16 January 18 | Chad W. Post | Comments

As dumb as the content might be, there’s something to be said for hot takes in the sports world. Or maybe not the takes themselves—again, always dumb, always misguided, always loaded with bad suppositions and overly confident writing—but rather the situation in which you get to dissect and dismantle a hot take. It’s enjoyable to read a nonsense article by Bill Simmons (“My theory, trotted out on last Friday’s B.S. Podcast, was that the younger Garoppolo had won over everyone in the locker room — true, by all accounts, by the way — whereas the notoriously team-first Brady promoted himself in 2017 more than ever before.”) or Gregg Easterbrook (“Tuesday Morning Quarterback aficionados know my compromise with my Baptist upbringing is to be pro-topless but anti-gambling—and it’s a certainty, not a maybe, that the Vegas team will change the league’s relationship with sports betting.”) and know that someone at Deadspin will, within a few days if not hours, goof on all the crazy shit these egocentric old white dudes spew forth on a regular basis.

There’s something gratifying to digging in and unpeeling all the logical fallacies and pretzel-twist arguments that people make about sports on the regular. And because sports is both objective and communal in the sense of having actual games that have actual winners and losers, and open to subjective scrutiny about strategies untried, player motivation, and grit, hot takes will never go away. Which is fun! I love me a good hot-takedown.

I often wish that the book world had a few more of these hot take coots. Sure, there are media people offering up crap takes on Twitter all day, every day, but these rarely ascend to the level of verbosity and manic, laser-focused attack that you find on something like Hot Take. Imagine if there was a Tomi Lahren going off about the NY Times Bestseller list, or the new Grove catalog. How fun would that be? And how fun would it be to break apart that person’s blistering attacks? Oh so very.

I should make it clear that I’m really thinking about fiction here. And not just a scathing bad review—that’s fine, that’s something that might divide opinions, but rarely do these have the sort of unhinged quality of a really juicy hot take. The literary world is far too reasonable (which is shocking, when you pause to think about it) to provide a meaningful platform to someone claiming that Stephen King’s latest shouldn’t be sold in Barnes & Noble because he doesn’t stand for the national anthem at Red Sox games. Or whatever. Something impassioned and nonsensical. But worthy of an 8-minute read on Medium. Something capturing the fire of the old Tanizaki vs. Akutagawa debates, but without that degree of learnedness.

Actually, the perfect example is Franzen’s incredibly awful take on Difficult Books. What a bunch of hot garbage! And what a great job Ben Marcus did of taking apart that hot take. More of that, please!

*




In Black and White by Jun’ichirō Tanizaki, translated from the Japanese by Phyllis I. Lyons (Columbia University Press)

For a few days, I played with the idea of trying to write a blistering hot take about Jun’ichirō Tanizaki’s In Black and White, but I honestly don’t have the right mix of delusion and talent to make that really work.

But, if I was going to write some half-cocked take, I would probably come out swinging:

In the history of publishing, how many times has the translator’s afterword—yes, the translator’s—been a far superior reading experience to the work of some ordained “master” of literature? Once. One time only. With In Black and White by Jun’ichirō Tanizaki.

Here’s the thing: As respected as Tanizaki might be for his other works, The Makioka Sisters, Some Prefer Nettles, Naomi, etc., this book has been overlooked for the past eighty years for a number of reasons. It was written on deadline for a newspaper, has a plot so thin you can read the jacket copy and skip the rest, and contains some of the most stilted dialogue this side of an episode of Riverdale.

What’s black and white and read all over? Not this book!


Which is totally unfair! In Black and White is a fine book. It’s fine. Sure, the plot is more interesting in summary than in execution, but still.

Actually, let’s start there. I should probably offer a spoiler warning, but to be honest, if you read the description on Columbia’s website, you’ve already seen it all.

In Black and White is the story of the “diabolist” writer Mizuno, who, along with spending time at brothels and drinking too much, is commissioned to write a story for The People magazine. After turning it in late—like any good writer’s writer worth his writerly nature—he realizes that he slipped up and included the actual name of the man who he used as a model for one of his characters on a few occasions. No big deal, right? Well, in this case that’s not so great, since Mizuno has written a story about how a man, much like Mizuno himself, pulls off the perfect murder and kills Cojima/Codama on a moonless night at the end of November. Given that Cojima’s real life situation—where he lives, his profession, his habits, etc.—is so similar to the character who’s murdered, Mizuno is paranoid that not only will Cojima recognize himself in the story, but that someone will acutally murder the real Cojima in the way described in the story, bringing Mizuno under suspicion.

Two interesting things about the rest of the novel: 1) As you would suspect, Cojima is murdered in the exact way depicted in the story and Mizuno, who, thanks to his time cavorting with a prostitute whose name and address he doesn’t know, has no verifiable alibi, and 2) Mizuno (probably) writes a sequel to this story in which someone reads the original story and decides to take revenge on the author by committing the murder as written in order to frame the original writer.

You know what I call a plot like this? Lazy. Self-indulgent. Self-indulgent and lazy. A novel that posits a world in which a fiction writer’s work is so important that a magazine lets its copyeditor rent a room in the writer’s same boarding house so that he can ensure the writer actually finishes his oh, so important pages? FANTASYLAND! Bring on the satyrs, dragons, and Tom Brady Concussion Sauce, because we’ve just left the real world behind!


I have no idea what the writing life was like in Japan in the 1920s, but given that Tanizaki played a big role in it (he’s considered to be one of the best Japanese writers of the past century), I’m pretty sure he knows what he’s talking about.

One of the most ludicrous aspects of this minor work is the number of times Mizuno refers to himself—or is referred to—as a “diabolist writer” or someone practicing “diabolism.” These terms are repeated fourteen times within five pages! It’s just like when you repeat a word over and over until it becomes syllables and noise and the meaning dissolves. What does “diabolism” even mean? Is Mizuno worshipping the devil? No, there’s no evidence of that. Sure, he drinks too much and wants to get with prostitutes, but that’s dissolute or or debauched, but diabolic? And again, Tanizaki creates a world in which people gossip openly about this writer’s diabolism. Even the cops! When they bring him into the station, they have a long philosophical conversation with Mizuno about his “diabolism” and the aesthetic principles behind his writing. Sound like any cops you know? Me neither. Here come the satyrs again . . .


OK. I don’t really have a response to that one. The “diabolist” thing got to me a bit as well. It’s funny, in our local translation workshop, every translator tries to avoid repetition like the plague. That’s not always the right approach though, and sometimes using the same word or phrase over and over can accrue meaning (or become incredibly funny), especially if used correctly. So maybe Tanizaki’s endless repetition of “diabolism” isn’t the worst . . . I mean, it’s not as distracting as the stiff dialogue or the strange misogynist stuff.

It would take a whole post to break down all of the odd stuff about women in this book, but here’s one bit of dialogue between Mizuno and the woman he hires to be his mistress for a month (on Tuesdays and Fridays) when they’re having lunch and finalizing their “arrangement”:

“Everyone says that, that my arms are great—”

“They are great! It’s a pleasure just to swing them like this. I’d like to make them into a toy and swing them forever.”

“If you want, make me into a toy.”


Yeah, that’s a bit weird. In a few different ways.

But let me reiterate—my reaction to the actual novel was mostly just a shrug. It was fine. I had no problem at all putting this book down, and a lot of the dialogue—and the ideas expressed within—made me groan, but this wasn’t awful. It just seemed a bit meh, a bit flat, a bit of a toss off . . . until I read the afterword.

Once you slog your way through 200+ pages of this tripe, this, I’ll say it again, self-indulgent book, that even includes a scene in which Mizuno invents a sex tale that he shares with his copyeditor, who he then catches masturbating to his memory of this tale, which, if you follow me here, is just a metaphor for how much jacking off Tanizaki is doing in this book, writing about his own writing and its power, if you get through that, you reach the end of the rainbow and find Phyllis Lyons’s afterword that injects a much needed historical context and sense of balance into this off-kilter text.

This part of the book is brilliant! The reading she offers—involving Tanizaki’s arguments with Akutagawa about “pure art,” “plottedness,” and “stories with no story”—imbues this book with a sense of purpose that it’s otherwise lacking. Even if her reading in which she postulates that the “Shadow Man” and Cojima are both stand-ins for Akutagawa, that Akutagawa traps Tanizaki by killing himself, shows a level of invention and attention to actual plot that that hack Tanizaki, yeah, I said it, hack, could’ve learned from.

