Autobiography of a Corpse by Sigizmund Krzhizhanovsky

I first came across Sigizmund Krzhizhanovsky in 2011 when The Letter Killers Club  was released by NYRB. It had a promising premise, but I think it came up short. But I still wanted to give Krzhizhanovsky’s short story collection a go when it was released this past fall.

autobiography of a corpse

It has taken me quite a while to write about this book, my copy always just right out of my side view. Based on the two books I’ve read of Krzhizhanovsky’s, I’ve concluded that I like his writing 50% of the time. For all of the weird and wonderful he has to offer, there is a whole mass of stodgy pseudo-philosophy and ruminations that exhausts me when trying to penetrate it (let me assure you that I do enjoy philosophical literature–I’m a big fan of Maurice Blanchot, for Pete’s sake). When I could get past this latter 50%, I enjoyed the strange tales that Krzhizhanovsky offers, which include the fingers of a concert pianist making their escape during a performance, a series of lovers who end up living in a young woman’s pupil, to the story I shall detail below about a man who is intent on biting his own elbow.

In the book’s introduction, Adam Thirwell details that there were three different efforts to have Krzhizhanovsky’s work published during his lifetime, which also shared years with the Soviet regime. He was not published until 1989 and now only recently translated into English. The stories that I was drawn to were the more fantastical and were crafted, as Thirwell writes, “based on the fact that language makes things possible that are not possible in reality.” In one of the stories, the narration concedes that “these jottings will work like that: sandwich — metaphysics — sandwich — metaphysics.” Krzhizhanovsky seems quite aware that he has a 50/50 split, yet, the metaphysics, as he puts it, doesn’t need to be so thick and unmoving. I’m curious if this is the translation or Krzhizhanovsky original language manifesting in this way.

The story that most stood out was “The Unbitten Elbow.” When the Weekly Review sends out a questionnaire to all of their subscribers, they are perplexed by only one form amongst the thousands. The person, when asked what their Goal in Life is, wrote in “clear round letters, ‘To bite my elbow.'”  The form is forwarded to many departments within the Weekly Review before it is finally brought to the public’s attention. The man and his unbitten albow become a cause célèbre as he is recruited by a circus as their closing act where a “professional philosopher” sees the performance and catches “the elbow-eater’s metaphysical meaning right off the bat.” What ensues is an article titled, “The Principles of Unbitability” and a philosophy known as elbowism. Elbow biting even becomes so popular that clothing styles have changed to incorporate detachable elbow patches and the like.

The writing is quite funny and vivid, and this story alone puts Krzhizhanovsky right up there with the other Slavic and central European writers who flourish with this sort of writing. The absurdity reminded me so much of how we regard celebrity. If you flip through the television at any part of the day, there are people there yelling at each other and giving insincere “confessions” to cameras (why are these people on TV?!). The snowballing effect of the elbow biter is also so poignant when it comes to how news is delivered to us today and how we react to it. Regardless of all that, however, this story can still be enjoyed for what it is. In this instance, the above-mentioned incorporation of philosophical tendencies served Krzhizhanovsky well; often, as elbowism flourishes, new thinkers are trying to sort the endeavor and have “concluded that the elbow was, in theory, bitable.” I feel very much the same way about this collection. There was a lot of teeth gnashing on my part, but some of the struggle, although not completely pain-free, led to a few peculiar delights.

short story may


Added to The International Reading List

Nagasaki by Éric Faye

Before the novel even begins, the reader is notified that it is “based on a story which appeared in several Japanese newspapers…in May 2008.”¹ This, of course, makes the words which lie beneath the cover even more titillating.

Meteorologist Shimura Kobo, a fifty-six year old life-long bachelor living in Nagasaki, Japan, begins to realize small changes in the house he lives in by himself: small portions of food are going missing, the level of juice in the container is going down between the time he leaves for work in the morning till when he returns in the evening. Like the meticulous scientist he is, Shimura records all of his observations down in a notebook. However, his rational mind tries to make sense of these strange occurrences that can’t possibly be happening.

Hadn’t the bottle of water been slightly closer to the sink earlier on? A matter of fifteen or twenty centimetres, it seemed to me. No sooner had I convinced myself of this than I changed my mind again. You’re making things up, trying to rationalise your unconscious thoughts. For that matter, are you really sure those yogurts disappeared after all?

