Dedalus News & Blog

Dedalus’s Publisher Review of 2015

The book that made my year: Before & During by Vladimir Sharov, translated by Oliver Ready winning the Read Russia Prize 2015 and $2,500 of the $10,000 prize money going to the publisher. Vladimir Sharov who has just won the Russian Booker Prize is a modern-day Tolstoy. Next year we publish his novel The Rehearsals.

Our book that deserved to do better: This could be a very long list but I go for What Became of the White Savage by Francois Garde, translated by Aneesa Abbas Higgins. It won 10 literary prizes in France, including The Goncourt Prize in the first novel category but did not get one national newspaper review in the UK.

I wish I’d published:The Transylvanian Trilogy:They Were Counted, They Were Found Wanted &They Were Divided by Miklos Banffy, translated by Patrick Thursfield and Katalin Banffy-Jelen. Published by Gary Pulsifer when he was at Arcadia it is truly wonderful. It is the only Hungarian fiction I’ve read and if there are many books around like this I have really been missing out. I’m just finishing the final volume and will soon have a big gap in my life to fill.

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Timothy Lane’s Translation Blog: Hans Cadzand’s Vocation and other stories by George Rodenbach

Hans Cadzand’s Vocation was the first book by Rodenbach that I read. It passed two tests I imagine every writer would like their work to pass; having finished the book I could genuinely see myself re-reading the work, and secondly, I was curious to acquaint myself with more works by the author. The long nouvelle is less well known and less celebrated than Bruges-la-morte, yet I can’t help but feel this general preference is a matter of precedence. Bruges-la-morte was written first, and while Hans Cadzand extends and develops its style and broadens its milieu, literary judgement has not relinquished its preference for the seminal work.
I think this is a great shame, as I can genuinely imagine a reader being disinclined to read Rodenbach further if they are introduced to him through Bruges-la -morte. Despite my high regard for that work, it lacks something that Rodenbach achieves in Hans Cadzand. That achievement is the creation of characters both individual and real. The protagonist of Bruges- la-morte, Hugues Vianes, strikes one either as a makeshift creation, or as a melodramatic stock figure. I can well imagine the genesis of the Hugues character: from his comfortable siuation in Paris, perhaps in a quiet cafe or a library, Rodenbach wanders in memory through the streets of Bruges, rhapsodising on the spirit of the place, its icons, its climate, its history, trying to evoke scenes that capture the place’s essence. Then working backward from these ruminations he tries to fit them to a character who either feels like Rodenbach, or a makeshift mask. By contrast, Hans Cadzand has at its centre two characters of individuality and realistic emotion.
The prologue introduces us to the Mevrouw Cadzand, and her son Hans Cadzand, a melancholy pair walking home from morning mass. From a well known respectable family, they attract the wondering eyes of neighbours, who cannot grasp the reclusive sadness of this pair. He is such a handsome man, still young, and she has the fortune every mother must surely pray for, her son has not left her side to go out into the world. And yet both carry a despondence between them, enigmatic to the furtive provincial eyes Rodenbach assures us are always watching in Bruges.
From this sorrowful picture Rodenbach takes us back to the birth of a boy born on the anniversary of his parents wedding. The father of this newborn is a scholar of Bruges’ departed golden days, who sadly dies before his son can remember him. He does however leave him a name, Hans, after Hans Memling, the great artist of Bruges. His mother’s nervous love, becomes all the more intense with the loss of her husband, she is besotted with her sweet, pretty, graceful little boy. Hans for his part grows into a serious, studious and pious child. His heart draws him toward the church; the beautiful ceremonies and rituals of mass, prayer, incense, choirs, harmoniums, the rood screen, the whole panoply of sanctity enraptures him. In time, he dreams of becoming an altar boy.
This dream causes his mother some consternation, for it will mean cutting off his soft fair hair. Eventually she allows Hans to have his way, but she mourns the loss of those gentle locks, and when they are cut away, takes them for herself to add to a pillow.
As he gets older Hans becomes more and more religious. At first his mother is comforted that his religious devotion will save his sensitive nature from the temptations that can torment a growing young man. Her equally sensitive and devoted nature longs to keep him with her without impeding his happiness, and his devotion to Christ and the Virgin consoles her that she will not lose her son to a woman.
Her hopes for her son are ruined by a fateful day in his last year of school. His school has an established tradition of organising a retreat for those in their final year, devoted to helping students recognise their vocation in life. One of the speakers at this retreat is a Dominican monk whose eloquent encomium on the virtues of the religious life so enthuses and moves Hans, that he feels sure God has granted him the grace of recognising his vocation. He confides his vocation to his mother, who feels the most intense sorrow that she will lose the life with Hans that she has cherished. Both mother and son are set upon dreams for one another that cannot be reconciled.
His mother manages to convince Hans to put off his entrance to holy orders until he comes of age in the desperate hope that he will lose his commitment to becoming a Dominican. It is during this year when Hans has promised to wait that his mother undertakes to loosen his conviction with the help of an old friend, hoping that Hans will fall in love with her pretty and innocent daughter. One is never in doubt, due to the memorable sorrow of the prologue, that these crossed dreams will lead to some sort of tragedy and trauma, what makes the result so painful, is that one cannot help but sympathise with an affectionate mother and son, so devoted to one another and alike in so many things, apart from their disagreement about Hans’ future. To hurt someone we love because of the love we bare them, must be one of the most tragic of sorrows.
And the city of Bruges is the brocade on which these sorrows are perfectly woven. There are the expected signature descriptions Rodenbach is so fond of when evoking Bruges; the beguinage, the carilloner, the mist on the canals, the mausoleum atmosphere, the ghosts of long departed splendour. But the great success of the nouvelle is that Bruges is described as powerfully through the characters of the drama. Hans Cadzand and Mevr Cadzand, feel like people of flesh and blood, but also growths of the soil of Bruges. Everything about their faith, their love, their dreams, is shot through with the ghostly limbo atmosphere of Bruges. If one tries to imagine this book being set in Paris, Prague or Florence, one would have to rewrite the entire work, because so many of the little nuances of human character are reflections of the city’s character.
I think Hans Cadzands fully achieves the stated aim of Bruge-la-morte’s preface:
“In this study of passion our other principal aim has been to evoke a town, the town as an essential character, associated with states of mind, counselling, dissuading, inducing the hero to act.
And in reality, this town of Bruges, on which our choice fell, does seem almost human. It establishes a powerful influence over all who stay there.”
But the character of the city is expressed more intensely by feeling its subtle shaping of people who have lived their entire lives in its midst.’

