The Review: Quick Link Round-Up

I hope to have a review posted for Sergio Chejfec’s The Planets within the next day or so.  In the meantime, here’s a round-up of the items that caught my eye last week.

The Review: PEN World Voices Festival of International Literature

The 2012 PEN World Voices Festival of International Literature began today and I’m ridiculously excited!    What’s that… don’t know about the 2012 PEN World Voices Festival of International Literature (the name doesn’t really roll off the tongue, does it?)? Queue up the official description –

April 30–May 6, 2012

100 Writers from 25 Countries
Writers from around the world convene in New York City to celebrate the power of the written word in action. Engage with literature in bold and unexpected ways and discover how words can be amplified through music, theater, puppetry, film, and much more. Marking PEN American Center’s 90th anniversary, this year’s festival features performances, discussions, one-on-one conversations, and readings. The Standard, New York and The Standard, East Village along with the High Line are the Festival hubs, with venues crisscrossing the city, from Harlem to Wall Street, including The Metropolitan Museum of Art and MoMA.

I’ve spent months planning and refining our itinerary…  that’s right, there’s an itinerary! All done up in Google Calendar, complete with directions & reminders – synced to the cell phone. Lori @TNBBC will be my faithful & ever patient partner in crime.  Here are the events we’re looking forward to.

Thursday, 5/3

(12:30-1:30PM) – Lunch Lit Conversation: Noëlle Revaz – OK, to be honest I just picked this one because it filled in some time. All I know about Noëlle Revaz I learned from the description of this event:  she’s a Swiss author and her novel With the Animals is being released in English this month by Dalkey Archive Press.

(3-5PM) – Herta Müller on Silence – The 2009 Nobel Laureate has two events at the festival, probably due to the release of The Hunger Angel (her first novel since winning the prize) in English.  This one is being held at the Deutsches Haus.  She’ll be reading her 2001 Lecture to the Swedish Academy in Stockholm in German with an English translator.   The description recommended calling ahead to reserve seating as there is limited room, so my hope is that this will be a smaller and more intimate crowd.

(6-7:30PM) The first scheduling conflict – and it’s breaking my heart.  There are two fantastic events being held in the same time slot:  the Iranian author Mahmoud Dowlatabadi, whose AMAZING novel The Colonel (Melville House) I am currently devouring, will be reading at the Bowery Poetry Club.  At the same time there will be an amazing panel discussing Reviewing Translations (which definitely would come in handy!)

(8PM) – Understanding Egypt is probably past our curfew, but it looks likes a fascinating exploration of the recent revolution and what it means.  This event, along with Marjane Satrapi talk & screening at MOMA, are the  2 events I’m disappointed at possibly having to miss.

Friday, 5/4

(5-6PM) The Best Translated Book Award winner is being announced at McNally Jackson Bookshop (preceded by an authors meet & greet).  Immediately afterwards is A Literary Safari:  a visit to NYC’s oldest artist community where you get to wander in and out of the artists’ studios.  Authors will be giving readings and there will be a closing party at the Westbeth Artist Gallery.

Since these events don’t start until the evening I’m hoping to take in the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s new galleries for the Art of the Arab Lands, Turkey, Iran, Central Asia, & Later South Asia.  And maybe even squeeze in a trip to the Melville House Bookstore in Brooklyn.

Saturday, 5/5

(1-3PM) The Best European Fiction panel will have three International authors reading and discussing their work:  Noëlle Revaz (Switzerland), Patrick Boltshauser (Liechtenstein), & Róbert Gál (Slovakia).

(6-7:30PM) The Liar Show – Lori @TNBBC found this event and it looks like a lot of fun.  It takes place at the Cornelia Street Cafe, and is described as 4 Storytellers. 3 True Stories. 1 Pack of Lies.

Sunday, 5/6

This day turned into a bit of a bust.  I bought tickets when they were first posted for A Conversation with Stéphane Hessel and Edgar Morin.  But that was cancelled due to “their participation in the May 6th election in France”.  It was replaced with a more interactive, audience participation event centering around the Occupy Movement.  While I support the Occupy Movement, I’m not sure this one is for me.  I may skip it and check out the Weegee exhibit at the International Center of Photography – Murder is My Business.  Weegee was a photojournalist who specialized in crime scenes and news stories in the 30’s & 40’s.  This show screams hard-boiled detective fiction and crime noir.  It’s one I’m absolutely dying to see.

