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20 may 2018

Sostiene Pereira, the title of Antonio Tabucchi's 1994 novel, became Pereira Maintains in English translation. An alternate title is "Pereira Declares"; or you could say "Pereira Claims"; or if you wanted to keep the odd verb-first construction, maybe "So Says Pereira." (The French title is Pereira prétend.) Tabucchi's title repeats a verbal device used over and over again in his narration. The entire story is bracketed as what the character Pereira claims. The reader wonders, with increasing urgency, why Pereira has to claim things about his activities, rather than presenting them directly.     read more

19 may 2018

I don't remember, now, where I heard of Felice Benuzzi's mountaineering memoir No Picnic on Mount Kenya (1953); it must have been five or six years ago. Benuzzi being Italian, I scorned the English versions, assuming that the original was Fuga sul Kenya – a book almost impossible to find in the U.S., and not cheap even from Italian sources. Fuga stayed low on my wishlist till recently, when I took another look and discovered that the English version, No Picnic, is actually the original, and widely available in American libraries. Serves me right for being snobbish about translations, and also for being stupid.     read more

14 may 2018

On the cover of Fiona Barton's recent novel, a blurb from Stephen King suggests that "If you liked Gone Girl and The Girl on the Train, you might want to pick up The Widow." Wouldn't blurb conventions dictate "you'll love" as the parallel phrase? In any case, I didn't like The Girl on the Train, which I found overwritten and fussy. And I did like The Widow, so maybe King's less-than-enthusiastic connection somehow pans out in a backhanded way. Barton's thriller is placidly pessimistic and rings true to a kind of exhausted 21st-century lifestyle that breeds banal evil – fortunately more often in fiction than in real life.     read more

13 may 2018

The Golden Spruce appeared in 2005; I first saw it in a bookstore in the Idaho Panhandle in 2014; I finally got around to reading it last week, in a copy my local public library has owned since 2005. Such are the wanderings of books and ideas. Wandering is something of a theme in John Vaillant's enduringly gripping tale of ecology and treeslaughter. His protagonist of sorts, a logger turned environmentalist turned madman named Grant Hadwin, was an insatiable wanderer. Hadwin once journeyed from British Columbia to Miami to Moscow and through Siberia, back to British Columbia, "distributing needles and condoms to anyone who wanted them" (106-107) for reasons which were never terribly coherent.     read more