Even though Shimura is so precise, even going so far as to measure his juice levels with a particular ruler, he can’t help by shake the thought that his brain is just fooling him. Sprinkled throughout are Shimura’s not completely realized regrets of not having a wife and family. In his first person narration, he posits several times the idea that if he had a wife, he would… There is also the occasional mention of his sister and brother-in-law who have not visited in some time, often writing letters informing him that their unable to come to Nagasaki for a visit.

Because Shimura spends his days analyzing weather patterns and utilizing technological instruments, it is of no surprise that he sets up camera equipment in his house to monitor his home while he is away at work. While watching from his office desk, he swears to see a shadow at first and then, perhaps, the visage of a woman. This uncanny moment when he is surveilling his own home, with only glimpses of a possible intruder, are unnerving.

Faye’s prose rendered in English translation by Emily Boyce is direct and simple. The sparse diction only adds to the heighten sense of insecurity the reader feels while piecing together Shimura’s rationalization and what might actually be happening.

Beyond the surveillance, there is another bit of story being told and that is Shimura’s briefly aforementioned longing for a wife. This is often manifested in sentiments of loneliness with glances of memories of young women from earlier life moments painted with an unconscious longing. Shimura is also shown watching television where news reports detailing the advancement of robotics upset him; the idea that in the near-future that humanoid machines will take over places where humans once dominated is disturbing to him.

For a man who uses technology so profoundly in his career and then ultimately in his own home, the idea of these robots taking over where humans should surely remain is uncomfortable. While watching one such broadcast, he imagines himself in old age, alone, with one these automatons. As he dies, it will “place a hand on [his] shoulder and gently whisper [his] name; it would pass this same hand over [his] eyes and mouth, dial the emergency services, and set the funeral arrangements in motion.” All of this, of course, are the familiar actions done by family, but have instead been replaced in Shimura’s lonely mind by a robot.

Nagasaki won the 2010 Académie Française novel award and like the imagined automaton, the book whispers in the reader’s ear even after the final page is read. As the events become clearer as the story goes on, there is still a mystery that lies within the emotions of the characters. This visceral feeling, perhaps, might be what led to the novel’s distinction in France.

At the beginning, I must admit, there were a few stumbling blocks. The text felt a little bit like it was a translation with a few clunky sentences and French idioms that were, perhaps, presented a little wobbly. However, these were few and once the text took off, the sentences and images were portrayed with language that swam in the haunted and curious corners of Shimura’s thoughts. A particular favorite was when Shimura, who had been having restless sleep since he realized things were not right in his home, finally begins to dream,

The unconscious was bursting through. The past seeped out through hidden fault lines and names came back to me with white-hot intensity. Hizuru, Mariko, or Fumiko, forgotten goddesses reappearing with a mocking laugh to say, ‘We’re still here. You won’t get rid of us that easily.’ By the time I awoke they had returned to their hiding places, leaving behind them, as they always did, a thin sheen of anxiety.

Like Shimura’s dream, anxiety and unconscious desires are what make this book creep into the reader’s mind, depositing its tale of the uncanny and upending the notion of home as being the one comfortable place we, as humans, expect to rely on.

Nagasaki will be released in English by Gallic Books on April 14. It will be available as both a paperback and e-book for UK readers and it will also be available as an e-book for US readers on that day with a January 2015 paperback American release.

**The [International] Reading List.

Shop Indie Bookstores Buy This Book from Book Depository, Free Delivery World Wide


Further Information…
  1. The inspiration sounded extremely familiar, but I beat temptation to look up the origin story until after I finished reading the entire novel. I think you should, too.
  2. There is a 2011 Publishing Perspectives article about Gallic Books that is entirely informative and worth a read.
  3. The London-based publisher, Gallic Books, is a new one for me and I am ever so delighted about their publishing scheme. They are fairly new and are already doing a wonderful job of bringing foreign literature to an English reading public. They focus on French literature working with their own in-house translators and a slew of talented freelancers. In 2011, they had a mentoring program for up-and-coming translators, which awarded a contract to a new translation and if they weren’t busy enough, they also run Belgravia Books, an independent book shop in London that not only sells Gallic Books’ titles, but other works-in-translation. Bravo to everyone at Gallic Book and can’t wait for more of their titles! (take a look at their catalogue for their varying selection).

