May 30, 2011
SUGGESTED FICTION IN (ENGLISH) TRANSLATION
H. G. Adler, The Journey: A Novel, translated from the German by Peter Filkins (New York: Random House, 2008) (In praise of this novel, Harold Bloom writes: "The Journey is a tribute to the survival of art and a poignant teaching in the art of survival. I tend to shy away from Holocaust fiction, but this book helps redeem an all-but-impossible genre.").
H. G. Adler, Panorama: A Novel, translated from the German by Peter Filkins (New York: Random House, 2011) ("Frau Director is not completely happy with Josef, for as a supposed philosopher he has not supported her interpretation of Spinoza's view, or perhaps he was unfamiliar with it, which Josef had to agree with, he didn't know it at all, and above all she was not his contemporary and it wouldn't be right to debate her. At this Frau Director explains firmly and yet forgivingly that the Ethics is as elementary to philosophy as one plus one, and if she were a university professor she would make students learn the entire text by heart, for in doing so, even through Spinoza can seem somewhat out of date, one gains through him an ethical foundation upon which the modern understanding of the soul rests, much like a young seedling on an old vine, pardon me, I mean stump. Frau Director pauses for a moment and sighs that unfortunately it's impossible for her to attain the highest level of thought when one has to simultaneously muck about in the raw reality of the everyday world, the noble being like a fragrance that floats away, shallowness triumphing amid one's daily cares, and with a sidelong glance at the Director she adds that one can indeed see how her husband sits by above it all, which only makes her want to stir him up a bit. Josef looks at him and asks himself against his will whether the Director doesn't indeed look more like an ape than a man . . . " Id. at 258-259.).
Nathacha Appanah, The Last Brother: A Novel, translated from the French by Geoffrey Strachan (Minneapolis: Graywolf Press, 2007, 2010) (From the backcover: "As 1944 comes to a close, nine-year-old Raj is unaware of the war devastating the rest of the world. He lives in Mauritius, a remote island in the Indian Ocean, where survival is a daily struggle for his family. After a brutal beating lands Raj in the hospital of a prison camp, he meet David, a boy his own age. David is a refugee, one of a group of Jewish exiles now indefinitely detained in Mauritius. When a massive storm on the island brings chaos and confusion to the camp, Raj is determined to help David escape.").
Marcellus Emants, A Posthumous Confession, translated from the Dutch and with an introduction by J. M. Coetzee (New York: New York Review Books, 1986) (From the backcover: "Termeer, the narrator of A Posthumous Confession, is a twisted man and a troubled one. The emotionally stunted son of a cold, forbidding, and hypocritical father, Termeer has only succeeded in living up to his parents' low expectations when, to his own and others' astonishment, he finds himself wooing a beautiful and gifted woman--a woman whose love he wins. But instead of finding happiness in marriage, Termeer discovers it to be a new source of self-hatred, hatred that he turns upon his wife and child. And when he becomes caught up in an affair with a woman as demanding as his own self-loathing, he is driven to murder." "What is the self, and how does it evade or come to terms with itself? What can make it go permanently, lethally wrong? Marcellus Emants's grueling and gripping novel--a late-nineteenth-century tour de force of psychological penetration--is a lacerating exposition of the logic of identity that looks backward to Dostoyevsky, forward to Simenon, and beyond to the confessional literature, whether fiction or fact, of our own day.").
Mikhail Bulgakov, White Guard, translated from the Russian by Marian Schwartz, with an introduction by Evgeny Dobrenko ((New Haven & London: Yale U. Press, 2008) (" 'But you can't build your whole life on signals and whatever revolvers you have there. That's not even the point. I'm speaking in general, generalizing the instance, so to speak. The point is that the most important thing--respect for property--has disappeared. And if that's the case, it's all over. If that's the case, we're done for. I'm a convinced democrat by nature and a man of the people myself. My father was an ordinary foreman on the railroad. Everything you see here, everything those swindlers stole from me today, it was all earned and made with my hands alone. Believe me, I've never stood guard over the old regime. On the contrary, I'll tell you a secret, I'm a Constitutional Democrat, but now that I've seen with my own eyes what all this can lead to, I swear to you, I now have the sinister belief that only one thing can save us.' From somewhere out of the soft shroud that engulfed Carp, a whisper reached him. 'Autocracy. Yes. The nastiest dictatorship you can imagine. Autocracy.' " Id. at 251-252.).
Theodor Fontane, translated from the German by Douglas Parmee, afterword by Phillip Lopate (New York: New York Review Books, 1964, 2011) (From the backcover: "How a couple can slowly drift apart, until one day they find themselves in a situation which is nothing they ever wished for but from which they cannot go back, is at the heart of this timeless story of everyday life. Theodor Fontane's great gift is to tell the story effectively in his characters' own words, listening to how they talk and fail to talk to each other, watching them turn away from their own true feelings as much as from each other. Irretrievable is a nuanced, affectionate, enormously sophisticated, and profoundly humane reckoning with the blindness of love.).
