Posts tagged lit
An Offering [for the Dead], stylistically, reads as if (Hamburger’s) Celan wrote a ~120-page surrealistic threnody in prose for European victims of a WWII bombing. Readers expecting a plot will find, instead, a vision: of a rainy, war-ruined city, where everyone is dead; only ghosts (lemures) remain, pacing around the desolation, idling in a conflation of memories, nightmares, myths. The narrator gives us a somnambulistic tour of this ghost-world. […]
Over at Asymptote's blog, our co-editor, József Szabó (JS(z)), shares his notable recent reads in the esteemed company of his fellow Asymptote staff: Ágnes Orzóy (editor-at-large, Hungary; also the editor of Hungarian Literature Online and co-editor of Hyperion Art Journal) and Frances Riddle (editor-at-large, Argentina).
If you look back at the books that won the Pulitzer or the National Book Award, it is always the wrong book. Book awards, for the most part, celebrate mediocrity. It takes decades for the reader to catch up to a genius book, it takes years away from hype, publicity teams, and favoritism to see that some books just aren’t that good.
Which is why we are starting a new book award, the Daphnes, that will celebrate the best books of 50 years ago. We will right the wrongs of the 1964 National Book Awards, which ugh, decided that John Updike’s The Centaur was totally the best book of that year.
[One of our Founding Members (we need to call it that for the historians of the future that will look back on this important moment) has nicknamed the award The Corrections, which is funny to me on so many levels. We must take back the word “Corrections” from our oppressor, Jonathan Franzen! Reclaim its use!]
We need your help, though, to flesh out the nominees for the Best Books of 1963. We have been frustrated in our efforts to find a comprehensive list of books published in 1963, most of the online lists have listed only or mostly American and British books, and there have been some conflicting publishing dates on some of our books. We are asking for fact-checkers and submissions for nominees. Nominate the best books of 1963 by emailing me.
Our list so far:
updated to add:
Memories, Dreams, Reflections by Carl Jung
The Words by Jean Paul Sartre
Fire Next Time by James Baldwin
Anti-Intellectualism in American Life by Richard Hofstadter
American Way of Death by Jessica Mitford
Six Easy Pieces by Richard P. Feynman
Destruction of Dresden by David Irving
Eichmann in Jerusalem by Hannah Arendt
updated to add:
Flight to Africa by Austin Clarke
Burning Perch by Louis MacNeice
Reality Sandwiches by Allen Ginsburg
73 Poems by e e cummings
Snapshots of a Daughter-in-Law by Adrienne Rich
All My Pretty Ones by Anne Sexton
Requiem by Anna Akhmatova
Email us to let us know what we are forgetting.
Exact Change, one of our favorite small presses, has nobly published many writers no one reads, including Leonora Carrington, Stefan Themerson, Unica Zurn, and Denton Welch, among others. Their new e-zine (the first 3 issues are free) is definitely worth a download.
[Art: Alice James, from Lara Tomlin’s Imaginary Portraits series.]
When we posted our first half book preview in January, we promised to return in July with a second installment. Although we missed that deadline by just a little (cough, cough), we have returned with an epic Fall Book Preview. As previously stated, our tastes dictated the list and we make no claims to comprehensiveness, thoroughness, or even good taste.
Enjoy! — Eds.
- Joshua Comaroff & Ong Ker-Shing, Horror in Architecture (Oro Editions). Title says it all, doesn’t it?
- Jason Schwartz, John the Posthumous (OR Books). One of the most unusual pieces of fiction published this year. Best start here.
- Ahmad Faris al-Shidyaq (trans. Humphrey Davies), Leg Over Leg volumes 1&2 (NYU Press). A previously untranslated classic of Arabic literature by a writer compared to Rabelais and Sterne.
- Georges Perec & the Oulipo (trans. Monk, Mathews and Sturrock), Winter Journeys (Atlas). A short story about an imaginary book spawns twenty successive stories. Ladies and gentlemen, the Oulipo!
- Keith Ridgway, Hawthorn and Child (New Directions). This mind-boggling play on the mystery novel starts with a guy getting shot by a ghost car—the car, not someone in it—and gets weirder by degrees.
