13 January 14 | Chad W. Post | Comments

This week’s BTBA post is written by George Carroll, a publishers representative based in Seattle who blogs at North-North-West. He is also the soccer editor for Shelf Awareness and he and Chad frequently spent part of the weekend texting about EPL match-ups and Manchester Fucking United. He’s also helping to organize our forthcoming World Cup of Literature.

The protagonist of Rafael Bernal’s The Mongolian Conspiracy, is a police hitman named Filiberto Garcia. His job is to eliminate people as directed by his superiors. He says “Pinche!” a lot, mostly in exasperation. Katherine Silver translates “Pinche!” as “Fucking!”

So, here’s a synopsis of the book seen through Garcia’s interior monologue:

Fucking tame tiger! Fucking goddamn captain! Fucking furniture! Fucking jokes! Fucking Chinamen! Fucking experience! Fucking laws! Fucking Revolution! Fucking Chinamen and old people! Fucking conscience! Fucking loyalty! Fucking sovereignty! Fucking colonel! Fucking mysteries! Fucking gringos! Fucking Outer Mongolia! Fucking souls! Fucking bitch! Fucking tears! Fucking Marta! Fucking Poles! Fucking Chinese gal! Fucking stiffs! Fucking investigation! Fucking gringo! Fucking broad! Fucking Russian! Fucking mission! Fucking washed-up gringa! Fucking little brat! Fucking father! Fucking del Valle! Fucking Charanda! Fucking host! Fucking bills! Fucking Chink! Fucking meat! Fucking hands! Fucking team! Fucking life! Fucking faggot! Fucking Doris! Fucking Liu! Fucking solitude! Fucking wake!

My favorite line from the book actually doesn’t have “fucking” in it. Garcia is dressing to go out, straightening his tie, arranging his handkerchief, examining his nails, “The only thing he couldn’t fix was the scar on his cheek, but the gringo who’d made it couldn’t fix being dead, either.”

The first short story in Zhu Wen’s The Matchmaker, The Apprentice & The Football Fan is Da Ma’s “Way of Talking.” Da Ma is a pretty annoying character. He and his class are sent to northeast China for a month’s training in the People’s Liberation Army. When they’re on the shooting range, he points a rifle at the students on his left and yells “Freeze! Or you’re fucking dead.” One of the students says “Fucking hell! . . . That gun’s loaded! Fuck, fuck, fucking fuck.” Four occurrences in one sentence, devoid of other words, is hard to beat.

I recommend both Rafael Bernal and Zhu Wen’s books highly. They’re very fun reading that I’ve been able to sandwich between The Literary Submissions of High Art.

Finally, there’s a book I haven’t received yet—Jens Lapidus’s Never Fück Up. It’s part of The Stockholm Noir Trilogy, published in Sweden as Aldrig Fucka Upp. Nice to know some things just translate easily.

18 November 13 | Chad W. Post | Comments

The latest addition to our reviews section is a piece by George Carroll on two Maurizio de Giovanni books that Europa Editions recently released: Blood Curse and I Will Have Vengeance.

I’ve been hoping to cover more crime books on the site—mainly because there are so many, lots of people, including Tom Roberge, that love these sorts of novels, and because it’s a genre of fiction that I don’t read very often—and thankfully George Carroll agreed to try and review some of these for us.

The first ones he decided to write about are two of the five books by Maurizio de Giovanni that Europa Editions has published. He opens by comparing this series to those from two other famous crime writers:

There are curious similarities in three Italian mystery series, written by Maurizio de Giovanni, Andrea Camilleri, and Donna Leon.

They’re all police procedurals, and all set in Italy: Naples, Sicily, Venice.

The three protagonists are Commissarios: Luigi Ricciardi, Salvo Montalbano, and Guido Brunetti.

They all report to self-serving, social-climbing, ass-covering Questore buffoons: Angelo Garzo, Bonetti-Alderighi, and Patta

Each has a loyal, efficient, well-connected right-hand Sergente / Ispettore / Brigadier: Raffaele Maione, Giuseppe Fazio, Lorenzo Vianello.

And they all have testy, feisty relationships with their forensic pathologists: Doctors Modo, Pasquale, Rizzardi

But this is where most of those similarities end.

Click here to read the full thing.

