Detective Fiction, Fiction, Translated fiction

Fictional Detectives in International Flavors

Why are detective stories so appealing? I asked myself. John, from his position on the couch, suggested that it is the promise of a payoff. On reflection, this seems feasible. First of all there is intellectual satisfaction: the book begins with a question and—after several suspenseful pages of mulled-over possibilities—it ends with an answer. Simultaneous symmetry and solution! Then there is the emotional payoff: the initial outrage is assuaged or satisfied by the pursuit, if not always the punishment, of justice.

Whatever the secret of their appeal, mystery stories have been popular for centuries in many different cultures. Here is a sample of detectives, historic and contemporary, from around the world.

  1. The Arabian Nights
“It was the butler in the library with a scimitar, wasn’t it.”

The 1001 Nights contains a very old crime story now known as “The Three Apples.”  The original source of the tales in The 1001 Nights is a mystery in itself. The Galland Manuscript, the earliest known source of many of the stories, dates from about the fifteenth century and is of Syrian provenance. That said, many of the stories seem to come from much older folk tales, with echoes of Arabic, Persian, Greek, Indian, Turkish and Jewish folklore. The story of the three apples, for example, portrays real historical figures of the 8th century CE: the Abbasid Caliph Harun Al-Rashid (al-Rashid means “The Just”) and his vizier Ja’far Ibn Yahya. “The Three Apples” relates how a fisherman hauls a locked chest out of the River Tigris. He then sells it to the Harun Al-Rashid, who opens it up only to find the dismembered body of a young woman.  Al-Rashid tasks Ja’far Ibn Yahya with finding the culprit, and so begins an investigation full of twists, turns and unlikely coincidences. You can read Richard Burton’s translation here.

2. China’s Gong’an Fiction: 公案小说

As usual, China was there early. Gong’an ‘crime-case’ fiction was a popular entertainment of the Ming (1368-1644) and Qing (1644-1912) Dynasties. Often performed orally or as puppet shows, they described government magistrates solving crimes in the course of their official duties. The stories often include supernatural elements and martial arts. In 1940, an 18th-century collection of gong’an stories Di Gong’An was discovered in a second-hand bookstore in Tokyo. It followed the adventures of Di Renjie (630-700), who was a county magistrate and statesman of the Tang Court.  This was translated into English by the Dutch sinologist Robert Van Gulik as The Celebrated Cases of Judge Dee (1949). Subsequently, Van Gulik wrote and published many fictional stories with Judge Dee as the protagonist.  

3. Denmark and The Rector of Veilbye

A century and a half before scandi-noir was really a thing, Steen Steenson Blicher published The Rector of Veilbye (1829), a novella based on a true murder case from 1626, gleaned partly from a book about Church history and partly from oral histories. The story is told through a series of diary entries by Erik Sørensen, the judge and sheriff of the community of Vejlby, who investigates the short-tempered village rector Søren Qvist accused of murdering his servant. The story is complicated by the fact that Erik Sørensen wants to marry Qvist’s daughter Mette.

4. Parisian Turpitude with Jules Maigret

Between 1931 and 1972, Georges Simenon  wrote 75 novels and 28 short stories starring Jules Amedée François Maigret, commissaire of the Paris Brigade Criminelle, a bear-like man distinguished by a thick overcoat, pipe and bowler hat. He solves cases less through ratiocination than through intuition, he often says, “I never think.” As he lurches inevitably and reluctantly to collaring his criminal, we get a view of Paris or (if he’s on holiday) the French countryside.

Jean Gabin was probably best known for his cinematic portrayal of Maigret

5. Death in a White Tie with Roderick Alleyn

There are, obviously, lots of British crime writers. One of the Queens of Crime in the 1920’s and 1930’s, the Golden Age of English crime fiction, was New Zealander Ngaio Marsh (1895-1982). The protagonist of all 32 of her detective novels is Roderick Alleyn, Detective Chief-Inspector in the CID at Scotland Yard and younger brother to a baron. Like Dorothy Sayers’ Sir Peter Whimsey, Alleyn is a ‘gentleman detective’ both in the sense that he is a member of the British gentry and also in that he is characterized by good and courteous conduct.

6. Hard-boiled Spade

Samuel Dashiell Hammett (1894-1961) only wrote five novels in a short space of time but they remain some of the classics of the genre and continue to have a huge influence on books and movies. Employed as a Pinkerton operative, he drew on his own experience and claimed that all his characters were based on people he knew. Probably his most famous detective is Sam Spade, the hero of The Maltese Falcon, who was later played on screen by Humphrey Bogart. Hammett wrote of Spade in his introduction to the 1934 edition of The Maltese Falcon:

Spade has no original. He is a dream man in the sense that he is what most of the private detectives I worked with would like to have been and in their cockier moments thought they approached. For your private detective does not—or did not ten years ago when he was my colleague—want to be an erudite solver of riddles in the Sherlock Holmes manner; he wants to be a hard and shifty fellow, able to take care of himself in any situation, able to get the best of anybody he comes in contact with, whether criminal, innocent by-stander or client.