- Léon Genonceaux (trans. Iain White), The Tutu (Atlas). The “strangest novel of the 19th century,” according to Marc Lowenthal.
- Mary Ruefle, Trances of the Blast (Wave). Ruefle’s first collection of poetry since her wonderful Madness, Rack and Honey.
- Sherry Simon, ed., In Translation - Honouring Sheila Fischman (McGill-Queen’s University Press). A festschrift for Canada’s prolific literary translator. Contributions by: Alberto Manguel, (the late) Michael Henry Heim, and other literati.
- Jeff Jackson, Mira Corpora (Two Dollar Radio). A coming-of-age tale for those who came to age with David Lynch.
- Travis Jeppesen, The Suiciders (Semiotext(e)). Kind of like Mira Corpora, but with more self-mutilation and parrots. Read an excerpt at 3:AM Magazine.
- Robert Walser (trans. Damion Searls), A Schoolboy’s Diary and Other Stories (NYRB Classics). Fans of Jakob von Gunten should check out this collection by the “clairvoyant of the small.”
- Pitigrilli (trans. Eric Mosbacher), Cocaine (New Vessel). Worth buying just for the “I’ve got Cocaine in my bag” jokes you can make. Here’s the Complete Review’s take.
- Pierre Mac Orlan (trans. Napolean Jeffries), Handbook for the Perfect Adventurer (Wakefield). A satirical guide to the art of passive adventuring.
- NYRB Poets (ed. Mary Ann Caws), Pierre Reverdy (NYRB Classics). An anthology of the great French poet’s work, with translations by Kenneth Rexroth, Frank O’Hara, Lydia Davis, and others.
- Sergio Chejfec (trans. Heather Cleary), The Dark (Open Letter). A subtle and oblique novel, written in Chejfec’s signature style, that works along the borders of memory and reality.
- Jeremias Gotthelf (trans. Susan Bernofsky), The Black Spider (NYRB Classics). A terrifying supernatural tale in an excellent new translation. Yes, there’s a giant spider.
- Orly Castel-Bloom (trans Dalya Bilu), Textile (Feminist Press). Another withering satire by Israel’s most corrosive novelist.
- Roderigo Rey Rosa (trans. Jeffrey Gray), The African Shore (Yale). A haunting novel about a Columbian of uncertain means stranded in Tangier.
- Eduardo Lago (trans. Ernesto Mestre-Reed), Call Me Brooklyn (Dalkey Archive). A kaleidoscopic novel about writers and artists in NYC.
- Robert Lax, Poems (1962-1997) (Wave Books). A monumental collection by the hermit of Patmos.
- Luigi Serafini, Codex Seraphinianus (Rizzoli). The legendary Codex, written in an imaginary language, gets a new release.
- Various authors (and translators), The Library of Korean Literature (Dalkey Archive). A collection of ten never previously translated novels from Korea.
- Marek Hłasko (trans. Ross Ufberg), Beautiful Twentysomethings (Northern Illinois University Press). The first English translation of the 1966 autobiography of a great writer and Poland’s own rebel without a cause.
- Mircea Cărtărescu (trans. Sean Cotter), Blinding (Archipelago Books). A bestseller in Romania, this hallucinatory book, the first of a trilogy, is one of the year’s most interesting novels.
- Herbert Read, The Green Child (New Directions). A fantastical tale with a philosophical undercurrent that riffs on Plato. This new edition of Read’s only novel features an intro by Eliot Weinberger, adding him to the book’s other distinguished admirers: T. S. Eliot, Graham Greene, Kenneth Rexroth.
- Jean-Christophe Valtat, Luminous Chaos (Melville House). The second novel in Valtat’s steampunk Mysteries of New Venice trilogy, with plenty of dirigibles.
- Alphonse Allais (trans. Doug Skinner), Captain Cap: His Adventures, His Ideas, His Drinks (Black Scat Books). An unabridged and illustrated collection of “the peerless French humorist”, who was later revered by the Surrealists for “his elegant style and disturbing imagination.”
- Martin Vaughn-James, The Cage (Coach House Books). The return of a classic proto-graphic novel.
- Anne Carson, Nay Rather (Sylph). A cahier featuring an essay and poem by Carson, along with illustrations by Lanfranco Quadrio.