Add to FacebookAdd to DiggAdd to Del.icio.usAdd to StumbleuponAdd to RedditAdd to BlinklistAdd to TwitterAdd to TechnoratiAdd to Yahoo BuzzAdd to Newsvine

The Faster I Walk, The Smaller I Am by Kjersti A. Skomsvald (Kerri A. Pierce, translator)

Mathea Martinsen is an elderly woman.  A widow, with no children, she is facing the end of her life alone.  Even before her husband Epsilon’s death she suffered from social phobia – unable to approach people and unwilling to leave her apartment.  All her interactions require advance planning and extensive mental preparation, whether it involves speaking to a grocery clerk or greeting her neighbor’s son.  More often than not she’s unable to follow through.

The Faster I Walk, The Smaller I Am is a short and wacky book.   Mathea’s optimism is irrepressible.  As she describes how her social awkwardness eventually became a source of conflict in what seems to have otherwise been a harmonious marriage, she remains oblivious to what she has revealed.  It becomes apparent to the reader that the responsibility weighed on Epsilon towards the end.  Only after his death, when she finds herself truly alone, does Mathea try to form connections and carve a place out for herself in the world.

She sets out to do it in her own unique style.  She repeatedly calls telephone information and requests her own phone number – in case “…Information keeps statistics as to the most requested and most loved person in the nation, a Top Ten Requested Numbers”.   She fantasizes about having her individuality and talents recognized by complete strangers at the Senior Center.  Of being appreciated, even feted, by her neighbors.  She attempts to bury a time capsule.  Yet for all her big plans, the closest she comes to success – to making a friend and forming a relationship – is with the homeless man she passes each day in the park who asks her the time.


There is a scene in Rainer Marie Rilke’s The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge where the narrator encounters an old man.  The old man has horrible, uncontrollable flatulence – and in a moment rife with pathos he states that he had been prepared to grow old, but had not been prepared for the humiliation.   Skomsvald has written a novel that captures that emotion… though obviously in a more lighthearted spirit.

There’s no one in the foyer.  The flier for the community gathering is still up, and so is the one for the get-together at the senior center.  I feel sick again.  There are a bunch of new fliers too.  “Bodil is lost,” one says.  Bodil is a guinea pig, and there’s a picture of Bodil from happier times.  The bulletin board is obviously something my neighbors pay attention to, and maybe I should hang a picture of myself with the caption that I’ve gone missing: “Has anyone seen this old woman?  Reward offered.  Call Mathea Martinsen.”  At first I treat the idea like a joke, but then it hits me that it deserves some serious consideration.  So I seriously consider it.  But then I see Bodil’s picture again, and there’s no way I can compete with Bodil:  those mischievous, marble eyes of hers guarantee that no one will take any notice of me.

I found The Faster I Walk The Smaller I Am very funny.  Mathea is determined.  She moves through life in a peach wedding dress; carrying a collection of teeth in a plastic bag, knitting ear warmers and baking rolls for parties she will not attend.  She completely lacks any sense of self-pity.   Skomsvald (with an assist from her translator) has given Mathea a narrative voice that crackles with life, spunk and a strange dignity.  I found myself cheering the little old lady on – though to what end I couldn’t say.  Perhaps the absurdity of the human condition, in the style of Waiting for Godot, is what this author intended to convey.  If so she has succeeded in a way that is more accessible, and much more fun, than Beckett’s play.

Translated from the original Norwegian

Publisher:  Dalkey Archive Press, Champaign (2011).
ISBN:  978 1 56478 702 6

Add to FacebookAdd to DiggAdd to Del.icio.usAdd to StumbleuponAdd to RedditAdd to BlinklistAdd to TwitterAdd to TechnoratiAdd to Yahoo BuzzAdd to Newsvine

News Flash – Update on Walter Moers’ The Labyrinth of Dreaming Books

There’s good news and there’s bad news.  Thankfully, more of the former.

Random House Germany, publisher of Das Labyrinth der Träumenden Bücher, has been kind enough to confirm that there is an English translation planned for release in the U.S.  Negotiations are in process and, though no names were mentioned, I’m fairly certain that no one will be shocked when the U.S. publisher finally makes an announcement.

Now for the bad news:  I believe the best we can hope for, my fellow Moers aficionados, is early 2013.  And that’s being optimistic.  Because if negotiations for the rights are still going on, would translation of the German text into English even have begun?  I’ve no idea.  I hope, though, that it will once again fall into the capable hands of John Brownjohn.  He’s translated all the Zamonia books (available) to date: The City of Dreaming Books, The Alchemaster’s Apprentice, The 13-1/2 Lives of Captain Bluebear and Rumo & His Miraculous Adventures.