7. Carvalho, the Spanish Gourmet

Manuel Vázquez Montalbán (1939-2003) wrote 13 novels featuring Pepe Carvalho, a 50-year-old ex-Communist detective who is also a passionate and expert gourmet cook (several of the novels even include succulent recipes). Carvalho was born in Galicia but subsequently moved to Barcelona. He has a lot of love affairs but can never to commit to one relationship. For some reason it is difficult to find e-books of translations in English.

8. Montalbano and Malfeasance in Sicily

In The Shape of Water (La forma dell’acqua 1994), Andrea Camillieri (1925-2019) introduced the world to Inspector Salvo Montalbano, named in honor of Manuel Vázquez Montalbán. Montalbano bridges cultures; he negotiates a complex web of relationships characteristic of Sicilian society, and deals efficiently with outsiders from the mainland, who have their own way of doing things. Montalbano is the protagonist of 28 novels and nine collections of short stories. The TV series adapted from the books is very popular in Italy and in 2003 Camillieri’s home town Porto Empedocle even changed its name to Porto Empedocle Vigata in honor of the fictional town featured in the Montalbano novels. The decision was revoked in 2009, though, which somehow seems perfectly Sicilian.

9. Nefarious Africa

Former lawyer, High Court Judge and women’s rights activist Unity Dow has also managed to write four brilliant novels dealing with contemporary social issues in Botswana. Which makes me wonder if she sleeps at all. In The Screaming of the Innocent, a young girl appears to have been eaten by a lion but a police investigation uncovers some alarming goings on that unfortunately seem to be based on actual practices.

10. Officer Lituma and his Peruvian Puzzles

Mario Vargas Llosa (b.1936) is one of Latin America’s most significant novelists and among the many genres he has aced is whodunnits. In 1986 he published ¿Quién mató a Palomino Molero? (Who Killed Palomino Molero?), which begins with the discovery of the brutally murdered body of a young recruit in northern Peru. Officer Lituma and his partner Lieutenant Silva defy their higher-ups to solve the case. Lituma appears again in Death in the Andes (1993), in the tiny Andean community of Naccos where he has been sent as punishment for disobedience. During his stint there he must investigate the sudden disappearance of three men. It may be that Shining Path is behind it, or it may be something even more sinister.

Publishing, Translated fiction, Uncategorized

21 Approachable Publishers of Literary Fiction & Translation

If there’s one group of people who have already perfected the art of ‘social distancing’, it’s publishers. Like the endangered Ribbon-tailed Astrapias of Papua New Guinea, a publisher would much prefer isolation foraging in its native jungle habitat than having to deal with unknown authors. Writers, in their view, are the moral equivalent of blood-sucking poachers who will wring their necks and wear their beaks as nose rings.  

 

 

After a week of trawling through inhospitable websites/jungles, I’ve noticed some patterns in this avoidant behavior. The biggest publishers don’t even bother mentioning submissions. When they see you coming, they fly to the highest tree top where you have no way of reaching them without abseiling equipment and a flight suit. Mid-level publishers can’t quite reach those tranquil heights so they use a different strategy; they lead you away from the nest with a series of clever feints. First, they make you to scroll to the bottom of the home page to find a ‘contact us’ link (in the tiniest possible font size, in the faintest feasible color). Once you’ve clicked that link, you scroll to the bottom of the contacts page, down, down, down past all the people the publisher would rather to talk to: readers, booksellers, publicity professionals, lawyers, undertakers… finally, at the bottom of that page you will see a message addressed to you: “RarissimaAvis does not accept unsolicited submissions. Any unsolicited manuscripts, proposals or query letters that we receive will not be returned, and RarissimaAvis is not responsible for any materials submitted,” which is publishing legalese for ‘Bog off bumface’. But then there are the smaller, more sociable niche publishers—the litter-inhabiting wrens—who provide detailed submissions requirements, with the caveat that they only have five staff and millions of manuscripts coming in every minute and can only publish half a book a year and please don’t fax or email them and also they can’t reply to anyone and can’t really justify the cost of reading a single paragraph of your blather.

Such is the sorry state of affairs, and no wonder writers are sad.

 

200px-Edgar_Allan_Poe,_circa_1849,_restored,_squared_off

 

Ordinarily, self-publishing seems like a better bet. If I were looking to publish my own work, I’d skip the middle man and toddle over to Smashwords, where my memoir about Saudi living Teacher, We Girls! is simmering along nicely with more than 50 sales! However, at the moment I’m sitting on a hot bet—a translation the Sizzlingest Socialist Comedy of the Decade—and feel that if only I can get close enough to one of these secretive publishing birds I should be able to lure it off its branch long enough to gmake friends and let me into its special flock.

