Welcome 2014!

Untitled drawingA brand new year!  I won’t pretend that I’ll miss 2013… years ending in the number 3 are never among my best.  But now is the time to take stock of the last 12 months of reading and set some goals for the upcoming year.

How many books did I read?  A sad, sad 47 books.  Not even halfway to my goal (Damn you GoodReads!  Your badge of reading achievement eludes me once again!!!)

How many of those were translations? 32 books in 13 different languages:  French, German, Norwegian, Arabic, Bulgarian, Russian, Japanese, Chinese, Swedish, Turkish, Spanish, Catalan & Finnish.

Favorite book of 2013? I can’t bring myself to narrow it down to just one.  My top 3 books would be (in no particular order):  The Mehlis Report by Rabee Jaber, Revenge by Yoko Ogawa, In the Time of the Blue Ball by Manuela Draeger and 18% Gray by Zachary Karabashliev.  O.K., that’s four.  18% Gray snuck its way onto the list by way of my subconscious.  It made such a strong impression on me that it just felt wrong to leave it out.

2013 Highlights? What were the blogging highlights of 2013 for me?  All the extracurricular activities I was able to take part in this year:  hosting some of my favorite bloggers in The Rise of the Short Story at the beginning of the year;  being invited on the Mookse and the Gripes podcast not just once, but twice (some people are just glutton for punishment); contributing reviews to Necessary Fiction and Literary Kicks;  being asked by Kim at Reading Matters to take part in her Advent Calendar; finding the wonderful translator Jordan Stump through Twitter and him graciously agreeing to an interview.

There’s also been an exciting number of innovative  independent publishers who’ve released strong and important books in translation over the past year.  These indies aren’t just thinking outside of the box to publish great books, they’ve grabbed the scissors, paint, hot glue gun and turned that box into something new and refreshing. & Other StoriesReadux Books and Frisch & Co. have exciting publishing models. Readux focuses on short fiction for the digital age; & Other Stories have an AMAZING list of authors and a subscription program that makes you feel like a member of an elite club; and Frisch & Co. is tapping into the opportunities of e-books.

And last, but definitely not least, the highlight of 2013 was all the wonderful readers – old and new – of BookSexy Review.  Thank you for your comments, shares, likes and sticking with this little blog even when the post schedule got a little *ahem* erratic.

2014 Resolutions? This year my goals are more modest than last. I’ll only attempt to read & review 52 translations.  26 of which, as I wrote in my last post, will be by female authors.  I’ve also developed a large backlog on my TBR pile.  So, in 2014 I’m going to work to make a dent in that.  While I love reading new releases, there are authors like Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa, more of the works of Juan José Saer, Péter Nádas and every Inspector Montalbano mystery ever written.

Happy 2014 dear readers!  Have you made any reading resolutions for the new year?  Share in the comments below!

Reading Assignments for the 2013 Brooklyn Book Festival

Fall is here… more or less.  The weather is still closer to 80 than 70 degrees.  And the view from my window looks nothing like the cover of the L.L. Bean catalog that just arrived in the mail (a couple sitting on the tailgate of an old pick-up truck, a lake surrounded by pines, fall leaves covering the grass).  But it is September and in a few short weeks it will be one of my favorite days of the year.  The Brooklyn Book Festival is being held on Sunday, September 22nd.

I’ve already put together my spreadsheet (yes, I put together a spreadsheet) of the panels I’ll be attending.  I’m a sucker for panels.  I always overbook myself, forget to eat and leave way too little time to tour the tables set up in Brooklyn Borough Plaza.  This year’s line-up looks especially distracting with a number of translated authors in attendance.

There are at least three books I hope to read before the Festival day arrives.

The Assignment: The Sound of Things Falling by Juan Gabriel Vásquez

The Sound of Things FallingMy Reason:  There’s been a ton of buzz around this novel.

The Panel:  Personal Stories, National Memory: Fiction can be as narrow or contained as a single consciousness, or open up and embody something intrinsic to an era or nation. Alexander Maksik (A Marker to Measure Drift), probes the shattered inner world of a Liberian war refugee; Colombian author Juan Gabriel Vásquez (The Sound of Things Falling) captures the dread and violence of his country’s drug war years, and Oonya Kempadoo (All Decent Animals) offers a polyrhythmic, panoramic view across contemporary Trinidadian society. Moderated by Anderson Tepper. Special thanks to the Colombian Film Festival New York.  (Borough Hall Community Room, 209 Joralemon Street)

The Assignment:  HotHouse: The Art of Survival and the Survival of Art at America’s Most Celebrated Publishing House, Farrar Straus & Giroux by Boris Kachka

HothouseThe Reason:  History about books, where can you go wrong?  Plus, I always like to attend at least one “industry” panel.