- David Ohle, The Old Reactor (Dzanc). Catch up with Moldenke in this sequel to Motorman!
- Renee Gladman, Ana Patova Crosses a Bridge (Dorothy). The final installment of Gladman’s Ravickian trilogy.
- Jean Ferry (trans. Edward Gauvin), The Conductor and Other Tales (Wakefield). The first full translation of Ferry’s pataphysical tales, which in the original French were favorites of the Surrealists.
- César Aira (trans. Chris Andrews), Shantytown (New Directions). If you were waiting for the ever-mutating Aira to write a noir, your day has come.
- Peter Handke (trans. Martin Chalmers), Storm Still (Seagull). A series of monologues exploring the often tragic lives of Slovenes in Austria.
- Rachel Shihor (trans. Ornan Rotem), Stalin is Dead (Sylph). Parable-like stories inviting comparisons to Kafka. Read an excerpt at Asymptote.
- Rafael Bernal (trans. Katherine Silver), Mongolian Conspiracy (New Directions). Francisco Goldman says it best when he calls Mongolian Conspiracy ”The best fucking novel ever written about Mexico City.”
- Josef Winkler (trans. Adrian West), When the Time Comes (Contra Mundum). Winkler’s chronicle of a rural village in Austria, rife with tragedy, is a dark entertainment.
- Reggie Oliver, Flowers of the Sea (Tartarus Press). More strange stories from a writer deemed a master of the form since his first two collections: The Dreams of Cardinal Vittorini and The Complete Symphonies of Adolf Hitler.
- Philippe Jaccottet (trans. Tess Lewis), Seedtime: Notebooks (Sylph). Jaccottet’s notebooks collect precise evocations of the natural world and limpid reflections on the arts.
- Yves Bonnefoy (trans. Beverly Bie Brahic), The Present Hour (Seagull). The latest collection from the great French poet.
Ivan Vladislavić, Double Negative (And Other Stories). In which our two protagonists choose three houses to visit from a hill in Johannesburg.
- Alona Kimhi (trans. Dalya Bilu), Lily La Tigresse (Dalkey Archive). Another wicked satire from Dalkey’s Hebrew Literature Series.
- László Krasznahorkai (trans. Georges Szirtes), The Bill (Sylph). An eleven-page sentence on Palma Vecchio, a 16th century Venetian painter.
- Amina Cain, Creature (Dorothy). A beautifully written collection of short experimental stories.
- Curzio Malaparte (trans. David Moore), The Skin (NYRB Classics). Malaparte’s The Skin returns in the first unexpurgated English edition.
- Hilda Hilst (trans. John Keene), Letters from a Seducer (Nightboat). If The Obscene Madame D is any indication, this novel from Hilst will be a wild, metaphysical ride.
- Wiesław Myśliwski (trans. Bill Johnston), A Treatise on Shelling Beans (Archipelago Books). An earthy and comic novel from the author and translator of the Best Translated Book Award winner, Stone Upon Stone.
- Raul Zurita and Forrest Gander, Pinholes in the Night (Copper Canyon). An anthology of Latin American poetry.
- Igor Vishnevetsky (trans. Andrew Bromfield), Leningrad (Dalkey Archive). A contemporary novel of the Siege of Leningard, mixing elements of the absurd and avant-garde.
- Antonio Muñoz Molina (trans. Edith Grossman), In the Night of Time (HMH). A sweeping historical novel set in the days leading to the Spanish Civil War.
- Sigizmund Krzhizhanovsky (trans. Joanne Turnbull), Autobiography of a Corpse (NYRB Classics). NYRB’s second offering of Krzhizhanovsky’s dark, bizzare, philosophical short stories.
- Arkady and Boris Strugatsky (trans. Antonina W. Bouis), Definitely Maybe (Melville House). The Strugatskys brought us Roadside Picnic, which became Tarkovsky’s cult film Stalker. That in itself is enough reason to read this comic romp. Yes, romp.
- Ben Marcus, Leaving the Sea (Knopf). A collection of stories from the author of Notable American Women.
