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May 5th, 2016

Corinna Nicolaou on Jihad



A None's Story

“While digging around for information on the Pentagon’s 9/11 memorial, I happened on an article about the multifaith chapel that had been constructed when the building was repaired. Apparently the Pentagon had accommodated a variety of religious services for many years, but never before had a space been specially designated for the purpose. Now the location had been chosen by the nose of an airplane.” — Corinna Nicolaou

This week, our featured book is A None’s Story: Searching for Meaning Inside Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism, and Islam, by Corinna Nicolaou. In today’s post, Nicolaou ventures into the Pentagon’s post-9/11 multifaith chapel and examines the disconnect between common perceptions of Islam and her experiences learning about it.

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a free copy!

May 5th, 2016

Thursday Poetry Corner: C. D. Wright



Words and the World

In (slightly belated) celebration of National Poetry Month, we are happy to present a guest post by intern Lizzie Tribone on the inimitable C. D. Wright, who passed away early this year.

International Poetry Nights in Hong Kong is a biennial gala celebrating poetry that unites poets from all over the world under a single theme. Each festival yields a box set of chapbooks written in connection with the festival theme and an anthology, which collects selections of the participating poets. The theme for the 2011 festival was: Words and the World. Poets in this year’s festival included Ling Yu, Paul Muldoon, María Baranda, Tomaž Šalamun, and the late C. D. Wright.

Wright was raised in Arkansas and after earning her MFA from the University of Arkansas, she went on to garner many accolades, notably the MacArthur Fellowship in 2004. She is praised as a true American poet who experimented with language and incorporated images and stories from her Southern upbringing. For the 2011 International Poetry Nights in Hong Kong Wright penned the chapbook, Flame, which is a part of the Words and the World twenty-volume set and the Words and the World anthology. Both feature a bilingual format, placing the English and Chinese translations side by side, as if in conversation. Read the rest of this entry »

May 4th, 2016

What Is Intellectual Freedom Today?



Hermeneutic Communism

The following is a blog post by Santiago Zabala, coauthor of, among other works, Hermeneutic Communism: From Heidegger to Marx:

What Is Intellectual Freedom Today?
By Santiago Zabala

In order to respond to this important question, it is first necessary to emphasize that there isn’t much difference among philosophers, theologians, scientists, or artists when it comes to intellectual freedom. Whatever the training, traditions, or debates the intellectually free are those who know how their disciplines are framed. For example, when the scientist Laurent Ségalat, in his book La Science à bout de souffle?, criticized how the management of funds has become more important than search for truth in his field, he was both pointing out what frames his discipline and also exercising intellectual freedom. Only those who thrust us into the “absence of emergency” are intellectually free today.

When Martin Heidegger said in the 1940s that the “only emergency is the absence of emergency,” he was referring to a “frame” (“Ge-stell”), a technological power that had grown beyond our ability to control it. Today this framing power is globalization, where emergencies, as Heidegger specified, do not arise when something doesn’t function correctly but rather when “everything functions . . . and propels everything more and more toward further functioning.” This is why he was so concerned with the specialization and compartmentalization of knowledge that would inevitably limit and frame independent and critical thought. So to be intellectually free today means disclosing the emergency at the core of the absence of emergency, thrusting us into knowledge of those political, technological, and cultural impositions that frame our lives. Read the rest of this entry »

May 4th, 2016

The Future of Spiritual Practice



A None's Story

“How quickly one’s isolation can flip into expansive belonging! To suddenly become aware of one’s being present in the room, alongside the presence of others, to contemplate the world anew and then to consider it through alternate perspectives. Worship can help us do this and more; an evening of improv was having a similar effect.” — Corinna Nicolaou

This week, our featured book is A None’s Story: Searching for Meaning Inside Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism, and Islam, by Corinna Nicolaou. Today we are happy to present a crosspost from Nicolaou’s fantastic blog, One None Gets Some, in which she looks back on the start of her book tour and what it’s taught her about religion and spirituality.

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a free copy!

The Future of Spiritual Practice
By Corinna Nicolaou

The first six stops of my book tour under my belt, I’m starting to get a sense of some recurring questions audience members are eager to have answered after I speak about (and read from) the religious exploration I write about in A None’s Story. One common inquiry is something along the lines of, “What do you think the future is for religion in the United States?” (For book tour updates, “like” my author Facebook page.)

