Review | Ladivine, Marie NDiaye | MacLehose Press

As subdivisions or departments of bigger publishers, imprints break up monolithic companies, give space to individual editors to stamp their list with a defining character and originality, and reassure authors that they are not disappearing into the corporate ether. The MacLehose Press is an independently-minded imprint of Quercus Books, founded by Christopher MacLehose and publishing the very best, often prize-winning, literature from around the world; mainly in translation but with a few outstanding exceptions as English language originals.

 “She had known from the start, before she could even speak or understand, that Malinka and her mother meant nothing to anyone, that this was how it was and there were no grounds for complaint, that they were lowly flowers, their existence unjustified, lowly flowers.”

Whatever reality is, it isn’t what it seems. Ndiaye goes through the looking-glass into a world of barren parent-child relationships, rootless limboland, and racial being and nothingness in this bewitching and unsettling novel. The eerily poetic prose is limpid yet has a blurred effect like reading with the wrong pair of glasses. Translator Jordan Stump has done a great job.

Three women − mother, daughter and granddaughter − form a cursed constellation; a yawning void between them. The banality of everyday life, and a desire for normality, are underpinned by a surreal, destabilising atmosphere.

Continue reading Review | Ladivine, Marie NDiaye | MacLehose Press

Review | Landing, Laia Fàbregas | Book of the Week

When you’re rooted in yourself, you feel settled wherever you go. I guess to feel good we need to find places to adapt to. Except once we’ve adapted we need to move on, to find a new place to adapt to. But once you’ve adapted to several different places, you no longer have one place where you belong. That’s when the place where you belong becomes the space between those two different places. Moving around and seeing new places — that’s my natural habitat. The truth is I’m a nomad.” So speaks Roberto, train steward on the high-speed Talgo.

Modern society is becoming increasingly rootless and uniformist, as the forces of global capitalism, increased migration and social pluralism influence work, lifestyle and beliefs. Economic migration is spurring rapid social change, leading to ambiguity about identity, sense of place in the world and a cultural dissonance. As governments lose touch with their citizens, they ignore to their peril how groups that are ignored, or ostracised, become desperate, rebellious and take direct action. Humans need to belong to a social group, to be heard, make sense of their identity, and develop a sense of belonging — a sense of purpose. In a shifting world, no wonder social networking on the internet is so huge.

Continue reading Review | Landing, Laia Fàbregas | Book of the Week

Interview | Laia Fàbregas | Author of the Week

Tell us a little bit about yourself.
I grew up in Barcelona. When I was twenty three I went to the Netherlands for a couple of months and I ended up staying there for twelve years. Now I am back home for seven years already, but I still feel like I am a bit Dutch.

When you were a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
As a teenager I saw myself as a teacher. As a child, I don’t remember.

What books have had a lasting impact on you?
When I was a teenager I read everything from Edgar Allan Poe and his tales made me want to write. Later on, when I was in art school in Barcelona, I read Opera aperta by Umberto Eco. That book helped me understand why I liked some books better than others. And when years later I started writing, it helped me see that I was doing it fine by doing my own way without thinking about who was going to read my words.

Continue reading Interview | Laia Fàbregas | Author of the Week

Interview | Samantha Schnee | Translator of the Week

Tell us a little bit about yourself.
I was born in Scotland and moved to the US with my family at the age of four. We lived in the heartland of the US, in Nebraska, for several years, before moving to Texas, where we settled. I became an American citizen during my first year at uni. I started learning German, took lots of Spanish literature courses, and studied abroad in Berlin, Madrid, and Mainz, but in the end I became an English major because I wanted to access the creative writing courses offered by that department. I wrote a collection of short stories for my senior project. By the time I graduated I had gorged on literature for so long that I felt like I needed to do something completely different, so I went to work for a bank. I ended up in the Latin American group of an American bank, helping companies from Mexico, Chile, Argentina, and Brazil access the US markets. I loved the clients but I didn’t love the work itself, which was incredibly demanding — I didn’t have the time or energy to read a book for three years so I left that industry for publishing. I worked for Andrew Wylie as his assistant for a year, then for Francis Coppola, launching his literary magazine, Zoetrope: All-Story, finally settling at Words Without Borders, which published its first issues of writing from Iran, Iraq, and North Korea, six months after I began working there in 2003.

When you were growing up, what books had an impact on you?
It’s so lowbrow that it’s slightly embarrassing to admit, but I loved the Nancy Drew mystery series; I read every one, some multiple times. I think what appealed to me was the girl power — that these three young women were daring and fearless in the pursuit of truth and justice was quite inspiring. The book I probably read the most times was Frances Hodgson Burnett’s The Little Princess. I was captivated by the character Ram Das, who would sneak across the rooftops into the little girl’s garret with carpets and firewood, pillows and blankets, to make it a more pleasant place for her to live. It seemed utterly magical to me. I suppose I’m still rather fanciful.

Continue reading Interview | Samantha Schnee | Translator of the Week

Dreaming of Outer Mongolia (3) | Of Shamans, Buddhists & Shangri-La

Arkhan Valley
Our Toyota 4×4 lurched and dodged between the trees. Nyam Bileg seemed to be winning at an Olympian task. At one point he drove at a perilous angle along the edge of a dry gully.

bookblast khalkha wife dael
19thC Khalkha wife’s dael (National Museum, UB)

When I’d arrived in Ulaanbaatar, Oyuna handed me a blue dael – the traditional three-quarter length cotton, silk or wool gown worn by men and women. Serving as a coat, robe or a dress, for every day or ceremonial occasions, it buttons beneath the right arm and at the right shoulder to a high, round collar. It is convenient for riding, travel and extremes of temperature.  When cinched at the waist, a pocket of material is formed for carrying personal items. She told me I would find it useful. Now I was beginning to understand why. It offered a handy way of being private when peeing out in the wilds.

