In 2008, the artist Markus Lörwald approached Selim Özdogan, asking for permission to print one of his stories in a catalog of his work. Özdogan, curious, asked to see some of the pictures for the book and offered to write a literary essay to accompany them. But in fact the pictures instantly gave him a title and the line, It could be so easy. And so the story was born.
As an adolescent, Zeina left Iraq for the United States with her family, her father having been accused of conspiracy against the regime of Saddam Hussein. Well-integrated in her country of adoption, but raised in the love of her native land, at the age of thirty she decides to return there as an interpreter with the American army. Convinced of the nobility of her mission, yet slightly ashamed of returning in this uniform, she delays in informing her grandmother, the widow of colonel in the Iraqi army. Given the job of translating and sensitizing the American military to Arab culture, the young woman realizes that her role goes beyond this: with reluctance, she is present at interrogations, or bursts into suspect houses during the night… Uneasiness sets in. And disapproval as well, that of her grandmother, of close ones, and, worse still, her own….
Through the beautiful character of this woman torn between two identities, the author paints the picture of the life of expatriate Iraqis in America and of their intensely close relationship with the mother country. The resentment of Iraqis on the inside toward the American occupier is echoed by the pain of families in mourning in the United States. Written in a pacy, punchy language like a soldier’s logbook, this novel renders with great subtlety the wounds that war inflicts on each individual, whether in uniform or not, and thus is universal in effect.
The novel was published in Arabic by Dar el-Jadid, 2008, and in French by Liana Levi, fall 2009.
Force ennemie (Enemy Force) was awarded the first Prix Goncourt in 1903. In 1906, Paul Léautraud said: “The Prix Goncourt has really only been given once—the first time to Nau.” And years later Huysmans would say, “It was the best one that we ever crowned.”
A visionary masterpiece: Phillipe Veuly, accursed poet, wakes up in a rubber room. Where is he? An insane asylum. Why? He doesn’t know and the doctors refuse to tell him. Is he crazy? Or rather are the ‘psychiatrists’ the ones who should be in his place? Stricken with amnesia, he learns from a guard that he was committed by his cousin to separate him from his alcoholic tendencies. In reality, he is the victim of the imaginary (?) jealousy of this relative. Soon he thinks he is inhabited by a being from another planet: Kmôhoûn, the ‘enemy force’, (among others), a disembodied spirit who fled the insupportable conditions of his home planet, Tkoukra. It’s not easy living with this naughty tenant who doesn’t hesitate to act insanely, speak extravagantly and even vulgarly, or even scream inside your head when others talk to you. And the “semi-lucid mental patient” falls passionately, madly, desperately in love with a female inmate, Irene. She leaves, disappears; he flees after her. He runs to the ends of the earth to find her. Enemy Force tells the story of the troublesome cohabitation of these two beings in the same body, and Veuly’s desire to concretize his love for Irene while protecting her from Kmôhoûn.
Also featured is a short story by Nau called The Emerald Eyes.
Vyacheslav Vasilievich Semikin was born on May 23, 1937 in Leningrad, USSR. He attended Leningrad (now St. Petersburg) State University, majoring in Philosophy, but left in the third year without completing his degree. He worked as a stage assistant at the Lenin Komsomol Theater, now Baltic House, and toured with the company throughout what was then the Soviet Union. In 1978, Semikin was forcibly physically removed from his home, an ancient wooden wing of an old structure on the Canal Griboedov, near Bankovsky Most. The wing was demolished. This forcible eviction, coupled with his disillusionment with the University and general feeling that he could not express himself freely, solidified his disdain of the Soviet state and propelled him further into what was to become a solitary and isolated existence. All of these experiences heavily influenced his poetry. Semikin died in February of 1990, immediately upon his return to Leningrad from a trip to New York. Neither a member of the Writer’s Union, nor a part of the Leningrad Underground which would have afforded him the opportunity to publish in Samizdat form, Semikin was never published during his lifetime.
The novel excerpted here, La fin des paysages/The End of Landscape is a suspenseful and obsessive oratorio about brotherhood and affiliation, not only between the twin brothers at the center of the book, and the sisters they love, but also between Africa and Europe, and the ties—affective, artistic, and political—that bind them together.