To wit, here are 20 of the less-shy publishers of literary fiction and translation. This list is not just for writers and translators, either, but readers who want to find a source of literature in translation. I was a little shocked to learn recently that translation is only 3% of annual publishing in the USA. Considering how quickly a virus can travel around the world, it seems a shame that the riches of global literature are still so inaccessible.

 

1. And Other Stories 

Est.:  2009

Who they are: A crowd-funded publisher of contemporary writing.

What they want: Literary fiction; translations of fiction of the past 40 years; narrative non-fiction.

Where they are:  Sheffield

Books: Endland by Tim Etchells, The Taiga Syndrome by Christina Rivera Garza (translated by Suzanne Jill Levine and Aviva Kana) and Proleterka by Fleur Jaeggy (translated by Alistair McEwen) 

How to submit: Details here.

Notes: They provide Ros Schwartz’s excellent guidelines for translators submitting a book proposal.

 

2. Arcade Publishing  

Est.  2010

What they want: Fiction and literary nonfiction

Where they are:  North America

Star books: The Imaginary Girlfriend by John Irving , Thine is the Kingdom by Abilio Estévez and The Good Works of Ayela Linde: A Novel in Stories by Charlotte Forbes

How to submit: Detailed instructions here

Notes: They promise to respond, if interested, within the lightning fast time of 4-6 weeks.

 

9780914671039_p0_v1_s550x406

 

3. Archipelago Books   

Est.  2003

What they want:  Translations of contemporary and classic world literature.

Where they are: Brooklyn, NY

Books: A Kitchen in the Corner of the House by Ambai (C.S. Lakshmi) translated from Tamil by Lakshmi Holmström, The Flying Creatures of Fra. Angelico by Antonio Tabucchi translated from Italian by Tim Parks and Our Lady of the Nile by Scholastique Mukasonga translated from French by Melanie Mauthner.

How to submit: Send a query to info@archipelagobooks.org .

Notes:  To be honest, I’m not 100% sure they’re accepting unsolicited submissions but I like their stuff so decided to mention them anyway.

 

ambai

 

4. Arsenal Pulp Press  

What they want: literary fiction, works in translation and lots of other genres including cookbooks.

Where they are:  Vancouver, Canada

Books: The Walking Boy by Lydia Kwa, There Has to Be a Knife by Adnan Khan and Butter Honey Pig Bread by Francesca Ekwuyasi

How to submit: Details here.

Notes:  They accept submissions by snail mail only and try to respond within 6 months

 

5. Atlas Press   

Est.: 1983

What they want: ‘Anti-tradition’ literature that embraces experiment and dissent

Where they are: The UK

Books: Aurora by Michel Leiris, The Punishments of Hell by Robert Desnos translated by Natasha Lehrer and Chris Allen (verse) and The Sixth Sense by Konrad Bayer

How to submit: editor@atlaspress.co.uk 

Note:  They do not publish previously unknown authors but are open to suggestions for translations of well known works in other languages. The backlist is very niche–you’d basically have to be a furry cup to fit in. 

 

The_White_Tiger

 

6. Atlantic Books

Est.: 2000

What they want: Novels, extensive partials [whatever they are] or short stories

Where they are: Bloomsbury

Books: White Tiger by Aravid Adiga, Damascus by Christos Tsiolkas, Consensual Hex by Amanda Harlowe, Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan

How to submit: fictionsubmissions@atlantic-books.co.uk

Notes: Powerful publicity machine! 

 

 

7. Biblioasis 

What they want: Fiction originally in English or translated into it, non-fiction, poetry

Where they are:  Windsor, Ontario in Canada

Books: Granma 19 and the Soviet’s Secret by Ondjaki and translated from Portuguese by Stephen Henighan, Madame Victoria by Catherine Leroux and He Wants by Alison Moore.

How to submit: contact info@biblioasis.com but read the guidelines first 

 

ondjaki 

 

8. Coach House Books  

Est.: 1965

What they want:  poetry, literary fiction, drama and select nonfiction

Where they are: Ontario, Canada

Books: The Pine Islands by Marion Poschmann translated by Jen Calleja, The Imago Stage by Karoline Georges translated by Rhonda Mullins and Splitsville by Howard Akler

How to submit: Details here 

Notes: A very small press that mainly publishes works about Canada or by Canadian authors because it is subsidized by Canada Council for the Arts.

 

9. Coffee House Press  

Est.: 1972

What they want: literary novels, full-length short story collections, poetry, creative nonfiction

Where they are:  Minneapolis, USA

Books: Indecency by Justin Phillip Reed, The Remainder by Alia Trabucco Zerán translated by Sophie Hughes and Reinhardt’s Garden by Mark Haber

How to submit: Details here

Note: They don’t accept manuscripts ALL the time (Heaven forfend!) but occasionally conduct periodic reading sessions so follow them on social media to find out when the next one is.

