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LA Review of Books takes on My Struggle


The LA Review of Books has posted a three-part essay on Karl Ove Knausgaard’s My Struggle.

In the first installment of this fascinating piece, William Pierce discusses, among other things, Knausgaard’s narrator:

Knausgaard brings back landscape and scale, he restores object and sequence: he attempts (and fails, sure) to re-achieve the sublime, to situate us in our true context of accident, coincidence, surprise, and mystery.

, controlled language:

His restraint shapes every page of the book. He alludes to this in an interview with Kyle Buckley at Hazlitt: “There’s one thing that I’m interested in in the whole book, or a couple of things, and everything else is excluded. […] So it’s very narrow, even if it’s 3,500 pages, it’s very narrow.” His urge to write each sequence to its conclusion — and yet, often, not to do it all at once but to braid in other narratives — is a structuring urge. The smallest moments are tributaries that lead to the larger streams and into the main current. Everything helps him tell what he’s telling, do what he’s doing — it all gives rise to, and supports, a larger point.

, and grand ambition:

With My Struggle, Knausgaard makes a bid — a huge, quixotic one — to restore the possibility of awe, which stems less from the length of the book or its focus on his life than in its colossal ambitions for what a novel can achieve.


Definitely read Part One, Part Two, and Part Three.


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Cărtărescu’s Blinding wins the 2015 Leipzig Book Award

Congratulations to Mircea Cărtărescu, author of Blinding, winner of the 2015 Leipzig Book Award for European Understanding!

The jury committee stated:

Transcending all conceivable boundaries, this monumental and unbridled work of prose is, in equal measure, a künstlerroman, an urban critique and a narrative of universal validity that nevertheless transcends reality in a spirit of the surreal, hallucinatory and visionary.

Read the full story here.

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In Conversation: Karl Ove Knausgaard & Will Heyward


This conversation with Norwegian author Karl Ove Knausgaard took place on Sunday, September 23, 2012, on a park bench not far from the bustle of the Brooklyn Book Festival. At that stage, only the first volume of Knausgaard’s masterpiece, My Struggle, had appeared in English. Earlier that day, Knausgaard had participated in a panel with writers Siri Hustvedt and Shelia Heti. Afterwards, at the panelists’ book signing, while hundreds of people waited patiently for a moment with the other authors, only a handful of people queued in front of Knausgaard’s table. I remember at the time being struck by the fact that, of those people who were waiting in line for Knausgaard, several of them carried Norwegian editions of books.

Since then, the second volume of My Struggle has been published in England and America, with the third on its way. Just as it did readers in Norway and across Europe, Knausgaard’s work has caught fire with Anglophone readers. It’s hard for me to think of another writer who has ascended to near-canonical status in such a short space of time. My Struggle confounds for having seemingly sidestepped all the usual artifices and apparatuses of fiction writing. It is—to borrow a term from the French writer Romain Rolland—a roman fleuve (river novel) that expands and contracts, flowing ever forward according to the inscrutable logic of memory. When I read Kausgaard, I’m convinced I know him better than I do my closest friends.

—Will Heyward, 2014


WH: When I read the passages in your book about wanting to be a famous writer, the opening line from an essay by Susan Sontag on W. G. Sebald came to mind: “Is literary greatness still possible?” Does your book pose the same question?

KOK: I can’t use the concept of greatness, but I can say this: I’ve read Roberto Bolaño, probably the last “great” author I’ve encountered, and what’s so hypnotic about his writing, especially 2666, is that feeling: “This is something new. I haven’t seen this before.” That’s what writing is about, I think. Writing should be an achievement that gives people the experience of seeing something they haven’t seen before. I don’t know what exactly. It has something to do with an approach towards the world that is both new and relevant. 2666 is absolutely relevant to us, and that’s what this idea of “greatness” is for me. Sebald is another example. He’s very, very different. At his best, he’s getting towards something like Bolaño, but it’s not as good. Sebald writes much more beautifully, and everything is better in his work, but it doesn’t have that sensational qual- ity of Bolaño.

WH: Is Bolaño an influence on you? In 2666, there’s a long section about a murdered woman told very plainly and repetitively, but which for that very reason is so overwhelming. Even though your subject matter is much more personal, the accumulation of details in My Struggle has a similar effect.

