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WAR, SO MUCH WAR by Mercè Rodoreda TRISTANO DIES by Antonio Tabucchi A GENERAL THEORY OF OBLIVION by José Eduardo Agualusa THE THINGS WE DON’T DO by Andrés Neuman reviewed by Nathaniel Popkin • Cleaver Magazine
CONSEQUENCES: Four Books in Translation reviewed by Nathaniel Popkin WAR, SO MUCH WAR by Mercè Rodoreda, translation by Maruxa Relaño and Martha Tennant Open Letter, 185 pages TRISTANO DIES by Antonio Tabucchi, translation by Elizabeth Harris Archipelago, 192 pages THE THINGS WE DON’T DO by Andrés Neuman, translation by Nick Caistor and Lorenza Garcia Open Letter, 190 pages A GENERAL THEORY OF OBLIVION by José Eduardo Agualusa Archipelago, 246 pages Once in a while a writer speaks to me as if we are in a kind of private ecstatic embrace. That is the kind of reader I am: thirsty for intimacy, for communion. In dialogue, I answer back as best I can. I spent much of last year with Traveler of the Century (FSG, 2012), Andrés Neuman’s lost and found allegory of the nineteenth century, bildungsroman of modernity, eyes tearing with fraternity. Here was the brother (older and wiser) of Lion and Leopard (The Head and The Hand Press), a novel I had published the year before. Now Neuman has nudged me into a new conversation, about constructing narrative, in a series of conceptual stories and experimental situations collected in The Things We Don’t Do, in the English translation by Nick Caistor and Lorenza Garcia. Neuman whispers as he writes about writing, the place of the writer in the reader’s field of vision, and holds out a hand as he wanders through the borderland of experience, writerly self-awareness, and invention. “We have become such hybrid authors that any day now we’ll make a purist revolution” (a counter-revolution probably more accurately), he writes, one of a series of “dodecalogues” of interpretation and observation that follow the stories in the new collection. As Neuman plays with form, Caistor and Garcia, his English translators, demonstrate extraordinary range and interpretive capacity, and they must: translation as a theme runs through his work—the heroes of Traveler of the Century fall in love translating poetry. Neuman’s stories in fact speak in various tongues at once. In “Piotr Czerny’s Last Poem,” a secret poet loses his entire oeuvre in a fire. The fire—both destructive force and fuel of imagination—saves him amateur embarrassment and provides an “electric shock” of inspiration. In “Embrace,” with a scent of Poe, Neuman observes the consequences of guilt after a mugging that leaves one friend injured and the other unharmed.