Here’s some advice for you, Columbia University Press: Cut the first two hundred and eighteen pages of this book and publish just the afterword. Boom. That’s what I call maximizing profits. Economics 101, Mr. University Man.


Obviously, that’s too far, but I do wish that there was a way to get at least some of this afterword before the book to help guide one’s reading. No disrespect to Tanizaki, but the novel is a bit thin without the historical and personal context. And given that the plot is maybe the least compelling part of this reading experience, it would be useful to have some other tools in your mind before diving in. Reading Lyons’s afterword was the first time I really sat up and engaged with this book.

That said, if you’re a completist and a fan of Tanizaki’s other works, you’ll likely enjoy this quite a bit. And it’s a great example for translators of what you can add to a classic work to help it reach as wide and audience as possible. I know this isn’t going to make any best-seller lists, but if someone were to use Lyons’s afterword as the basis for an article about literary feuds, hot takes, contextual reading, and whatnot, it might really connect with those literary readers out there.

12 January 18 | Kaija Straumanis | Comments

Jeanne Bonner is a writer, editor and journalist, and translator from the Italian now based in Connecticut. In the fall, she began teaching Italian at the University of Connecticut where she is also working on several translation projects. You can find out more about Jeanne and her work at her website here.

It’s a travel writer’s job to enchant us with tales of lands we’ve never seen—and which we may never see. But it seems like a particular phenomenon when the travel writer is enticing you to visit a land where he, too, is a foreigner. So infectious is Italian novelist Antonio Tabucchi’s account of his travels in Portugal in the original Italian that one cannot wait until the book is translated into English to write a “review” of it.

Not that Tabucchi sounded like a foreigner when he wrote lovingly of Portugal and of his second tongue, Portuguese. Quite the opposite. But that’s often what acolytes and converts sound like: They are more fervent than the natives.

And of course since we’re dealing with a master of fiction, in this case the Italian branch, Tabucchi’s ability to bring Portugal alive is almost unequaled. Hence this hybrid essay-review in advance of his collection of travel essays, Viaggi e altri viaggi, which will soon be published by Archipelago Books in a much-awaited English translation by the accomplished translator Elizabeth Harris. It contains not one, but eight pieces on Portugal. One entire section to his adopted homeland is called “Oh, Portogallo!

In these essays, published by Feltrinelli in 2010, he casually references a host of places and situations that literally make my literature-loving heart race, including the literary cafes of Lisbon (literary + café? Swooning), the brightly-lit ferries that roam the Tago river at dusk, the statues to the Portuguese poets Fernando Pessoa and Antonio Ribeiro Chiado, which stand a short distance from one another in Lisbon (something Tabucchi notes is “rare.” And sure enough it is. Two poet statues in one spot in the same city? Wow). It’s not surprising Tabucchi would pay such close attention to the statues—he translated all of Pessoa’s works into Italian.

He even tells the story of coming upon an archeological dig of a patrician home from the Roman era where a mosaic depicting scenes from Virgil’s Aeneid so moves him, he feels as though he has been transformed into Anchises, Aeneas’s father. That is the power of travel.

Tabucchi’s lifelong dedication to the Portuguese language included stints teaching the literature of Portugal (and beyond) at the Universities of Genoa and Siena. This in addition to being one of the most esteemed Italian authors of the past 100 years, writing such classics as Pereira Maintains, about a Lisbon newspaper editor, and Time Ages in a Hurry and Tristiano Dies, both of which were also published in English by Archipelago. Tabucchi died in Lisbon in 2012.

In writing about Portugal and the Portuguese-speaking world, Tabucchi manages to convey that yearning all travelers feel, but especially those who learn the language of the country they’re visiting, and who experience a sense of disorientation, even unconsciously, of having only discovered this land (and its language) as an adult. Of forever being even at just a slight remove in a place that lights a fire in our bellies. In an essay on the Azores, he writes that a place is never just “that place.” Rather “that place” becomes infused with a part of us because somehow, even unbeknownst to us, we’re carrying it around with us.

I’ve never been to Portugal. But having read Tabucchi’s essays, I’m now obsessed with several aspects of Portuguese culture I previously knew nothing about, including the fact, as the Italian author tells us, that Portuguese literature has historically been rich in tales of the sea, but lean on “land-based” narratives, befitting, of course, a country that was so dependent on maritime industry and adventure. Categorizing the literature of a country based on whether the narratives are land-based or seafaring? Stunning.

*

I’m obsessed even more with something that emerges in the book that wasn’t new to me, but which Tabucchi illuminates in a particular way, and that’s saudade. It’s a word—a concept, really—as Tabucchi points out, that’s not easily translated, into Italian or English. He tells us that most Italian-Portuguese dictionaries translate the word as “nostalgia,” which he dismisses as “too new a word . . . for something as ancient as saudade.” (“Nostalgia,” he tells us, was coined in the 1700s by a Swiss physician). It also may fail to register the presence of solitude, which is a critical element; nostalgia, after all, can be collectively felt. Saudade tends to be something one feels alone.

Many others have also tried their hand at rendering this distinctly Portuguese concept in English. Writing for NPR’s “Alt Latino” music and culture show, Jasmine Garsd floated the idea that saudade “carries an assurance that this thing you feel nostalgic for will never happen again.” She then quotes a definition of saudade by Portuguese writer Manuel de Melo: “a pleasure you suffer, an ailment you enjoy.” A-ha!

Tabucchi, instead, offers the definition found in a Portuguese dictionary: “Melancholy caused by the remembrance of something precious that was lost; sorrow brought on by the absence of a beloved object; bittersweet memories of someone who was dear.” He adds that it’s therefore something excruciating that pierces your heart, but which can also be quite moving.

But it doesn’t end there. Tabucchi goes on to say that future events are within the temporal range of what the word saudade aims to describe. It can be used to “express a wish for something you hope will happen.” And as Tabucchi so aptly concludes, “That’s where things begin to get complicated because nostalgia for the future is a paradox.”

Tabucchi’s essay so moved me, I think, because it’s my story, too. Having lived in Florence after college, I’m forever tethered to the Italian language and to Italy, a land where I am not a native, but which owns me completely. Tabucchi, I believe, would understand the sentiment when I say Italian is like a person in my life, a twin who accompanies me everywhere—for better or for worse.
Indeed, if Tabucchi’s ghost will allow me, I’ll tell you that I’ve spent hundreds of bittersweet hours in Italy, knowing I’ll never be able to stay forever, that my roots were elsewhere, and that the only people with the right to settle in for good were Italians. Something I would never be. So when I was meant to be reveling in the country’s sunshine, in its superb cuisine, in the postcard-ready streets of cities large and small, I was sometimes already looking ahead to when it would be over. As Tabucchi tells it, that’s textbook saudade.

Tabucchi is moved to ponder the concept while strolling along a tiny street in Lisbon called, appropriately, rua da Saudade. Perched as it is high above the castle of São Jorge, which naturally draws tourists, it’s a street he says most visitors will overlook.

As he writes in this essay named for the rua in Lisbon that so captivated him, streets left out of guidebooks often offer many reasons for visiting. (That line alone convinced me I had bought the right book, even though it was purchased on a whim; indeed, that line actually made me ache slightly at the thought of what would have happened, had I not bought the book. The literary equivalent of _saudade_—but I digress).

In the case of rua da Saudade, one reason to visit is the view. From high above the city, the tiny street offers a vista that takes in all of Lisbon and the river (in the Italian, he says, “lo sguardo abbraccia tutta la’”—literally, one’s gaze hugs the entire city). Tabucchi notes that when the evening streetlights go on and “a veil falls over the city,” a visitor gazing out at that view will be overcome by a kind of anguish—a longing—that’s part and parcel of saudade.

While walking on this street, Tabucchi tells us, our imagination will time-travel ahead, to when we’ve returned from our trip and resumed our workaday lives. We’ll feel nostalgic for the privilege of having visited “such a beautiful and solitary little street in Lisbon,” he writes, to see “a view that’s heartbreakingly sublime.” At that point, he says, it’s all over. “You’re feeling nostalgic for the very moment you’re living right now,” he continues. “It’s nostalgia for the future. You’ve personally experienced saudade.”