18 November 13 | Chad W. Post | Comments

There are curious similarities in three Italian mystery series, written by Maurizio de Giovanni, Andrea Camilleri, and Donna Leon.1

They’re all police procedurals, and all set in Italy: Naples, Sicily, Venice.

The three protagonists are Commissarios: Luigi Ricciardi, Salvo Montalbano, and Guido Brunetti.

They all report to self-serving, social-climbing, ass-covering Questore buffoons: Angelo Garzo, Bonetti-Alderighi, and Patta

Each has a loyal, efficient, well-connected right-hand Sergente / Ispettore / Brigadier: Raffaele Maione, Giuseppe Fazio, Lorenzo Vianello.

And they all have testy, feisty relationships with their forensic pathologists: Doctors Modo, Pasquale, Rizzardi

But this is where most of those similarities end.

De Giovanni’s Commissario Ricciardi novels are set in 1931 Fascist Italy whereas the other two series are contemporary.

Ricciardi has a neighbor, a muse, who he doesn’t meet until the second book in the series. Montalbano has a girlfriend who appears frequently at the beginning of the series but then gets more and more distant as the series progresses. Brunetti has a relatively happy marriage although his boss’ secretary is a bit of distraction.

Quite a few of Leon’s victims end up floating in canals. Oh, I hate floaters.2 Most of Camilleri’s novels have two incidents or two separate crimes that appear to be unrelated, but come together somewhere along the plotline. And de Giovanni’s Ricciardi has visions, which is the main thing setting this series apart from the others.

Ricciardi sees the last few seconds of the lives of victims’ violent deaths. Many of them lurk in the shadows and aren’t connected to the investigations. A child who fell from a third-story balcony (Can I go down and play?), a man in a barbershop bleeding from a razor cut to the neck (By God, I didn’t touch your wife! ). Gushing blood—there’s a lot of gushing blood.

His visions are a blessing and a curse. The upside is that even though the words the victims speak are enigmatic, they aid in resolution of the crimes. The downside is, well, life sucks when you’re sidestepping grotesque images of dead people all day. His solace comes in the evening when he sits in his room, watching his neighbor across the courtyard doing embroidery.

The tricky, and frustrating, device that de Giovanni uses is mixing up his character’s narratives. Most of the time he identifies who’s speaking or pondering or doing bad things. Other times he doesn’t, which creates red herrings and sends you down dead ends.

I Will Have Vengeance involves the death of an opera tenor, and Blood Curse, the death of an elderly fortune-teller and moneylender. Neither perpetrator is obvious or stereotypical. Both books, yes, read them, but in order.

De Giovanni is a very talented writer. He keeps enough hidden, layers his writing deep enough that the twists and turns come naturally. The books are dark enough to work in Europa’s World Noir series, which thanks to a very aggressive marketing campaign, were on feature tables in most independent bookstores over the summer.

1 Donna Leon has lived in Venice for 25 years, so I’m just going to call her Italian. I’ve lived in Seattle for 25 years and I don’t call myself a Pennsylvanian.

2 A great line and timely line by Coroner Dominic DaVinci in DaVinci’s Inquest.

12 November 13 | Chad W. Post | Comments

This week’s BTBA post is written by George Carroll, a publishers representative based in Seattle who blogs at North-North-West. He is also the soccer editor for Shelf Awareness and he and Chad frequently spent part of the weekend texting about EPL match-ups and Manchester Fucking United.

Paranoia by Victor Martinovich, translated by Diane Nemec Ignashev

A young writer falls in love with a woman who is also the lover of the head of state security in Belarus. The triangle falls apart when the woman says she is pregnant, disappears, is seemingly murdered, and the writer becomes the prime suspect.

The book opens with “There was light, then came darkness.” The beginning is a lot of romantic obsession, a bit cloying at times. The middle is written from transcripts of monitoring the apartment where the lovers meet. The final third of the book is the payoff—writing about it would be a minefield of spoiler alerts. Donald Rayfiled’s review in the TLS remarked that Martinovich’s achievement was showing how “a hole can open up in the ground and drop you into hell.” That pretty much sums it up. It’s dark, unsettling, and capped with a major WTF ending.