 

reinhardt

 

10. Comma Press 

Est.: 2012

What they want: Short stories and fiction in translation by new and established authors

Where they are: Manchester, UK

Books: The Iraqi Christ by Hassan Blasim, Palestine +100 [a collection of science fiction

short stories by Palestinian authors] and The Sea Cloak & Other Stories  by Nayrouz Qarmout translated by Perween Richards.

How to submit: It will be 18 months before they start considering single-author collections again, but you can enter their competitions or anthologies in the meantime. Contact sarah.cleave@commapress.co.uk for questions.

Notes: They are especially interested in translations from smaller regional and minority languages.

 

sea cloak

 

11. Dedalus Books 

Est.: 1983

What they want: Translations of European literature, especially the bizarre or surreal mixed with intellectual fiction

Where they are: Cambridgeshire, UK

Books: The Dedalus Book of Polish Fantasy edited by Wiesiek Powaga, The Arabian Nightmare by Robert Irwin and Days of Anger by Sylvie Germain.

How to submit: They prefer submissions by post: “3 sample chapters, a letter about the author and SAE if anything is to be returned.”

Notes: They publish 1-3 books per year. Email info@dedalusbooks.com with questions.

 

2876-1507-sylvie germain
Sylvie Germaine

 

 

12. Deep Vellum Publishing  

What they want: contemporary fiction, narrative nonfiction, poetry, translations.

Where they are: Dallas, Texas, USA

Books: El poemario del colibrí The Hummingbird Poems by Edyka Chilomé , Girls Lost by Jessica Schiefauer translated by Saskia Vogel and Life Went On Anyway by Oleg Sentsov 

How to submit: apply to Will Evans will@deepvellum.org

Notes: They especially want writers from Texas or writing about Texas.

 

oleg-1
Oleg Sentsov

 

13. Dzanc 

Est.: 2006

What they want: daring (wait, no, not THAT daring!) literary fiction

Where they are: Detroit, Michigan, USA

Books: Darkansas by Jarret Middleton, The Australian by Emma Smith-Stevens and Like a Woman by Deb Busman. 

How to submit: Submit using their ‘submittable’ form for submissions. For questions please contact michelle@dzancbooks.org

Notes: In 2019 Dzanc cancelled publication of The Siege of Tel Aviv by Hesh Kestin after allegations that it was Islamophobic.

 

14. Feminist Press  

Est.: 1970

What they want:  fiction, nonfiction

Where they are: New York

Books: Arid Dreams by Duanwad Pimwana translated by Mui Poopoksakul,  Fiebre Tropical by Juli Delgado Lopera and Mars by Asja Bakiç translated by Jennifer Zoble

How to submit: Details here.They prefer digital proposals in pdf. format and only look at completed manuscripts.

Notes: Founded by Florence Howe, a leader of the modern feminist movement.

 

mars

 

15. Guernica  

Est.: 1978

What they want: Literary fiction and translations

Where they are: Ontario, Canada

Books: Lucia’s Eyes and Other Stories by Marina Sonkina, Sex Therapy by Mary Melfi and Itzel I: A Tlatelolco Awakening by Sarah Xerar Murphy 

How to submit: Email queries or manuscripts to michaelmirolla@guernicaeditions.com. They only accept ms submissions between January 1 and April 30.

Note: It may take 6-8 months to get a response.

 

16. Knopf   

Est.: 1915

What they want: Literary fiction, translated fiction

Where they are: New York, New York, New York

Books: Disappearing Earth by Julia Phillips, Exhalation by Ted Chiang and Weather by Jenny Offil. 

How to submit: Knopf usually only accepts mss from agents. You might have a snowball’s chance on a chilly day in Hell, though, so why not try? Just send 25-50 pages and a stamped, self-addressed envelope to THE EDITORS/Knopf/1745 Broadway/New York/NY 10019.

Notes: It will take them a year to get back to you, IF AT ALL.

 

SleeplessNight_CoverFinal_ForWeb_900x1200
It’s got cake in it.

 

17. New Vessel Press  

Est.: 2012

What they want: Literary translations, fiction, narrative nonfiction

Where they are: New York

Books: I Belong to Vienna by Anna Goldenberg translated by Alta L. Price  Sleepless Night by Margriet de Moor translated by David Doherty and What’s Left of the Night by Ersi Sotiropoulos

How to submit: info@newvesselpress.com

 

18. Open Letter  

What they want: Contemporary literature (for adults) from around the world that is unique and that ‘will have a significant impact on world literary conversation’.

Where they are: Rochester, New York, USA

Books: The Brahmadells by Jóanes Nielson translated from Faroese by Kerri A. Pierce, The Smoke of Distant Fires by Eduardo Chirinos and To Hell with Cronjé by Ingrid Winterbach.

