A young couple, adrift in life, roams the streets of Paris on a snowy winter night. They enter a café but are forced to leave after a dispute with the owner. They continue their stroll, joined, though, by a seedy gentleman of a certain age they had met at the café. He accompanies them and tells them the story of how he reached his current state. He was once a highly regarded figure, successful in private and professional life, and a candidate for office. Returning from an electoral rally one evening, he found his wife leaving the company of another man. He confronted her and killed her. Though never arrested for the crime, his life collapsed. The young couple continue their stroll, and the young man is arrested by passing police for murder. He tries to explain that he had intended to turn himself in for an unnamed crime, and is questioned about the murder of a shopkeeper. A witness to the murder recounts the event and, when confronted with the novel’s protagonist, says the young man is not the culprit. The young couple is released from custody and continues their walk, their lives as hopeless as at the beginning.
The excerpt featured here is the opening of the novel.
– Mitch Abidor
Write Nothing about Politics: The Life of Hans Bernd von Haeften is Barbara von Haeften’s account of the life of her husband, a lawyer, diplomat, and member of the Kreisau Circle resistance group in Nazi Germany. The Kreisau Circle–led by Peter Yorck von Wartenburg and Helmuth von Moltke–participated in the assassination attempt of Hitler on July 20, 1944, carried out by Claus von Stauffenberg and Werner von Haeften, the brother of Hans Bernd von Haeften. The Kreisau Circle had also developed extensive plans for a new government to be put into place after the removal of Hitler. Barbara von Haeften’s biography describes the life and political activity of her husband, who was executed after the failed assassination attempt. It furthermore sheds light on her own knowledge of and participation in the resistance movement.
The featured excerpt describes Hans Bernd von Haeften’s last days from the point of Helmuth von Moltke’s arrest until von Haeften was executed by the Nazis.
– Julie Winter
“Prometheus and the Primitive” was written while Alfred Döblin was working on the Amazonas Trilogy. Published in 1938 in a short-lived bimonthly journal of German exile literature founded by Thomas Mann, Maß und Wert, the essay offers a succinct and trenchant historico-philosophical overview of the concerns that permeate Amazonas: the will to power and death-wish of Europeans, culminating (at that point) in the rise of the Nazis; the floundering of the Christian Church in the face of colonial atrocities and the wars of religion; and the organic world of the native tribes, in which natural and supernatural are equally real.
The essay analyses Western history in terms of a sharp divide between the Promethean impulse, which sets Man above Nature and isolates him from it, and the mystical sense of connectedness with Nature that Döblin labels “the Primitive.” He notes the ambivalent account in Genesis, and sets the emergence of Christianity in the context of a highly Promethean Roman state offering no satisfactions to those dispossessed by Roman civilisation.
But over time the Church, with its own hostility towards Nature, succumbs to a Prometheanism of its own and accommodates to worldly power. Just as the mystical sense is fading, Europe embarks on its age of discovery (a.k.a. conquest and subjugation). Nature, and Man, are viewed as a machine. The scientific enterprise, bent on quantifying everything, drains the world of qualities. The rise of mass societies after the French Revolution sees mysticism incorporated into the Promethean state. Prometheanism benefits only small elites. The yearning for a human society, a connectedness of human to human, human to Nature, is perverted into state-sponsored suspicion, the policing of thought, and the pseudo-connectedness of social classes and mass rallies. The result is barbarism and the degenerate mysticism that is nationalism.
The only way out, says Döblin, is to “reset this power whose grasp is now awry, whose pivot is the domination of Nature by Man–and to accommodate to the mystical realm.” But he is not optimistic.