KOK: I read Bolaño’s book after I’d finished mine—Thank God! I didn’t read it until then because I knew his book would be good, and that reading it be- fore I had finished My Struggle would be dangerous. And I was right, I think. It was the same with a couple of films that I couldn’t see when I was writing. I had to wait to see Lars von Trier’s two most recent films. I couldn’t let my- self see them. As soon as I finished, I could see them.

WH: I have a theory about My Struggle, a book which has a lot to do with your father. His character is represented as a man who could say nothing about himself. You are a man who has said everything about himself. In writing this book, have you become the literal opposite of your father?

KOK: It’s a good reading, but I haven’t thought of that. It hasn’t occurred to me, but what you say might be true.

WH: Are you a self-conscious writer? Another quote that kept coming to me as I was preparing for this interview was from David Foster Wallace who, I think, once said something like: my work as a writer is to overcome selfconsciousness. Could that apply to My Struggle ?

KOK: Yes. I think that goes for everyone who’s writing or doing something. Talking about Lars von Trier, I heard that when he wrote Antichrist, he was drunk. That was his working process: locking himself up and getting drunk and writing. I think because he’s clever, and he’s so extremely clever that he has to escape from that. I think it’s the same with David Foster Wallace. He’s clever, but cleverness becomes his enemy. I think that’s an obvious thing if you watch what he’s doing.

WH: You just did a panel with Sheila Heti, whose novel—like yours— explicitly uses the people in her life as characters. I’ve heard her say in an interview that if her book had damaged her relationships, she would have considered it a failure. You’ve said that your book did damage your relationships. Would you have ever considered its success or failure in terms of its reception?

KOK: It’s almost the opposite for me. Not that I wanted to ruin anything, and I didn’t even think about that at the beginning of this project when I started writing. I tried to be as honest as possible, as straightforward as possible. I recognised early on that it was impossible to be completely honest, to be completely straightforward. I felt that in my body when I was writing and transgressing, crossing boundaries, and I would become physically ill. I tried to push those boundaries, and it was terrible when the reactions from others started coming in. People wanted to sue me. It was hell, really like hell, because I’m so afraid of conflict. I just want to please everyone, you know, and this is the exact opposite of the thing I was doing by writing. So it was awful. I was characterised in newspapers as a diabolic figure. I tried not to concern myself, but that was a struggle. For example, when my mother-in-law realized I was writing about her directly, she was so hurt. She was living with us at that time. I was writing and because of that she would help with the kids, and it was like an inferno to live with that tension. It was the same with my wife and with my brother, and with everybody. I don’t give them away that much. I mean, they’re not criminals, and I’m not revealing secrets. It’s just the fact that because they’re in this book they can see my views of them, and my opinions of them, and it feels like I’m taking something from them. I didn’t want that to happen.

WH: There’s no explicit message in My Struggle, but could this be something readers take from the book: The knowledge that if everyone were transparent with each other, life would be unbearable.

KOK: This is a kind of side effect of what I do. I’ve had parents approach me and thank me for writing about being too hard on my children. This is secret information. But I’ve done it, and so have they, and so has everyone else. There are many things in a life that look like that, things that everyone does but no one speaks about.

WH: There’s a long, excruciating passage that describes cleaning your grandmother’s house after the death of your father. It reads very easily as catharsis. Do you believe in writing as therapy?

KOK: In a way, I do. But it’s only the act of writing that is healing. In the end, when I don’t write, I’m back in my own misery again. Reading and writing are both kinds of healing processes, but ones that don’t result in anything. They just help you be there, and that has to do with the fact that when you read or write, you are kind of selfless. That feeling of selflessness is very much what writing is about for me.

WH: The first book of yours to appear in English, A Time for Everything, is about angels and celestial life. My Struggle is about the most mundane aspects of human life. Why the total change in direction?

