The Story of a New Name

2016 reading project is to have more than half my reading be books in translation.  So far this has translated into reading Ferrante after Ferrante.  Not really feeling equal to the task of writing about these books, which color everything else around them while you read.  The struggle to be the protagonist of your own story.  Gatsby is a snapshot of it, Ferrante is a movie of it.

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16 thoughts on “The Story of a New Name

  1. Rob says:

    There’s these French mystery novels by Fred Vargas that I think are really good. You could try that. This is the first one I read, though it’s not the first the series:

  2. Rob says:

    I had wanted to recommend some Quebec literature to you, but I’ve mostly read contemporary stuff that doesn’t seem to have been translated. Oh well. Instead, have you read any Barjavel? His most well-known book is ‘La nuit des temps’, which I quite liked. He does mostly sci-fi and fantasy. I remember really liking ‘Ravage’, though one might be a bit tired of apocalyptic novels at this point. On the old school front, I’d recommend Dumas’ ‘La reine Margot’ and its two sequels.

    I also enjoyed the book Limassol, originally in Hebrew, by Yishai Sarid. Espionage!

  3. Tom says:

    Have you read any of Karl Ove Knausgaard’s Min Kamp books? They also come under the umbrella of ‘large, recently published, not-originally-in-English, autobiographical literary project’, which might make them nice to compare with Ferrante.

  4. JSE says:

    Knausgaard 1 is on my shelf ready to go when I’m done with Ferrante!

  5. Richard Séguin says:

    You have to be careful selecting translations of Dumas and Hugo. The English book market is flush with old, bad, and highly abridged versions of their novels that are cheap for the publishers to publish. They are usually abridged without acknowledgement on the book itself. Both of these authors have been ill served by modern English publishers*. I highly recommend the Penguin Classics version of The Count de Monte Cristo (still available in hardcover). The Oxford World’s Classics set of the d’Artagnan Romances** cycle is pretty good and has copious endnotes. The Marie Antoinette Romances*** cycle is more of a problem. The most complete and best translation was published by Little, Brown around 1900, and you need to find these old books. The same translation was also published as part of the 38 volume set of Dumas “Romances” published by McKinlay, Stone & Mackenzie. I haven’t yet gotten to The Valois Romances (which includes La Reine Margot), and I suspect I’ll have to find the most complete versions in the old books as well.

    *I wrote about the Hugo translations on this blog a few years ago. There are good translations, but it took me a lot of research to find them.

    **The Three Musketeers, Twenty Years After, The Vicomte de Bragelonne, Louise de la Valliere, and The Man in the Iron Mask. Actually, you might want to substitute the Modern Library version of The Three Musketeers, translate by Le Clerq. This totals around 3300 pages.

    ***Joseph Balsamo/Memoirs of a Physician, The Queen’s Necklace, Ange Pitou/Taking of the Bastille, The Countess de Charny, Le Chevalier de Maison Rouge (The Knight of Maison Rouge). There is a very good modern translation of the last book, The Knight of Maison-Rouge, by Julie Rose published by Modern Library. I haven’t finished this cycle yet, but it could be about as long as the d’Artagnan Romances.

  6. Yiftach says:

    Jordan, do you read books in Hebrew?

  7. JSE says:

    Nope! But I do have a translated Amos Oz in the queue.

  8. Richard Séguin says:

    One little gem I read a few years ago was The Year of the Hare, by Arto Paasilinna. I thought that the official report/explanation of the escape in the Afterward was a cover up of a wink and nod by the officials.

  9. Richard Séguin says:

    FYI: In the prologue to Dumas’ The Queen’s Necklace, Condorcet, described therein as a geometrician, appears at a dinner along with Richelieu, Madame Dubarry, Comte Cagliostro, and other historical characters. At the dinner Cagliostro claims that he’s thousands of years old, to the disbelief of the others. He says,


    “For instance, I would not remain here now alone with Monsieur de Launay, who is thinking that if he had me in the Bastille he would put my immortality to the rest of starvation. Neither would I remain with Monsieur de Condorcet; for he is thinking that he might just empty into my glass the contents of that ring which he wears on his left hand, and which is full of poison, —- not with any evil intent, but only as a scientific experiment, to see if I should die.”

    The two people named made a movement.

