bad,’ Joana can think unrestrained. No thought or feeling is taboo for her, even if it proves her animal nature. If a man devouring meat allures her, or if contrived human “goodness” disgusts her, she’s not embarrassed or afraid to report it with gritty impartiality:

. . .goodness makes me want to be sick. Goodness was lukewarm and light. It smelled of raw meat kept for too long. Without entirely rotting in spite of everything. It was freshened up from time to time, seasoned a little, enough to keep it a piece of lukewarm, quiet meat.

. . . she had seen a greedy man eating. She had secretly watched his bulging eyes, gleaming and stupid, trying not to miss the slightest trace of flavor. And his hands, his hands. One holding a fork with a piece of bloody meat (not warm and quiet, but very much alive, ironic, immoral) skewered on it, the other twitching on the tablecloth, pawing it nervously in his urgency to eat another mouthful already. . .The ferocity, the richness of his color. . . A shiver had run down Joana’s spine, with the sorry cup of coffee in front of her. But she wouldn’t be able to tell afterwards if it had been out of repugnance or fascination and lust. Both no doubt. . . As if she were watching someone drink water only to discover her own thirst, profound and ancient.

As difficult of a heroine as Joana is, and as difficult as Lispector’s prose may be – sometimes verging on abstraction – there’s something deeply relatable about both: a deep yearning to understand and to be understood permeates the text of this book. Beneath the surface of her words, Joana is deeply self-conscious, frustrated with her ability to say what she actually means. Wearily, she repeats:

‘Yes, I know. . . The distance that separates emotions from words. I’ve already thought about that. And the most curious thing is that the moment I try to speak not only do I fail to express what I feel but what I feel slowly becomes what I say. Or at least what makes me act is not, most certainly, what I feel but what I say.’

This is the challenge, which Moser points to in his introduction, that forms the crux of the book: to capture “the symbol of the thing in the thing itself;” to successfully unite words with meaning and emotions. This linguistic struggle parallels Joana’s own psychological struggle to make herself understood in relation to others, while simultaneously preserving her individuality. Should she exist alone, full-fledged – like a solitary word – symbolizing only that which she contains in her own form? Or should she attach herself to other layers of meaning – people, beliefs, or God – which will necessarily plaster themselves over her own essential meaning?

Joana’s conundrum, though complex, is common. Haven’t we all been bound in the archetypal struggle of communication at some point? “Try to understand my heroine, Aunty, listen,” Joana says. “She is vague and audacious. She doesn’t love, she isn’t loved. . . However what Joana has inside her is something stronger than the love that people give and what she has inside her demands more than the love people receive. Do you understand, Aunty? I wouldn’t call her a hero, as I promised Daddy myself.” Yet Joana is a heroine of sorts: as much as she might defy our expectations, she’s brave enough to tell the truth. By maintaining her selfhood to the last, Joana gives us something deeply real. Though the truth may not be convenient or comfortable, those who have the courage to tell it are the real heroes.

5 April 12 | Chad W. Post | Comments

As with years past, we’re going to spend the next week highlighting the rest of the 25 titles on the BTBA fiction longlist. We’ll have a variety of guests writing these posts, all of which are centered around the question of “Why This Book Should Win.” Hopefully these are funny, accidental, entertaining, and informative posts that prompt you to read at least a few of these excellent works.

Click here for all past and future posts in this series.

Kafka’s Leopards by Moacyr Scliar, translated by Thomas O. Beebee

Language: Portuguese

Country: Brazil
Publisher: Texas Tech University Press

Why This Book Should Win: Texas Tech’s “The Americas” series has been quietly putting together a fantastic list of Latin American authors, and this would thrust them (deservedly) into the spotlight. Plus, Scliar died last year, and for some reason that makes me feel like he deserves some special recognition.

Kafka’s Leopards is a short (96 page) novella that happens to be one of the most entertaining books on this year’s longlist. It centers around the character of Mousy, who, when he was growing up near Odessa in the early part of the twentieth century, got involved with a group of Trotskyites, mainly through the influence of his radical friend Yossi. (As you do. I mean, seriously, who wouldn’t want to participate in a revolution?)

In fact, Yossi had met THE Leon Trotsky, and Trotsky had entrusted him carrying out a secret radical act. But when Yossi comes down with a terrible illness, he asks Mousy to stand in for him, and travel to Prague where he’s to meet a revolutionary writer who will give him a message that will explain what he’s supposed to do next.

