The World Goes On by László Krasznahorkai

No, history has not ended, and nothing has ended; we can no longer delude ourselves by thinking that anything has ended with us. We merely continue something, maintaining it somehow; something continues, something survives.

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Edition: Tuskar Rock Press, 2017, 320 pages.

Shortlisted for the 2018 Man Booker International Prize

Many reviewers have pointed out that the short story collection The World Goes On by László Krasznahorkai, translated from the Hungarian by John Batki, Ottilie Mulzet and George Szirtes, might not be the best place to start exploring Krasznahorkai’s bibliography, however, this was my first introduction to his writing, and these stories have convinced me that I definitely need to read more of his work.

The collection includes 21 stories, a mix of shorter and longer pieces, most of which are written in Krasznahorkai’s characteristic prose style of single, continuous sentences that supposedly more closely reflect the way our minds actually work. These are bleak visions of the world and the thematic thread that seems to connect most of these stories is the desire to escape.  The characters in many of these stories exist in a constant state of frustration and are yearning to escape something, but they somehow find themselves stuck in the same place. For some reason the imagery and dreamlike quality of some of the stories immediately reminded me of David Lynch’s works which often try to illuminate the strange and undefinable in the very mundane, however, Krasznahorkai’s seems to have a much bleaker view of the world.

In one of the most notable pieces in the collection, Nine Dragon Crossing, a simultaneous interpreter, who yearns to visit a waterfall, wanders the streets of Shanghai on foot and gets stuck inside the very complicated intersection of elevated roads called Nine Dragon Crossing. This leads him to ponder the fate of language and the place of human beings in an increasingly modern world that seems to be speeding up more and more. Moreover, Krasznahorkai’s dense, looping prose style feels like a protest against the fast flow of information that we must adapt to.

[…] the desired speed was attained, and only he – and here it was the simultaneous interpreter speaking again, the livid-faced condemned man of Nine Dragon Crossing – only he alone didn’t understand why we needed such speed, speed that moreover would soon have to be increased, god is there no one, he now cried into the artificially illuminated firmament of Nine Dragon Crossing, no one who understands that we simply don’t need such speed?! […].

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Another highlight of the collection is the story That Gagarin, which speculates on the effects that the first space mission in 1961 had on the life of Russian cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin, and reflects on a possibly deeper meaning of Gagarin’s words upon seeing the Earth from space: “I see Earth. It is so beautiful.” An emotionally moving story that I consider to be one of the strongest pieces in the collection.

In the evocative Journey In A Place Without Blessings, a diocesan bishop addresses the congregation for the very last time while disassembling the church because they have failed to understand and follow the Scriptures. A story that is powerful in its simplicity.

Some of my other favourites from the collection are György Fehér’s Henrik Molnár, Wandering – Standing, He Wants to Forget, Universal Theseus, and I Don’t Need Anything From Here, a one-page monologue that I think best describes a sentiment shared by most of the protagonists of these stories who yearn to transcend this world:

[…] I would leave this earth and these stars because I would take nothing with me, because I’ve looked into what’s coming, and I don’t need anything from here.

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The Man Booker International Prize 2018 Shortlist

First of all, congratulations to all the authors and translators that made it onto the 2018 Man Booker International Prize shortlist!

The full 2018 Man Booker International Prize shortlist is as follows:

  1. Vernon Subutex 1 by Virginie Despentes (France) (translated by Frank Wynne) (MacLehose Press);
  2. The White Book by Han Kang (South Korea) (translated by Deborah Smith) (Portobello Books);
  3. The World Goes On by László Krasznahorkai (Hungary) (translated by John Batki, Ottilie Mulzet & George Szirtes) (Tuskar Rock Press);
  4. Like a Fading Shadow by Antonio Muñoz Molina (Spain) (translated by Camilo A. Ramirez) (Tuskar Rock Press);
  5. Frankenstein in Baghdad by Ahmed Saadawi (Iraq) (translated by Jonathan Wright) (Oneworld);
  6. Flights by Olga Tokarczuk (Poland) (translated by Jennifer Croft) (Fitzcarraldo Editions)

MBIP1.jpgI must admit I’m a bit surprised by the shortlist. I wouldn’t say I’m disappointed but I was really hoping that two of my favourites from the longlist – Die, My Love by Ariana Harwicz and The 7th Function of Language – would make the cut.

So far, I’ve read three of the shortlisted titles – The White Book,  The World Goes On and Frankenstein in Baghdad. Of these three, I would say that Frankenstein in Baghdad should win, but I’m looking forward to reading the remaining three that all sound very interesting, and any one of these could still become a new favourite.

What are your thoughts on the shortlist?

Happy reading!

