17 February 16 | Chad W. Post | Comments

Adrian Nathan West joined this week’s podcast to talk about Marianne Fritz and his translation of The Weight of Things, the first novel in the recently launched Reading the World Book Clubs. Additionally, we talked about Twelve Stations by Tomasz Różycki (the RTWBC poetry selection this month), the ABA Winter Institute, this great article about Chris Jackson and how he’s building a black literary movement, and an awful article in Wired by Steve Rushin in which he imagines Super Bowl 100. (There’s some static in this one that pops up a bit. Nothing too bad, but, unfortunately, we couldn’t edit all of it out. Not to worry, though, we’re getting a fix ASAP for the mic glitch.)

Because the Wired piece isn’t online, I want to share a few paragraphs so that we can collectively wallow in the crap:

For its centennial Super Bowl, the NFL returned to its favorite host city, Las Vegas, which first staged the title game 45 years ago. Super Bowl LV shared its initials with Las Vegas but also with Louis Vuitton, the luxury brand that paid handsomely to cover game balls in its handbag leather, embossed with its famous logo. And though that game is now ancient history, 2021 remains important as the year the NFL—following the lead of the rest of the country—abandoned its nominal objections to sports gambling and awarded Steve Wynn the expansion franchise that became the Las Vegas Centurions. [. . .]

Barcelona brought its usual continental flair to the Super Bowl, running a variation of the Left Bank offense made popular in Paris in the 2030s, and it took a 7-0 lead on a leaping catch by All-Pro receiver Michael Davis, whose 60-inch vertical from a natural surface is among the best in the league and whose knees are among the highest-rated by J.D. Power and Associates.

And there’s so so much more to hate on . . . CTE cured by Harvard! People watching from Mars! Ref-bots! Biometric ticketing technology! Ugh. I just pissed off Nate and Kaija by reading too much of this garbage aloud.

This week’s music is Let it Happen by Tame Impala.

Also, just a reminder, since we changed our podcast feed, you may need to unsubscribe and resubscribe to the correct feed in iTunes at that link, or right here:
https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/three-percent-podcast/id434696686

Or, you can just put this feed link into whichever is your podcast app of choice:
http://threepercent.libsyn.com/rss

And, as always, feel free to send any and all comments or questions to threepercentpodcast@gmail.com.

1 February 16 | Chad W. Post | Comments

Despite all of my New Year Best Intentions, I fell off last week with posting about the two Reading the World Book Club books for January: The Weight of Things by Marianne Fritz and Twelve Stations by Tomasz Różycki. I did read (and enjoyed!) both books and will be talking about both books tomorrow on a podcast with Tom Roberge and Adrian Nathan West.

Well, in advance of that conversation, I just wanted to remind everyone who happened to read either of these books to send in your comments/questions either to me directly (chad.post [at] rochester.edu) or the podcast (threepercentpodcast [at] gmail.com). You can also post to the Reading the World Book Club Facebook Group or on Twitter using #RTWBC.

There have been a number of comments and posts on the Facebook Group, including Tony Messenger’s review of The Weight of Things:

A wonderfully bleak, dark, foggy tale, set during a further period of human decline after the second world-war, with Biblical references to Sodom and Gomorrah, Christ and the Madonna, this can be read as a straight forward tale, it can also be mulled over, steered through carefully, and is a work that demands a re-read from the moment you finish it. A worthy contender to make the Best Translated Book Award lists for 2016 and another wonderful addition to the world of Women in Translation.

along with one from David Hebblethwaite:

The Weight of Things moves restlessly backwards and forwards in time, which enables the narrative feints that I won’t go into here . . . More fundamentally, though, it disrupts the reader’s feeling of progression: a period of history flattens out into timelessness, a sense that these circumstances cannot be escaped. When I’d finished The Weight of Things, my immediate feeling was one of waking from a beautiful nightmare – but it’s a nightmare that demands to be revisited.

There are a few other comments on there as well—including multiple requests for a discussion of “come-hither-boys” (thanks, Sparks!)—but if you want to add anything, do it now. We’ll include any and all of these tomorrow in the podcast.

Then, it’s on to On the Edge by Rafael Chirbes, translated from the Spanish by Margaret Jull Costa and Monospace by Anne Parian, translated from the French by Emma Ramadan

20 January 16 | Chad W. Post | Comments

I’m struggling with what to write about The Weight of Things for this week. Initially, I thought we’d have an interview with the translator ready by this point, but I suck at time management . . . Besides, what could I possible add after this interview between Adrian Nathan West and Kate Zambreno?

