Tag Archives: ross benjamin

Funeral for a Dog Review

My review of Funeral for a Dog by Thomas Pletzinger has been published at The National.

My short take: this is a very strong first novel, albeit with a few first novel problems. But it’s one of those books good enough and innovative enough to make you want to engage all the way–i.e. to the point that you care about the flaws. (With the majority of books one never gets to the point of caring about the flaws, because why waste time with dull things?)

Also, much praise to translator Ross Benjamin. The book is formally ambitious and grammatically inconsistent. I imagine it must have been tough to translate. There are also two very particular, very distinct narrative voices in this book, and they read very well.

And now a quote from the review:

There are two well-worn paths to literary innovation: tell a story that is unlike any other, or tell a very common story, but do it in a way that has never been tried before. Funeral for a Dog, the debut novel by the German author Thomas Pletzinger, does a little of both. Its aspirations to tell a new story are announced in its epigraph, a quote from Max Frisch admonishing those who claim that all possible love stories have already been told. Likewise, the book’s opening pages – a series of fragmentary postcards written just after the plot of the novel ends – immediately declare Pletzinger’s intentions to tell this story in an innovative way.

Much of the fun of Funeral for a Dog is watching Pletzinger attempt to rise to these two challenges, which he does with some success . . .

Funeral for a Dog Interview

I’m currently reading Funeral for a Dog by Thomas Pletzinger for a review. So, I don’t want to say too much about it, but it is worth a look, even if it does have some issues. (More on that soon enough, though you can read Chad Post’s review in The Quarterly Conversation right now.)

In the meantime, Diana Thow has conducted an interview with Pletzinger and the book’s translator, Ross Benjamin. As to Benjamin, I’ve read two of his translations recently (Funeral for a Dog and Speak, Nabokov) and they are sterling. Obviously I don’t read German so I can’t speak to what the original reads like, but Benjamin’s English renditions are quite good, and he does seem to have an eye for interesting texts.

Anyway here’s a bit from the interview:

DT: Can you give me an example of some of the questions you would ask?

RB: While translating I find that when I want to ask an author a question it rarely consists of wanting to know what a word means. A dictionary can tell you what something means, but if you’re able to talk with the author the most important material you can gain is at the textural level. How the author is using language and what they are doing with that language that is new and unexpected. This is perhaps not completely penetrable upon a first read, not without a more involved discussion. It took a lot of time for Thomas to address all my questions.

TP: The question about Heimwehtourismus for instance.

RB: Yes, that one was never really resolved. The word is Heimwehtourismus, which is used in a specific way in the novel, and it has a specific meaning that’s difficult for anyone who’s not familiar with the German context. A Heimwehtourist is a tourist, literally a homesickness-tourist—it’s one word.

DT: You translated this as “nostalgia tourist,” if I remember correctly.

RB: In one place I did, yes. The word describes somebody who travels to their former or their ancestral homeland out of nostalgia, and it’s often closely associated with tourists who visit their former homes in what was once east Germany but is now Poland or the Czech Republic, but it has an even broader application than that. In Thomas’s novel there is a scene in which a character travels back to a former home in the east, and the word is used there, but there are also places in which the longing for home is used more metaphorically. There are characters who are searching all over the world for a sort of home, and they are called Heimwehtourists as well… so “nostalgia” doesn’t really capture it. Often I used a contextual solution, and occasionally I think I might have added allusions to clarify. But yes, that was one question that went on forever.


The Surrender is Veronica Scott Esposito’s “collection of facts” concerning how she embraced her true gender.


Two long essays of 10,000 words each on sex in—and out of—literature . . .

The first essay dives in to Nicholson Baker’s “sex trilogy,” explaining just what Baker is up to here and why these books ultimately fail to be as sexy as Baker might wish.

From there the book moves on to the second essay, which explains just why Spaniard Javier Marías does right what Baker does wrong . . .


5 essays. 2 interviews.

All in all, over 25,000 words of Latin American literary goodness.

3 never-before-published essays, including “The Digression”—a 4,000-word piece on the most important digression in César Aira’s career.

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