Dear reader, you’re feeling _saudade right now, aren’t you? Possibly for a place you’ve never visited. Me, too. Me, too.

11 January 18 | Chad W. Post | Comments

“Why am I reading this?” I ask myself this almost constantly. Sometimes the answer is obvious: when the book is a masterpiece, when the pleasure is so deep or constant that there’s little else I want. I treasure those books, but if it was the only reason I read a book, I wouldn’t read much. There are novels where the concept is grand and exciting, so I want to follow it through to the end, generous with my judgment of the execution. There’s the craft option: Jean Echenoz is going to be worth reading for the quality of his finely crafted sentences. In last week’s post, Adam Hetherington pointed out how pace can dominate a book, and that too can be the single reason to stick with a novel. Sometimes it’s that the novel is the single best work focused on a slice of life or culture, the best baseball novel, the best restaurant novel, etc.



Reading for BTBA, it becomes an even more important question, because I need a damn good answer to keep on reading. So why the hell did I keep on reading Wu He’s Remains of Life? The jacket copy opens with

On October 27, 1930, at a sports meet on an aboriginal reservation in the mountains of Taiwan, the Atayal tribe rose up against the Japanese colonial regime, slaying one hundred and thirty-four people in a headhunting ritual.

Am I reading to educate myself about this event? I didn’t even realize that Taiwan was one of the places Japan had a colony. No, fuck no. If that’s the answer, I’m putting that book down. Besides, this would be the wrong damn book for that. As that same copy says later, “Written in a stream-of-consciousness style, it contains no paragraph breaks and only a handful of sentences.” Not the type of style that lends itself to historical or cultural edification, though one I’m a sucker for. I love Bernhard and By Night in Chile may be my favorite Bolaño. So stick with Remains of Life because its stylistic prose is compelling and unrelenting? Well, no.

I’ll stop being coy and cut to the end. I don’t know why I stuck with this book. I don’t know why I’m still thinking about it. So, that’s the reason why? Because even though I wasn’t in love, even though the answer to each reason to stay was “No, not that,” I still didn’t want to walk away, and that confusion itself fascinates me. I have no idea the last time I was so uncertain in my response, so willing to continue to work and engage and struggle, hoping to crack through to deep pleasure. There have been times I’ve done that work for pages upon pages and realized no breakthrough would come, so I dropped the book. There’ve been times it did happen, suddenly and intensely: Shishkin’s Maidenhair comes to mind.

I want to talk about that prose style. However difficult Bernhard’s prose can be, and his mood so fiercely off-putting, it’s hypnotic, and that takes readers in. There’s repetition, there are base phrases and the sentences use them like breathing, a way for the reader to fall as with a tide. Remains of Life gives you no such thing. The narrator is not the madmen so common to Bernhard’s works but he is a man adrift in his thoughts and in his pursuits, and sees no distinguishing one avenue from another. Commas are a brief break, and may come when you need them, or take you by surprise. At other times, you need one and there’s nothing there.

He’s a man living in a reservation village, fascinated by the way contemporary history views the tribal uprising and subsequent slaughter by Japanese troops. His neighbor identifies herself as the granddaughter of the leader of the headhunt and from there his unbroken narrative begins. In Wu He’s afterward he identifies three topics, which I’ll rewrite to my own understanding as: the historical investigation, and the possible interpretations of that history; the lives of the people, their connections to and dissociations from both past and the contemporary; and the life of that neighbor, known as the Girl, and without quite recognizing it, coming to fall in love with her. He can write about any one or all three at any given moment, and a subtle switch from one to another can occur across the space of a comma. The scarce periods are his way of resetting completely. Of finally shutting down a stream, needing to switch from one of these topics to another. Even when he is focused, thought carries on from thought. Prior to this is dense and intricate political, ideological, and moral thinking about his research and the headhunt, then the period to clear his mind:

By the time I wrote down the words A Politicized Headhunt I prepared a hodgepodge hotpot with sardines and flowering cabbage and hastily ate before crawling into bed and passing out into a deep sleep, after I woke up I sat down in the living room, the mountain mist felt like it was right on my front doorstep, in my daze I seemed to still be stuck on those “two questions,” I already forgot if there was anything I had written that could destroy one’s dignity, but I know that strong white spirits can destroy one’s awareness, I paced back and forth in front of the kitchen cabinet, rummaging through all the items inside, until I actually did get my hands on a bottle of some kind of hard liquor, it took only one look to see that it was 66 proof, probably one of the Ancestral Spirits secretly stashed it there before going home, after all there is nothing wrong with preparing for an emergency, I’ll be sure to give it back to him a little later once it is dark when he comes back with his bag full of white spirits, I took a sip and the primitive flavor wasn’t bad, by the time I took my second sip a well-dressed woman with long black hair and a cool gaze had suddenly appeared outside my screen door, I waited for her to say something but after three seconds she was still dead silent, I had no choice but to sip my way over to the screen door, the woman with the long hair grinned and I immediately recognized that it was the Girl and she was wearing a tight dark-green dress, she was so well dressed, all so that her breasts would really stand out, I raised my cup to her but she shook her head, “I came over to invite you to observe the ceremony the day after tomorrow,” her breasts were pressed right up against the screen door, I told her to be careful not to get her shirt dirty, “It’s okay these are my pajamas,” I almost wanted to tell her that it was no big deal, my birthday suit is my pajamas, “I’m going to Christmas morning prayer and joining the church, you wanna come,” wearing your birthday suit to bed is much more convenient as you can wear it both summer and winter

Like Girl, most characters don’t have names, instead an identity the narrator gives to them, based one something about their life, their physicality, their personality, and this can shift, without warning, as his conception of them does. It both distances him from them, and creates intimacy, in line with his role in the village. He’s an outsider, but he’s the most honest outsider they’ve encountered, because he knows that’s his role. He lives alone, he wanders, he visits people and they visit him. It’s an independent pattern of life that they all recognize and respect. He pressures no one. Many have come to research the Musha Incident, but he may be the first to simply live there.

The narrator himself may explain my uncertainty about Remains of Life. He is unsettled: in his own identity, in his role in the village, in the village’s role in his life, in what his future will hold, in his understanding of the past, in culture’s understanding of the past, and on and on. He may not have many answers, and answers he finds are slipping away, to be replaced. In a book as complex as this, with a narrator so willing to confront uncertainties, maybe it’s not surprising that’s mostly what I’m left with. Throughout the novel, he talks to as many people as he can, in conversations both long and short, about whatever the other person wants. In that spirit, I want others to read this, so conversations can come, and maybe I’ll figure out what I make of it all.

5 January 18 | Chad W. Post | Comments

Now that the Translation Database is over at Publishers Weekly, and in a format that makes it both possible to update in real time1 and much easier to query, I want to use it as the basis of a couple new regular columns here at Three Percent.

First off, I want to get back to running monthly previews of translations. But, unlike all of the other “ten books to read in XXXX” that are out there, I’m not going to pay much attention to the titles themselves, but look into the number side of things—how many books are coming out, from which presses, which languages, etc. What percentage of books are by women? Are there any interesting trends? That sort of thing. Nerdy, but probably with a handful of jokes or sarcastic comments thrown in.

Then, because this tool is not only damn fun to use, but pretty inspiring, I’m going to pick out four or five books from the database each month to read and highlight here on the website. My goal is to read fifty-two new translations over the course of the year (one a week), and, thanks to the Translation Database data, try and push myself into reading things I normally wouldn’t pick up, maybe because of the publisher, or the setting of the book, the fact that it’s poetry, whatever. I’m not 100% sure what form these write-ups will take, although I don’t want them to be book reviews, but something more observational, reactionary, whatever. We’ll see. The first one will come out sometime later this week, or over the weekend.2

For today, I want to kick things off by looking at the books coming out in January 2018 of which . . . well . . . there aren’t as many as expected.

When I initially ran this list (click here for a downloadable Excel sheet)—trying to figure out which new books I should read this month—I was a bit shocked by the paucity of options. In 2017, on average, there were almost 47 different works of fiction and poetry in translation published every month. This year we’re at 30 total titles: 29 works of fiction and 1 poetry collection. (By contrast, January 2017 included 42 works of fiction and 7 poetry collections.) What is happening?

