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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.