Anyway, novella-length story short, Mousy loses all the necessary information on the train (revolutionaries are so disorganized) and tries to puzzle out what he’s supposed to do. Which leads him to calling up a one Franz Kafka and asking for the text.

Lots of mistaken identity mishaps ensue, but Mousy is eventually given Kafka’s “Leopards in the Temple” aphorism which he believes he’s supposed to interpret in order to fulfill his mission. In a slick move that draws attention to the situation of translation in an interesting way, Mousy can’t read this and takes it to a old Jewish man at a synagogue who interprets it for him:

He outlined the story in Yiddish. Mousy learned that the leopards broke into the temple and drank the contents of the sacrificial chalices to the last drop; that this was repeated so often that in the end everyone knew it would happen, and that finally the scene became part of the ritual.

Naturally, more mishaps occur, and the adventure-story aspect explodes as Mousy tries to makes sense of this aphorism in a way that connects the text with the city of Prague with the Russian Revolution. Told with a deftness that is both sincere and light with comedy, this part of the novella is extremely fun to read, and must’ve been fun to translate as well. (Goes without saying, seeing that this award focuses on the “best translations,” but Thomas Beebee’s translation is very admirable, mostly for the way in which he emphasizes the sort of joyful, playful tone that runs throughout this book of constant failures.)

To make this more interesting, it’s worth nothing that Mousy’s story is really only the subplot . . . The novella has a frame narrative involving one of Mousy’s relatives, and their revolutionary troubles in 1965.

For such a quick, enjoyable read, there are a lot of levels to this novella that make it a rich, rewarding work. I’ll let Thomas Beebee explain via this bit from his wonderful introduction:

In Kafka’s Leopards, Scliar has created a story that addresses themes of Brazilian and European history, Jewish writing, the travels of literature, and fundamental questions of reading, such as how the rightness or wrongness of a literary interpretation is to be judged. Scliar’s text becomes in this regard as self-referential and critifictional as a short story by J. L. Borges, a novel by Italo Calvino—or a Kafka text such as “The Silence of the Sirens” or “The Truth about Sancho Panza.” Mousy’s story is one of a series of textual and interpretive substitutions, as he moves from Torah to The Communist Manifesto to the Kafka aphorism. That aphorism becomes different things to different people in different contexts. Not only the meaning, but the very genre of the text changes. Mousy takes it to be a revolutionary message in code, but explains it to the shammes as a puzzle he must solve for a contest. Conversely, Mousy goes to Prague under another name, and is constantly take by others in the text, from the sinister desk clerk at the hotel to the sympathetic Bertha, for something other than what he is. Mousy’s brief stay in Prague becomes a giant, dialectical game of interpreting and being interpreted.

On top of all these serious reasons for why this book should win, it’s also a beautiful edition, and Irene Vilar—who edits the whole series—is a wonderful advocate for international literature: two more valid reasons why we could be crowning this book as the 2012 champion on May 4th.

12 August 11 | Chad W. Post | Comments

The latest addition to our Reviews Section is a piece by Lily Ye on Moacyr Scliar’s Kafka’s Leopards forthcoming from Texas Tech University Press in Thomas Beebee’s translation from the Brazilian Portuguese.

As Lily recommends in her review, you should definitely read this piece by Thomas Beebee and then read this preview of the book. Scliar is one of the past century’s best writers, and it’s awesome that Texas Tech is making more of his work available to American readers.

Click here to read Lily’s piece on this short novel.

12 August 11 | Chad W. Post | Comments

I was going to write a review of Kafka’s Leopards by the recently deceased Brazilian author Moacyr Scliar, and then I got around to reading the piece that translator Thomas Beebee wrote for us on Scliar, his writings, and Kafka’s Leopards and realized that there was not much enlightenment that I could offer on any of these topics that Thomas had not already covered. So I come to you today, humbly, from a place of little knowledge, and suggest that you read Thomas’s wonderful piece on all things surrounding Kafka’s Leopards and then go ahead and read the book itself.