Many people, I believe, are expecting me to declare religion dead—or, at the very least, dying. I know some of the audience members are people of faith, a few have been current or retired leaders of religious congregations, and they fear what’s in store for their communities in the next decade or two. Others are concerned for the growing number of citizens who appear to be operating in a world increasingly devoid of spiritual grounding or guidance.

I understand the worry but, from where I stand, the view is not so bleak. I honestly believe that the core of religion is as relevant today as it has ever been because, despite all the changes we and our society undergoes, something fundamental remains the same. Each of us struggles to come to grips with being here on earth, and with the knowledge that we will leave—as if these realizations are a fresh new thing just added to the human experience. We are driven to makes sense of this knowledge, to come together with others who are also striving for greater understanding, and to work together to find ways to better care for ourselves and others. No, the basic impulse from which religion is born is intrinsically tied to our beings. The growth in the population of Nones does not spell the end of religion. But it does herald a change. Read the rest of this entry »

May 3rd, 2016

New Book Tuesday: Laruelle, The Other Catholics, Auge, Hunting Girls, and More New Books!



Francois Laruelle, Theory of Identities

Theory of Identities
François Laruelle; Translated by Alyosha Edlebi

The Other Catholics: Remaking America’s Largest Religion
Julie Byrne

Everyone Dies Young: Time Without Age
Marc Augé. Translated by Jody Gladding

Hunting Girls: Sexual Violence from The Hunger Games to Campus Rape
Kelly Oliver

When Movies Were Theater: Architecture, Exhibition, and the Evolution of American Film
William Paul

The Taliban’s Virtual Emirate: The Culture and Psychology of an Online Militant Community
Neil Krishan Aggarwal

A Book to Burn and a Book to Keep (Hidden): Selected Writings
Li Zhi; Edited by Rivi Handler-Spitz, Pauline Lee, and Haun Saussy

School-Linked Services: Promoting Equity for Children, Families, and Communities
Laura R. Bronstein and Susan E. Mason. Foreword by Jane Quinn

Religion and the Specter of the West: Sikhism, India, Postcoloniality, and the Politics of Translation (Now available in paper)
Arvind-Pal S. Mandair

May 3rd, 2016

Corinna Nicolaou on Christianity



A None's Story

“I had gone through a phase several years earlier when I called myself an atheist; I thought it was the only alternative to thinking the world was run by a giant grandpa sitting on a cloud. Later I realized I knew too little to rightfully claim atheism; to reject something, it’s necessary to have a working knowledge of what you reject.” — Corinna Nicolaou

This week, our featured book is A None’s Story: Searching for Meaning Inside Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism, and Islam, by Corinna Nicolaou. Today, to get the feature kicked off, we are happy to present an excerpt from the beginning of A None’s Story, in which Nicolaou lays out her goals for her project and takes a close look at Christianity.

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a free copy!

May 2nd, 2016

Book Giveaway! A None’s Story: Searching for Meaning Inside Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism, and Islam



A None's Story

“Nicolaou’s quest to find inner peace through in-depth participation in Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism, and Islam is not only informative in a remarkably even-handed and clear-headed way, but also compelling, inspiring, insightful, moving, and often funny.” — Shelf Awareness

This week, our featured book is A None’s Story: Searching for Meaning Inside Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism, and Islam, by Corinna Nicolaou. Throughout the week, we will be featuring content about the book and its author on our blog as well as on our Twitter feed and our Facebook page.

We are also offering a FREE copy of A None’s Story. To enter our book giveaway, simply fill out the form below with your name and preferred mailing address. We will randomly select our winners on Friday, April 8th at 1:00 pm. Good luck, and spread the word!

April 29th, 2016

What Can Poetry Do?



Poetry and Conflict

What Can Poetry Do?

Our celebration of world literature would not be complete without a post to celebrate world poetry, especially during National Poetry Month.

The International Poetry Nights in Hong Kong is a biennial gala celebrating poetry that brings together poets from all over the world and unites them under a single theme. Each festival yields a box set of chapbooks written in connection with the festival’s theme and an anthology, which collects selections of the participating poets work, both are published by The Chinese University Press. The theme for the 2015 festival was: Poetry and Conflict.

