1. A tribute to Álvaro Mutis (1923-2013)

    I thought that the writings, letters, documents, tales, and memoirs of Maqroll the Gaviero (the Lookout) had all passed through my hands, and that those who knew of my interest in the events of his life had exhausted their search for written traces of his unfortunate wanderings, but fate held in store a curious surprise just when it was least expected.
          One of the secret pleasures afforded by walks through the Barrio Gótico in Barcelona is visiting the secondhand bookstores (to my mind the best stocked in the world), whose owners still preserve that subtle expertise, rewarding intuition, and canny knowledge which are the virtues of the authentic bookseller, a species well on its way to imminent extinction. Recently, as I was walking down the Calle de Botillers, I was drawn to the window of an old bookshop that tends to be closed most of the time but offers truly exceptional works to the avid collector. That day it was open. I walked in with the devotion of one entering the sanctuary of some forgotten rite. In attendance, behind an untidy heap of books and maps that he was cataloguing in an exquisite, old-fashioned hand, was a young man with the heavy black beard of a Levantine Jew, an ivory complexion, and melancholy black eyes fixed in an expression of mild astonishment. He gave me a thin smile and, like any good bookseller, allowed me to peruse the shelves while he attempted to remain as unobtrusive as possible. As I was putting to one side some volumes I intended to purchase, I unexpectedly came across a beautiful edition, bound in purple leather, of the book by P. Raymond that I had been seeking for years and whose very title is promising: Enquête du Prévôt de Paris sur l’assassinat de Louis Duc D’Orléans, published by the Bibliothèque de l’Ecole de Chartres in 1865. Many years of waiting had been rewarded by a stroke of luck I had long since stopped hoping for. I took the copy without opening it and asked the bearded young man for the price. He quoted the figure with that round, definitive tone of finality which is also peculiar to his proud fraternity. Without hesitation I paid for it and my other selections, and I left to enjoy my acquisition alone, to savor it slowly, voluptuously, on a bench in the little square with the statue of Ramón Berenguer the Great. As I leafed through the pages, I noticed that inside the back cover a large pocket, originally intended for the maps and genealogical tables that accompanied Professor Raymond’s exquisite text, contained instead a quantity of pink, yellow, and blue sheets that appeared to be commercial bills and accounting forms. When I inspected them more closely, I saw that they were covered by tiny, cramped writing, somewhat tremulous and feverish I thought, in an indelible violet pencil occasionally darkened by the author’s saliva. The writing, on both sides of the page, carefully avoided the original printed material on what were, in fact, various kinds of commercial forms. A sentence suddenly caught my eye and made me forget the French historian’s scrupulous research into the treacherous assassination of the brother of Charles VI of France by order of John the Fearless, Duke of Burgundy. At the bottom of the last page I read these words, penned in green ink by a somewhat steadier hand: ‘Written by Maqroll the Gaviero during his voyage up the Xurandó River. To be given to Flor Estévez, wherever she may be. Hotel de Flandre, Antwerpen.’ Since the book was underlined and annotated in the same violet pencil, it was not difficult to deduce that he had kept the papers in the pocket designed for more momentous academic purposes.
         As the pigeons continued to sully the noble image of the conqueror of Mallorca, son-in-law to the Cid, I began to read the variegated pages where, in the form of a diary, Maqroll narrated his misadventures, memories, reflections, dreams, and fantasies as he traveled upriver, one man among the many who come down from the hill country to lose themselves in the half-light of the immeasurable jungle’s vegetation. Many passages were written in a firmer hand, which led me to conclude that the vibration of the engine 
    in the vessel carrying the Gaviero was responsible for the tremor I had at first attributed to the fevers which, in that climate, are as frequent as they are resistant to all treatment or cure. As with so many other pages written by Maqroll in testimony to his contrary fate, this Diary is an indefinable mixture of genres, ranging from a straightforward narration of ordinary events to an enumeration of the hermetic precepts of what I assumed was his philosophy of life. Attempting to correct the manuscript would be both ingenuous and fatuous, and would contribute little to his original purpose: to record, day after day, his experiences on a voyage whose monotony and uselessness were, perhaps, alleviated by his work as chronicler.
          On the other hand, it seemed a matter of elementary justice that the Diary have as its title the name of the establishment where, for a long period of time, Maqroll enjoyed relative tranquillity along with the attentions of its owner, Flor Estévez, the woman who understood him best and shared the exaggerated scope of his dreams, the intricate tangle of his existence.
          It has also occurred to me that readers might be interested in having access to information related, in one way or another, to the events and people Maqroll describes in the Diary. I have, therefore, appended several accounts that appeared in earlier publications but now occupy what I believe is their proper place.

