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Posts Tagged ‘novel’

Franzen on Kraus: Footnote 48

September 5, 2013 | by

Oskar Kokoschka's 1925 portrait of Karl Kraus. Oil on canvas, 65 x 100 cm, Museum Moderner Kunst, Vienna.

Oskar Kokoschka’s 1925 portrait of Karl Kraus. Museum Moderner Kunst, Vienna.

This week, to celebrate the launch of our Fall issue, we will preview a few of our favorite footnotes from “Against Heine,” Jonathan Franzen’s translation of the Austrian writer Karl Kraus. Click here to get your subscription now!

And Heine had a talent for being embraced by young souls and thus associated with young experiences.48 

(p. 210)

48 J. D. Salinger might be an example of an American writer whose reputation has similarly benefitted from being read in people’s youth. But consider here, too, the periodic arguments from Bob Dylan fans that Dylan deserves the Nobel Prize in Literature.

 

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Document: Nabokov’s Notes

February 29, 2012 | by

When Vladimir Nabokov started teaching Russian literature at Wellesley College in 1944, he was frustrated by the lack of an adequate literal translation of Eugene Onegin, which he referred to as “the first and fundamental Russian novel.” He prepared his own extracts for class use and invited Edmund Wilson to work with him on a full translation.

Wilson had nurtured Nabokov’s early career in the States, and Nabokov had reciprocated with many generous hours of patient tutorial—often via letter—on the finer points of Russian literature, history, politics, and scansion. The two had grown to be great friends but never collaborated on a full-length work. The 1964 publication of Nabokov’s solo translation of Onegin effectively ended their friendship and sparked one of the best-known intellectual debates of the last century.

The project began promisingly enough for Nabokov, though Wilson had misgivings from the get-go. When Nabokov first decided to prepare a prose translation of Onegin, “with notes giving associations and other explanations for every line,” Wilson and Nabokov had been exchanging letters about Russian poetics for a decade, often with barely masked stridency on both sides. In 1950 Wilson expressed fatigue: “I am getting rather tired of all these topics and think we ought to start something new.” When he learned that Nabokov has decided to devote his Guggenheim Fellowship—achieved, in part, through Wilson’s recommendation—to the Onegin project, he complained: “I wish you had given them some other project—it seems to me a pity for you to spend a lot of time on Onegin when you ought to be writing your own books.” Nabokov, however, wasn’t worried: in his application he wrote that it would take “a year or so,” and told Wilson the work could be “quite smoothly combined with other pleasures.”

A year later he wrote how much more arduous a project it had turned out to be: “I was … on the verge of a breakdown and not fit for company. For two months in Cambridge I did nothing (from 9 A.M. to 2 A.M.) but work on my commentaries to EO.” Still later, it seemed he had met his whale. He wrote to Katharine White, his friend and New Yorker editor, that the “monster” had “grown far beyond whatever I planned originally.” He told Wilson, “I have at last discovered the right way to translate Onegin. This is the fifth or sixth complete version I have made.” At the end of the summer of 1957 he admitted more confidentially to his sister, “I hope that I can finally, finally finish my monstrous Pushkin … I am tired of this ‘bookish exploit’.” Read More »

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A Father, A Daughter, A Novel

September 26, 2011 | by

Photograph by Christa Lohman.

A basic but serviceable simile for memory is the mirror: you look into it and it shows you as you once were. Most of us recognize that the analogy is simplistic at best, and the novelist reaching into his past for material knows it better than most.

I was a fifty-year-old writer trying to breathe life into the character of a seventeen-year-old boy. It was a daunting prospect, perhaps, but I was not to be put off by the presumptuousness or difficulty of the task; after all, inventing people is what I’m (occasionally) paid to do. I naturally intended to draw on my every memory of myself as a seventeen-year-old. Like me, my protagonist would be somewhat bookish but in no way a nerd; deeply introspective but not withdrawn; a peripheral figure on the margins of the in-crowd, longing to be admitted yet vaguely contemptuous of the object of his desire; chaotically libidinous but physically uncertain of himself; and above all a strenuously ethical being, ever seeking and ever falling short of the moral high ground. He would make a rather handsome character, I thought. Read More »

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Jennifer Egan Fever

July 12, 2011 | by

Photograph by Pieter M van Hattem/Vistalux.

Did you know that Jennifer Egan was robbed by a motorcyclist in Spain at the age of twenty-two? That when she was little, she wanted to be a doctor, but then she tried to be an archeologist? That she’s written exactly one celebrity profile and it’s of Calvin Klein? And that she received a gratuitous amount of CK1, which she wore until it ran out? That her first apartment in New York City was on West 69th Street but she has also lived on East 7th Street (between First Avenue and Avenue A) and West 28th Street (between 6th and 7th Avenues), but now she lives in Fort Greene? That she wrote her first (and unpublished) novel while studying abroad at Cambridge? That she was a reader for The Paris Review? That she writes her first drafts by longhand? And her second?