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Timothy Lane’s Translation Blog: Bruges-la-morte by Georges Rodenbach

Georges Rodenbach
A number of writers are very closely associated with a particular place at a particular time. One naturally associates Wordsworth with the Lake District, many of his most famous poems being composed as he went for long walks over Grasmere; Dickens, despite the diversity of his locations tends to conjure images of a foggy Victorian London of poverty and cruelty. But in neither of those two English writers does their location become something like a living environment as Bruges does in the works of Georges Rodenbach. Bruges does not form a backdrop, it is like the earth and the rainfall that brings forth life after its fashion, like an inescapable element. One can imagine that if Rodenbach had lived in an earlier period he might well have described Bruges as a personified Goddess.
Today Bruges is a major tourist destination, sometimes referred to as the Venice of the North. A quick image search of “Bruges” on the internet will result in many pretty pictures of attractive ivy clad houses on tranquil canals and numerous photos of the Christmas market which make the city look like the inside of a giant snow globe. However, much of Bruges modern splendour is the result of regeneration projects begun towards the end of the 19th century. Once a major port of the Hanseatic league, the silting of the Zwin deprived the city of the access to the sea that had made it such an important port, the city languished in the doldrums for centuries, superseded economically by Antwerp. The many regeneration projects aimed to harness the emerging importance of tourism to transform the city’s fortunes.
It was also towards the end of the 19th century that Rodenbach wrote his major works. The Bruges they describe is a grey ruin populated by joyless religious provincials and sensitive natures drawing in unhealthy influences from its beautiful mummified streets and mausoleum atmosphere. Rodenbach wished to convey the total effect of a place on a person, as a quote from his prefatory note makes clear:
“In this study of passion our other principal aim has been to evoke a Town, the Town as an essential character, associated with states of mind, counselling, dissuading, inducing the hero to act.”
With the above quote in mind, it should be no surprise that the most memorable aspect of this iconic symbolist novel, is the atmosphere of the city of Bruges. The city is the bleak, grey and austere backdrop to a widower’s loneliness and deep sorrow. After losing his wife Hugues Vianes chooses to settle in Bruges, for “the town, once beautiful and beloved too, embodied the loss he felt. Bruges was his dead wife. And his dead wife was Bruges.”
His dedication to the memory of his wife is fervently religious. In the home he establishes, he sets aside two rooms for the preservation of objects he deems precious by their association with his wife. He becomes anxious if his housekeeper enters these rooms, so worried is he that her cleaning might damage the many photographs he has of his beloved. Most dear to him of all and preserved in a transparent casket like a holy relic, is the long plait of her golden hair. When not immured with his reliquaries, Hugues traipses the streets of the city, seeking “analogies to his grief in deserted canals and ecclesiastical districts”.
Wandering after his haphazard fashion through the streets in the evening, amidst the closed houses exhaling their “funereal atmosphere” and the “melancholy suburbs lined with poplars”, Hugues contemplates taking his own life. The memory however of his wife and the vague possibility of reunion promised by his spiritual feelings is enough to turn him away from suicide. As he returns home from his melancholy wanderings among the tombs of Notre Dame, struggling to picture to himself his beloved’s face, he is stunned by the resemblance of a passing woman to his wife. Hugues pursues the woman, trying as best he can without giving himself away, to see her clearly and understand how this can be, “A disturbing apparition! An almost frightening miracle of resemblance that went as far as identity”.
In the days following this encounter, whenever Hugues thinks of his wife, he thinks of the unknown woman. The closeness of her resemblance and the morbid intensity of his mourning creates an obsession with this “illusion of his dead wife returned from the grave”. Hugues’ eventually discovers that the woman in question is an actress performing at a local theatre. After introducing himself to her and paying her court, a relationship develops between them.
It is not long before Hugues’ finds this illusion of resemblance fading. His flattering dream is tarnished and he is filled with regret and shame. Despite these bitter feelings, he is unable to break the relationship: the illusion of resemblance has been replaced by the baser feeling of lust. Ashamed of his conduct, fearful of losing his mistress who he suspects of infidelity, Hugues’ once more wanders the Bruges streets at ungodly hours.
This story of morbid obsession and delusion could have easily become a gothic and macabre period piece. What makes it so unique is the evocation of Bruges. Many writing workshops will insist on their students understanding the importance of creating a sense of place, but much more desirable and more challenging – the work of utmost difficulty and genius, requiring greater talent and a longer gestation – is capturing the spirit of a place. Rodenbach manages in a mere eighty pages to make Bruges a place one can’t help but feel. What is more, it is undeniable that had Rodenbach undertaken to place his central character Hugues Vianes in another city, he would have been compelled to create an entirely new story. It is very difficult to imagine the protagonist behaving in the way he does without invoking the cumulative pressure of the city Rodenbach imagines as a charnel house.

