23 December 15 | Chad W. Post | Comments

Rather than devolve into posting clickbait featuring cats, penguins, hedgehogs, corgis, and books, like other BuzzHole sites, I’m going hard for the rest of the week, starting with seven books by women in translation.

The gender disparity in terms of women in translation has been fairly well documented—see the Women in Translation tumblr and all of the work Meytal Radzinski has been doing—but it’s worth reiterating some of the primary numbers.

Using our own Translation Database, I calculated that between 2008 and 2014 only 26.6% of all the works of fiction and poetry published in translation were written by women. That’s pretty damn appalling.

I still might be missing some 2015 titles, but at this moment, I have logged in 552 original works of fiction and poetry in translation, 165 written by women. I don’t think this is a reason to celebrate, but at 29.9%, that is a slight uptick over the average . . .

Leaving off all of the books by women that I included on my previous lists (post listing all lists is forthcoming), and ones that I’m planning on including in the future (this will never end!), here are seven books by women from 2015 that are worth reading.

Rock, Paper, Scissors by Naja Marie Aidt, translated from the Danish by K. E. Semmel (Open Letter)

Given that this is the first Open Letter book I’ve included on these lists, I hope everyone reading this can acknowledge that I’m doing my best to include as many different presses, writers, translators as possible, and not just promoting the mind-blowingly amazing books that we’ve been bringing out.

This is Naja’s first novel and her second book to be translated into English. (The first, Baboon, translated by Denise Newman, won the PEN Translation Prize last year.) It’s a book I considered including on the “noir” list that’s forthcoming, but with all the competition for that—do you have any idea how many crime titles are published every year?—I thought it would make more sense to include her here.

Rock, Paper, Scissors centers around Thomas, a stationery-store owner whose dad dies in prison. Going through some of his belongings, Thomas discovers a mysterious package that could radically change his family’s fortunes. But as the book develops, more and more awful things start happening to him . . .

You can find out more about Naja by reading this interview with Mieke Chew in Bomb.

_The Weight of Things _ by Marianne Fritz, translated from the Germany by Adrian Nathan West (Dorothy Project)

(What’s below appeared verbatim in an earlier post, but I have nothing new to add.)

This may well be the most intriguing jacket copy I’ve read in a while.

The Weight of Things is the first book, and the first translated book, and possibly the only translatable book by Austrian writer Marianne Fritz (1948–2007). For after winning acclaim with this novel—awarded the Robert Walser Prize in 1978—she embarked on a 10,000-page literary project called “The Fortress,” creating over her lifetime elaborate, colorful diagrams and typescripts so complicated that her publisher had to print them straight from her original documents. A project as brilliant as it is ambitious and as bizarre as it is brilliant, it earned her cult status, comparisons to James Joyce no less than Henry Darger, and admirers including Elfriede Jelinek and W. G. Sebald.

My knee-jerk reaction when I see something referred to as “untranslatable” is to cry Nonsense! and bust out all sort of practical versus theoretical reasons why everything’s translatable, just maybe not in the way the speaker has in mind.

But then I Googled Marianne Fritz’s later works and found this:

Yep. That. Amazing.

The Mountain and the Wall by Alisa Ganieva, translated from the Russian by Carol Apollonio (Deep Vellum)

We have a full review of this forthcoming, so I won’t say too much here. Basically this is a genre-bending novel about what happens when rumors spread that the Russian government is going to erect a wall to block off the Caucasus republics from the rest of the country. (Shades of Trump!) It’s also one of the only (the only?) book from Dagestan to be published in English translation.

Not too many months ago, I listened to the audiobook recording of Masha Gessen’s The Brothers about the Boston Bombers. It also involves a lot about Dagestan and I totally fell in love with the way the reader pronounced “Makhachkala.” Weirdly, that got me interested in this book . . . Sometimes the way we find things to read is so random.

Hot Sur by Laura Restrepo, translated from the Spanish by Ernest Mestre-Reed (AmazonCrossing)

I just got a copy of this and hope to read it over the holiday break. (Although I’ll probably spend most of my vacation reading out 2016 titles and prepping for my world lit class . . . sigh. There’s just not enough time for pleasure reading anymore.) Anyway, Restrepo is one of those “AmazonCrossing coups” that I’ve mentioned in past articles and interviews. Sure, a lot of what Amazon does are genre books, romances, thrillers, etc., but they also do a handful of big name literary authors who have been overlooked by more established publishers. Such as Restrepo.

You might remember Restrepo from last summer’s Women’s World Cup of Literature where her novel, Delirium, lost in the semifinals to Alina Bronsky’s The Hottest Dishes of the Tartar Cuisine.

Hot Sur is a more recent novel that sounds dark and edgy:

María Paz is a young Latin American woman who, like many others, has come to America chasing a dream. When she is accused of murdering her husband and sentenced to life behind bars, she must struggle to keep hope alive as she works to prove her innocence. But the dangers of prison are not her only obstacles: gaining freedom would mean facing an even greater horror lying in wait outside the prison gates, one that will stop at nothing to get her back.

This is one of those titles that I have a feeling certain booksellers would be rallying around had it come out from someone else. Which makes me feel bad for the book.