How to submit: Details here; complete manuscripts are preferred.

Notes: This is University of Rochester’s literary translation press. It publishes 10 books per year. Their website is called Three Percent because only 3% of all books published in the USA per year are literary translations. SAD FACE

 

large_796_TheManWhoKilledDurruti

 

19. PM Press 

Est.: 2007

What they want: Books by radical authors and activists.

Where they are: Oakland, CA, USA

Books: A City Made of Words by Paul Park, Fire by Elizabeth Hand and The Man who Killed Durruti by Pedro de Paz 

How to submit: Use this formatting guide, follow their careful directions here and then send to submissions@pmpress.org. Wait 2+ months.

Notes: They are more or less booked for two years, but will still might possibly have a look at some new stuff, though it’s not bloody likely.

 

Birth_strike_cover_final
Best book of 2019 from PM Press!

 

20. Seven Stories Press 

Est.: 1995

What they want: political guff, fiction, poetry

Where they are: New York, NY

Books: Babylon by Yasmina Reza,  They Hanged by Saintly Billy by Robert Graves and Darwin’s Ghosts by Ariel Dorfman 

How to submit: Send a cover letter and 2 chapters to Acquisitions/Seven Stories Press/140 Watts Street/New York, NY 10013/USA

 

cuban
It’s got a parrot.

 

21. The Unnamed Press  

Est.:  2014

What they want: Literature from around the world

Where they are: Los Angeles

Books: Vagablonde by Anna Dorn, The Cuban Comedy by Pablo Medina and  Mother of All Pigs by Malu Halasa 

How to submit: Send your work to info@unnamedpress.com

 

pigs

Fiction, Italy, Translated fiction, Travel

Turin in Ten Writers

One of the things I like about Turin is that it’s just so gosh-darned literary. In 1933 it  is the birthplace of the (now extinct) Giulio Einaudi publishing house and home to some of the country’s best known writers including Cesare Pavese, Primo Levi, Italo Calvino and Umberto Eco. Since 1988 it has hosted the Turin International Book Fair, Italy’s largest trade fair for books. So when I saw a literary guide to the city in a little bookshop, I was immediately intrigued. 

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Torino on Paper: A Literary Guide to the City by Alessandra Chiappori

 

This book devotes each chapter to one particular author and provides quotes from his or her books describing some aspect or place of Turin, often adding excerpts by other authors to fill in the picture. For example there is a quote from Giorgio di Maria’s Twenty Days of Turin tucked into the chapter titled “Citta livida e notturna” (“A Lurid and Noctural City”). The book has a little map tucked into a pocket in the back, showing the exact places where the (sometimes fictional) events in the excerpt took place. All in all I like it but, as a semi-literate Italian reader, I wish the quotes were better signposted as sometimes they lack attributions so you have to guess which book the excerpt comes from. 

Anyway, I shouldn’t complain because this blogpost is basically me looting the thing for quotes and then translating them into English. I justify this outrage by arguing that we anglophones are woefully ignorant of Torinese authors and this must stop. So let me introduce you to the following…

 

Edmondo De Amicis (1846-1908)

 

800px-Edmondo_De_Amicis
Nietzsche and De Amicis show Turin was a moustache magnet

 

[H]ere I feel my mind is free. My thought spans the vast piazzas and launches itself through the very long streets, through the great sunburst of alleys fleeing from all sides towards the countryside. The buildings don’t attract a second glance; but for this exact reason they don’t distract you from the greatness of the whole or from the beauty of nature; indeed, here and there they draw themselves back to give room for the eye’s flight up to the Alps and to the hill. In no other city is so much green seen, so much blue, so much whiteness; no other has a laugh so fresh and a spring so splendid, the impression of a renovated world. And then, in so many years the city has transformed before my eyes, I constantly see and love in new faces the faces of the departed, I am enveloped in a cloud of memories at every step, I hear a thousand voices of people and things past that call to me, I drink again the air of youth—my country’s and my own. Here I delight in beauties that are nothing but my eyes illumined and colored by a ray from my own heart.

 

Natalia Ginzburg (1916-1971)

 

Natalia Gi

 

Our city, after all, is melancholy by nature. On winter mornings, it has a distinctive smell of the station and soot, spread through all the streets and down all the avenues; when morning comes, we find it in grey fog, and wrapped up in its scent. Sometimes, through the fog, a dim sunbeam is filtered through, tinting the fog pink and the snow-piles lilac, shining on the bare branches of plants; the snow, in the streets and along the avenues, has been shoveled and gathered into little piles, but the public gardens are still buried under a thick, untouched, fluffy blanket, a finger-high on the abandoned benches and on the rims of the fountains, the galloping clock has stopped, since time incalculable, say a quarter of an hour. Beyond the river the hill rises, that’s white with snow too but patched here and there with reddish brush; and at the top of the hill looms a circular orange building, once the Opera Nazionale Balilla. There is a little sunlight there, and the glass cupola of the Automobile Show gleams, and the river runs with a green twinkle under the great stone bridges, so the city even seems, for a moment, laughing and hospitable: but it’s a fleeting impression. The essential nature of the city is melancholy: the river, losing itself in distance, vanishes in a horizon of violet mist, which makes you think about sunset even at mid-day; and in that moment you breathe that same gloomy scent and industrial soot and hear the whistle of trains.