The Panel:  Publish and Perish? E-books are killing publishing! The corporations are killing publishing! Self-publishing is killing publishing! While headlines continually bemoan the end of the literary world as we know it, others argue that the reports of publishing’s demise have been greatly exaggerated.  Janet Groth (The Receptionist) and Boris Kachka (Hothouse) take a look inside two of our most storied institutions—The New Yorker and Farrar, Straus and Giroux—and consider the past while taking the pulse of the literary world today. (Brooklyn Historical Society Library, 128 Pierrepont Street, 3PM)

The Assignment:  The Corpse Washer By Sinan Antoon

The Reason:  This was a coin flip – between The Corpse Washer and Jean-Marie Blas de Roblès’s Where the Tigers Are At Home (Roblès sits on a 4PM panel called Lost and Found: The Journey Begins At Home).  I’ve been reading a lot of French novels lately and decided on something different.

The Panel:  What Fills the Void After War? Three acclaimed writers from countries that have known conflict and political unrest discuss war’s aftermath and how it informs their work. With Irish writer Colum McCann (TransAtlantic), Sri Lankan writer Ru Freeman (On Sal Mal Lane) and Iraqi writer Sinan Antoon (The Corpse Washer). Moderated by Rob Spillman (Tin House)  (Borough Hall Community Room, 209 Joralemon Street, 5PM)

If you’ll be in Brooklyn on the 22nd here’s the link to the 2013 Brooklyn Book Festival events schedule.  You know, so you can make your own spreadsheet!

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IFFP & BTBA 2013 Short Lists – They’re Here!

The two translation prize shortlists are out – and it’s exciting to see how many different languages (and countries) are represented.  I’ve still only read three of the books on the BTBA list – and of those I’ll keep my money on Dowlatabadi for the win.  There is something so visceral about The Colonel.  It’s a book that encompasses all the senses – particularly in the opening chapters when the colonel is summoned to bury his daughter.  The darkness, the rain, the smell of cigarettes – the density of the prose – they’re all still with me though it’s been months since I put it down.  Not every book does that.  Certainly not The Hunger Angel or The Planets – both good books by great authors. But they don’t even come close to The Colonel in scope, technique or plot.

The 2013 Best Translated Book Award Fiction

  • The Planets by Sergio Chejfec/Heather Cleary, translator (Spanish)
  • Prehistoric Times by Eric Chevillard/Alyson Waters, translator (French)
  • The Colonel by Mahmoud Dowlatabadi/Tom Patterdale, translator (Persian)
  • Satantango by László Krasznahorkai/George Szirtes, translator (Hungarian)
  • Autoportrait by Edouard Levé/Lorin Stein, translator (French)
  • A Breath of Life: Pulsations by Clarice Lispector/Johnny Lorenz, translator (Portuguese)
  • The Hunger Angel by Herta Müller/Philip Boehm, translator (German)
  • Maidenhair by Mikhail Shishkin/Marian Schwartz, translator (Russian)
  • Transit by Abdourahman A. Waberi/David Ball & Nicole Ball, translators (French)
  • My Father’s Book by Urs Widmer/Donal McLaughlin, translator (German)

As for the IFFP:  neither of the two books I read on the long list – HHhH and Black Bazaar – made it to the short list.  I’m not surprised, though I think the judges are undervaluing how hard it is to write like Alain Mabanckou writes and make it look easy.  Even in translation.  Regardless, as a result I don’t have anything to contribute to this particular short list other than that Ismail Kadare is one of my favorite authors.

The 2013 Independent Foreign Fiction Prize

  • Bundu by Chris Barnard/Michiel Heyns, translator (Afrikaans)
  • The Detour by Gerbrand Bakker/David Colmer, translator (Dutch)
  • Dublinesque by Enrique Vila-Matas/Rosalind Harvey & Anne McLean, translators (Spanish)
  • The Fall of the Stone City by Ismail Kadare/John Hodgson, translators (Albanian)
  • Traveller of the Century by Andrés Neuman/Nick Caistor & Lorenza Garcia, translators (Spanish)
  • Trieste by Daša Drndić/Ellen Elias-Bursać, translator (Croatian)

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Translation Prizes – The 2013 Best Translated Book Award

The 2013 Best Translated Book Award longlist contains 25 titles.  In the coming weeks the Three Percent Blog will feature a review for every title that made the longlist, everyone interested in the prize should check it out.  Currently I’ve read and reviewed three of the books nominated and am familiar with and/or plan to read five others.