I wish that, like with baseball stats, I could dig into this and come up with some sort of rationale. Although it’s more than possible that this is just an anomaly. That this month’s numbers wouldn’t seem nearly as off if the Dalkey titles scheduled for January hadn’t been delayed to later this spring. And maybe there’s a reason AmazonCrossing is only doing two titles this month instead of the five they did last January. Maybe I missed a trove of books and in a couple months this number will be retroactively noramalized. Given how small our sample size is, a few minor quirks can seem much more dramatic than the reality of the situation. But only 29? That’s still a bit odd and a bit disconcerting.

Not that these numbers mean all that much. This isn’t a Soviet Five-Year Plan of Translation Production. Quantity isn’t related to readership, and neither are related to quality. Bringing out 100 books in January doesn’t mean shit if no one ever reads them. That said, this is something to keep an eye on. Translations have been increasing steadily over the past decade, thanks to a few hits (Bolaño, Ferrante, Knausgaard), a bunch of new players getting in the game (Transit Books, Deep Vellum, Restless Books), and the almost arms-like race between Dalkey Archive and AmazonCrossing to pump out a ton of product. (Although in the former case, I’m not sure these books are ever in actual bookstores, and in the latter, I know that 95%+ of the sales are only of the digital variety.)

OK, after two Cold War references, let’s move on and get into some of the details.



Italy Takes the Month

If you’ve ever read one of my traditional translation database roundups, you’ll know that French, German, and Spanish books always, always, top the list in terms of languages with the most translations. Weirdly, that’s not the case this month. Looking just at fiction (sorry, poetry, you’ll get your own post in the future, this month I’m just focusing on the 29 fiction titles) there are five German books and four French ones (combined that’s 31% of all the new fiction translations this month), but there are only two from Spanish. Meanwhile, there are six Italian books from six different publishers. That’s neat.

That’s one of the reasons I’ve decided to read Paolo Maurensig’s Theory of Shadows, translated by Anne Milano Appel. I don’t tend to read much Italian fiction (in all of 2017 I only read [or rather, re-read] one book translated from the Italian—Six Memos for the Next Millennium), and that doesn’t seem right. Thanks to Europa Editions, I’ve come to associate Italian literature with crime and Ferrante. And although I don’t dislike either of those, I’m more into the Calvinos and Morantes and Moravias . . . but who knows! I need to give more books a chance. That’s one of my 2018 resolutions, I suppose.

Also, FSG passed on Maurensig’s latest novel (which is about a town of writers and a “devil” who arrives and appears to be an editor? I might be misunderstanding something here, but that sounds kind of great), which makes Theory of Shadows even more interesting. But I’ll save that for its actual post.



Remember #WomenInTranslation?

Of the 29 fiction works in translation coming out this month, only four—FOUR—were written by women. Nine of these books were translated by women, though (and two more by male-female co-translators), so that’s something, I suppose.

However, those four titles include a couple potentially huge books. There’s Eileen Chang’s Little Reunions (translated from the Chinese by Jane Weizhen Pan) coming out from NYRB and, in what is potentially our (collective) first big translation breakthrough of the year, The Perfect Nanny by Leila Slimani (translated from the French by Sam Taylor) coming from Penguin.

I’m going to read The Perfect Nanny next week when it comes out mostly because it was featured in the New Yorker (maybe this will help me get a better read on what it is the New Yorker really likes?) and because it’s 100% not something I would normally pick up. But again, we’ll get there when we get there.



The Other Big Book of the Month?

God, I feel so cheap focusing on multiple “big books” this month. I’m not the only one in the industry who’s been trying to refocus the translation tribe away from solely trying to get more books out into marketplace, but to appreciate (re: read, buy, and sell) the books that are making their way into English. Fifteen years ago, the idea of ramping up the total number of translations to create a critical mass and change the overall public perception was incredibly vital. There was nothing and the books coming out were completely ignored. Now we have 600+ titles coming out a year (not very many, but still!) and they’re still mostly ignored. (Especially if you do books that are smarter than the average NPR podcast. Or if they’re from a small press that isn’t everyone’s darling of the moment. Wait, shit. Just violated 2018 resolution #2: Quit being a cynical dick.)

Still, sales aren’t everything. We all know this. Judging books by that metric is crass and frequently divorces literary quality from the marketing machine. Or from the trendiness of people buying into trends. There’s no value in trying to objectively judge things that are popular though (this is why I’m in a bar, alone, on a Friday night drinking whiskey and writing this damn thing), so why not give Ahmed Saadwi’s Frankenstein in Baghdad a go? So many blurbs! So much advance praise! I can’t even imagine what it’s like launching a book with the power and reputation of a press like Penguin opening doors and backing up your pitches. I would love to experience that one time in my life. (Resolution #3?)

Does this book live up to its International Prize for Arabic Fiction hype? We’ll see. But even if it doesn’t the machine is ON and this is going to sell as many copies this year as all Open Letter titles combined. And that’s not a joke! (It’s a travesty.)



A Classic Author I Want to Read

In addition to Frankenstein in Baghdad, Theory of Shadows, and The Perfect Nanny, the other book that I’m definitely reading this month is In Black and White by Jun’ichirō Tanizaki. How shameful is it that I own a half-dozen of his books but have yet to read them? Please don’t “@” me? That’s what the kids say, yes? Since this is maybe the most unusual book of his to start with—not The Makioka Sisters, Naomi, Some Prefer Nettles, or those beautiful New Directions editions of The Maids and Devils in Daylight that came out last year—it seems perfect for me.

Also Rans for My Personal Monthly Picks

There are a few other books from January that I want to mention. But I don’t want to write too much more about books themselves, so if you want more info about these, just click through and read the jacket copy. (And then buy them! Check out The Perfect Nanny and Frankenstein in Baghdad from your local library and give your hard-earned cash to the companies that need it!)



Twist by Harkaitz Cano, translated from the Basque by Amaia Gabantxo (Archipelago Books)

One of the best things about Spain are the cured meats. So good! Take a nice stick of chorizo, add a bottle of tempranillo, and you’ve got an amazing night. Which is why the law preventing visitors from bringing these delicious meats back into the U.S. should go fuck itself into the grave. Yes, you can mail order any and all of this stuff, but if you try and put it in your packed luggage, customs loses their mind.

This is an actual exchange from when Kaija and I returned from the Barcelona editorial trip/book festival and Valencia in September:

“I’m sorry, I don’t know if they told you this or not in Spain, but even though it’s sealed, you can’t bring these sausages into the country without a special document from the actual butcher.”

“But it’s not sausage, it’s chorizo.”

“I don’t care. Whatever it is, it’s not going past this office.” [Goes to throw four Slim-Jim-type sticks and one glorious mini-baguette-sized stick of chorizo into the trash—which is probably filled with other delicious vacuum-sealed things that TSA customs just dumps onto a table in the back room and goes to town on come lunch time.]

“Oh, OK, cool. I’ll just eat them then.”

“What?!”

“That’s cool, right? Instead of you throwing them out can I just eat them all right here—”

“NO. Sir. NO. No you cannot.”

[Half-reaching for the chorizo] “But. Well. Can’t. Just. One?”

[Takes step back away from customs podium, clutching trash bin] “No.”

I’m surprised I haven’t been detained yet.



The Same Night Awaits Us All by Hristo Karastoyanov, translated from the Bulgarian by Izidora Angel (Open Letter)

What is this advertising?



[Insert all the normal jokes about the future and gadgets and being old and technology making it easier every day to control humans . . . I’ll spare you all the same old shit.]

But really, what is this an ad for?

Here’s what the mirror-type floating out of his iPad Kindle Fire says: “Come on. You know I will wipe the floor with — WAIT.” What does that even mean? And that floating girl with the dude growing out of her side? She looks like she would eat your babies. Except, well, her feet are swords? What is going on here? And this kid is way too copacetic for such textual violence. GET OFF THE FLOOR AND GIVE THAT FLOATING GIRL THE BUSINESS.

Does Amazon even bother test marketing shit anymore, or do they just come up with cool sounding names (“it’s not a flood, it’s a ‘Rapids’!”) and turn on the money printing machines?



