Abel and Cain by Gregor von Rezzori, introduction by Joshua Cohen, translated from the German by David Dollenmayer, Joachim Neugroschel, and Marshall Yarbrough, New York Review Books, 2019
Gregor von Rezzori published Der Tod meines Bruders Abel in 1976, and the book was translated by Joachim Neugroschel into English in 1985. What the back of the book describes as a “prequel” (the term doesn’t quite fit) was published posthumously in German in 2001 as Kain. Das Letzte Manuskript and appears for the first time in English in this edition. The book is structured by four folders that lie in front of the narrator after he enjoys an evening with a prostitute: “Pneuma,” “A,” “B,” and “C.” The contents of the first three folders compose the first book (“Abel”), while “Cain” unveils the last folder (“C”).
An impactful feature of “The Fox-Terrier” is the way in which the opening paragraph throws the boundary between fiction and nonfiction into doubt as the narrator mentions a personal detail which is also true of the author: that he has written a book called La revolución en bicicleta, which the real-life Mr. Giardinelli published in 1980. Although Mr. Giardinelli asserts that “The Fox-Terrier” is purely fictional, the use of this true detail as a framing device for the untrue narrative which follows lends the story’s climax a chilling believability. The reader is left wondering, Could it be that this terrible thing really happened? This question leads, in turn, to a larger consideration of human nature and its capacity for cruelty, and the way human evil returns again and again throughout history “like a neverending Piazzolla tango.”
—Translator Cameron Baumgartner
In This is Not the End of the Book, a conversation about books and reading by Umberto Eco and Jean-Claude Carrière, the authors mention a story by Restif de la Bretonne, a French novelist from the eighteenth century whom I haven’t read, that is similar to a story my father used to tell, and which in 1980 I almost included in my book La revolución en bicicleta.
Asja Bakić’s short-story collection Mars, translated by Jennifer Zoble, is slated for release by the Feminist Press in March of 2019. Though she’s a prolific poet, short-story writer, translator, and blogger in the former Yugoslavia, Mars will be her first publication in English. Bakić grew up in a turbulent Tuzla, Bosnia, lives now in Zagreb, Croatia, and laments the limitations that national borders place on literary exchange. The twists and turns in her speculative narratives leave readers suspended in a heady no-man’s-land between Earth, Mars, and the moon; life, death, and purgatory. Bakić speaks with Asymptote’s Assistant Editor Lindsay Semel about translation, Eros in literature, and the proliferation of ideas.
Lindsay Semel (LS): You often participate in literary events around the former Yugoslavia and Eastern Europe. Can you tell me about what you’re seeing there? What interests or bothers you? What trends are emerging? Which voices are notable? How is it different for you, interacting in virtual and physical spaces as an artist?
Asja Bakić (AB): Well, I am seeing my friends. We all know each other. Most of us were born in the same country in the eighties; the language is still the same if you ask me. It doesn’t matter if I go to Belgrade, Novi Sad, Skopje or Tuzla—it feels like home. The problem is that the crude political divide doesn’t let us read each other the way we should. I try to pay attention to what is published in Serbia, Bosnia, and Montenegro, but I fail miserably. The borders do not let books go through, so you have a Croatian author who must publish their book in the same language three times—for the Serbian, Bosnian, and Croatian markets, which is ridiculous. We have four versions of Elena Ferrante. Do we really need to publish the same book repeatedly? Wouldn’t it be better if we were to translate and publish different and new voices? That is why I prefer the internet. You find your friends there, you read each other, you comment—it is livelier. The internet is more real nowadays, because it doesn’t try to deny common ground.
Alejandro Zambra deserves his very own sentence (so here it is).
I’ve come across far too many breathy, overeager reviews that are downright giddy to liken Zambra—Chilean writer, very of-the-moment—with someone entirely different. Predictably, Zambra’s equally hip literary/national compatriot Roberto Bolaño is at the tip of everyone’s tongue. And then there are other authors, nearly all of them translated—Karl Ove Knausgaard, Daniel Kehlmann, Elena Ferrante, Ben Lerner—who are inevitably mentioned in the same breathless swoop. It’s true that these writers are at-least-obliquely occupied with Zambra’s brand of hyper-real, genre-eliding, syntactically all-too-acute, auto-fictive and/or meta-fictive literary fiction, but there’s something decidedly pungent—and utterly unique—about Alejandro Zambra’s particular kind of fiction.
Did you count the hyphenations I needed to describe Zambra’s writing? There were eight of them. They’re intentional—as Zambra’s work, too, doubles, triples, even quadruples multiple intensities at once, though without the agglutinative slog that sentence carried (I am so sorry, dear reader). Zambra’s fiction occasions a rather hefty sleight of hand.
This is true, even with his latest publication—My Documents, translated by (Asymptote’s own former team member!) Megan McDowell and published by McSweeney’s this month. It’s his longest in English to date, and still a mere 240 pages long. I read it in a single sitting, but like I mentioned in this month’s What We’re Reading, I’ve kept chewing for weeks to follow. READ MORE…