Twenty-five books is a really long list.  And an ambitious one for those planning to read all the titles – you know who you are – before the shortlist is announce on April 10th.  Initial reaction?  Too long.*  But the more I look it over the more I realize that it’s also a REALLY good list.  As per the Three Percent Blog – this year’s longlist showcases 15 different presses, books from 19 countries in 13 different languages.

  • Sergio Chejfec:  The Planets (Heather Cleary, Spanish/Argentina) Open Letter Books
  • Eric Chevillard:  Prehistoric Times (Alyson Waters, French/France) Archipelago Books
  • Mahmoud Dowlatabadi:  The Colonel (Tom Patterdale, Persian/Iran) Melville House
  • Dung Kai-Cheung: Atlas (Anders Hansson & Bonnie S. McDougall, Chinese/China) Columbia University Press
  • Dominique Eddé:  Kite (Ros Schwartz, French/Lebanon) Seagull Books
  • Tomoyuki Hoshino:  We, The Children of Cats (Brian Bergstrom & Lucy Fraser, Japanese/Japan) PM Press
  • Michel Houellebecq:  The Map and the Territory (Gavin Bowd, French/France) Knopf
  • Intizar Husain:  Basti (Frances W. Pritchett, Urdu/Pakistan) New York Review Books
  • Miljenko Jergović:  Mama Leone (David Williams, Croation/Croatia) Archipelago Books
  • Gert Jonke:  Awakening to the Great Sleep War (Jean M. Snook, German/Austria) Dalkey Archive Press
  • Karl Knausgaard:  My Struggle: Book One (Don Bartlett, Norwegian/Norway) Archipelago Books
  • László Krasznahorkai:  Satantango (George Szirtes, Hungarian/Huganry) New Directions
  • Edouard Levé:  Autoportrait (Lorin Stein, French/France)  Dalkey Archive Press
  • Clarice Lispector:  A Breath of Life: Pulsations (Johnny Lorenz, Portuguese/Brazil) New Directions
  • Norman Manea:  The Lair (Oana Sanziana Marian, Romanian/Romania) Yale University Press
  • Herta Müller:  The Hunger Angel (Philip Boehm, German/Romania) Metropolitan Books
  • Andrés Neuman:  Traveler of the Century (Nick Caistor & Lorenza Garcia, Spanish/Argentina)Farrar, Straus, and Giroux
  • Andrey Platonov:  Happy Moscow (Robert Chandler & Elizabeth Chandler, Russian/Russia) New York Review Books
  • Noëlle Revaz:  With the Animals (Donald W. Wilson, French/Switzerland) Dalkey Archive Press
  • Mikhail Shishkin:  Maidenhair (Marian Schwartz, Russian/Russia) Open Letter Books
  • Gonçalo M. Tavares:  Joseph Walser’s Machine (Rhett McNeil, Portuguese/Portugal) Dalkey Archive Press
  • Albert Vigoleis Thelen:  Island of Second Sight (Donald O. White, German/Germany) Overlook
  • Enrique Vila-Matas:  Dublinesque (Rosalind Harvey & Anne McLean, Spanish/Spain) New Directions
  • Abdourahman A. Waberi:  Transit (David Ball & Nicole Ball, French/Djibouti) Indiana University Press
  • Urs Widmer:  My Father’s Book (Donal McLaughlin, German/Switzerland) Seagull Books

Of the three books I’ve read:   I loved My Two Worlds (published in 2011 by Open Letter) and am looking forward to Chejfec’s next book, The Dark, due out later this year.  But the things I loved about My Two Worlds – the meandering nature of the prose reflected in the landscape of the park through which the narrator walks, being trapped in another person’s head, the hints at a story that never fully resolves itself – didn’t work as well in The Planets.  Perhaps my expectations were set too high… I just didn’t enjoy it as much.  I don’t expect it to make the shortlist.  The same for Herta Müller’s The Hunger Angel.  While the writing is beautiful, I’ve heard it’s not her best book and when put head-to-head with the other longlist titles I’m not sure it will move forward.

