Archive for January 2012

The Library of Babel

Wednesday, January 25, 2012 § 0

1. In 1979, Jorge Luis Borges edited a 33-volume anthology of fantastic literature, in Spanish, titled The Library of Babel (like his own marvelous story of that same name).  The Rumpus has found the titles -- though not all are available online, and many are only available in Spanish -- and amassed a number of reading links for one's pleasure here.

2. Borges being one of my favorite authors, if not the most favorite -- I once found out that there was a Borges museum, and was distraught that I couldn't go.  The Significant Other consoled me by pointing out that the Perfect Borges Museum would simply stand you in the lobby, ask you to imagine the most perfect museum to Borges, and then send you out the door saying that was the entire exhibit.

Words Without Borders

Saturday, January 14, 2012 § 0

One of my favorite web publications is Words Without Borders, which focuses on short stories translated into English and describes itself as "the online magazine for international literature." I have a difficult time describing why I love translation, but even if you don't care for the art and craft, it's still important as a way of understanding other people, other cultures, other ways of thinking.  Stories that could only have arisen out of other lives, but remind us that we're all living.

My favorite story from the current issue is God's Obituary, by Fernando Paiva, translated by Brent Alan James. It's a simultaneously thoughtful and satirical take on humans "playing God," focusing on a(n athiest!) biologist who is nicknamed "God" after developing some amazing advances in genetic engineering. An excerpt:

In a bombastic interview with Today Science four years ago, God publicly recognized the error of having created genetic architecture, even with the ethical principles that might keep it under control. “It was naïveté on my part to believe that human beings would be capable of adhering to some limit. Controlling the creation is easy. Difficult is controlling the creator,” he lamented.

The rest of the story can be read here.

Other favorites include this hilarious and blackly humorous story, Spaniards Lost in America by Carlos Franz, in which an unknown and penniless Spanish man dies in a foreign country, and his countrymen are called upon to pay for a proper burial. They refuse, and complications ensue, full of hilarity and black humor.  Translated by Marian Schwartz.

Barrales junior left for the cemetery. In the dusty administrative office of the necropolis—besieged by nameless mausoleums, crooked crucifixes, washed-out tombstones—he was taking account of plots and holes in the ground. Visiting them and testing them out, he asked after the minimum dimensions for a man's corpse, checking to see if the cheapest available ditch, one reserved for a five-year stint, could be rented for six months, since his compatriots' donations could only cover that long. This last part, though, he didn't say (he didn't have to since at this point half the city was saying as much anyway).

Read the rest here.

And this one touches the heart, especially at its frosty, dreamy end: None of Your Business by Natalia Klyuchareva. This is a story of the son of two alcoholics who tries to help his parents, and when that fails, takes things into his own hands with drastic results.  A harsh yet beautiful story, like a frozen winter landscape.  Translated by Jonathan Blitzer.

He heaved a sigh from a crushing emotion he couldn't name. He felt as if he were running through a magical forest with silver trees. And he tried as hard as he could to believe in it. But the pitiful little bell cried straight to his heart, not letting him forget that it was never to be.

Behind him the snow creaked guiltily, and reflected in the window was his mother's face.

"You want a tree?" tight drunken tears gurgled in her throat. "We'll buy one. Tomorrow."

Yurka squeezed his eyes shut, clenched, and with a final incredible effort—believed.

"Just like this?" he clarified, hiding in his scarf from the maternal reek.

"I promise," she lied, and turning away she shed silent tears.

The rest can be read here.