Winter 2014 The Quarterly Conversation Out Now

The Winter 2014 The Quarterly Conversation is out now. Here are somethings that caught my eye. (Via)

The Art of Disturbance: On the Novels of James Purdy

The Art of Disturbance: On the Novels of James Purdy

By Daniel Green

Indeed, those of us who have read deeply into Purdy’s fiction quickly enough realize that what could be called its idiosyncrasies are in fact its greatest strengths and that Purdy didn’t merely write one or two individually adventurous, original stories or novels but instead created a comprehensively original body of work, each separate work providing a variation on Purdy’s themes and methods but also exemplifying his larger achievement. Purdy wrote few, if any, really weak books.


The Uses of Uncertainty: Dalkey Archive’s “Library of Korea” series

The Uses of Uncertainty: Dalkey Archive’s “Library of Korea” series

By Deborah Smith

With any luck, 2013 should mark a watershed moment for Korean literature in English translation, thanks to the ten volumes being released by Dalkey Archive. They arrive with the support of the indefatigable LTI Korea, an institution whose existence—and budget—is frequently the cause of teeth-gnashing envy on the part of translators from less well-supported languages. All told, these ten—to be followed by ten more, currently scheduled for release in spring 2014—do an admirable job of showcasing the great range of talent to be found among modern Korean literature, which, in its contemporary iteration, seems to me to be one of the world’s most exciting, dynamic, and consistently impressive.


The Mircea Cărtărescu Interview

The Mircea Cărtărescu Interview

Interview by Audun Lindholm, translated by Thilo Reinhard
Kafka has written a parable in which he describes a long and arduous journey. At one point he stops because he sees a high wall in front of him. Realizing that the wall is his own forehead, he has moved to the limits of his own thought. My own artistic and intellectual ambition is to blast my way through this wall, the front of my skull. I feel humiliated by the limitations imposed by my own cranium.


The Christine Schutt Interview

The Christine Schutt Interview

Interview by David Winters
I do not want an impenetrable style but prize compression and music. I abhor quotidian easy speak, psychobabble, brands, news and slogans—a “writer’s prose” as Gordon Lish once described it. Mine calls for close, hard readers of fiction. This year in reviews of Prosperous Friends, I was bumped up from being a writer’s writer to being a writer’s writer’s writer; either way, it cautions challenging prose ahead. A lot is left unsaid and must be inferred simply because I want to avoid the dulling effect of belated language.


The Wayne Rebhorn Interview

The Wayne Rebhorn Interview

Interview by Steve Donoghue
Some 12 years ago I was teaching this book on September 11, and was preparing to go to class when I learned of what had happened in New York City and Washington and Pennsylvania. Should I cancel class? Should I devote the class to talking with my students about the tragedy? Should I just teach it as though nothing had happened? And then it struck me: this is the perfect text for this day, a text about how people can turn to stories to help them cope with horror. Of course, I did talk with my class about 9/11, but we then moved on to Boccaccio with a renewed sense of just how important literature can be at such moments.


From Navidad & Matanza by Carlos Labbé

From Navidad & Matanza by Carlos Labbé

Translated by Will Vanderhyden

My name is Domingo. Actually, Domingo is my password here in the laboratory. Just by uttering this name—which I chose—I can enter bedrooms and bathrooms, I can make phone calls, obtain food and drink, access the temperature, hygiene, and communication systems, send and receive email, carry out Internet transactions to purchase any supplies we need. Without it, I’d be trapped in my room. If I were to suffer a psycholinguistic disruption, or if the effect of some microorganism rendered me voiceless, I’d just die of starvation.


The African Shore by Rodrigo Rey Rosa

The African Shore by Rodrigo Rey Rosa

Review by Christopher Schaefer
Guatemalan author Rodrigo Rey Rosa opens his 1998 novel The African Shore with a Moroccan shepherd boy obliviously meandering by reminders of Tangier’s history. First, he passes by a ruined Spanish boating club and then the large abandoned Perdicaris house—the one-time home of the unofficial head of the international community in Tangier, and the site of his kidnapping in 1904 by a local tribal sheik that almost provoked war. Set against this backdrop, The African Shore presents the story of another encounter between a foreigner and a local in Tangier.