- Mikhail Shishkin (trans. Andrew Bromfield), The Light and the Dark (Quercus). The second of Shiskin’s novels to be translated into English, told in the form of letters between lovers.
The WNOR First Half of 2013 Book Preview (January-July)
With no aspirations to completeness or claims about this being the only book preview you’ll need to consult, we present a selection of books we’re excited to see published in the first half of 2013. Our reading tastes dictated the list: included are a lot of translations, works published by small presses, and reprints of out-of-print books. We’re undoubtedly missing some gems and have deliberately skipped over titles you’ll see previewed elsewhere, but hope our offering points you in the right direction nonetheless. A second half preview will follow in July.
Happy new year and happy reading. — Eds.
- Ludwig Hohl (trans. Donna Stonecipher), Ascent (Black Square Editions). A short gem about two mountaineers and two bad decisions, from an overlooked Swiss writer.
- Alejandro Zambra (trans. Megan McDowell), Ways of Going Home (FSG). The darling of Latin American literature returns with this, his third playful and tender novel to be translated into English.
- Scott Esposito and Lauren Elkin, The End of Oulipo? (Zero Books). A critical examination of the role and future of the Oulipo.
- William Gaddis (ed. Steven Moore), The Letters of William Gaddis (Dalkey Archive). This promises to be an illuminating collection of letters from the spotlight-wary Gaddis. Including correspondence with notable figures like William Gass, Saul Bellow, Robert Coover, and others.
- Georges Perec (trans. Daniel Levin Becker), La Boutique Obscure (Melville House). Will answer the burning question: did Perec’s dreams operate under constraints?
- William Gerhardie, The Polyglots (Melville House). A reprint of a novel called by William Boyd “the most influential English novel of the twentieth century.” A welcome addition to Melville House’s excellent Neversink Library.
- Arnon Grunberg (trans. Sam Garrett), Tirza (Open Letter). The latest novel by Grunberg, who has also published fiction under the pseudonym Marek van der Jagt, to be translated into English is perhaps his darkest yet.
- Christa Wolf (trans. Damion Searls), City of Angels or, The Overcoat of Dr. Freud (FSG). Christa Wolf’s last novel, set in Los Angeles.
- Jacob Slauerhoff (trans. Paul Vincent), The Forbidden Kingdom (Pushkin). The early 20th century Dutch classic, included on the list of “1001 Novels You Must Read Before You Die,” finally available in English.
- William Gass, Middle C (Knopf). The prolific Gass’ third novel and first since his legendary Tunnel.
- Daniel Spoerri, At the Museum of Natural History: An Incompetent Dialogue? (Kerber). Spoerri, a visual artist and writer (see our earlier post) embarks on a project comparing his work with the collection of the Vienna Museum of Natural History.
- Anne Carson, Red Doc> (Knopf). A sequel of sorts to Carson’s long poem/novel Autobiography of Red.
- Robert Desnos (trans. Terry Hale), Liberty or Love! and Morning for Mourning (Atlas). Two novellas by Surrealist poet Desnos, now available in the U.S.
- Severo Sarduy (trans. Mark Fried), Firefly (Archipelago). A richly lyrical coming of age tale of a boy with a head too big and a sense of direction too poor to do anything but get him into trouble in pre-Castro Cuba.
- Nathalie Sarraute (trans. Barbara Wright), Childhood (Univ. of Chicago). A reprint of Sarraute’s memoir, with a new forward by Alice Kaplan.
- Renata Adler, Speedboat and Pitch Dark (NYRB). Two eagerly anticipated reprints of books that have been inexplicably languishing out-of-print for years.
- E.M. Cioran (trans. Richard Howard), The New Gods (Univ. of Chicago). Reprint of a collection of brooding essays and aphorisms by the inimitable Cioran.
- Jean-Marie Blas de Robles (trans. Mike Mitchell), Where Tigers Are At Home (Other Press). A massive tale of intrigue spanning centuries, with 17th century scholar and man of dubious science Athanasius Kircher at its heart. Winner of the Prix Medicis.
- Italo Calvino (trans. Martin McLaughlin), Letters 1941-1985 (Princeton). Will hopefully reveal all sorts of dirt on Raymond Queneau.