Sońka by Ignacy Karpowicz, translated from the Polish by Maya Zakrzewska-Pim (Dalkey Archive)

Last October, I had the honor of being invited to the Conrad Festival in Krakow, Poland. It was an incredibly fun—and informative—trip (shout out to Sean Bye of the Polish Cultural Institute), but it did have a downside: Thanks to MLB streaming regulations, I wasn’t able to watch any of the World Series games, although I was allowed to listen to them. (Which, of course, led to never sleeping, which screwed up one entire morning thanks to game two—an EPIC game two, an amazing game two—and left me feeling a bit empty, like my season-long devotion to my favorite sport was all foreplay and no climax.)

Recently, I cancelled our cable and got PS Vue (because I’m like you and don’t think paying for cable makes sense, but I also refuse to live in a world without MLB Network and NFL RedZone, and both are included in PS Vue). And as a result, we can’t stream any local channels. At all. None. We even bought a big-ass, fancy-as-hell $80 indoor antenna, which allows us to pick up “Bounce TV.” Which might have been UPN in the past?) So, in other words, we don’t have access to local channels.

Usually this wouldn’t bother me at all. I spend four hours a night yelling at my kids to stop yelling at each other, so watching live TV is a dream for days of sickness and rest. But, I do love live sports. So all weekend (yes, it’s still Friday in my time, as this is being written, and I’m still at the bar, alone, drinking whiskey), I’ll have to go to various establishments to watch the NFL playoffs. Which, yes, nerds, I know no one cares. Y’all think sports are dumb and books are salvation, and I half-way agree with you.

Being cut off from local channels is super weird though. Especially since residents of SF and Chicago and NYC and wherever people actually live are all allowed to pay the same amount as I do and can actually watch live local broadcasts. Instead, I’m forced to get my local news from something called @ROCBuzz on Twitter. This is a mess.

Beyond the indignity of following fools on Twitter, how screwed up is it that big cities get this benefit when us small-timers, the cities you fly over and spit on, with the idea that anyone living here is too pathetic to deserve normal access to information about local murders, get absolutely nothing. Fuck you, Big Telecom! I shouldn’t have to steal cable to find out what Scotty the Weather Wonder has to say about our four-day forecast before learning from Thad Brown about who killed whom last night. Christ almighty, we’re already forced to read a local paper that fired its art director and hired a “Beer Columnist.” THIS IS NOT A LIE OR AN EXAGGERATION OR A JOKE. (Resolution #4: Quit watching local news.)



Mephisto’s Waltz by Sergio Pitol, translated from the Spanish by George Henson (Deep Vellum)

Forget resolutions, I have a new life goal. Before I die (which hopefully isn’t soon), I want to spend one summer in St. Louis, working part-time at Left Bank Books and attending every single Cardinals home game. The other day I finally admitted to myself that this might be my entire bucket list, and it made me cry. It’s not a huge dream, nor is it insanely out of reach, but that’s what I want before I die. One year. Eighty-one games. A full investment in an activity that gives me so much joy. And I would write a blog or book about it. I already write a secret newsletter about baseball sabermetrics and the Cardinals and the dumbness of fandom. If I had a summer to do only this I would be the happiest man ever.



Elven Winter by Bernhard Hennen, translated from the German by Edwin Miles (AmazonCrossing)

When is Game of Thrones coming back?

Just kidding. I’ve already reserved a seat at my favorite bar so that I can catch every episode of The Four. That looks like reality-television-music-programming gold. The “All about That Bass” lady is on there! And the Fergie! How can this not be must-see-TV?

Resolution #5: Quit everything.

1 Thanks to everyone who submitted their titles using the handy form. I’m still working my way through all of these—there were even more than I expected!—but should have all of them added, updated, or deleted (remember: available in America, first time ever to be translated, etc.) by the end of next week.

2 I have a few other ideas for new Three Percent content for 2018, but I’ll save that for a future post.

4 January 18 | Chad W. Post | Comments

This week’s BTBA post is from Adam Hetherington. He lives and works in Tulsa, Oklahoma and is the author of the forthcoming novel Ontogeny Is Beautiful.



My clever idea was to very briefly quote him in the title of this blog, then claim that any extended quotation does him a disservice. I was going to tell you that Hilbig (published by Two Lines Press and gorgeously translated by Isabel Fargo Cole) cannot be fruitfully exampled. He can’t be fractaled. I really believe this to be true, but I don’t have time to reread the book tonight, looking for the word “pace” or “pacing,” so I don’t really actually have a good way to start talking about the way pace works in a few books I’ve read recently. Sorry about that! We’ll all just have to settle for this wonderful paragraph you’re finishing.

Old Rendering Plant puts me in mind of a cruel teacher I had as a child. She would hit us with her homemade ruler, or pull our hair to physically turn our heads to face exactly what she wanted us to see. Other things that very old people teaching elementary school 25 years ago could do—I’m sure you can imagine. Anyway. So she was cruel, but the book doesn’t remind me of her cruelty. It reminds me of her absolute demand of our attention. The complete pacing of her order. The experience of reading Old Rendering Plant is like being led by the scruff of your neck, at a slow and even speed, gorgeous line by gorgeous line. Except you should imagine this experience to be just incredibly pleasant and addictive. I read it start to finish two days in a row. I doubt many people read this in more than one sitting.

— —



I remember reading Patrick Suskind accurately describe smells in his novel Perfume (translated by John E. Woods and published by Vintage) and thinking, “How in the exact hell did he do that?” even before I finished the sentence. A Horse Walks into a Bar by David Grossman (translated by Jessica Cohen and published by Knopf) made me ask the same question. The bulk of the novel takes place at a small theatre during a show by an aging, declining, but still relatively famous comedian. Second by second, Grossman and Cohen take us through Greenstein (the comedian) killing, totally blowing it, bombing, kind of almost saving it, arguing with the entire audience, connecting with individual audience members, driving the audience to leave, reacting to their leaving, then repeating the process. If you’ve seen much live comedy, you know the room lives and dies almost syllable by syllable. A Horse Walks into a Bar perfectly shows how tone can change between—or even because of—Greenstein’s breaths. The touch and go (then pause, then rush, then stop completely, etc) pacing here is masterful.

— —



Pola Oloixarac’s Savage Theories (published by Soho Press and translated by Roy Kesey) comes as a kind of encyclopedic mania, though tempered by the author’s incredible grasp on academic language. The practical uses, the surface-level absurdity, and especially the way that academese in modern philosophy lends itself to ridiculous framing of pet issues: Oloixarac gets it all right. A wild, horny energy propels nearly all of the characters’ actions, but that same horniness serves as a lens through which they—ugly, lonely, and overeducated—contextualize (and repeatedly recontextualize) their lives and ideas. But the trick here is that Oloixarac and Kesey somehow manage to use this specific kind of university jargon at a rapid, whirlwind clip while managing to be funny. Oloixarac is a truly hilarious writer, and Kesey is a deft (and probably funny in his own right) translator. The plodding crap of academese is entirely absent under their watch. It’s all electric movement.

— —

I just realized I didn’t quote anyone, so I didn’t actually need to justify not quoting Hilbig, but if I change it now I worry the whole post’s pacing will be off. Thanks for reading.

28 December 17 | Chad W. Post | Comments

Here it is, the infamous live recording at McNally Jackson! There was a great turnout to hear Brian, María Christina, and I work our way through our thoughts about Death in Spring, Rodoreda’s overall stature, the banning of the color yellow, and much more. We had a great time doing this, and thanks again to McNally Jackson for making it all possible.

We might have a special bonus episode in the new year, but stay tuned for details on Two Month Review season four, when we go deep on The Physics of Sorrow by Georgi Gospodinov. Buy a copy now! (Use the code 2MONTH at checkout!)

And, in case you still don’t have them, both Death in Spring and Selected Stories are also available through the Open Letter website. And like with Physics above, if you use 2MONTH at checkout, you’ll get 20% off.

Feel free to comment on this episode—or on the book in general—either on this post, or at the official GoodReads Group.

Follow Open Letter, Chad Post, Brian Wood, and for more thoughts and information about upcoming guests. And you can follow María Christina Hall there as well!

And you can find all the Two Month Review posts by clicking here. And be sure to leave us a review on iTunes!

