The Answer Was There All Along

Translation publishers, quit being so damn earnest! More human faces on your covers!! (and please, no more covers like this)

Guernica: I wonder if part of the problem with translated fiction is publishers making assumptions about what readers will like. Assumptions that they’ll see the book as homework, when in fact the bulk of readers might be more willing than we think.

Nicole Aragi: Yes. I do think readers are by and large more open-minded than we give them credit for. But publishers have to spend their lives guessing at what people will want a couple of years from the date the manuscript is sent to them by an agent. It’s not easy, and they get nervous. So I think they do fall back on some assumptions, sometimes. They have to. It’s part of their work.

I represent a Somali writer called Nuruddin Farah. His very early books were published very seriously, with very serious photographs on the cover, and they looked like academic works. The turning point was when a book of his came out with a face on the cover. Something as simple as a picture of a face humanized the work. It changed Nuruddin’s readership in America. We think of books in translation too earnestly and then publish them too earnestly, and then we’re surprised when they feel earnest. It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.



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Thank GOD Archipelago doesn’t have this mentality. “Yeah, why would we put Giotto on the cover of ‘A Time for Everything’ when readers want a seagull eating Wonder Bread?”

Speaking of Knausgaard, that FSG reissue of Vol. I is like a visual emetic.

THE SURRENDER

The Surrender is Scott Esposito’s “collection of facts” concerning his lifelong desire to be a woman.


LADY CHATTERLEY'S BROTHER

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 . . .


THE LATIN AMERICAN MIXTAPE

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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