Issue 18 Winter 2010


From the Editors: On Lessons Learned and Not Learned From the Nobel

It is hardly necessary that we remind our American readers that for the free world’s great, lone, staggering superpower these are dark times. For those fortunate enough to sit unscathed above what we are now provisionally terming the “Great Recession,” there is much else to cause distress: an obstructionist, rump Republican party that daily marches ever farther into the terrain of nuttery and extremism; an ever-expanding national debt—cousin to that which the British and Spanish empires ran prior to their collapse—that forces other nations to finance the continuing operation of this one out of their own fear that America is, to steal a phrase, too big to fail; overseas wars in disarray; a good sixth of the nation that lacks medical insurance; numerous states on the verge of bankruptcy; mass unemployment. . . . Not to put too fine a point on it, but we feel that it requires a determined, and perhaps pharmaceutically enhanced optimism not to think that the long-predicted decline of the American behemoth is well underway.

Translate This Book!

We’ve talked to some of the top translators into English working today; we’ve talked to publishers big and small; we’ve talked to agents, journalists, and foreign-language authors. We’ve asked them all for the best books that still aren’t in English. And have they responded. They’ve told us TRANSLATE THIS BOOK!, and now we pass that on to you.

Tracing Mahmoud Darwish’s Map

Mahmoud Darwish was a poet essential to Palestinian concepts of identity an nationhood. Here, George Fragopoulos looks at four recently published book by the prolific writer, tracing an outline of the map Darwish left for his readers to follow.

Now Playing at Pynchon Cinemas: What’s Going on in Pynchon’s Three California Novels

Why does Pynchon keep coming back to California? His latest novel, Inherent Vice, is his third novel set in the state. Here, Donald Brown ponders what Pynchon has found in California . . . and what it has to do with film.

Intentional Schizophrenia: J.M. Coetzee’s Autobiographical Trilogy and the Falling Authority of the Author

Throughout his career, Coetzee has relentlessly highlighted the instability of words and stories, perhaps never so much as in his novels after the Nobel prize. Here, Matt Cheney shows how his three autobiographical works belie an attempt to pin down who “JM Coetzee” is.

Blogging to Gorbachev: Stanislaw Borokowski’s Letters to a Latter Day Cold War Hero

Blog, farce, open letters, or all? Austrian-Polish author Stanislaw Borokowski has been writing a blog to the Soviet Union’s final General Secretary, touching on everything from glasnost to the former world leader’s romantic songs.

Let Me Make a Snowman: John Gardner, William Gass, and “The Pedersen Kid”

“The Pedersen Kid” is the genesis of William H. Gass’s canon. In it Nick Ripatrazone finds the roots of a battle between Gass and John Gardner for the future of fiction.

False Truths: How Fact Is Fiction in Machado de Assis

Widely considered Brazil’s greatest writer, Machado de Assis was a unique writer. Like a Laurence Stern across the Atlantic, this freed slave wrote postmodern literature long before the 20th century.

Only Poems Can Translate Poems: On the Impossibility and Necessity of Translation

Robert Frost famously said, “Poetry is what gets lost in translation.” But what if it’s really not so black and white?

From The Mezzanine by Nikos Kachtitsis

Read this chapter from The Mezzanine by Nikos Kachtitsis, the first time it’s ever been published in English.

Nikos Kachtitsis’s Dark Night of the Soul and The Mezzanine

George Fragopoulos explains why he wanted to translate The Mezzanine, a book that brings to mind Kafka, Conrad, Dostoevsky, Joyce, and even Proust.

From Jerzy Pilch’s A Thousand Peaceful Cities

An excerpt from Polish author Jerzy Pilch’s next novel, available next year.

Notes on Jerzy Pilch’s A Thousand Peaceful Cities

Matt Jakubowski introduced Jerzy Pilch’s latest novel, available next year.

From An Unfinished Score by Elise Blackwell

An excerpt from Elise Blackwell’s newest novel, available next year.


The Ask by Sam Lipsyte

The AskSam Lipsyte. Farrar, Straus & Giroux. $25.00, 304pp. Sam Lipsyte’s newest novel, The Ask, is another unrelenting tour de force of black bile. Set after 9/11, it follows the hapless meanderings of one Milo Burke, a failed middle-aged painter now working in development at a university in New York City, referred to only as [...]

The Tanners by Robert Walser

The TannersRobert Walser (trans. Susan Bernofsky). New Directions. 360pp, $15.95. I. It is the mark of a novel’s necessity when it hangs so strongly together, feels so absolutely essential in every last, smallest chunk, despite the fact that it offers the reader very little of what is generally construed as novelistic. In Search of Lost [...]

