I Am the Brother of XX

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A Year in Reading: Anne K. Yoder

The year began with Mexican beaches and ceviche and morning yoga during a much-needed sanctuary from Chicago winter and the latent anxiety that was plaguing me. This was an ideal setting to engage in the drama of someone else’s fucked-up life and fraught desire—perhaps I was seeking catharsis of some kind? Well, if so Elizabeth Ellen’s auto-fictional novel Person/a, provided it. Person/a is a tale of a once-requited turned unrequited love cum obsession, accompanied by a crumbling marriage (no surprise) and self-imposed isolation. The novel includes emails and chat sessions and text messages and almost like a preface, rejections to Ellen’s manuscript queries. It’s all so wonderfully messy and unnerving, it feels like it shouldn’t hold but it does. In an age where I Love Dick has been subsumed by the mainstream, Person/a still reads as raw and suppurating. Fleur Jaeggy’s I am the Brother of XX didn’t fare as well at the beach. No fault of the book that the sun was too adamant, the breeze too gentle for its dark melancholia, its haute cynicism. It’s better read on a bleak winter day, when the air is already laced with desperation. I am not sure how one writes so beautifully about melancholy, how to make envy so alluring, and yet Jaeggy’s a master.
 

Obsession runs through yet another favorite — Lynne Tillman’s Men and Apparitions is an obsessive’s compendium. The sprawling novel contains anthropological disquisitions on photography and our cultural inundation in images, and ends with the narrator Zeke’s attempt to delineate the new masculinity belonging to the sons of second wave feminists. Zeke’s survey on the “New Man” ends the novel, with questions Tillman had posed to male subjects accompanied by a selection of answers. Tillman’s choice to open the novel to a survey of voices conjures a conversation from Sigrid Nunez’s The Friend, where the narrator argues that novels are not very good at conjuring our contemporary reality and that documentary fiction, such as Svetlana Alexeivich’s “novels in voices” seem to do a much better job.
 
Despite my skepticism about any dog-centric story (the dog here being the narrator’s inheritance from the titular dead friend), The Friend became my constant companion for a few short days. Nunez plays with the conceit of the novel in a way that brings the “truth” of the main narrative into question, it’s a wonderfully surprising turn, and that’s as much as I’ll say to avoid spoiling it.
 

Many of the novels that stayed with me hijacked my expectations of what a novel is or can do. Dubravka Ugresic’s novel Fox was sly enough to seemingly shift forms while reading. I knew it was a novel going in, and yet by the time I was in the thick of it I questioned this until I was assured the book was definitively nonfiction. But then there were moments that gave me pause — such as when on a butterfly hunt, Nabokov’s companion’s skirt flies up to reveal a butterfly resting on her pubis. What’s true and what’s not?  Fox is cunning and places this ambiguity at the forefront, for the novel is  concerned with what makes up a narrative and, specifically, how stories come to be written.
 

Sheila Heti’s Motherhood is nothing like Fox in its material — confronting a deep-seated ambivalence and desire about becoming a mother — and yet both books retool the novel’s form. Heti engages with the I Ching as a dialogic partner as she delves into an inquiry about whether Sheila and Miles should have children, and with uncanny results. (Incredibly, Heti notes that the answers from her coin tosses have not been manipulated.) If you aren’t subsumed by the desire to have children, if you’re female and an artist and that window of opportunity is closing, how do you decide? Heti’s commitment to exhausting the question illuminates fears wedged in the crevices of my own mind, such as how can you be both writer and mother without some type of neglect or resentment towards one or both roles? (which I know isn’t true, and yet…)
 

I picked up Leni Zumas’s Red Clocks while visiting family in a small coastal town in Oregon, a town serendipitously much like the one where the book is set. Being there I felt even more subsumed by the lush language and descriptions of the coast and dense forest, and was in awe of the nearly mystical powers possessed by herbalist abortionist whose power is derived from her knowledge the natural surroundings. Also, I was delighted to learn that ‘red clock’ means ‘womb’.
 