- Carlos Rojas (trans. Edith Grossman), The Ingenious Gentleman and Poet Federico Garcia Lorca Ascends to Hell (Yale). A fantastical tale about the death and afterlife of poet Garcia Lorca, translated by Edith Grossman.
- Luis Chitarroni (trans. Rhett McNeil), The No Variations (Dalkey Archive). A classic of Latin American metafiction compared to the work of David Markson and Cesar Aira.
- Elfriede Jelinek (trans. Damion Searls), Her Not All Her (Sylph Editions). Jelinek takes on Robert Walser in this play about the writer’s life and work.
- Stig Dagerman (trans. Steven Hartman), To Kill a Child (Godine). A collection of stories by one of the most famous forgotten Swedish writers.
- Agnieszka Kuciak, Distant Lands: An Anthology of Poets Who Don’t Exist (White Pines Press). The title says it all.
- Ulf Peter Hallberg (trans. Anderson & Cassady), European Trash (Sixteen Ways to Remember a Father) (Dzanc). The first title in Dzanc’s Disquiet imprint, which will bring more translated literature to English-language readers.
- Danielle Collobert (trans. Nathanael), Murder (Litmus Press). Collobert’s first novel, published by Editions Gallimard in 1964, captures the zeitgeist of the period of the Algerian War.
- Santiago Roncagliolo (trans. Edith Grossman), Hi, This is Conchita (Two Lines Press). Two Lines expands its publishing venture with this comic novella—told entirely in dialogue—from Premio Alfaguara de Novela winner Roncagliolo (Red April).
- Jorge Luis Borges (trans. Katherine Silver), Professor Borges: A Course on English Literature (New Directions). A previously untranslated collection of Borges’ lectures on English literature.
- Adam Bodor (trans. Paul Olchvary), The Sinistra Zone (New Directions). A black comedy about a man who’s job it is to guard blueberries at a bear preserve in Eastern Europe.
- Kenneth Cook, Wake in Fright (Text Classics). This 1961 novel has been called “the greatest outback horror story” and is here reprinted by Text Classics.
- Imre Kertesz (trans. Tim Wilkinson), Dossier K (Melville House). A self-interview that blends memoir and fiction written by the oddly neglected Nobel laureate.
- Adolfo Bioy Casares and Silvina Ocampo (trans. Levine & Campbell), Where There’s Love, There’s Hate (Melville House). Husband and wife team and collaborators with Borges brought back into print.
- Franz Fuhmann (trans. Isabel Fargo Cole), The Jew Car (Seagull). A collection of searing stories examining a life lived under the shadow of National Socialism.
- Marie NDiaye (trans. Jordan Stump), All My Friends (Two Lines). This collection of stories follows the publication of Prix Goncourt winner NDiaye’s acclaimed novel Three Strong Women.
- Guy Davenport (ed. Eric Reese), Guy Davenport Reader (Counterpoint). A collection of essays and stories by the lamentably overlooked Davenport that will hopefully remind people of his greatness.
- Mario Santiago Papasquiaro (trans. C. Heinowitz & A. Graman), Advice from 1 Disciple of Marx to 1 Heidegger Fanatic (Wave Books). A translation of the book length poem by the co-founder of infrarealism. Readers of The Savage Detectives will recognize Santiago as the Ulises Lima of the novel.
- Laszlo Krasznahorkai, Seiobo There Below (New Directions). An introduction to a strand of Krasznahorkai’s oeuvre that might surprise some readers.
- Ror Wolf (trans. Jennifer Marquart), Two or Three Years Later: Forty-Nine Digressions (Open Letter). An “anti-book” of short stories by a writer who mines a similar vein as two Roberts: Walser and Pinget.
- Samuel Beckett, Echo’s Bones (Grove). Eighty years after it was written, this little known story by Samuel Beckett will come as a welcome addition to the libraries of completists.
- Curzio Malaparte, Coup D’Etat (Enigma Books). Subtitled “The Technique of Revolution,” this is a translation of the book that earned Malaparte a jail sentence in Mussolini’s Italy. Malaparte’s novel The Skin will be reprinted by NYRB Classics this spring.