I Am Not Sidney Poitier by Percival Everett

The central joke, it must be said first, gets old in a hurry. The protagonist of Percival Everett’s newest novel is in fact named Not Sidney, and coincidentally his mother’s last name is Poitier. And by pure chance, the guy happens to look exactly like the star of In the Heat of the Night. So the boy inherits not only a lifetime of Abbott & Costello-worthy introductions (“My name is Not Sidney.” “Then what is it?”) but also quite a bit of racial and cultural baggage. He nevertheless narrates the novel with a sort of charming emotional remove, which helps to reign in the frequently cartoonish novelistic inventions around him; Everett mocks celebrities, white people, black people, southerners, novelists, educators, even himself, so it helps to have a steady voice holding it all together.

The Wall in My Head: Words and Images from the Fall of the Iron Curtain

My German mother had the misfortune to be an adolescent in a village south of Frankfurt during World War II. When the boundary between East and West Germany was drawn, her village lost its train station and she lost half of her extended family; they had become East German by virtue of geography, not personal politics. My father would chime in about how the Berlin Wall separated East and West Berlin and how after World War II the city and country had been divided up like a pie—with the United States and the Soviets getting the biggest slices. In my child’s mind, I took that wall in Berlin and extended it down through the whole country, even going so far as to picture the farmhouse where my mother lived as a child as backing up against a cement wall. As I grew older, I extended that wall in my mind to join up with an Iron Curtain that locked out the even larger landmass of Eastern Europe and Russia. Perhaps these are the reasons why I leapt at the chance to read The Wall in My Head, a new anthology of writing and images from the Eastern Bloc.

The Salt Smugglers by Gerard de Nerval

Nerval is remembered as a minor literary figure, an eccentric who walked his pet lobster on a ribbon in the Palais Royal, gabbled his poetry in doorways, read at night with a candlestick on his head, and slept in coaches with his head in a noose, habits that endeared him to aesthetes and literary anecdotalists.

The Witness by Juan Jose Saer

The Witness, Juan José Saer (trans. Margaret Jull Costa). Serpent’s Tail. 168pp, $14.95. When it comes to Latin American fiction, U.S. readers seem to have imposed their own ideas on what counts as ambition. There is the sprawling variety, of which our most familiar examples are Bolaño’s behemoths 2666 (912 pages) and The Savage Detectives [...]

Sunset Oasis by Bahaa Taher

The International Prize for Arabic Fiction, the so-called “Arabic Booker,” did not send the reading public into Nobel-like shock when it awarded its inaugural prize in 2008. The first IPAF went, perhaps predictably, to one of the reigning giants of Arab literature. It was awarded to Egypt’s Bahaa Taher for his novel Sunset Oasis, which has just been published in English.

Nog by Rudolph Wurlitzer

Nog, Rudolph Wurlitzer. Two Dollar Radio. 168pp, $15.50. Although Nog has never been entirely forgotten since its first publication in 1968, it has never fully emerged from cult-classic status; as Erik Davis observes in the introduction to the recent Two Dollar Radio edition, it has been “attracting passionate fans over forty years of slipping in [...]

The Cave Man by Xiaoda Xiao

One of the most unfortunate and tragic legacies that the 20th century has left us is certainly the development and popularity of (what I will call here) “gulag literature.” Most famously, Solzhenitsyn did his significant part in challenging the Soviet system in the ’60s by writing about his personal experience in a gulag. Though his was hardly the first tale to take place in a camp for political prisoners, his was the first hint at popular revolt against the secret Soviet system that seemingly stood for all we (the West, as it were) stood against. Thanks to Solzhenitsyn and others, the term gulag itself has come to be shorthand for a bureaucratic mistake which leads someone to be locked up unjustly, the notion itself seems a 20th century invention. Though gulag literature is confined mainly to those writers who were imprisoned in the Soviet-era gulag system, the larger corpus of this type of writing might include general stories of exile, Holocaust camp writing, and survival stories of those kidnapped and disappeared in other bloc countries, as well as tales from Argentina and other Latin American countries in the 1970s and 1980s. This kind of literature reflects the experience (and fears) of countless millions during that violent and painfully bitter century.