In his foreword to the Poetry and Conflict anthology co-editor Bei Dao writes:

Since antiquity, poetry has been sourced in humanity’s suffering, a driving force for the overcoming of darkness toward the light. Now, amid proposed conflicts between civilizations, histories, religions, and languages, what can poetry do? In the bedlam of the morbid fantasies of our world, what can poetry do? In this moment of mystery when land and air are collapsing, what can poetry do? In retracing the source and course of our spiritual knocking at language’s door, what can poetry do?

In the work contained in this collection the poets answer. Over and over again they show us what poetry can do. Here are a few highlights:

From Najwan Darwish, a Palestinian poet, who is one of the foremost Arabic language poets of his generation:

Even in War

I considered looking at my lower half
where I could feel the pain
but held back for the moment, fearing
not to find some part of me
I kept on down the stairs, my missing part
still with me, and here I am
climbing into bed with my wanting body
(still not looking), and it no longer matters
where the damage is, and it will do no good
to remember how I was wounded

Even in war, I was just a passer-by

(Translated by Kareem James Abu-Zeid) Read the rest of this entry »

April 29th, 2016

The Plays of Gao Xingjian



City of the Dead and Song of the Night

The Plays of Gao Xingjian

Our World Literature Week celebration continues today with a brief look at the plays of Gao Xingjian, a writer who has worked in multiple genres—short stories, essays, novels—but is best known as a playwright. Sixteen years ago Gao became the first writer in Chinese to win the Nobel prize for literature, since then The Chinese University Press has been steadily publishing translations of his work into English.

City of the Dead and Song of the Night is his most recent collection of plays. In City of the Dead Gao updates the ancient morality tale “Zhuangzi Tests His Wife,” a cautionary tale against infidelity, to confront the traditional patriarchal system. Song of the Night, considered one of his most ambitious plays, theatrically portrays the female psyche. MCLC has called the book “intriguing and thought-provoking.” For a more detailed explanation of these two plays, you can read “Gao Xingjian: Autobiography and the Portrayal of the Female Psyche,” the volume’s introduction by Mabel Lee, one of his translators and an expert on his work.

Of Mountains and Seas is based on the ancient text The Classic of Mountains and Seas. This play reenacts the classical world of Chinese mythology, traversing the creation of humans to the beginning of Chinese dynastic history. Read the rest of this entry »

April 28th, 2016

An Overview of the Inaugural Russian Library Titles



Between Dog and Wolf

Our World Literature Week celebration continues today with a focus on our exciting new Russian Library series. In this post, series editor Christine Dunbar introduces the first three titles in the series.

An Overview of the Inaugural Russian Library Titles
By Christine Dunbar

One of the defining features of the Russian Library is its generic diversity. This is particularly significant for an Anglophone audience, because we tend to think of the Russian literary tradition as one that derives its greatness from novels, primarily the 19th century masterpieces of Tolstoy and Dostoevsky. Others think first of Chekhov’s fin-de-siècle plays, which have become part of the Western canon in large part because of their connection to Stanislavsky and eventually to method acting. Russians, and for that matter, scholars of Russian, are more likely to consider poetry the best and most powerful iteration of Russian letters.

The first three books in the Russian Library will publish in December, and while the three have much in common—linguistic virtuosity being the most obvious example—they amply demonstrate the profusion of genres that make up Russian literature. Before going any farther, let me digress momentarily to admit that I am and will be referring to genre in a fairly unsophisticated manner. I believe that it is generally more productive to think of a work as exhibiting certain generic characteristics, rather than belonging to a genre. However, obeying the generic conventions of the blog post, I’m not going to get too hung up on it here.

Andrei Platonov (1899-1951) was a supporter of the 1917 revolution, and in both his best-known novel The Foundation Pit and the plays in the Russian Library volume Fourteen Little Red Huts and Other Plays one can see his sympathy for the dream of communism, even as he absolutely eviscerates the policies and realities of the contemporary Soviet Union. Fourteen Little Red Huts and Other Plays contains two plays written in the early 1930s as direct reactions to the travails of collectivization and the resulting famine. (Estimates vary, but most place the death toll of the famine at between 5.5 and 8 million.) Read the rest of this entry »

April 28th, 2016

Minae Mizumura and Rebecca Walkowitz on World Literature and the Dominance of English



Minae Mizumura, The Fall of Language in the Age of English

“For a long time, we’ve assumed that all books begin in one language, often called a ‘native language,’ and then travel out to other languages. This is how we’ve expected ‘world literature’ to work. But today, many books begin in several languages—they start as world literature…”—Rebecca Walkowitz