You Disappear by Christian Jungersen

you disappearI find this novel difficult to comment on. On one hand, it has a rather interesting premise, but on the other, the entire time I felt that some sort of emotion was supposed to be elicited from the reader that just never happened for me.

The novel begins with Mia, her husband Frederik, and their teenage son Niklas, on their vacation in Majorca. Frederik is driving erratically, with Mia begging him to stop. An accident ensues and it is revealed that Frederik has a slow-growing brain tumor that’s taken up residence for probably years.

As Mia’s first-person narration flips between the present and memories of times past, it is revealed that Frederik’s behavior and personality were always shifting. Previously, he had affairs with other women, but in the last few years, he has been more attuned to his family. Or is he? Mia’s perspective is wholly unreliable in so many ways. This gives an interesting feel that her perspective is skewed; whether she’s trying to cover up behavior or not is always questioned throughout the novel. Sometimes onion skin layers are delicately unravel and this is where my intrigue is at its highest.

Mia is warned that Frederik’s behavior and personality will change leading up to his neurosurgery, but the doctor also tells her that he had probably been changing some time before all of this. When it is quickly revealed that Frederik had embezzled 12 million krone from the school where he is headmaster, everything falls apart around them with Mia frantically declaring that his haphazard behavior was caused by his diseased brain.

There are fascinating moments in this novel: scattered throughout are articles and documents that we are meant to believe Mia is reading about brain injury, as well as a few personal emails. These are times when we get a second narration of what’s going on and, perhaps, where Mia’s own mind is out on display.

As Frederik recovers from his surgery, Mia still maintains that he is ill, even when others around her (including her son) comment on how good it is to have the old Frederik back. Mia is perplexed how they can say this. As she continues doing her own research, she starts to “diagnosis” everyone around her with a specific brain injury. In doing so, the reader can notice that she now is changing. Where once her husband was the one disappearing, she is the one. She can’t see what is right in front of her eyes.

I’m having trouble pinpointing what it is that is missing for me. Overall, the story was interesting and Jungersen succeeded most when he held Mia tightly wound up and then only letting out small slips of possible truths (a word I shall use lightly). It is a novel of mental trauma, how we change when those around us are changing, what we choose to believe and accept. Perhaps, Mia’s character was not drawn deep enough; however, many memories and dreams are included.

I wonder if You Disappear will swim in my own mind for a while, having my opinions and memories morph. I didn’t feel necessarily gripped by the novel as a whole, but I wonder if I was supposed to be. Maybe the reader is meant to be washed over by the memories and actions, and left to make up their own mind about what was presented before them. The strength in You Disappear is obvious when it comes to where the changes of one character begins and the other ends, and the pleasures are held in little reveals that build to a bigger picture.


This is Number 9 on The [International] Reading List.


The two book review: The Angel’s Game & The Prisoner of Heaven by Carlos Ruiz Zafón

Here I present to you two book reviews for the price of one. Back in June, I reviewed Spanish novelist Carlos Ruiz Zafón’s The Shadow of the Wind. In addition to this novel, he wrote two follow-up books–the second being a sort of prequel to the first and the third was a continuation of the first (when it comes to chronology).

courtesy of Wikipedia.With The Angel’s Game, I found myself a little conflicted. The writing was strong and the story was, indeed, compelling. We follow David Martín through most of the 1920s. He is a young man who writes serial stories for one of the newspapers until he is unceremoniously sacked. He signs a long-term contract that requires him to write penny dreadfuls under a pseudonym, a vocation that he dislikes but makes him wealthy. Martín is introduced to the Cemetery of Forgotten Books (a place featured in The Shadow of the Wind) where he finds a book titled Lux Aeterna. The book is credited to D.M. but the identity of the author ends there (these initials are shared with the protagonist). This is where everything starts to twist and turn. Martín is approached by a mysterious French publisher who wants him to write a book for him and he will be greatly compensated. After reluctantly agreeing, Martín is thrown into a strange mystery that involves murder, identity, and reality. Like previously mentioned, I have a mixed opinion of this book. It was well-written, the city of 1920s Barcelona and Fermín Romero de Torres’s house were pulsating with a strange life, but I think Zafón might have carved himself a story too complicated to adequately tie together. Racing around, Martín is trying to solve too many mysteries. The novel began to lose its hold toward the final third. I was happy that I had read the book till the end and what, was at first, a really intriguing and gripping story, lost its footing at the end. However, this book still left me curious to read the third and final act of Zafón’s trilogy.