Carlos Fuentes, Destiny and Desire: A Novel, translated from the Spanish by Edith Grossman (New York: Random House, 2011) ("Professor Antonio Sangines stood out, in every sense, in the Faculty of Law. Tall, distinguished, endowed with an aquiline profile, melancholy brows, and eyes at once serious, cynical, mocking, and tolerant under heavy lids, he appeared in class immaculately dressed, always in three-piece suits (I never saw hm combine an unmatched sports jacket and trouser), double-breasted, buttoned to emphasize the high, stiff collar, the monochrome tie, and his only concessions to fantasy, light brown shoes and cuff links won at raffles or bought with love, for it was not impossible to imagine Licenciado Sangines buying cuff links decorated with the figure of Mickey Mouse. . . ." "With it all, Professor Sangines's elegance was seen as an anachronistic eccentricity, and he repaid the compliment by viewing the style of the young as decadence unaware of itself. . . ." "This was what, with a certain macabre, decadent air, attracted me to this teacher who taught the class in International Public Law with a degree of meticulousness far above the abilities of the students, for he, far from filling us with facts, expounded on two or three ideas and supported them with references to a couple of fundamental texts, inviting us to read them seriously through convinced--a glance at the flock was enough--no one would follow his advice. That is: He did not order, he suggested. It did not take him long to realize I not only listened to him but for the next month responded to his questions in class--until then simply a cry on the desert--with respectful alacrity. Sangines suggested The Prince. I read Machiavelli. Sangines indicated The Social Contract. I immersed myself in Rousseau." Id. at 82-83.).
Andre Malraux, Man's Fate (La Condition Humaine), translated rom the French by Haakon M. Chevalier, with a foreword by John Leonard, and illustrations by Madeline Sorel (New York: Random House, 1934, 1984) ("They would not pay, unless the minister formally intervened, because Ferral was not one of them. Not married: stories about women that had become known. Suspected of smoking opium. He had turned down the Legion of Honor. Too much pride to be either a conformist or a hypocrite. Perhaps great individualism could be fully developed only on a dung-heap of hypocrisy: Borgia was not a pope by accident. . . . It was not at the end of the eighteenth century among the French revolutionaries, drunk with virtue, that the great individualists would be found, but in the Renaissance, in a social structure which was Christianity, obviously. . . ." Id. at 341-342. "Any man who asks advice about investing his money from a man he does not know intimately, deserves to be ruined." Id. at 347. From John Leonard's Introduction: "Man's Fate dramatizes existentialism better than most of Camus and all of Sartre's Roads to Freedom trilogy. It understands terrorism with a subtlety still elusive to such brainy novelists as Moravia, Boll and Mary McCarthy. It humanizes Marxism. maybe romantically. It anticipates fascism as metastasis. It announces feminism early. It predicts the future course of the Chinese Revolution. It takes the Third World seriously. . . . And these ideas have heads and bodies; they love and dream." Id. at xviii-xix.).
Henning Mankell, The Troubled Man (A Kurt Wallander Novel), translated from the Swedish by Laurie Thompson ((New York: Knopf, 2011) ("So it all began with a fit of rage. This story about the realities of politics, this journey into the swamps where truth and lies are indistinguishable and nothing is clear." Id. at 5. Also, see Janet Maslin, "Detective Meets His End, Sort of," NYT, Monday, 3/38/2001.).
Yuri Olesha, Envy, translated from the Russian by Marian Schwartz, with an introduction by Ken Kalfus (New York: New York Review Books, 2001) (From the backcover: "Andrei is a model Soviet citizen, a swaggeringly self-satisfied mogul of the food industry who intends to revolutionize modern life with mass-produced sausage. Nikolai is a loser, Finding him drunk in the gutter, Andrei gives him a bed for the night and a job as a gofer. Nikolai takes what he can, but that doesn't mean he's grateful. Griping, sulking, grovelingly abject, he despises everything Andrei believes in, even if he envies him his every breath." "Producer and sponger, insider and outcast, master and man fight back and forth in the pages of Olesha's anarchic comedy. It is a contest of wills in which nothing is sure except the incorrigible human heart.").
Boleslaw Prus, The Doll, translated from the Polish by David Welsh, revised by Dariusz Tolczyk & Anna Zaranko, introduction by Stanislaw Baranczak (New York: New York Review Books, 1996) (From Baranczak's Introduction: "In our age of shattered utopia, amidst the overwhelming odour of 'decay', perhaps the most persistent question is the one that this agroraphobic, myopic, yet bold and far-sighted nineteenth-century realist felt compelled to ask: how, without being blindly naive, can one remain an 'idealist' in a 'decayed' world? Or, to put it another way, how to continue in the belief that we can become something better than we are, while almost all available evidence seems to point to the contrary?" Id. at xv.).