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Timothy Lane’s Translation Blog: The Devil in Love by Jacques Cazotte

Perhaps the most unenviable form of literary fame is to be considered an important precursor of more famous writers. The writer so afflicted is mentioned as an important historical influence on the development of a style or as a pathfinder for a later greater writer, but remains far less frequently read than mentioned. Cazotte’s literary reputation appears to fall into this category. An important figure in the development of the Fantastique, read and admired by Nerval and Hoffmann, but comparatively under appreciated. Jacques Cazotte deserves a little more than our passing attention as a name and a figure.
Jacques Cazotte’s life has something about it of a novella fantastique. He was born in Dijon in 1719. Educated by Jesuits, he studied law, before entering the Marine Civil Service. His postings saw him taken as far afield as the Caribbean. Active in the literary salon culture of the day, he produced works of a light and amusing nature on many of the fashionable literary subjects of the day, these include a series of fables, stories in an oriental manner after Galland, a comic novel and a burlesque of chivalric romance. He joined the Martinists, an eccentric mystical sect of freemasons that followed the teachings of one Martinez de Pasqually. An avowed monarchist, he was arrested and condemned after a number of his private letters that discussed plans for a counter-revolution were discovered. He was guillotined in September 1792.
The Devil in Love is Cazotte’s most famous work. The book’s protagonist is Don Alvaro, a Captain in the King’s Guard of Naples. He is a young Spaniard of aristocratic ancestry hailing from the Extremadura region of Western Spain, famous for being the cradle of the Conquistadors, Cortes and Pizarro. He is full of the pride and hot bloodedness that was long stereotyped as a typical Spanish trait. During a night of carousing with his peers, he is fascinated by an older and maturer Flemish acquaintance, by the name of Soberano. His youthful comrades withdraw and leave him in this man’s company. Impressed by the young captain, Soberano dazzles him with feats that hint at Occult initiation. Our young Spaniard pesters his acquaintance constantly as to how he can also converse with powerful spirits. On being told it would take years of initiation to safely summon spirits, Alvaro impatiently scorns such concessions to prudence and vaunts his courage to pull even the devil himself by the ears.
An assignation is arranged where Soberano’s fellow initiates will instruct Alvaro how to call the Devil. He is lead through the Portici into a deep, dark vault. One of the initiates draws a circle and pentagram in the earth and explains that Alvaro must stand in the centre of the circle, repeat a number of incantations and then fulfil his proud boast. Left alone to complete his foolhardy challenge, Alvaro awaits some sort of trick to be played by Soberano to scare him. After repeating the incantation he invokes Beelzebub three times. A window opens in the air, unnaturally bright light streams into the room and Alvaro is confront by a large ugly camel’s head, that asks “Che vuoi” (What is it you wish). After mastering his initial fear Alvaro orders the spectre to assume a more pleasing shape. The spectre is cowed by the authority in his tone and takes on the form of a little spaniel at his request. After the transformation Alvaro steps from the circle and pulls the little dog by the ears.
With the completion of his bold purpose Alvaro orders his new found servant to transform the desolate vault into a lavish reception for Soberano and his two friends. After the magical transformation of the vault, the little dog transforms into an attractive young page, who is addressed by the name Biondetto (little blond). Alvaro impresses and frightens Soberano and his associates by the extravagance of the reception he lays on for them. But Alvaro little heeds them as he has begun to be distracted by the handsome young page, who at times appears to be no male and no page, but in fact a uniquely beautiful woman.
Alvaro finds himself unable and unwilling to part from his new found servant, who is now consistently in the form of a beautiful woman (called Biondetta throughout the rest of the novella). As well as being attractive and possessing ingratiating magical powers, Alvaro is flattered by his servant’s tale that she was a spirit of the air, a sylph, who chose to take the form of a mortal woman for love and admiration of Don Alvaro’s bravery and worthiness. Alvaro flees his old employment after his temptress cozens him with stories of a plot against him and herself. He travels to Venice where he receives dubious communications from friends and family alike, all of which bear the mark of his companion’s deceptions. He idles away his time attempting to distract himself from her beauty and her charm, but always there seems to be a snare of her art designed to bring them together.
The remainder of the novella focuses on the attempt of Biondetta to seduce Alvaro away from his chivalric and religious duty to save himself until marriage; and to ensure that Alvaro cannot reach Extremadura to receive the guidance of his beloved and virtuous mother. Much of what I have described will naturally sound very familiar from many other gothic and fantastic works: the bold young nobleman, the Italic setting, a Masonic and occult background, spirits and devils, there is even a scene later in the novella where Alvaro attempts to divine his fate with Biondetta by consulting two aged gypsies who naturally have exceptional powers of divination.
One doesn’t need to make a case for the book purely on its influence though. There is something pleasantly exuberant about the rollicking pace and the mixture of styles. I was struck by how many times in such a short little book I saw the possibility of an entirely new tone and story developing. There are so many occasions where Cazotte touches a new narrative path and then moves on, leaving that possibility for another writer to take. When Cazotte introduces his Devil figure twice in the novella with a camel’s head, one feels he could make his devil sinister or into a Bottom-like ass. Indeed Cazotte’s devil goes from ugly abomination to clown, to tame and then to a beautiful gender swapper. Borges praised Cazotte in particular for creating a temptress who so effectively enchants the reader, creating sympathy rather than dread or repugnance.
Cazotte did not write to make a living, or with a pompous sense of literary destiny. Yet for all his apparent amateur dallying with literature, his sparkling little book feels like it is constantly hatching new narrative possibilities. This lies in part down to Cazotte changing the ending from Alvaro becoming the Devil’s agent to an ending where he is unaccountably spared the Devil’s corruption. One can quite easily reconcile the tone and plot of the entire book with an ending of damnation, one of redemption, even a bizarre modern tale where Alvaro marries his demon.
The Devil in Love is an elastic mercurial little book, that rises above the status of influential precursor to be an idiosyncratic minor classic.

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Timothy Lane’s Translation Blog: My Little Husband by Pascal Bruckner