– Chris Godwin
“The Most Beautiful Girl” by Marek Hlasko contains all the hallmarks of this legendary writer’s prose–the ugliness found beneath sparkling surfaces, the brutalities of life, the human capacity for lying and cruelty, sharp dialogue, and a hardboiled pace–that made him so famous in his day. The mood is immediately set by a beautiful girl sitting on a bench next to a handsome boy in a picturesque park. Then, just as quickly, that mood is shattered. If there’s a theme that runs through all of Hlasko’s work, it’s that there is no place on this earth for lovers, and this story illustrates that idea quite brilliantly. Jealousy, pettiness, money, misperceptions–all these factors come in between what might have been a great romance. Indeed, with the perspectives of the passersby, we get the idea that everybody else takes the scene that’s unfolding on a park bench to be something out of a fairy tale. The two main characters in “The Most Beautiful Girl” are beautiful people who stir up feelings of regret, discontent, and in one case, creativity in others, just by being so damn beautiful. It is only the reader who has the privilege of knowing just how wrong the other visitors to the park are. Of course, the setting is Warsaw under communist rule, but the system of government is hardly the point. One of the reasons Hlasko remains so relevant today (and indeed, with three books published in the last six months, he is quite relevant) is that his stories could, and indeed do, take place anywhere and everywhere. That men and women are ugly to each other no matter who is president or dictator or shah is a difficult truth to stare in the face, but that only makes it a more worthwhile thing to do.
– Ross Ufberg
Holy Mother of God! tells the warm, wise, and witty story of the politically incorrect life of Marie, a French housewife in search of happiness. Marie seems to have everything in her life she needs to be happy; a husband, Cornelius, who loves her, a newly purchased home, the news of her first pregnancy–and even though she is new to her small town, she has already become friends with a group of mothers. But Marie is naïve, and her perfect life becomes a little less than that. Astrid Éliard dares to shake the foundations of the maternity through a narrator who explains how this Marie–the French name for the Virgin Mary–struggles with her own life, “holy and full of grace.”
– Allison M. Charette
Likened to Carson McCullers, Flannery O’Connor, and Clarice Lispector, Hebe Uhart is an Argentine writer whose distinctive voice has made her beloved over the past 50 years by the Argentine public and fellow writers. Relatos Reunidos, her collected works, won the award for the Best Work of Literary Creation at the Buenos Aires Book Fair in 2011. Her newest story collection, Un día cualquiera, was released in 2013. An avid traveler with a piercing eye, Uhart has also published two travelogue collections, with a third forthcoming.
“The Fluffy Cake” is the title story from a collection originally published in 1976. Uhart says she wrote the story after a having experienced a moment of considerable disappointment during which she saw her world as flat and depressing, like this cake she had once made in childhood.
“Dear Mama” was included in the 1997 story collection Guiando la hiedra. Uhart wrote it as a tribute following the death of her mother. In 2009 it was adapted for the theater by Laura Yussem.
– Maureen Shaughnessy
Originally published in ViMagazino, the magazine supplement to one of Greece’s largest and most popular Sunday newspapers, “The Black Box” is a wry allegory about the economic crisis that has devastated Greek society. Like Asteriou’s fiction in general, the story makes use of biting humor, a playful pastiche of genres, and provocative references from popular culture to creatively defy the hopelessness and cynicism of prevailing political discussions. His work has been described as “terrifyingly topical,” as well as “multidimensional” and “masterfully crafted.” These attributes are evident in the story, which is narrated in the voice of a weary, ineffectual police detective, who is frustrated at every turn by the missing suspect. Drawing from crime procedurals, folktales, and the lurking uncanniness of the Gothic ghost story, Asteriou weaves together a neo-magical realist fable with precision, economy, and an enviably light touch. As in most magical realist fiction, his characters are theatricalized types: the traveling American magician Balthazar, also known as Shirkgood or Lawrence, after Lawrence of Arabia, is but the most blatant embodiment of this idea of identity as multilayered performance. And it is precisely this playfully performative aspect of the story that remains with us at the end. What happened to Akis Konstantellos? To Balthazar? We are left without answers to these questions. Yet our frustration is perhaps outweighed by our wonderment: there is certainly something satisfying in the fact that the steadily increasing number of missing persons in the story are, to the end, able to defy the institutional mandates of discipline, reason, confession, and resolution.
