The End of Oulipo?

The End of Oulipo? My book (co-authored with Lauren Elkin), published by Zero Books. Available everywhere. Order it from Amazon, or find it in bookstores nationwide. The End of Oulipo

Lady Chatterley’s Brother

Lady Chatterley's Brother. The first ebook in the new TQC Long Essays series, Lady Chatterley's Brothercalled “an exciting new project” by Chad Post of Open Letter and Three Percent. Why can't Nicholson Baker write about sex? And why can Javier Marias? We investigate why porn is a dead end, and why seduction paves the way for the sex writing of the future. Read an excerpt.

Available now from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and direct from this site:


Translate This Book!

Ever wonder what English is missing? Called "a fascinating Life Perecread" by The New Yorker, Translate This Book! brings together over 40 of the top translators, publishers, and authors to tell us what books need to be published in English. Get it on Kindle.

For low prices on Las Vegas shows visit LasVegas.ShowTickets.com

You Say

Group Reads

The Tunnel

Fall Read: The Tunnel by William H. Gass

A group read of the book that either "engenders awe and despair" or "[goads] the reader with obscenity and bigotry," or both. Info here. Buy the book here and support this site.

Naked Singularity

Summer Read: A Naked Singularity by Sergio De La Pava

Fans of Gaddis, Pynchon, DeLillo: A group read of the book that went from Xlibris to the University of Chicago Press. Info here. Buy the book here and support this site.

Life Perec

Life A User's Manual by Georges Perec

Starting March 2011, read the greatest novel from an experimental master. Info here. Buy the book here and support this site.

Last Samurai

Fall Read: The Last Samurai by Helen DeWitt

A group read of one of the '00s most-lauded postmodern novels. Info here. Buy the book here and support this site.

Tale of Genji

The Summer of Genji

Two great online lit magazines team up to read a mammoth court drama, the world's first novel.

Your Face Tomorrow

Your Face This Spring

A 3-month read of Javier Marias' mammoth book Your Face Tomorrow

Shop though these links = Support this site


Ten Memorable Quotes from William Gaddis’ Letters

New Books
Here are ten of my favorite moments from these hugely interesting letters.


Interviews from Conversational Reading

New Books
See this page for interviews with leading authors, translators, publishers, and more.


  • A Legacy by Sybille Bedford March 15, 2015
    Sybille Bedford had the benefit—or bad fortune, however you see it—of being born into the German aristocracy in 1911. Her father was a retired lieutenant colonel and art collector from the agrarian south, from a Roman Catholic family in fiscal decline. Her mother came from a wealthy German-Jewish family from Hamburg. A widower from his first marriage, Bedfor […]
  • Reviving Antal Szerb March 15, 2015
    Antal Szerb’s lithe, lively, and wholly endearing fiction is peopled by male dreamers on spiritual journeys of self-discovery. Each one sets out on his respective mini-mission with good intentions but knows from the outset that there are only so many harsh truths he can withstand. In this respect, all Szerb’s protagonists seem to have heeded the advice of Gr […]
  • 39 Africans Walk into a Bar March 15, 2015
    New anthologies of African fiction seem to materialize virtually every year, if not more often in recent years. When presented with the physical fact of yet another new anthology of African fiction, the immediate question, one which I was asked when I pressed the warm, bound pages of the Africa39 anthology into the even warmer hands of a new acquaintance, wa […]
  • The Country Road by Regina Ullmann March 15, 2015
    This collection of short stories, her first to appear in English, counters material poverty with a fulfilling and deeply spiritual relationship with the natural world. Ullmann herself was no stranger to hardship. A depressive, she was plagued by personal and professional crises. Financial constraints forced her to send her illegitimate children to the countr […]
  • The Fall of Language in the Age of English by Minae Mizumura March 14, 2015
    The Fall of Language in the Age of English stirred up debate upon its publication in Japan in 2008, and it’s possible it will do so in the U.S. with its arrival in Mari Yoshihara and Juliet Winters Carpenter's translation. In their introduction, Yoshihara and Winters Carpenter, point out that Japanese reviewers accused Mizumura of being a jingoist, an e […]
  • Another View: Tracing the Foreign in Literary Translation by Eduard Stoklosinski March 14, 2015
    Another View demonstrates exciting potential in translation study and praxis. It is especially significant in deconstructing assumptions about fluency and linguistic identity. The author makes some persuasive arguments for considering and even preferring non-native translation of texts, the most controversial of which is the possibility that linguistic compe […]
  • The Latest Five from Dalkey Archive’s “Library of Korea” Series March 14, 2015
    Despite South Korea having the kind of vibrant literary scene you'd expect from a country with one of the highest literacy rates in the world, we're still not exactly inundated with English translations of South Korean fiction. Given this dearth, Dalkey Archive Press's Library of Korean Literature series, twenty five titles published in collab […]
  • B & Me: A True Story of Literary Arousal by J.C. Hallman March 14, 2015
    here’s a conspicuous history of books that simply should not work: Books like U & I by Nicholson Baker, a book-length exercise in “memory criticism,” where Baker traces Updike’s influence on his own writing life while studiously not actually re-reading any of Updike’s books. Or books like Out of Sheer Rage, Geoff Dyer’s book that procrastinates away from […]
  • The Valerie Miles Interview March 14, 2015
    The idea was to uncover the secret life of these texts, why do their creators consider them their best work? What’s the clandestine, the underground, the surreptitious meaning or attachment? Where’s the kernel, the seed from which a body of work grew, what the driving obsession? Is it something sentimental, something technical, maybe even something spiritual […]
  • On Being Blue by William H. Gass March 14, 2015
    Look up at the sky, or down into the ocean, and what color do you see? We see blue, but not Homer—he never once employs the term throughout The Iliad and The Odyssey, famously calling the sea "wine-dark" and the heavens "bronze." Neither did the Greek philosopher Xenophanes say blue—he described the rainbow as having only three colors. Th […]