War, So Much War by Mercè Rodoreda, translated from the Catalan by Maruxa Relaño and Martha Tennent (Open Letter)

This book made Jeff VanderMeer’s list of his favorite books of 2015 and since I can’t resist the idea of having lists inside of lists (inside of lists inside of . . . ), I’m just going to quote from his write up:

War, So Much War, the latest translation of her work following volumes of short stories and the darkly sublime novel Death in Spring, is a phantasmagorical journey through a landscape of war. People disappear into the sea. Cat men made out of broken parts try to make their way in the world. A kind of anti-picturesque episodic adventure, the novel makes sense of war through the nonreal, makes us understand that in the worst circumstances the surreal is the every-day as well as the place people escape to because there is nowhere else to hide.

This book has been getting some great year-end play from booksellers and other critics. As one of my all-time favorite writers, I couldn’t be happier. Go Rodoreda! (Now if only I could find a way to learn more about Catalan culture . . . like by attending the Barcelona-Arsenal Champions League match in mid-March at Camp Nou . . . Maybe I should start a “gofundme” for this! “Send me to see some fútbol, I’ll bring back some Catalan lit!”)

The Big Green Tent by Ludmila Ulitskaya, translated from the Russian by Bela Shayevich (FSG)

I really like when Jonathan Sturgeon is given the space to write longer pieces about books for Flavorwire. He’s a very insightful, thoughtful, well-read critic, as can be evidenced in this piece about Ulitskaya’s latest:

Because the novel is flat and fast, it’s difficult to describe the next several hundred pages. I’d rather given you an example of how it reads. But first I will say that it does not just dutifully work out the fates of our three young men, their sexualities, marriages, educations, occupations, travels, interpersonal struggles, and deaths; rather, it undutifully resolves these things. The plot meanders. The narrator ice skates along the novel’s surface. And as the book expands, it does become a big (green) tent, one that deals the fates of assorted minor characters, of what the narrator bafflingly calls “C-list extras.” The problem, though, is that any extra would be thrilled to be on the C-list; accordingly, the novel’s minor characters are always clambering in the limelight. (“Vera Samuilovna was crazy about endocrinology,” for instance.) Sometimes they ruin the shot.

Still, the book is often a joy to read. It is, if you will, crack. (Reminder: crack is bad for you.) But at least it is book crack and not TV crack. By this I do not mean that books are better than TV, although this is something I do believe. (I write about books.) What I mean is that The Big Green Tent, unlike some other big works of realism published this year, does not rely too much on TV tropes. Instead, it wins the reader’s attention with narrative art and (sometimes) ingenious language.

I considered including this in my spring class, but asking students to read a 570-page book in a week is begging for a student rebellion.

The Country Road by Regina Ullmann, translated from the German by Kurt Beals (New Directions)

I don’t remember seeing a lot of coverage for this book when it first came out, which is both strange and disappointing. Her writing is weird in that way that a lot of literary readers and reviewers seem to enjoy. Robert Musil called her a “genius.” There are blurbs on the book jacket by Rainer Maria Rilke, Thomas Mann, and Hermann Hesse. Kurt Beals won a PEN Heim Translation Award for this. And here’s the opening of the title story:

Summer, but a younger summer than this one; the summer back then was no more than my equal in years. True, I still wasn’t happy, not happy to my core, but I had to be int he way that everyone is. The sun set me ablaze. It grazed on the green knoll where I sat, a knoll with an almost sacred form, where I had taken refuge from the dust of the country road. Because I was weary. I was weary because I was alone. This long country road before and behind me . . . The bends that it made around this knoll, the poplars—even heaven itself could not relieve it of its bleakness. I was ill at ease, because just a short way into my walk, this road had already dragged me into its misery and squalor. It was an uncanny country road. An all-knowing road. A road reserved for those who had been, in some way, left alone.

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So go forth and read women in translation!

2 October 15 | Chad W. Post | Comments

Rather than reinvent the ranting wheel (I don’t know what that is, but it sounds fun), I’m going to preface this preview of three new books with a couple of updates from last week’s post.

First off, DraftKings. I spend way too much of my mental time hating all over this stupid company. I should just stop. Just ignore them. Mute every single commercial interruption. (Because no matter what you’re watching, there’s a 90% chance an ad for DraftKings will show up and crap all over your TV screen. There should be a law.) That said, I really appreciated Drew Magary’s column, I Tried Daily Fantasy and It Is Evil.

I signed up for DraftKings and was immediately bombarded with dozens of options for wasting my money. There is a baseball game, in case you simply can’t wait until the weekend and have to lose your money RIGHT NOW THIS INSTANT. There were four million different football pools to join, the most expensive of which had a $5,300 entry fee. And there was a “limited time offer” wherein the site offered me extra credit if I put my deposit in before the clock ran down. PRESSURE’S ON . . . [. . .]

As for the game itself, it’s like any other casino game: fun right up until the moment you don’t win. I drafted my two lineups, talked myself into those lineups winning me a million bucks, and eye-banged both lineups all Sunday long.[. . .] You can talk yourself into being a football wizard who knows just the right matchups to exploit for sleeper picks that week, but I can assure you that you are bullshitting yourself, and that DraftKings is counting on you to bullshit yourself.