This week we’ve been featuring works of world literature that we’ve recently published. World literature and translation have also emerged as topics of critical and scholarly interest as is evident in two books we’ve published over the last couple of years. The first is The Fall of Language in the Age of English by Minae Mizumura and translated by Mari Yoshihara and Juliet Winters Carpenter. In the book, the novelist and critic Mizumura examines what it lost for humanity when one language begins to dominate. For more on the book you can read an excerpt from the introduction, “Under the Blue Sky of Iowa”. We were also lucky enough to have the opportunity to interview Mizumura, in which she discusses, among other things, translations of her own work, the controversial reception her book received in Japan, and her experiences in the United States. The interview concludes with her advice to authors, who write in languages besides English:

I’m inclined to give two totally opposite pieces of advice. Let us say that you are a young Japanese writer. On the one hand, if your ultimate goal is to be translated into English and be known outside Japan, it might be best to read contemporary American novels in translation (or in the original, if you can) and model your work on them. Throwing in some discernible Japanese exotica would be helpful: cherry blossoms, ramen, or robots, for example. On the other hand, if your ultimate goal is to work with all the potential the Japanese language offers, and to give a fresh understanding of the world in which you live through that language, I would first recommend reading and rereading invaluable works written in Japanese.

The question of translation is also taken up by Rebecca Walkowitz in her book Born Translated: The Contemporary Novel in an Age of World Literature. Like Mizumura, Walkowitz acknowledges the ubiquity of English and and examines how major contemporary writers, including J. M. Coetzee, Junot Díaz, Jonathan Safran Foer, Mohsin Hamid, Kazuo Ishiguro, and Jamaica Kincaid, challenge this dominance. She also examines the ways in which the creation and reception of literature changes in an age where works are almost instantaneously published in translation.

Here is an excerpt from the introduction, Theory of World Literature Now. In our interview with Rebecca Walkowitz, she defines the concept of “born-translated”:

For a long time, we’ve assumed that all books begin in one language, often called a ‘native language,’ and then travel out to other languages. This is how we’ve expected ‘world literature’ to work. But today, many books begin in several languages—they start as world literature…”

April 27th, 2016

When the Incident Occurred



The Lost Garden

“When the incident occurred, Zhu Yinghong was startled out of a deep sleep by a commotion somewhere in the house. The moment she opened her eyes she had a feeling that neither of her parents was in bed. As usual, she reached out to touch the thin blanket covering the plank bed, and felt nothing but a cold chill. Years later, she would piece together what little she remembered of that night with what she’d heard here and there, and concluded that it had happened sometime in April or May.” — Li Ang

Our World Literature Week celebration continues today with a focus on an inventive collection of short fiction from Ng Kim Chew: The Lost Garden: A Novel, translated by Sylvia Li-chun Lin with Howard Goldblatt. We are happy to present the video of a recent panel on The Lost Garden, featuring Li Ang herself, along with her translators and Columbia University Press Director and editor Jennifer Crewe, followed by an excerpt from the second chapter of Part 1 of the novel.

Li Ang and her “Lost Garden”

When the Incident Occurred

April 27th, 2016

The Disappearance of M



Slow Boat to China and Other Stories

“When I (uh, it’s not me) . . . when he discussed that essay, he had an uncanny feeling that he had written it himself, while at the same time it was obviously mocking his writing. How could there be another author like this, who was able to penetrate into his thoughts and preemptively write his future, thereby forcibly removing him from this position of the ‘author’?” — Ng Kim Chew

Our World Literature Week celebration continues today with a focus on an inventive collection of short fiction from Ng Kim Chew: Slow Boat to China and Other Stories, translated and edited by Carlos Rojas. “The Disappearance of M,” excerpted below, is the first story in the collection:

April 26th, 2016

The Problem with History



Horses, Horses, in the End the Light Remains Pure

“Think of official history as a book. A book comes into view; it seems to suggest that it has no blank spaces, no margins. But it does, it contains blank spaces. In those spaces I cram my own notes, copious notes that are not yet articulated thoughts, and in the end weave a new book solely from the notes in the margins.” — Hideo Furukawa

Our World Literature Week celebration continues today with a focus on Zhu Wen’s Horses, Horses, in the End the Light Remains Pure: A Tale That Begins with Fukushima, translated by Doug Slaymaker with Akiko Takenaka.