To an Anglophone audience Pascal Bruckner is most likely to be known through the Roman Polanski film Bitter Moon (an adaption of his novel Lunes de Fiel), or for his left wing criticism of multiculturalism. I feel this is a shame. This is not because his political criticisms lack merit, but because one could easily fall into false assumptions about his fiction. It is simply a fact that it is hard for authors to have multi-faceted reputations. For in addition to his books discussing the weighty issues of western guilt and cowardice, Mr Bruckner has also written an imaginative modern fairytale of man and marriage.
At the very start of My Little Husband, Bruckner’s central character Leon is the envy of every man around him. He has just married the flame-haired buxom beauty Solange. She is a six foot goddess who stirs the desire of every man she meets. He is five foot six. Despite their height disparity, and the disapproval of her family, the couple’s mutual love and attraction sees them married and then settled in Central Paris. Although there are a number of niggling matters; such as the difficulty Leon has in keeping pace with his wife’s very long stride as they walk down the street, and of course the cutting remarks made by jealous men. Despite these niggles, Leon is very happy.
His happiness proves short-lived. After dutiful performance of his connubial responsibilities, he finds his wife is with child. Initially Leon is overjoyed at the prospect of being a father. Their little boy is named Baptiste in accordance with Solange’s wishes, and a cat is purchased to provide him with future playmate. Leon’s paternal joy is undiminished as he performs the messy chores of cleaning up after his son. What comes as a mighty shock to him, is that following the birth of his son he has shrunk by fifteen inches. Leon’s visit to the doctor results in a referral to a growth specialist called Dubbelvitz. Believing Leon has a prematurely collapsed spinal column, he blithely informs him that he is simply going through what the average 70 year-old endures. He marvels at Leon, considering him to be a “staggering example of precocious senility”.
Although shrinking by 15 inches is obviously a disquieting affliction, Leon finds the essentials of his life much the same; Solange’s love is as ardent as ever and his career is largely unchanged. To top it all off his wife is pregnant once more, and life has yet to damage his strong paternal desire for a large family. Two weeks after the birth of his little girl, Berenice, Leon finds himself shrinking once more. The result of this shrinking spell is that Leon once more loses 15 inches. After he has finished shrinking he is just over three feet, barely bigger than his first born child. Leon’s journey from diminutive man to his wife’s biggest child is complete.
Leon suffers a simultaneous contraction of all his members and organs but one. This one particular of his body completely retains its original length and proportions. Far from soothing his ego, the “ridiculously long appendage dangling between his legs” proves a burden, “Nature had robbed him of everything apart from the organ of reproduction, the better to reduce him to that role”. Solange positively delights in the combination of child- sized husband and oversized phallus. Whilst playing with his penis Solange christens her husband with the quite unforgettable nickname, “little bighorn”.
To help him cope with the anxieties of his diminishment Leon goes regularly to see a psychotherapist. Whilst sometimes his therapist lectures him, other times flatters him, on one occasion when he is feeling especially morose he whispers to Leon, “You must realise, old chap, that every woman turns her husband into a child. It’s the story of every marriage. She tames him, domesticates him, mothers him. At first he’s My Wild Beast, then My Pet, finally My Baby”.
At the end of the first part of the novel little Leon is in the maternity ward at the hospital. Solange is about to give birth once more, and this time to twins. In keeping with the jocular fairy tale logic of the novel, the connection between Leon’s shrinkages and the birth of his children is only discovered at the last minute. His doctor urgently phones him, shouting at him that he must prevent Solange giving birth. Convinced of his doctor’s lunacy, he watches as Solange gives birth, not to two helpless little infants, but two preternaturally strong and well-developed children. Emerging from their mother without the assistance of the nurses, in fact politely declining any such assistance, the whole birth takes only half an hour. Leon feels weak at the sight and begins to shrink before the very eyes of the nurses. He continues to shrink until he is only 4 inches tall. When Solange is discharged two days later, she is holding two babies in her arms, and harbouring a husband in her coat pocket.
The second part of the novel describes the humiliating existence Leon endures. His size now imprisons him within his house and ends his medical practice. His domestic environment has now become a gauntlet of terrors. His children all tower over him. His doctor, Dubbelvitz, has started to pay court to Solange. Solange keeps her little husband as an accessory in her handbag. And of course there is the cat, of whom Leon lives in perpetual fear. He has naturally been relegated from the matrimonial bed (for safety’s sake of course), and now lives in a dolls house at the far end of the flat.
Leon strives to win over his children and his wife. He becomes a little toy valet to his wife, and a dinner table jester to his children. Stowed away in Solange’s handbag when she goes grocery shopping, his size allows him the better to inspect fruit. At mealtimes he performs daring balancing acts for the crude entertainment of his giant children. He is even rewarded by Solange with a little Jaguar and later a little toy plane. The latter device allowing him to perform even more eccentric and dangerous stunts as he tries to impress his children. His escapades eventually prove so disastrous, that he is completely shunned by the entire family, and is separated off in a barricaded part of the apartment. There is a quite beautiful moment later in the novel where Leon is convinced the family cat – who has finally found him alone – is going to put an end to him. Instead of an ignominious death, Leon finds his last remaining ally in the family, who shares his food and sleeping place with him – an experience that occasions some regret in Leon that he had not made the habit of buying the cat nicer food.
Many writers would manage to squander the potential in the story I have described, perhaps drawing the central conceit out too far, intruding too many overbearing moral remarks, or trying to make this a three hundred page novel. Bruckner however manages to ensure he creates a memorable fable which is amusing, clever and rather poignant. Leon’s tribulations at first incline one to laugh, but very soon one sees him as the worst sort of tragic figure, one who is ridiculous and a source of mirth in his despair.

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Guest blog: Patricia Melo’s interview from Crime Watch

Who is your favourite recurring crime fiction hero/detective, and what is it you love about them?
Regarding the roman noir heroes I am “romantic”. My preferred ones are Sam Spade and Philip Marlowe, the legendary characters  of Dashiell  Hammett and Raymond Chandler’s novels.  Both are dysfunctional beings, living in a corrupt and morally sick society, and although they are outsiders, they have a very strong ethical sense, which gives them a very special charm. I was never a fan of  rational detectives, who solve crimes in their offices, using just logic and reason.

What was the very first book you remember reading and really loving, and why?
I  remember reading my first book, A Vaca Voadora (The Flying Cow). I was probably six years old and it told the story of a cow who used to meditate. I fell in love with the book (and the cow). Of the noir literature The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett was my first reading experience . I was fifteen years old and had a dream of becoming a scriptwriter.  His characters full of pathos, his pulsating rhythm, every detail in his literature had a strong impact in my future literature. What struck me specially was the way he makes the city and society  characters in his novel.