Yup. As if Fantasy Baseball/Football isn’t already the worst. That game—which I am truly addicted to now, thanks almost entirely to Jacob Knapp of Curbside Splendor who got me into his fantasy baseball league for book people and then bounced me from the playoffs, THANK YOU FOR BEING EVIL—is a game of nightmares. Did I set my lineup correctly? Which order should I set for my waiver wire pickups? Is that guy going to break out, or is his hamstring made of string cheese? Why am I caring about the Jacksonville Jaguars training camp when no one in their right mind cares about the stupid Jacksonville any—ARRGH! It’s like some evil genius invented this to torment his family: “You think you’re so smart and understand numbers and sports, don’t you? Well here, here’s a game mixing exactly that and pitting you against all of your peers—figure it out, puzzle-boy!”

Since I sometimes feel the need to lather up some rage, I wasted four minutes of my life yesterday watching this:

These people are the worst. The way she says, “well, since he’s actually good at his hobby.” The way he poses with the belt and the check. Oh my god, it’s all so awful. My eyes are burning just from thinking about it. This is what DraftKings has created. This couple. Their houses. The “baby machine” that they’re about to start up if he wins another million dollars with his “hobby” and “skills”, which have also “earned” him the “respect” of his “Wifey’s” family.

OK, I’m done. All the DraftDemons have been purged. I will never write of this again. Next week I’ll have some fresh material about some other minor, totally ignorable thing that’s gotten stuck in my brain.

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But before going onto this week’s books, I have to go back to last week’s post one more time.

As with this week, when I was putting that together, I was looking for some common theme to group the three books. Bolaño became the thread between Sada’s One Out of Two and Neuman’s The Things We Don’t Do, but Piglia’s Target in the Night was a bit of an outlier. (Aside from being Spanish, which is why I chose it.)

WELL. I started reading that book, and right away found the connection between it and Sada’s book—twins!

Tony Durán was an adventurer and a professional gambler who saw his opportunity to win the big casino when he met the Belladona sisters. It was a ménage à trois that scandalized the town and stayed on everyone’s mind for months. He’d sow up with one of the two sisters at the restaurant of the Plaza Hotel, but no one could ever tell with which because the twins were so alike that even their handwriting was indistinguishable. Tony was almost never seen with both at the same time; that was something he kept private. What really shocked everyone was the thought of the twins sleeping together. Not so much that they would share the same man, but that they would share each other.

There. The triangle is complete.

Rock, Paper, Scissors by Naja Marie Aidt. Translated from the Danish by K. E. Semmel (Open Letter)

Naja is just starting her book tour, which will include stops in Chicago, Minneapolis, San Francisco, Dallas, and Houston. She’s already done events in Rochester (video coming soon!), at the Brooklyn Book Festival, as part of the Fall for the Book celebration, and, just yesterday, at Community Bookstore in Park Slope with Valeria Luiselli. So, if you haven’t already read Naja’s book, this is a perfect time to get a copy.

At her events here in Rochester, Naja always asked me to “pitch” the book, as she wasn’t sure how exactly to describe it. Since this is a book with a strong plot, I’d generally start there, explaining how it’s about Thomas, a stationery-store owner whose dad died in prison and who left behind a mysterious package that gives Thomas the hope that he can change his life forever, but which ends up bringing about one awful occurrence after another. This is a real page-turner, functioning in some ways like a mystery novel, but also very literary, written in precise, enchanting prose. It’s also very character-driven, with all of these people—each one a little bit awful, but very recognizable—fully-fleshed out, concrete and compelling.

Although the plot totally pulls you along, it’s these characters and the discomfort that they inflict on the reader that really drew me into the book. Thomas is kind of an asshole. You don’t exactly regret that shit falls apart for him—he sort of deserves it. But his girlfriend isn’t that much better, and his sister? Man. That’s that thing that Naja does better than anyone: She creates characters who are a bit too honest with each other about their internal thoughts and feelings. It’s as if she peels back all the layers of niceness that we inhabit in the real world and exposes the underlying desires and reactions we all have, and which aren’t always the most pleasant. In some ways, her writing reminds me of Nathalie Sarraute’s. (Speaking of, I’ll have to feature the new edition of Tropisms sometime soon.)

The Story of My Teeth by Valeria Luiselli. Translated from the Spanish by Christina MacSweeney (Coffee House)

Although I’ve been championing Valeria’s work for a few years (see the original World Cup of Literature championship match), and despite the fact that she literally just did an event with Naja and was on a panel with Andrés Neuman a couple weeks ago, I have yet to meet her. Which is why I’m really excited about this year’s American Literary Translators Association conference later this month. Valeria will be there, in conversation with Mario Bellatin no less. I’m going to fanboy out that entire day, I guarantee it.