Victor Serge, Conquered City, translated from the French by Richard Greeman (New York: New York Review Books, 2011) ("What a dead thing we have made of history in our libraries! We looked for the explanation of the present in the past. It's the present which explains the past. Real history will be written when men's eyes are open." Id. at 177. From the backcover: "1919-1920: St. Petersburg, city of the czars, has fallen to the Revolution. Camped out in the splendid palaces of the former regime, the city's new masters seek to cement their control, even as the counterrevolutionary White Army regroups. Conquered City . . . is structured like a detective story, one in which the new political regime tracks down and eliminates its enemies--the spies, speculators, and traitors hidden among the mass of common people." "Conquered City is about terror: the Red Terror and the White Terror. But mainly about the Red, the Communists who have dared to pick up the weapons of power--police, guns, jails, spies, treachery--in the doomed gamble that by wielding them righteously, they can put an end to the need for terror, perhaps forever. Conquered City is their tragedy and testament.").
Olga Slavnikova, 2017, translated from the Russian by Marian Schwartz (New York & London: Overlook/Duckworth, 2010) (" 'Do you think I'm greedy? Tanya shook her head with a sarcastic smile. 'What's money to me? I'll tell you. Just a matter of life and death. And I'm talking about my health. Poisoning would have been pretty easy for me; Vasily Petrovich wasn't really paying attention. A couple of shots at five euros apiece would have taken care of everything. But you have to understand, a woman has only one illness: old age. Up until age thirty we're all equal, we all have our rights. After that, some keep living and some start dying. Before, the law of nature functioned identically for everything. So old age wasn't so repugnant. But now? We have everything now: serums, plastic surgery, nanotechnologies. A woman over fifty has to spend a few thousand euros a month on herself. And the longer she lasts, the more she spends. But even if she's a top manager, an irreplaceable employee--her powers tap out. And they send the old horse that was ridden too hard to its deserved respite! If you're pension's good enough, you can eat and pay for your apartment. But health insurance? Don't make me laugh! Even dentistry now is for separate money. And where am I going to get that? Who's going to tell me that? No one stays eternally young, of course. But have you seen rich old women? They're like dolls! And all the rest are like dirt. Do you realize we're talking about my life? Are you aware that I was born and I'm going to die?' " Id. at 396. From the bookjacket: "In the year 2017 in Russia--exactly 100 years after the revolution--poets and writers are obsolete, class distinctions are painfully sharp, and spirits intervene in the lives of human form their home high in the mythical Riphean Mountains.").
Christa Wolf, In the Flesh: A Novel, translated from the German by John S. Barrett (Boston: A Verba Mundi Book/David R. Godine, 2005) ("You watch critically and suspiciously as I tediously force down the nice, soft cream of wheat you've brought me. Spoonful by spoonful. Baby food. Just don't tell me again that nobody can make cream of wheat like your grandmother." Id. at 122.).
Stefan Zweig, Beware of Pity, translated from the German by Phyliss and Trevor Blewitt, introduction by Joan Acocella (New York: New York Review Books, 1976, 2006) (From the backcover: "Hofmiller, an Austro-Hungarian cavalry officer stationed at the edge of the empire, is invited to a party at the home of a rich local landowner, a world away from the dreary routine of the barracks. The surroundings are glamorous, wine flows freely, and the exhilarated young Hofmiller asks his host's lovely daughter for a dance, only to discover that sickness has left here painfully crippled. It is a minor blunder that will destroy his life, as pity and guilt gradually implicate him in a well-meaning but tragically wrongheaded plot to restore the unhappy invalid to health.").
Stefan Zweig, Chess Story, translated from the German by Joel Rotenberg, introduction by Peter Gay (New York: New York Review Books, 1976, 2006) (From the backcover: "On a great ocean liner, the world champion of chess confronts a lawyer with a surprising talent for the game in a tense contest of wit and will. How the lawyer acquired his skill and at what terrible cost are the substance of a story, in which, at the same time, quietly but unmistakably, the death knell of the Enlightenment is sounded.").
Stefan Zweig, Journey Into the Past, translated from the German and with an afterword by Anthea Bell, introduction by Andre Aciman (New York: New York Review Books, 2009, 2011) ("It is not in human nature to live entirely on memories, and just as the plants and every living structure need nourishment from the soil and new light from the sky, if their colours are not to fade and their petals to drop, even such apparently unearthly things as dreams need a certain amount of nourishment from the senses, some tender pictorial aid, or their blood will run thin and their radiance be dimmed." Id. at 45-46.).
Stefan Zweig, The Post-Office Girl, translated from the German by Joel Rotenberg (New York: New York Review Books, 1982, 2008) ("You almost always fail when you go against your own law. I don't mean legal rules and regulations, or the Austrian constitution, or the police. Those one could deal with. But everyone has his internal law. One person rises, another falls; you rise if you're meant to rise, fall if you're meant to fall So far I've never succeeded at anything. You too. Maybe even probably, everything 's rigged so that we'll go under. . . ." Id. at 256. From the backcover: "The logic of capitalism, boom and bust, unremitting and unforgiving. But what happens to human feelings in a completely commodified world? In The Post-Office Girl, Stefan Zweig, a deep analyst of the human passions, lays bare the private life of capitalism.").