The setting is Liverpool in the final days of the Thatcher administration, hovering between the rioting youth of an abandoned industrial working class and the burgeoning gentrification of the all-but-abandoned port area and its forlorn population. The symbol of this moment is the opening of a new outpost of the Tate Gallery in the former Albert Dock. Sir Abel Manson is the Irish-born curator of the first exhibit, “A Century of Africanism: 1850-1950.”
The novel opens with a gruesome accident on the docks: while unloading a shipment of priceless artifacts on loan from the governments of Nigeria, Ghana, Tanzania, and Kenya, a chain breaks, a man is swept up by the loose wire of a crane, his body sectioned, and a crate smashes open on the ground. Some sculptures are lost in the space between the boat and the dock. A fallen landscape painting is slashed by an angry worker and some masks are purloined by a mysterious stranger. A narrator describes the scene. His voice is unpunctuated, relentless, and the reader seems to become this man, Martin Finlay, as he tries first to help his employer get the exhibit back on track, and then solve the mystery of the missing masks.
French critic and literary blogger Pierre Assouline on The End of Landscape:
Here is what the author calls venturing into the labyrinth of time—that time which, in the words of Faulkner used by Lang as an epigraph, is “longer than any distance.” Revisiting a story he first told fifteen years earlier, Luc Lang has produced a block of prose with an energetic and sinewy rhythm, at times Céline-like and stuffed with narrative detonations reminiscent of Dos Passos. The novel turns on twindom, on doubles and duels: the harbour master and the museum curators, two brothers that everything sets against one another, two sisters standing for two ideas of love…. Lang has not chosen an easy path. So much motion gives rise to a highly visual story. Luc Lang has filmed his own On the Waterfront in his head…a boundless palimpsest. The experiment can take the reader’s breath away, and this quite literally: no white space, no extra leading, no paragraphs, no air. No better way, though, to approach a paroxysm. But the reader who feels that this is a mere exercise in bravura will surely suffocate…. Luc Lang clearly enjoys the role of an (anti-)landscape architect on the terrain of the novel…. This was a risky undertaking, but a successful one. It is impossible not to think of both Joyce and Lowry, for both of whom Lang confesses a passion.
Luc Lang on novel writing:
One day in the early 1990s, I heard a news report on the radio. There, in the incandescence of the facts, was a model for fictional narrative…. A woman pulls up in the fast lane of a highway and begins to change a wheel, as though she was on the hard shoulder. Just as she is removing the wheel with the puncture, she is struck by a fast-moving car and killed, borne aloft along with her wheel, her jack, and the rear wing of her car—bone, flesh, and metal exploding on the hood of the other vehicle. Was she stupid? Was her psychological make-up involved? Her mental state at that particular moment? Her age? Sex? Family history? Her psycho-socio-historico blah-blah-blah background? Who cares? We could not care less! From the point of view of the novel we could not care less. Only the act matters, in all its madness, all its intensity. No chatter, no analysis, no glossing, no academic editorializing on universal lessons. And no intellectual detachment either! All null and void. No distance! None! Just the facts! Write inside the fact, the fact in its opacity, its mystery, its chance quality—in its humaness therefore, its, mad, mad unpredictability, partaking of the order of creation. Because the act is all: the act in itself reveals and illuminates the whole world that is ours.
Like dance, it seems to me, the novel should forbid itself to think, to think itself, to reflect itself, to theorize itself within its own realm of movement. Failure to abide by this principle means slowing down, unbalancing, or even destroying the movements of writer and dancer alike. Dancers cannot comment on their movements while executing them, for the time in which they move is of great intensity and the sequence of their gestures is part of an irreversible fusion of duration and speed. This is not to say that the novel cannot become a subject of analysis outside its own space: but this must only happen after that space has been traversed and experienced at first hand, along with the characters, their story, and the writing that brings them into being. Like speaking of swimming only after allowing oneself to be swept down a river, and not while still on the bank, imprisoned in some distant, inert form of knowledge.
A novel is a black box, closed around its own time yet without beginning or end. A place where what is living speaks and tells of the world to which it belongs from within its own continuum, which is, to say it once more, the coherence not of a subject but of a time, constituting ultimately whatever remains of the universal despite the fury, whatever its source, that strives to silence or instrumentalize its voice.