The music for this season of Two Month Review is Montseny by Els Surfing Sirles.



27 December 17 | Kaija Straumanis | Comments

The latest addition to our Reviews section is a holiday pit-stop by Kaija Straumanis on Lost in Translation: An Illustrated Compendium of Untranslatable Words from Around the World by Ella Frances Sanders, published back in 2014 by Ten Speed Press, but making an appearance on Three Percent this year for some seasonal inspiration.

As a translator, it’s often that I find myself in a group of translator friends in which someone brings up an “untranslatable” word in a language he or she is working from. Just a few days ago, for me, this was the Latvian word “drēgns,” which a dictionary will decipher as “damp,” “cold,” “clammy,” or “chilly“—when in fact, it’s all of these words at the same time, and then some. It’s the type of cold, damp, seep-into-your-bones autumn or winter rainy weather that chills you to your very core and sticks around for a while even after you’ve made it to warmer surroundings. One word doesn’t do it justice; it’s so much more than just that one word.

Ella Frances Sanders’s Lost in Translation is a little coffee-table type book that explores just these kids of words from various languages across the globe. Complete with fun and colorful illustrations, a “summary” of the respective word’s meaning, and a definition thereof, the book is a great way to show off the intricacies, difficulties, and even beauties of what it takes and means to translate from one language to another. It’s, like, Translation 101 Lite™. Just enough to intrigue any non-translation-mined reader, but not too heavy or scary to make them scream and run to hide as if the thing had just turned into a snake, or a (seasonally appropriate) fruit cake. (Which I’ll never understand because fruit cake is AMAZING, especially after my grandmother cuts it up and drizzles a teaspoon of brandy over each slice.)


For the rest of the review, go here.

22 December 17 | Kaija Straumanis | Comments

The latest addition to our Reviews section is a piece by Jaimie Lau on The Size of the World by Branko Anđić, published by Geopoetika.

Here’s the beginning of Jaimie’s review:

The first and last sentences of the first chapter of The Size of the World give the reader the characters, setting, and central metaphor of Branko Anđić’s novel. It is a metaphor that is used throughout the book, sometimes well, though at other times tortured and stretched. It is definitely recommended that one makes peace with the idea of the world having different sizes because it is used, a lot. Part of the Serbian Prose in Translation Series from Geopoetika, the book is translated by Elizabeth Salmore and consists of sixteen chapters, all of which are told from the point of view of the protagonist/narrator, unnamed but presumed to be Anđić himself. Each chapter is written with a theme in mind and whilst Anđić will explore the theme itself as a concept, they mostly serve as starting points for childhood anecdotes involving his now-deceased father and the examination of these events from the perspective of the narrator as an adult. These are interspersed with experiences of the narrator with his own son, which serve as both comparisons and contrasts to those memories of his father.

Due to the focus of the writing moving from commentary to personal retrospection in pretty much every chapter, the narrative jumps around a lot chronologically-speaking; likewise, the setting of the book shifts between the narrator’s childhood home in Belgrade and his current residence of Buenos Aires, Argentina. Most of the narrator’s stories involving his father are based in either Belgrade or holiday locations within striking distance such as Budva, whereas, the times spent with his son are usually in South American locations such as Quilmes or Bahia. Although there are a few chapters that contain both stories involving the narrator’s father and son, usually they are given their own chapter as a platform. In the first half of the book, the focus of the chapters alternates pretty evenly, but in the second half, there is more of a focus on the relationship with the father, particularly as his diabetes worsens.


For the rest of the review, go here.

22 December 17 | Chad W. Post | Comments

This post was compiled by BTBA judge P.T. Smith.

From now until the announcement of the long list, we’ll be running one post a week from a BTBA judge, cycling through the nine of us. To launch those posts, just in time for the holidays (just in time, yes), here’s a gift guide. These are books that have stood out to each of us, whether for personal reasons or in ways that make them just right for certain types of people and readers. We’ve also indulged ourselves, including a book that’s not eligible for the award, but still so good that some people should be buying or receiving a copy this year.

Caitlin Luce Baker



August by Romina Paula, translated by Jennifer Croft


It was something about wanting to scatter your ashes; something about wanting to scatter you.

August is a meditation of what it means to go on living while forever mourning the death of your best friend. Emilia journeys back to rural Patagonia to scatter the ashes of her best friend who committed suicide and finds herself turning into the person she was five years ago at nineteen.

Pair with several bottles of cheap red wine, weed, Six Feet Under, and a mix CD featuring The Counting Crows, The Police, Bob Marley, and Nirvana.



A Simple Story by Leila Guerriero, translated by Frances Riddle


A Simple Story is an intense look at the high stakes world of the men who dance the malambo.

This was one of my favorite reading experiences of the year. I recommend reading while watching the malambo dancers on YouTube.

Pair with obsession, drama, sweat, Fernet con Coca and Yerba Maté.



Radiant Terminus by Antoine Volodine, translated Jeffrey Zuckerman


Radiant Terminus is set in a desolate landscape after the fall of the second Soviet Union.

It was one of the most disturbing books that I read this year. I read it late at night and welcomed Volodine’s words into my nightmares.

Pair with Swans, Killing Joke, This Mortal Coil, Shostakovich, a survival kit, and damn good whiskey.



Stephen Florida by Gabe Habash


Gabe Habash’s stellar debut takes the reader on a road trip through college wrestler Stephen Florida’s senior year of college. We are in Stephen’s head as he navigates sex, love, and his raw desire to win. This is a wild headbanger of a novel.

Pair with Led Zeppelin, Cream, Van Halen, sweat, obsession, a full tank of gas, and cheap beer.

Kasia Bartoszynska



Vengeance is Mine, All Others Pay Cash by Eka Kurniawan, translated by Annie Tucker


Kurniawan made a big splash last year with his sprawling historical epic, Beauty is a Wound. This is shorter and punchier but just as good: a startling combination of violence, humor, and tenderness, Kurniawan’s gangster road trip novel about the trials and tribulations of a young man whose “little bird” won’t get erect is the perfect gift for the friend who loves movies by Tarantino or Martin McDonagh.



Late Fame by Arthur Schnitzler, translated by Alexander Starritt


A gorgeous novella from this master of Mitteleuropa. The story of an aging artist who is “rediscovered” by a group of eager young poets, it’s a melancholic but humor-tinged exploration of art, aging, and literary celebrity. Perfect for the friend who enjoys a quiet afternoon or evening with a good book.



Not One Day by Anne Garreta, translated by Emma Ramadan


In this mesmerizing work, Garreta sets herself a task of remembering, each day, a woman she has desired, or who has desired her. These formal constraints fade into the background amidst the sensuous quality of the memories; their vivid intensity. A spellbinding reflection on memory, list, and literature. Get it for someone sexy.



Almost Never by Daniel Sada, translated by Katherine Silver


A rollicking, deadpan, utterly hilarious story about a man who is caught between his mother, his lover, his fiancée, and his aunt. So funny, and so ridiculous, and so wonderful. Anyone who enjoys Flann O’Brien, or Beckett’s novels, will love it.

Tara Cheesman



You Should Have Left by Daniel Kehlmann, translated by Ross Benjamin

When a screenwriter and his family rent an isolated villa in the mountains strange things being to happen. The writer hopes the forced solitude, and stunning views of glaciers, will help him complete a long overdue screenplay. But there’s something wrong with the house. Within its walls time and space bleed through dimensional boundaries and overlap. And as the laws of physics collapse around him, the writer slowly loses his grip on reality. Told through a series of journal entries, You Should Have Left is a classic horror novel in the style of H.P. Lovecraft and Stephen King. I do not recommend reading it in an empty house at night. Kehlmann understands too well the power things left unsaid have over the imagination.



Hell’s Gate by Laurent Gaudé, translated by Emily Boyce & Jane Aiken


What will a father do to save his son? And what will a son do to avenge his father? Matteo and Giuliana De Nittis’ son, Pippo, is hit by a random bullet in the streets of Naples and dies in his father’s arms. One senseless act of violence will cost not only Pippo his life, but his parents their marriage. Matteo takes to drinking in a dive bar with a group of outcasts. The bar’s big-hearted owner, a disgraced professor, a priest on the edge of excommunication, and a transvestite prostitute form an unlikely family. They share their stories, finding and giving comfort. And with them Matteo finally finds a kind of peace. Until, one night, the professor reveals that he has discovered an entrance into the underworld and a daring rescue plan is formed.