 

Cesare Pavese (1908-1950)

 

Pavese by Ghitta Carell

 

The asphalt of the avenues was scattered with potholes, with layers of leaves, with puddles. It seemed to have hailed. In the clear light the last red fornicating fires. The school, as ever, was intact. The old Domenico collected me, impatient to get home to see the disasters. Dawn was already coming on, at the ceased alarm, in the hour that everyone was coming out and some operator opens the door and filters the light (so great were the fires), and something is drunk, nice to meet again. He told me what had happened that night in our refuge where he used to sleep. No lessons that day, it was understood. For the rest, even the trams had stopped, wide open and empty, where the end of the world had surprised them. All the lines were broken. All the walls smudged as the crazy wings of a bird of fire […] A cyclist passed who, foot on the ground, told us that Turin was totally destroyed. There are thousands dead, –he told us. –They’ve flattened the station, they’ve burnt the markets. They said on the radio that they’re going to return tonight. And he went pedaling away, without turning back.

La casa in collina (1949)

 

Primo Levi (1919-1987)

 

Primo_Levi

 

Our laboratory resembled an old junk shop and the hold of a whaling boat. Apart from its offshoots which invaded the kitchen, the anteroom and even the bathroom, it consisted of one single room and of the balcony. On the balcony there were the scattered parts of a DKW motorbike which Emilio had bought disassembled, and which, he said, one day or another he would put together: the scarlet tank straddled the railing, and the motor, inside a mosquito net, became rusty as it was corroded by our fumes. Then there were some ammonia bottles, a residue of an epoch preceding my arrival, when Emilio made a living by dissolving gaseous ammonia in demi-johns of drinking water, selling them and tarnishing the neighborhood.

The Periodic Table 

 

Elena Loewenthal (1960–)

 

elena

 

That morning Moisìn came with his handcart to the place that is now called ‘the centre’ and at that time was where the city began. He looked for the ghetto, asked for directions, followed them and at a certain point raising his head from the ground saw for the first time that kind of lump that was the Mole under construction, for more than ten years now. Started in 1859 by commission of the Jewish University […] in 1875 the pharaonic construction site was ceded from the bloodless coffers of the community to the ruddier ones of the municipality of Torino, which saw the completion of the Mole Antonelliana only in 1888.

 Conta le stele, se puoi 

 

Italo Calvino (1923-1985)

 

italo calvino

 

The institute [Cottolengo] stretched through crowded and poor districts, through the total area of an entire district, comprising an asylum and hospitals and hospices and schools and convents, almost like a city within a city, encircled by a wall and subject to other rules. The contours were irregular, like a body gradually swollen by new bequests and buildings and initiatives: over the wall there poked the roofs of buildings and spires of churches and foliage of trees and smokestacks; where a public road separated one body of construction from another, elevated corridors joined them, as in certain old industrial establishments, augmented by the dictates of practicality and not of beauty…”

La giornata d’uno scrutatore  (The Watcher )

 

Giovanni Arpino (1927-1987)

 

Arpino

 

Into the sky of milk and ash there rose the ferrous scraps of the trams along the avenues. If that sky hadn’t resembled an enormous upside-down frying pan, there would perhaps have been visible, to the west, the thin and tormented noses of the Alps, and to the east the soft outline of the hill of Oltrepò. But only the great winds of March managed to clean the horizons, those winds so bizarre and whirling that they swept the city of Turin with whirlwinds of leaves, of foliage, of skirts, filing the gables and edges of palaces, changing the clouds into strips, brightening the veins of the porticos and female eyes.

 

Carlo Fruttero (1926-2012) & Franco Lucentini (1920-2002)

 

fruttero

 

The piazza that in Torino is familiarly called Carlina is rich in monuments and contradictions. It ought to be dedicated to Carlo Emanuele II of Savoy (1634-1675), the thick, chalky group that rises in its centre don’t celebrate, as we might expect, the undertakings of that duke, but the glory of the count Camillo Benso di Cavour (1810-1861) to whom is owed the unity of Italy and on whose political foresight the Torinese of strict observance today nurture serious doubts. For allegorical reasons (but according to more gossipy historians, not so allegorical) the count seems surrounded by a certain number of half-naked women, not dissimilar to those portrayed on strip-club billboard overlooking one side of the piazza. Another side represents a baroque palace eternally in disrepair, eternally under restoration, the work of the architect Amedeo di Castellamonte (1610-1683). Another, the baroque church of Santa Croce, work of the architect Filippo Juvarra (1678-1736). Another, an eighteenth-century building that in 1814 saw the birth of the Carabinieri Corps, and that today hosts the Legion Command.