Add to FacebookAdd to DiggAdd to Del.icio.usAdd to StumbleuponAdd to RedditAdd to BlinklistAdd to TwitterAdd to TechnoratiAdd to Yahoo BuzzAdd to Newsvine

Poems from the Book of Hours by Rainer Maria Rilke

Put out my eyes, and I can see you still;
slam my ears to, and I can hear you yet;
and without any feet can go to you;
and tongueless, I can conjure you at will.
Break off my arms, I shall take hold of you
and grasp you with my heart as with a hand;
arrest my heart, my brain will beat as true;
and if you set this brain of mine afire,
upon my blood I then will carry you.

Explanations and apologies first.  It has been a bit hectic around here.  What with a trip to France, a new puppy and working on an adoption application, BookSexy has suffered from neglect.  Fortunately, things are now settling down, so I’m pleased to say that there will be no more interruptions.

Seeing Paris was a lifelong dream.  Visiting Shakespeare & Co. was a pilgrimage.  And Rainer Maria Rilke’s Poems from the Book of Hours, published by New Directions, made it a triple play. The cover is soft green textured paper with french flaps and gold embossing.  The book opens with a preface by Ursula K. Le Guin followed by an introduction by the translator Babette Deutsch.  The poems are printed with the original German on the left page followed by the English translation on the right.  I love this book.  The presentation is as beautiful and thoughtful as the words within.

I discovered Rilke, like many people, when I was young (Le Guin tells a funny story about her own first encounter  with the poet’s works and subsequent enthusiasm).  Rilke is one of those authors who, if you connect to his writing, the connection stays with you for life.  I was originally drawn to his prose: The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge and Letters to a Young Poet.  I re-read these two books every few years.  The poetry came to me late and my response to it has always been lukewarm.  The truth is that I bought Poems from the Book of Hours as much for its cover as I did because of name recognition.

The Book of Hours, which I believe was a larger work from which the poems in the New Directions edition were selected, was Rilke’s first published book of poetry.  It was completed  in parts during the years of 1899, 1901 & 1903. The poems were written as meditations, conversations between the poet &  God (the original edition bore the subtitle: Love Poems to God). It is religious, but in a way that very much reminded me of Emily Dickinson’s poetry.  Like Dickinson addressing her anonymous “Master”, the subject matter of Rilke’s poems frequently appears secular in nature.   Lines like: “No, my life is not this precipitous hour through which you see me passing at a run” do not scream God!  Instead, the poems focus on their author’s preoccupations.   Rilke writes about youth and mortality, human isolation, spirituality; not about organized religion.  In fact, I wouldn’t have made the connection to God at all if the preface & introduction hadn’t both pointed me in that direction.

There are basically two kinds of poetry.  The first freezes a moment in time and then explores it from every angle.  The other, the type of poem Rilke writes, takes an abstract concept or emotion and solidifies it into something tangible.  The result can be a poem like the one I opened the post with.  The last line of which, “upon my blood I then will carry you” demonstrates the value in subtlety.  The choice of the word “upon”, rather than “in” is significant.  Its use highlights the isolation between the the poet and who he addresses his poem to.  For Rilke individual consciousness is a bridge which cannot be crossed.  It is an idea that he struggles with and returns to again and again.  Always with a quiet thoughtfulness, which the translator manages to convey while still retaining the directness of  the original German language.  (Excellent work Babette Deutsch).

If I have one criticism of Poems from the Book of Hours it is that the cover flap, the preface and the intro all stress that the poems the book contains are only examples of his early, immature work.  That these poems are not Rilke’s best and were written before he’d fully developed as a poet.  This is a huge pet peeve of mine.  Please don’t tell me that what I’m about to read is mediocre.  I believe that all criticisms should be put at the end of a book.  Allow me, the reader,to form my own opinions without anonymous influence.  Because if you delve into Poems from the Book of Hours  without preconceptions,  to my mind it holds its own against Rilke’s other works.

***A quick note on New Directions Publishing Co.  I was familiar with the name, but hadn’t realized what beautiful editions they put out until after I’d googled the company.  They also have an impressive catalog of authors.  If you haven’t already familiarized yourself with their offerings, it’s definitely worth checking out their website.

Publisher:  New York, New Directions Books (2009).
ISBN:  978 0 8112 1853 5

Add to FacebookAdd to DiggAdd to Del.icio.usAdd to StumbleuponAdd to RedditAdd to BlinklistAdd to TwitterAdd to TechnoratiAdd to Yahoo BuzzAdd to Newsvine