Gaudé’s novel explores love, loss, and families—the ones we make and the ones we find—grounding Matteo and Pippo’s tale in a harsh reality devoid of sentimentality, yet still beautiful in its humanity.



Island of Point Nemo by Jean-Marie Blas de Roblès, translated by Hannah Chute


Both an homage to the nineteenth-century adventure novel and an experimental writing exercise, de Roblès’ plot (unapologetically madcap) and characters (decidedly eccentric) are entirely unlike anything I’ve ever read. The narrative occurs in two, seemingly parallel, universes. The first is set in present-day France and revolves around a cigar turned e-reader factory managed by Wang-li Wong, a revolting man who spies on, sexually harasses and assaults his female employees. Until, one day, the tables begin to turn. The second storyline is an overtly fabulous tale that bears the hallmarks—names, places, plot devices—of multiple works of classic 19th-century novels. Readers will easily recognize the influence of Arthur Conan Doyle, H.G. Wells, Wilkie Collins and Charles Dickens. Our delightful group of protagonists travel across the globe on a fantastical adventure to catch a thief.

The two plot lines repeatedly intersect and diverge until the long, meta-fictional game Robles’ is so masterfully playing finally reveals itself. Funny and playful, for the right reader this is a book that delivers huge payoffs again and again.

Lori Feathers



My Heart Hemmed In by Marie NDiaye, translated by Jordan Stump


NDiaye took my breath away last year with her masterful novel, Ladivine. But I think that this, her most recent novel in translation, is even better. My Heart Hemmed In is extraordinary: an original and suspenseful novel that exposes all that is monstrous and ugly in the way that we regard those around us—our tendency to harbor suspicions, judgments, and prejudices against people we do not want or even try, to understand. NDiaye takes us inside the disturbing mind of Nadia, her unforgettable protagonist, with writing that is arresting; the tension, immediately palpable, builds steadily. The temptation to turn the pages quickly is great but the prose is so fine that you will want to savor it. With its unsettling atmosphere reminiscent of Doris Lessing’s The Fifth Child, NDiaye’s brilliant novel obtains pride of place with the very best literary horror. My Heart Hemmed In is a morality tale for our times. NDiaye may well be our most important living writer.



Elle Philippe Djian, translated by Michael Katims


This slim, propulsive novel is the perfect cure for a reading slump. The story is narrated in the first person by the novel’s protagonist, Michele, a successful, divorced woman with a grown son and an aged, eccentric mother who seems to have everything but is nonetheless dissatisfied with life. When a young couple with a new baby moves next door, Michele’s life is up-ended in ways that are unexpected and force her to confront her carnal desires and what these feeling mean for her self-identity. Elle is well-written, tense, and dark—an intriguing character study of a middle-aged woman who is struggling to come to terms with her sexuality, all the while deceiving those most important in her life.



The Iliac Crest by Cristina Rivera Garza, translated by Sarah Booker


If you have never heard of Cristina Rivera Garza you need to remedy that fact, immediately! Reading The Iliac Crest is as fascinating as it is disorienting. Let’s start with the narrator. Yes, almost from the beginning you question the narrator’s reliability but what’s more you wonder who the narrator is: woman, man, transgendered; alive, dead, something in between; rational, insane, periodically delusional? The novel begins when the narrator is visited one night by two women: one, an ex-lover whose arrival is anticipated; the other, an unexpected and unknown young woman, presumably seeking shelter from the storm outside. But really the young woman needs the narrator’s help in retrieving a manuscript that she believes was left at the nursing home where the narrator is a doctor. This concise novel is so full of intrigue, allusions, and symbolism that you might just feel compelled to read it once and then immediately start at the beginning and read again, which is exactly what I did!



The War of the End of the World by Mario Vargas Llosa, translated by Helen R. Lane


I am embarrassed to confess that until a few months ago, I had never read anything by Mario Vargas Llosa, the Peruvian Nobel Laureate. And losing myself within the pages of The War of the End of the World was among my most satisfying reading experiences of the year. What a novel! What a writer! Vargas Llosa’s epic novel is about the 1896–1897 War of Canudos in northeastern Brazil, a series of battles that pitted the Brazilian army against a large group of religious fanatics guided by a messianic leader who preached that Brazil’s new republican government presaged the Rapture. Vargas Llosa takes us inside the minds of the politicians, the landowners, the merchant-exploiters, and the religious zealots, many of them very former slaves and indigenous peoples. On a scale as grand as Tolstoy’s War and Peace, Vargas Llosa portrays the motives, hopes, values, and beliefs of not just the battle leaders but also the very ordinary people whose seemingly inconsequential acts, taken together, played a pivotal role in creating Brazil’s history. A novel that is dense with atmosphere, character, and plot and just simply a marvel.

Mark Haber



Our Dead World by Liliana Colanzi, translated by Jessica Sequeira


Friend and fellow Bolivian author Rodrigo Hasbún suggested this great collection by another Bolivian author Liliana Colanzi. The stories are at once earthly and yet there’s a sense of the strange hovering over all of these tales. A dazzling collection that blends the fantastic and the bizarre into stories that feel grounded and somehow timeless.



Affections by Rodrigo Hasbún, translated by Sophie Hughes


I envy subtlety in a writer, a soft touch. And Hasbún has this even when writing about subjects that are traditionally treated with a heavy hand. Affections is a novel that goes all the places you don’t expect. Based loosely on Hans Ertl and his family who left Germany after World War II and settled in Bolivia, this is a story of a family living under the burdens of history. Each chapter is told by a different character but focuses especially on Hans’ daughters who come of age during the turbulent and revolutionary 60s and 70s in South America. A subtle, often sympathetic and evocative novel—stunningly translated by Sophie Hughes—that manages to carry the breadth of a big novel but with a third of the pages.



Senselessness by Horacio Castellanos Moya, translated by Katherine Silver


This was one of the many books from Latin America that New Directions began publishing around 2007 and 2008, right around the time Bolaño was on the cusp of exploding (I also remember some incredible New Directions titles from Rodrigo Rey Rosa and Evelio Rosero during this period). Visceral, haunting and completely unforgettable. This novel, about a man hired by the Catholic Church to edit a 1,100 page report detailing the massacres of indigenous people in an unnamed Latin American country, is by turns funny and haunting. The translation by Katherine Silver is seamless. An explosion of a book that has not left me in the decade since I’ve read it.

Adam Hetherington



Knots by Gunnhild Øyehaug, translated by Kari Dickson


In these stories, Øyehaug sharpens the surreality of life through formal experimentation, then uses our resulting focus as a tool to wedge the mundanity of the everyday even closer to home. Odd, funny, and sad, Knots would be a perfect gift for lovers of Lydia Davis, Amelia Gray, and early George Saunders.



Savage Theories by Pola Oloixarac, translated by Roy Kesey


Two unattractive, overeducated college students push theory into practice through their horniness, culminating in a video game that turns the Argentinian Dirty War back on itself, disappearing the place, rather than the people. Also: it’s a comedy. I promise. This manically ambitious book would be a great gift for the funniest person you know.



Enfermario by Gabriela Torres Olivares, translated by Jennifer Donovan


Olivares maps the space of symptoms meeting audiences. She linguistically organizes a physical world around individual otherness, prioritizing the experience of the ill and the unique, and the haunted ways that they live and suffer in our everyday world. Enfermario would be great gift for someone whose trust you want to gain.



Obabakoak by Bernardo Atxaga, translated by Margaret Jull Costa


Simply put, this is the best short story collection ever written. Buy yourself a copy. You deserve it.

Jeremy Kang



On Darkness by Josefine Klougart, translated by Martin Aitken


This book is about the space between eyes and what is seen and felt that leads in some way to darkness. For fans of Maggie Nelson, Virgina Woolf, and Anne Carson.



Such Small Hands by Andrés Barba, translated by Lisa Dillman


A spellbinding story about childhood, loss, and belonging, Barba nails childhood perfectly and the translation by Lisa Dillman is extraordinary. I will never forget this gem and hope one day Sofia Coppola brings it to the screen!