2018 Best Translated Book Award Longlist for Fiction

The Best Translated Book Award is a literary prize that was founded in 2007 to bring attention to the best works of translated fiction and poetry published in the U.S. during the previous year – http://www.rochester.edu/College/translation/threepercent/index.php?id=21372

The 2018 BTBA longlists for both fiction and poetry were announced yesterday but, since I’m generally not a big poetry reader, I will be focusing on the longlist for fiction.

The full 2018 longlist for fiction is as follows:

  1. Incest by Christine Angot, translated from the French by Tess Lewis (France, Archipelago);
  2. Suzanne by Anaïs Barbeau-Lavalette, translated from the French by Rhonda Mullins (Canada, Coach House);
  3. Tómas Jónsson, Bestseller by Guðbergur Bergsson, translated from the Icelandic by Lytton Smith (Iceland, Open Letter Books);
  4. Compass by Mathias Énard, translated from the French by Charlotte Mandell (France, New Directions);
  5. Bergeners by Tomas Espedal, translated from the Norwegian by James Anderson (Norway, Seagull Books);
  6. The Invented Part by Rodrigo Fresán, translated from the Spanish by Will Vanderhyden (Argentina, Open Letter Books);
  7. Return to the Dark Valley by Santiago Gamboa, translated from the Spanish by Howard Curtis (Colombia, Europa Editions);
  8. Affections by Rodrigo Hasbún, translated from the Spanish by Sophie Hughes (Bolivia, Simon and Schuster);
  9. Old Rendering Plant by Wolfgang Hilbig, translated from the German by Isabel Fargo Cole (Germany, Two Lines Press);
  10. I Am the Brother of XX by Fleur Jaeggy, translated from the Italian by Gini Alhadeff (Switzerland, New Directions);
  11. You Should Have Left: A Novel by Daniel Kehlmann, translated from the German by Ross Benjamin (Germany, Pantheon);
  12. Chasing the King of Hearts by Hanna Krall, translated from the Polish by Philip Boehm (Poland, Feminist Press);
  13. Beyond the Rice Fields by Naivo, translated from the French by Allison M. Charette (Madagascar, Restless Books);
  14. My Heart Hemmed In by Marie NDiaye, translated from the French by Jordan Stump (France, Two Lines Press);
  15. Savage Theories by Pola Oloixarac, translated from the Spanish by Roy Kesey (Argentina, Soho Press);
  16. August by Romina Paula, translated from the Spanish by Jennifer Croft (Argentina, Feminist Press);
  17. The Magician of Vienna by Sergio Pitol, translated from the Spanish by George Henson (Mexico, Deep Vellum);
  18. The Iliac Crest by Cristina Rivera Garza, translated from the Spanish by Sarah Booker (Mexico, Feminist Press);
  19. Fever Dream by Samanta Schweblin, translated from the Spanish by Megan McDowell (Argentina, Riverhead);
  20. Ghachar Ghochar by Vivek Shanbhag, translated from the Kannada by Srinath Perur (India, Penguin);
  21. For Isabel: A Mandala by Antonio Tabucchi, translated from the Italian by Elizabeth Harris (Italy, Archipelago);
  22. Ebola ’76 by Amir Tag Elsir, translated from the Arabic by Charis Bredin (Sudan, Darf Publishers);
  23. The Last Bell by Johannes Urzidil, translated from the German by David Burnett (Germany, Pushkin Press);
  24. Radiant Terminus by Antoine Volodine, translated from the French by Jeffery Zuckerman (France, Open Letter Books);
  25. Remains of Life by Wu He, translated from the Chinese by Michael Berry (Taiwan, Columbia University Press)

It’s always exciting to see a list that spotlights some titles that I’ve never even heard about. Of the 25 longlisted novels, I’ve only read two – Compass and Fever Dream – both of which were excellent reads and among my favourites from the 2017 MBIP prize longlist. I also already have Return to the Dark Valley, You Should Have Left: A Novel and Affections on my shelf, so I will be prioritising them on my to-be-read list, but I’m intrigued to check out some of the others as well, particularly Ghachar Ghochar, Tómas Jónsson, Bestseller, Savage Theories, Chasing the King of Hearts, Radiant Terminus, Old Rendering Plant, The Iliac Crest and The Invented Part.

I’m a bit surprised that Human Acts by Han Kang (tr. Deborah Smith) didn’t make it onto the longlist and that Compass and Fever Dream are the only ones included here from the 2017 Man Booker International Prize list.

Also, it’s sad to see that the excellent and thought-provoking Belladonna by Daša Drndić (tr. Celia Hawkesworth) didn’t get any love neither from the 2017 MBIP judges, nor the 2018 BTBA judges.

What are your thoughts on the longlist?

The finalists will be announced on May 15, and the winners will be announced on May 31.