prisoner of heavenThe Prisoner of Heaven concludes the trio and begins in 1957 with the characters from the first book carrying on with their lives. What problems Zafón had with the twists and turns of the previous book, he seems to give himself and the characters too little of a mystery. Of course, it was wonderful to revisit the Barcelona of the other novels and the slew of characters that ooze out of the city’s pores, but the essence of the previous two books vanish with this one. The plot jumps back in time when Fermín Romero de Torres is imprisoned in the 1940s. He meets a fellow prisoner who ends up being David Martín, whose career as a novelist is being taken advantage of by the prison governor. Zafón presents an interesting plot line with the villainous prison governor that is never explored or resolved. It is almost as if he hoped the reader would forget about this completely. This book is a wee bit shorter than the other two and I can’t help but wonder if he just wasn’t able to deliver for his publisher. The Prisoner of Heaven read more like an idea the novelist had for the back story of  Fermín Romero de Torres and for the outcome of the luckless Martín from the previous novel.

These are Numbers 4 & 5 on The [International] Reading List.

Celebrating the 200th Post at Acid Free Pulp

How exciting! Yesterday marked the 200th post on Acid Free Pulp. In celebration (and because it’s Friday and time to goof off), I’ve compiled some bookish bric-a-brac for your perusing. Here are some internet finds that I’m finding amusing–or self-indulgent–today. Enjoy!

  1. If you haven’t had your daily dose (or any dose) of German poetry in English translation, I recently put up a new one on my personal project, Translations of Dead German Poets. Haven’t heard of avant-garde poet Else Lasker-Schüler? Well, now you have!
  2. This morning, I read a Q&A with debut novelist Yangsze Choo about her new book The Ghost Bride, which finds its inspiration in Chinese folklore about a woman who is asked to become the wife of a dead man. I’m excited and you should be, too.
  3. Short stories need to make a comeback and I’m a huge proponent of making the push for commuters (trains, bus types) finding the joy in the medium. Here is a list with links to the stories included of classic stories by Margaret Atwood, Grace Paley, Ernest Hemingway, Ray Bradbury and more for your short reading pleasure.
  4. If you didn’t catch JJ Abrams talking about the new book on the Colbert Report last night, you need to watch the clip. Co-written with novelist Doug Dorst, S looks super rad and I just want to touch it. Take a look at the photos on Amazon. It seems like some sort of mash-up of BS Johnson and  Mark Z. Danielewski. Me want!
  5. A new art project in London is designing city book benches inspired by such classics as The Wind in the Willows and 1984. The project hopes to raise enough funds for 50-70 BookBenches. Check the photos here.

‡For an honorable mention (or dishonorable?), I point you to this strange and cringeworthy news article. After reading it, I thought, “What poor book was he using?” Librarians and  book lovers, alike, beware….

Have any Friday fun to share? Please leave your finds in the comments.

The Ravishing of Lol Stein by Marguerite Duras

“Yes, it seemed that it was in this realm of her feelings that Lol Stein was different from others.”

ravishing of lol steinI believe everyone should read Marguerite Duras; she is a must. Most people have heard of The Lover, which is a spectacular novella and like The Ravishing of Lol Stein, begs to be read several times, from different angles and at different speeds.

The Ravishing of Lol Stein begins with the life of 19-year-old Lol Stein as she is engaged to Michael Richardson. While attending a summer ball, Michael dances with an older married woman who we then assume he begins an affair with. Their engagement is called off and Lol has a mental breakdown. From then on, the reader is left to suss out what is exactly going on. The narrative resumes about ten years later, when Lol with her husband and children return to the town where she was betrayed by her ex-fiance. The novel is sometimes confusing, which it is meant to be. Translator Richard Seaver is excellent when translating the long meandering sentences or illuminating the direct narration,

[O]f John Bedford it was said that he was capable of loving only women whose hearts had been broken and, what was more serious, that he had a strange penchant for young girls who had been jilted, and driven mad, by someone else.

