Juan Jose Saer and Euardo Chirinos Coming from Open Letter Winter 2012

The new Open Letter catalog for winter 2011 is out. As always the catalog is filled with interesting books. Of note is Scars from Juan Jose Saer and The Smoke of Distant Fires from Euardo Chirinos. The Saer sounds quite interesting.

Juan José Saer’s Scars explores a crime committed by Luis Fiore, a thirty-nine year old laborer who shot his wife twice in the face with a shotgun; or, rather, it explores the circumstances of four characters who have some connection to the crime: a young reporter, Ángel, who lives with his mother and works the courthouse beat; a dissolute attorney who clings to life only for his nightly baccarat game; a misanthropic and dwindling judge who’s creating a superfluous translation of The Picture Dorian Gray; and, finally, Luis Fiore himself, who, on May Day, went duck hunting with his wife, daughter, and a bottle of gin. Each of the stories in Scars explores a fragment in time—be it a day or several months—when the lives of these characters are altered, more or less, by a singular event. Originally published in 1969, Scars marked a watershed moment in Argentinian literature and has since become a modern classic of Latin American literature.

For fans of poetry Euardo Chirinos will be the second book of poetry published by Open Letter.

The Smoke of Distant Fires contains thirteen new poems from the contemporary Peruvian poet, essayist, critic, translator, and children’s book author, Eduardo Chirinos. Precisely organized and formally inventive, each poem in the collection is itself a collection of ten numbered stanzas, and each of the stanzas themselves are fully formed poems, a series of rhythmic, elliptical fables from a fully recognizable, yet wholly original, world.The third collection of Chirinos’s poetry to appear in English, The Smoke of Distant Fires signals an exciting new direction in Chirinos’s poetics—its multivocal stanzas, evocative intertextuality, and enigmatic transparency join forces to perform a poignant interrogation of what it means to write poetry in the early twenty-first century

As always the catalog includes an excerpt of each work.

Juan José Saer Overview at the Nation

The Nation has an overview of Juan José Saer’s work, including a semi-review of The Sixty-Five Years of Washington which was published this year by Open Letter. Worth a read if you are interested in books that eschew the Boom or realistic fiction.

The “historical” novels stand doubly apart because, though set in the familiar ambience of the Litoral region, they lack the other consistent feature of Saer’s novels and stories, which is the recurrence of characters—a device also used by Piglia—to create depth and resonance while highlighting artificiality. There’s Cat Garay and his twin brother, Pigeon, who like the author moved to Paris; there’s Tomatis, the witty, jaundiced journo; Elisa and her painter husband, Héctor; Botón, the bigmouth, and Washington Noriega, the sagacious mentor (an older ex-leftie turned academic, writing a treatise on the very Colastiné Indians invented in The Witness), among assorted pals and hangers-on. In contrast to the prose-poetry of minutely charted sensation, Saer’s dialogue records scraps of banter in colloquial santafesino rhythms. This is the world of The Sixty-Five Years of Washington (1985), henceforth Sixty-Five. (The title does no favors to Steve Dolph’s translation, which is full of elegant, resourceful solutions to a most difficult text yet splotched by basic errors. Why not simply “Washington’s Sixty-Fifth,” as the phrase refers to a birthday?)

Each Saer novel fascinates with its unique machinery: Sixty-Fiveis wholly discursive. Someone must be speaking the text, because he keeps saying things like “as yours truly was saying, no?” But because this nameless someone knows what everyone thinks and remembers as well as says, he must be a personified omniscient narrator—that is, conventional third-person narrative dressed up as a literal “voice.” Within this oral frame people are said to speak, or to report the words of others, or to claim to report what others claimed that yet others said or did, in a maddening feedback of echoes and distortions proposed as realism. The Spanish title isGlosa, meaning commentary, or variation on a theme: every utterance is provisional, a gloss on a gloss. As in Plato’sSymposium, events reach us fourth- or fifth-hand—but here it’s through layers of misapprehension, wishful thinking, false memory or bad faith. There is no lofty absolute Being, only Becoming.

Juan Jose Saer, Mercè Rodored, Mathias Enard’s Zone Winter 2010 from Open Letter

Open Letter Press has released its fall catalog and it has some pretty exciting items in it. Of particular interest to me are Mercè Rodored’s short stories. I read her Death in Spring last summer and thought it was great. I don’t know much about Juan Jose Saer, but the description sounds interesting. And Mathias Enard’s Zone is one of those stylistic works that is too tempting not to read.You can down load the catalog which contains samples and bios from Open Letter.

The Selected Stories of Merce Rodoreda. Translated from the Catalan by Martha Tennent. (Catalonia) Collected here are thirty-one of Mercè Rodoreda’s most moving and challenging stories, presented in chronological order of their publication from three of Rodoreda’s most beloved short story collections: Twenty-Two Stories, It Seemed Like Silk and Other Stories, and My Christina and Other Stories. These stories capture Rodoreda’s full range of expression, from quiet literary realism to fragmentary impressionism to dark symbolism. Few writers have captured so clearly, or explored so deeply, the lives of women who are stuck somewhere between senseless modernity and suffocating tradition—Rodoreda’s “women are notable for their almost pathological lack of volition, but also for their acute sensitivity, a nearly painful awareness of beauty” (Natasha Wimmer).

The Sixty-Five Years of Washington by Juan Jose Saer. Translated from the Spanish by Steve Dolph (Argentina)

It’s October 1960, say, or 1961, in a seaside Argentinian city named Santa Fe, and The Mathematician—wealthy, elegant, educated, dressed from head to toe in white—is just back from a grand tour of Europe. He’s on his way to drop off a press release about the trip to the papers when he runs into Ángel Leto, a relative newcomer to Rosario who does some accounting, but who this morning has decided to wander the town rather than go to work.

One day soon, The Mathematician will disappear into exile after his wife’s assassination, and Leto will vanish into the guerrilla underground, clutching his suicide pill like a talisman. But for now, they settle into a long conversation about the events of Washington Noriega’s sixty-fifth birthday—a party neither of them attended.

Saer’s The Sixty-Five Years of Washington is simultaneously a brilliant comedy about memory, narrative, time, and death and a moving narrative about the lost generations of an Argentina that was perpetually on the verge of collapse.

Zone by Mathias Enard. Translated from the French by Charlotte Mandell. (France)

Francis Servain Mirkovic, a French-born Croat who has been working for the French Intelligence Services for fifteen years, is traveling by train from Milan to Rome. He’s carrying a briefcase whose contents he’s selling to a representative from the Vatican; the briefcase contains a wealth of information about the violent history of the Zone—the lands of the Mediterranean basin, Spain, Algeria, Lebanon, Italy, that have become Mirkovic’s specialty.

Over the course of a single night, Mirkovic visits the sites of these tragedies in his memory and recalls the damage that his own participation in that violence—as a soldier fighting for Croatia during the Balkan Wars—has wreaked in his own life. Mirkovic hopes that this night will be his last in the Zone, that this journey will expiate his sins, and that he can disappear with Sashka, the only woman he hasn’t abandoned, forever . . .

One of the truly original books of the decade—and written as a single, hypnotic, propulsive, physically irresistible sentence—Mathias Énard’s Zone provides an extraordinary and panoramic view of the turmoil that has long deviled the shores of the Mediterranean.