BLVR: Reviewers also love labels. Even Kafka being called a “Walserian” type when his Meditation came out. Although, I have just finished The Tanners, so I was really thinking of Walser when reading The Weight of Things. I thought of Jelinek too, for the archetypes and word play, and this sense of a domestic gothic that’s haunted by the war and atrocity and violence.

ANW: Walser’s a magnificent writer. But so sensitive. I think Fritz in The Weight of Things is quite cruel.

BLVR: For me with Walser it was the syntax of Fritz’s novel, the slipperiness of it, the way she went in backwards with things, if that makes sense, the humor that is seemingly polite and servile yet has that nastiness underneath.

ANW: That’s a lovely way to describe his humor. Yes, the syntax in The Weight of Things does have—and this is something Walser has in common with Kafka—that feinting quality, of saying something only to retract it halfway through.

BLVR: I thought of The Weight of Things as a work in miniature, which seems so distinct from the rest of her work. Does the book explore her later themes?

ANW: The axis is always the same: war, who bears the responsibility for it, who suffers the consequences. The first book picks away the plaster, while the later ones dig deeper and deeper until they finally end up in a kind of parallel world. The themes and settings are the same throughout: Vienna, Przemyśl, etc. Fictional places recur, too: the mother of the family in Dessen Sprache du nicht verstehst ends up in the same asylum as Berta in The Weight of Things, the same town, counties, and streets appear, and so on.

I’m also struggling with the issue of what to discuss at this point in time when several of the people I know are still reading this and have yet to reach the real emotional crux of the novel. Usually, I’m of the mindset that spoilers don’t really matter, that one should enjoy books for how their written more so than plot details, I think that’s all bullshit when it comes to talking about books in a “book club” sort of setting. That’s especially true in a book like this with such a dark, emotionally brutal reveal . . .

So I don’t necessarily want to write about my reactions to the book just yet. Maybe next week, after the month is technically over, and anyone deciding to participate in this book club idea will have had the maximum amount of time to read it.

What would be even better though is to post reactions from readers to the book. So, if you are reading it and have some thoughts or reactions, just email them to me, post them in the comments below, share them on Twitter with #RTWBC, or post them in the Facebook group.

Lizzy Siddal actually posted her write up there, and since it’s pretty much spoiler free, I feel OK about sharing it now.

Of all the events of 1945, there was one Wilhelmine recalled with particular painful clarity. Wilhelm has hung the necklace with the tiny Madonna around Berta_’s neck, not hers._

A case of sibling rivalry you might think, nothing to worry about, except that Wilhelmine soon establishes herself as the most vicious and relentless pursuer of her own objectives ever to cross my reading path. Even so, when years later, she finally gets her hands on that necklace, it is an act so callous and calculated, it takes the breathe away, and earns her the title of villainess of the piece.

This necklace—introduced in the first sentence of the novel—really is the MacGuffin of the whole novel. Berta receives it from Wilhelm, and Wilhelmine wants it for herself. The rest of the novel is centered around her plan to take it from Berta. It’s great when a relatively simple narrative motor like that can be expanded into a much larger, more textured narrative.

One of the other things that stands out about this book—and is the reason behind my hesitation to say too much about the book—is how backloaded the plot is. The really crucial information about Berta—what was her relationship with Wilhelm? why is she in this creepy hospital?—is withheld until the end and is a bit of gut punch when it happens.

Looking at the notes I wrote down in my phone while reading this (I don’t have the book with me today, which makes writing this extra tricky) I think the real winner is: “Fuck is this book dark and hurtful.” I think I remember exactly what I read before typing that. (Spoiler: It has to do with Berta’s kids talking to her.)

Anyway, send us your comments! We’ll talk about them on the podcast, here on the blog, etc.

12 January 16 | Chad W. Post | Comments

As you probably know, this month’s Reading the World Book Club prose selection is The Weight of Things by Marianne Fritz, which is translated from the German by Adrian Nathan West and published by Dorothy.

Danielle Dutton—a highly regarded author and founder of Dorothy, a publishing project—offered to write a short piece about how she came to publish this wonderful, unsettling book.