    The opening section of The Snow of the Admiral (the first of the Maqroll the Gaviero novels, all collected in The Adventures and Misadventures of Maqroll and translated by Edith Grossman) by Álvaro Mutis, who passed away on Sunday. We hope that, as Mutis himself did, you’ll discover Maqroll’s sea stories and adventures and enjoy them to the fullest.

  2. What Moscow Chestnova Wanted…

    What Moscow Chestnova wanted was not so much to experience this life as to safeguard it; she wanted to stand day and night by the brake lever of a locomotive taking people to meet one another; she wanted to repair water mains, to weigh out on pharmaceutical scales medicines for patients, to be a lamp that goes out just at the right moment, as others kiss, taking into itself the warmth that a moment before had been light.

    —from Andrey Platonov’s novel, Happy Moscow, which was banned from publication in Platonov’s lifetime and did not even appear in print in Russia until 1991. Happy Moscow follows the life of one girl, yes, named Moscow (in honor of the Red Army no less), who has a passion for parachuting (there’s a great scene where she parachutes into a storm and attempts to smoke a cigarette on the descent) and who struggles to find happiness in Stalin’s Russia.

    Due to the politically incendiary nature of his work, Platonov published very little while alive—and what he did publish was “only marginally more acceptable to authorities.” Stalin allegedly penned the word “scum” in the margin of Platonov’s story, “For Future Use,” and ordered the authorities to “give [Platonov] a good belting—for future use.” Now that’s some black comedy.

    Andrey Platonov’s haunting novel, The Foundation Pit, and the story collection, Soul, are both available as NYRB Classics.

  3. "Men are sheep.": On Banned Books

    image

    Every year around this time, we salute Banned Books Week with a list of NYRB authors who had to face censorship in the United States and all around the world. We’ll share about these authors again over the course of the week (Vasily Grossman, Vladimir Sorokin, Alberto Moravia, and more), but today we are especially excited about a book on our Spring 2014 list—Gabriel Chevallier’s WWI novel, Fear, which was prosecuted as an act of sedition upon first publication.

    Fear is the harrowing account of one man’s experience on the front lines and his decision to resist thoughtless violence simply by telling the truth about that experience—that he was not brave, but afraid. The narrator’s words on war are sharp and biting. “Men are sheep,” he says, “This fact makes armies and wars possible.” 

    The novel, translated from the French by Imrie Malcolm and introduced by John Berger, won the 2013 Scott Moncrieff Prize for Translation and its publication next year will mark the 100th anniversary of the first world war. 

    Here’s part of the chilling opening, describing the beginnings of what was not yet known as WWI in rather unromantic terms:

    It starts just like a festival.

    Only the cafés stay open.

    And you can still smell the scent of iced absinthe, the scent of peacetime.

    Women are crying. Why? A foreboding? Or just nerves?

    War!

    It’s not up on our website yet, but you can look at a full description of the book here for now.

  4. Kingsley Amis Celebration @ McNally Jackson: Sunday, September 22nd, 6PM

                                

    After you’ve sated yourself on the literary richness that is the Brooklyn Book Festival, you should really top of your day by attending the launch celebration for Kingsley Amis’ Girl, 20 and One Fat Englishman at NYC’s  McNally Jackson Books. Discussing Amis and these books will be NYRB Classics editor, Edwin Frank, Katie Roiphe, author of In Praise of Messy Lives, Lucas Wittman, literary editor of The Daily Beast, Christian Lorentzen, editor at the London Review of Books, and Michael Moynihan, reporter at Newsweek/The Daily Beast.