One last stop and we’d be home and dry, or so I thought, as I closed my dael and wound my way back to the 4×4 through cow parsley and gorse bushes. A large puddle turned out to be a stream flooding across the forest track. The front wheels jammed in tight, and the back wheels spun deep into the mud.  We watched Oyuntsetseg, Ider Od and their companions disappear down the hill in their resilient little Russian-built UAZ van. Their driver, Tulga, was a Dayan Deerkh man, so he knew the lie of the land. Some 3 hours later, the Toyota was pulled out by a tractor.

bookblast arkhan valley mongoliaMan vs. wolf
We arrived in Arkhan Valley in time for cow milking. Calves frisked around outside the corral until their mothers were done, and then they were let loose. Great patches of permafrost were pointed out to me as I watched.
Continue reading Dreaming of Outer Mongolia (3) | Of Shamans, Buddhists & Shangri-La

Dreaming of Outer Mongolia (2) | A Mystical Wilderness

The Call of the Wild
When the Siberian and Chinese tectonic plates pushed up against each other, Mongolia was bookblast map mongoliaformed: a great landlocked highland plateau − sandwiched between Russia and China. No wonder the fierce warriors of the 13th and 14th century Mongol Empire who were masters at the art of war are still the stuff of legend.

I was told that sections of the Great Wall of China were built to keep the Mongolians out. This toughness, combined with an equally powerful shamanic spirituality dating back to Chinggis Khan and the Mongol Hordes – intertwined later with Buddhism from Tibet – and a continued adherence to centuries-old customs and traditions, are a seductive combination.

Mongolians live in two worlds: that of the senses, the observable, the scientific; and on a metaphysical and spiritual level − the unseen world of spirits and magic.

Continue reading Dreaming of Outer Mongolia (2) | A Mystical Wilderness

Dreaming of Outer Mongolia (1) | An Editor’s Odyssey

‘We few, we happy few, are gathered here, the descendants of Chinggis Khan’s golden lineage. We, the scions of his personal guard, the Hishigten Army . . . ‘ Shaman Dulaan Boshgot paused, his granite-like eyes narrowing as he looked  into the distance towards the ruins of Kharakorum, the once great capital lying in the vast Orkhon Valley of Central Mongolia. A sea of green velvety grassland was bathed in the golden rays of the rising sun. A smell of earth and horse sweat enveloped him. Behind him, he could hear his white stallion pawing at the stony steppe.”

So begins The Green-Eyed Lama: Love and Betrayal in Mongolia by Oyungerel Tsedevdamba and Jeffrey L. Falt. It is an epic work of historical fiction which brings alive the nomadic Mongol way of life.

Continue reading Dreaming of Outer Mongolia (1) | An Editor’s Odyssey

Interview | Kelly Davio, Eyewear Books | Indie Publisher of the Week

Are (were) your parents great readers? Tell us a bit about yourself.
My mother was an avid reader in my childhood, and she taught my siblings and me to read when we were very young. I grew up in California in a house filled with books.

Did you want to work in the publishing industry from the start?
No, I taught English at the secondary school level for many years before publishing and I found each other.

Has your vision from when Todd Swift started Eyewear Publishing four years ago evolved?
One of the most important developments for our press has been the introduction of Squint Books, our nonfiction division focusing on timely politics and pop culture titles. While poetry remains the beating heart of the press, our nonfiction books, by authors such as Okla Elliott, Sonya Huber, and Chris Jackson, have been an excellent way to reach a wider readership and, we hope, they make a real contribution to the cultural dialogue.

Continue reading Interview | Kelly Davio, Eyewear Books | Indie Publisher of the Week

Review | Four Points Fourteen Lines, Tony Chan | Book of the Week

‘You doing this for charity?’
‘No, it’s entirely selfish’, I reply, ‘A wish to live, before life passes by’.

Tony Chan – originally Australian, but now living and working in England – composes a poem a day as he treks between the four extreme cardinal points of the British mainland. His walk begins on 3 January, 2015, at the northernmost point, Dunnet Head, continuing on to Ardnamurchan Point and Lowestoft Ness, before ending at Lizard Point on 21 March.

There were times, at bedtime, when my daddy
Told the one lonely tale that he knew best,
The sino-story, Journey to the West,
With its magi heroes, Monk and Monkey.
Here I stand, having chased my father’s voice,
Rock under my feet, waves against the rock,
And waves all through the line of nine o’clock:
At journey’s end, there is only one choice.

Continue reading Review | Four Points Fourteen Lines, Tony Chan | Book of the Week

Interview | Tony Chan | Author of the Week

Tell us a little bit about yourself
Well, I’m the kind of person who finds these kinds of questions a tad difficult; perhaps that tells you enough about me!

When you were a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
Pretty much the usual: pilot, football superstar … but also, for about six months, a hotel concierge.

What books have had a lasting impact on you?
Le Petit Prince has always held resonance, primarily for the way that it deals with distinction between a child’s and an adult’s ability to imagine things. From the canon, Joyce, Yeats, Catcher in the Rye, Huckleberry Finn and Catch-22 have all won my affection at some time. Also, there’s definitely something that has always grabbed at me, out of Steven M. Newman’s biographical Worldwalk – a copy of which I received as a young teenager, after my mother fished it out randomly from the bargain box of a low-end bookseller in Sydney.

Continue reading Interview | Tony Chan | Author of the Week