Hideo Furukawa is in New York this week with Monkey Business for the PEN World Voices Festival (along with other fantastic writers, editors, and translators), and will be participating in a number of events: April 27 (Wed.), New York University, 6:30pm; April 28 (Thur.), Kinokuniya Bookstore, 6pm; April 29 (Fri.), BookCourt, 7pm; and April 30 (Sat.), Asia Society, 2pm (Ticket purchase required)! And now, on to the post:

Five years ago, on March 11, 2011, the town of Fukushima, Japan, was struck by a devastating earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear accident. Over 20,000 people died.

The reconstruction has been swift. ‘The incident is about to be forgotten, or they pretend nothing has happened,’ Japanese writer Hideo Furukawa said about his hometown. For Furukawa, careful examination is the only route to healing. One must investigate one’s nation and its past and present. His new book, Horses, Horses, In the End the Light Remains Pure: A Tale that Begins with Fukushima, is a mix of fiction, history, and memoir, as one can see in this short excerpt.

The Problem with History
Hideo Furukawa

Our history, the history of the Japanese, is nothing more than a history of killing people.

I am not sure of the best way to phrase things, given that rather inflammatory start. I will explain things as simply as I can. We live within the echoes of the Warring States period. For example, bushō, the term for military leaders, circulates as a commodity in contemporary society, and, thus, it continues to echo in everyday Japan. By the “Warring States period” I include the Azuchi Momoyama period right up to the beginning of the Edo period (1573–1603). I am not sure if the Azuchi Momoyama period is still taught as a single historical period in schools (elementary, middle, and up through high school). But I am quite sure that everyone learns that there was a period when Oda Nobunaga and then Toyotomi Hideyoshi ruled supreme. For example, we consume these two men as commodities all the time. When I say we “consume” them as commodities, I mean how we see them as “heroic” and think of them positively. Why would that be? Read the rest of this entry »

April 26th, 2016

The Complexity and Individuality of Contemporary Chinese Experiences and Perspectives



The Matchmaker, the Apprentice, and the Football Fan: More Stories of China, by Zhu Wen

Our World Literature Week celebration continues today with a focus on Zhu Wen’s The Matchmaker, the Apprentice, and the Football Fan: More Stories of China, translated by Julia Lovell, and newly released in paperback. We are happy to present part of an interview with Julia Lovell from the Los Angeles Review of Books, as well as the short story “The Apprentice,” excerpted in full from the book:

On Zhu Wen’s Stories and Other Works of Chinese Fiction: A Q & A with Julia Lovell

Jeffrey Wasserstrom: In an endorsement of the new collection, Jonathan Spence, who praised I Love Dollars in the London Review of Books, says that this “second volume of short stories” is “both darker and denser than the first.” Does that fit with your feeling about the new book or would you characterize the contrast differently?

Julia Lovell: I think that’s a perceptive comment by Jonathan Spence. There was plenty that was shocking and dark about the first collection – in particular, the kind of careless amorality that some of the stories diagnosed in 1990s China. But there was also, I think, a strand of humor, a strong appreciation of the farcical, running through some of the pieces. That’s less dominant in the new collection. Two of the stories that take a more conversational, absurdist take on life in the People’s Republic – “Da Ma’s Way of Talking” and “The Apprentice” – are also overtly tinged with sadness. The relaxed, humorous narration of the first story contrasts with its ending; in the second piece, the lightly sardonic tone blurs into the narrator’s sense of despairing melancholy as he feels increasingly trapped by his future in the socialist economy. At the same time though, I think that the new volume offers more thoughtful insights into human relationships, and into the impact of political pressures on day-to-day life.

But I’m still very drawn to work that showcases the more relaxed side of Chinese culture. At the moment, I’m working on a new abridgement of Journey to the West, a book from the imperial Chinese canon that fizzes with humorous irreverence. Stodgy Neo-Confucians, covetous Buddhists and libidinous Taoists – all are mocked in the novel; at one point, the book’s hero, the Monkey King, even urinates on the hand of the Buddha. Read the rest of this entry »

April 26th, 2016

New Book Tuesday: The Sierra Club, Plots, The Red Guard, and More!