Before your debut crime novel, what else had you written (if anything) unpublished manuscripts, short stories, articles?
I started my career as a screenwriter. After having written many scripts for films and TV programmes I lost the passion for both those media. The scriptwriter’s job is very frustrating, in my opinion. You’re a kind of horse for the director. You feel always tied. The freedom you find in literature is unique. I am increasingly convinced that literature  is the freest of all art forms.

Outside of writing, and touring and promotional commitments, what do you really like to do, leisure and activity-wise?
For many years, books and films were my greatest pleasure. When I turned 50, out of the blue, I started painting. Since then I have been studying watercolor techniques, and discovering with great enthusiasm fantastic watercolorists as Joseph Beuys and Rodin. I created the cover of my latest novel in Brazil. Unlike writing, which causes me immense anguish, painting is just pleasure for me.

What is one thing that visitors to your hometown should do, that isn’t in the tourist brochures, or perhaps they wouldn’t initially consider?
São Paulo is not a city, it is a world: 18 million inhabitants! It is not a beautiful city, the traffic is crazy, life is expensive, there  much violence, but there is not anything like it in Brazil in terms of cultural life. If you are around it, rent a bike (the city has now a good  network of cycle paths) and go to Vila Madalena, a neighbourhood full of small art galleries. Then you will have a good notion of our contemporary cultural production.

If your life was a movie, which actor could you see playing you?
If my life was a movie I would prefer to choose the director: Eduardo Coutinho, the most talented documentary director Brazil ever had, who sadly died last year in a tragic way. Maybe he would choose not just one but various actresses to play my role.

Of your writings, which is your favourite, and why?
Fogo-Fátuo (Ghost Light), my last novel. Although I was labelled a crime novelist since my first book, this is really my first crime novel. It tells a story of the mysterious death  of a famous actor during a performance. For the first time I have a detective, Azucena, leading a difficult investigation  in a corrupt police system.  I tried to create a “classic” detective novel using elements of contemporary Brazil.

What was your initial reaction, and how did you celebrate, when you were first accepted for publication? Or when you first saw your debut story in book form?
 I thought to myself “finally I will get rid of producers and directors”. Jokes aside, it was a great feeling of freedom. I mean, artistically speaking. For a long time, I kept an almost pathological curiosity about the readers. I had a friend who owned a bookstore, and I use to call him daily to ask about the people who had bought my book. Who are these people? What else they buy? Readers are almost metaphysical figures in writer’s lives.

What is the strangest or most unusual experience you have had at a book signing, author event, or literary festival?
When I was publishing Acqua Toffana, my first novel, I received an anonymous letter, with flowers, during the book signing. The author, in a dubious and “poetic” way  treated me like his partner in crime. I was scared for some days. I felt I was in a Hitchcock film.

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British Library Blog for Before & During by Vladimir Sharov

A few weeks ago the $10,000 Read Russia Prize 2015 was won by Vladimir Sharov’s Before & During, translated by Oliver Ready and published in 2014 by Dedalus books. The novel beat new translations of novels by Tolstoy and Dostoevsky; Sharov is a towering intellectual presence who stands comparison with these greats of Russian literature.

Dedalus prides itself in publishing books which are different and unlikely to be picked up by another English-language publisher. Bizarre, fantastical, intellectual game-playing novels appeal to us, books which are very European in style and content. We use the term ‘distorted reality’ to describe such works, but Before & During must be the most extraordinary novel which we have published in the last 30 years.

Before & During blends Soviet communism with religion, a hundred years of history with the drama of everyday life, and gives a voice to individuals denied one in the Soviet era. The most unusual character in the book is Nikolai Fyodorov the ascetic philosopher, who believed the human race was to be saved by the self generation of its ancestors replacing human reproduction. Indeed the heroine of the novel is the self-replicating Madame de Staël. We start off with the 19th-century Madame de Staël and end up with the 20th-century begetter of the revolution, mother and then lover of Stalin. Tolstoy and his followers for a time take centre stage in the novel, and we learn that Tolstoy’s oldest son is in fact his twin brother whose gestation was delayed and was carried on by Tolstoy’s wife.

Although Sharov’s writing has been described as magical historicism and is full of fantastical occurrences it does not read like science fiction or fantasy. The quality of the writing transcends all else. It is, as Rachel Polonsky writes in a July 2015 article in the New York Review of Books “at times funny, at times so piercingly moving, so brimful of unassuaged sorrow, that it causes a double-take.”

Whatever I say cannot prepare the reader for what he or she will read, especially for readers not versed in Russian culture and history, so get ready to be surprised and start reading.

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Our first commissioned translation was Giovanni Verga’s masterpiece I Malavoglia, translated by Judith Landry under the title of The House by the Medlar Tree in 1985. It is the kind of book I find irresistible, like the novels of Dickens, which appeal both to the heart and to the mind. Novels which fit into this category in the Dedalus list include Sylvie Germain’s fantastical The Book of Nights, translated from French by Christine Donougher, Yuri Buida’s The Zero Train, translated from Russian by Oliver Ready and two Italian novels translated by Judith Landry: Diego Marani’s New Finnish Grammar and Antonio Pennacchi’s The Mussolini Canal.


In 1986 Robert Irwin suggested we do classics with bizarre, grotesque and fantastic subject matter. The inspiration was the French literary fantasy of the 19th c, especially The Saragossa Manuscript of Jan Potocki. This led to a line of books which included The Golem by Gustav Meyrink, La-Bas by Huysmans, Torture Garden by Octave Mirbeau, Lucio’s Confession by Mario de Sa-Carneiro, The Dark Domain by Stefan Grabinski, The Other Side by Alfred Kubin and The Maimed by Herman Ungar. Almost counter-culture classics and when we first published them they were considered to be on the margins of literary culture. One of the things we have tried to do with our classic series is to produce the whole oeuvre of a writer so that books which are referred to in reference books are available to read and readers can form their own judgement on an author. So there are for instance 6 books in translation of Gustav Meyrink, 5 by Octave Mirbeau and 6 by J.K. Huysmans.