At times, the reader is on wobbly terrain. The identity of which narrator is speaking at what time can be difficult but Duras is doing this purposefully. Lol Stein is mysterious and deemed unstable by the residents of her hometown, but to Lol, herself, she has completely recovered from her madness, which is a disappointment to her. Spying and watching people from afar are major themes and the reader feels as if they are looking at the story underwater–images appear hazy and just out of fingers’ reach. This all begs for the book to be reread several times with pleasure.

The reliability of Lol and the second narrator (whose identity is not revealed till halfway through) can be challenged at every turn, but by the conclusion of the novel the unreliability can somehow be trusted to be the actual story. Whirling around the lives of Lol and her friends, there is always a sense that there is a history that precedes them and that will go on without them as well as a history that is missing. The reader must consume the entire novel to parse the meaning and what is happening.

The memory itself goes back beyond this memory, back beyond itself. She was perfectly normal once upon a time, before she went mad at Town Beach.

Memory and perception are always strong themes for Marguerite Duras. Her work usually has a simple premise, which then is brilliantly unraveled and raveled once more. What is first perceived as gossip could possibly be the truth and what is labelled as madness is far more complicated (or not). Lol isn’t a useless housewife but is more resourceful than she lets on. Obscuring the view is also common. In The Lover, the protagonist looks through the slatted shades of her lover’s windows and Lol Stein is often found spying through the windows of a hotel.

I find Marguerite Duras very interesting. She was born in French Indochina in 1914 and lived for most of the 20th Century. She was extremely prolific and besides literature, she was also involved in film. She was nominated for an Academy Award for her screenplay, Hiroshima, Mon Amour. If you haven’t seen this film, I highly recommend it (see the trailer on YouTube–it, of course, reveals nothing of the plot). It deals with memory like much of her work. You can see her bibliography here and the list of Le Monde‘s 100 Books of the Century (#71).

This is Number 8 on The [International] Reading List.

Haute Culture Books, an exciting new translation venture and Q&A with publisher Luis de Miranda

I am very excited about this addition to the publishing world. Haute Culture Books, a new publisher based in Stockholm, Sweden, is making it its mission to provide foreign literary masterpieces to an English reading audience. Most works of international literature are not available in English translation and those that are, are often popular contemporary thrillers (I once had a depressing conversation with a former lit agent and now publisher who told me that he doesn’t see the point in publishing something foreign if we can already get something comparable already in the US).

But, the kicker with Haute Culture Books is that they have something a little different up their sleeve. Their aim is to design high quality editions that any bibliophile would clamor for, while also supplying free ebook editions of the book. The intent is to have beautifully designed luxury editions that would help support the dissemination of the free ebooks, so more people have access to newly translated literary classics. Through their Book Angel Program, people are able to sponsor the production (and receive) the handmade edition as well as the ebook (or for book lovers on a budget, there is also a level for just sponsoring the ebook edition).

They already have one translation available now (the bilingual ebook for Gustave Flaubert’s Felicity: The Tale of the Simple Heart is available to download for free here with information on how to donate) and Estonian writer Anton H. Tammsaare’s novel Truth and Justice available in the future.

As regular readers of Acid Free Pulp know, I am always enthusiastic about literary translation and am thrilled to share with you a Q&A with the publisher of Haute Culture Books, Luis de Miranda. For a complete copy, please download the PDF. All pertinent links are available at the end of the Q&A.

I am looking forward to the current and upcoming books that you are working on. What does the planned future look like for Haute Culture Books?

We will launch with our upcoming publication of Flaubert in December. This special limited edition will sell in high-end boutiques around world, and the results will tell us a lot about the viability of our model. Our limited luxury editions will support the distribution of free e-books for each title. I feel this model addresses the future of publishing as e-books become cheaper and cheaper. Instead of trying to wring out diminishing profits, I prefer to create a model that does not depend on e-book sales and allows us to reach as many readers as possible, particularly younger readers. If we want younger generations to read quality literature, and not just the latest bestsellers, free e-books are the way to go.

As for the printed books, I aim to create unique objects that make the poetry of the texts tangible. As we all spend more time in front of a screen, I believe that the experiential aspect of the printed book will become more important, with readers looking for a higher quality object. I foresee the return of the “gentlemen’s library” (or “gentlewomen’s library”), with fine leather volumes and limited editions—the polar opposite of e-books. Our limited editions will embody my great respect for the ritual of reading and for the craftsmanship of book making.

