I don’t want them to reward me for nonsense

Dear Nadezhda, The Boarding-School Girl, tr. Karen Rosneck (2000. Original: Пансионерка, 1861), very much like your sister’s novel City Folk and Country Folk, tr.  Nora Seligman Favorov (2017. Original: Городские и деревенские, 1863) is as layered as a Russian doll: inside the social satire and comedy of manners, we can glimpse a coming of age story;…

The milk of incomprehension

Dear Nora, Soviet Milk, tr. Margita Gailitis (2018. Original: Mātes piens, 2015) was this odd thing: a butterfly that, going in reverse, moults back into a chrysalis. What had started as a nuanced, enraged depiction of life under Soviet rule, gradually turned into a black and white, poor reproduction of what the book might have been….

Hardness was probably his most distinctive quality

Dear Laura, Reading your novel Breathing into Marble, tr. Marija Marcinkute (2016. Original: Kvėpavimas į marmurą, 2006) feels like being trapped in a room of glass: it’s cold and solid, and we can see everything from a great distance; however, if we try to come near the glass to see more clearly, it gets misty,…

Every abyss has its lullabies

Dear Julián, Tomb Song, tr. Christina MacSweeney (2018. Original: Canción de tumba, 2011) is an elegiac account of a writer who tries to reconcile himself both with a troubled past and with a present marked by imminent loss. We follow a mourning trajectory that begins with the narrator’s personal crisis – triggered by his mother’s illness – and…

Sitting deep in the human heart

Dear Selma, Your short-story collection Invisible Links, tr. Pauline Bancroft Flach (1899. Original: Osynliga länkar,1894) reads like a visit to one of those Scandinavian wooden churches, decorated with dragon heads on the outside and Christian symbols inside. The book is composed of fourteen short-stories crossed by mythical elements drawn from pagan and Christian legends. Natural beings…

Every traveller’s time is a lot of times in one

Dear Olga, Flights, tr. Jennifer Croft (2017. Original: Bieguni, 2007) reads very much like one of the cabinets of curiosities it alludes to: each story is like a small drawer we are eager to open; in each drawer, we find an odd, mythical-sounding anecdote, or a slightly distorted idea. The strangest thing, however, is that…

It was a family of women buccaneers

Dear Gladys, The Matriarch (1924) is a family saga told in a fragmented way, weaving together vignettes, sketches and anecdotes that read like a series of family legends passed on from one generation to the next. The book follows the Rakonitzes, a cosmopolitan, wealthy Jewish family, from the early 19th century to the early 20th…

The first tear opened up that day

Dear Victor, ‘The Love of Singular Men‘ (2016. Original: O amor dos homens avulsos, not translated yet) reads like a delicate web, a coming-of-age tale of affection, woven in different forms of violence. Camilo, the narrator, is a disabled, middle-aged white man, living alone in a small apartment in the fictional Queím neighbourhood, in the…

Two half drowned things, clinging together in a shipwreck

Dear Elizabeth, Vera (1921) is the story of a toxic relationship which gradually unfolds into a full-blown tale of psychological horror, made ever more disturbing by the restrained way in which it is told. The story revolves around the main character, the naïve, twenty-two-year-old Lucy Entwhistle, whose father has just suddenly passed away, while they…

A strange carousel from which there was no getting off

Dear Daniela, In your novel A Kingdom of Souls translated by Véronique Firkusny and Elena Sokol (2015. Original: Podobojí, 1991), we have magical realism with an edge: the dead exist alongside the living, wandering across space and time, always in the brink of turning into an allegory, a symbol, a pervading longing. The novel centres…

Very soon I will send you something, a few birds of fire

Dear Alejandra, I confess that I have been reading your letters, Blímele. More than that: I’ve been carrying this Nueva Correspondencia Pizarnik (ed. Ivonne Bordelois and Cristina Piña, 2014, not translated to English yet) with me, as one who carries his own identity papers. Compiled in 40 sections, according to their recipients, the letters cover the…

What two people can make of the same view

Dear Elizabeth, In your novel A View from the Harbour (1947), we are sea watchers, guided by a faint beam. It feels very much as if we were inside a lighthouse, following the light as it shifts from one character to another. The novel centres around the inhabitants of a small seaside town in England…

Cutting and repetition

Dear Marília, In your poetry collection Um teste de resistores (2014, ‘a test of resistors’, not translated yet), each poem undergoes, as its starting point, a resistance test: the attempt to draw a map; to cross this map as it is drawn; and, finally, to offer steady resistance to the very act of crossing it….

Beautiful flying things

Dear Carole, In Ava (1993), you throw us inside the mind of a dying woman. We are there, minute by minute, while it all happens. However, we cannot see anything very clearly – we can only follow its rhythm. Rather than a linear collection of images flashing before our eyes, the novel reads more like…

Trust is fine, but control is better

Dear Elfriede, Your novel The Piano Teacher, tr. Joachim Neugroschel (1988. Die Klavierspielerin, 1983) is vile and uncompromising: it dwells on the grotesque, crossed by an undercurrent of violence that, by striping everything of fineries and superficial niceties, almost acts as a cleansing element. The novel centres around Erika Kohut (Erika K.), a piano teacher…

Nothing holds the wind back from its wings

Dear Anna, Moving back and forth between early modern Italy and Nazi-occupied Florence, your book Artemisia, tr. Shirley D’Ardia Caracciolo (2003. Original: Artemisia, 1947) unfolds as in a game of hide-and-seek: we are constantly drawn out of your protagonist and into your narrator; out of your narrator and into yourself as an author – and then…

The various crimes of sadness

Dear Fleur, Most of the twenty-one stories in your collection I Am the Brother of XX, tr. Gini Alhadeff (2017. Original: Sono il fratello di XX, 2014) have a claustrophobic feel to them: like when we are aware that we are dreaming, but we cannot wake up, no matter how much we try. The stories are set…

I believe in the god of carnage

Dear Yasmina, Threading the thin line between civility and barbarity, you manage to convey, with acerbic wit, how civility and good intentions are slowly but steadily sacrificed to The God of Carnage (2008, tr. Christopher Hampton. Original: Le Dieu du carnage, 2007) The play revolves around two middle-class couples who meet to discuss a fight…