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Latin America’s rural dream – The Economist on Héctor Abad's La Oculta

La Oculta (“The Hideaway”) is the Ángels’ 150-year-old family farm in Antoquia, Colombia’s most entrepreneurial and conservative province. Mr Abad’s finely crafted novel not only expounds its narrators’ contrasting attitudes towards sex, rural life and tradition in a modernising country, but also tells in fictional form the true story of an attempt to create a rural middle class in Colombia. In doing so, it throws an evocative light on the enduring pull of the land in Latin America—and the undercurrent of violence that has gone with it.

Through a reading of Héctor Abad Faciolince’s La Oculta, the Economist examines Colombia’s rural dream and how farming is part of the region’s past and present. La Oculta is forthcoming from Archipelago Books. Read the whole piece here.

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Translating Knausgaard: An Interview with Don Bartlett

Meet Karl Ove Knausgaard’s translator Don Bartlett, interviewed by Scott Esposito for The Paris Review.

When did you first encounter My Struggle?

I went to a panel discussion in London with three Norwegian writers, led by someone I knew was clued up on Norwegian literature. Afterward, I talked to Karl Ove and asked him what he was working on. He said he had just written five—I think it was five—novels. I asked him what about. He said, with a laugh, Myself.

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Maureen Freely on translation, Istanbul and Orhan Pamuk in NYRB


Don’t miss Archipelago translator Maureen Freely’s beautiful essay “Seeing Istanbul Again” on the New York Review of Books’ blog.

Ara Güler/Magnum Photos
Ara Güler/Magnum Photos

Years later, when I was translating Orhan Pamuk’s memoir, Istanbul: Memories and the City, I would read his passage on childhood daydreaming and feel the chill of recognition. Orhan the little boy would often be parked with his sedentary grandmother for whole mornings. He would sit on a straight-backed chair and construct elaborate (and elaborately) other worlds, from which he could emerge instantly, just like that, should his name be called, knowing that when he was once again free to return to those worlds, they would be there waiting for him, just as he’d left them.

I felt the same way whenever I was summoned back to the everyday after a few hours of translating. I could close the door on the world of the text, knowing that it would be exactly the same when the time came to return to it. What I felt next was not very different from what Orhan had felt as a young boy, after days and days in his grandmother’s salon, with its heavy, impenetrable drapes. Stepping back out into the bright sunlight, we were both momentarily blinded.

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Knausgaard on the story of Cain and Abel in The Atlantic

I first heard the Cain and Abel story at school, when I was seven or eight. My teacher told it to our class, and it very much made an impression on me. I returned to it later when I was writing a novel which is set in the Bible, so to speak, and I re-read all those stories again. I was struck by how extremely small it was, just 12 lines or something. It was almost shocking to see that this little story could have such an impact, and become the big story about killing,violence, jealousy, brothers—so many huge topics within the culture.

I need 300 or 400 pages to say something significant. I need space to express simple, banal truths—I don’t have the ability to express them without that space, and a novel for me is the way of building that space. But Cain and Abel always surprises me in the way it manages to be both extremely powerful and extremely short.

In this fascinating interview, Karl Ove Knausgaard examines the biblical story of Cain and Abel. The interview is part of The Atlantic‘s By Heart series, in which authors share and discuss their all-time favorite passages in literature. Read the whole interview here.

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John Freeman Interviews Knausgaard for LitHub

John Freeman has just interviewed Karl Ove Knausgaard for LitHub. He writes:

Begun when he was 39, feeling intimations of mortality and a crushing desire to “write something exceptional one day,”  My Struggle is a colossus, a Proustian megabook of memory and family life; a poetic recall of the textures and terrors of childhood and boyhood; an unsparing glimpse into the mind of a man on the other side of that magical period in life, raising his own children; an exorcism of a terrifying and controlling father.

Read the whole interview here.



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John Domini reviews Time Ages in a Hurry for the Brooklyn Rail

Time Ages In a Hurry: Stories
Antonio Tabucchi
(Archipelago Books, 2015)

Over in Italy, Time Ages In a Hurry was one of a spate of Antonio Tabucchi titles preceding his death in early 2012. He wasn’t that old, 68, but he’d long been battling cancer, and in his last year friends and family moved him from Siena, where he taught, to Lisbon, the home of his heart. In the Portuguese capital, Tabucchi could, one last time, share the haunts of poet Fernando Pessoa, his lifelong inspiration. There too, Tabucchi had set the fiction that remains his best-known, actually composed in Portuguese, Pereira Declares (1994). In the mid-’90s this off-kilter look at Spanish Fascism won worldwide esteem, and in Italy there was a movie (Marcello Mastroianni’s last great role). Before and since, to be sure, the author had explored other locales. The novella Indian Nocturne(Italy ’84, US ’89) toured a shape-shifting contemporary India, and my favorite of his story sequences, The Flying Creatures of Fra Angelico (Italy ’87, US 2012—and on Archipelago Books, like Time Ages), time-travels back to the Florence of the Medicis. In short, Tabucchi had a restless sensibility that tried on many imaginative forms; for this, he often drew comparison to the great Italian of the previous generation, Italo Calvino. So as the cancer destroyed him, publishers rounded up whatever they could.

The final titles include for instance an assortment of travel writing, or the Tabucchi equivalent, elliptical reflections on places that mattered to him, Lisbon in particular. One wonders if a catch-all like that will see translation. But Time Ages in a Hurry, originally published in 2009, soon enough asserts itself as a text both coherent and necessary.