We’re lucky to have a few brilliant friends—so brilliant we officially put them on our Advisory Board—who occasionally make the best recommendations. One of these is Jeremy Davies (excellent writer and editor in his own right), and it’s through Jeremy that we first heard about Marianne Fritz. He suggested I check out the essay on her work by Adrian Nathan West (aka Nate) that was online at Asymptote, so I did, and the essay I believe linked directly to a translated excerpt from what was at that time called The Gravity of Circumstances (for the book, the title was changed to The Weight of Things, which we all thought worked better, rhythmically, in the places where the phrase appears in the text). The excerpt was from a particularly harrowing dream sequence. It’s Berta’s anxiety dream: dark and surreal and poetic. I loved it. I couldn’t really imagine what the rest of the book would be like from that excerpt, though, so I reached out to Nate (whom at that time I didn’t know) and asked him if he had a completed manuscript of the book. He didn’t, but he said he could do a rough translation of the rest fairly quickly, and so he did. The book was, in different ways, so much stranger and also less strange than the excerpt suggested. It was shockingly sad and complicated, knotty and good. We took it on and edited it with Nate, who was a pleasure to work with—and The Weight of Things was born.

One thing I particularly like about this story is that it was exactly what I hoped would happen when I started Dorothy, a publishing project; I wanted to talk about good books with people who love good books (in fact, in the first year or so, we weren’t open for submissions but rather were looking for people to send in suggestions of other people’s books, whether these were OP or unpublished manuscripts). It’s actually hard to imagine people who love good books more than Jeremy and Nate, and the book’s warm reception among readers and critics has been edifying for all of us.

Thanks so much for featuring it at Reading the World!

Danielle Dutton, editor

I finished reading The Weight of Things on my flight to MLA and plan on posting some personal thoughts and reactions when I get back to Rochester. (Today I’m in Houston for an event at Brazos at 7, then will be in Dallas for events Tuesday and Wednesday night. If you live in either of those cities, you should definitely come out!) And if any of you have any thoughts about the book, please post them in the comments section below, on Twitter with #RTWBC, and/or at the Facebook group.

5 January 16 | Chad W. Post | Comments

Before getting to the main part of this post—which is admittedly a bit silly, but hopefully a good way to kick things off—I have a few quick notes.

I’ve been thinking a lot about how to make it easy for people to share their thoughts and opinions about these books—to make this really a book club and not some random Chad thoughts—and to that end I set up a Reading the World Book Club Facebook Group. Sure, you can always post in the comments section below, but to be honest, that’s not the most interactive of set-ups, and I think these automatically shut themselves off some days after the post goes live. Besides, it seems like the more ways to share your thoughts, the better.

I’ll be sure and share all of these post in the Facebook group where all Facebook users can easily join, make comments, interact with others, etc. (Invite all your friends!) Also, if you want to share your thoughts on Twitter, we can take over #RTWBC, which hasn’t been used for anything since 2012. (Ironically, or something, there is a @RTWBClub handle, which is for “Read the Whole Book Club” dedicated to reading the whole Bible every year. It has a total of two tweets, the last on January 31, 2012.)

I feel like a lot of the book club elements will come from the comments/FB posts/tweets, but if anyone out there gets really invested and wants to write a proper post for Three Percent about any of these books, just let me know. My email is chad.post [at] rochester[dot]edu.

OK, onto the first January book, The Weight of Things by Marianne Fritz, translated from the German by Adrian Nathan West.

To start things off, I thought I’d post a sort of self-interview introducing the book and asking those sorts of questions readers might want to know before getting involved in a book club. Here goes:

Is this a long book?

No! It’s only 138 pages, including the afterword. And these pages are even a bit smaller than your standard trade paperback.

Who is Marianne Fritz?

Unfortunately, Marianne Fritz passed away in 2007, but she was a Austrian writer who won the Robert Walser Prize in 1978 and the Franz Kafka Prize in 2001. (She won other awards as well, but I like the idea of starting with Walser and ending with Kafka.)

When did she write The Weight of Things?

This was actually her first book and it came out in German in 1978. It was the start of a hugely ambitious cycle of novels referred to as “The Fortress.” (So German sounding!) Her later works—Das Kind der Gewalt und die Sterne der Romani, Dessen Sprache du nicht verstehst, and the three volumes of Naturgemäß—were all part of this project.

How come this is the first book of hers to be published in English translation?