Delight is  just the word I’d use to describe reading Sabrina Orah Mark’s story collection Wild Milk, whose tales are surreal and playful and seem deceptively simple despite their profound linguistic and imaginative play. Rita Bullwinkell’s collection Belly Up is just as playful and profound, though her stories delve deeper and darker. They floor me with unexpected turns, slippages into the surreal, and their vast emotional registers.
 

I’m a little late to the party, as everyone’s championing Laura van den Berg’s The Third Hotel, but I just encountered her Find Me this summer. I read it twice, and became obsessed with its own obsessions with memory and loss and what’s inaccessible, its esoteric theories about immunity to the ongoing epidemic, and the fracturing effects of trauma and absence. On Joy’s ever-meandering bus ride, all seems like a dream: the bus is never heading where she thinks, she keeps getting deterred on her way. Perhaps it’s a metaphor for life, or perhaps she’s she lost her mind? I love that both readings seem plausible.
 

Unlike Joy, Sequoyah in Brandon Hobson’s Where the Dead Sit Talking knows where his mother is (she’s incarcerated); though like Joy he’s suffered abuse and has been shuffled through the foster system. He’s so tender and adrift, but finds connection in his relationship to his older foster sister Rosemary, and their shared Native American heritage. They’re all so flawed and awkward and completely alive on the page.
 

The dead do talk in Shelley Jackson’s Riddance: Or: The Sybil Joines Vocational School for Ghost Speakers & Hearing-Mouth Children. It’s an enigma of a novel about a boarding school for stuttering children whose impediment, or rather, gift, allows them to effectively speak the dead’s voices . The novel is a linguistic and imaginative feat, as well as a gorgeous object to behold. Interspersed between chapters is documentation of artifacts, images, and illustrations, which only an imagination as wonderfully freaky as designer Zach Dodson could pull off. Is it a cliche to say it’s enchanting? Though Riddance’s main obsession is with a murder mystery, at its core it’s also a philosophical consideration of translation and writing, and the voices that exist beyond the grave.

More from A Year in Reading 2018

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Announcing the 2018 BTBA Finalists

Celebrating its eleventh consecutive year of honoring literature in translation, the Best Translated Book Awards is pleased to announce the 2018 finalists for fiction and poetry (we announced the 2017 and 2016 winners here at The Millions; see the 2018 longlist here, and read more about this shortlist at the Three Percent website).

The winners will be announced on Thursday, May 31 as part of the New York Rights Fair, following the 4:30 panel on “Translated Literature Today: A Decade of Growth.” Thanks to grant funds from the Amazon Literary Partnership, the winning authors and translators will each receive $5,000 cash prizes. Three Percent at the University of Rochester founded the BTBAs in 2008, and over the past seven years, the Amazon Literary Partnership has contributed more than $140,000 to international authors and their translators through the BTBA.

This year’s fiction jury is made up of: Caitlin Baker (University Book Store, Seattle), Kasia Bartoszyńska(Monmouth College), Tara Cheesman-Olmsted (Reader at Large), Lori Feathers (Interabang Books), Mark Haber (writer, Brazos Bookstore), Adam Hetherington (author), Jeremy Keng (reader, freelance reviewer), Bradley Schmidt (translator), and P.T. Smith (Ebenezer Books, The Scofield). The poetry jury includes: Raluca Albu (BOMB), Jarrod Annis (Greenlight Bookstore), Tess Lewis (writer and translator), Aditi Machado (poet and translator), and Emma Ramadan (translator, Riffraff Bookstore).

For more information, visit the official Best Translated Book Award site and the official BTBA Facebook page, and follow the award on Twitter. 