For Isabel: A Mandala by Antonio Tabucchi, translated by Elizabeth Harris


An investigation for space and time. Tadeus, a dead poet, makes circles through different times and places (mimicking a Buddhist mandala) attempting to find a lost love and classmate. The poet travels from Lisbon across Europe, his travels copying the events of Isabel’s life. Tadeus interviews people who knew Isabel at different points in her life. The book reminds me of a dream that when you awake slowly fades from the perception of reality.



The Book of Disquiet: The Complete Edition by Fernando Pessoa, translated by Margaret Jull Costa


One of my favorite books ever written and this new edition and translation is gorgeous. This book will make you question who you really are and you’ll come out transformed.

Bradley Schmidt



The Seventh Function of Language by Laurent Binet, translated by Sam Taylor


Binet’s second novel is a colorful amalgam of crime novel, academic satire, and conspiracy theory. Starting with the historical fact of the famed literary critic Roland Barthes dying in a traffic accident, the book considers the possibility that it wasn’t an accident at all. Binet weaves together fact and fiction, developing a secret history of 1980s (primarily French) intelligentsia, including stars such as Foucault, Derrida, Searle, and Umberto Eco. Taylor’s translation takes us on a lively ride and pulls back the curtain. This book is ideal for those who have survived academia and may have vague recollections of theory, but also would like to imagine a more exciting version of the ivory tower, featuring plenty of sex, violence, duels, and debates. For fans of a slightly exciting version of semiotics.



Swallowing Mercury by Wioletta Greg, translated by Eliza Marciniak


This slim book is the first novel by Greg, a Polish poet who lives in England, and richly conveys a coming-of-age story is a rural village in southern Poland. Childhood rituals are a colorful mix of the Catholic and the pagan, or folkloric. In Eliza Marciniak’s deft translation, the short, episodic portraits give readers an unusual perspective on events both large (the Solidarity movement, collapse of the Soviet Bloc) and small (a beloved cat drowning in a pond). Although we don’t discover what becomes of Wiola, it is clear that her reconstruction of the past is cherished, but remains unsentimental. This debut is a true gem and was longlisted for the Man Booker International Prize in 2017. For fans of provincial prose and novellas written by poets.



Angel Station by Jáchym Topol, translated by Alex Zucker


Named after a metro station in Prague, this short novel packs a punch, giving a glimpse of a run-down neighborhood shortly after the end of Communism. The main character, Hooks, is a meth head who has spent time in mental hospital. Zucker’s translation renders the highly colorful, colloquial language, drug trips, and other adventures. While occasionally hard to follow, Topol’s rough-and-tumble tale takes us along for a ride. It’s a thrill watching Hook get into trouble and hope for the best as he tries to get out alive. Written directly after City Sister Silver, it can be seen as a shorter, more accessible version. It may burn going down, but Angel Station can be read in a single sitting. It will stay with you for a while. For fans of Trainspotting and Prague.



Memoirs of a Polar Bear by Yoko Tawada, translated by Susan Bernofsky


Yoko Tawada is perhaps one of the most interesting writers in contemporary German fiction. Memoirs of a Polar Bear tells the story of three generations of polar bears. One of the many changes that occurs over these generations is a decreasing ability to communicate with humans. Although the first two bears are circus performers and the third lives in a zoo, the bears are never quite let into the fold. In its own way, it is a story of family, exile, and what odd creatures humans are. Susan Bernofsky’s translation preserves the unique voice, rendering a prose full of vivid imagery. Memoirs of a Polar Bear was awarded the inaugural Warwick Prize for Women in Translation. For fans of deep thought and polar bears.

P.T. Smith



The Longest Year by Daniel Grenier, translated by Pablo Strauss


Gifting someone a book, you want to give something that suits them, but it should having something of you, too. So, the most transparently biased recommendation here is this book from Quebec, the drum I beat whenever I can. Does someone have a loyalty to American literature? Do they love realism and historical settings? Do you think they can handle more? Give them The Longest Year. Part contemporary story of a young American boy coming to terms with his absent father and his French-Canadian heritage, and part historical tale of a man who hardly ages (once every leap year) and wanders Quebec and American, stretching across borders and across time, from the 1700s and on. Grenier’s is a beautiful book, American and Quebecious, grounded and mythical.



Notes of a Crocodile by Qui Miaojin, translated by Bonnie Huie


Is someone you know tormented? Prone to heartbreak? Obsessive in both love affairs and friendships? Fiercely loyal and quick to see, and forgive, betrayal? Are they honest with themselves about this but unable to change? Then this book is for them. Or if they just enjoy reading something like that, then yeah, it’s for them too. In this novel told through notebooks, Qui Miaojin creates characters who are passionately human in their struggles, with themselves, their sexuality, their identity, and with those they care for. It’s raging with feeling, in beautiful sentences, and painstakingly works out the nuances of those emotions.



The Invented Part by Rodrigo Fresán, translated by Will Vanderhyden


I’ve probably been told to shut up about this novel. Who is it a good gift for? Anyone. Tell me you like F. Scott Fitzgerald, Kurt Vonnegut, Philip K. Dick, or Pink Floyd, I’ll tell you to read this book. You want funny books? There are cows bred by a monstrously rich family in a mad, clueless scheme, cows that turn out to be cannibalistic, and decapitate and rape horses “in that order.” It is intellectual, heady, aesthetic fiction that uses all of that to find depth of heart. Whatever you read for, you can find it here. It’s the type of book that opens itself to let someone discover they can read “difficult” fiction.



Surface Detail by Iain M. Banks


This one is for SF fans. There’s only a little doubt about it in my mind, but Banks is my favorite SF writer. Most of his SF books are set in the same universe, one of post-scarcity, a society that’s lasted for centuries, held together by hyper-intelligent AIs called Minds implanted in ships, and is filled with possibility for the humans who inhabit it. These are massive books, massive in scope, world-building, ambition, ideas, and yes, number of pages. They are works of genius and absurdly entertaining. They can be read in any order. So why Surface Detail? It’s what I’ve read most recently, and it’s got a pitch. There exist computer-generated afterlives, hells in which real consciousnesses suffer. Civilizations are fighting a simulated war to end or preserve these hells. That war is about to break out into the Real.

21 December 17 | Chad W. Post | Comments

Mara Faye Lethem joins us this week to talk about Catalonia’s scatological obsession, the challenges of the current political situation, Max Besora’s wild novel, and Rodoreda’s triumphant return to the best-seller list. Then they get into a more autobiographical reading of this section of Death in Spring, a section that’s all about death and chaos.

Both Death in Spring and Selected Stories are available through the Open Letter website, and if you use 2MONTH at checkout, you’ll get 20% off.

Feel free to comment on this episode—or on the book in general—either on this post, or at the official GoodReads Group.

Follow Open Letter, Chad Post, Brian Wood, and for more thoughts and information about upcoming guests. And be sure to read all of Mara’s translations, including The Boys by Toni Sala and Wonderful World by Javier Calvo.

And you can find all the Two Month Review posts by clicking here. And be sure to leave us a review on iTunes!

The music for this season of Two Month Review is Montseny by Els Surfing Sirles.



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
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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The Size of the World
The Size of the World by Branko Anđić
Reviewed by Jaimie Lau

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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Island of Point Nemo
Island of Point Nemo by Jean-Marie Blas de Roblès
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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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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A Simple Story: The Last Malambo
A Simple Story: The Last Malambo by Leila Guerriero
Reviewed by Emilee Brecht

Leila Guerriero’s A Simple Story: The Last Malambo chronicles the unique ferocity of a national dance competition in Argentina. The dance, called the malambo, pushes the physical and mental limits of male competitors striving to become champions of not only. . .

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The Little Buddhist Monk & The Proof
The Little Buddhist Monk & The Proof by Cesar Aira
Reviewed by Will Eells

Aira continues to surprise and delight in his latest release from New Directions, which collects two novellas: the first, The Little Buddhist Monk, a fairly recent work from 2005, and The Proof, an earlier work from 1989. There are a. . .

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Agnes
Agnes by Peter Stamm
Reviewed by Dorian Stuber

The narrator of Peter Stamm’s first novel, Agnes, originally published in 1998 and now available in the U.S. in an able translation by Michael Hofmann, is a young Swiss writer who has come to Chicago to research a book on. . .

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