- Jules Supervielle (trans. Terry & Kline), Poems of Jules Supervielle (Black Widow). During his lifetime, Supervielle was praised highly by T.S. Eliot; perhaps this new translation will help resuscitate his posthumous reputation.
- Simon Leys, The Hall of Uselessness (NYRB). At long last, the great Australian essayist’s work is gathered in a selection ranging from topics as diverse as Chinese history (of which Leys is a scholar) and “the Quixotism of the sea.”
- Sibylle Lewitscharoff (trans. Katy Derbyshire), Apostoloff (Seagull). A novel of bitterness and reckoning by an award-winning German writer.
- Stephen Romer (ed.), French Decadent Tales (Oxford). Translator Stephen Romer collects thirty-six dark and darkly humorous tales from 1880-1900, including short stories by Maupassant, Leon Bloy, and Georges Rodenbach.
- Giacomo Leopardi, Zibaldone (FSG). A whopping 2600-page collection of the Italian poet’s notebooks. This is the first time the notebooks have been made available in their entirety in English.
- Marguerite Duras (trans. Ali & Murphy), L’Amour (Open Letter). A previously untranslated novel by Marguerite Duras.
- Almantas Samalavicius, The Dedalus Book of Lithuanian Literature (Dedalus). A century-spanning collection of Lithuanian literature, reflecting the culture’s changing political and artistic position.
- Alexander Kluge (trans. Martin Chalmers), Air Raid (Seagull Books). Kluge’s book about the near total destruction of his German hometown during World War II, finally published in English. With an appreciation by W.G. Sebald.
Forthcoming (no publication date listed)
- Emil Hakl (trans. Marek Tomin), The Witch’s Flight (Twisted Spoon). A dark chronicle of the consequences of an inexplicable crime.
- Bruno Jasienski, (trans. Gauger & Torr) The Legs of Izolda Morgan (Twisted Spoon). A classic of Polish Futurism, published along with Jasienski’s manifestos and later pieces.
- Pierre Mac Orlean (trans. Napolean Jeffries), A Handbook for the Perfect Adventurer (Wakefield). A tongue-in-cheek guide for the armchair adventurer.
- Jean Ferry (trans. Edward Gauvin), The Conductor & Other Tales (Wakefield). A collection of humorous stories by noted screenwriter and member of the College of Pataphysics.
- Miklos Szentkuthy, Towards the One and Only Metaphor (Contra Mundum). The second book in the eight-volume St. Orpheus Breviary, written by an author who was praised as “out-Prousting Proust.”
Over at Tin House, Stephen offers a reading list for fans of Laszlo Krasznahorkai.
In March of last year, English-language readers were finally presented with Satantango, the first novel by Laszlo Krasznahorkai, the writer Susan Sontag once called “the contemporary Hungarian master of the apocalypse.” The novel, considered a masterpiece in the author’s native country since its original publication in 1985, adds to his work now available in English, revealing in the process one of the most singular oeuvres in contemporary literature. And, though the time between translations of Krasznahorkai’s novels appears to be shortening (New Directions will publish his Seiobo There Below this spring), readers suffering withdrawal from his bleak, absurdist universe have much to explore. Below is a short, non-exhaustive list of writers, all Mittel-European, who share affinities with Krasznahorkai.
The Castle, Franz Kafka
Looming behind Krasznahorkai is the hulking edifice of Kafka’s Castle, a novel perhaps all the more imposing because of its incompleteness. Krasznahorkai shares with Kafka a sense of metaphysical darkness and confusion coupled with a suitably dark sense of humor, rendering a world in which context is at best guesswork. Unanchored, Krasznahorkai’s characters drift through a gloomy landscape that mirrors their own uncertain morality, unable, as Kafka so relentlessly exposed, to make informed decisions—and, as we’ve come to expect, doomed to be punished for what they do not know.