If I were to vote for one book to win at this point it would be The Colonel.  Fantastic, challenging, amazing.  There’s no doubt in my mind that this is a significant book.

As for the rest of the list:
I attended a reading with Noëlle Revaz for With the Animals at last years’ PEN World Voices Festival in New York City.  It was torturous.  There was a translator who was there to translate the author’s answers to questions and to read from the book, but she wasn’t given her own microphone.  The result was that most of the event was in French, the attempts at translating were labored and slow, and the whole thing was just painful for the audience members who only spoke English.  The highlight came when a woman in the audience screamed parts of her questions/observations in French.  I kind of vaguely remember her dropping the F-bomb a few times.  Obviously, this has nothing to do with With the Animals being long- or short-listed – yet even that tenuous connection has me buying a copy to see what it’s about.

I’ve ordered copies of Atlas and The Map and the Territory (the UK edition which I’ve heard is covered in bubble wrap!) and am looking forward to reading them both asap.  I’ve also heard good things about both Satantango and Maidenhair and expect both to be shortlisted – which means there’s a little more time to get to them.

That’s all I’ll be able to get to before the shortlist comes out.

If you’re looking for more news and conversation regarding the Best Translated Book Award, there’s a  discussion happening at The Mookse and the Gripes free forum.  Also, the most recent episode of the Three Percent Podcast discusses all the longlisted titles.  Do you have a favorite for the prize?

*Well, actually – my initial reactions was “For F$#@ sake, they could only get it down to 25 books???!”

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PEN World Voices Festival of International Literature: April 29 – May 5, 2013

The 9th Annual PEN World Voices Festival is almost here.  If you’re in the NYC area then you definitely should try to attend some of the events.  It’s my favorite kind of literary festival: one that highlights authors from foreign countries whose work is available to us only through the act of translation.

The PEN Literary Safari is not to be missed.  Author readings are hosted in the studios of the legendary artist community known as the Westbeth Artist Housing.  Last year I heard Elias Khoury read from his novel As Though She Were Sleeping (crowded into a small room with dozens of other attendees – a classic New York experience), and caught the tail end of Wojciech Jagielski answering questions about his book The Night Wanderers: Uganda’s Children and the Lord’s Resistance Army.  This year’s authors include Michal Ajvaz, Nadeem Aslam, Dror Burstein, Gillian Clarke, Mia Couto, Natalio Hernández, Nick Holdstock, Randa Jarrar, Jaime Manrique, Margie Orford, Jordi Puntí, Noémi Szécsi, Kho Tararith and Padma Venkatraman – with more names to come.  The PEN Literary Safari takes place on Friday, May 3rd at 6:30PM.

Braver is thee theme of the 2013 Festival.  “Events throughout the week will focus on individual bravery in settings as diverse as Guantanamo, Burma, and Palestine. Expert panels will examine writers’ impact on political transformations in recent global hot spots and in a variety of other contexts.”  They had me at Guantanamo.

AiWeiWei exhibitBut the festival’s centerpiece seems to be what they’re calling the “Invisible Symposium”.

Another highlight of the festival will be a reimagining of the “Invisible Symposium” initiated by the European School, a group of dissident Hungarian artists in 1947. Seeking solidarity with the rest of Europe, the European School mailed a set of questions on art and politics to fellow artists, writers, and philosophers; their answers were then collected and published as an imagined dialogue. For PEN’s inaugural Invisible Symposium, sixteen intellectuals from around the world—including Margaret Atwood, Garry Kasparov, Naomi Klein, Julia Kristeva, Ai Weiwei, Shirin Ebadi, and Cornel West—have been invited to answer a set of questions on modern democracy. Their responses will be molded into a cohesive script which actors will perform in a staged reading at the Festival, as if the respondents were gathered in the same room to argue their opinions. The result will be a dramatic virtual dialogue among some of the most extraordinary minds of our time.

Ai Weiwei Tea Houses

I just got back from Washington, D.C. – where I saw the Ai Weiwei exhibit “According to What?” at the Hirshhorn Museum & Sculpture Garden.  That, and the documentary “Never Sorry”, have converted me.  Count me a fan.  So to say that I’m excited to see him that he’s taking part in the symposium, even in absentia, is the understatement of the year. (Quick side note: I’ll be posting some more photos of the exhibit over the weekend).

A partial schedule of events  are posted at the  PEN America website.  I recommend checking back regularly.  If last year was a gauge, they’ll be consistently updating and adding events in the weeks approaching the actual festival.

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