The End of Oulipo?

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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.

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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.

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Interviews from Conversational Reading

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


  • Nostalgia June 15, 2014
    Few habits are as prone to affliction, or as vulnerable to an ordeal, as the bent of a peddler’s consciousness. Placeless, the peddler completes an untold number of transactions; there are ideas to conduct (through language, which can transact a mind) and feelings to certify (through tasks, repeated interminably). […]
  • Why Literary Periods Mattered by Ted Underwood June 15, 2014
    There are some writers who are, and likely always will be, inextricably linked to the “period” with which their work is associated, and in many cases helped to define. Surely Wordsworth and Keats will always be “Romantic” poets, while Faulkner and Woolf will remain modernists, as the term “modern” has been fully appropriated to describe the historical era be […]
  • Trans-Atlantyk by Witold Gombrowicz June 15, 2014
    August 1939. You sail to Buenos Aires on the Chombry as a cultural ambassador of Poland. Why say no to a little holiday on the government’s tab? Soon after arriving you sense that something isn’t right. You emerge from a welcome reception and your ears are “filled with newspaper cries: ‘Polonia, Polonia,’ most irksome indeed.” Before you’ve even had a chance […]
  • Accepting the Disaster by Joshua Mehigan June 15, 2014
    The first collections of most young poets, even the better ones, carry with them a hint of bravado. Flush with recognition, vindicated by the encouraging attentions of at least one editor and three blurbists, the poet strikes a triumphant pose and high-fives the Muse: “We did it, baby.” When Joshua Mehigan published his impressive first collection, The Optim […]
  • The Histories of Herodotus, translated by Tom Holland June 15, 2014
    Two of the greatest of Tom Holland's predecessors in translating Herodotus are Victorian scholar George Rawlinson and Aubrey de Selincourt; the former translated Herodotus in 1860, making an enormous hit (despite the fact that its detractors often referred to it as “dull and prolix"), while the latter's 1954 Herodotus was another enormous hit, […]
  • Bullfight by Yasushi Inoue June 15, 2014
    The premise of Yasushi Inoue's debut novella Bullfight, celebrated in Japan as a classic of postwar literature, is unassuming enough: an evening newspaper sponsors a tournament of the regional sport of bull-sumo. As practical and financial issues arise, the paper's young editor-in-chief, Tsugami, soon realizes he has taken on more than he can handl […]
  • Sworn Virgin by Elvira Dones June 15, 2014
    Sworn Virgin was made to be translated. Elvira Dones wrote this book not in her native language of Albanian but in Italian—a necessarily fraught and complicated decision. In an Italian-language interview with Pierre Lepori, Dones speaks about her choice of language: “Sworn Virgin was born in Italian . . . I’ve lived using Italian for nineteen years, it has s […]
  • On the Letters of David Markson June 15, 2014
    Knowing these narrators and how their lives paralleled David’s own, it’s difficult to deny his being a recluse. I certainly held that image of him, and nursed it, secretly cherishing it because it meant I was one of the few people with whom he corresponded, and with whom he would occasionally meet. Arranging our first meetings in person was something of a ni […]
  • Storm Still by Peter Handke June 15, 2014
    Storm Still (Immer Noch Sturm) does not necessarily represent new terrain for Handke. Originally published by Suhrkamp Verlag in 2010 and now available for English-language readers thanks to Martin Chalmers’ fluent translation, the play chronicles the dissolution of the Svinec family, a family of Carinthian Slovenes—a quasi-fictionalized version of Handke’s […]
  • Red or Dead by David Peace June 15, 2014
    David Peace's novel Red or Dead is about British football, but it partakes in the traits of Homer's epic. This is a novel about the place of myth and heroes in modern society, about how the cyclical rhythms of athletic seasons reflect the cyclical patterns of life. It is a book about honor and fate, and one which bridges the profound, dreamlike ter […]

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.

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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.

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