KOK: I had to do something different each time, something new. I’d always used literature as a kind of “other place,” as a form of escapism, to get away, to get outside, because you can see things differently with literature. With My Struggle I wanted to do the opposite, I wanted to close down everything and write about the here and now. That’s not really literature for me; it’s something else, and I wanted to explore that difference. For me, My Struggle was an experiment with the borders between life and literature. I wanted to go there and see what would happen. There’s a big difference between the two books, but the images in A Time for Everything, which I made up, came from somewhere. If you read carefully the entirety of My Struggle, you could find the real life origin of almost every image from A Time for Everything. My Struggle is a kind of “backstage” novel.

WH: The two are inversions of each other?

KOK: Not exactly. The images of the angels shaking, that’s my grandmother with Parkinson’s and the shock of seeing that. This is the kind of thing going on between the two books.

WH: I read My Struggle first, and it was very easy to see you and your brother, Yngve, in your representation of Cain and Abel when I read A Time for Everything.

KOK: Yes.

WH: There is a close attention to male—fraternal and paternal—relationships in both books. In fact, the narrator says several times in A Time for Everything that the worst thing one can ever do is kill his own brother. Why this fixation?

KOK: Because I have troubled relationships with these figures in my life. This has to be the reason. But it also has to do with a larger male identity because it feels like the male identity is under pressure, at least in Scandinavia. My generation acts completely differently to that of our fathers. I’m preoccupied by these changes in identity. It’s similar to the pressure placed on national identity. I wanted to find out what’s going on.

WH: Is a repressed masculinity particularly Norwegian?

KOK: Yes, but even more so in Sweden, which is the most politically correct country in the world. In Sweden, you’re not supposed to say anything negative about being a parent. I was very frustrated with this when our first child came. I was taking care of her by myself for half a year, the way mothers had in previous generations, and I was frustrated because I didn’t want to do it, because it was boring, but I had to do it and couldn’t say anything negative about it. That was impossible. My writing was a response to that.

WH: Parents are not allowed to regret having children.

KOK: Yeah. I got through that state though. It’s okay now, but it was frustrating. I think it was a frustration that many people know.

WH: You’ve said you’re preoccupied with masculine identity, but I think your writing has a quality that might traditionally be considered feminine. You pay very close attention to sensory detail and have a strong emotional sensitivity. What about that aspect of your writing?

KOK: I think this quality of sensitivity, which isn’t traditionally a trait of masculine writing, has been with me my whole life. When I was a kid, when I was about thirteen, the other kids would call me feminine, and it was like hell. I was interested in clothes and literature, and that placed me a little bit outside of the others. I’ve always been made very aware of that, and I think that’s why masculine identity is a subject of my writing. From early on, I started wondering—what is masculinity? What is femininity? The attention to detail is there in part because I want to create a presence in the world. I try to evoke that presence at every moment. I started just to name things around me. This was an experiment for me. I wanted to see how far in that direction I could go before everything would break and become unreadable. That’s the problem with realistic prose. At some point it breaks, and it’s impossible to read. I found out that if the death is at the centre of what you’re writing, then you can go quite far and still have the attention, the awareness of the reader.

WH: There’s an emphasis on the reliability of sensory perception in My Struggle. Is what’s important and can be trusted right in front of the narrator? Especially in regard to death?

KOK: I do criticise, I think, throughout the book, a world based on images. The idea that there are things going on in other places all the time and we think we know those other places, but we haven’t been there. And there are other people who we think we know, but ultimately we don’t really know them. This is the immateriality of our time. The book contains a kind of protest against that, but still it’s a work of fiction, and it itself is filled with pictures and images, things that cannot be touched.

WH: You ask the reader to do that very thing, to believe in images, albeit very effectively . . .

KOK: You are allowed to put the book down and not read it, right? When I gave it to my editor, I thought, why should he have to read this? But this is a problem for all writers, I guess. Why should anybody read his or her work? Strangely enough, a lot of people read My Struggle. I’m still trying to figure out why.

WH: Is your first book, Out of This World, going to be published in English?

KOK: I don’t know. I hope so.*

WH: And the remaining books in My Struggle?

KOK: Yes, they’re coming.


*We are pleased to announce that Archipelago Books will be publishing an English translation of Out of This World.