Rather than try and explain The Story of My Teeth, I’m going to let Stephen Sparks (from Green Apple Books, and co-author of the Best Translations of the Century (So Far) book that we’re working on) take it away with this interview he did with her for The White Review:

Valeria Luiselli’s second novel, The Story of My Teeth, was commissioned by two curators for an exhibition at Galeria Jumex, a Mexico City art gallery funded by Grupo Jumex—a juice factory. Written in a series of weekly installments that were published as chapbooks to be shared with factory’s employees, the project endeavoured to bridge the gap between the art world and that of blue-collar workers. Several employees gathered to talk informally about the exploits of Gustavo “Highway” Sánchez Sánchez, the larger-than-life auctioneer at the heart of The Story of My Teeth, The book club’s conversations were recorded and subsequently emailed to Luiselli as MP3s, and those conversations informed her subsequent installments. As the author puts it in the afterword, “The formula, if there was one, would be something like Dickens + MP3 ÷ Balzac + JPEG.” The following exchange, which typifies Luiselli’s willingness to lay bare artifice and to expose “the many layers of its making,” captures the spirit of her work—and the charm of the writer herself.

SS: You populate The Story of My Teeth with characters who share names with several contemporary writers. For instance, Yuri Herrera becomes a female police officer, etc. This kind of playful adjustment of reality is one of the more interesting formal elements in a novel full of interesting formal elements, and I wonder just how you came to the decision to blur the boundaries of reality and fiction like this.

VL: I had one question in mind when I decided to, quite literally, drop names of real writers into the narrative tissue of The Story of My Teeth. I wanted to explore how names modify the context into which they are placed, as well as how context re-frames names. In many ways, this was a process akin to using ready-mades in art. I found and used names of people, whose value and meaning both altered and were altered by context. While I was writing the novel, I engaged with procedures common to contemporary art, and looking for narrative or literary analogies to those procedures. Using names the way I did was a kind of narrative transposition of ready-mades. I basically used a series of writers—including myself—as if they were ready-mades or found objects, and did what many have done before me: dislocate them from their traditional context and relocate them to another, or decontextualise them and repurpose them, in order to reflect upon their value—be it use value, exchange value or symbolic value. If a reader has no idea who Yuri Herrera is, to use your example, then nothing in the narrative tissue around that name is altered. Yuri Herrera is just a policewoman. If, on the contrary, the name bears a certain weight by virtue of the many associations it has for the reader, then both the name and the narrative around it suffer a kind of indent. The name weighs more heavily and the narrative around it takes a different shape, and also envelopes the name more tightly. But the mere fact that this effect depends completely on the reader’s pre-conceptions of a name and its associations says a lot about the ultimate value, content or meaning of names. I see names as objects in this novel: objects that vary in value and meaning depending on a series of circumstances, both intrinsic and exterior to the book itself. The novel is a map, but it takes different readers to very different places, depending on what they bring to it.

Read the full interview here.

The Weight of Things by Marianne Fritz. Translated from the German by Adrian Nathan West (Dorothy Project)

This may well be the most intriguing jacket copy I’ve read in a while. (Should’ve used this in our recent podcast.)

The Weight of Things is the first book, and the first translated book, and possibly the only translatable book by Austrian writer Marianne Fritz (1948–2007). For after winning acclaim with this novel—awarded the Robert Walser Prize in 1978—she embarked on a 10,000-page literary project called “The Fortress,” creating over her lifetime elaborate, colorful diagrams and typescripts so complicated that her publisher had to print them straight from her original documents. A project as brilliant as it is ambitious and as bizarre as it is brilliant, it earned her cult status, comparisons to James Joyce no less than Henry Darger, and admirers including Elfriede Jelinek and W. G. Sebald.

My knee-jerk reaction when I see something referred to as “untranslatable” is to cry Nonsense! and bust out all sort of practical versus theoretical reasons why everything’s translatable, just maybe not in the way the speaker has in mind.

But then I Googled Marianne Fritz’s later works and found this:

Yep. That. Amazing.

I’m going to end with a mini-rant . . . Do you think that if Fritz were a man her “impossible to translate” project would still be considered untranslatable? Given the statistics about gender in translation that we’ll be releasing shortly (spoiler alert! the numbers aren’t very good, with women authors representing just over 26% of all works of fiction published in translation since 2008) I have a feeling that Martin Fritz would have all his works in English and be celebrated as a genius. Stealing from Kaija who stole it from somewhere else, it’s possible this is one of those “great book, Marianne, but let’s see if one of the men will write it” situations. Or maybe not. But when 75% of all books published in translation are by men—a significant percentage of which are garbage—it raises certain questions.

I’ve been on a private rant of late about how the mainstream media will only ever focus on one female literary author (in translation) at a time, something that would never happen to male authors. First it was Ferrante, then Lispector, now Luiselli. I doubt it’s a conscious thing, but I wouldn’t be surprised if somewhere, in the back of their minds, editors look at what books they’re reviewing and thing, “well, we have one woman on here—good enough!”

Open Letter won’t be publishing all women anytime soon—our scheduling is impossible that way and we do have some amazing male authors signed on—but I applaud And Other Stories for committing to a year of publishing women. Instead, what I can do is spend more of these posts promoting the books by women that do make their way into English. There’s some great stuff out there—in addition to Ferrante, Lispector, Luiselli, etc.—and we should make a concerted effort to highlight it here.