A che punto è la notte (1979) 

 

Enrico Pandiani (1956-)

 

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And there Barriera stretches out before me, Corso Giulio Cesare, the beating heart of absurdity. Arabs, Sudanese, Congolese who greet each other, ignore each other, talk shouting into cellphones as if they were giving orders to the world but maybe they were just asking how’s it going. The Chinese people in front of restaurants were getting ready to welcome customers who didn’t have money to pay for a decent lunch and offering the no-frills experience their frequenters expect. One that I know is from the Ivory Coast is leaning against a wall next to the pharmacy, where his clientele waits: he’s narrow in a faded grey jacket and smokes without taking the cigarette out of his mouth, in the lining of his pockets he has a little hashish for the kids who are coming out of school. The 4, the city tram that flies over Turin—whatever that means—whizzes past me and I quicken my pace, jump on a pile of snow massed against the rubbish skips and I climb aboard.

Polvere (Dust) 

 

 

 

 

Fiction, Italy, Translated fiction, Travel

A Twenty Days of Turin Tour

Today it was rainy and misty in Turin, with a creeping sense of gloom. In short, it was perfect weather to view some of the landmarks mentioned in one of the great modern ghost stories The Twenty Days of Turin by Georgio De Maria. The English translation was published by Ramon Glazov in 2017 and ever since I first read it I have been wanting to visit the places mentioned in this chilling story, just to double check…

De Maria - The Twenty Days of Turin

As Glazov says in the translator’s introduction, the book “is a sinister, imaginary chronicle of the author’s home city as it suffers ‘a phenomenon of collective psychosis.’” Strolling around the city center on a dark day, it was almost disturbingly easy to slip into an apocalyptic frame of mind.

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In the twentieth century, Turin was probably best known as an industrial city, particularly as the home of Fiat. Now it is  a center of sports (Juventus), a gateway to the Alps and home of the Slow Food movement. Even so, there is a lingering, almost vinegary scent, of the supernatural. 

‘Here we have the automotive industry, we have the ethos of central-city Turin, we have the commonsense citizen who represents the solidest of our institutions…All of that would suffice to throw the most hardened army of specters into retreat!’ (p. 16-17)

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still haunted

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“In this city, demons lurk under the ashes.”

Looming large in the book are monuments found in the city’s streets, piazzas and parks. It was these monuments and statues that I was particularly interested in checking on this little literary tour. One such monument was the statue of Vincenzo Vela in the process of sculpting the dying Napoleon. Vela (1820-1891) was born to a poor family but became a very profilic and celebrated sculptor. His most famous work was the “Last Days of Napoleon” (1867). His connection to Turin began in 1852, when he assumed the chair at the Albertina Academy of Fine Arts and proceeded to sprinkle his monumental works all over the city. 

‘Do you want to know something funny? I could swear the statues of Vincenzo Vela and Napoleon Bonaparte had swapped places. It isn’t Vela with his back towards us is it?’ No, I answered him, I’m sure it’s always been Napoleon’s back, or rather, the back of his armchair. He shrugged his shoulders and gave a sad smile. ‘Must be,’ he said. p.10

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One of the tallest monuments in Turin is that of Victor Emmanuel II, near GAM, the museum of modern art. It stands in the middle of a roundabout. VEII (1820-1878) was the first king of a united Italy, Padre della Patria

‘Anyway, I would say that the first scream came from over there, at the intersection.’

‘Near the monument to King Victor Emmanuel?’

‘Roughly. The second scream came from the opposite side, from the area around the cottages…Of course, I couldn’t pin-point where exactly…Then a third scream, much father away…farther away, and yet even more terrible. It seemed like they were relaying some kind of message.’ (p. 21)

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Towards Porta Nuova train station is Piazza Carlo Felice, where a particularly gory incident takes place in the book. It’s a lovely spot, with a little fountain shaded with greenery. At the back of the piazza is a monument to Edmondo de Amicis, a children’s author whose novel Cuore used to be my Spanish teacher’s favorite book.

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Edmondo de Amicis

Anyone who went to Piazza Carlo Felice on the morning of July the third to observe the “scene of the crime” will remember the mustachioed face of the Piedmontese writer, jutting from a slab of marble, still fouled with blood and gray matter, gory splatters from the victim reaching high enough to lick at bas-reliefs of children and the naked feet of the muse positioned on top of the monument. (p.45)

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no brain shower today

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barefoot Muse

Near Piazza Carlo Felice I saw another statue and went to photograph it just in case. As I suspected, it pops up in the novel too. Pietro Paleocapa (1788-1869) was a civil engineer who worked on railways, tunnels and waterways. He even took part in the design of the Suez Canal. He died in Turin.