Well, that’s a bit tricky. I think the main reason is that her later works got increasingly complicated from a stylistic, linguistic perspective. According to her publisher The Weight of Things might possibly be her only translatable book.

What do you mean “complicated”?

I mean this:

Reminds me of Christine Brooke-Rose. Or maybe even Brigid Brophy.

Yeah, me too. That’s why I’m really excited to read this book.

Are there other reasons why she hasn’t been translated before?

I have no factual proof for this, but I have a gut feeling that “The Fortress” would seem “more translatable” to conventional publishers if it had been written by a man. Finnegans Wake is “untranslatable” by most standards, and yet it’s been translated into at least French, German, Japanese, Dutch, Korean, Portuguese, Polish, and Greek. It’s seen as some sort of Mt. Everest of translation feats. And I have a gross, annoying suspicion that if “The Fortress” had been written by Hans Fritz, someone would’ve undertaken the challenge. That’s just my own opinion though.

Fair enough. Has anyone famous championed her work?

Actually, quite a few people have. Nobel Prize winner Elfriede Jelinek had this to say about Naturgemäß: “It is a singular work, before which one can do nothing but stand, like a devout Muslim before the Kaaba.” W. G. Sebald dedicated a section of one of his poems to her. Closer to home, Brian Evenson blurbed this novel calling it a “tiny, shattering masterpiece.”

Any dissenters?

Oh man, the Thomas Bernhard quote in the afterword is kind of amazing. Bernhard sure had opinions about things, and wasn’t afraid to share them. Here’s a snippet: “To print and bind over 3,000 pages of mindless proletarian trash with all the bombast of a centenary event belongs, quite frankly, in the record books: as a world record of stupidity.”

Damn! Before moving on, does The Weight of Things look all crazy like that image above?

Oh, no. In terms of layout, it looks like a normal novel. Here’s the opening paragraph of the first section, which is entitled “Wilhelmine Is Not Berta”:

Of all the events of 1945, there was one Wilhelmine recalled with particularly painful clarity. Wilhelm had hung the necklace with the tiny Madonna around Berta’s neck, not hers. This although Berta’s belly clearly demonstrated that she, unlike Wilhelmine, was no longer a chaste young woman. For her own sake—and for Berta’s!—she ought to have spoken her mind. Maybe Berta had been good enough for Rudolf, but she certainly was never right for Wilhelm!

Speaking of those section titles, some of these are really great: “A Man, A Word, and Then You’re Lost,” ““Wilhelm, The Smiler, Discovers to His Relief that He Is an Average Citizen,” and “Duty Is Duty, Schnapps Is Schnapps” are three good examples.

Those are intriguing. Anything else we should know before starting the book?

I guess there are some general plot points worth mentioning. It takes place between 1945 and 1963 and focuses on Bertha who, as we can see above, is pregnant at the start of the novel.

Are there any online resources worth pointing out?

Yes! The Paris Review ran an article by Adrian Nathan West about Fritz and translating this book, and Kate Zambreno interviewed him for The Believer. If you’re someone who likes to read reviews before starting a book, you can find a slew of them from the official Dorothy website page.

One last question: This is the third time you’ve written about this book. Did you choose it as the first book club title for purely selfish reasons?

Uh . . .

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.

*

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.

....
Lost in Translation: An Illustrated Compendium of Untranslatable Words from Around the World
Lost in Translation: An Illustrated Compendium of Untranslatable Words from Around the World by Ella Frances Sanders
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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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I Am a Season That Does Not Exist in the World
I Am a Season That Does Not Exist in the World by Kim Kyung Ju
Reviewed by Jacob Rogers

Kim Kyung Ju’s I Am a Season That Does Not Exist in the World, translated from the Korean by Jake Levine, is a wonderful absurdist poetry collection. It’s a mix of verse and prose poems, or even poems in the. . .

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Kingdom Cons
Kingdom Cons by Yuri Herrera
Reviewed by Sarah Booker

Yuri Herrera is overwhelming in the way that he sucks readers into his worlds, transporting them to a borderland that is at once mythical in its construction and powerfully recognizable as a reflection of its modern-day counterpart. Kingdom Cons, originally. . .

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The Invented Part
The Invented Part by Rodrigo Fresán
Reviewed by Tiffany Nichols

Imagine reading a work that suddenly and very accurately calls out you, the reader, for not providing your full attention to the act of reading. Imagine how embarrassing it is when you, the reader, believe that you are engrossed in. . .

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