I have Jennifer Egan fever. I caught it at the beginning of last year, when I read “Ask Me if I Care,” a short story of hers that The New Yorker had excerpted from her then-forthcoming novel, A Visit from the Goon Squad. I read the other two stories The New Yorker had published on my iPhone while getting a pedicure. It’s a banal admission only worth recalling because I remember sitting in the salon’s lounge long after the polish had dried and it was time to leave—I had to read it all, right then and there. After that, I read every single story she published, every novel she had written, every interview I could get my hands on. (I knew the obsession was bad when I started picking through the Amazon reviews.)

Egan’s prose is stunning, funny, sexy—cool. Her stories reference Black Flag and the Dead Kennedys. She can write about an attractive kleptomaniac on a first date, a topic that seems dangerously cliché, and yet, by the end of opening paragraph, you’re hooked. She’s transparent about her writing process; honest about what she borrows and what she invents. It’s not that she “beat” Jonathan Franzen, though I see why some feel the need to pit the two authors against one another. And it’s not that she’s perfect—I have yet to encounter someone who liked The Keep—but maybe that’s also part of the appeal.

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Chris Adrian on ‘The Great Night’

May 17, 2011 | by

Photograph by Gus Elliott.

In The Great Night, Chris Adrian recasts A Midsummer Night’s Dream: Gone are the Rude Mechanicals, replaced instead by a homeless troop staging a musicalized Soylent Green; the duped lovers are more heartbroken than confused, though they’re all lost in San Francisco’s Buena Vista Park on the way to a party. The faeries remain, but they’re heartbroken too (the faerie queen, Titania, mourns the death of her human child and the departure of her king, Oberon), or malevolent and vengeful (the now scary Puck). In all his work, Adrian takes stabs at figuring out what to do in a world brimming with sin, dead brothers, and broken hearts. I recently spoke with him; he called from San Francisco, where he’s a fellow in pediatric hematology-oncology.

This new book is a modern retelling of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. What’s your relationship to the play? How does the book stand against it?

My relationship is one of abject admiration. I had it in the back of my head to do a story or a novel that’s a retelling of a Shakespeare, and I thought I’d probably like to retell A Midsummer’s Night Dream but could never figure out what the actual story would be. What could I possibly come up with that would add anything to something that was already perfect, or at least make the retold story urgent and compelling? So it took a while. I figured it out in part from walking back and forth to work through Buena Vista Park at dawn and dusk, when it’s a fairly creepy and magical place, and in part from having a relationship fall apart in just the right way to generate an obsessive need to tell a story about love.

You’ve called this a less ambitious novel compared to your other work. How so? Is that even something you should be admitting?

In some ways it felt less ambitious, though it didn’t turn out to be any less work. The story, at least when it started out, was about love, something of a lark as a topic compared to untimely death or the end of the world. Untimely death and the end of the world crept into the novel anyway, so it became just as ambitious as any of the others.

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Francine Prose on ‘My New American Life’

May 13, 2011 | by

Photograph by Stephanie Berger.

Francine Prose is a pleasure to interview. She is quick-witted and gracious, and there is this way that she says my name—“Oh, Thessaly, that’s an excellent question”—that makes me feel, for a split second, as if I’m the award-winning novelist that has something interesting to say. Her latest novel, My New American Life, is about a young Albanian immigrant named Lula, who is working as a nanny for a teenager in a quiet, New Jersey suburb. Her boss has offered to help her get a green card, so Lula waits and waits, until one day, three visitors, unannounced, knock on the door. Will Lula be deported? Are they long-lost Albanian family? Through Lula’s eyes, we see the promise of the American dream as well as the ways it might never come true. Prose and I spoke on the telephone not long ago.

Your protagonist is a twenty-six-year-old Albanian immigrant named Lula who lives in New Jersey. Why Albania?

If you are going to write a novel, I would not suggest that you pick an Albanian unless you are an Albanian. I was writing about immigration, and I wanted to pick someone from the most psycho-isolated Eastern-bloc country. If you go to the Czech Republic now, it is deceptively easy to forget what happened there. But if you go to Albania now, you are not going to forget it— you just can’t; then is now.

In a strange way, the novel began ten years ago, when I was staying at this really crappy Hilton in Tampa, Florida, for a weekend. We got there and there was a plate of food outside someone’s door in the corridor. It was there when we got there and it was there when we left, and I thought, This is just like Eastern Europe, because no one really cares if you ever come back again. In the late eighties, I went with my family to former Yugoslavia. We showed up at some restaurant, ordered dinner, and the waiter came back two hours later and said, “What? I had to eat my dinner.” End-stage capitalism and Eastern-bloc communism have a lot of things in common, as Lula discovers in the course of the book.

So you visited Albania?

I did. I got about forty pages into the novel and I couldn’t go any further. It turns out that you can’t find out about Albania on YouTube as much as one might like to. I mean, you can learn about people’s vacations and weddings and so forth, but not much more. So I went on a trip with the State Department. I was there for about two weeks and I just loved it.

Do you think one has to acquire experience to be a novelist?

Well, I would, because nothing has ever happened to me. I had to go to Albania; I couldn’t make it up. It more often happens the other way around. It is not as if you go around saying “I think I will have a love affair, and then I will write about one.” It’s more “Blah-blah broke up with me and said the most cruel thing,” and ten years later you find a way to put it into a book.

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