The Man Who Built the Sierra Club

Our weekly listing of new titles now available:

The Man Who Built the Sierra Club: A Life of David Brower
Robert Wyss

Plots
Robert L. Belknap

The Red Guard Generation and Political Activism in China
Guobin Yang

Studies on the Iranian World: Before Islam
Edited by Anna Krasnowolska and Renata Rusek-Kowalska
(Jagiellonian University Press)

April 25th, 2016

An Interview with M. A. Orthofer, author of The Complete Review Guide to Contemporary World Fiction



The Complete Review Guide to Contemporary World Fiction

“There does seem to have been a definite move from larger publishers dominating publishing translations into English to smaller, more nimble independents and non-profits taking the lead in the field, and I think the future success of fiction in translation depends on their continued viability.”—M. A. Orthofer

The following is an interview with Michael Orthofer, author of The Complete Review Guide to Contemporary World Fiction:

Question: Your site has become legendary in its ability to stay on top and find the most exciting new works in global fiction. How do you do it?

M. A. Orthofer: It all starts with reading as much as possible—though ironically, working on the site cuts into my reading-time (though I think I would complain about finding too little time to read, even if that’s all I did all day). I’ve also always read very widely—fiction in every category, from every corner of the world, from any language—and have always been eager to seek out new and different voices, approaches, stories. Many readers seem to find specific areas or periods or styles or genres they’re most comfortable with and concentrate much of their reading on these, but I’ll read pretty much anything, and I think that has made a big difference, as the site (and now the book) reflect that and offer something for everyone.

And while I’ve always tried to look beyond the merely local and familiar, the internet, with its easy access to information and writing from everywhere in the world, has obviously helped expand my own horizons tremendously.

Q: What are you seeing as some of the most noteworthy trends in global fiction?

MAO: One of the great things about international literature is that there is such incredible variety, and so not even hot trends like magical realism, “Da Vinci Code”-type thrillers, “Harry Potter”-like fantasy, or Nordic crime fiction can completely crowd out everything else. Success does breed a lot of imitation, locally and internationally, and there are certainly still too many instances of foreign writers trying to follow the formula of the biggest American and British best sellers, but I think there has been a distinct move back towards relying on local strengths—be that language, history, mythology, tradition—in foreign writing too. Crime fiction is probably where this is most visible, with other countries and cultures putting more of a local spin on stories again—which has certainly worked for writers from the Scandinavian countries.

A curious trend as far as books in translation in America (and the UK) goes does seem to be the rise of the short work of fiction, as I can’t remember ever seeing as many translated novels and even story-collections in the hundred-page range. There are still lots of big works being published—not least the multi-volume epics by Karl Ove Knausgaard and Elena Ferrante—but the small, slim volume of fiction in translation has become much more common. I don’t think this is a real global trend—it seems limited to the US and Britain—and I assume one reason for it is simply that publishers are more willing to take on short works because they are considerably cheaper to translate.

Q: What is your sense of what and how much of international fiction is the English-speaking world missing? Are there many authors and books that English-language readers don’t have access to because of lack of translations

The number of books published in English translation is still so low—less than five hundred new works of fiction in 2015, according to the Three Percent database—that it’s impossible not to conclude that we are missing a tremendous amount. It looks to me very much like a tip-of-the-iceberg situation—compounded by an uneven distribution of what gets translated. BecauseAmerican publishers are so reliant on outside financial support for the additional cost of translating works, those countries that are able and willing to subsidize the translation of their literature are far-better represented in translation. As a result, fiction from many European countries, or South Korea and Japan, is much better-represented than that from countries and languages that haven’t invested in subsidizing translation—or aren’t able to.

Read the rest of this entry »

April 25th, 2016

Weekly Feature and Book Giveaway: World Literature Week



World Literature Week

This week, in conjunction with the PEN World Voices Festival, we will be highlighting our wide range of books of and about world literature here on the Columbia University Press blog as well as on our Twitter feed and our Facebook page.