This is an abridged version of an interview that appeared in Stonecutter Journal, Issue 4, which can be found here:

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MY SAGA – Knausgaard on his recent travels in North America in NYT Magazine



“If there was one thing I had been looking forward to, and had intended to base my article on, it was the sound of adventure that American place names evoked. Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire, New York, Pennsylvania. All my life I had kept encountering them, and when I saw them in writing, vast spaces opened up within me. The names were romantic, exotic, distant, yet so close, strange, but still familiar. This is what I had wanted to write about, what this almost mythological landscape was like in reality. It was supposed to be a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Now there was nothing left of any of that…”


Karl Ove Knausgaard, author of the My Struggle series, has written a long and wonderfully honest essay about his recent travels in North America. Part One of MY SAGA was published online at The New York Times Magazine website February 25, and in print in the Magazine on Sunday, March 1. Part Two of MY SAGA was published online March 11, and in print on Sunday, March 15. 


Photo: Karl Ove Knausgaard outside a bar in Superior, Wis. Credit: Peter van Agtmael/Magnum, for The New York Times.


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Pla ‘Against’ the Bloomsbury Group – An Interview with Translator Peter Bush


We’re happy to share this recent translation of the Catalan magazine El Pais’s lovely interview with translator Peter Bush. Bush’s forthcoming translation of Josep Pla’s Life Embitters will be published by Archipelago May 5.



Pla ‘Against’ the Bloomsbury Group

“It was really difficult to translate Pla’s sequences of three or four adjectives, especially in his descriptions of landscape,” says Peter Bush (Spalding, UK, 1946), in the year he spent translating El quadern gris into English. “His is a kind of anti-baroque literary impressionism; I was reminded of Proust because there’s not a writer like him in the English-speaking world.” If pressed, Bush mentions the poetic side of D.H. Lawrence and the lyricism of John Clare. Two poets to connect with a narrator of prose? “Pla’s work is very poetic. And why is that? We need a good biography of Pla…”

He seems more enthusiastic speaking about the background to Pla’s work that he felt was “a revelation” than the difficulties of the translation. He does, however, highlight the expression “ ‘el meu país’ that Pla plays with, using it to speak of Palafrugell, as much as the lands of Catalonia or Spain; Pla leaves it in the air and I tried to maintain the ambiguity by sticking to ‘country’ as much as possible.”

The work of distilling Pla’s style into English took “six drafts” and Bush only looked at the French version (Gallimard) and the Spanish (Dionisio Ridruejo) at the end of the process “in order not to be unduly influenced”. In the last stage he could also consult the edition by Narcís Garolera with over 5000 changes. “Lots of grammatical detail that made no impact on the translation, though I did restore fragments cut by the censors”.

One of the Catalan writer’s great gifts is his use of a variety of registers. “He speaks about art, eroticism, and comments on everyday life in a lyric mode that can easily turn to comedy or irony, as when he describes life at university, scenes that reminded me of If, the film by Lindsey Anderson, or Lucky Jim by Kingsley Amis”. He was struck by dialogues in a “Noël Coward” type parody. Or also the telling nature of short meditations or moral essays written in a subtle, condensed style. “Yes, Pla’s lexis can seem simple, but not his language.” And he has a simile: “He seems influenced by Dutch painting: apparently simple portraits with a complex, tricky perspective.”

As a translator he didn’t see evidence of the infinite patchwork with which Pla constructed The Gray Notebook over almost half a lifetime. “It’s perfect… One doesn’t notice the re-writing… I don’t understand why it has never been translated into English before.” But provides his own answer: “Pla was a politically uncomfortable figure, specialists in Catalan literature abroad were more at ease with Carner or Rodoreda.”

Bush knows what he is talking about. He is the translator, among others, of Juan Goytisolo, Valle-Inclán’s Tyrant Banderas and, from 2007, of Catalans like Quim Monzó, Mercè Rodoreda and his wife, Teresa Solana. “There’s nobody like Pla in Spanish literature at the time; in Cambridge, when I was a student, we were taught the Generation of 1898 and Ortega y Gasset!” Now he is an enthusiast for Catalan literature: in November his version of Uncertain Glory by Joan Sales (“a view of the civil war you don’t get from Orwell”) is out from the MacLehose Press and in April,2015, Archipelago Books will publish Pla’s Life Embitters.