Through this new model, buyers of our limited print editions will, in effect, become benefactors—or “Book Angels,” as we call them. This model allows individuals to become mini-Medici’s, supporting culture while enjoying a luxurious object. I believe this model will satisfy collectors and book lovers. Right now, we are in an experimental stage. I don’t know if ours will be an economically viable model in the end, but it is definitely a desirable one. Since we are exploring unchartered territory, we have to take things step by step. We are avoiding the established highways over artificial ponds, and attempting to build our own bridge.

There has always been a dearth of international books translated for the English reading audience and, recently, there has been a small movement to change this. What was it that motivated you to begin Haute Culture Books and the Book Angel Project?

Bringing un-translated texts to English readers around the world is one aspect of a wider mission to bring singular, fine, original works to the global corpus. That has always been my goal—to democratize access to culture. I’ve been to the Frankfurt Book Fair many times and met with publishers and agents in New York. I’ve noticed not only that many great European works have not been translated to English, but also that the mainstream US and UK publishers tend to translate mostly genre bestsellers—thrillers for example.

We can’t fight the fact that English is the international language. English is today’s Lingua Franca, the dominant language of the planet and also the language of business. I believe it’s possible to bring to the global language and the international psyche works that aren’t standardized and cliché, but truly represent a unique viewpoint.

Many wonderful independent publishers are translating a variety of contemporary texts, but (as I’m sure they would all tell you) it is not enough to translate and print a book. Today’s distribution systems render most publications invisible to readers. (As an author, I have been translated myself and did not find that the translations greatly increased my readership.) This is why I feel it’s essential for Haute Culture to shake off the shackles of the established systems and freely distribute e-books, in order to reach our greatest readership. Literature has the potential to create a more diverse and interconnected world, but in order to reach that potential we must fight against a profit-driven culture.

What is the translation process like? Does a translator come to you or is one sought out for the specific project?

It depends on the project. We welcome translators who have already completed a text, but we are also willing to find the right translator for a text we want to publish. For our current translation of Yuri Mamleyev’s Shatuny, we are working with one of the best Russian to English translators, Marian Schwartz, who translated Bulgakov and Berberova. 

How does Haute Culture choose the author for a current project?

I tend to choose books that I have read and appreciated in French. It is also important for us to choose authors that are important, even iconic figures in their own nations. Honestly, though, we are too young to have an established method. We are still in the experimental phase of the brand, and we are constantly adapting our strategies in order to come up with the best possible publishing model for our mission.


The Dinner by Herman Koch

“Every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”

the dinnerI tried not to read too much online about this addictive Dutch novel before reading it. The initial premise was reminiscent of the French play, God of Carnage: two married couples come together for dinner to discuss some mysterious and dreadful incident that involved their sons.

The constraint is the dinner with the novel being divided into sections similar to courses–aperitif, entree, dessert, etc. Koch is excellent at presenting a normal activity (dining) that somehow goes suddenly wrong in so many ways.  The story is told through the first person narration of Paul Lohman who we come to realize is not as he appears or presents himself. Information and certain character developments are held back until the right time. I wouldn’t necessarily call the latter-time reveals “twists” but they were unexpected and made the story much more gripping and compelling. It was almost as if information was being leaked out and then overflowing more as the novel whisked on. The narration becomes less about the sons’ deeds and more about how Paul Lohman’s past can be attributed to the present.

“It might be hard for us to put the events…out of our minds, but in the course of time, they would start to exist outside of us.”

It becomes quite clear halfway through the book that what has already happened even before the incident–in a way–is far more important. Bits of behavior at dinner are dropped in and the order of events that might seem insignificant at first, become key points later on. Koch is really top-notch at crafting this and the translation to English by Sam Garrett seems perfect. I do not know Dutch but I would never in a million years think this was written in any other way than the way the translator presented it. Garrett’s prose makes this feel like a confessional from a reluctant narrator; that we, too, are sitting right there at the dinner table.

I also found pleasure in reading about the experience at the high-end restaurant that the two couples find themselves. Paul Lohman prefers the cafe around the corner that serves his favorite spareribs but finds himself unhappily at this lavish restaurant where every moment of the meal is described to him. In the past year, I’ve written and edit a few restaurant reviews for ridiculous “high-end establishments.” I can’t tell you enough how odd and intrusive it is being briefed and bothered at ever turn during an expensive meal. I prefer my service somewhere between “completely ignored by the unsmiling Ukranian waitress in the corner” to “attentive to my water glass.” Koch is able to perfectly find the correct pitch to poke fun at the silliness of these sorts of restaurants.