Best Translated Book Award 2018: Fiction Finalists

Suzanne by Anaïs Barbeau-Lavalette, translated from the French by Rhonda Mullins (Canada, Coach House)

Tómas Jónsson, Bestseller by Guðbergur Bergsson, translated from the Icelandic by Lytton Smith (Iceland, Open Letter Books)

Compass by Mathias Énard, translated from the French by Charlotte Mandell (France, New Directions)

The Invented Part by Rodrigo Fresán, translated from the Spanish by Will Vanderhyden (Argentina, Open Letter Books)

Return to the Dark Valley by Santiago Gamboa, translated from the Spanish by Howard Curtis (Colombia, Europa Editions)

Old Rendering Plant by Wolfgang Hilbig, translated from the German by Isabel Fargo Cole (Germany, Two Lines Press)

I Am the Brother of XX by Fleur Jaeggy, translated from the Italian by Gini Alhadeff (Switzerland, New Directions)

My Heart Hemmed In by Marie NDiaye, translated from the French by Jordan Stump (France, Two Lines Press)

August by Romina Paula, translated from the Spanish by Jennifer Croft (Argentina, Feminist Press)

Remains of Life by Wu He, translated from the Chinese by Michael Berry (Taiwan, Columbia University Press)

Best Translated Book Award 2018: Poetry Finalists

Hackers by Aase Berg, translated from the Swedish by Johannes Goransson (Sweden, Black Ocean Press)

Paraguayan Sea by Wilson Bueno, translated from the Portunhol and Guarani to Frenglish and Guarani by Erin Moure (Brazil, Nightboat Books)

Third-Millennium Heart by Ursula Andkjaer Olsen, translated from the Danish by Katrine Øgaard Jensen (Denmark, Broken Dimanche Press)

Spiral Staircase by Hirato Renkichi, translated from the Japanese by Sho Sugita (Japan, Ugly Duckling Presse)

Directions for Use by Ana Ristović, translated from the Serbian by Steven Teref and Maja Teref (Serbia, Zephyr Press)

Before Lyricism by Eleni Vakalo, translated from the Greek by Karen Emmerich (Greece, Ugly Duckling Presse)

Announcing the 2018 BTBA Longlists for Fiction and Poetry

Celebrating its eleventh consecutive year of honoring literature in translation, the Best Translated Book Awards is pleased to announce the 2018 longlists for both fiction and poetry (we announced the 2017 and 2016 winners here at the site).

Announced here and at Three Percent, the lists include a diverse range of authors, languages, countries, and publishers. It features an array of notable presses—Ugly Duckling Presse, Black Ocean, Action, White Pines—along with previously nominated translators (Johannes Göransson appears for the second year in a row) and some new names, such as former BTBA judge, Katrine Øgaard Jensen. Combined, the longlists reflect the diversity of international books published last year by featuring authors from twenty-five different countries, writing in eighteen languages, and published by twenty-six different presses. New Directions and Seagull Books are the only presses to have titles on both longlists, with Feminist Press, New Directions, Open Letter, and Ugly Duckling Presse receiving the most nominations, with three longlisted titles each.

Thanks to grant funds from the Amazon Literary Partnership, the winning authors and translators will each receive $5,000 cash prizes. Three Percent at the University of Rochester founded the BTBAs in 2008, and over the past seven years, the Amazon Literary Partnership has contributed more than $140,000 to international authors and their translators through the BTBA.

The finalists for both the fiction and poetry awards will be announced here at The Millions on Tuesday, May 15, and the winners will be announced on Thursday, May 31 as part of the New York Rights Fair, following the 4:30 panel on “Translated Literature Today: A Decade of Growth.”

This year’s fiction jury is made up of: Caitlin Baker (University Book Store, Seattle), Kasia Bartoszyńska (Monmouth College), Tara Cheesman-Olmsted (Reader at Large), Lori Feathers (Interabang Books), Mark Haber (writer, Brazos Bookstore), Adam Hetherington (author), Jeremy Keng (reader, freelance reviewer), Bradley Schmidt (translator), and P.T. Smith (Ebenezer Books, The Scofield). The poetry jury includes: Raluca Albu (BOMB), Jarrod Annis (Greenlight Bookstore), Tess Lewis (writer and translator), Aditi Machado (poet and translator), and Emma Ramadan (translator, Riffraff Bookstore).

