My Review of Mr. Gwyn by Alessandro Baricco is up at Three Percent

My review of Alessandro Baricco’s Mr. Gwyn by is up at Three Percent.

Alessandro Baricco’s Mr. Gwyn is a set of two loosely interlinked novellas that play with narrative and the construction of character. Ably translated by Ann Goldstein, Mr. Gwyn plays some subtle metafictional games as Baricco delves into what it means not just to write, but to create representations of ourselves. Is narrative a story, or a portrait, or both? It is a question Baricco delightfully plays with, with intriguing results that can be quite sensual.

In the title novella, a writer, Jasper Gwyn, after publishing only three novels publicly announces in the Guardian that he is never going to write another book. The reason? It “no longer suited him.” His publisher and friend try to no avail to have him change his mind. Gwyn is unwilling to go back on what he’s said and refuses to write another book. However, he is restless after his decision and feels the pull of writing. His solution is to become a copyist, a man who makes portraits. Gwyn determines he needs 30 days of observing his subject for four hours every day in the nude. His first subject is his publisher’s assistant, an overweight woman who is somewhat self-conscious. It is an encounter that starts awkwardly as each learns what it means to be the observer and the observed. Slowly, the assistant finds the experience liberating and at times erotic as she lies there with her body exposed to Gwyn, often ignoring him.

My Review of On Leave by Daniel Anselme is up at Three Percent

My review of Daniel Anselme’s On Leave is up at Three Percent. The book is a lost novel from the 1950’s that takes on France’s war with Algeria:

In 1957, Daniel Anselme published On Leave, a novel about three soldiers on leave from the Algerian War. At that point during the war, only two of its eight years had passed and the full savagery and politically instability that would mark latter years of the conflict had yet to occur. Yet despite the national trauma of the intervening years, On Leave, as translator David Bellos notes in his introduction, is one of the rare literary responses to the war. It is even more remarkable given it received little notice when it was first published, and was then soon forgotten. It now makes its first appearance in English.

read the whole thing at Three Percent

The Three Percent Translation Database for 2013 is Up

I’ve always found the Three Percent Translation Database fascinating and a great resource for what is coming out in English for the year. Perusing the list is always an interesting and daunting thing to do. I was pleased to see a book from Marcos Giralt Torrente, a writer I’ve always been interested in reading. This year there are 49 Spanish fiction titles most from authors I don’t know, which is a good thing and there are even a few books I’ve already reviewed in these pages. Any way, it is worth a look.

Spanish Language Fiction In English for 2011 – Via Three Percent

Three Percent has updated their translation database for 2011 (you can see the whole list here (Excel file)). But I thought it would be interesting to look at just the Spanish language fiction, especially if you don’t have Excel. Many of the names are familiar such as Bloano, Volpi, Aira, Castellanos Moya. I recognize Felix J Palma from Spain and even own one of his books. But there are many I don’t recognize at all.

