Now that Cyber Monday is underway, it’s about time for the “Best of Everything!!!” lists to start coming out. (Or, as documented at Largehearted Boy, continue coming out.) Personally, I fricking love these sorts of lists, to find books/albums that I need to check out, and to serve as fodder for my anger . . . I’ll bet at least half of an upcoming podcast will be an escalation of complaints about some utterly predictable list of shit that most four-book-a-year readers will slobber over . . . And hopefully our year end lists (in books, movies, and music) will get some other cultural elitists all bent.
But for now, the only year end list I’ve checked out is this Kirkus one, which is definitely my favorite, since it includes TWO Open Letter titles: Children of Reindeer Woods by Kristin Omarsdottir, translated from the Icelandic by Lytton Smith and My First Suicide by Jerzy Pilch (Kirkus LOVES the Pilch), translated from the Polish by David Frick.
There are a number of interesting books on this list—Kingdom Come by J.G. Ballard, The Investigation by Philip Claudel, Arcadia by Lauren Groff, Lazarus Is Dead by Richard Beard, and Three Strong Women by Marie NDiaye—but not many (any?) from small, nonprofit presses. YAY TO US FOR OVERACHIEVING!
However you get them, I hope you do. And I want to take a second to give a special shout-out to Lytton Smith and David Frick for translating these. Both books set forth their own unique difficulties, and both translators totally nailed it. Congrats to both of you!
Yesterday afternoon we found out that The Conqueror by Jan Kjaerstad, the second book in the “Wergeland Trilogy,” received a glowing, starred review in Kirkus:
Back in the day, Jonas Wergeland was an inquisitive student, brilliant, capable of speculating that “Dante’s observations on the celestial spheres, based on Ptolemy’s theories, were at least as right or wrong as the theories about the universe with which he was confronted in his astrophysical studies.” Alas, it’s the here and now, and Jonas is a television personality, the most popular in all of Norway. The here and now doesn’t always agree with him; when we meet Wergeland, early in the pages of this sprawling postmodern whodunit, our hero, breast-obsessed (“it’s a long story altogether, that of men and breasts”) and bewildered, is being copiously sick, feeling “as if he were spewing over Oslo, over the whole of Norway, in fact.” Wergeland has reason to feel ill over the course of much of this novel, and it’s not just from all the aquavit; his wife, Margrete, has been shot dead in the first volume of the trilogy, The Seducer, and all fingers point at him. [. . .] Think of it as Kafka-meets-Billy Connolly, and you’re almost there.
In celebration of this, our first starred review, we’re giving away the five extra copies of the galley that we have here in the office. The book will officially release in February, with the third volume (more on that a little later) coming out in August. (And just to clarify a bit, these three books can be read in any order, independent of one another, but if you’re chronologically inclined, The Seducer is available in paperback from Overlook.)
This is a great wintry book that is ambitious in scope and incredibly compelling. Each chapter reads like a perfectly crafted short story, and taken as a whole, the novel is a stunning accomplishment. It’s no wonder Kjaerstad won the Nordic Prize for the third volume . . .
If you’d like to be entered in the drawing for one of these copies, simply e-mail me your mailing address at chad.post at rochester dot edu with “The Conqueror” in the subject line. Since the holidays are here and we’ll be slowing down next week, we’ll keep this contest open until the morning of the 29th.
Linn Ullmann’s The Cold Song, her fifth novel, is built much like the house about which its story orbits: Mailund, a stately white mansion set in the Norwegian countryside a few hours drive from Oslo. The house, nestled into the. . .
Karel Schoeman’s Afrikaans novel, This Life, translated by Else Silke, falls into a genre maybe only noticed by the type of reader who tends toward Wittgenstein-type family resemblances. The essential resemblance is an elderly narrator, usually alone—or with one other. . .
In Joris-Karl Hyusmans’s most popular novel, À rebours (Against Nature or Against the Grain, depending on the which translated edition you’re reading), there is a famous scene where the protagonist, the decadent Jean des Esseintes, starts setting gemstones on the. . .
There are books that can only wisely be recommended to specific types of readers, where it is easy to know who the respective book won’t appeal to, and Kristiina Ehin’s Walker on Water is one these. What makes this neither. . .
Imagine the most baroque excesses of Goethe, Shakespeare, and Poe, blended together and poured into a single book: That is The Nightwatches of Bonaventura. Ophelia and Hamlet fall in love in a madhouse, suicidal young men deliver mournful and heartfelt. . .
In 1899, Maurice Ravel wrote “Pavane pour une infante défunte” (“Pavane for a Dead Princess”) for solo piano (a decade later, he published an orchestral version). The piece wasn’t written for a particular person; Ravel simply wanted to compose a. . .
Fiston Mwanza Mujila is an award-winning author, born in the Democratic Republic of Congo, who now, at 33, lives in Austria. From what I could find, much of his work is influenced by the Congo’s battle for independence and its. . .