22 September 15 | Chad W. Post | Comments

Over the past few weeks, our books have received a bunch of great reviews. Each time this happens, I plan on posting about it on the blog, then I start answering emails, or teaching a class, or doing some mundane publishing related task (sales reports! metadata!) and don’t get around to it. So, here’s a huge round-up with some quotes and links.

Once you see how amazing all of our books are, you’re going to want to buy them. You can do that at your local bookstore or favorite retailer, OR you can buy them directly from our website.

What I’d recommend doing is buying a subscription. That way you’ll never miss a book, and each one will be delivered directly to your door.

Here are some review highlights for our titles from recent times:

Lies, First Person by Gail Hareven reviewed at the Colorado Review by Eric Maroney:

Lies, First Person is an extremely ambitious novel, which in the end does not lend itself to firm or lasting conclusions. Hareven has produced a work of dramatic and impressive contradictions. Between the two poles of questionable truth and falsehood, she examines such weighty issues as sin, guilt, forgiveness, Judaism, Christianity, motherhood, womanhood, violence, and especially the limitations and possibilities of art.

Dalya Bilu, a veteran translator of most of Israeli’s premier authors, renders Hareven’s Hebrew prose into clear and lucid English, helping the reader through the thicket of this dense, intriguing novel and aiding Hareven’s mission to convey both a grand scope of life and history while simultaneously presenting a small world of disquieting, individual claustrophobia. In the end, Hareven’s novel rises above the difficulties and problems of its characters and Elinor’s unreliable narration to capture the very strange and forgivable ways people confront and deny difficult experiences and memories.

Street of Thieves by Mathias Énard reviewed at the New Statesman by Leo Robson:

Street of Thieves never calls for adjectives of that order (“involving” would be closer to the mark) though it still confirms Énard as the most brazenly lapel-grabbing French writer since Michel Houellebecq. Even on a quiet day, he has ideas and charisma to burn. [. . .]

The workings of orientalism – or whatever cross-cultural logic shapes European responses to North Africa – are exposed with clarity, even flair. A feeling for paradox crowds out the platitude, derived from ­Edward Said, whereby representatives of the developed west are only ever blundering and stupid.

Interview with Georgi Gospodinov about The Physics of Sorrow at Fiction Writers Review conducted by Steve Wingate:

GG: If we enter into that spatial matrix, I started from the “bottom up,” through the voice and through various scenes. The Boy and the Minotaur were there from the very beginning. Over the course of writing, somewhere near the middle, the idea of accumulation, lists, and collections grew stronger and became structurally defining. The quasi-classical narrative from the beginning had to disintegrate after the main character lost his ultra-empathy and began collecting and buying stories in some sort of pre-apocalyptic panic. Thus, from a certain moment onward the labyrinth gets the upper hand, the reader is forced into the labyrinth in place of the Minotaur himself. And as we know from Borges, the labyrinth can be located not only in space, but also in time.

[Quick note: This interview is truly amazing. And the answers are long, too long to run in full here. So go check it out, especially if you’ve read this novel.]

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The Physics of Sorrow was also featured in Foreword’s The Marvel and Mastery of Translation feature:

Having grown up in communist and post-communist Bulgaria (“life under communism was a long chain of secrets,” Gospodinov writes), under the threat of an atomic mushroom cloud, Gospodinov is all too attuned to his own mortality. A time-traveling empath, he uses story to call us to look beyond ourselves to what can root us and give our lives meaning in a world that can seem crushingly cold and cruel.

Rock, Paper, Scissors by Naja Marie Aidt reviewed at Seeing the World Through Books by Mary Whipple:

As compelling as the plot and Thomas’s psychology may be, the novel’s philosophical underpinnings and the universal themes which emerge from the conflicts are even more provocative. Underlying the entire novel are questions of who we are as human beings, how much our futures as individuals evolve from our own actions and choices, and how much damage can be inflicted upon us by others around us. Other events draw us in by mere chance, as we see in the random events which involve Thomas as he deals (or does not deal) with his own life and the people surrounding him. [. . .]

Filled with smart, crisp language; carefully described and introduced imagery; and occasionally lyrical passages, the novel owes much of its appeal in English to translator K. E. Semmel, who must have been challenged by the metaphysical aspects which parallel the narrative lines. With contrasting themes of life and death, love and hate, accident and design, strength and weakness, selfishness and altruism, and reality and invention, the novel offers much to ponder on many levels. Ultimately, one is even forced to consider the question of whether the existence of an alterego is real or a protective fiction created by a damaged ego.

Interview with Valerie Miles about A Thousand Forests in One Acorn at Shelf Awareness conducted by George Carroll:

GC: Can you give us a shortlist of recently released or forthcoming must-read authors who you are excited to see translated into English for the first time?

VM: ¡¡¡ALVARO ENRIGUE!!! His novel Sudden Death is one of the best pieces of writing I’ve experienced in a long time and it’s out from Riverhead in February 2016. Don’t miss it. I also absolutely adore the great Argentine writer Silvina Ocampo’s haunting short story collection from New York Review Books, Thus Were Their Faces, and Horacio Castellanos Moya’s story of alcohol-infused neurosis, The Dream of My Return. He’s a splendid writer, always unpredictable and his prose is absolutely incantatory. Also there’s Andrés Neuman, who has a glorious short story collection coming out from Open Letter in September, The Things We Don’t Do.