Running at under 100 pages, Kafka’s Leopards tells the story of Mousy, the logistics of which you can basically read from start to finish on the back of the book, but which is told with much more love on the part of Scliar. In brief, Mousy is a Brazilian Jew who is summoned to carry out a plot on the part of Trotsky which involves going to Prague and receiving and decoding a text. Mousy manages to mess this up and instead ends up with a short text from Franz Kafka himself, concerning leopards.

Mousy is a sympathetic character who can fall in love with a woman from a smile, and who is fiercely dedicated to the ideals of the Communist movement, but in whose whole life there is but this one seminal anecdote which overwhelms with its intrigue and its hijinks. This is the story of that anecdote, and its brief return to the limelight later in Mousy’s life.

Quite frankly, there is no reason not to read this book. Scliar entertains and moves the readers as much as he may perhaps dwell on the idea of the transmission of messages, the interpretation of texts (read Beebee’s piece for more on this!). He is never heavy-handed, and in fact, handles the character of Mousy as gently as such a character must be handled. We can practically feel the sweat beading on Mousy’s forehead, the warm heat building with anxiety, as well as the pride that swells up within him when he has carried out part of his mission correctly, or so he believes. Scliar writes to a perfect length, not letting the story going any longer or shorter than is necessary; and in the interest of not exceeding the book in length, I will simply conclude that reading this book was a pleasure and I would highly recommend it as a quick end-of-summer read.

11 August 11 | Chad W. Post | Comments

In support of this week’s Read This Next title—Kafka’s Leopards by Moacyr Scliar—translator Thomas Beebee wrote this essay about the man and the novel:

The extended European setting of Kafka’s Leopards is adventuresome for Scliar, but Kafka’s Leopards is a frame-tale connecting Porto Alegre in 1965, Brazil’s southernmost metropolis, with Bessarabia and Prague in 1917. Scliar’s depictions of the Jewish-Brazilians of Porto Alegre have repeatedly emphasized the transatlantic connection between Old World and New that we see in this text as well. The author himself has categorized much of his fiction as belonging to the “literature of immigration.” The title story of the collection A Balada do Falso Messias (The Ballad of the False Messiah) opens with two Russian Jews conversing on board the steamer that is carrying them to Brazil, expressing their relief at no longer having to fear annihilation in a pogrom. Benjamin Kantorovitch, the protagonist of Kafka’s Leopards who moves from the Old World to the New, and his family could be on the same ship; they are certainly fleeing the same set of circumstances.

Brazilian prose fiction has been shaped by authors who write about their own region or city: Machado de Assis for Rio de Janeiro, José Lins do Rego and Rachel de Queiroz for the Northeast, Jorge Amado for Bahia, João Guimarães Rosa for Minas Gerais, Márcio Souza for the Amazon, João Almino for Brasília, Érico Veríssimo for the southernmost Brazilian state of Rio Grande do Sul, and Moacyr Scliar for Porto Alegre, the largest conurbation of that state and one that has welcomed many immigrants, including European Jews. In one sense, Scliar fit the regionalist mold, setting many of his longer texts in the Porto Alegre neighborhood of Bom Fim, where he himself had grown up as the son of immigrants from Russia. And that focus on his Jewish neighborhood made Scliar the first Brazilian author to give the life of Jews in Brazil a central place in his fiction. Like Amado and Guimarães Rosa, Scliar added elements of magic realism to many of the events he wrote about, but he owed these techniques more to the work of Franz Kafka than to precursors in Brazil or Latin America. Allusions to, and even direct citations of, the Czech-Jewish author’s work abound in Scliar’s fiction, culminating in the appearance of Kafka as a central character in Kafka’s Leopards. Before embarking on these portrayals, Scliar studied medicine and continued to work most of his adult life for the government health services of Brazil—again, something of a parallel with Kafka, who worked for an insurance company during the day and wrote through the night. Not surprisingly, the body and its ailments figure in many of Scliar’s works. The interior monologue of the aging protagonist of The Strange Nation of Rafael Mendes (A Estranha Nação de Rafael Mendes) begins with an assessment of his bladder. Naturally, in Kafka’s Leopards the tuberculosis of Franz Kafka, one of the great invalids of world literature, receives a telling description from the knowing perception of another Jew, a resident of one of the Russian shtetls that were the origin of many who eventually settled in Bom Fim. In Kafka’s Leopards, tuberculosis becomes a bond between Yiddish-speaking Benjamin “Mousy” Kantorovitch from the Bessarabian shtetl and the sophisticated, German-speaking urban Jew Franz Kafka:

“Kafka looked at him fixedly. Suddenly he started coughing. A small, dry cough, subdued but persistent, alarming. Mousy shivered. He knew that cough: it indicated, he knew this for sure, tuberculosis—the specter that joined the pogroms in terrorizing Jewish villages. Kafka did not live in a village, but he had all the markings of a victim: the thinness, the pallor, the cheeks colored slightly red. In addition to the cold of the frigid little house that couldn’t be good for a tubercular. An immense sorrow took hold of Mousy, the same sorrow as would possess his mother if she were in his shoes: you’re sick, Kafka, very sick, that cough is not a laughing matter, it’s not a fiction, it’s tuberculosis.”

[. . .]

In Kafka’s Leopards, Scliar has created a story that addresses themes of Brazilian and European history, Jewish writing, the travels of literature, and fundamental questions of reading, such as how the rightness or wrongness of a literary interpretation is to be judged. Scliar’s text becomes in this regard as self-referential and critifictional as a short story by J. L. Borges, a novel by Italo Calvino—or a Kafka text such as “The Silence of the Sirens” or “The Truth About Sancho Panza.” Mousy’s story is one of a series of textual and interpretive substitutions, as he moves from Torah to the Communist Manifesto to the Kafka aphorism. That aphorism becomes different things to different people in different contexts. Not only the meaning, but the very genre of the text changes. Mousy takes it to be a revolutionary message in code, but explains it to the shammes as a puzzle he must solve for a contest. Conversely, Mousy goes to Prague under another name, and is constantly taken by others in the text, from the sinister desk clerk at the hotel to the sympathetic Bertha, for something other than what he is. Mousy’s brief stay in Prague becomes a giant, dialectical game of interpreting and being interpreted. Kafka, we might say, is also as disguised for Mousy, as he was for many of his Prague colleagues and contemporaries, almost none of whom recognized him as a literary genius: only decades later does Mousy realize that he was lucky enough to receive a text from one of the giants of world literature. In Brazil, the material text given to Mousy by Kafka becomes an object of exchange, as Mousy urges his fugitive nephew Jaime to sell it to an antiquarian in São Paulo, and a sacrificial object devoured by the leopard-like chief of police in exchange for Jaime’s freedom. In his study of the puzzling relationship between writing and secrecy, Frank Kermode uses Kafka’s parable to illustrate the paradoxical and unstable difference between “insiders”—those with a special status or knowledge that enables them to grasp the hidden meaning of a text—and clueless “outsiders.” The leopards represent the penetrative aspect of hermeneutic interpretation, the temple the reserve of meaning that the cryptic text always holds in reserve. The leopards are able to “break open” or “divide the word” of the text—except for the fact that they have now become part of it. Outsiders become insiders become outsiders again. Such is the alternation of blindness and insight in Scliar’s novella.

Click here to read the whole piece. And click here to preview Kafka’s Leopards.

9 August 11 | Chad W. Post | Comments

This week at Read This Next we’re featuring Kafka’s Leopards, a short book by celebrated and prolific Brazilian author Moacyr Scliar that’s translated from the Portuguese by Thomas Beebee and forthcoming from Texas Tech University Press.

This book is one of strange misunderstandings, attributions of vital meaning to coincidence, that create the central story of interest in the protagonist’s life. Mousy is a tailor who always insists on cutting left sleeves a little shorter so that it is easier to read a wristwatch, much to the chagrin of his customers. Entrusted with a secret mission, one originally issued by Trotsky himself, Mousy heads out to Prague and bumbles his way into the life of Franz Kafka.

Fittingly, this title originally caught the eye of translator Thomas Beebee as he was looking through a shelf Portuguese books and glimpsed Kafka’s name on one of the spines. This week we have an introduction to the novel from Beebee himself, and a full review on Friday.

In case you’re not familiar with Scliar already, here’s a link to his obituary, which includes reference to the whole “Max and the Cats” and “Life of Pi” controversy:

‘‘Max and the Cats,’‘ about a Jewish youth who flees Nazi Germany on a ship carrying wild animals to a Brazilian zoo and, after a shipwreck, ends up sharing a lifeboat with a jaguar, achieved fame twice over. Critically praised on its publication in 1981, it touched off a literary storm in 2002 when the Canadian writer Yann Martel won the Man Booker Prize for ‘‘Life of Pi,’‘ about an Indian youth trapped on a boat with a tiger.