The Decameron by Giovanni Boccaccio

The Decameron by Giovanni Boccaccio

Review by Steve Donoghue
It’s a polite commonplace among scholars to assert, as G. H. McWilliam does in the introduction to his 1972 translation of The Decameron for Penguin Classics, that the work’s 14th-century author, Giovanni Boccaccio, would be immortal even if he’d never written it. Since McWilliam’s translation—solid as a block of Carrara marble—had an enormous distribution in schools throughout the Western hemisphere, it’s likely true that countless students came away from their one exposure to The Decameron thinking it’s somehow comparable to such of the author’s other works as Il Filostrato, or On the Genealogy of the Pagan Gods. Such a notion is ridiculous, of course.


Forest of a Thousand Daemons by D.O. Fagunwa

Forest of a Thousand Daemons by D.O. Fagunwa

Review by Geoff Wisner
From 1930 to 1939, a young man named Daniel Fagunwa worked as a teacher at the St. Andrew’s school in the town of Oyo in western Nigeria. When the education ministry of the British colony announced a literary contest, he entered a short novel called Ogboju Ode ninu Igbo Irunmale, literally “The Brave Hunter in the Forest of Four Hundred Spirits.” The first novel to be written in the Yoruba language, the book was published by The Church Missionary Society Press in 1938, when Fagunwa was around thirty-five. One of its early readers was a schoolboy who encountered it in class before his six years of formal education came to end in 1939. His name was Amos Tutuola.


Blinding Volume I: The Left Wing by Mircea Cărtărescu

Blinding Volume I: The Left Wing by Mircea Cărtărescu

Review by Kristine Rabberman
Cărtărescu’s first volume, built around childhood memories and family stories of his protagonist, Mircea, provides vivid descriptions of Bucharest, a beloved city that emerges from a surreal landscape, whose future is uncertain. Yet it also weaves in dreams and memories, obscuring the lines between hallucinations and reality throughout. His prose reflects his work as a poet—his eye for color and texture, his predilection for striking imagery. At length, The Left Wing becomes a wildly imaginative, detailed cosmology, a search for metaphysical truth, an attempt at a religious doctrine that privileges creation and connection among beings and planes of existence.


The Sound of Things Falling by Juan Gabriel Vásquez

The Sound of Things Falling by Juan Gabriel Vásquez

Review by Adam Morris
Whereas Vásquez’s previous books probed the lesser-known dramas of in Colombia’s past, The Sound of Things Falling takes interest in a notorious and relatively recent period in the country’s history: the mayhem of the cartel years of the 1980s and 1990s, a period most Bogotanos would be happy to forget. In those decades, the country was in the grip of Pablo Escobar, whose power was matched by his flamboyant extravagance: the novel opens with the assassination, in 2009, of a hippopotamus, “a male the color of black pearls” that had escaped from the drug kingpin’s defunct private zoo, itself an otherworldly attraction frequented by teenagers playing hooky from school.


Cannonball by Joseph McElroy

Cannonball by Joseph McElroy

Review by Trey Strecker
With Cannonball, McElroy returns to familiar themes of family relations and criminal/political intrigue, this time in the setting of the Iraq War. As in most McElroy novels, the story begins in the middle, a space between, the still moment at the top of a dive’s arc, “a slowness so divided it might never finish in your mind.” The narrator, Zach, a “slow on the uptake” Army photographer, is dispatched to a basement pool beneath one of Saddam’s liberated palaces in Baghdad.