(From Luc Lang, Notes pour une poétique du roman (Paris: Inventaire/Invention)).
María Negroni has published numerous books of poetry, including De tanto desolar, Per/canta, La jaula bajo el trapo, Diario Extranjero, Camera delle Meraviglie, Islandia, El Viaje de la Noche, and Andanza, as well as novels, translations, and essays. She has won two Argentine National Book Awards, as well as other prestigious prizes and fellowships. She teaches at Sarah Lawrence College.
Valeria Parrella was born in 1974 in the province of Naples. During the period in which she wrote and published her first stories, she was an Italian Sign Language interpreter and worked at the National Agency for the Protection and Assistance of the Deaf in Naples. Her first collection, Mosca più balena (Fly Plus Whale), from which the present story is taken, was published in 2003 and awarded, among many other prizes, the 2004 Premio Campiello for the best debut work of fiction. Her second collection, Per grazia ricevuta (For Grace Received), was one of five finalists for Italy’s most prestigious literary prize, the Premio Strega (2005). The novella Il verdetto (The Verdict), recasting the story of Clytemnestra in contemporary Naples, appeared in 2007. Parrella’s first novel, Lo spazio bianco (The White Space) was published by Einaudi in 2008. For Grace Received is scheduled for publication this fall by Europa Editions as Parrella’s English-language debut.
Moacyr Scliar was born in Porto Alegre, Brazil in 1937. He is a member of the Brazilian Academy of Letters and the author of more than 60 books published in 18 countries, many of which have won awards or been adapted for the movies, stage, or television. He also writes for newspapers around the world. His books include O centauro no jardim (1980; published in English as The Centaur in the Garden, 2003), Max e os felinos (1981; published in English as Max and the Cats, 2003), A mulher que escreveu a Bíblia (winner of the Prêmio Jabuti, 2000), and Saturno nos trópicos (2003). A majestade do Xingu (1997) received the Prêmio José Lins do Rego from the Brazilian Academy of Letters.
The excerpt featured here begins at page 35 of the novel.
Héctor Hernández Montecinos was born in Santiago, Chile in 1979. His books of poetry that were published between 2001 and 2003 are collected in [guión] (Lom Ediciones: Santiago, Chile, 2008); [coma] (Lom Ediciones, 2009) collects his writings from 2004-2006. His other books include Putamadre (Zignos: Lima, 2005), Ay de Mi (Ripio: Santiago, 2006), La poesia chilena soy yo (Mandrágora cartonera: Cochabamba, 2007), Segunda mano (Zignos: Lima, 2007), A 1000 (Lustra editores: Lima, 2008), Livro Universal (Demonio negro: Sao Paulo, 2008, traducido al portugués), Poemas para muchachos en llamas (RdlPS: Ciudad de México, 2008), La Escalera (Yerba Mala cartonera: La Paz, 2008) El secreto de esta estrella (Felicita cartonera: Asunción, 2008), La interpretación de mis sueños (Moda y Pueblo: Stgo, 2008) y NGC 224 (Literal: Ciudad de México, 2009). He has been invited to present his poetry in Germany, Argentina, Brazil, Cuba, Chile, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, and Peru. Since 2008, he has lived in Mexico where he teaches, and directs a small literary press called Santa Muerte cartonera. He holds a doctorate in literature with a focus in art theory.
Based in Bombay, Suryabala is originally from Varanasi in the northern part of India. She completed her Ph.D. in Hindi Literature at Benares Hindu University. She has been a prolific writer for more than three decades, publishing in all the major Hindi-language magazines and newspapers in the country. Besides satire, she has written novels and short stories, some of which have been adapted for television.
The Brooklyn Rail welcomes you to our web-exclusive section InTranslation, where we feature unpublished translations of fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and dramatic writing. Published since April 2007, InTranslation is a venue for outstanding work in translation and a resource for translators, authors, editors, and publishers seeking to collaborate.
We seek exceptional unpublished English translations from all languages.
Fiction, Nonfiction, and Poetry: Manuscripts of no longer than 20 pages (double-spaced).
Plays: Manuscripts of no longer than 30 pages (in left-justified format).