Here’s a quick summary of books we’ll have posts for this week (we’ll add the posts, as well, as they arrive!):

Monday

  • An interview with M. A. Orthofer, highlighting his thorough and fascinating new guide to contemporary fiction around the world, The Complete Review Guide to Contemporary World Fiction
  • Tuesday

  • An interview with translator Julia Lovell and “The Apprentice,” an excerpted short story from The Matchmaker, the Apprentice, and the Football Fan, a collection of short stories about everyday life in China in the late 1980s by Zhu Wen (following up his previous collection, I Love Dollars)
  • An excerpt on writing a book composed from notes in the margins of history, from Hideo Furukawa’s novel/history/memoir of the 3/11 disaster at Fukushima, Horses, Horses, in the End the Light Remains Pure, translated by Doug Slaymaker with Akiko Takenaka. Hideo Furukawa will be in New York for the PEN World Voices festival! For more details, click here.
  • Wednesday

  • “The Disappearance of M,” the first story in Ng Kim Chew’s collection of short fiction, Slow Boat to China and Other Stories, translated and edited by Carlos Rojas
  • Watch novelist Li Ang discuss The Lost Garden, her eloquent and beautiful exploration of contemporary Taiwan, with translators Sylvia Li-chun Lin and Howard Goldblatt, and Columbia University Press Director Jennifer Crewe, and then read “When the Incident Occurred,” an excerpt from Part 1
  • Thursday

  • A quick critical look at the dominance of English and its effect on world literature from Born Translated: The Contemporary Novel in an Age of World Literature, by Rebecca L. Walkowitz, and The Fall of Language in the Age of English, by Minae Mizumura, translated by Mari Yoshihara and Juliet Winters Carpenter
  • Editor Christine Dunbar introduces our new Russian Library series, with a particular focus on its first three books: Between Dog and Wolf, by Sasha Sokolov, translated by Alexander Boguslawski; Fourteen Little Red Huts and Other Plays, by Andrei Platonov, edited by Robert Chandler, translated by Robert Chandler, Jesse Irwin, and Susan Larsen; and Strolls with Pushkin, by Andrei Sinyavsky, translated by Catherine Theimer Nepomnyashchy and Slava I. Yastremski
  • Friday

  • Take a closer look at Chinese University Press’s extensive collection of drama from Nobel Prize for Literature winner Gao Xingjian, including, among others, The Other Shore, Snow in August, and, most recently, City of the Dead and Ballade Nocturne
  • A wonderful selection of poetry from Chinese University Press’s series of International Poetry Nights in Hong Kong anthologies, particularly the most recent installment, Poetry and Conflict, Edited by Bei Dao, Shelby K. Y. Chan, Gilbert C. F. Fong, Lucas Klein, Christopher Mattison, and Chris Song
  • Book Giveaway

    We are also offering a FREE selection of titles discussed in the feature: The Complete Review Guide to Contemporary World Fiction, by M. A. Orthofer; Horses, Horses, in the End the Light Remains Pure, by Hideo Furukawa; The Lost Garden, by Li Ang; and The Matchmaker, the Apprentice, and the Football Fan, by Zhu Wen. To enter our book giveaway, simply fill out the form below with your name and preferred mailing address. We will randomly select our winners on Friday, April 29th at 1:00 pm. Good luck, and spread the word!

    April 22nd, 2016

    Remembering Slavery: Passover, Caribbean Literature and Black-Jewish Relations



    Calypso Jews

    “Like the Caribbean literature I examine, the Passover seder encourages us to make connections between different histories of oppression.”—Sarah Phillips Casteel

    The following post is by Sarah Phillips Casteel, author of Calypso Jews: Jewishness in the Caribbean Literary Imagination.

    The annual Jewish ritual of the Passover seder transports its participants back to the time of Egyptian slavery. During the seder, ancient history is reanimated through storytelling and eating symbolic foods. The Haggadah (or “telling”) instructs Jews that it is incumbent upon them to narrate their suffering in Egypt and liberation from bondage: “In every generation each individual is bound to regard himself as if he had gone personally forth from Egypt, as it is said, ‘And thou shalt relate to thy son on that day saying, this is on account of what the Eternal did for me, when I went forth from Egypt.’” At Passover, Jews transmit this story from one generation to the next through a process in which, in the words of Rabbi Lawrence Kushner, “we not only remember that we were slaves but also re-experience ourselves as slaves.”

    As a scholar of Caribbean literature, I am interested in how contemporary writers also use narrative to engage and reactivate the past. Just as the Passover seder compels its participants to actively recall the Israelites’ journey from slavery to freedom in order to shape the consciousness of the next generation, contemporary Caribbean writers transport us back into the slavery past in order to help us make sense of the present. Part of the power of this act of literary imagination is that it brings forgotten histories to light. As I explore in my new book, one of the lost histories recovered by Caribbean writers is that of the resettlement of Jewish refugees in the Caribbean from the seventeenth century onward.