The Dinner was a quick and entertaining read. Make sure not to read too much into the plot beforehand, though.

This is Number 6 on The [International] Reading List.


Chitting and Chatting with writer Emily Thibodeaux about Louisiana French and the new journal, Embrasser

embrasserI was thrilled and excited to recently hear that my friend and writer, Emily Thibodeaux (along with others) had started a new literary translation journal. Based in Louisiana, Embrasser “aims to embrace the history, culture, and stories told in the French dialects spoken outside of the motherland.” They’ve put out a call for submissions with their first issue focusing on Louisiana French (the journal is bilingual so read the details for more info). Below, you’ll find our lovely interview followed by a smorgasbord of information on how to submit, how to get involved, their mission statement, and more. Enjoy!

For a few years, you were living in New York City. What drew you back to your homeland of Louisiana? I was at the end of my graduate studies and had applied to a few jobs in the city, but hadn’t found much. I was surrounded by peers hard at work on their collections or novel, and also by a growing number of people involved in starting their own literary journals. Being that a lot of my work, including a novel in progress, is set in Acadiana, or the French speaking part of Southwest Louisiana, it seemed like the thing to do would be to return home. I also, thankfully, found adjunct employment teaching English at South Louisiana Community College. Being that Cajun French and its preservation is a cause close to my heart, once I was home, I thought that I could address preservation in a more direct way than by only writing a novel; I wanted to make an archive of the best current writing coming out of Louisiana right now, and translate that work into variations of Louisiana French. I also wanted the journal to serve as a learning tool for both Louisiana natives and those interested in learning Louisiana French.

Tell us a little about Louisiana French and why you chose to launch Embrasser—how you got started with it; your collaborators. Louisiana French is multi-valent; there are as many variations in spelling and usage as there are parishes. It is mostly an oral language, however, an excellent new dictionary, the Dictionary of Louisiana French as Spoken by Cajun, Creole, and American Indian Communities, a collaborative project between the University of Louisiana at Lafayette and a few other universities, which has been years in the making, came out a few years ago; it seeks to be as comprehensive and inclusive as possible, listing the parish where the word was collected and alternative spellings. I would like to take cues from the dictionary and to represent Louisiana French as it is spoken, and to accept non-standard spellings of words which are unique to each translator.

Cajun, the type of Louisiana French of which I am most intimately familiar, is made up of the French as spoken by the original French colonists in North America, the Acadians, who settled in Maritime Canada, along with Native American, and African influences. The Acadians, from where the word Cajun originates, were expelled from Acadie, modern day Nova Scotia, by the British in 1755. The bulk of Acadians were sent to Louisiana, while others were sent to Maine, Maryland, or back to France. Louisiana French was spoken in relative isolation before my grandparents’ generation it was not allowed to be spoken in schools. They were beaten with rubber hoses amongst other humiliating punishments for speaking their mother tongue. Now, there is an urgent need for preservation.

My mentor and advisor in this project is Rikki Ducornet, . She envisioned Embrasser as more of a global translation journal, whereas I had only originally focused on Louisiana. Jonathan Penton of Coeur Publishing, a small translation press funded by the Swiss Arts Council to translate work from German, is acting as publisher and helping with many aspects of the journal from public relations to website design, and my co-editor is Rosalyn Spencer who is a poet and Louisiana native who has worked in every aspect of the book industry. The name, Embrasser, means to hug and kiss, the obvious English cognate word being “embrace.” The idea of the journal is to connect and embrace unique varieties of international French. We accept work from Louisiana residents and also work from those outside of Louisiana who are writing about Louisiana French, or the Louisiana experience.

Official call for submissions. Click on image to read PDF for more information.

Official call for submissions. Click on image to read PDF for more information.

I am all about more literary translation in the US. How can people become more involved beyond just submitting to the journal? If people are interested in translating into Louisiana French, which includes Cajun, Creole, and French as spoken by Native Americans, they can email me at Please check out the Facebook Page and the Embrasser website for updates about future issues. I will be calling for translators as well as for submissions for each issue, because the highlighted regions will change, and I would love to hear from you if you are interested in literary translation.