Gustav Meyrink’s novels are also very much occult titles. My favourite is The Angel of the West Window, which is the first title Mike Mitchell translated for Dedalus in 1991, which combines John Dee and Elizabethan England with Prague, and a twentieth-century story in a spine-chilling narrative. It won the Occult Book of the Year Award. Of the Huysmans title, translated for Dedalus by the Huysmans-scholar Brendan King, La-Bas with its black mass and satanism and Parisian Sketches, a collection of essays about Paris before Baron Haussman changed it forever, stand out. The anarchist French novelist, Octave Mirbeau’s Torture Garden still seems shocking over 100 years later, while the sheer misery of his auto-biographical trilogy – Le Calvaire, Abbe Jules and Sebastien Roch – about growing-up and coming-of age in France puts most people’s unhappy upbringing in the shade.

Mario de Sa-Carneiro is a very interesting writer who committed suicide when he was 26, a poet and friend of Pessoa he left behind a small jewel in Lucio’s Confession, translated for us by Margaret Jull Costa. It is an enigmatic love triangle riddled with madness and jealous, set in fin-de siecle Paris and Lisbon which still seems innovative today. Stefan Grabinski, often called the Polish Poe, is one of the great masters of short-story writing. It is not that he is not well-known in England but he is also relatively unknown in his native Poland. After China Mieville has championed Grabinski’s work in a long piece in The Guardian his stock has risen. Mieville says of Grabinski:’ here is a writer for whom supernatural horror is manifest precisely in modernity – in electricity, fire-stations, trains; the uncanny as the bad conscience of today.’ The Dark Domain collection was translated by Miroslaw Lipinski.

In this vein is Alfred Kubin’s gothic macabre fantasy, The Other Side, translated from German by Mike Mitchell. Kubin was the illustrator of Poe, Meyrink and Kafka and this his only literary work, published in 1908 with his own illustrations, shows that he had little to learn from his contemporaries as a novelist. The Other Side is one of the most popular classic titles Dedalus has published.

Not all Dedalus classic titles fit into into this distorted reality/literary fantasy category and Dedalus’s most praised classic title is The Maias by Eca de Queiroz, in Margaret Jull Costa’s flawless prize-winning translation. One of the greatest of the great, from the golden age of the novel, Dedalus has published nine books by Eca de Queiroz which in 2017 will become ten, when Margaret Jull Costa completes our project with a new translation of The Illustrious House of Ramires. My favourite Eca title is The Tragedy of the Street of Flowers, which was not published in Eca de Queiroz’s lifetime and with its theme of incest and social satire, is a precursor of The Maias.

Another star is the European Classic list is the first German best-selling novel Simplicissimus by Johann Grimmelshausen, published in the 1670s, which is a compelling read on The Thirty Years War. Some of the characters, such as Courage and Tearaway gets their own book as Grimmelshausen wrote a number of spin-offs.

Herman Bang’s impressionist novels, Ida Brandt and As Trains Pass By (Katinka) have tragic heroines who deserved better from life.These Danish ‘outsider’ novels certainly leave their mark on the reader’s imagination that one wonders why Herman Bang is so little known. We have published three works of fiction by the Symbolist poet, Georges Rodenbach, with Bruges-la-morte the best known although my favourite is The Bells of Bruges.


In 1992 to celebrate the European Single Market as a cultural event Dedalus started publishing contemporary European fiction. We tried to publish two translations from the languages of the then member states. An early star was Sylvie Germain, the most translated foreign author on the Dedalus list with 11 titles. Her early novels had big stories with larger than life characters with a bid dollop of magic realism and for some readers bring to mind the novels of Angela Carter. Bizarre, grotesque fictions which also pull on the heartstrings with some truly horrendous things happening. The Book of Nights, Night of Amber, Days of Anger and Medusa Child are from this period. When Sylvie Germain left France for Prague her writing changed with atmosphere replacing the big stories and colourful characters, with the narrative pared down to the bone. There were a trilogy of Prague novels – The Weeping Woman on the Streets of Prague, Infinite Possibilities and Invitation to a Journey. Returning to France her writing changed again with more story and character, the novels midway between the early novels and the Prague trilogy. Images have always been important to Sylvie Germain and often her novels are inspired by an image in a painting and French critics have even compared her novels to paintings, dubbing her the Vincent Van Gogh of her generation. The Book of Tobais is a good example. Of the later work Magnus springs to mind, written in fragments, it conveys with great economy of style the horrors of the Holocaust.

Someone totally different was Herbert Rosendorfer, whose first novel The Architect of Ruins, wonderfully translated by Mike Mitchell is a novel in the manner of The Saragossa Manuscript, with a story-within-story as a group of friends get together to play their instruments, waiting for the Apocalypse, in a giant cigar-shaped container. In Germany Rosendorfer is best known for his satire of contemporary German life, Letters Back to Ancient China,which sold more than two million copies. Mike Mitchell’s translation won the German translation prize.

In 1992 to represent Danish fiction we published Glyn Jones’s translation of The Black Cauldron, by the Faeroese novelist, William Heinesen, the first of five books we have published by him. Heinesen gave to the lives of his characters in the tiny communities of The Faroes an epic quality, good examples of this are The Lost Musicians and his historical novel, The Good Hope, considered to be his best novels, although I must admit a preference for The Black Cauldron. We were fortunate to have such a good translator for a minority language as Glyn Jones who also translated for us, Barbara, another Faeroese novel which is one of the most successful Danish-language novels of the 20th century and tells the story of a Moll Flanders-type heroine who marries three clergymen but her unbridled passion leads to disaster. The novel was left unfinished at Jacobsen’s untimely death and so his good friend, William Heinesen, finished it off for him.

Something totally different for us were the four novels of Yoryis Yatromanolakis which we published. They are exercises in style, with for example, his first novel, The History of A Vendetta, written in the manner of a modern Herodotus and his Eroticon, using the style of a medieval love manual. Although a novel about the various ways of having sex, it is such an exercise in linguistic game-playing that it is more cerebral than sexy. The translation by David Connolly is masterful.