16 July 15 | Chad W. Post | Comments

This post is from current intern, soon to be Literary Translation grad student, Daniel Stächelin.

From Mexican poet José Eugenio Sánchez and Danish poet Naja Marie Aidt, to Albanian author Ismail Kadare, among others, Asymptote’s Summer 2015 issue features some mind-bendingly vivid nuggets of literary and existential gold. And to call them gold is no stretch of the imagination; Asymptote blog editor Patty Nash writes, “This might be our most star-studded issue yet—our translators, our writers, and, as of the London Book Fair, Asymptote itself have all been bestowed with gold medal love.”

José Eugenio Sánchez has two poems featured in this issue that were translated by Anna Rosenwong, who recently won the the Best Translated Book Award for her poetry translations of Rocío Cerón. Definitely a great start to fantastic issue.

The selections from Maja Marie Aidt’s collection of poetry Everything Shimmers (translated by Susannah Nied), with their colorful and vivid vignettes, made me at times feel a little woozy. But that’s exactly what made them stick; from death and violence to the mundane, Aidt packages life in a surreal and captivating box that lacks corners or edges. Here are two stanzas from the first selection:

Spiderweb-fine jellyfish
moon jellies
floating through
the water as through
et himmelrum, a sky
now in their fifth stage
of peculiar existence and like
the shining violet
veins on your
suntanned hand:
the child in his fifth year
understanding now that people
can really be gone
and disappear

Children are left to cry themselves to sleep
while the adults talk psychoanalysis;
sikke en fest, what a party.
On the subway a mother hits her child; there’s no law against that;
so many threats, so many games.
At night I walk home along sinister streets. Rats scuttle.
People throng. Loud music
from a car full of bitching women. I have a bunch of carnations in my hand,
a blood-spotted dress with a train. Back behind the light is
a darkness I do not understand.
And the moon rises like a glowing grapefruit.
And the clouds drift.
Someone spits from a window
up high.

Boom. That hits me pretty hard in the gut. Not just because of its content, but because of the incredible quality of Aidt’s word choice and use of juxtaposition; having the crying, emotional children side by side with the cerebral and emotionless adults would definitely be a party where I’d sit by myself in a corner and quietly sip my drink and rethink my life and life in general.

The other submission that really stuck out to me was the short story, The Migration of the Stork,= by Albanian author Ismail Kadare (translated by Ani Kokobobo, Ph.D.). First written in 1986, the story follows the narrator as he follows the second-hand details of a love affair between a woman from the north and an older poet. But the version presented in Asymptote is the version he wrote in 1998, after the fall of communism, which makes itself pretty evident when it shifts to move political narration.

Here’s what the translator has to say:

. . . the mystery of the love story is a smoke screen for the darker realities of communist Albania. The discussions of the leader H are obvious allusions to Enver Hoxha, the Albanian dictator who regularly vacationed in Pogradec. Kadare renders the significant political tensions and downright paranoia typical of Hoxha’s later years in power. There are numerous road checks en route to Pogradec and reference is made to the fall from grace of Mehmet Shehu, Enver Hoxha’s second in command, who was found dead under suspicious circumstances in 1981. The death was declared a suicide, but there have been speculations that it was a murder ordered by Hoxha. (Kadare produces a fictionalized account of these events in his 2003 novel, The Successor.)

Kadare reflects on the realities of being a writer in such a political climate, relating an incident of writers reprimanded for falling short on socialist realist cheerfulness. This cultural moment shows just how little room there was for any display of authorial creativity during Enver Hoxha’s repressive regime (1944-1985). Aside from limiting creative freedoms, the hyper-ideologized reality of communist Albania also appears drab and boring. The story’s narrator is grateful for the few surviving specters of an earlier era, like the great “stork,” Lasgush, a valuable muse that brings otherworldly charm to the socialist wasteland.

Lastly, there’s an interview with Mexican author Valeria Luiselli, in which she explains to writer and translator Ezio Neyra her progression as a writer and the insecurities that went along with being raised bilingually, having been forced to move frequently to different countries due to her father’s political career as an ambassador. Here’s an excerpt:

With so much traveling about and so many different languages, did Spanish end up becoming a sort of home that gave you confidence, the place where you felt most at ease?

I’ll start by saying that I don’t think Spanish ever became that sort of refuge you mentioned. In fact, the language in which I was writing and reading was English. Outside home, my life was lived in English; my school life, my intellectual life all happened in English. The language in which I felt most comfortable was English, and that was the way it was for a long time. But you could say that, in terms of Spanish, I felt more confident writing than speaking. I didn’t communicate badly in Spanish, but there were always high levels of uncertainty and resistance, and a sense of its not being natural. I spoke a sort of vacuum-packed Spanish. Out of context. I was aware that I spoke strangely, that I didn’t speak with the same fluency as my sisters (they had stayed in Mexico), who used to tell stories at mealtimes, make us laugh, things I couldn’t manage to do with Spanish. The terrain of writing in Spanish also ended up being a space where I could take more risks. It was a space where I could get my own back. I could experiment more without feeling observed or judged. In a sense, I used written Spanish as a way of making the language mine.

