11 February 08 | Chad W. Post

I’ve got a lot of January and February books to catch up on in these roundups, so I’m going to try and post two or three summaries this week, including an overview of the poetry books coming out this month and next (there are quite few). As always, the current list of all translated fiction and poetry can be found here.

  • Close to Jedenew, Kevin Vennemann, translated from the German by Ross Benjamin (Melville House, $22.95, 9781933633398)

Not a lot of info online (actually, I couldn’t find this on Melville House’s site, which is unfortunate), but it is a book we were starting to look into for Open Letter before MHP bought the rights. Here’s the paragraph from an article by literary critic Helmut Böttiger for New Books in German that caught my eye.

Published in November in the paperback list, edition suhrkamp, and a novel which could all too easily be overlooked, Nähe Jedenew (‘Near Yedenev’) by Kevin Vennemann, born in 1977, immediately draws the reader into a mysterious web of language and shifting times, entangled tangents and subordinate clauses. The central focus of the text is a vaguely pinpointed geographical place – the moors of southern Lithuania. The story appears to be set around the end of the 1930s, since there are allusions to the beginning of the Second World War. But all is shaded. It is not even directly stated that its principal characters are Jews. Scenes from the past and present flow into one another, summer and winter scenes merge, happy childhood images and aggressive persecution blur into one. Key scenes alternate, are returned to and fleshed out. The language is of an absolutely contemporary musicality, a rhythm which captivates through repetition and a reshuffling of basic patterns. Every moment is at once palpable yet also possesses an abrupt and fragmentary quality. The experience of simultaneousness, as presented here, springs from a consciousness dealing above all with the years after 2000. These aren’t scenes from a point in time when National Socialism is over and done with. The unsettling, the archaic, the destructive irrational violence can reappear at any moment and Venneman’s language shifts it into the present.

This is a book we definitely plan on reviewing as soon as it’s available.

  • Paris Weekend, Sergei Kostin, translated from the Russian by Todd Bludeau (Enigma Books, $15.00, 9781929631704)

I’m not a big reader of thrillers or mysteries, so I don’t have a lot to say about this book except that Kostin is supposedly the “Russian version of John LeCarré.” And it’s about a KGB mole who runs a travel agency in Manhattan. . . . Enigma Books is curious though. It was started in 1999 “by a group of publishing professionals to fill a vacuum in quality book publishing:
to publish in the United States major titles in contemporary history.” Most of their titles are about WWII and the USSR, although there are a few spy novels in translation. What I appreciate is that they acknowledge the book is a translation, unlike what happens with the following.

  • Special Assignments, Boris Akunin, translated from the Russian by ?? (Random House, $14.00, 9780812978605)

I think that Andrew Bromfield translated this, but good luck finding out for sure online. The Random House website is not surprisingly short on translator info, and even Amazon and B&N make it look as if this book were written in English. Which, to me, begs the question—how many additional copies does RH expect to sell by hiding the fact that this was originally written in Russian? It’s not like we’re talking about an obscure high-modernist book here, this is an incredibly popular mystery series, and this title is currently #2,296 on Amazon, and it technically isn’t available until later this week. What’s the incentive in hiding the fact that a relatively famous Russian translator did this book for you? If the Amazon byline read “Boris Akunin (author), Andrew Bromfield (translator)” would a mystery fan really stop and be like, “well fuck it then. None of that pinko commie crap is getting into my shopping cart.” Really? I think it’s just the opposite. If I liked mysteries—and those by Akunin in particular—I’d assume RH got some crap-ass two-cent on the dollar translation and was embarrassed to release the info about who did this. And who knows, maybe that’s the case. (It’s not—if you search UK sites and papers, every listing includes a reference to Bromfield.)

  • Quick Fix, Ana Maria Shua, translated from the Spanish by Rhona Dahl Buchanan (White Pine, $17.00, 9781893996915)

The White Pine website is doing this book no favors. There’s no book pages for any White Pine books, which makes it really challenging to find them. (This is under the “Secret Weavers Series”—a series that is not actually defined on the SWS page, although there is an anthology of Secret Weaver Writings, but the cover image is so small I can’t figure out what this is all about either.) Anyway, this is a bilingual collection of sudden fictions from four of her collections. “Shua’s microfictions may be consumed at random, or according to the order in which her original books were published”—which I think covers all the options—“in fact, it is the perfect book to carry with you for those moments when you must wait for an appointment, a flight, your turn at the check-out line, or if you find yourself stuck in traffic.” Ana Maria Shua also has a story in the new issue of Habitus centered around Buenos Aires.

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