“This square…” I began casually. “At one time it used to be called ‘Piazza Paleocapa? Wasn’t that the name?”

Eligio pretended he hadn’t heard me.

“I’m asking because I came by here once—it must’ve been quite a while ago—and it seemed to me that on that pedestal there was a monument to Pietro Paleocapa—you know, the engineer and government minister—not to Lagrange.”  (p.114)

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Paleocapa

Another landmark often mentioned in the book is the Gran Madre di Dio Church. This distinctive building was built to celebrate the return of King Victor Emmanuele I to the city after Napoleon’s defeat. The Latin inscription on the tympanum (under the roof) can be translated ‘the Nobility and the People of Turin for the Return of the King’. 

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‘At the fore of the neoclassical church stood a monument to Victor Emmanuel I: King of Sardinia—returned to his people—the XX of May MDCCCXIV…” Guarding the church, from either side of its grand flight of steps, were two symmetrical rows of statues in white stone: two veiled women dressed in peplums with open books resting on their laps, each raising a chalice in her right hand, and at their flanks, two angels giving gestures of command.” (p. 67)

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Victor Emmanuel I

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Faith with calyx

This  is by no means a comprehensive list of the sites mentioned in Twenty Days of Turin, but I was starting to get tired. Besides, for now I was fairly satisfied that, despite the brooding atmosphere, the demons are calm for now. 

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Piazza Vittorio Veneto

Americas, Fiction, Translated fiction, Travel

Borges’ City

“My soul is in the streets/ of Buenos Aires.”  (“The Streets”)

 

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Reading Borges’ poetry for the first time in Buenos Aires is an interesting experience because so much of the city is reflected there. His first poetry book was Fervor de Buenos Aires and he seems to have a tourist’s delight and interest in every detail of the city that surrounded him for most of his life. So I decided to put up some snapshots of the city that remind me of his continued presence here.

 

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entrance to the old zoo, where Borges saw his first tiger

 

“My dreaming is never able to conjure up the desired creature. A tiger appears, sure enough, but an enfeebled tiger, a stuffed tiger, imperfect of form, or the wrong size, or only fleetingly present, or looking something like a dog or a bird.”  (“Dreamtigers”)

 

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I look on them as infinite, elemental

fulfillers of a very ancient pact

to multiply the world, as in the act

of generation, sleepless and dangerous.

(“Mirrors”)

 

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Photo by Walter Chandoha, who died recently

 

“Who is to tell him the cat observing him

Is only the mirror’s way of dreaming?

I remind myself that these concordant cats—

the one of glass, the one with warm blood coursing—

are both mere simulacra granted time

by a timeless archetype.

(“Beppo”)

 

 

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Eva Desnuda by Charles Despiau (1874-1946)

 

 

Whoever embraces a woman is Adam. The woman is Eve.

Everything happens for the first time.

I saw something white in the sky. They tell me it is the moon but

What can I do with a word and a mythology.

Trees frighten me a little. They are so beautiful.

(“Happiness”)

 

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The National Library

 

The faithless say that if it were to burn,

History would burn with it. They are wrong.

Unceasing human work gave birth to this

Infinity of books.

(“Alexandria, A.D. 641” S.K.)

 

 

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Forty cards have taken the place of life.

The decorated cardboard talismans

make us oblivious of our destiny,

and a light-hearted game

goes on filling up our stolen time

with the flowery flourishes

of a home made mythology.

(“Truco”)

 

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Thoughtful cat at Recoleta Cemetery

 

Benign shade of the trees,

wind full of birds and undulating limbs,

souls dispersed into other souls,

it might be a miracle that they once stopped being,

an incomprehensible miracle,

although its imaginary repetition

slanders our days with horror.

(“Recoleta Cemetery”)

 

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Now dead, now on his feet now immortal, now a ghost,

He reported to the Hell marked out for him by God,

And under his command there marched, broken and bloodless,

The souls in purgatory of his soldiers and his horses.

(“General Quiroga Rides to His Death in a Carriage”  A.R.)

 

 

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One thing alone does not exist—oblivion.

God, who saves the metal, saves the dross

and stores in his prophetic memory

moons that have still to come, moons that have shone.

(“Everness” A.R.)

 

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Everything—the drab houses,

the crude banisters, the doorknockers,

perhaps the hopes of a girl dreaming on a balcony—

all entered into my vain heart

with the clarity of tears.

(“Unknown Street”)

 

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Some years ago I tried to get away from him: I went from suburban mythologies to playing games with time and infinity. But these are Borges’ games now—I will have to think of something else.

“Borges and I”

 

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“Lifelike” statue of Bioy Casales in La Biela café, Casales being Borges’ friend and frequent collaborator