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Highlighting forgotten, neglected, abandoned, forsaken, unrecognized, unacknowledged, overshadowed, out-of-fashion, under-translated writers. Has no one read your books? You are in good company.

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With only three books in print in English translation, it seems no one reads Juan Jose Saer (1937-2005). Believed by many to be the greatest Argentine novelist of the 20th century, Saer’s work, like his more well-known contemporaries Cesar Aira and Roberto Bolano, toys with the limits of genre, ultimately expanding our sense of what a novel can be. Befitting a novelist whose work straddled so many genres, Saer’s voice ranges from the lyrical to the hard-boiled.

Proof of his voluptuous lyricism is evident in the following passage from his novel of cultural dislocation and cannibalism, The Witness (trans. by Margaret Jull Costa, who has translated Saramago and Javier Marias):

Amongst so many strange things: the predictable sun, the countless stars, the trees that resolutely put on the same green splendor each time their season mysteriously comes round, the river that ebbs and flows, the shimmering yellow sand and summer air, the pulsating body which is born, grows old and dies, all the vast distances and the passing days, enigmas which we all in our innocence believe to be familiar, amongst all these presences that seem oblivious to ours, it is understandable that one day, in the face of the inexplicable, we experience the unpleasant feeling that we are just voyagers through a phantasmagoria…. But, despite its intensity, that feeling, which we all have sometimes, does not last and does not go deep enough to unsettle our lives. One day, when we least expect it, it suddenly overwhelms us. For a few moments familiar objects are totally alien to us, inert and remote despite their nearness.

And his hard-boiled, gritty realism is evident in the opening of the recently published translation of Cicatrices (Scars, trans. Steve Dolph):

There’s this filthy, evil June light coming through the window. I’m leaning over the table, sliding the cue, ready to shoot. The red and the white balls area across the table, near the corner. I have the spot ball. I have to hit it softly so it hits the red ball first, then the white, then the back rail between the red and the white ball.

In addition to Scars, Open Letter Books has also recently published The Sixty-Five Years of Washington, which leaves us with the hope that we will one day be able to strike Saer from the roll of Writers No One Reads.

For more, see this appreciation in The Nation or this obituary published in the Guardian.

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  1. strontiumlullaby reblogged this from isitanart
  2. isitanart reblogged this from prole-art-threat and added:
    Reblogged this before, but Scars and Thomas Mann’s The Magic Mountain have been the best books I’ve read this year and...
  3. prole-art-threat reblogged this from writersnoonereads and added:
    Scars is top of the years reading list. Need more. Now
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    Amongst so many strange things: the predictable sun, the countless stars, the trees that resolutely put on the same...
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