Travelling further east we encounter the works of 2 Russian masters Yuri Buida and Vladimir Sharov. For me Yuri Buida’s The Zero Train is one of the standout novels on the Dedalus list, bizarre, grotesque and dark with the flashes of love obliterated by the cruelty which takes place. It is a short novel which packs a powerful punch while Buida’s Prussian Bride, is a long short-story cycle recounting the lives of the Russians sent to replace the German inhabitants of Koningsberg, renamed Kaliningrad in the aftermath of World War11. It certainly is a magical mystery tour into the lives of uprooted people trying to make sense out of their new lives. Oliver Ready’s translation won the inaugural Russian Translation Prize. One could say Buida’s work is unusual until one starts reading the novels of Vladimir Sharov.

Before & During mingles a hundred year of Russian history, communism with religion, the great icons of Russian culture like Tolstoy, Fyodorov, Scriabin and Stalin with the people not recorded by history. Fyodorov’s theory that the world must be saved by regenerating one’s ancestors and not in recreating new generations is at the heart of the novel. Suffice it to say the heroine is the self-replicating Madame Stael, who in her third existence is both the mother, and later, the lover of Stalin.Tolstoy’s eldest son, proves to be not his son but his twin-brother whose delayed gestation is taken over by Tolstoy’s wife. Although focussing on such bizarre happenings makes the book seem like it is a curiosity when it is a major piece of literature, which is both profound, thought-provoking and heart-rendering. Recently Oliver Ready’s translation won the Read Russia Prize 2015, triumphing over new translations of Crime & Punishment and Anna Karenina. Vladimir Sharov certainly deserves to be put in the same company as Dostoevsky and Tolstoy. In the autumn of 2016 we will publish his novel The Rehearsals which will add to Sharov’s English-language acclaim.

A novelist very much in the Dedalus mode is Jean-Pierre Ohl, whose game-playing novels have a story-within-a-story framework and blend many disparate elements into a harmonious whole. From Bordeaux he looks towards Britain for his inspiration with Mr Dick or The Tenth Book inspired by Charles Dickens and The Lairds of Cromarty, set in the Scottish Highlands

In 2005 we began publishing Euro Shorts, designed to fill-up the time on a short flight or on a Eurostar journey.The first book in this series is the most memorable, Lobster by Guillaume Lecasble, translated by Polly McLean. Having seen his father devoured aboard the Titanic by Angelina Lobster is next for cooking pot and is put in the boiling water. The Titanic hits the iceberg and Lobster is thrown to the floor. He finds his partial cooking has changed him and he feels sexually attracted to humans and Angelina in particular. He gives the woman who has eaten his father a life-changing orgasm as the ship sinks leading Angelina to bring Lobster with her to the lifeboat. As Nick Lezard put it in the Guardian:’There was a Lobster-shaped hole in world literature which has now been filled by this remarkable work.’

Happily our most successful translation has come in the last few years with Diego Marani’s New Finnish Grammar (2011) selling over 25,000 copies. It is the first in a trilogy of novels with The Last of the Vostyachs and The Interpreter, on the themes of identity, language and belonging. You learn a lot about Finnish grammar and culture in the novel but it is the quest to belong and its unforeseen consequences which captures the reader’s imagination. It is certainly a book which brought tears to my eyes. Another Italian novel which also did that was The Mussolini Canal by Antonio Pennacchi. It serves up one hundred years of Italian history, and reading it is like eavesdropping on a private conversation and gives an insight into the Italian psyche. There is so much in this novel which is memorable, indeed it is hard not to fall in love with it, which is something the translator, Judith Landry did. I asked her for a short sample for a translation grant application and Judith forgot to stop and translated the whole book.


In 1992 as part of our celebration of the European Single Market as a cultural event, Dedalus began its European Literary Fantasy Anthology Series. Each volume has its jewels, but there are three standout volumes; Austrian, Finnish and Greek. Johanna Sinisalo’s choices and David Hackston’s translation for The Dedalus Book of Finnish Fantasy unlocked for me a literature I knew nothing about, while David Connolly, both as an editor and a translator of the The Dedalus Book of Greek Fantasy, produced a mesmerising volume of Greek fiction, reflecting its excellence in surrealism. For the quality and variety of the contents it would be hard to find an anthology which could put The Dedalus Book of Austrian Fantasy;1890-2000 in the shade. Indeed the critic, A.S,Byatt said it was one of the best anthologies she had ever read in a full page review when it was selected as The Guardian’s Book of the Week.


There are many wonderful books I haven’t been able to mention or to describe, including The Saragossa Manuscript(Thirteen Days in the Life of Alfonse van Worden) even though Jan Potocki’s book is the inspiration behind most of what we publish. There will be for some readers glaring omissions in my survey and I hope in that case they will post a blog to rectify them. Each period of our thirty years has seen great books published, but I am happy that so much of our major work has been published in the last five years. The best I hope is still to come.

Eric Lane

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Guest blog from Michelle Green on Jebel Marra

Jebel Marra, short stories, and writing war
I used to work for a humanitarian aid agency in the UK, and in 2005 I spent six months working for the emergency relief effort in the centre of a war zone in Darfur, Sudan. It was my day (and night) job, unrelated to my writing, and I had no intention of writing about my time there, until I came back. The UK I returned to was full of vast shop windows and adverts, newspapers that said nothing about the place I’d just come from, said nothing about the war, and it was bewildering. I returned to the UK with a head full of questions and rage, shocked at how silent even mass slaughter is when it’s far enough away. That’s when I started writing. It wasn’t fictional, at first. Fragmented vignettes at live literature events, written with something like compulsion. Pieces of memory and broken things that I was holding on to, didn’t know where to place, and at every event people would approach me afterwards and ask about the war, confessing that they didn’t know about it. There were never more than fifty people in those rooms, and it wasn’t enough. I still had questions, and rage, and no idea what to do with it.
How do you write about a war, a vast and ongoing violent struggle, tactical oppression, the tearing apart of whole communities, whole people? How do you write about something that huge? Well, for me, it was with help from a few committed others. Jebel Marra became a single-author collection of short stories, but it wasn’t built by one person.
It was built with a mentor, a very skilled and experienced writer who laid out a path for me and guided me through the early drafts of much of the book. It was built with an editor, the kind of committed, hands-on editor that seasoned writers tell me is a rarity these days. Someone with his eye on the literary potential, someone who could push and encourage in equal measure. It was built with support from a group of fellow writers – novelists, mostly – who knew about stamina and finding words for difficult things.
Each of them helped me write my way through the thicket of questions and rage, the close up personal view of absolute disaster that had thus far spoken to me only in wordless flashes. My way was lit by others, standing beside me while I slowly (very slowly) turned flashes into words, and, eventually, words into worlds, into stories that have their roots in something far bigger than anything I can create.

