1. Kafkaesque: Stories Inspired by Franz Kafka, edited by John Kessel and James Patrick Kelly, includes pieces by J. G. Ballard, Jorge Luis Borges, T. Coraghessan Boyle, Philip Roth, Rudy Rucker and Robert Crumb. Here’s the full table of contents.

2. And the Nobel Prize in Literature goes to … some dude I never heard of! Which kind of surprises me, since I thought I sort of knew this space. Anyway, meet Tomas Transtromer of Stockholm, Sweden. Words Without Borders has him, of course.

3. I couldn’t find any Tomas Transtromer at Asymptote, another new journal of international/translated literature I’ve started looking at, but they do have Robert Walser (translated by Susan Bernofsky), Lin Yoade and a new translation by Mani Rao of an old Upanishad.

4. Speaking of translation, I’ve been browsing Is That a Fish in Your Ear? Translation and the Meaning of Everything by David Bellos. An interesting tidbit from page 303:

In 1870, Otto von Bismarck, the German chancellor, released a statement to the press about his sovereign’s negative reaction to a request from the French ambassador that the German royal family should commit itself to never accepting the throne of Spain. The statement also reported that the Kaiser didn’t want to talk to the French ambassador again and had sent him a message to stay away by the hand of the “adjutant of the day”.

The “adjutant of the day” — “Adjutant von Dienst” — names a high-ranking courier, an aristocratic aide-de-camp. But it happens to be almost identical to a word of French — “adjudant”. When Bismarck’s statement was received in Paris it was instantly translated by the Havas news agency service and wired to all newspapers, which reprinted it in the “special extra” that went on sale straightaway. In the Havas version, “Adjutant” is not translated, but left in its original form. The effect of that one word was enormous. French “adjutant” means “warrant officer” (“sergeant-major” in Britain). It therefore seemed that the French ambassador has been treated with grievous disrespect by having had a message from the Kaiser to him by a messenger of such low rank. The French were outraged. Six days later, they declared war.

So, maybe the Franco-Prussian War (which led, decades later, to World War I and eventually World War II) could have been avoided by a more careful translation. I hate when that happens.

5. Unlikely Collaboration: Gertrude Stein, Bernard Fa├┐, and the Vichy Dilemma is the second book I’ve read recently about Gertrude Stein’s puzzling long dalliance with the fascist Vichy regime in Nazi-occupied France during World War II (the first was Two Lives: Gertrude and Alice by Janet Malcolm). The relationship appears so inexplicable on the surface — among other things, Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Tolkas were both American Jews, and the Vichy regime tended to export foreign Jews to concentration camps — that it takes at least two books to untangle it. Barbara Will’s Unlikely Collaboration digs much deeper than Janet Malcolm’s Two Lives, and lays out the elliptical ideological and aesthetic sympathies that led Gertrude Stein to warmly embrace the arrival of fascism in France. A fascinating book designed to stir up the uncomfortable complexities of 20th century history, and of the Modernist literary movement in its own time.

6. In a wonderful new audiobook, Stephen Fry reads the great poetry of Czeslaw Milosz.

7. And while we’re on the international tip, here’s Tara Olmsted on Cesar Aria.

8. Back here in the United States of America …we’re sad to hear that the Friendly’s restaurant chain may close. “Going to Friendly’s” was a big part of my childhood, and apparently it’s a big part of Nicholson Baker’s literary method as well.

9. J. C. Hallman is blogging the letters of William and Henry James (I’ve enjoyed reading these letters too).

10. Dignity by Ken Layne is a different kind of epistolary novel: “A packet of hand-scrawled letters found in a stanger’s rucksack tells of self-sufficient communities growing from the ruins of California’s housing collapse and the global recession.”

11. Chasing Ray blogger Colleen Mondor has written a book, The Map of My Dead Pilots: The Dangerous Game of Flying in Alaska.

12. William Kennedy’s new novel Chango’s Beads and Two-Tone Shoes takes us from Albany to 1957-era Cuba.

13. Chuck Palahniuk looks like Abe Lincoln?

14. And, finally: don’t people look foolish when they lose their temper?

5 Responses

  1. Tomas Transtromer’s poetry is
    Tomas Transtromer’s poetry is wonderful to read, to feel, to think about. Someone said, “It gives you greater access to reality.” That’s correct. For me is the antidote to the Pinskys and Wolcotts. Finally, they gave the Prize to somebody really deserving.

  2. Bismarck was trying to goad
    Bismarck was trying to goad France into a war. They would’ve fought eventually mistranslation or not.

  3. I will see if I can get the
    I will see if I can get the Kafaesque collection. I just saw a short story collection edited by Richard Ford about working. Do 2 titles make a trend?
    Ironweed is my favorite William Kennedy novel and I liked Jack Nicholson’s character in the film.
    Is there any reason the Haruki Murakami wasn’t selected or is he too esoteric for the West or just plain not litery enough? I wonder how much one loses in the translations of his books.

  4. Hi Levi,
    I recently read

    Hi Levi,
    I recently read the Bernofsky translation of Walser’ “The Tanners” and was convinced of two things: she did a painstaking, good job of translating the work, and the effort was not worth the expense of time–to say nothing of migraine, from peering at such cramped writing. But kudos to here: she gave this book the best chance it is going to get –and more than I think it deserves.
    In spite of a rambling and damningly (damning by very faint praise, indeed) positive introduction by W,G. Sebald – who curiously – almost cruelly -mimicks Walser’s own neurotic pointlessness – the book goes nowhere and is content to take all day getting there. This, not because Walser is free of modern man’s incessant need to make time and hay while the sun shines; rather because Walser – for all his real mimetic talent – was an empty shell of a man. He is like a literary parrot, who – having read von Eichmann’s “Taugenichts” – now mimics the tone, the episodic structure, and the romantic whimsy of the original, without the irony or spirit of that work (or any other). There is no arc, no trajectory, and no point to this walkabout. You can read it backwards without missing anything of interest or value. “Tanners” ends on an opening note.
    There is a school of thought, I’ll bet. that holds that if a work is just too quirky, pointless and dense to be ‘good,’ then it must be because it is GREAT. But I didn’t go that school.
    Opinions may vary, but I wish I had the time back to spend in some other way. (Unlike Walser, I have things to do.)

  5. I agree with Dan, France and
    I agree with Dan, France and Prussia were pretty hot and horny for war. Though the translation is definitely an interesting side-note to the FPW.

    Re: Nobel Prize, it’s nice to hear about a Poet who strikes it rich, though given Tobias Transformer’s (relative) obscurity, it brings up the old accusation that the awards are Eurocentric, Left-biased and arguably irrelevant.

    Why Dr. Seuss was never even nominated is beyond me.

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Litkicks will turn 30 years old in the summer of 2024! We can’t believe it ourselves. We don’t run as many blog posts about books and writers as we used to, but founder Marc Eliot Stein aka Levi Asher is busy running two podcasts. Please check out our latest work!