They then go on to discuss Luiselli’s novels Papeles falsos (published in English as Sidewalks), Los ingrávidos (published in English as Faces in the Crowd), and her most recent book, La historia de mis dientes (published in English as The Story of my Teeth, and which Chad tells me is “fucking fantastic”), all of which were translated in close collaboration by Christina MacSweeney, “the results of which often feed back into the Spanish ‘original.’”

If you’re looking for some gripping stuff to read this summer, then Asymptote’s Summer 2015 has a great selection. Sikke en fest!

2 May 15 | Monica Carter | Comments

Lori Feathers is a freelance critic and Vice President of the Board of Deep Vellum Publishing.



Baboon – Naja Marie Aidt, translated from the Danish by Denise Newman, Denmark
Two Lines Press

Baboon should win this year’s Best Translated Book Award because page-for-page it offers more surprises and excitement than any other book in the BTBA. Aidt writes like a sexed-up Flannery O’Connor. Her stories are fresh, daring and almost always unpredictable. Like O’Connor Aidt places her characters in ordinary situations and beneath the patina of comfortable domesticity we find, to our delight, the perverse and disturbing.

Along with plots that astonish, Aidt keeps readers off balance by using gender-neutral pronouns to deliberately obscure characters’ relationships to each other and defy our expectations as to how they will interact — most often in ways that are a great deal nastier than we can imagine.

But it is with her descriptions of the inconsequential that the most lasting impressions are created: a baby’s green, lollipop-stained mouth; an uncooked chicken, the habitual manner in which a woman moves her hand, the fat, falling flakes inside a child’s snow globe. The mundane becomes extraordinary when it succumbs to the scrutiny of Aidt’s perceptive eye:

I like watching people. And this woman is remarkable. She’s nearly bald. Her head must’ve been shaved fairly recently because there’s just a fine dark shadow of hair. She drinks carefully out of a small glass, something strong, maybe cognac, or whiskey, I can’t tell from here. There’s something about her that reminds me of a young animal, perhaps a deer, the same watchful nervousness. She’s wearing a suit that’s both elegant and a little too large. It’s grayish-green, brownish, like mud and dried grass. I have a sudden urge to touch her neck. A flood of images runs through my head: I think about the canvas sacks, about my childhood, about the soldiers’ uniforms, and my mother, who, much later, is standing in front of our house outside of Leipzig. It’s plastered with thick mortar and has that color so common for East German houses: grayish-green, brownish. My mother is smiling. She’s wearing a red dress.

A poignant portraiture like this displays Aidt’s talent even more than the astounding scenarios that she creates for her stories.

To read Baboon is to bear witness to the unraveling of otherwise complacent lives; an unsettling experience made all the more so in the short story format, which withholds the context necessary for the reader to anticipate what will happen next. And this is a large part of the fun. But Aidt also asks us to consider whether, like us, her characters are justified in being caught off-guard or if, as one character puts it, …she’s spent far too many years down in the dark, where all that’s revealed is a fraction of what there is.

19 February 15 | Chad W. Post | Comments

This week’s podcast features a true roundtable discussion, with Tom and Chad being joined by Caroline Casey from Coffee House Press, Mark Haber and Jeremy Ellis from Brazos Bookstore, Stephen Sparks from Green Apple Books, and Danish author Naja Marie Aidt to discuss the American Booksellers Association “Winter Institute.” One of the funniest podcasts to date, they break down what Winter Institute is, why it’s so important for the future of bookselling, and what various publishers get out of attending. They also make fun of all the crappy crutch phrases you find in jacket copy.

Read More...

24 October 14 | Monica Carter | Comments

James Crossley is a bookseller at Island Books. He writes regularly for the store’s Message in a Bottle blog and for the website of the Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association.

By now you may be asking which BTBA-eligible books I’m most looking forward to reading. Probably not, but let’s pretend. Without further ado:

Baboon by Naja Marie Aidt (translated from Danish by Denise Newman) is a short story collection that’s the first of this author’s work to reach English, and it’s touted as “audacious writing that careens toward bizarre, yet utterly truthful, realizations.” What’s not to like about that? Aidt is originally from Greenland, which is another bonus, as reading her book would get me one step closer to my secret goal of reading something from every country on the globe. Yes, I know Greenland is technically not a country, but it looks so big on Mercator maps that I count it anyway.

Mario Bellatin, who I’ve read before and very much enjoyed, has a new book out from Siete Vientos that contains two separate works, Flowers and Mishima’s Illustrated Biography. The latter portion sounds like non-fiction that wouldn’t qualify for the BTBA, but Bellatin says that it describes “what happened to the writer after his head was cut off.” So yeah, made up. It’s a bilingual edition with the English side having been translated by Kolin Jordan, and it’s a gorgeous little product. Not that I’m judging it solely by its cover, but it does tend to jump out of the stack at me.

Another Spanish language book that carries high expectations is Adam Buenosayres by Argentinian Leopoldo Marechal, a novel so massive that it took two translators, Norman Cheadle and Sheila Ethier, to tackle it. It was first published in 1948 and was Marechal’s attempt to create an epic that would do for his native city what Dickens did for London and Joyce did for Dublin. Among other Latin American writers who were influenced by it was Julio Cortázar, which is more than enough for me to take an interest in it.