In August Bush will return to England after ten years in Barcelona. And he wants to speak of these authors there: for the moment he hopes the Gray Notebook will be published in the UK: the rights are now only available in the USA where he has met “lots of young people” interested in Catalan literature. He already has a focus to promote them: “Watch out Bloomsbury, here comes the Ramblas’ Group.” And leading the way, Josep Pla.


By Carles Geli. Orginally published in El Pais, June 18, 2014. Translated from Catalan by Peter Bush. 

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Tess Lewis Wins Austrian Cultural Forum Translation Prize

Tess Lewis

Congratulations to translator Tess Lewis whose translation of Maja Haderlap’s Angel of Oblivion has been chosen by the Austrian Cultural Forum as the 2015 Translation Prize Winner. Tess Lewis’s translation of Angel of Oblivion will be published by Archipelago in the near future.

You can read the official press release on the Austrian Cultural Forum’s official website.

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Remembering Tomaž Šalamun

The celebrated Slovenian poet, Tomaž Šalamun, passed away on December 27, 2014. Read a touching tribute to Šalamun by his friend and fellow poet, Christopher Merrill, here.​


I will take nails,
long nails
and hammer them into my body.
Very very gently,
very very slowly,
so it will last longer.
I will draw up a precise plan.
I will upholster myself every day
say two square inches for instance.Then I will set fire to everything.
It will burn for a long time.
It will burn for seven days.
Only the nails will remain,
all welded together and rusty.
So I will remain.
So I will survive everything.
–Tomaž Šalamun
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Round-up of Archipelago events 2014

May 13

Harlequinʼs Millions launch party, reading, and celebration of Bohumil Hrabal with translator Stacey Knecht, New Directions, and NYRB Classics. We also projected the film adaptation of Hrabalʼs I Served the King of England.

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June 2

Karl Ove Knausgaard, author of My Struggle, reading at Elliot Bay Book Company in Seattle, WA. A discussion, Q&A, and book signing with the audience followed.

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June 4

Karl Ove Knausgaard, author of My Struggle, at Community Bookstore in Brooklyn, NY. There was a reading, conversation with Nicole Krauss, and a Q&A with the audience after. The first two photographs were taken by Michael Nagel for the New York Times article on the event, “Karl Ove Knausgaard Brings His Struggle to Brooklyn.”



June 5

Karl Ove Knausgaard, author of My Struggle, at McNally Jackson Books in New York. Launch of My Struggle: Book Three. There was a conversation with Zadie Smith and a Q&A with the audience after. A book signing followed. The event was packed beyond capacity.

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June 6

Karl Ove Knausgaard in conversation with author Jeffrey Eugenides and Paul Holdengräber at the New York Public Library. The audience totaled over 500.

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August 9

Reading of Selected Tales of the Brothers Grimm, translated by Peter Wortsman, with Staten Island OutLOUD. The discussion related the tales to events in the current news, history, politics, and psychology.

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September 19, 2014

The Haitian Cultural Exchange’s monthly An n’ Pale Series. The evening featured a conversation with Frankétienne, Madison Smartt Bell, and translator Kaiama L. Glover. A Q&A with the audience and a book signing followed.  In collaboration with Haitian Cultural Exchange, Brooklyn Public Library, and the Brooklyn Book Festival.

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September 23

Launch Party for Our Lady of the Nile by Scholastique Mukasonga at Dumbo Sky, Brooklyn. The event was co-hosted by the French Publishers’ Agency, and featured a conversation with Scholastique Mukasonga and Bhakti Shringarpure and a Q&A with the audience.

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Three Archipelago Titles on Flavorwire’s "50 Best Independent Fiction and Poetry Books of 2014"

We are honored and pleased that My Struggle: Book Three by Karl Ove Knausgaard, Our Lady of the Nile by Scholastique Mukasonga, and The Expedition to the Baobab Tree by Wilma Stockenström have all made it onto Flavorwire’s “50 Best Independent Fiction and Poetry Books of 2014!” Head over to Flavorwire’s website to see what Jonathon Sturgeon has to say about these titles, and take a peak at the 47 other books that made the list.