Toni Sala’s Notes from the Road

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In case you missed it on Friday, Toni Sala wrote a bold and entertaining account of his U.S. tour for Lit Hub. The playful yet frank tone of the author shouldn’t be too surprising to those of you who caught our launch event for The Boys in San Francisco last fall. His novel, translated by Mara Faye Lethem, begins with a description of a highway through rural Catalonia, and later on in the story we hear from a frustrated truck driver, struggling to find work. So I was intrigued to see what Toni would think of the open road here in the United States, thousands of miles from his novel’s setting.

“When I’m flying over Texas, I do the math. Fifteen planes, nine hotels, 45,700 kilometers… Something doesn’t fit. I am a Catalan writer. We Catalans know what precariousness is, and we know that the literature is a weed that grows well in these conditions: in times of moral drought, in places of communicative drought, in periods of economic drought, in circumstances of loving drought, of self-satisfaction drought… It’s at these times when literature is distilled.”

These kinds of musings are typical of the writer. Toni amasses little details that we, as Americans, might otherwise miss, into an incredibly entertaining snapshot of life on the road. From a discussion with a cab driver in Texas to an encounter with a heavy metal band in Portland, he manages to transform the hardly-worth-mentioning into vignettes that produce a sketch, however strange, of a vast and cumbersome country.

4/21: Two Voices Salon with Chris Clarke [EVENT]

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Modiano, Modiano, Modiano! Ever since receiving the Nobel Prize in 2014, Patrick Modiano, the French author of intense, short noir-like novels, has seen his profile in English grow explosively, with over a dozen new translations since October 2014.

On Thursday, April 21, we’ll welcome Chris Clarke, one of the translators responsible for these new Modianos appearing in the English language. Chris has translated In the Cafe of Lost Youth, one of Modiano’s best-regarded works, for NYRB Classics, and he will be in conversation via Skype with Two Lines Press’s Scott Esposito. We’ll talk with Chris about the challenge of translating Modiano’s incredibly spare, enigmatic prose, as well as what it’s like to work on the prose of a recent Nobel-winner.

It all happens in the Two Lines Press offices on Thursday, April 21. Please join us for a wonderful, translation-centric conversation!

  • Thursday, April 21
  • Door 5:30, event 6:00
  • 582 Market St., Suite 700, San Francisco, CA 94104
  • Free alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages and snacks for all

Wolfgang Hilbig, Beyond East and West

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Ever since I first read Wolfgang Hilbig’s The Sleep of the Righteous, I’ve tended to talk, write, and think about him in terms of East and West. It’s hard not to. Despite living in East Germany, Hilbig developed an avid readership in the West. And once he was finally given permission to leave the oppressive East, he continued to write with a kind of tortured yearning for it.

As an American, I find this East/West dichotomy appealing. Perhaps it’s because, even after the end of the Cold War, we still hold on to the illusion of the Iron Curtain, dividing “us” from “them.” We still think in terms of “containment,” as if an ideology were landbound, physical. Even Hilbig’s translator, Isabel Fargo Cole, who has lived in Berlin for quite a long time, finds this dichotomy a compelling way to think of him: in an event we did last fall, she talked about her own fascination with East Germany. But this East-West view can be somewhat limiting. It simplifies our understanding of Hilbig, whose dexterity with language revealed elements of his life while at the same time concealing himself beneath it.

That’s just one of the reasons why I’m very pleased to share this Hilbig essay that Tyler Curtis has written for the Boston Review. In his essay, Curtis beautifully reframes the conversation. He reveals Hilbig’s true nature as a nimble troublemaker who eluded the traps set up for him, both in the East and the West. Here, Curtis draws on some excellent research of the historical context to show Hilbig’s role in—and escape from—the GDR political machine, which tried diligently to develop and shape a national, proletarian literature. They threw everything they could at him, censoring him, preparing reviews intended to undermine him, and generally monitoring his movements:

For Hilbig, the state is a game. The Soviet Project is a game. So is the factory, the tenets of Socialist Realism, the dance one does to protect those most private corners of self from Stasi—even fiction, for that matter. Hilbig’s oeuvre is one of defiant play, and the organizing principles of life in the GDR were just that, fictions.

In the late 1970s and early ’80s Hilbig published poems and collected stories almost exclusively in West Germany—without permission from GDR officials—largely avoiding the publications of the East. He was fined and served time in jail (though the imprisonment was, ostensibly, for incidents of violent behavior). A persecuted East German writer adored in the West, he was awarded the Brothers Grimm Prize in 1983, which he agreed to accept in person in Hanau—again, without state approval. This defiance of strict regulations for authors drew the ire of then Deputy Cultural Minister Klaus Höpcke. Not wanting to stir controversy or showcase the author’s repression to the world, the ministry granted him leave to accept the prize, with the caveat that he go accompanied, and observed, by his publisher, and that he was not to level any criticism against GDR in his speech.

And yet these games spread beyond just Germany—they are rooted in society itself. For me, Curtis’s analogy likening Hilbig to an overwhelmed Charlie Chaplin struggling to keep up with the conveyor belt explains why leaving the GDR was not enough to placate the preoccupied, even paranoid author. And this rings very true with the excellent reception Hilbig has received thus far: if it were merely a case of geography or political regime, Hilbig’s writing from the West (which includes The Sleep of the Righteous) wouldn’t have remained so frenzied, as if the author were continuing to dodge the confines of an elaborate, inescapable game.

