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 Faÿ, 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.
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.
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?