Another beautiful volume from Twisted Spoon: A Gothic Soul by Jiří Karásek ze Lvovic, translated from the Czech by Kirsten Lodge, featuring prints by Sascha Schneider.
I dipped my toe in this weekend—strange, brooding stuff. More to come.
Twisted Spoon’s blurb:
A Gothic Soul is the most acclaimed work of Czech Decadent prose. Expressing concerns that are unique to the Czech movement while alluding creatively and ironically to Joris-Karl Huysman’s Against Nature, the novella is set in Prague, which is portrayed as a dead city, a city peopled by shades, who, like the protagonist — a nihilist and the “last scion of a noble line” — are only a dim reflection of the city’s medieval splendor. The man lives in a dreamworld, the labyrinth of his soul giving rise to visions. In his quest for meaning, he walks the city, often hallucinating, while pondering questions of religious fervor and loss of faith, the vanity of life, his own sense of social alienation, human identity and its relationship to a “nation,” the miserable situation of the Czechs under Habsburg rule, and Prague’s loss of its soul on the cusp of modernity as old sections, such as much of the squalid Jewish Quarter, are demolished to make way for gaudy new buildings and streets. With a history of madness running in the family and afraid the same fate awaits him, he ultimately retreats into seclusion, preferring the monastic way of life as the epitome of unity and wholeness and a tonic to present-day fragmentation. Yet Karásek eschews the mawkish, opting instead for darker tones that play with the tropes and motifs of Decadence while conflating the same-sex desires of his protagonist, the fatalism and futility of such an existence within the social construct of the day, with concerns for the dual fates of his nation and city.
Given his importance for Czech literature and for European Decadence, very little of Karásek’s work has been translated into English. Kirsten Lodge included translations of his poetry in Solitude, Vanity, Night: An Anthology of Czech Decadent Poetry, and we have made available her translations of some of his shorter prose here and here. This is the first time A Gothic Soul, or any full-length work of Karásek’s prose, has been translated into English.
Politics and Letters: Interviews with New Left Review collects Raymond Williams’s interviews with the New Left Review. It’s new from Verso. Their blurb:
Raymond Williams made a central contribution to the intellectual culture of the Left in the English-speaking world. He was also one of the key figures in the foundation of cultural studies in Britain, which turned critical skills honed on textual analysis to the examination of structures and forms of resistance apparent in everyday life. Politics and Letters is a volume of interviews with Williams, conducted by New Left Review, designed to bring into clear focus the major theoretical and political issues posed by his work. Introduced by writer Geoff Dyer, Politics and Letters ranges across Williams’s biographical development, the evolution of his cultural theory and literary criticism, his work on dramatic forms and his fiction, and an exploration of British and international politics.
Benjamin Johncock’s novel The Last Pilot is forthcoming this summer from Picador. Their blurb:
Jim Harrison is a test pilot in the United States Air Force, one of the exalted few. He spends his days in a precarious dance with death above the Mojave Desert and his nights at his friend Pancho’s bar, often with his wife, Grace. Both are secretly desperate for a child-and are delighted when, against all odds, Grace learns that she is pregnant.
But Sputnik has put the country in a panic, and NASA, newly formed, has been tasked with manning space before the Russians. Harrison turns down the chance to participate in Project Mercury and becomes a father to Florence, his baby girl. Yet his life, as a father and as a pilot, grinds to a halt when she becomes seriously ill and dies at the age of two. Devastated, Harrison loses himself in his work-and, sometimes, in distressing thoughts of Florence-and this time, when he gets a ticket to the moon, he takes it, but without consulting Grace.
As Harrison trains to become an astronaut, the toll that his daughter’s death has taken upon his marriage becomes more palpable, even as his ability to reckon with the reality of it diminishes. Set against the backdrop of one of the most emotionally charged periods in American history, Benjamin Johncock’s The Last Pilot is a mesmerizing story of loss and finding courage in the face of it, from an extraordinary new talent.
Laura Lebow’s mystery The Figaro Murders is new in hardback from Macmillan’s Minotaur imprint. Their blurb:
In 1786 Vienna, Lorenzo Da Ponte is the court librettist for the Italian Theatre during the height of the enlightened reign of Emperor Joseph II. This exalted position doesn’t mean he’s particularly well paid, or even out of reach of the endless intrigues of the opera world. In fact, far from it.