Mr. Martel’s admission that he borrowed the idea led to an impassioned debate among writers and critics on the nature of literary invention and the ownership of words and images.

“In a certain way I feel flattered that another writer considered my idea to be so good, but on the other hand, he used that idea without consulting me or even informing me,’‘ Mr. Scliar told The New York Times. ‘‘An idea is intellectual property.”

I hesitate to even mention that, since it would be much better if Scliar were known in this country for his great works—The Centaur in the Garden, The War in Bom Fim—than this controversy. But it is kind of interesting, and it’s always fun to besmirch overrated novels . . .

Anyway, click here to read the beginning of Mousy’s trip to Prague and the misfortune that begins the whole jumbled series of events.

3 February 10 | Chad W. Post | Comments

Over the next thirteen days, we’ll be highlighting a book a day from the Best Translated Book Award fiction longlist. Click here for all past write-ups.



Anonymous Celebrity by Ignacio de Loyola Brandao. Translated from the Portuguese by Nelson H. Vieira. (Brazil, Dalkey Archive)

When I picked up Anonymous Celebrity over the summer, I fell in love from the first page. I was already a huge fan of Brandao’s from the time when I was at Dalkey and we reprinted Zero, but I think this might be an even better book.

Centered around an unreliable narrator obsessed with the idea of becoming famous, Anonymous Celebrity reads more like a scrapbook than a novel, teaming with information and jokes, switching tone on every page, forcing the reader to come to terms with the manic, slightly unhinged mind behind it all. And by “slightly unhinged,” I mean willing to murder the “Lead Actor”—who supposedly looks just like our narrator—so that he can take over all of L.A.‘s roles.

All the various sections, such as the “Rescuing the Anonymous” bits to draw attention to the nearly-famous (like Marli Renfro, who served as Janet Leigh’s body double in Psycho, or the unknown friends present in a photograph of Hemingway) are brilliant. The manuals for how to be famous and the gallery of characters extremely fun. But it’s obvious as you move through this book that there’s something going on underneath to decipher. The entire narrative is steeped in lies and delusions, constructing a wonderful game for the reader to puzzle through. All is clarified by the end (maybe a bit overclarified), but along the way the writing is brilliant, the posturing and the bittersweet appeal of celebrity is palpable. Rather than go on and on, I suggest reading the full review I wrote earlier this summer and checking out this long quote that captures the energy of the book:

GODDAMMITT! 24 HOURS WITH A FAN?

The network forces all its stars to go on TV and promote all sorts of crap on women’s talk shows if we have a free morning. Those shows don’t really attract big audiences, but they sell dozens of new products every day—nobody even knows where they all come from. Vitamins, impotence cures, salves for herniated disks, hemorrhoids, and bursitis, remedies for high blood pressure, depression, gastritis, muscle pains, obesity, anorexia, bad breath, gas, sinusitis, mycosis, inflammation of the testicles, yeast infections, hangnails, ingrown toenails, parasites, rheumatism, indigestion, erysipelas, impetigo, shingles. Being a shill earns me next to nothing, but the network rakes it in.

This week, however, my duty is to spend twenty-four hours with a fan who won a day with me thanks to a contest that was held for the studio audience of one of these talk shows—bussed in to applaud our cheerful celebrity endorsements.

I have no choice. It’s part of my contract.

She’s going to be positioned in my home so as to best witness my waking up, stretching, pretending to smoke my first cigarette (everyone thinks I’m so unhealthy, so contemptuous of health trends, and I have to keep the myth alive), getting up, brushing my teeth, taking a shit, having breakfast, going to the studio, memorizing my lines, putting on my make-up. Maybe she’ll even watch me having a quickie behind the scenery with some needy starlet, make-up artists, or costumer—once I even had a cleaning lady; there are some really hot lower-class girls around if you know where to look. I hope she likes the idea. That would be exciting.

She’ll stand there with her mouth wide open watching me perform, taking a little break, yelling at some fellow actor who’s not setting the right comedic or dramatic tone, yelling at the lighting people, slamming the door in some reporter’s face.

