When I first read Marguerite Duras’s Moderato Cantabile for my high school AP French class, an alarm went off on me. That I was reading the words of someone who understood love in the same way I did. At that point in my life I hadn’t yet experienced love, but it didn’t matter. It was a foreshadowing of what was to come, of what I already knew to be true. The next year, in a college French class, I read Duras’s The Lover. From the first page (J’ai un visage détruit) I saw myself again. I felt recognized.
In the tempest-plagued teapot of English translation, Michael Hofmann’s dust-ups are notorious: he compared Stefan Zweig’s suicide note to an Oscar acceptance speech, eviscerated James Reidel’s translations of Thomas Bernhard’s poems, brushed off George Konrad’s A Feast in the Garden as “dire… export-quality horseshit.” Critics seem generally pleased with his translations, but then, critics like Toril Moi, Tim Parks, or Hofmann himself—that is to say, those willing and able to scrutinize the changes a text in translation undergoes, and the details of what is gained and lost alone the way—are rare, and the newspaper reviewer’s “cleverly translated,” “serviceably translated,” and suchlike don’t count for too much. Readers I know are not of one mind about his work: some are unqualified fans, particularly of Angina Days, his selected poetry of Günter Eich. What seems to grate on the less enthusiastic are his translations’ motley surfaces, the “occasional rhinestones or bits of jet,” as he has it in one interview, which mark them, not as the pellucid transmigration of the author’s inspiration from source language into target, but as a patent contrivance in the latter.
Book of Numbers is based, to a degree, on the Biblical book of Numbers, the fourth book of the Old Testament, known in Hebrew as Bemidbar. It’s a strange book. One of the strangest books ever. The first three books of the Bible tell the stories—all the great stories we know and love—while the last book, the fifth book, is basically just a legal code, and a summary. The fourth book, then, is where stories break down. The major story, the Exodus from Egypt, is over, and the Israelites have been freed from slavery, but condemned to wander the wilderness for 40 years—which is to say, they’re condemned to wander the wilderness until they’re dead, and the next generation has replaced them. One of the interpretations of this death-sentence is that people who were born and raised as slaves can never live as a free people in a free land—AKA the Promised Land, Zion. My novel takes that 40-year timeframe of wandering, but transposes it onto the four decades between the invention of the semiconductor, which is the genesis of personal computing, and the advent of the leak—so, ca. 1972-2012. During this span, the old culture “enslaved” to the book gave way to the new culture “freed” by digital technologies—a new people seeking a trans-national and virtual Promised Land that will never quite live up to its promise. Just as the Biblical book is about how a people were remade in, and by, the desert, my own novel seeks to show how a people were remade online—for better and for worse.
Loneliness warps our souls. The isolation from others—from embrace, conversation, community, understanding—can feel suffocating and, in our desperate flailing to breathe, we lash out violently at those who might connect with us, which only isolates us further. Or we suffer a sort of emotional atrophy, in which our failure to socialize makes us worse and worse at doing so in the first place. (We may try flirting on Tinder after not doing it for months, or even years, and it quickly becomes clear how out of shape we are.) Or we just decide to drown for a while, buried in our books, records, DVDs, videogames, and porn, living socially only vicariously, through the visions of artists and performers. In capturing the voices, travails, and eventual connection of two lonelyhearts, Guadalupe Nettel’s After the Winter captures the spirit of urban loneliness so vividly that it’s often painful to read.
Rita Banerjee´s debut poetry collection, Echo in Four Beats, published by Finishing Line Press, is a modern feminist re-interpretation of the myth of Echo and Narcissus from Ovid´s Metamorphoses. Echo in Four Beats performs at the intersection between classical Greek and Indic myth, gender politics, political oppression, Vedic and Buddhist philosophy, and deeply personal narratives through verse redolent with tonal originality. The collection is not exclusively centered on the rampant narcissism of our times, nor is it just an appeal to reclaim an authentic female narrative free of patriarchal heteronormative echoes—its contemporary topical significance also lies in its rally against the discourse of capitalistic ideologies and the damaging heritage of colonisation. The collection encourages the reader to ponder the transformative and transcendental power of art and spiritual consciousness.
Imaginary Lives (1896) was Schwob’s last book of fiction. He composed its twenty-two chapters—each one the story of a life, recounted in fewer than a dozen pages, with all of these lives arranged in chronological order—between 1893 and 1896. Early in its composition, at the age of twenty-six, Schwob suffered the first attack of a mysterious intestinal ailment whose painful effects and questionable treatments (ether, opium, morphine) would lead to his death at thirty-seven. Schwob’s physical condition to some extent shaped his fiction, and though all the chapters of Imaginary Lives culminate, naturally enough, in their subjects’ deaths, these deaths are often unnaturally violent. Lucretius the Poet is poisoned by his lover. Clodia the Licentious Matron is strangled, robbed, and dumped in the river Tiber. Gabriel Spenser the Actor is stabbed in the lung by Ben Jonson the playwright. And the three pirates of the book (Captain Kidd, Walter Kennedy, Stede Bonnet) are hanged and left to rot upon the rope. Imaginary Lives is, among other things, a study of human violence, proceeding from the sun-stroked era of ancient Greek gods and demigods to the soot-blackened nineteenth-century Edinburgh of the serial murderers Burke and Hare.
The shape of a crime novel is determined by the search for something absent. But that missing person or object or knowledge is present in every deliberate or unintended lacuna. Leonardo Padura is famous for his books starring Conde, who used to be a detective, wants to be a writer, and ends up a used book seller and occasional freelance private eye. Or at least that’s where we find him in Heretics. Padura’s books scan Cuba’s streets and food and rum and heat and sea, the history of isolation enforced by imperial power bent toward the global rule of capitalism. In a 2013 New Yorker profile that brought his name to a wider U.S. public, Padura is presented as a curiosity for writing critically while living under the Castro regime. Maybe honesty demands exile. Or maybe Padura’s commitment to the people he cares about, and their care and commitment for him in return, has maintained some alternate and formidable community within the general decadence.