Titles AuthorFN AuthorLN Country TranslatorFN TranslatorLN Publisher Genre Price Month
Seamstress and the Wind Cesar Aira Argentina Rosalie Knecht New Directions Fiction 12.95 June
My Two Worlds Sergio Chejfec Argentina Margaret Carson Open Letter Fiction 12.95 July
Prose from the Observatory Julio Cortazar Argentina Anne McLean Archipelago Fiction 18 June
Kamchatka Marcelo Figueras Argentina Frank Wynne Black Cat Fiction 14.95 May
Vertical Poetry: Last Poems Roberto Juarroz Argentina Mary Crow White Pine Poetry 16 June
Seconds Out Martin Kohan Argentina Nick Caistor Serpent’s Tail Fiction 14.95 Apr
Passionate Nomads Maria Rosa Lojo Argentina Brett Alan Sanders Aliform Fiction 14.95 June
Sweet Money Ernesto Mallo Argentina Katherine Silver Bitter Lemon Fiction 14.95 Oct
Purgatory Tomas Eloy Martinez Argentina Frank Wynne Bloomsbury Fiction 17 Nov
Secret in Their Eyes Eduardo Sacheri Argentina John Cullen Other Press Fiction 15.95 Oct
Scars Juan Jose Saer Argentina Steve Dolph Open Letter Fiction 14.95 Dec
Dark Desires and the Others Luisa Valenzuela Argentina Susan Clark Dalkey Archive Fiction 15.95 May
Third Reich Roberto Bolano Chile Natasha Wimmer FSG Fiction 25 Dec
Tres Roberto Bolano Chile Laura Healy New Directions Poetry 24.95 Sept
Lizard’s Tale Jose Donoso Chile Suzanne Jill Levine Northwestern University Press Fiction 24.95 Oct
Chilean Poets: A New Anthology Jorge Etcheverry Chile various various Marick Press Poetry 16.95 Apr
Absent Sea Carlos Franz Chile Leland Chambers McPherson & Company Fiction 25 June
Shadow of What We Were Luis Sepulveda Chile Howard Curtis Europa Editions Fiction 15 Feb
Good Offices Evelio Rosero Colombia Anne McLean New Directions Fiction 12.95 Sept
Secret History of Costaguana Juan Gabriel Vasquez Colombia Anne McLean Riverhead Fiction 26.95 June
Anima Jose Kozer Cuba Peter Boyle Shearsman Books Poetry 20 Feb
Micrograms Jorge Carrera Andrade Ecuador Alejandro de Acosta Wave Books Poetry 16 Nov
Tyrant Memory Horacio Castellanos Moya Honduras Katherine Silver New Directions Fiction 15.95 June
Afterglow Alberto Blanco Mexico Jennifer Rathbun Bitter Oleander Press Poetry 21 June
Destiny and Desire Carlos Fuentes Mexico Edith Grossman Random House Fiction 27 Jan
Three Messages and a Warning Eduardo Jimenez Mayo Mexico various various Small Beer Fiction 16 Dec
Negro Marfil/Ivory Black Myriam Moscona Mexico Jen Hofer Les Figues Poetry 15 Sept
Love Poems Jaime Sabines Mexico Colin Carberry Biblioasis Poetry 16.95 Oct
In Spite of the Dark Silence Jorge Volpi Mexico Olivia Maciel Swan Isle Press Fiction 28 Jan
Origin of Species and Other Poems Ernesto Cardenal Nicaragua John Lyons Texas Tech University Press Poetry 21.95 Apr
Reasons for Writing Poetry Eduardo Chirinos Peru G. J. Racz Salt Poetry 15.95 Jan
Against Professional Secrets Cesar Vallejo Peru Joseph Mulligan Roof Books Poetry 14.95 Apr
Fire Wind Yvan Yauri Peru Marta del Pozo Ugly Duckling Poetry 14 Feb
I’m a Box Natalia Carrero Spain Johanna Warren AmazonCrossing Fiction 13.95 July
Waiting for Robert Capa Susana Fortes Spain Adriana Lopez HarperCollins Fiction 14.99 Oct
Traitor’s Emblem Juan Gomez-Jurado Spain Daniel Hahn Atria Fiction 24.99 July
Scale of Maps Belen Gopegui Spain Mark Schafer City Lights Fiction 14.95 Jan
Exiled from Almost Everywhere Juan Goytisolo Spain Peter Bush Dalkey Archive Fiction 13.95 Apr
Nijar Country Juan Goytisolo Spain Peter Bush Lumen Books Fiction 15 May
Barcelona Noir Adriana Lopez Spain Achy Obejas Akashic Books Fiction 17.95 May
Map of Time Felix Palma Spain Nick Caistor Atria Fiction 26 June
No World Concerto A. G. Porta Spain Rhett McNeil Dalkey Archive Fiction 15.95 Oct
Procession of Shadows Julian Rios Spain Nick Caistor Dalkey Archive Fiction 13.95 May
Lost Angel Javier Sierra Spain Carlos Frias Atria Fiction 25.99 Oct
A Bit of Everything Juan Valera Spain Johanna Warren AmazonCrossing Fiction 13.95 Feb
Dona Luz Juan Valera Spain Kenneth Evan Barger AmazonCrossing Fiction 13.95 Feb
Never Any End to Paris Enrique Vila-Matas Spain Anne McLean New Directions Fiction 15.95 May

Short Story from Quim Monzo – Books – At Three Percent

Three Percent has a short story (pdf) from Quim Monzo that you can down load. I thought it could have gone in other directions, but then again that is just echoing Monzo himself when he says, ” a narrative is never as good as the possibilities that fan out at the beginning” . Nevertheless, it is in English and short. I found it to be a mix of Bernhard and Borges, which, despite my love of both, didn’t excite me. But perhaps it will you.

BTBA 2010 Fiction Longlist and My Review of News from the Empire by Fernando del Paso

Three Percent, as part of their Best Translated Book Award for 2010, has used my review of “News from the Empire” by Fernando del Paso In their post and gave it some nice comments.