She’s going to watch me running to the bar, having a shot of scotch, then a dark beer, then some grappa, port wine, a few shots of the Havana firewater (the sugarcane booze from Minas that costs around seventy-five dollars per bottle). Then I’m going to bring her to my dressing room: Room 101. Two contiguous rooms, as the building plans say, well-appointed (All Sig Bergamin or Chico Gouvea designs).

She won’t forget this day in a hurry.

I’ll be a cherished memory until she dies.

3 December 09 | Chad W. Post | Comments

The latest addition to our Reviews Section is a piece that I wrote on Ignacio de Loyola Brandao’s Anonymous Celebrity. It’s a great book—one of my favorites of 2009 (so far)—and worth reading (especially if you liked Zero . . . all four hundred of you out there who bought it, that is).

Here’s the beginning of the review:

Ignacio de Loyola Brandao’s fourth book to appear in English, Anonymous Celebrity is most definitely the novel of his most concerned with contemporary issues, and may well be his funniest and richest novel to date. I say this as a big fan of Brandao’s writing (and not just because it’s fun to pronounce his name), in particular Zero, which was my introduction to his odd, unsettled world and was a book that we reprinted during my time at Dalkey Archive Press.

Zero is a complex, dangerous book that tells of the life of its main character through myriad of techniques, styles, typographies, and (occasionally contradictory) storylines. All infused with a great, sick sense of humor, and enough political shit to result in the book being banned by the Brazilian government when it was first published.

Brandao’s fragmented technique (and especially his penchant for dropping crazy over-sized fonts into his text) is employed in both Teeth under the Sun (also Dalkey) and And Still the Earth (currently out-of-print), but not nearly to the same symphonic effect as it is in Zero and now Anonymous Celebrity.

Anonymous Celebrity was first published in Brazil in 2002, and in contrast to his earlier books, Brandao has replaced his concerns about living under an extreme political regime with the idea of how to live in an age of media saturation and an overwhelming obsession with celebrity.

Even prior to the ending (which sort of is a rug pulling bit that would’ve been more effective—in my opinion—if it was a bit more concise and even more devastating), this is a tricksy sort of book narrated by a totally unreliable narrator. Check that: he’s not necessarily “unreliable,” rather, he’s someone obsessed with image, with celebrity, with being famous, being known, and knows that celebrity is based in falsehood, half-truths and contrived settings.

Click here for the full review.

3 December 09 | Chad W. Post | Comments

Ignacio de Loyola Brandao’s fourth book to appear in English, Anonymous Celebrity is most definitely the novel of his most concerned with contemporary issues, and may well be his funniest and richest novel to date. I say this as a big fan of Brandao’s writing (and not just because it’s fun to pronounce his name), in particular Zero, which was my introduction to his odd, unsettled world and was a book that we reprinted during my time at Dalkey Archive Press.

Zero is a complex, dangerous book that tells of the life of its main character through myriad of techniques, styles, typographies, and (occasionally contradictory) storylines. All infused with a great, sick sense of humor, and enough political shit to result in the book being banned by the Brazilian government when it was first published.

Brandao’s fragmented technique (and especially his penchant for dropping crazy over-sized fonts into his text) is employed in both Teeth under the Sun (also Dalkey) and And Still the Earth (currently out-of-print), but not nearly to the same symphonic effect as it is in Zero and now Anonymous Celebrity.

Anonymous Celebrity was first published in Brazil in 2002, and in contrast to his earlier books, Brandao has replaced his concerns about living under an extreme political regime with the idea of how to live in an age of media saturation and an overwhelming obsession with celebrity.

Even prior to the ending (which sort of is a rug pulling bit that would’ve been more effective—in my opinion—if it was a bit more concise and even more devastating), this is a tricksy sort of book narrated by a totally unreliable narrator. Check that: he’s not necessarily “unreliable,” rather, he’s someone obsessed with image, with celebrity, with being famous, being known, and knows that celebrity is based in falsehood, half-truths and contrived settings. For instance, here’s a short bit from the section “List of Essential Consultants to the Famous,” which starts off reasonably enough (Secretary, Agent, Lawyer), then becomes more fun:

Consultant on Lying. Specifically about my life. Someone who composes lies about me to be divulged to the media. Completely different than a press agent. For instance: I was a street kid and only learned to read when I was sixteen. At eighteen, at night, I performed at intersections doing acrobatics with lit torches, collecting money from interested or sympathetic drivers. One night, hungry and hurt by her refusal, I shoved one of my torches into a whore’s face. My father never acknowledged my paternity. They say the great Portuguese novelist Eca de Querios—whose novel The Maias was turned into a miniseries—was a bastard too. Comparing me to Eca is a great idea! A literary giant. I should probably read one of his books.