The Adventures of Sindbad, Gyula Krudy
Kafka isn’t the only of Krasznahorkai’s forerunners to have his name turned into an adjective. According to translator George Szirtes, “Krudyesque” is a term that in Hungarian extends beyond a merely literary descriptor to encompass “experience comprised of the nostalgic, the fantastic and the ironic.” Krudy’s Sindbad Stories—collected as The Adventures of Sindbad (NYRB)—take place in a world that will strike readers of Krasznahorkai as familiar, if less unrelentingly bleak. These tales of amorous conquests unfurl mistily, though they ring with an achingly melancholic erotic tension. Modernist, prefiguring “magical realism,” and amoral: the stories are not cautionary in any sense, despite the constant refrain that desire causes nothing but trouble—and leads to a landscape strewn with suicides.(Zoltan Huszarik adapted Krudy’s stories in his 1971 film Szindbad.)
Kornel Esti, Dezso Kosztolanyi
Perhaps one need look no further than Krasznahorkai’s (typically lengthy) praise on the jacket of Kornel Esti to understand the importance of this novel not only to Krasznahorkai, but generations of Hungarian writers:
If anyone truly wanted to write the history of the Hungarian people, the author would certainly take the Dantean first sentence of Kosztolanyi’s Kornel Esti as the work’s epigraph: in a word, the most wondrous first sentence ever written in the Hungarian language.
Kornel Esti is the shadow self we all dream we have, a figure who arises at that moment when we first become aware that making one decision excludes all others. He’s the one who thereafter says ‘yes’ when we say ‘no,’ who lights fires and causes trouble. While the writer—Kosztolanyi and his stand-in narrator—sits at home, Esti is out gathering experiences in a world in which the following logic applies: “If a girl jumps into a well, she loves somebody” (in Bernard Adams’ translation). Like Sindbad before him and like Krasznahorkai’s characters after, Esti is a ravenous scamp, always moving and scheming, even if he has no particular destination or goal in mind.
George Szirtes famously characterized Krasznahorkai’s prose as a “slow lava flow of narrative, a vast black river of type.” This often earns him comparisons to Samuel Beckett and Thomas Bernhard, the vitriolic Austrian. Beckett’s influence on modern literature is obvious; Bernhard’s less so. And while at the sentence level the comparison between Krasznahorkai and Bernhard is slightly superficial, the two writers do share similar, almost gnostic worldviews.
One gets the impression from reading Bernhard that middle Europe (i.e., the whole world) is full of raving lunatics doing their best to refrain from contact with the idiocy of other people. What in the U.S. we refer to quaintly or claustrophobically, depending on our temperament, as “small town life” is in Bernhard—and Krasznahorkai—a cesspit of malice, intrigue, and decay. His landscapes, like nearly all of those mentioned so far, are strewn with suicides. His narrators are hyper-aware of their own incipient madness and the fine line wavering between sanity and insanity. Despite (or possibly because of) this, Bernhard’s angst-ridden fiction is unsettlingly funny: laughter echoing out of the abyss. This, in the end, might be the best way to characterize Krasznahorkai’s work as well.
The only non-novelist included in the list is the Romanian ex-patriot E.M. Cioran, whose aphorisms are collected in volumes with titles such as On the Heights of Despair, All Gall is Divided, The Trouble with Being Born, and A Short History of Decay. Cioran’s pithiness may stand in contrast to Krasznahorkai’s abhorrence of the full-stop, but the two men share a sensibility and sensitivity that transcends its articulation. A sampling of Cioran’s aphorisms (in Richard Howard’s translations) should suffice to prove the point:
“Man secretes disaster.”
“The proof that man loathes man? Enough to be in a crowd, in order to feel that you side with all the dead planets.”
“He who has not suffered is not a being: at most, a creature.”
“If death were not a kind of solution, the living would certainly have found some means of avoiding it.”
Tranquility, Attila Bartis
Attila Bartis is a contemporary of Krasznahorkai. His novel Tranquility, published in Hungary in 2001 and in an English translation by Imre Goldstein in 2009 (which won the first Best Translated Book Award), has been called “one of the bleakest books ever,” an assessment that holds even if the novel is compared to the Krasznahorkai’s fiction. Bartis’ novel is an unforgettable portrayal of madness, incest, violence, and that species of hatred that boils over in the cauldron of an Oedipal relationship. It convincingly depicts a world in which “pleasure [is] but ennobled pain,” a scathing allegorical representation of an era scarred by disastrous, inhumane politics. Of the books on this list, it stands the closest to the psychological depths plumbed by Krasznahorkai.