Try Out Marie NDiaye!

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One of the cool things about being a small press that specializes in translation is that you get the opportunity to make discoveries. The world of literary translation makes it so that even a tiny press like us can find a world-class author and turn her into one of our mainstays.

So it is with Marie NDiaye. When we first encountered her a few years ago, we were floored, and we immediately said yes to the amazing story collection All My Friends. When we later found Self-Portrait in Green, we knew that it would be a challenge to publish for a number of reasons, but we also knew that we had to find a way. It’s an utterly unclassifiable memoir that belongs on the shelf somewhere near Maggie Nelson’s The Argonauts, Claudia Rankine’s Citizen, and Anne Carson’s Autobiography of Red.

We like NDiaye so much that we currently have another book of hers scheduled, a really huge one that’s going to knock a lot of socks off. It’s a pretty major statement when a press that has only published 9 books to date does 3 books with the same author.

But NDiaye deserves that kind of treatment, and we all want you to know why. So, we figured this was the best time to show you. NDiaye currently has a major book coming out with Knopf: Ladivine, which in Jordan Stump’s fantastic translation is going to be a great book (Jordan also does all of our NDiayes, and we’d have it no other way).

So, up until that book’s release date—April 26, 2016—we are offering Self-Portrait in Green as an introduction to NDiaye for the astonishing price of $5.95 (+ $1.00 for shipping). There’s really no better chance to discover an author that is going to quickly become one of your favorites.

Just click the link, Paypal us a little more than what you’d spend on the morning coffee, and you’ll get an unforgettable literary delight.

But don’t take our words for it. Take the words of the CLMP, which gave the book its Firecracker award for literary nonfiction. Take the words of the TLS, which compared Self-Portrait in Green to “a Francis Bacon triptych, there is nothing fixed, comforting or coherent about the narrator’s identity or idea of herself, but the image she projects is incredibly vivid.” Take the words of Flavorwire, which named it one of 2014’s best novels.

Do not deny yourself the delight of Marie NDiaye—it’s just $5.95, and it’s waiting for you.

The Two Lines 2016 Catalog

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If you want to see what Two Lines Press has got cooking for the rest of the year, we direct you to our 2016 catalog. In addition to seeing the rest of this year’s list, you’ll also be able to read excerpts from each of the books. And of course there’s info on all our backlist titles and the journal Two Lines.

So do take a minute to download it, and share it with all your book-loving friends!

Two Lines 24 Poetry Spotlight

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From Michael Holtmann, director of the Center for the Art of Translation

Every time a new issue of Two Lines comes out I take pleasure in re-reading the work we assembled over the course of many months. I often think of the journal as the outcome of countless literary conversations and debates we have on staff. In the case of Two Lines 24, there are pieces we were dazzled by when we first read them, translations that capture unexpected textures or rhythms or tones, and excerpts of forthcoming larger works that we couldn’t be more enthusiastic about. There is also the sheer delight of ending a volume with Tuê Sŷ’s “Last Words,” translated from the Vietnamese by Martha Collins and Nguyen Ba Chung.

One of the things I like most about Two Lines is that in addition to featuring great fiction, our journal showcases outstanding poetry in translation: Two Lines 24 is chock full of gems. Among my favorites are Jan Wagner’s poems, translated from the German by David Keplinger. In “koi,” the language whorls on the page like the movements of the fish it describes:

…koi, as they clot,
as they weave into the tapestry of blackness

their golden threads, their orbits more
difficult to predict than comets…

There is also the brilliantly bitter irony embodied by Maxim Amelin’s poems, translated from the Russian by Derek Mong and Anne O. Fisher. “Classical Ode to V. V. Mayakovsky” glitters with mocking glee:

Vice-Chairman of the Globosphere!
Your hero-works will long abide;
though oft you’ve walked the flame’s bright edge
and paced the shattered water’s tide,
it’s time to shed impediments
and stand atop your pediment,
which shines with streams of sacrificial
urine…

And how could I not mention the deeply satisfying charm of reading Jerome Rothenberg’s translations of Efraín Huerta, some of which read like the distilled and surreal comedy of Steven Wright? In “Angel I,” the narrator imagines a conversation between an angel and an elevator operator:

“Take
Me
To the
Top
Floor.
Then
I’ll go on
Solo.”

I find the poem especially clever for taking us up as we read down.

There are even more memorable poems in Two Lines 24 by Behzad Zarrinpour, Aigerim Tazhi, and Minoru Yoshioka. But don’t take my word for it: pick up your copy of Two Lines 24 today!

And, while you’re waiting for your journal, peruse our online content, which includes some truly incredible poetry by Un Sio San, Uljana Wolf, and Tong Wei.

2016 PEN Translation Awards

The 2016 PEN Translation Awards have been announced–congrats to translators Katrina Dodson and Sawako Nakayasu, who have taken this year’s prose and poetry awards.

We’re particularly pleased to say that both of this year’s winners have got connections to Two Lines and the Center for the Art of Translation. Back in September of last year we hosted prose prize recipient Katrina Dodson to discuss her translation of Clarice Lispector’s Complete Stories (frmo New Directions) with our own Scott Esposito. Listen to it here.

And as to Sawako Nakayasu, we published four poems from her winning The Collected Poems of Chika Sagawa (from Canarium Books) in Two Lines Issue 21. With Canarium’s kind permission we have made those poems available online, which you can read right here.