Life and Times of Mr. S by Vivek Narayanan

Life and Times of Mr. S by Vivek Narayanan

Review by Eleanor Goodman
What does it mean to be an Indian writer? Does it mean you’re writing in Hindi? Or Tamil? Or Bengali? Or any of the many dozens of languages that have produced high literary achievement? Does it mean you’ve grown up in India (like Rushdie, or Kipling), or live in India (like Arundhati Roy, or Ruth Prawar Jhabvala), or are of Indian descent (like Naipaul or Jhumpala Lahiri)? The question gets complicated very quickly, and fraught with competing interests. More to the point here, how does one identify oneself as an Indian writer, and then negotiate those choppy waters? Identity figures large in Life and Times of Mr. S, Narayanan’s second collection of poetry, after Universal Beach in 2006—but here the issue is less of a single identity than of shifting identities and of what is encountered in the sometimes numinous, sometimes agonizing spaces between selves.

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The Quarterly Conversation – Issue 33 – Fall 2013 – Out Now

The Quarterly Conversation – Issue 33 – Fall 2013 is out now with an always interesting mix of articles. These are the ones that caught my eye:

A Library of Unlimited English Books

By Morten Høi Jensen

A groundbreaking new volume published by New Directions, Professor Borges: A Course on English Literature, offers unprecedented insight into the writer’s lifelong relationship to the English language, as well as an affecting portrait of the Argentine master as lecturer. These twenty-five classes on English literature were recorded by a small group of students in 1966 and later edited by two leading Borges scholars, Martín Arias and Martín Hadis. They have now finally been rendered into English by the incomparable Katherine Silver.

 

The Jáchym Topol Interview

Interview by Alex Zucker

But back to Belarus and how I wrote The Devil’s Workshop. So at about four in the morning, a taxi driver was taking me from my hotel to the airport in Minsk. Unfortunately he was pretty drunk, so as soon as we got out of the city he asked me to take over. I refused, since due to my psychopathic history I still don’t have a driver’s license. He didn’t understand, so we got into this huge argument, and by the time I finally convinced him to keep going—I said if he wouldn’t drive, we might as well just go lie down in a snow-filled ditch by the side of the road—I saw my plane lifting off into the clouds over the little airport out on the tundra.

 

From Three White Coffins by Antonio Ungar

Translated by Katherine Silver

One thing led to another, and that was just the beginning. I’m talking about the head resting in the plate of cannelloni. Heavy, still, and deaf, and attached to Pedro Akira’s compact body by a strong and manly neck. Oblivious to all the consequences this stillness began to unleash outside the Italian restaurant, in other heads and along other streets, more primary than secondary. Consequences transformed into actions that now, seen from here, from this requisite distance, seem like terrified ants running away from each other, ants fleeing from their own shadows. But that came later, five hours after the first memorable event of the day already briefly described—the breaking of the string on my double bass—which doesn’t seem worth mentioning but really is, and the reason shall soon be seen by those who are listening to this.

 

The Ingenious Gentleman and Poet Federico García Lorca Ascends to Hell by Carlos Rojas

Review by Scott Esposito

Most visions of the afterlife entail some kind of deliverance from the burdens imposed by memory—after all, what heaven could be more fitting than one where we transcend our Earthly failures? Spanish author Carlos Rojas ingeniously shows us the arch obverse of that in The Ingenious Gentleman and Poet Federico García Lorca Ascends to Hell: the inferno as an eternity with our regrets. Here, the titular poet is found in a hell that resembles an infinitely long spiral where each soul exists in a sort of solitary confinement with his or her own memories projected onto a personal stage, complete with rows of seats for the lonely spectator.

 

The No World Concerto by A.G. Porta

Review by Eric Lundgren

The No World Concerto, Spanish novelist A.G. Porta’s first novel to be translated into English, is a complex fictional riff on games, possible worlds, and the art of fiction itself. Porta is best known among English-language readers as an early collaborator with Roberto Bolaño, and, like Bolaño, he pays tribute to the innovations of the high modernists without exactly emulating them. The No World Concerto is structured as a Matryoshka doll, or as a hall of mirrors, fuguing seamlessly between authorial narration, third-person reportage, and inner monologue, a structure that becomes head-clutchingly complex when you consider that its two protagonists are writers with fictions in progress. The novel is set in Paris, but a Paris that resembles a half-constructed film set, referred to throughout as “the neighboring country’s capital,” with even the tactile pleasures of the place-names stripped away. Getting lost in this novel is a more dire possibility than the phrase usually implies.

