Sunday, December 22, 2013

My Top Ten Reads of 2013 that Should NOT Be Out of Print

I read a fair share of out-of-print translations that I believe should be more widely available and I thought I would compile a slightly different “Top Ten” list for the year. You should be able to find these with a little digging or if you’re fortunate to have a library that provides inter-library services. There are six novels, two plays, and two non-fiction works I read this year that I don't believe should be out of print. I apologize for the three books that do not have posts yet. I'm planning on correcting that deficiency soon.

My Top Ten Reads of 2013 that Should NOT Be Out of Print
  • Pharaoh by Bolesław Prus (1894-5): My favorite read of 2013 and the best political novel I’ve ever read. Unfortunately I lost all my notes but I’m seriously thinking of re-reading this soon and posting on it. Do not bother with the 1902 translation (a bad shortened version). The 2001 edition translation by Christopher Kasparek is the version to seek out. The 1966 film directed by Jerzy Kawalerowicz is well worth searching out, too.

  • Relations by Zsigmond Móricz (1932): A Hungarian masterpiece. Móricz summarized his idea for the story this way: “I postulated the idea that in every family there is one man, the rest are relations. By this I meant that there is a competent, strong personality to whom the many incompetent cling. And this strong man cannot achieve anything, because the network of relations enmeshes him and drags him into the depths.” But what if the “strong man” isn’t really that strong? That’s the situation Pista Kopjáss finds himself in when his city’s power-brokers coordinate his election as Town Clerk. Pista ineffectually fights back against his manipulation. It’s a scathing indictment against those who could initiate reform for the country but fail to do so.

  • Chevengur by Andrei Platonov (1928): The potential good news is that Robert Chandler has been working on a translation of the novel and I will be happy to re-read it if/when it is released. I thoroughly enjoyed this parable of the Russian Revolution, focusing on stated propaganda and ideology versus true intent. What happens when Russian Communism meets Utopia? You have to ask?

  • Update: I didn't realize it when I posted this but a scanned version available online (large pdf file).

  • Tristana by Benito Pérez Galdós (1892): This is not the feminist manifesto you are looking for. Full of ambiguity and irony…hey, it’s Galdós. The story of Tristana and her two lovers is only available in English in a case study between the novel and Luis Buñuel’s film.

  • The End of the Old Times Vladislav Vančura (1934): A delightful read, full of satire covering the first years of the Czechoslovakian republic after World War I. I’ll have a post on this book soon.

  • Diary of a Humiliated Man by Félix de Azúa (1987): Coming to terms with Spain during and after Franco as reflected in the life of a degraded man hitting rock bottom. Layers of commentary.

  • Kean by Jean-Paul Sartre (1953): My favorite “project” this year looked at Sartre’s play, the Alexandre Dumas play it was based on (and the 1924 silent film starring Ivan Mosjoukine also based on Dumas’ play). Kean’s play is a hall of mirrors, the theater and real life reflected in each other. The sources for Kean’s play are as convoluted as the play as itself, as noted by Benedict O’Donohoe: “In short, Sartre’s Kean is a play about an actor [Kean] requested from him by an actor [Brasseur], and adopted from a play about an actor [Kean] requested by another actor [Lemaître] from an unknown author [Théaulon and de Couey], but signed by a great novelist and playwright of the day [Dumas].”

  • Princess Ivona by Witold Gombrowicz (1935): I was fortunate to see a wonderful performance of this play by The Collected Works. I’ll let Gombrowicz summarize the play:
    The tragic-comic history of Ivona can be summed up in a few words. Prince Philip, the heir to the throne, meets this charmless and unattractive girl as he goes for a walk. Ivona is awkward, apathetic, anaemic, shy, nervous and boring. From the start the prince cannot stand her, she irritates him too much; but at the same time he cannot bear to see himself obliged to hate the wretched Ivona. He suddenly rebels against those laws of nature which order young men only to love seductive girls. ‘I won’t stand for it, I’ll love her!’ He defies the laws of nature and gets engaged to Ivona.

    Introduced to the court as the prince’s fiancée, Ivona becomes a decomposing agent. The mute, frightened presence of her innumerable deficiencies reveals to each courtier his own blemishes, his own vices, his own dirtiness... . In a short time the court turns into an incubator of monsters. And each monster, including the fiancé, longs to murder the unbearable Ivona. Finally, the court mobilizes its pomp, its superiority and its splendor and, with full grandeur, kills her.

    That’s the story of Ivona. Is it so hard to understand?
    - A Kind of Testament, translated by Alastair Hamilton (Champaign/London: Dalkey Archive Press, 2007), pages 48-49. (Ellipsis in original)

  • Off the Beaten Track in the Classics by Carl Kaeppel (1936): A fun and quirky survey of ancient texts and accomplishments. Kaeppel’s breadth and depth of knowledge appears formidable, but he demonstrates it in a folksy manner.

  • The Volga Rises in Europe by Curzio Malaparte (1951): Can you blame me for being uncomfortable about putting Malaparte’s journalism in the nonfiction category? I just started this book and hope to have a post on it before the end of the year but it is fascinating writing. Malaparte was the only front-line war correspondent following the Germans into Russia. I’m looking forward to reading and writing about this book.

Update: I didn't realize when I posted this that Scott G. F. Bailey's book The Astrologer is out-of-print. Add it to the list and pick thee up a copy while you can.


scott g.f.bailey said...

This is a great post, and useful, too. I have more things to add to my library list and to my secondhand bookshop list. That final book you mention is okay, I guess. It might find its way back into print in 2014. Negotiations are under way. Thanks for mentioning The Astrologer!

I am going to read more Galdos next year, beginning (finally) with Our Friend Manso.

Dwight said...

Hey Scott. I never posted on your book and I should have. I read it when visiting family back in the spring and handed it off to one of my brothers during the trip. He just returned it to me so maybe I can time a post when you get it re-released.

I flagged on Galdos, but I hope to post on the other 6 books or so of his I have in translation (all out of print, of course) this year.

Many of these books are cost prohibitive to own, unless you get lucky. If you can even find a copy, that is. Interlibrary loans have been my friend this year.