The book itself is another beauty of an Archipelago production, its gray cover just faintly blued, faintly rippled, while the title and promotional text are nicely sorted out between its front, back, and deep French flaps. The stories themselves all fall into a similar pace, meditating on whole lives over 15 to 25 pages (one slightly less). While they rove back and forth across the former Iron Curtain, all are distinguished by understatement and indirection, as Tabucchi characteristically takes experience towards dream. Each, however, packs an unexpected blow to the heart, a drama that mushrooms up as dislocated wanderers pore over the wreckage of their 20th Century. Everyone rises to the same desperate if quiet conviction, namely, that they may yet unearth some lost connection, some vestige, providing a stay against the onrush of the years.

Proust comes to mind, in search of lost time, but Tabucchi keeps literary self-consciousness to a minimum. Only the second story, “Drip, Drop, Drippity-Drop,” features a writer, the kind of person who references Proust’s “madeleine” when thinking of his Italian shoes, once fashionable, now broken down. So too, the piece is the only one that has much to do with Italy, but both place and protagonist come across as broken down, indeed rudderless. The writer goes unidentified, though we catch the fond nickname, “Feruccio,” used by his aged, ailing aunt. She provides the skeletal plot, the visits to her hospital bed, a bed she’ll likely never escape. The old woman’s ramblings touch on loved ones lost during the last war, while also raising the question, “do you remember how beautiful Italy used to be?” Her morphine drip provides the title, the soundtrack to the protagonist’s long night in her room, yet when he steps out in the morning the larger loss feels like his own: “How is it possible at his age, with all he’d seen and experienced, that he still didn’t know what the most beautiful thing in the world was?”

My summary emphasizes the downbeat, when Tabucchi has a light touch even with a Nazi massacre. Still, “Drip, Drop” works in a more somber key than most of Time Ages, and so one passage exemplifies the great work of Cooley and Romani, in converting this to English. At one point “Ferrucio,” in a chair beside his aunt, meditates:

How can the night be present? Composed only of itself, it’s absolute, its mere presence is imposing, the same presence a ghost might have that you know is there in front of you but is everywhere, even behind you, and if you seek refuge in a patch of light you become its prisoner.

Material like this could’ve felt leaden, starting with a question (Come può essere presente la notte?) that might seem like the opener in a Socratic dialogue. The subsequent metaphor of the ghost (fantasma che sai che è lì di fronte a te ma è dappertutto) could have bogged down in overexplanation, but Cooley and Romani get the thinking behind the omission of punctuation, or more precisely the lack of thinking: the meandering of a mind at midnight. This couple’s bicultural background —she’s American, he Italian—has resulted in a terrific fluency. I’m sorry they didn’t get the assignment on the next Tabucchi title for Archipelago, a novel due later this year.
And as I say, when it comes to drama, “Drip, Drop” feels wheelchair-bound compared to some of the later pieces. The sequence really hits its stride in stories further from the author’s experience. “The Dead at the Table,” for instance, features a former East German spy, adrift in Berlin after the Wall has come down, and “Between Generals” an Hungarian freedom-fighter, likewise knocked this way and that by the upheavals along the Iron Curtain. The narration moves like a skipping stone over the extremes of such experience, the betrayals and reversals, surprising us each time it touches down on high emotion. Then too, this splendid pair of dramas takes us to opposite poles of Tabucchi’s retrospective imaginings. The spy is forced to conclude “we missed out on the best,” while the soldier lives long enough to enjoy, in the last place he’d expect it, “the best days of [his] life.”

Time Ages intrigues in other ways as well. The number of stories, nine, recalls Salinger, and one of them, “Clouds,” presents a seaside conversation between a pubescent girl and a wounded, unhappy man. Still, that story isn’t the set’s lead-off, and Tabucchi closes it with the assurance that these talks will continue. More importantly, the girl and man see more than glass. They read shapes in the clouds, shapes that matter to them. In other words, readers shouldn’t make too much of the connection to Salinger, no more than of any connection to Calvino. The older author was always less tethered to earth, more about testing the limits of storytelling. Rather Tabucchi, forever returning to the well of saudade—that resonant Portuguese term for nostalgia—might line up most closely with W.G. Sebald, trying to read significance in the rubble of Holocausts large and small. Wherever we place this author, though, Time Ages In a Hurry must rank as one of his signal accomplishments.

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Translator Martha Cooley’s Interview with Village of Crickets

Martha Cooley, who translated Antonio Tabucchi’s Time Ages in a Hurryrecently did a wonderful interview with Village of Crickets. She says of Tabucchi:

When I look at my own engagement with Tabucchi, I always go back to that novel and the incredible rush I got out of reading it, because it did such a good job of taking the personal and the political and entwining and complicating their relationship. Tabucchi is very good at finding the moment of pure human loss, desire, need, that forms the connection between the realms of private life and political reality.

In the interview, she delves in-depth into language and craft, as well as the state of translation:

Yet we believe language itself is free. The truth, though, is that we live in a time when English has become the hegemonic language, and it’s anything but free. It’s the price of entry for many professions, and if you don’t have the money or the education to learn it, you’re locked out. This is one of the main reasons why so little literature from other languages and cultures is translated into English.


Read more here, and come by the Community Bookstore on April 30 to hear Martha Cooley and co-translator Antonio Romani discuss Time Ages in a Hurry with Lynne Sharon Schwartz.