    Confess, Monsieur de Launay! We are not in a court of justice; besides, thoughts are not punished. Did you not think what I said? And you, Monsieur de Condorcet, would you not have liked to let me taste the poison in your ring, in the name of your beloved mistress, science?

    “Indeed,” said Monsieur de Launay, laughing and blushing, “I confess you are right; it was folly, but that folly did pass through my mind at the very moment when you accused me.”

    “And I,” said Monsieur de Condorcet, “will not be less candid; I did think that if you tasted the contents of my ring, I would not give a farthing for your immortality.”

    A cry of admiration burst from the rest of the party; these avowals confirming not the immortality, but the penetration of the Comte de Cagliostro.


    Then later, Cagliostro predicts that Condorcet will die of the poison from his own ring.

    Caliostro also went by the name Balsamo

  10. K. says:

    Two of the best books I read last year were translations:

    *Blindness by Saramago (originally Portuguese)
    *Out by Kirino (originally Japanese).

    I would recommend both.

    Literally in the mail today I just got Submission by Houellebecq (originally French).

  11. Emmanuel Kowalski says:

    Ferrante is incredible indeed. I haven’t read as much of her as I want because, for unknown reasons, she seems much less visible in French than in English: from what I understand of the Gallimard website (which is consistent with what I saw in a library the last time I was in Paris), only the first two of the four Napolitan novels have appeared in French, and the second came out only last month. I find the idea of reading an italian writer in English (instead of French) a bit disquieting, and so I have to wait… (I was tempted to try in Italian, but I glanced at one of the books when I was in Italy in September, and alas, it is clear that I would be lost after a few pages).

  12. Yiftach says:

    Oz is not one of my favorite writers. I like Meir Shalev (Aner’s cousin), e.g., ‘Russian Story’ that for some reason is called in English ‘The Blue Mountain’. If you like poetry, you might like to read Yehuda Amichai.

  13. Yiftach says:

    One of the things I still find amusing is the fact that Brits (and I guess also Americans) are hardly exposed to non-English speaker writers compared to Israelis. Of course it makes sense when you think about it, but it is still funny. So for instance Karl May and Erich Kastner were very popular among Israeli children when I was a child and they are hardly known among English speakers. Similarly Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Jose Saramago, who are very popular in Israel, do not seem to be known much by English speakers.

  14. JSE says:

    Have never heard of May and Kastner, but there are very few bookish American households without a Gabriel Garcia Marquez paperback or two, and Saramago, at least since he got the Nobel Prize, is pretty often seen as well.

  15. Emmanuel Kowalski says:

    Which foreign authors are popular in a country seems to be very unpredictable. I already mentioned that Elena Ferrante doesn’t seem to be as well known in France (despite the linguistic and geographic proximity) as in the US, and I think the same holds for Bolaño. I wonder about Knausgaard…

  16. Richard Séguin says:

    Rob –

    I just finished reading La Reine Margot, and loved it! This is definitely one of Dumas’ best novels. I have to confess, though, that I had initial doubts while attempting to read the first few chapters in the Oxford World’s Classics version. Dumas quickly throws lots of historical Renaissance characters at the reader, and I kept thinking to myself, “Who are these people anyway, and why should I care?” (It was easier getting into The Marie Antoinette Romances because the characters were more immediately accessible.) I put the book down until I later stumbled on a popular history book in B&N called The Rival Queens, by Nancy Goldstone. It was about Catherine de Medici and Marguerite de Valois, two principle characters in La Reine Margot, and I discovered an amazing history of religious conflict, mass murders, treachery, poisons, and assorted colorful people. I thought to myself that this is indeed perfect fodder for a Dumas novel. Shortly after, in a local used book shop, I found an old printing of Marguerite de Valois (same novel by another name) by Everyman Library (originally published by Dent & Sons and Dutton & Co) from a different translation, and, now armed with some historical context, proceeded to devour it.

    I now have the next “Valois Romances” book on order from AbeBooks: La Dame de Monsoreau (a.k.a Chico the Jester), an old printing by Little, Brown. It better come soon. Next I’ll have to find the third novel, Les Quarante-cinq (a.k.a. The Forty-Five or The Forty-Five Guardsmen).

    According to Wikipedia, “there are four more novels that cover this family, and portrait similar characters, starting with François or Francis I, his son Henry II, and Marguerite and François II, sons of Henry II and Catherine De Médici.” These are Ascanio, The Two Dianas, The Page of the Duke of Savoy, and The Horoscope.

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