    Need we mention that alcohol will be served? No. We didn’t think so.

    The party and discussion begins at 6PM. Visit the event page here for more info.

  5. NYRB at the Brooklyn Book Festival  →

    Who loves the Brooklyn Book Festival?! WE DO. And we’ll be there this Sunday, September 22nd, all day at booths 31 and 32, right by the central fountain. Come by, say ‘hi,’ browse the Classics, and snag a free copy of the Review. Your cup will runneth over.

  6. Elisabeth Sifton and Fritz Stern: In person!

    Everyone! We have some great events planned around No Ordinary Men by Elisabeth Sifton and Fritz Stern. The authors themselves will be discussing the heroic legacies of Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Hans von Dohnanyi at each event, which is a pretty big deal. Here’s a quick rundown for you lucky DCers and NYC residents:

    September 23, 7PM @ Politics & Prose Bookstore in Washington, DC. Visit the event page here for more info.

    September 24, 6:30PM @ The Goethe Institut in Washington, DC. Event page here.

    October 24, 6PM @ The Leo Baeck Institute in NYC. Event page here.

    The story these two are telling is remarkable. You won’t regret going to any of these.

  7. Happy Talk Like a Pirate Day!

    Yep. You read that right. Today is National Talk Like a Pirate Day. To celebrate, school yourself in the linguistic ways of swarthy sea criminals with Richard Hughes’ novel A High Wind in Jamaica. Things go awry—and get a little weird—when a bunch of schoolchildren are captured by Captain Jonsen and his crew in the Caribbean. The little ones befriend pigs and alligators, hold impromptu religious revivals on deck, and a few “turn pirate” themselves.

    So, argh, argh, and all that!

  8. elanormcinerney:

Sylvia Townsend Warner | Summer Will Show

A page from your favorite “lesbian Marxist masterpiece.”

    elanormcinerney:

    Sylvia Townsend Warner | Summer Will Show

    A page from your favorite “lesbian Marxist masterpiece.

  9. "Alfred Hayes, dark, Dantean, witty, conscious to imperiousness that he personified a new sort of ‘young generation.’ "

    These books [In Love and My Face for the World to See] bridge the gap between the dark, Dantean Hayes, the writer of sketches that bite into memory, and the Hayes who, in 1982, said about writing for movies and TV that ‘you learn not to suffer. You’re manufacturing a product and they tailor it for all the different customers.’

    The writer-protagonists in both books confront the world with no illusions about themselves, and strip their romances of fantasy, leaving behind an intense aura of fracture and loss. Both novels are existential, isolated, wounding and wounded in the style of hard-boiled American fiction or Georges Simenon, or of Bogart movies. In Love recalls Ray’s In a Lonely Place; My Face for the World to See is a Schwab’s counter Barefoot Contessa.

    Paisan and an excellent film Hayes wrote for Fritz Lang in 1954, Human Desire, will show at BAMcinematék on Wednesday, September 18, and Thursday, September 19, as part of the Brooklyn Book Festival. I will introduce the screening of Paisan and discuss it afterward in a Q&A with film critic Tag Gallagher, author of The Adventures of Roberto Rossellini.

    —from A. S. Hamrah’s post in The Criterion Collection’s blog. Details are all in the paragraph above, but just in case, Paisan is playing tonight at BAM at 7:30, Human Desire tomorrow at 7 and 9. Hayes helped write the scripts for both You should come (if you can).

  10. 
One morning, after my early morning chhota hazri of the usual—the salted quinine tonic and soda, tea, toast, (and downing half a rotten egg)—like l’après midi d’un faunwallah—I was dilly-dallying in bed: having an easy laze, umpteen stretches.