What do you see in Embrasser’s future? Embrasser will be published annually, with our first issue coming out for Mardi Gras 2014. In the future, Embrasser will focus on other francophone regions outside of France from French speaking Canada and Haiti to the Maghreb. Ideally, we will be able to find translators from these regions to translate submissions. The translators will vary from region to region, whereas the editors will remain the same. Embrasser seeks to highlight and preserve varieties of French that have been marginalized, and through this project, I would hope that excellent work could be exposed to the Anglophone world and also for there to be transfer and communication between these Francophone regions.

What have you been up to in Louisiana since leaving NYC? Any other new and exciting projects? I have been up to a lot! I wrote a play, “Bataille,” which was directed by a very talented friend, Jarin Schexsnider, which was performed in my house. I was on the submissions board for a new literary journal out of Baton Rouge, Belle Journal, which focuses on the experience of being a woman in the South (which also publishes men under feminine pen names!) I have also read some of my work at a local Lafayette reading series, Voices, and have done some dance including a contemporary ballet of Alice in Wonderland. I am currently involved in a local production of Hair, a contemporary dance piece to be performed at the New Orleans Fringe Festival, and am involved with starting Lafayette’s only burlesque troupe, Boom! Boom! Burlesque. I also paint faces for extra money. Basically, I’ve moved back home to join the circus, and I’m kind of loving it!

Which is a better literary prize? 100 bottles of wine or jet ski? It depends on what kind of wine it is! I might have to go with that.


  • If you missed the PDF with the official call of submissions, you can find it here.
  • Embrasser is also seeking translators who love Louisiana French culture and literature to assist with the first issue. More details here.
  • The mission statement which details more about what the journal is about and how it goes beyond Louisiana French.

The Translator | Nina Schuyler

TheTranslatorOf course, my interest was immediately peaked by Nina Schuyler’s newest novel when I saw the title and then when I read further, the description did indeed outline that this tale was focused on a Japanese-to-English translator.

The Translator is about Hanne, a middle-aged woman who grew up in Europe speaking German, Dutch, and English who had moved to the US where she mastered Japanese. Hanne is finishing the translation of a popular Japanese novelist when she has a head injury. She awakes in the hospital only speaking Japanese. She is unable to communicate in the languages of her youth and only in this language she learned later in life. (what was quite odd about this was that on my second day into the novel, I read an article about a man in Florida waking up after an accident only speaking Swedish and unable to speak in his mother tongue.) Frustrated, Hanne takes off for Tokyo to attend a conference she initially turned down. During a lecture she is giving, Hanne is interrupted by the incredibly frustrated Japanese novelist she had been translating. He hated her translation and continued to publicly shame her.

The story flows as easily as a leaf falling from a tree branch. Somehow Schuyler has weaved a mystery through the plot as well. As Hanne is trying to sort through how she could have gone terribly wrong with this translation, small slivers of detail surrounding the main character’s estranged daughter–also a polyglot–are an essential part of Hanne’s journey in Japan.

After being shamed at the conference, the bond that Hanne formed with the protagonist of the book within the book, is something she must deal with. She thinks about Jiro and Schuyler included bits of the supposed translation. How could she have gotten it so wrong? is the question she continues to ask herself.

I enjoyed the book immensely, however, the opening pages (mostly chapter one) could have used a bit more ironing out. It was a bit too heavy with Hanne’s translation fragments to really grip onto, but once I moved on from this, I felt safe in the hands of Schuyler. Also, I refuse to give the ending away, but here I also found myself trying to grasp onto the novel. What had preceded the ending was so marvelous, I thought the end odd. It was definitely an answer to all of the questions raised earlier and it made sense. Yet, I felt pulled out of the story. It did not leave me hanging, it did not leave me wanting more, it just left me wanting something else. Regardless, though, I enthusiastically recommend The Translator. It won’t take long to read and it will be a pleasure for both translators and lovers of literature alike. I particularly liked Hanne’s observations of translation,

She has found no other way to be in the world, only the movement of words from one language to another. She knows most people don’t even think about translation, and when they bother to, they don’t assign it much value: a mechanical process, substituting one word for another, a monkey could do it; worse, a computer. She’s tired of defending it, of explaining that even though she’s tethered to an already-assembled drama, her role is akin to being an author.