Quarterly Conversation Summer 2013 Out Now

The Quarterly Conversation Summer 2013 issue is out now with some interesting pieces. These in particular caught my eye:

What Comes Next

By Sergio Chejfec, translated by Jessica Gordon-Burroughs

The Irresistible Heart of Darkness: Jáchym Topol and the Devil to Pay

By Madeleine LaRue

The Abdellatif Laâbi Interview

Interview by Christopher Schaefer

The Joan Margarit Interview

Interview by Prithvi Varatharajan

The Iraqi Christ by Hassan Blasim

Review by Tim Smyth

My Review of The Future Is Not Ours: New Latin American Fiction at the Quarterly Conversation

My review of The Future Is Not Ours is up at the Quarterly Conversation. This came out last week but I´ve been off line for a while.

The Future Is Not Ours: New Latin American Fiction edited by Diego Trelles Paz

The Future Is Not Ours: New Latin American Fiction edited by Diego Trelles Paz

Review by Paul Doyle

Editor Diego Trelles Paz notes in his solid and lengthy introduction to The Future Is Not Ours that this trend was first evident with the writers born in the ’60s, especially those of the McOndo and Crack groups, spearheaded by Alberto Fuguet and Jorge Volpi, respectively. Both as a reaction to the constraint imposed by the writing of the Boom, and to the political climate, writers gave up on the “total novel,” which tried to capture the whole of a country. While Paz oversells the importance of events like the fall of the Berlin Wall, the murders in Juarez, Mexico, and the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, in shaping the writers and works in this collection, there is a clear awareness of the dysfunctional world they inherited. Paz claims “one can recognize the rather nihilistic conviction with which each writer confronts the disillusionment that” uses cynicism and indifference to avoid disappointment. Having seen so many failures, there is only so much one can say about a nation.

Daniel Sada Reviewed in the New Quarterly Conversation

The latest issue of the Quarterly Conversation came out recently. As usual it has some great material in it, including a review of Daniel Sada’s Casi Nunca which was published a couple of months ago. It is a good review in terms of thinking about Sada’s language and grounding him in Mexican letters. It isn’t so good in giving you a sense of what the book is about. That’s ok I guess. You can’t have every thing. The book has been on my shelf for years. I’m going to get around to read it one of these days.

Other features of note:

Post-Literacy or Super-Literacy?

Post-Literacy or Super-Literacy?

By Daniel Evans Pritchard

Douglas Glover believes that there is a major failure in literary culture, and his new volume of essays, Attack of the Copula Spiders, attempts to re-teach the skills of reading and writing. Attack of the Copula Spiders, however, definitely is not an exercise in remedial education. Glover is a literary technocrat with a cranky, professorial temperament. He studies the percentages of load-bearing words within sentences and paragraphs, offering dictums in terms that would be familiar to central bankers. But are his remedies right for our literary problems?

 

On The Alienist by Machado de Assis

On The Alienist by Machado de Assis

By Matt Rowe

A highly educated man proposes that the government create a publicly funded system of healthcare. His opponents question the scientific basis of his ideas while clinging to religion. Some wonder where the money will come from; others worry about who will decide who receives care. As ordinary citizens see more and more of their friends and family fall victim to a corrupt system, they unite in a protest that is intended to be non-violent but turns bloody when challenged by government militia. But, rather than the people’s triumph, the seizure of power only marks the moment when hypocrisy, under the banner of “compromise,” becomes pervasive. That’s what happens in Machado de Assis’ 1882 novella The Alienist , the opening chapters of which are excerpted in this issue of The Quarterly Conversation. The Alienist takes place not in the United States of 2012 but in the Brazilian colonial outpost of Itaguaí, sometime around the year 1800.

The László Krasznahorkai Interview

The László Krasznahorkai Interview

Interview by Ágnes Dömötör

You know, the problem is that anything that’s the least bit serious gets bad PR. Kafka got bad PR, and so does the Bible. The Old Testament is a pretty hard text to read; anyone who finds my writing difficult must have trouble with the Bible, too. Our consumer culture aims at putting your mind to sleep, and you’re not even aware of it. It costs a lot of money to keep this singular procedure going, and there’s an insane global operation in place for that very purpose.