– Patricia Felisa Barbeito
André Chenier is universally acknowledged to be the most gifted poet of eighteenth-century France. His masterpiece is The Bucolics, impersonal but moving and dramatic treatments of classical themes. The best known poem of this collection is “The Tarentine Bride,” featured here. Like most of the Bucolics, it is composed in the Alexandrine couplets of rhyming hexameters perfected by Racine, but given a new flexibility by Chenier. I have translated them into their English equivalent, the pentameter heroic couplets that dominated English eighteenth-century verse. The French text can be found on line at Wikisource, le bibliothéque libre, Bucoliques, or Les grands poémes classiques.
– John Anson
Author Elias Schneitter masters quite supremely the dramatic art of portraying the overlooked and the apparently petty and trivial. This is particularly true of Schneitter’s anthology of short narratives entitled Karl: A Thousand Years of Austria. The story featured here is all about “Judge Georgie” who in a very revealing monologue points the accusatory finger at the world, complaining about everything in general and Austria (otherwise referred to in Austria as Karl), foreigners, the government, and the slugs in his garden. He is not a judge by profession but rather a notorious grumbler who never minces words and freely gives vent to his many blind prejudices. He always blames others for the unfortunate twists and turns his life has taken, never questioning his own decisions or views. The story of Judge Georgie is one of self-deception and self-justification. It is just one of several internal monologues that make up Schneitter’s anthology, which also features “Ernst,” who reflects on his former career on a cruise liner, and “Walter,” a hippie in military uniform. Schneitter is very much interested in the “man on the street” and the contradictions that define him. He describes his characters with laconic wit, but always treats them with respect and empathy.
Elias Schneitter was born and grew up in Zirl in Tyrol, Austria. After completing his schooling in Stams, he had a variety of jobs including office clerk, canoeing teacher in Sturgeon Lake, Minnesota, project manager for Ho-Ruck, and employee for the Austrian social security system. Today, he works as a freelance author. He is co-founder of the international literature festival Sprachsalz in Hall, Tyrol and head of the small publishing house Edition-baes.
Schneitter’s first publications started appearing in 1974, mainly in literary magazines (Fenster, Rampe, wespennest, protokolle, projektil) and as radio plays. His first book, Geflügelte worte, was published in 1979. In 2014, he will be presented with the Kathy Acker Award for his commitment to promoting international literature, above all between the USA and the German-speaking world.
– Isabelle Esser
Luisa Valenzuela, one of Argentina’s most prominent and inventive fiction writers, was born in Buenos Aires in 1938. The home in which she grew up was a gathering place for writers, artists, and publishers. Borges (whom she described in her Paris Review interview as “a walking system of thought”) came at least once a week, being a close friend of her mother, Luisa Mercedes Levinson (herself a well-known writer). The Luisa in question here wrote her first poem at six, and published her first story at twenty. The author of over twenty books–novels, short stories, and micro-fictions–Valenzuela has lived in France, Spain, Mexico, and New York, and taught at numerous universities, including Columbia and NYU. She has won a host of major prizes and awards (including a Fulbright, a Guggenheim, the Cervantes Prize, and at least one honorary doctorate). Her work has been widely translated. She left Argentina in the wake of the 1976 military coup, when one of her books was censored; in 1989 she returned to Buenos Aires and re-settled in her native neighborhood of Belgrano. Although fluent in French and English, she always held on to “the Argentine language [as] a home I don’t want to lose” [The Paris Review interview, No. 170]. Her writing has rightly been called “hallucinatory” (although in matters of craft, it is absolutely lucid), arising as it has from her country’s surreal and violent politics. Valenzuela’s sentences have force and momentum, though her phrases may shift into unexpectedly delicate cadences and textures. Terror, exile, and alienation continue to be major themes, yet there is also a new, entirely unsentimental, tenderness between her characters.
“The Wanderer” (original title: “La errante”) is from Tres por cinco, a collection published in Spain in 2008 and Argentina in 2010.
Valenzuela’s most recent visits to New York took place in May 2014 for the launch of Review 88: Literature and Arts of the Americas, where she did a reading of “Conyecturas” (a witty philosophical story called “Conjectures on the Great Beyond” in English), and in 2013 for several events at McNally Jackson centering on her latest novel, La máscara sarda (The Sardinian Mask), which delves into the Sardinian roots of Juan Domingo Perón.
– Marguerite Feitlowitz
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).