This entry of The Classics and Coffee club features All About H. Hatterr by G.V. Desani and “a cup of chai and two Bourbon biscuits.” A scrumptious chota hazri indeed.
Do you have a picture of one of our books with coffee or tea (hot or iced)? Send it to this address and we’ll post them here (making you an honorary member of the Classics and Coffee Club).

    One morning, after my early morning chhota hazri of the usual—the salted quinine tonic and soda, tea, toast, (and downing half a rotten egg)—like l’après midi d’un faunwallah—I was dilly-dallying in bed: having an easy laze, umpteen stretches.

    This entry of The Classics and Coffee club features All About H. Hatterr by G.V. Desani and “a cup of chai and two Bourbon biscuits.” A scrumptious chota hazri indeed.

    Do you have a picture of one of our books with coffee or tea (hot or iced)? Send it to this address and we’ll post them here (making you an honorary member of the Classics and Coffee Club).

  11. Talking Cassandra at the Wedding at The Toast

    Emily - Cassandra! What a weirdo! She’s a really glamorous weirdo, though

    Nicole - YES. With her brandy. And her eggs frothed into more brandy. And obviously looking totally gorgeous 24/7

    Emily - I’m trying to think if there is any other female narrator pre-70s outside of pulpier things who is this complex, glamorous, fucked up and self-possessed. Anyway, that’s what the book is about for me. A heroine who is chic and interesting and slightly nuts and not at all about to be rescued by a man–sort of like the Elaine Dundy narrators except they all get rescued by men.

    Nicole – She will be rescued by her own awesomeness, and rescued only in the sense she will just kick a shoe off the Golden Gate Bridge.

    Emily - goodbye, shoe!

    As part of The Toast’s Emily Books Book Club, Emily Gould and Nicole Cliffe chat about Dorothy Baker’s Cassandra at the Wedding. Read the entire chat here and make sure to read the comments (which are as smart and funny as the discussion itself).

  12. "The whole bane of writing is that you don’t know what is that word that you are looking for. So the search for the right word, is really what all writing is about."

    —Arvind Krishna Mehrotra on his translation of Songs of Kabir

  13. "An unforgettable hymn to the resilience and power of women."

    Simone Schwarz-Bart

    Simone Schwarz-Bart’s The Bridge of Beyond (originally titled Pluie et vent sur Télumée miracle) is a seminal work of literature that cannot be contained within the usual confines of ‘the novel’ or ‘a work of fiction.’ It arises, as Rilke says a true work of art must, out of necessity, telling the story of a little-known island and the long-lasting effects of slavery through the eyes of a woman. It is profoundly original. It is exceptionally good. That a book so radical in style, in form, and in content is not widely known in this country, and its influence not deeply felt, is one of those unfortunate mysteries of Time and Place. Literature like this does not offer the comfort of an already digested plot. It seeks out the truth of history, which turns out to be most powerfully and effectively conveyed through fiction.”

    —Jamaica Kincaid, from her introduction to Simone Schwarz-Bart’s The Bridge of Beyond

    Jamaica Kincaid

  14. Alfred Hayes, Screenwriter

    Next Sunday is the Brooklyn Book Fest and all week leading up to it is the BBF Bookends series. Our own, very limited, contribution to it will be the screening of two movie with screenplays co-written by Alfred Hayes at the Brooklyn Academy of Music: the first is Roberto Rosselini’s Paisan on  Wednesday, Sept. 18th and the second is Fritz Lang’s Human Desire on Thursday, Sept. 19th. Rossellini scholar Tag Gallagher and N1FR editor A. S. Hamrah will do a post-screening discussion after Paisan

    Both movies are amazing. Alfred Hayes’s novels (In Love and My Face for the World to See) are amazing. Come see both and read both too. 

  15. awesomepeoplereading:

Dr. Sara Josephine Baker reads.

This is how doctors should dress. David Mendel would approve.

    awesomepeoplereading:

    Dr. Sara Josephine Baker reads.

    This is how doctors should dress. David Mendel would approve.