One morning, Da Ponte stops off at his barber, only to find the man being taken away to debtor’s prison. Da Ponte impetuously agrees to carry a message to his barber’s fiancée and try to help her set him free, even though he’s facing pressures of his own. He’s got one week to finish the libretto for The Marriage of Figaro for Mozart before the opera is premiered for the Emperor himself.
Da Ponte visits the house where the barber’s fiancée works–the home of a nobleman, high in the Vienna’s diplomatic circles–and then returns to his own apartments, only to be dragged from his rooms in the middle of the night. It seems the young protégé of the diplomat was killed right about the time Da Ponte was visiting, and he happens to be their main suspect. Now he’s given a choice–go undercover into the household and uncover the murderer, or be hanged for the crime himself.
Brilliantly recreating the cultural world of late 18th century Vienna, the epicenter of the Enlightenment, Lebow brings to life some of the most famous figures of music, theatre, and politics.
Another Great Day at Sea, Geoff Dyer’s account of life (okay, two weeks of life) on board a U.S. aircraft carrier, is new in trade paperback next week from Random House. Their blurb:
As a child Geoff Dyer spent long hours making and blotchily painting model fighter planes. So as an adult, naturally he jumped at the chance to spend a week onboard the aircraft carrier the USS George H.W. Bush. Part deft travelogue, part unerring social observation, and part finely honed comedy, Another Great Day at Sea is the inimitable Dyer’s account of his time spent wandering the ship’s maze of walkways, hatches, and stairs, and talking with the crew—from the Captain to the ship’s dentists. A lanky Englishman in a deeply American world, Dyer brilliantly records daily life aboard this floating fortress, revealing it to be a prism for understanding a society where discipline and conformity become forms of self-expression. At the same time we are reminded why Dyer is celebrated as one of the most original voices in contemporary literature.
Read an excerpt here.
Can’t seem to keep up with the review copies lately.
David Ramirez’s The Forever Watch is new from St. Martin’s Griffin imprint. Their blurb:
An exciting new novel from a bold up-and-coming sci fi talent, The Forever Watchis so full of twists and surprises it’s impossible to put down.
All that is left of humanity is on a thousand-year journey to a new planet aboard one ship, The Noah, which is also carrying a dangerous serial killer…
As a City Planner on the Noah, Hana Dempsey is a gifted psychic, economist, hacker and bureaucrat and is considered “mission critical.” She is non-replaceable, important, essential, but after serving her mandatory Breeding Duty, the impregnation and birthing that all women are obligated to undergo, her life loses purpose as she privately mourns the child she will never be permitted to know.
When Policeman Leonard Barrens enlists her and her hacking skills in the unofficial investigation of his mentor’s violent death, Dempsey finds herself increasingly captivated by both the case and Barrens himself. According to Information Security, the missing man has simply “Retired,” nothing unusual. Together they follow the trail left by the mutilated remains. Their investigation takes them through lost dataspaces and deep into the uninhabited regions of the ship, where they discover that the answer may not be as simple as a serial killer after all.
What they do with that answer will determine the fate of all humanity in David Ramirez’s thrilling page turner.
Jonathan Littell’s Syrian Notebooks is new in English translation (by Charlotte Mandell) from indie Verso. This one seems like a big departure from The Kindly Ones (which, uh, it should be), which I loved hating that I loved. Verso’s blurb:
A blistering firsthand account of the conflict in Homs by the internationally acclaimed author of The Kindly Ones
“We fight for our religion, for our women, for our land, and lastly to save our skin. As for them, they’re only fighting to save their skin.”
In 2012, Jonathan Littell traveled to the heart of the Syrian uprising, smuggled in by the Free Syrian Army to the historic city of Homs. For three weeks, he watched as neighborhoods were bombed and innocent civilians murdered. His notes on what he saw on the ground speak directly of horrors that continue today in the ongoing civil war.
Amid the chaos, Littell bears witness to the lives and the hopes of freedom fighters, of families caught within the conflict, as well as of the doctors who attempt to save both innocents and combatants who come under fire. As government forces encircle the city, Littell charts the first stirrings of the fundamentalist movement that would soon hijack the revolution.
Littell’s notebooks were originally the raw material for the articles he wrote upon his return for the French daily Le Monde. Published nearly immediately afterward in France, Syrian Notebooks has come to form an incomparable close-up account of a war that still grips the Middle East—a classic of war reportage.