For more information, visit the official Best Translated Book Award site and the official BTBA Facebook page, and follow the award on Twitter. Over the next month, leading up to the announcement of the shortlists, Three Percent will be featuring a different title each day as part of the “Why This Book Should Win” series.

Best Translated Book Award 2018: Fiction Longlist

Incest by Christine Angot, translated from the French by Tess Lewis (France, Archipelago)

Suzanne by Anaïs Barbeau-Lavalette, translated from the French by Rhonda Mullins (Canada, Coach House)

Tómas Jónsson, Bestseller by Guðbergur Bergsson, translated from the Icelandic by Lytton Smith (Iceland, Open Letter Books)

Compass by Mathias Énard, translated from the French by Charlotte Mandell (France, New Directions)

Bergeners by Tomas Espedal, translated from the Norwegian by James Anderson (Norway, Seagull Books)

The Invented Part by Rodrigo Fresán, translated from the Spanish by Will Vanderhyden (Argentina, Open Letter Books) 

Return to the Dark Valley by Santiago Gamboa, translated from the Spanish by Howard Curtis (Colombia, Europa Editions) 

Affections by Rodrigo Hasbún, translated from the Spanish by Sophie Hughes (Bolivia, Simon and Schuster)a

Old Rendering Plant by Wolfgang Hilbig, translated from the German by Isabel Fargo Cole (Germany, Two Lines Press)

I Am the Brother of XX by Fleur Jaeggy, translated from the Italian by Gini Alhadeff (Switzerland, New Directions)

You Should Have Left by Daniel Kehlmann, translated from the German by Ross Benjamin (Germany, Pantheon)

Chasing the King of Hearts by Hanna Krall, translated from the Polish by Philip Boehm (Poland, Feminist Press)

Beyond the Rice Fields by Naivo, translated from the French by Allison M. Charette (Madagascar, Restless Books)

My Heart Hemmed In by Marie NDiaye, translated from the French by Jordan Stump (France, Two Lines Press)

Savage Theories by Pola Oloixarac, translated from the Spanish by Roy Kesey (Argentina, Soho Press)

August by Romina Paula, translated from the Spanish by Jennifer Croft (Argentina, Feminist Press)

The Magician of Vienna by Sergio Pitol, translated from the Spanish by George Henson (Mexico, Deep Vellum)

The Iliac Crest by Cristina Rivera Garza, translated from the Spanish by Sarah Booker (Mexico, Feminist Press)

Fever Dream by Samanta Schweblin, translated from the Spanish by Megan McDowell (Argentina, Riverhead)

Ghachar Ghochar by Vivek Shanbhag, translated from the Kannada by Srinath Perur (India, Penguin)

For Isabel: A Mandala by Antonio Tabucchi, translated from the Italian by Elizabeth Harris (Italy, Archipelago)

Ebola ’76 by Amir Tag Elsir, translated from the Arabic by Charis Bredin (Sudan, Darf Publishers)

The Last Bell by Johannes Urzidil, translated from the German by David Burnett (Germany, Pushkin Press)

Radiant Terminus by Antoine Volodine, translated from the French by Jeffery Zuckerman (France, Open Letter Books)

Remains of Life by Wu He, translated from the Chinese by Michael Berry (Taiwan, Columbia University Press)

Best Translated Book Award 2018: Poetry Longlist

Adrenalin by Ghayath Almadhoun, translated from the Arabic by Catherine Cobham (Syria, Action Books)

Hackers by Aase Berg, translated from the Swedish by Johannes Goransson (Sweden, Black Ocean Press)

Paraguayan Sea by Wilson Bueno, translated from the Portunhol and Guarani to Frenglish and Guarani by Erin Moore (Brazil, Nightboat Books)