    Several years ago, while wandering through the Jewish cemetery in Bridgetown, Barbados, I was excited to come across a tombstone bearing the name Benjamin C. d’Azevedo. I immediately recognized this name, which is shared by the Jewish protagonist of I, Tituba, Black Witch of Salem, by the Guadeloupean author Maryse Condé. In Condé’s 1986 novel, which is set in Barbados and New England during the Salem Witch Trials, the Jewish merchant Benjamin Cohen d’Azevedo purchases the slavewoman Tituba and eventually frees her, securing her passage back to the Caribbean. Had Condé visited the Bridgetown cemetery and found her Jewish protagonist here, I wondered? Why was she so drawn to the Sephardic Caribbean story?

    Read the rest of this entry »

    April 21st, 2016

    Thursday Fiction Corner: Chu T’ien-wen’s Notes of a Desolate Man



    Notes of a Desolate Man

    Welcome to the Columbia University Press Thursday Fiction Corner! This week Russian Library editor Christine Dunbar tries to explain why Chu T’ien-wen’s Notes of a Desolate Man is so awesome.

    I have been struggling to write about Chu T’ien-Wen’s Notes of a Desolate Man, which I read in Howard Goldblatt and Sylvia Li-Chun Lin’s translation, because by starting with one aspect of the text, I am unavoidably not starting with any number of other aspects, all equally deserving of attention. In other words, I am finding hard to write about this book because I love it so much.

    It is a book about belonging and mortality and art, which is just about the least informative thing I could say. It is also a book about a Taiwanese gay man, Xiao Shao, watching his best friend die of AIDS. The beginning of the novel foregrounds this information, as though the implied author is conspiring with the first-person narrator to show the reader that being out and proud kills you. But the narrator’s language of guilt, sin, and unnaturalness only partially obscures a life rich in love, art, and, above all, words.

    Theory and narratives—particularly from films—provide a structure with which the narrator makes sense of life, but words provide comfort. When his partner leaves on an extended business trip, Shao combats debilitating loneliness and anxiety by reading lists of colors from an article on visual imagery in Chinese poetry: “moist red, light primrose red, fingernail red, vale red, light peach red, light poppy red, apple red, cheek red, melon pulp red, molten iron red, strawberry red, distiller’s red, escargot red, cassia red, pomegranate red, mercury red, cooked-shrimp red, blush red, and crab-pincer red” (65). These reds return, in a lover’s well-kissed lips, in a sister’s first lipstick and menstrual blood, in the communism of a mainland China Shao will never see.

    Shao’s alienation from what he sees as normal family life is reinforced by the book’s non-linear chronology—and how could it not be, with a narrator whose default touchstones are arthouse cinema and French theory. But in the novel’s penultimate chapter, Shao recognizes that the China he both longs for and shuns, which he has been conflating with the space on the map occupied by the mainland, doesn’t actually exist, or if it does exist, exists only in language, only as a concept that he himself creates. I would argue that on a higher authorial level, a symmetry is being drawn between the false outsider status of the homosexual and the Taiwanese people. That is, perhaps in time Shao will recognize that his idealized notion of a heterosexual nuclear family that flawlessly insulates its members from loneliness and loss cannot be found in reality, and to the extent that a family can mitigate sorrow, his own is no less capable.

    As a Slavist, I can’t help but compare Notes of a Desolate Man to Notes from the Underground, and there are many similarities: the intimate tone; the defiant embrace of irrationality; the loneliness; the non-linearity; the centrality of thoughts about sex and power. Even the way Shao weaves together personal reflections with critiques of social theory mirrors the narration of the underground man. And the narrators, both of whom are 40, are going through something of a midlife crisis. But Dostoevsky’s narrator is an outward-facing one, ranting to an audience, seeing himself as set against all of society. Shao’s narration is quieter. He’s unreliable, but not slyly so. This is a man attempting, if not quite managing, to be honest with himself, to gain meaning through details and grand theory alike. The underground man would scoff at Shao’s naiveté, but I appreciate his attempt to use the tools at his disposal—Lévi-Strauss, Fellini, Miyazaki—to make sense of a life not governed by reproductive cycles, and that will eventually end in death.