In Translation

From The Alienist by Machado de Assis

From The Alienist by Machado de Assis

Translated by Matt Rowe

The chronicles of Itaguaí tell that long ago there lived in town a certain Doctor Simeon Blunderbuss, a man of noble birth and the greatest doctor in Brazil, Portugal, and both Old and New Spains. He had studied at Coimbra and at Padua before returning to Brazil at the age of thirty-four. The King could not manage to convince him to stay on in Coimbra as regent of the university, nor in Lisbon directing royal affairs.


True Milk by Aixa de la Cruz

True Milk by Aixa de la Cruz

Translated by Thomas Bunstead

I thought it strange the baby not crying. I wanted to get up and check that it was all right, but I was worried I’d hurt myself, plus I was in a bit of a daze—it was as though my eyelids weighed more than usual. I asked myself: what dreams would I have had while I was under? I couldn’t remember a thing. Strange, because I always dream, and I always remember my dreams. I’d had a recurring nightmare over the previous nine months, over and over: in agony, I’d be giving birth to a baby that made a sound like a cat.

 

Ibn Fadlan and the Land of Darkness: Arab Travellers in the Far North

Ibn Fadlan and the Land of Darkness: Arab Travellers in the Far North

Review by George Messo

It’s Ibn Fadlan’s account of his remarkable journey that takes up the larger part of Paul Lunde and Caroline Stone’s newly translated anthology Ibn Fadlan and the Land of Darkness: Arab Travellers in the Far North. In 922 Ibn Fadlan set off from Baghdad as the envoy of caliph Muqtadir, bound for the upper Volga River and the Turkic-speaking court of Almish ibn Yiltawar at Bulghar. His mission was simple: to instruct the newly converted Almish and his people in the Islamic faith, to oversee the building of a congregational mosque, and to assist in the construction of a defensive fortress. Because of their richness, Ibn Fadlan’s detailed observations retain an authentic power to shock. He maintains a coolly dispassionate sense of importance and breadth, documenting a dizzying range of anthropological gems, from Turkish marriage customs to hospitality, from hygiene and the Ghuzz taboo on washing to horse sacrifices.

 

And so many others of note.

My Article on Four UnTranslated Short Stories Is Up at the Quarterly Conversation

My article about four untranslated Spanish short story writers is now up at the Quarterly Conversation. It turned out really well and is a much longer form article than I normally write coming in at a little over 3K words. While I think the stories mentioned in the article are great I had to leave out so many different ones that it seems at times I haven’t written that much. Writing about short stories is always hard because you end up with some many different ones and you have to try come up with some sort of thematic element to link them together. This was esspecially the case with these four, but I think I was able to do it.

Collections of short stories are generally considered difficult to market, and thus they’re often looked down upon by editors who acquire new works of literature in the United States. This fact is no less true when it comes to editors who acquire works of foreign literature translated into English, an already notably under-represented group. To make matters worse, what stories that do get translated are often lumped into anthologies of what you might call stories from over there, which obscure the full range of an author’s talent beneath the idea that one story is a representative sample.

This is all very important in the case of Spanish literature, which in recent decades has seen a rebirth of the possibilities of the short story. For authors of what’s called the New Spanish Short Story, this tendency has hidden a great burst of creativity that began in the early 1980s and flowered during the 1990s and 2000s (the few stories that have been translated have been relegated to obscure editions unavailable in the United States). From the stories of the fantastic by Cristina Fernádez Cubas to the structural inventions of Hipólito G. Navarro and the surrealism of Ángel Zapata, Spanish short story writers have created an exciting and diverse body of work marked by its openness and dedication to pushing the boundaries of the form.

I  have also commented on other stories from Navarro and Cubas. The rest of the Quarterly Conversation looks very good, too, and definately worth reading. They have a nicely timed overview of the works of Mercè Rodoreda. (You my reviews of Death in Spring and her short stories)