A meeting of minds

6 months ago 98

In 2017 Rosie Goldsmith noticed that there wasn’t anywhere to publish the reviews generated by the focus on Polish literature at the London Book Fair. She went on to foundthe Riveter, a magazine – available free both in print and online – that celebrates excellent writing from Europe in the broadest sense, not just the EU. She was joined on the editorial team by Anna Blasiak and West Camel, and the Riveter has proved an impressive project, infused with a sense of playfulness, eclecticism and inclusivity.

Goldsmith tells us in one of her editorials – which are peppered with amusing personal anecdotes – that the magazine’s name alludes to Rosie the Riveter, the confident female worker depicted flexing her biceps in a popular colourful Second World War poster and adopted as a symbol of women’s power. Many women writers, translators and reviewers are represented; the majority of the magazine’s translators are women, in fact, and translators are celebrated here as much as authors are. Indeed, the Riveter – which is entirely in English – often draws readers’ attention to the value of the craft, with many translators acting as peer reviewers.

The first issue, which showcased Polish literature, set a template, highlighting books yet to be translated and acting to entice potential publishers. It was curated by Blasiak and guest-edited by Deborah Levy, whose novel Swimming Home (2011) features a Polish poet, and who as a playwright was influenced by the avant-garde theatre of Tadeusz Kantor. Levy herself contributed an engaging preview of Flights by Olga Tokarczuk, which would win the International Man Booker prize in 2018. Elsewhere in the issue it was a pleasure to discover Żanna Słoniowska, who, writing about ethnic Poles drawn into the struggle for Ukrainian independence, defines “homeland” as something “movable”, and Klementyna Suchanow’s biography of Witold Gombrowicz, considered by many to be Poland’s greatest modernist.

The two most recent issues have focused on Austrian and Spanish literature respectively. When these beautifully designed volumes arrived by post I was reminded that both are countries with a difficult political heritage that often shows itself in transgenerational trauma. Goldsmith laments the fact that “shockingly” few Austrian writers today are being translated, and conducts a powerful interview with the critic and journalist Katja Gasser, who speaks about Austrian literature as a form of exploration and experiment. Gasser explains that one of its main features is its “strong focus on language, form and the actual process of writing”, which intensified when a lot of Austrian authors “realised that literature after 1945 needed a radical rethinking of language”, as well as “new forms to reflect on the recent catastrophe and trauma, as the Nazis had partly destroyed the German language as a reliable system”.

A captivating essay by Bernhard Fetz gives us a brief tour of the Literature Museum in Vienna, which opened in 2015 to showcase Austria’s literary talent from the Enlightenment to the present, its 2,000 objects highlighting “its close affinity with music, the visual arts and all forms of theatrical expression; and its frequent use of grotesque, satire and politics”. This literary tradition can be seen in the three Nobel laureates featured in this issue. A review of I Want to Keep Smashing Myself Until I Am Whole: An Elias Canetti reader sees this book as an indispensable summa of Canetti’s life and thought. An article alarmingly headlined “What Remains of Peter Handke?” asks how we should read his fiction in light of the controversy that has plagued him during the past twenty years for his defence of the Serbian government of Slobodan Milošević. An excerpt from Elfriede Jelinek’s dark, densely descriptive fiction (translated by Gitta Honegger), and a review that highlights her mordant social critique and political prescience, challenge us to explore her work further.

Items on Joseph Roth and Stefan Zweig, and an extract from Thomas Bernhard’s hilarious satire Old Masters, recently reissued as a graphic novel illustrated by Nicolas Mahler in a new translation by James Reidel, pique our curiosity further, while a review emblazoned with the Riveter’s distinctive “Recommended for Translation” stamp rescues Maria Lazar (1895–1948), a forgotten Jewish, socialist and anti-fascist voice; Nazism wrote her out of history and the German-language canon. Among many other compelling pieces, a beautiful review by Blasiak introduces us to Maja Haderlap, who first started writing in Slovenian, her poetry dealing with memory and history, with the volatility of where “the border strip / swung back and forth”, and where “villages / went astray”.

With a stunning cover, and the longest issue to date, the Spanish Riveter, guest-edited by Katie Whittemore and her assistant Alice Banks, dazzles us with a bounty of Spain’s rich, varied and multilingual literary output. This ranges from huge sellers such as Almudena Grandes and Javier Marías, both of whom died recently, the prolific and cherished Rosa Montero, and Javier Cercas, whose most substantial work deals with historical memory, to Mercè Rodoreda, the most influential contemporary Catalan-language writer, and other postwar classics missing from the curriculum when I was a student. These include Ana María Matute, who, like many Spanish writers, endured censorship during Franco’s time, and Carmen Laforet, who managed to evade it. There is a panoply of experimental voices such as Juan Goytisolo (an excellent feature by his translator, Peter Bush, shows us why we want to read his work), Agustín Fernández Mallo and the ever-comical Enrique Vila-Matas. New voices include Sara Mesa and the Catalan Eva Baltasar.

This edition starts with two tributes: a moving profile by Aroa Moreno Durán, who remembers Almudena Grandes as an avid reader and a generous ally to women writers, some of whom once hid to read in secret her scandalous novel The Ages of Lulu; and a comprehensive feature on Javier Marías by Declan O’Driscoll, who notes how the author’s fictional world is shaped by moral conundrums. O’Driscoll also emphasizes Marías’s role as a translator of many significant English writers, notably Laurence Sterne, observing that the translation process benefited Marías’s own writing: he encouraged other writers to follow his example.

We are treated to plenty of literary tapas, but the articles on literature in Catalan, Galician and Basque – languages that were banned during Franco’s dictatorship – are substantial main meals. Indeed, this Riveter, seething with interesting topics, strikes me as a tour de force. An interesting essay by Jacky Collins on historical memory in Spanish fiction, covering mainly fiction by women, calls for more essays on this important subject. An uncensored extract from James Womack’s new translation of The Hive – a masterpiece that grimly portrays life in early Francoist Spain – by the ever-profane Camilo José Cela (the only Nobel laureate featured), is one of the issue’s finest contributions.

The Riveter feels like friendship, a European gathering made possible by a tremendous load of goodwill and grit. It provides in each edition – others have focused on Russian, Nordic, Baltic, Swiss, German, Romanian, Dutch and Italian literature – a compelling starting point from which to explore contemporary writing from a given country or region, filling gaping holes in our knowledge and mapping our ignorance. It offers intriguing teasers and glimpses of different worlds; readers will find that writers mentioned in passing are also secret doors to important works.

Susana Medina is the author of Red Tales, co-translated with Rosie Marteau, 2012, and Philosophical Toys, 2015, which will be reissued by Dalkey Archive Press in 2024

Browse the books from this week’s edition of the TLS here

The post A meeting of minds appeared first on TLS.

Read Entire Article