Leg over Leg

One of the cool things about the Best Translated Book Award is that it brings my (and others’) attention to books like Leg over Leg. You can certainly gripe about the way awards work, things that get left off the longlist, etc, etc, but I’m fairly certain that people are reading this book because of the BTBA (I know I am, and I doubt I would have been reading it otherwise).

In case you’re wondering, this is a bilingual Arabic/English book printed in four volumes by an academic press. Oh, and it was originally published in 1955. That’s a damn hard sell, even for people who care about this stuff.

And that’s one of the reasons I’m glad the BTBA exists–it get people to look at books like this one, which, by the way, is a truly remarkable book that belongs in the conversation with things like Tristram Shandy. I only wish NYU Press would do an affordable paperback edition. At $40 per volume for 4 volumes, very few people outside of academic institutions are going to buy the whole thing . . .

Before I read Leg Over Leg I would have suspected any nineteenth-century work of Arabic fiction to be…well, let’s be honest: kind of conservative and stale. But Leg Over Leg turns out to probably be the most exuberant and formally inventive text on the entire BTBA longlist.

Leg Over Leg is an autobiographical novel, centered on the life of the author’s alter ego, ‘the Fāriyāq’. An eighty-chapter work, it is divided into four books – and it is the first of these that is BTBA-longlisted; Leg Over Leg is, remarkably, one of four multi-volume works of which an individual volume has been longlisted this year (the others being the books by Cărtărescu, Ferrante, and Knausgaard). Even though volumes three and four of Leg Over Leg will only be published later this year, the first volume stands up superbly on its own. While the young Fāriyāq’s life-story is the framework for the narrative, al-Shidyaq feels entirely comfortable taking it completely off the rails at times, too. There are stories within the stories here, and metafictional games. Above all, the text engages with language, in everything from its use of rhyme and poetry to dictionary-like lists and glossaries. Throughout, al-Shidyaq revels in the possibilities of language and expression. And ‘ribald’ doesn’t do justice to the extensive sexual-(word)play found here (yes, Leg Over Leg is definitely not conservative).

The BTBA is a translation prize, and so we naturally focus on the quality of the translation, too. And here we have yet another reason why Leg Over Leg should win: Humphrey Davies’ translation is a stunner. No doubt, one reason why Leg Over Leg hasn’t been translated previously is because it can seem untranslatable. There is a lot of wordplay here, from the use of rhymes within passages to what amount to lists of word-definitions – and even beyond that, the multifaceted text is daunting. Every text brings with it translation-challenges, but few of the longlisted titles presented anywhere near as many as this one does – and yet Davies handled them exceptionally well. The reader gets a sense of much of what al-Shidyaq is trying to do, and especially what he is trying to say and demonstrate about language; equally importantly, the humor – and there’s a lot of it – comes across: in English, too, Leg Over Leg is a very funny book.

You Might Also Like:

More from Conversational Reading:

  1. Independent Foreign Fiction Prize Longlist It’s always interesting (at least to me) to compare the longlist for the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize to that of the Best Translated Book Award,...
  2. On Huge Books When you're talking about big reads, Anthony Powell's Dance to the Music of Time certainly must be in the discussion. This 12-book cycle comes in...
  3. New Arabian Nights Translation The Literary Saloon has some more info on that utterly beautiful translation of The Arabian Nights that I mentioned last week. If you want to...
  4. Great Weaver from Kashmir by Halldor Laxness Review Over at The Quarterly Conversation, we’ve just published my review of The Great Weaver from Kashmir, Halldor Laxness’s first major novel. The book was originally...
  5. Translating Beckett The second volume of Samuel Beckett's letters will be published in October by Cambridge University Press. The Cahier series, which I mentioned a little while...

Related posts brought to you by Yet Another Related Posts Plugin.

2 comments to Leg over Leg

  • P.T. Smith

    I really hope I’m not imagining that this beast is gaining steam. Orthofer’s pitch for it (both his Complete Review write-up and this one) are just killer motivation. I’m working towards a review of volumes 3 and 4 (vol 2 came yesterday, with 3+4 on the way whenever the publisher has pages, plus, why not, Tristam Shandy) to hopefully appear sometime in May, so whatever happens with Leg over Leg in the BTBA, it should still have…leg and continue to be talked about. Regardless of anything else, if the BTBA helps this get published in a complete four-volume paperback, then I think that’s a success for the year.

    PS. I think you meant 1855, not 1955

  • l

    The 4 volume paperback is scheduled for release this Summer. $130. bilingual.

Leave a Reply

  

  

  

You can use these HTML tags

<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>