I can’t do half the job summing up this mammoth book that Paul Doyle did for Quarterly Conversation. So rather than even try, I’m going to give all props to Paul and use his review to profile this particular BTBA title

Another book in their Best Translated Book Award 2010 long list that I read this year and thought was very good (and reviewed) was Vilnius Poker. You can read my review here.

The Long list is a great resource for translated books, especially since all of them are in print right now, so if you see one you like you can buy it. The full list is here.

Translation is a Love Affair – A Novel from Quebec

I haven’t read Translation is a Love Affair yet, but it seems to be popping up all over my radar screen. First Three Percent has posted a review of it and Nick’s Book Club is going to be discussing it Monday, December 28 in Seattle. I am looking forward to reviewing the book soon. I have never read anything from Quebec and though I think the idea of national literature is a little over done, it will be a welcome change.

Jorge Volpi – the Historical Novel in Latin America

In part four of Three Percent’s talk from Jorge Volpi, Volpi discusses recent historical novels in Latin America. What is interesting is that after saying there was no Latin American literature, he talks as if there were one. However, he sees in Latin American historical novels a reluctance to deal with the now.

The ”historical novel” blossoms in Latin America just like everywhere else, but in general it covers a more remote past—the Pre-Hispanic or the Colonial period—or it aspires to secularizing heroes and official villains, but always distant in time. If to that you add the lack of interest—or the revulsion—that politics awakens among the writers who were born from the sixties on, the result is an absence of stories related to our recent history.

But if younger writers have been younger fiction writers have been reluctant to write about recent history, historians have even been more reluctant and so it has to fall to the fiction writers to do something.

To this date, except for a few pamphlets of support or opposition, characters as fascinating and dark as Carlos Salinas de Gortari, Carlos Andrés Pérez, Carlos Menem, Alberto Fujimori, Daniel Ortega, Evo Morales, and Hugo Chávez all lack definitive biographies. There is hardly any detail of their intimate lives or examination of their public performance or, at the other extreme, novelistic explorations of their acts (among the few exceptions, the already classic Santa Evita by Tomás Eloy Martínez or La hora azul by Alonso Cueto about Vladimiro Montesinos).

Part of the dearth has been fear and some of it has been disillusion with politics in general. Now, though, he sees some younger writers who have begun to tackle some of the issues of violence in their home countries.

In Peru, after the grotesque Fujimori-Montesinos government, the new democracy installed a Commission of Truth and Reconciliation that played a significant role in public life. It could be a coincidence, but from that moment on, a good number of writers have dared to scrutinize the immediate past with different and sometimes contrary perspectives. Besides de Cueto, I consider the work of three authors born after 1960 outstanding: Abril rojo (2002) by Santiago Roncagliolo, War by Candelight (2006) by Daniel Alarcón—whose first novel Lost City Radio (2008) also refers to this theme—and Un lugar llamado Oreja de Perro (2008) by Iván Thays.

The rest of the article explains the books and how they represent the trend he has been talking about and is a good conceptualization of novels in the historical genre.

Jorge Volpi on Bolaño and American Literary Reaction

Three Percent continues its serialization of Jorge Volpi’s comments on Latin American literature.  In this section he takes American critics to task for building up a Bolaño myth much like that of Jack Kerouac so they could sell the story of a rebel. In contrast, the Spanish language press has looked at Bolaño more in terms of his way of attacking and rebuilding literary ideas.

In general, Volpi has taken the line that American critics have exoticized the Latin America as a dark world of corruption and political intrigue, or a  one of superstitious peasants. The criticisms are fair and show both a miopia on the part of some critics who wish to put some certain literature in well defined categories, and a drive of the market to produce more of what sold so well before. It is the plea of an artist for freedom, which also means that while he says there is no Latin American Literature, there are some links between authors, not necessarily in theme, or style, or history, or whatever element you would like to focus on, but a more general closeness of experience. They have lived lives that have more inter connections than those on other continents and so it gives the writing not a similarity, but a fraternity. And even in opposition to one’s fraternity, fraternity can still shape one’s self.

