5 May 15 | Chad W. Post | Comments

Following on the announcement of the poetry shortlist, here’s the list of the ten titles that made this year’s shortlist.

As mentioned elsewhere, the two winning books will be announced at BookExpo America at 2:30pm on Wednesday, May 27th, at the Eastside Stage in the Jacob Javitz Center.

Following that, we will be gathering at 5pm at The Folly on 92 West Houston St. Anyone interested in celebrating the BTBA and all the authors and translators who published books last year should definitely come out for this. Great way to kick off your BEA party times . . .

On with the announcement! Here are the ten fiction finalists for the 2015 Best Translated Book Award:

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

The Author and Me by Éric Chevillard, translated from the French by Jordan Stump (France, Dalkey Archive Press)

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

Pushkin Hills by Sergei Dovlatov, translated from the Russian by Katherine Dovlatov (Russia, Counterpoint Press)

Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay by Elena Ferrante, translated from the Italian by Ann Goldstein (Italy, Europa Editions)

Things Look Different in the Light by Medardo Fraile, translated from the Spanish by Margaret Jull Costa (Spain, Pushkin Press)

Harlequin’s Millions by Bohumil Hrabal, translated from the Czech by Stacey Knecht (Czech Republic, Archipelago Books)

The Woman Who Borrowed Memories by Tove Jansson, translated from the Swedish by Thomas Teal and Silvester Mazzarella (Finland, NYRB)

Faces in the Crowd by Valeria Luiselli, translated from the Spanish by Christina MacSweeney (Mexico, Coffee House Press)

La Grande by Juan José Saer, translated from the Spanish by Steve Dolph (Argentina, Open Letter Books)

21 January 15 | Kaija Straumanis | Comments

The latest addition to our Reviews section is a piece by Cameron Rowe on Julio Cortázar’s Fantomas Versus the Multinational Vampires: An Attainable Utopia, translated by David Kurnick and published by Semiotext(e).

Cameron (some of you may have met her at ALTA last fall) is a current student in the MA in Literary Translation Studies program here at the University of Rochester, and will be doing her thesis on a translation from Spanish into English. She’s also a fellow-Minnesotan, and has been known to rock out to Taylor Swift. Here’s the beginning of her review:

Fantomas Versus the Multinational Vampires: An Attainable Utopia (narrated by Julio Cortázar) is, not disappointingly, as wild a book as its title suggests. It is a half-novella half-graphic novel story about . . . what, exactly? A European tribunal, Latin American literary figures, a comic book superhero, international conspiracies, an attack on culture, multinational vampires.

Fantomas begins with “the narrator” reading a Mexican newspaper on a Belgian train (it was the only paper available at the train station), increasingly distracted, in spite of himself, by the comic book he finds inside—an issue of Fantomas: “Inteligencia en llamas.” It becomes clear that the protagonist, referred to by the narrator as “the narrator,” is actually Cortázar himself. “The narrator’s” narrative bleeds into that of the comic book he is reading, which pulls in other figures of contemporary literary history, including Octavio Paz, Susan Sontag, and Gabriel García Marquez.

The writing is quick and snappy and very funny. It’s also very strange and a little perplexing. A woman at the train station in Brussels only has Mexican newspapers to sell, thinks Mexico is “over near Asia, everyone knows that,” and discusses the delicacies of radioactive hake, all over the course of a page and a half. Later on, the narrator tells Susan Sontag to fuck off. (Actually, not quite. He tells her he “loves her too much to tell her to fuck off.”)

For the rest of the review, go here.

21 January 15 | Kaija Straumanis | Comments

Fantomas Versus the Multinational Vampires: An Attainable Utopia (narrated by Julio Cortázar) is, not disappointingly, as wild a book as its title suggests. It is a half-novella half-graphic novel story about . . . what, exactly? A European tribunal, Latin American literary figures, a comic book superhero, international conspiracies, an attack on culture, multinational vampires.

Fantomas begins with “the narrator” reading a Mexican newspaper on a Belgian train (it was the only paper available at the train station), increasingly distracted, in spite of himself, by the comic book he finds inside—an issue of Fantomas: “Inteligencia en llamas.” It becomes clear that the protagonist, referred to by the narrator as “the narrator,” is actually Cortázar himself. “The narrator’s” narrative bleeds into that of the comic book he is reading, which pulls in other figures of contemporary literary history, including Octavio Paz, Susan Sontag, and Gabriel García Marquez.