Things That Happen by Bhaskar Chakrabarti, translated from the Bengali by Arunava Sinha (India, Seagull Books)

I Remember Nightfall by Marosa di Giorgio, translated from the Spanish by Jeannine Marie Pitas (Uruguay, Ugly Duckling Presse)

Astroecology by Johannes Heldén, translated from the Swedish by Kirkwood Adams, Elizabeth Clark Wessel, and Johannes Heldén (Sweden, Argos Books)

Magnetic Point by Ryszard Krynicki translated from the Polish by Clare Cavanagh (Poland, New Directions)

Third-Millennium Heart by Ursula Andjaer Olsen, translated from the Danish by Katrine Øgaard Jensen (Denmark, Broken Dimanche Press)

Spiral Staircase by Hirato Renkichi, translated from the Japanese by Sho Sugita (Japan, Ugly Duckling Presse)

Directions for Use by Ana Ristovic, translated from the Serbian by Steven Teref and
Maja Teref (Serbia, Zephyr Press)

Before Lyricism by Eleni Vakalo, translated from the Greek by Karen Emmerich (Greece, Ugly Duckling)

Iron Moon by Chinese Migrant Worker Poetry edited by Qin Xiaoyu, translated from the Chinese by Eleanor Goodman (China, White Pine Press)

Image: Flickr

A Year in Reading: Gabe Habash

Due to unremarkable, inevitable, and momentous circumstances, I didn’t read as much this year as I would’ve liked. Many distractions were bad, but some were good. My wife published her first novel. Twin Peaks, the best television show of all time, came back and somehow got even better. I played a lot of Zelda and Super Nintendo. But, like every other year, the books I loved were great company. Here are some I’ll remember from 2017.

1.
Daniil Kharms’s Today I Wrote Nothing is one of the funniest, most surprising, and consistently enjoyable books I’ve ever read. It’s glitch fiction, composed of short notebook entries (“Today I wrote nothing. Doesn’t matter. January 9”), poems, and stories that read like anti-parables. Written during life under Joseph Stalin, these pieces go by very quickly—they briefly spasm in a few directions, give you an unexpected punchline or no punchline at all, and then terminate (many conclude with just the word enough).

In one story, a man waits for another man, gradually growing angry. When the other man finally shows up carrying food from the store they argue about time, until one wallops the other over the head with “the biggest cucumber from his satchel,” killing him. The final line of this story (which is only a few hundred words) is: “What big cucumbers they sell in stores nowadays!” Another story ends with Kharms confessing he actually can’t write anymore: “Wow! I’d write some more but the inkwell’s gone missing somewhere.”

Recalling writers like Richard Brautigan, Lydia Davis, Franz Kafka, Joy Williams, and Samuel Beckett, this is delightfully error-ridden writing that squirms and wriggles against the expected and logical, creating its own nonsensical logic in the process. A few of my friends have now read most of this book, just because I kept sending them pieces.

2.
Morgan Parker wrote my favorite book of poetry that I read this year: There Are More Beautiful Things Than Beyoncé. Like Kharms, Parker is funny and surprising, but she writes with such fearlessness that it’s impossible not to follow her. Deploying astonishing line after astonishing line, the book offers questions (“Is a mother still a self,” “What does money cost”), subversions (“With champagne I try expired white ones/ I mean pills I mean men”), and wonderful writing (“Right now six people are in outer space,/ and you are growing smaller in my mind.”). This book is a brilliant riot of consciousness: “So what if I have more regrets/ Than birthdays I am old/ For my age, I am made of water/ Why do you get up in the morning.”

3.
The Vanished by journalist Léna Mauger and photographer Stéphane Remael is an extraordinary investigation of the johatsu, the group of 100,000 Japanese who vanish without a trace every year.