And then Drivers. I’m going to need three, working in shifts, given the intensity of my life. The night driver will suffer the most—he’ll have to carry me when I fall down dead drunk or faint from mixing Red Bull and ecstasy—I’m less and less in control. Though I quit the heavy drugs a long time ago. I’m clean.

Clean, on ecstasy, a street kid, and willing to accept any sponsorship—whatever it takes to be famous. Some of the great humor of the book comes from the narrator’s advice on how to become a celebrity, usually related in Rabelaisian-like lists that wax manic, starting from a recognizable place before slipping into the absurd.

Amid these lists upon lists of things to say to the press, ways to get yourself in photographs, how to be sponsored every day of the month, etc., there is a fairly compelling storyline involving the narrator’s desire to off “Lead Actor,” aka LA, aka the actor who looks almost identical to our (un)trustworthy narrator and is the reason our narrator isn’t as famous as he could be. But if the LA was dead, then our narrator could easily slip into all of his roles and achieve an even greater celebrity . . .

This plot doubles back on itself, slides in and out of reality (like almost everything else in the book), and is upended entirely in the end, but it does serve as a sort of MacGuffin on which to hang all the various threads that comprise this book, one of the best of which is the “Rescuing the Anonymous” sections that recognize those who brushed up against a moment of celebrity, but didn’t get to take full advantage. Like Marli Renfro, who served as Janet Leigh’s body double in Psycho, or the unknown friends present in a photograph of Hemingway.

In many ways, Anonymous Celebrity reads like a looseleaf collection of fragments from the mind of a potentially insane, definitely obsessed man. The prose is snappy (thanks in part to Nelson Vieira’s translation) and buzzes, with each section revealing a different facet of his obsession/insanity. And taken in bits, this is an incredibly fun, incredibly varied read. And out of the layered piles of ideas and lists, conspiracies and obsessions, something pretty amazing emerges. Definitely worth checking out.

5 January 09 | Chad W. Post | Comments

For the next several weeks we’ll be highlighting a book-a-day from the 25-title Best Translated Book of 2008 fiction longlist, leading up to the announcement of the 10 finalists. Click here for all previous write-ups.



The Taker and Other Stories by Rubem Fonseca, translated from the Portuguese by Clifford Landers. (Brazil, Open Letter)

The Taker and Other Stories by Rubem Fonseca — the one Open Letter title to make the Best Translated Book of 2008 fiction longlist — was one of the first titles that we signed on. (And just to clarify, no one affiliated with Open Letter voted for any OL titles, and won’t when it comes to the shortlist either.)

In the summer of 2007, a few years after receiving a National Endwoment for the Arts Translation Fellowship to work on a Fonseca story project, Clifford Landers e-mailed me the fully translated manuscript for what became The Taker and Other Stories. Ever since reading High Art and Vast Emotions & Imperfect Thoughts I had been interested in finding out more about Fonseca and his work.

It’s a bit tricky to find out more about Fonseca himself. He’s a notorious recluse (although he was very quick to respond to my initial e-mail about publishing his work), and is friends with Thomas Pynchon. (Which, I think, is how the Pynchon quote on the cover of our book came about. I found out about it when David Kipen, Director of Literature at the NEA and Pynchon fanatic, directed me to the Portuguese version on this site. Although I feel like I should bend the truth and tell everyone we got this from The Man Himself. Now the amazing Stewart O’Nan quote we did get . . . )

The work itself is a bit easier. Fonseca’s published eight novels, and is the author of numerous short stories (only some of which are included in this collection). He received the Juan Rulfo Award in 2003 (since renamed), and as mentioned above, a couple of his books were published in English back some years ago. His most famous literary creation is probably Mandrake, a cynical and amoral lawyer who is the basis of an HBO series of the same name.

This book was the first collection of Fonseca’s stories to be published in English. Which is somewhat surprising, since in his native Brazil, Fonseca’s short stories are what really made his reputation. (But as almost every editor in the U.S. and UK will tell you, “short stories don’t sell.” And the battle between sales and art rages on . . .)