From Germany comes The Giraffe’s Neck, about a tightly-wound, aging biology teacher in a failing public school. It’s written by Judith Schalansky (and translated by Shaun Whiteside) who previously brought the fabulous Atlas of Remote Islands into the world.

Javier Cercas is yet another writer whose fiction is always on my to-read list, and the next book of his on my plate is Outlaws, a novel in which an adult lawyer reconnects with the rebellious political gangster who transfixed him during his youth in 1970s Spain. That it’s by Cercas is one thing, but it’s translated by Anne McLean, so I know it must be good.

We Are the Birds of the Coming Storm is by Lola Lafon, a French writer who’s new to me. Translated by David and Nicole Ball, it was the subject of an intriguing review in the web magazine Full Stop that was very positive while admitting the difficulty of describing or responding to it. Which is like catnip as far as I’m concerned.

Lastly, there are two books, both from Dalkey Archive Press and also by French writers, that engage in the kind of metafictional play that drives some people up a wall but makes them must-reads for me. The first is The Author and Me (translated by Jordan Stump), in which writer Eric Chevillard attempts an ultimate refutation of the notion that narrators, even ones who share the author’s name, are mouthpieces for his opinions. A quote: “If all cauliflower and even all memory of cauliflower were abruptly to vanish from the face of this earth—O miracle!—then, I swear, I would don mourning clothes of red and gold, with a pointy hat and a party whistle unrolling from my lips with every breath.” I’m right there with you, Eric. Sorry, “Eric.”

On the slightly more serious side there’s Antoine Volodine, who I think may be undertaking the most important fictional project of our time. Using various pseudonyms (including the Volodine name), he’s producing a body of work that comments on and indicts contemporary society from the vantage of an imagined, not-too-distant future. His fiction has been spottily available in English from various publishers, and it’s been hard for American readers to grasp its scope, but Writers, translated by Katina Rodgers, looks to provide a useful summary. The different stories in the book purport to come from several Volodine heteronyms, finally together between covers.

It’ll take me a while to finish all these, and by then I’m sure I’ll have a new list of favorites to supplant or supplement them. Stay tuned.

10 March 08 | Chad W. Post | Comments

This is kind of old news now, but earlier this month the 2008 Nordic Literature Prize was awarded to Naja Marie Aidt of Denmark for her short story collection Bavian (The Baboon). According to the prize committee:

“The 15 short stories in Bavian (Baboon) are based in a world that appears indistinguishable from everyday life. Naja Marie Aidt writes with a graceful and ominous realism that draws out undertones of reality so that the reader becomes aware that everyday life is resting on a mycelium of potential disasters.”

As with all international prizes, I wish that there was a sample of the work available in English, or rather, a sample of all the books on the longlist. . . .

Speaking of the longlist—the two titles I was pulling for both obviously lost, but as reported at Critical Mass, Carl Frode Tiller’s Innsirkling did win the Norwegian Critics’ Association prize for best book of fiction published last year. The more I hear about this book, the more intrigued I am:

Tiller’s novel Entanglement (Norwegian: Innsirkling) is the story of a man who has lost his memory completely and can’t remember who he is. The author uses different narrators that undermine each other’s stories, trying to make the person remember again by writing letters to him about their relations in the past.

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The Odyssey
The Odyssey by Homer
Reviewed by Peter Constantine

Now goddess, child of Zeus,
tell the old story for our modern times.

–(The Odyssey, Book I, line 10. Emily Wilson)

In literary translation of works from other eras, there are always two basic tasks that a translator needs. . .

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I Remember Nightfall
I Remember Nightfall by Marosa di Giorgio
Reviewed by Talia Franks

I Remember Nightfall by Marosa di Giorgio (trans. From the Spanish by Jeannine Marie Pitas) is a bilingual poetry volume in four parts, consisting of the poems “The History of Violets,” “Magnolia,” “The War of the Orchards,” and “The Native. . .

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Joyce y las gallinas
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Lost in Translation: An Illustrated Compendium of Untranslatable Words from Around the World by Ella Frances Sanders
Reviewed by Kaija Straumanis

Hello and greetings in the 2017 holiday season!

For those of you still looking for something to gift a friend or family member this winter season, or if you’re on the lookout for something to gift in the. . .

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Three generations of men—a storyteller, his father and his son—encompass this book’s world. . . . it is a world of historical confusion, illusion, and hope of three generations of Belgraders.

The first and last sentences of the first. . .

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Reviewed by Katherine Rucker

The Island of Point Nemo is a novel tour by plane, train, automobile, blimp, horse, and submarine through a world that I can only hope is what Jean-Marie Blas de Roblès’s psyche looks like, giant squids and all.

What. . .

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The Truce
The Truce by Mario Benedetti
Reviewed by Adrianne Aron

Mario Benedetti (1920-2009), Uruguay’s most beloved writer, was a man who loved to bend the rules. He gave his haikus as many syllables as fit his mood, and wrote a play divided into sections instead of acts. In his country,. . .

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