Though many disappear because of shame, debt, and the societal pressure for success (one student disappears when he’s faced with taking his exams), the book includes a range of voices, places, and stories, including: the companies that help those who wish to vanish to move in the middle of the night; Tojinbo cliffs, a popular suicide site, and the man who devotes his life to dissuading those considering suicide there; Sanya and Kamagasaki, neighborhoods in Tokyo and Osaka, respectively, that have been wiped off maps but are inhabited by people hoping to disappear, including day-laborers living in tiny rooms; and otakus, from the Japanese word meaning “home,” referring to people who waste away and lose themselves in monomaniacal passions like doll and fanzine collecting or video games. Complete with amazing photographs, this is a fascinating and exceptional book.

4.
Hernán Díaz wrote my favorite passage of the year. It occurs toward the end of his debut novel, In the Distance, so I’ll avoid specifics, but not since László Krasznahorkai’s Satantango have I read such an exhilarating narrative turn.

 In the Distance is about a young Swedish immigrant, Håkan Söderström, who is separated from his brother on his way to America. What follows is one of the most compelling deconstructions of a genre convention I’ve ever read. This is an old-school Western turned on its head—Håkan hates guns and becomes an outlaw legend on accident. But maybe what makes it great is that it’s also a memorable immigration story, not to mention a powerful depiction of loneliness, while being stuffed with some of the best landscape writing around (“Nothing interrupted the mineral silence of the desert. In its complete stillness, the world seemed solid, as if made of one single dry block.”). And in addition to that narrative turn toward the end, there are countless other great moments: Håkan gets roped into a wacky naturalist’s search in dried-out seabeds for a jellyfish-like organism that supposedly created mankind, and during one drug-induced passage, Håkan looks at his own brain.

5.
The end seems to be the best place to start with Elvira Navarro’s A Working Woman, which has my favorite ending of the year. Not just because of the twist in the last few pages (which are staggering), but because the novel sneaked up on me. It kept getting better and better and I couldn’t really put my finger on why I was enjoying it so much. A Working Woman is set in Madrid, and is about struggling writer Elisa, and her roommate, the more headstrong Susana. Susana finds a sexual partner through a personal ad; Elisa wanders Madrid’s ruins and edits a book she dislikes while contending with an unspecified psychiatric condition. Gradually, through their volatile proximity and an art project, the two become enmeshed in each other’s madness, resulting in an elusive mindbender that mutates and resists any effort to box it in or categorize it. Somehow, the book reveals itself without yielding its secrets.

Other books I loved that I read this year: Ghachar Ghochar by Vivek Shanbhag; Winter in the Blood by James Welch; Mrs. Caliban by Rachel Ingalls; Large Animals by Jess Arndt; Close Range by Annie Proulx; The Correspondence by J.D. Daniels; Typewriters, Bombs, Jellyfish by Tom McCarthy; I Am the Brother of XX by Fleur Jaeggy; Multiple Choice by Alejandro Zambra; The Plains by Gerald Murnane; See What I Have Done by Sarah Schmidt; Grief Cottage by Gail Godwin; What It Means When a Man Falls from the Sky by Lesley Nneka Arimah; The Largesse of the Sea Maiden by Denis Johnson; McGlue by Ottessa Moshfegh; Chasing the King of Hearts by Hanna Krall; The Bell by Iris Murdoch; Sudden Death by Álvaro Enrigue; Old Open by Alex Higley; Eat Only When You’re Hungry by Lindsay Hunter; Daddy Issues by Alex McElroy; The Iliac Crest by Cristina Rivera Garza; and Difficult Women by David Plante.

More from A Year in Reading 2017

Do you love Year in Reading and the amazing books and arts content that The Millions produces year round? We are asking readers for support to ensure that The Millions can stay vibrant for years to come. Please click here to learn about several simple ways you can support The Millions now.

Don’t miss: A Year in Reading 2016, 2015, 2014, 2013, 2012, 2011, 2010, 2009, 2008, 2007, 2006, 2005

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