That the book takes place in Minsk during the dictatorship of Alexander Lukashenko, and that the head of security invokes the historical figure Mikhail Muraviov, aka “the hangman” is thinly disguised. Timothy Snyder wrote a lengthy piece about the book in New York Review of Books three years ago, noting that the book was removed from bookstore shelves in Belarus two days after it was published.

The Silence and the Roar by Nihad Sirees, translated by Max Weiss

A couple of weeks ago Publishers Weekly announced The Silence and the Roar as one of the top ten books of 2013. What does that mean? Not a whole heck of a lot. However, it’s great to see a book in translation make a general wrap-up and the fact it wasn’t written by one of the Yankees of the Translation League is a huge plus.

The book was written in 2004, pre-current-revolution Syria. The main character, a writer, gets in trouble with security forces, has his ID card taken away, tries to retrieve it at headquarters, only to be refused entrance because, well, he doesn’t have an ID card.

This book, like Paranoia, has all of those descriptive pigeon-holes—Orwellian, Kafkaesque, dystopian. There’s a real snarkiness to the protagonist and the female characters (mother, girlfriend) have a nice depth to them.

The Village Indian by Abbas Khider, translated by Donal McLaughlin

Abbas Khider recently received the Nelly-Sachs-Preis, a biennial prize awarded by the city of Dortmund, who just lost to Arsenal. Wait. That’s a different column I’m writing. Previously Khider was a runner-up for the Adelbert von Chammiso Award, given to non-German writers who make a contribution to German letters. Not bad for someone who arrived in Berlin knowing three German words: Hitler, Lufthansa, and scheisse.

Khider was arrested six times for leafleting against Saddam Hussein’s regime and spent two years in an Iraqi prison. On his release, he became an undocumented refugee traveling through North Africa and Europe.

The narrator in the book finds a manuscript on a Munich-Berlin train that tells his own story but with a different name. How much similarity the character Rasul Hamid has with Khider would be very interesting to know. My takeaway from the book—when you’re on the run, carry a knife and duct tape.

That Smell by Sonallah Ibrahim, translated by Robyn Creswell

After spending five years in prison, a political prisoner, now under house arrest, tries to adjust to life in Cairo. This book doesn’t qualify for the BTBA award. Snap. But just because it doesn’t qualify, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t read it.

13 August 13 | Chad W. Post |

This week’s podcast is a special combo version featuring two separate conversations: one between Chad, Stephen Sparks (BTBA judge, Green Apple bookseller, and excellent reviewers), and George Carroll; and one between Chad and Paul Yamazaki (legendary City Lights bookseller). Topics range from soccer to Karl Pohrt to Javier Marias to Jonathan Lethem to other books we’re reading this summer. It’s always great to hear from booksellers about what they’re reading—they’re more in touch with what’s coming out than basically anyone. Additionally, it’s always fun to give a bit more love to these two epically great bookstores.

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22 February 13 | N. J. Furl |

This week, Chad talks with special guest George Carroll about the enchanted lives of literary sales reps, Seagull Books, the Seagull School of Publishing, László Krasznahorkai’s forthcoming books, and . . . the UEFA Champions League.

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20 August 12 | Chad W. Post | Comments

Sales rep superstar and international literature enthusiast George Carroll just posted a “destination guide” at NW Book Lovers that highlights a number of great presses, organizations, and books worth checking out.

Many of these—like Three Percent, New Directions, the Center for the Art of Translation—you’re probably already familiar with, but it’s always fun to see someone else talking about your books and/or the reasons for reading international literature in the first place.

There’s an opinion in publishing that literature in translation doesn’t sell— that the books are dense and unapproachable, and that Americans won’t read authors whose names we can’t pronounce. Norman Manea (The Lair, Yale Margellos) says books in translation are thought to be “too ‘complicated,’ which is another way of saying that literature should deal with simple issues in a simple way.”

Haruki Murakami once said, “If you only read the books that everyone else is reading, you can only think what everyone else is thinking.” If that’s true, people who read international literature are true iconoclasts. Only about three percent of all books published in the United States are works in translation. In terms of literary fiction and poetry, that number drops below one percent. And mainstream reviewers ignore most of the books that make it through the translation process into print.

I also want to point out that his three recommendations—Satantango by Laszlo Krashnahorkai, Maidenhair by Mikhail Shishkin, and Almost Never by Daniel Sada—are three of my favorite books from 2012 . . .

....
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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