Beyond the discussion of Bolaño’s supposed heroin use, none of the critics of his books in the Spanish language made a point of focusing on his life, ”rebel, exile, addict”. (If this were not enough, during his last decade Bolaño never lived ”in the urgency of poverty”, but the modest life of the suburban middle class, a life infinitely more placid than the other Latin American immigrants in Cataluña). Without a doubt, the relation between the life and works possesses greater enchantment in the United States than in any other part of the world, but the emphasis on his supposed or real penury have played a key role in interpreting (and, obviously, selling) his books. The American literary world has been obliged to construct a radical rebel from a simple misunderstanding: confusing a first person narrator with its author. Bolaño, who during the last years of his life had a more or less normal life, not full of luxuries, but clothed by an almost simultaneous recognition from the publication of his first books (Nazi Literature in the Americas and Distant Star in 1997 and The Savage Detectives in 1998), has been transformed into one of those furious writers who, facing down the scorn of his contemporaries and through a fierce individual fight, manage to convert themselves into tragic artists, posthumous heroes: a new example of the myth of the self-made man. Bolaño, thus, as the last revolutionary or the heir of Salinger or the Beats: it is not coincidental that the other Latin American figure exalted to his in the United States is the sugarcoated Che Guevara by Benicio del Toro and Steven Soderbergh. Both of them have become, in their American versions, bastions of fierceness and defiance, prophets equipped with a blind faith in their respective causes—in one case art and in the other politics—ideal models for the intimidated and disbelieving society of the United States under George Bush.

Although no one has dared point it out, the reasons for Bolaño’s ascent are not that different from those that governed García Márquez’s rise forty years ago: for the developed world, both have been mirrors of a necessary exoticism. The step from magical realism to the reaction of visceral realism sounds, all of the sudden, almost foreseeable: in both cases ”the political” has been the key to drawing the attention of the meek American readers, no matter that the left-wing compromise of one has nothing to do with the acid post-political criticism of the other; and last, both have been received as a breath of fresh air—in other words, of savagery—before the contemporary lack of will power.

Latin American Literature Does Not Exist Anymore – Jorge Volpi

Three Percent posted part two of Jorge Volpi’s thoughts on Latin American Literature, or perhaps better said, writing that comes from Latin America. Essentially, he states what should be obvious with some fore thought: not all writers in Latin America write about the same thing and the Boom and Magical Realism were nothing more than a straight jacket.

Let us be radical: Latin American literature does not exist anymore. Lovely: hundreds or thousands of Latin American writers exist, or better said, hundred of thousands of Chilean, Honduran, Dominican, Venezuelan (et cetera) writers exist, but a unique literary body endowed with recognizable characteristics, no. We have just seen it: the Spanish language is not a shared characteristic. And, if truth be told, there is nothing to lament.

The idea of a national literature, with typical and unrepeatable peculiarities, completely different from any other, is an anachronistic invention of the 19th century. As Benedict Anderson demonstrated in Imagined Communities (1983), the incipient European states were the ones that, threatened by popular revolts in that period, persisted in accentuating the consensus of its citizens through all kinds of schemes, patronage of the national literatures being one of the most powerful.


Jorge Volpi on Latin American Literature

Three Percent is serializing an excellent lecture by Jorge Volpi about Latin American Literature. In the first installment he is talking about Magical Realism and its suffocating history. Well worth the read.

[…] Once again we appear as good savages, dominated by superstition and mystery, accustomed to coexisting with the supernatural, or, in the other extreme, as a primitive people who remain apathetic in the face of the very unusual. The social interpretation of the literature thus acquires an unsettling political shade: Latin American people are not distinguished by our fantasy, but by our resignation. A resignation of a murky Catholic origin that explains the conformism which turns us into docile subjects, cannon fodder, the successive victims of Colonialism, Imperialism, Communism, and Capitalism.

But even in purely literary terms, the absolute identification of Latin America with magical realism has wreaked havoc. In the first place, it erased, with a single stoke, all of Latin America’s previous explorations—from the babblings of the 19th century to some of the brilliant recent moments of our literature, including the avant-garde of the beginning of the 20th century. And it became a choke-chain for those writers who didn’t show any interest in magic. If this were not enough, it promulgated a profound misunderstanding of the Boom. And, perhaps most seriously, it elevated literary nationalism above the rich universal tradition of the region.

Updated Translation Database at Three Percent

Three Percent has updated their invaluable Translation Database. If you are interested in foreign fiction in English it is an invaluable resource. (You will need Excel or Open Office to open it. )

As always, these spreadsheets contain info on never-before-translated works of fiction and poetry distributed in the U.S. (I left off anything that’s been published in English translation before, even if the earlier version was censored, corrupt, etc. Just trying to focus on what new titles are being made available to English readers.)