The stories themselves are frequently violent. In the title story, a young man is pushed to grander and more destructive acts of violence thanks in part to his new girlfriend. “Night Drive,” the full text of which is available here, starts so peacefully, until the narrator goes out driving to unwind . . .

Fonseca’s depictions of the seedier side of Rio are amazing, but not all of his stories are filled with crimes. One of my personal favorites is “The Enemy,” a story about a middle-aged man thinking about the time he tried to reconnect with his high school friends to reminisce about when Roberto flew and Ulpiniano the Gentle was resurrected only to see how everyone had moved on, and remembered nothing of that mystical time. It’s a heartbreaking story, and one that made me decide that we really had to publish this collection.

“The Eleventh of May” is a funny and haunting story about an insurrection in a somewhat surreal nursing home, and “The Notebook” is a funny, and bit misogynistic, story about a man who keeps a notebook detailing all his “conquests.”

Overall, the stories in this collection are quite varied, and make up a great introduction to the fictional worlds of one of Brazil’s greatest writers.

3 January 08 | Chad W. Post | Comments

Not sure how long this has been available, but the recent issue of BOMB is dedicated to Brazilian art and culture.

Looks like a fantastic issue, with articles about Cao Guimarães and Marilá Dardot, Bernardo Carvalho (an excerpt from his most recent novel Nine Nights is also available), Lygia Fagundes Telles and Manuel Alegre, and the architect Paulo Mendes da Rocha, among others.

There are also a slew of excerpts, including a story by Rubem Fonseca (not from our forthcoming collection), an excerpt from The House of the Fortunate Buddhas by Joāo Ubaldo Ribeiro, a piece by Patricia Melo, and Four Poems by Adélia Prado.

Some stuff is available online, but for most of this you’ll have to actually buy the issue . . .

....
The Antiquarian
The Antiquarian by Gustavo Faverón Patriau
Reviewed by P.T. Smith

Gustavo Faverón Patriau’s The Antiquarian, translated by Joseph Mulligan, is a genre-blending novel, a complete immersion that delves into a lesser-used niche of genre: horror, gothic, the weird. There are visual horrors, psychological ones, and dark corners with threats lurking.. . .

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Elsewhere
Elsewhere by Eliot Weingerber (ed.)
Reviewed by Grant Barber

What a wonderful, idiosyncratic book Weinberger has written. I say book, but the closest comparison I could make to other works being published right now are from Sylph Edition’s “Cahiers Series“—short pamphlet-like meditations by notable writers such as Ann Carson,. . .

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The Hen Who Dreamed She Could Fly
The Hen Who Dreamed She Could Fly by Sun-mi Hwang
Reviewed by Chris Iacono

Early in Sun-mi Hwang’s novel The Hen Who Dreamed She Could Fly, the main character, a hen named Sprout, learns about sacrifice. After refusing to lay any more eggs for the farmer who owns her, she becomes “culled” and released. . .

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Sankya
Sankya by Zakhar Prilepin
Reviewed by Kseniya Melnik

When Sankya was published in Russia in 2006, it became a sensation. It won the Yasnaya Polyana Award (bestowed by direct descendants of Leo Tolstoy) and was shortlisted for the Russian Booker and the National Bestseller Award. Every member of. . .

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Stalin is Dead
Stalin is Dead by Rachel Shihor
Reviewed by Tiffany Nichols

Stalin is Dead by Rachel Shihor has been repeatedly described as kafkaesque, which strikes a chord in many individuals, causing them to run to the bookstore in the middle of the night to be consumed by surreal situations that no. . .

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Paradises
Paradises by Iosi Havilio
Reviewed by Andrea Reece

Paradises by cult Argentinian author Iosi Havilio is the continuation of his earlier novel, Open Door, and tells the story of our narrator, a young, unnamed Argentinian woman.

The very first sentence in Paradises echoes the opening of Camus’s The Outsider. . .

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Two Crocodiles
Two Crocodiles by Fyodor Dostoevsky; Felisberto Hernández
Reviewed by Sara Shuman

This pearl from New Directions contains one short story from Russian literary master Fyodor Dostoevsky (translated by Constance Garnett) and one short story from Uruguayan forefather of magical realism Felisberto Hernández (translated by Esther Allen). Both pieces are entitled “The. . .

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