Brecht at Night by Mati Unt

Every once in a while you stumble upon text within a novel that utterly describes the experience you’ve had while reading that novel. Such is the case with this quote from Mati Unt’s recently translated novel Brecht at Night. Actually, “novel” is too narrow a term to define this work. Unt dances along the edge of biography and history, using fiction to fill in the gaps and to give the work its form. If while reading this book you are overtaken by the urge to check Wikipedia or search for biographies on Brecht at your local bookstore, don’t. Mingling humor and pathos, Unt’s recreation of Brecht is more vivid, more alive than you’ll find in any of those sources. And, more importantly, surrendering the tenuous thread that divides fact from fiction is what immersing yourself in this work is all about.

Season of Ash by Jorge Volpi

Season of Ash, Jorge Volpi (trans. Alfred MacAdam). Open Letter. 464pp, $15.95. Season of Ash, by the Mexican author Jorge Volpi, perhaps the best known member of the anti-Boom Crack Group, is truly an emphatic break from magical realism, the Boom, and the themes of Mexicanness that have filled the work of authors like Carlos [...]

Dick of the Dead by Rachel Loden

Rachel Loden’s Dick of the Dead opens with its strongest poem, a decision that, while understandable, is always risky. “Miss October” sets the stage for the bricolage of twentieth-century detritus (its ephemerality leavened by a healthy helping of myth and fable) that follows, but it also sets a very high bar, its insistently rhythmic, short-lined quatrains managing a feat I would have thought impossible: transforming Hugh Hefner’s increasingly grotesque pretense of perpetual feckless youth into a quiet autumnal defiance, and the cartoonish figure of the Playmate into a reminder of mortality.

The Sri Lankan Loxodrome by Will Alexander

The Sri Lankan Loxodrome, Will Alexander. New Directions. 112 pp., $14.95. Nothing is given. Everything remains to be constructed. I do not know beforehand what the poem is going to say, where the poem is going to take me. The poem is not “expression,” but a cognitive process that, to some extent, changes me. —Rosmarie [...]

Rising by Farrah Field

Rising, Farrah Field. Four Way Books. 72 pp, $15.95. “In a poem,” wrote Laurie Sheck, “it is not enough to tell the hidden story. The question is also how to look at the subterfuge, the cover, how power functions to block out what it can’t absorb, what would undermine it.” She maintains that language, usurped [...]

They Carry a Promise by Janusz Szuber

Reading a poet for the first time, particularly in translation, is like orienting ourselves in a foreign land with a broken compass and unreliable map. We listen for echoes. We look for landmarks, evidence of the familiar, and reassure ourselves we are not lost. The experience is not always unpleasant. Being lost with the promise of finding our way—if not home then at least some place interesting—is one of the reasons we continue to read poems new and old. Good and great poets teach us how to read their poems.

Tracer by Richard Greenfield

Tracer. Richard Greenfield. Omnidawn. 90 pp, $15.95. Tracer, Richard Greenfield’s second book of poetry, ups the promise—and the ante—of his first book, 2003′s A Carnage in the Lovetrees. In that volume the poet proved himself relentlessly and bravely willing to bare emotional traumas within the context of equally relentless cutting-edge poetics—translating, as it were, Plath’s [...]

Versed by Rae Armantrout and The Winter Sun by Fanny Howe

Is there anything other than the fact that these two writers are women that causes them to be reviewed together? Well, they were included by Ron Silliman in his In the American Tree (though only Armantrout made it into Paul Hoover’s Postmodern American Poetry). They were both born around the same time–Howe in 1940, Armantrout in 1947, and while this may seem like a small common ground from which to start, other similarities and connections will be explored as this review progresses.


The Humphrey Davies Interview

The world of Arabic literature in English has changed a great deal in the last decade, according to award-winning translator Humphrey Davies. Denys Johnson-Davies—the pioneering translator who brought the works of Naguib Mahfouz, Tayeb Saleh, and Mahmoud Darwish to English-language audiences—says he never made much money from his labors. But, says Humphrey Davies (unrelated), “The [...]

The Len Rix Interview

Len Rix has translated the complete novels of the Hungarian author Antal Szerb for London’s Pushkin Press. His most recent translation, Szerb’s The Queen’s Necklace, was published in September. Rix has also translated from the Hungarian Tamás Kabdebó’s A Time for Everything and Magda Szabó’s The Door, receiving the the Oxford-Weidenfeld translation prize in 2006 [...]

Cormac McCarthy Full Coverage

Cormac McCarthy Full Coverage

The Lydia Davis Symposium

The Lydia Davis Symposium

Who Was David Foster Wallace?

Read Who Was David Foster Wallace?

Full Coverage: Roberto Bolano

Full Coverage: Roberto Bolano

Featuring Recent Posts WordPress Widget development by YD