The writing is quick and snappy and very funny. It’s also very strange and a little perplexing. A woman at the train station in Brussels only has Mexican newspapers to sell, thinks Mexico is “over near Asia, everyone knows that,” and discusses the delicacies of radioactive hake, all over the course of a page and a half. Later on, the narrator tells Susan Sontag to fuck off. (Actually, not quite. He tells her he “loves her too much to tell her to fuck off.”) The text flows from this strange, funny dialogue pretty seamlessly, almost unnoticeably, into more serious, political things like excerpts of the Russell Tribunal and rhetoric like:

“They have a thousand, ten thousand, a hundred thousand names . . . but above all they’re called ITT, they’re called Nixon and Ford, Henry Kissinger or CIA or DIA, they’re called Pinochet or Banzer or Lopez Rega, they’re called General or Colonel or Technocrat or Fleury or Stroessner, they have those special names where every name means thousands of names, the way the word ant means a multitude of ants even though the dictionary defines it in the singular.”

This, within the very same aforementioned conversation with Ms. Sontag.

This mixture of ridiculous, hilarious, and somber sincerity carries through in the illustrations as well. The text is interspersed not only with panels from the comic strip, but also other photographs, newspaper excerpts, drawings of Fantomas’s various disguises, and diagrams—one of the passengers in the narrator’s train compartment and another titled “The CIA organizes coups all over the world,” just for two examples.

An afterword by the translator, David Kurnick, confirmed what I had been wondering the whole time I was reading this book—_is this all real?_ And it is. In 1975 Julio Cortázar served on a tribunal in Brussels investigating war crimes in Latin America. Around the same time a comic book called _Fantomas_—originally a superlatively popular antihero in France, Fantômas, in the turn of the century—was popular in Mexico. Its writers often featured real, important, contemporary cultural figures. In one (real) issue “Inteligencia en llamas,” these were literary figures—Susan Sontag, Octavio Paz, Jorge Luis Borges, and yes, Julio Cortázar. Cortázar used all original illustrations from this issue of Fantomas in his book, writing his plot around them, weaving it into his own.

The strangest part about the experience of reading this book is that what is strange is not all of the oddities we eventually accept—the conflation of fiction, reality, and comic books, the celebrity guest appearances, the jokes about radioactive fish—but the ending. The whole final quarter of Fantomas centers around Susan Sontag’s insistence that Fantomas can’t fight this battle alone, until it crescendos into a sort of rallying cry. Fantomas and Cortázar both learn their lesson, and voices from all across South and Central America join together in a call to arms. It feels odd that we’re supposed to take this ending seriously, and yet I did. Fantomas is a very funny book; it’s a riot to read, but a riot with a purpose—the utopia is attainable, after all.

For days after I read this book all I wanted to do was tell people about it. Not recommend it to them, per se (though that was a part of it), but at least just tell them about it. There was this popular Mexican comic book in the 70s, Julio Cortázar wrote a book around it, there are vampires (?), he tells Susan Sontag to fuck off (sort of). I only wished I had known about all of this sooner, I kept feeling like I should have known about this sooner. Everyone should know about this book. It’s a real wonder that no one has translated it before now. Reading Fantomas is an amazing experience and everyone should have access to it.

12 September 14 | Chad W. Post | Comments

This book literally just arrived in our office, which is perfect, since I’m taking off in 15 minutes to go camping and will definitely bring this with me.

If you don’t already know Julio Cortázar’s work, run to the nearest bookstore and buy Hopscotch and 62: A Model Kit. After that, you will, like everyone else who’s been indoctrinated into the World of Cortázar, seek out every last thing that he wrote, and cherish all of his books. (One hidden gem worth checking out is Autonauts of the Cosmoroute, which Archipelago brought out a few years back.)

Anyway, this particular book is a mash-up of literature and comics that seems particularly Cortázar-esque. On his way home from the Second Russell Tribunal (which was dedicated to investigating human rights violations in Latin American countries), Cortázar read issue #201 of Fantomas: The Elegant Menace which contains a cameo by Julio Cortázar!

Out of this, he wrote this book, which contains parts of the original comic book along with a text that ends up exploring human rights abuses and the other evils of multinational corporations and political regimes.

This came out in Spanish in 1975, but has never before been translated into English. Semiotext(e) did a great job with this, and I can’t wait to get the tent set up so that I can dive in . . .

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