Jebel Marra is out now with Comma Press

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Francois Garde discusses with his translator Aneesa Abbas Higgins his novel What Became of the White Savage

What Became of the White Savage is based on a real-life incident. How did you find out about it and how did the character of Narcisse form in your mind?
I first heard of this story when I was living in the South Pacific, in New Caledonia about twenty years ago. I don’t remember exactly how I became aware of it, maybe from an article in a local paper.
There were only two places in the world where this tale was known: St. Gilles Croix-de-Vie, the village in the Vendée on the Atlantic coast of France, where Narcisse was from; and in Australia, where it was one among many tales of castaways told in maritime circles. But this particular story stood out from the others: its radical nature made it unique. And from Sydney, I suppose it must have made its way to Noumea.
I had forgotten all about it until one evening in 2009. At the time, I was Director-General of the resort of Val d’Isère. I was gazing at the snow-covered landscape, and probably, as Octave says, feeling nostalgic for the skies of the Pacific, when the memory of it came into my head. And I started to write.
Narcisse came to me of his own accord: his character and life story revealed themselves to me just as they do to the reader, as the story progressed. For novelistic reasons, I changed several details, such as the year the events took place, the young sailor’s age, the circumstances of his being abandoned. It wasn’t too difficult to imagine the experience of a terrified young sailor. But describing him after his return, filtered through Octave’s point of view, was more of a challenge.
The novel begins with a straightforward narrative but in fact, more than half of Narcisse’s story is told in the form of letters written by Octave de Vallombrun. Why did you decide to tell the story this way? Is Octave based on a real character?
Once I’d written the first chapter – Narcisse’s first three days on the beach – I realised that maintaining that intensity to describe the days that followed would not be so easy. So I thought I would describe the first three days of Narcisse’s return to our world, as a sort of mirror image of those days on the beach. And to make sure the reader would immediately realise that we had jumped forward in time, I started to write a letter in the style of the period. Then I came back to Narcisse on the beach, and so on. I didn’t try to make each letter answer each chapter exactly. The trajectories of two stories naturally echo each other.
I didn’t have an exact model for Octave, although characters such as Octave, honest men who are curious. . . and wealthy, appear frequently in 19th century literature. Octave’s personality is revealed gradually through his letters. I was really interested in the change he undergoes – from his initial well-meaning certainty to breaking completely with his original way of thinking. I realised after I’d finished that he was more or less a contemporary of Darwin, Marx and Freud, thinkers who took the sciences of their time – natural sciences, economics and medicine respectively – saw their limits and completely rebuilt their foundations. Octave sets out to do something similar. . . without success.
So, in the real story, there is, I’m sorry to say, no Octave. Very few people were interested in this poor sailor, let alone in his memories of faraway Australia.
Narcisse spends seventeen years living in the Australian bush with the tribe that takes him in. Are the people you describe based on any particular Aboriginal tribe? How much of this story is based on historical events?
There were at least two potential pitfalls in telling this story: 18th century notions of the “noble savage”, and 19th century attitudes towards “inferior races”. (To say nothing of 21st century notions of political correctness!) And what’s more, in the book we only see the tribe indirectly, from two points of view: through the fears of the sailor whose dream is to escape; and through Octave’s enquiries as he examines Narcisse’s strange behaviour in search of information.
I’ve always been interested in anthropology, particularly with regard to the Pacific, but I’ve never studied it formally. I could have spent years studying the Aboriginal cultures of Cape York; such an academic approach would have been both interesting and legitimate. But I didn’t try to do that. I’ve said elsewhere that I chose not to out of laziness. Which is true, but there’s more to it than that. The reality of Narcisse’s story is so powerful that the more I learned about it, the more I risked constraining my imagination. I was in danger of being crushed by the weight of reality. I had to put it aside.
So I gave the tribe characteristics borrowed from different cultures around the Pacific – a sort of collage or marquetry picture. Every behavioural trait had to call into question notions that are fundamental to our culture: ideas of private property, sense of community, time, interpersonal relations, power relations. . . The people of the tribe are described as having complex social and family structures, oral traditions, rites, sophisticated geographical knowledge and understanding of their environment, and so on. And at the same time, women’s position in the tribe leaves much to be desired, tensions exist, and so on.
With this in mind I avoided using the word Aborigine and used the vocabulary employed at the time the novel takes place. My “savages” are not real. But I hope that they are believable.
What Became of the White Savage is your first novel, but you have a long career in government administration behind you. When did you start writing and what made you decide to write this novel when you did?
Actually, I’ve always written novels. I wrote the first one when I was seven – it was three pages long. I fear it’s definitely lost and gone! And later, I wrote legal articles, non-fiction books, and two or three novels that were refused by publishers, probably because they were no good.
What Became of the White Savage enjoyed phenomenal success in France, which came as a great surprise even to my publisher. It’s been translated into Korean, Arabic, Croatian, German, Italian, and now into English, soon into Farsi. Above and beyond the story of Narcisse’s adventures, the book suggests that the only happy time in Narcisse’s life was when he lived with the tribe. I think readers today have a deep nostalgic yearning for an elsewhere, that other place they’ll never find.
Since then I’ve written two more books and I’m working on a fourth. I must confess I have a soft spot for the terrifying story of Narcisse Pelletier . . . It’s a novel that can be read by a seventeen-year old as an adventure story, but really it’s more of a conte philosophique – a philosophical tale, with few characters and a straightforward plot, in which readers can find, if they so wish, some reflections on our current perceptions of identity and relationship to other cultures.

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