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Open Letter Newsletter -- November 2008

Open Letter Newsletter Nov 5, 2008 9:24 AM
Posted in group: Open Letter Books

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This is the first time we're doing this, but we ended up with a couple extra galleys of Vilnius Poker by Ricardas Gavelis, and rather than let them go to waste, we decided to give them away to our readers.

Vilnius Poker is about life (and paranoia) in Lithuania during Soviet times. It's the story of Vytauas Vargalys, a man who has lived through the labor camps, works an absurd job creating a digital catalog for a library no one can access, and who is convinced that an undefined "they" is dismantling the world and crushing everyone's soul. Told through four differing—and often contradictory—viewpoints, Gavelis's novel is incredibly ambitious and all-encompassing, and is considered by many critics to be the "turning point in Lithuanian literature."

More information about the book can be found on our website as can a sizable sample.

If you're interested in being entered in the drawing to receive a copy of the galley (the book won't be available in stores until mid-January), please e-mail me at before Thursday, November 6th at 5pm (EST).

Rubem Fonseca's Short Stories

This month we're proud to release The Taker and Other Stories, the first collection of Rubem Fonseca's short fiction to make its way into English. Clifford Landers translated this book, which is filled with interesting stories. Some of the pieces are violent—such as the opening story, "Night Drive," and the title story—whereas others are very touching and subtle, like "The Enemy." (Which is my personal favorite.)

Fonseca's a very interesting character. He's considered to be one of the most influential Brazilian writers of the twentieth century, in part because he was one of the first to write about Rio de Janeiro and its seedier elements. (You can consider Fonseca to be the grandfather of the novel/movie City of God.) He's written a number of novels, a couple of which were translated into English back some years ago, but it really is his stories that are most well respected in Brazil.

Mandrake—a womanizing criminal lawyer—is one of Fonseca's most popular characters. In fact, a couple years ago HBO Brazil created a series based on the Mandrake stories. Although it hasn't appeared in English yet, it was immediately dubbed into Spanish and aired throughout Latin America.

As a die-hard Thomas Pynchon fan, the thing about Fonseca's bio that jumps out at me is the fact that he's a recluse, and is friends with Pynchon. . . . "The Man" even blurbed Fonseca, stating: "Each of Fonseca's books is not only a worthwhile journey; it is also, in some way, a necessary one."

Copies are available in better bookstores everywhere, and, through November 30th, are available on our website at a special price of $12.00.

"Night Drive" can be found here, and please visit this page for additional info, and to place an order. And instead of buying a single book, you can always purchase a 6 or 12 book subscription by visiting our subscription page.

Open Letter in the News

As one of the only presses in the country publishing only literature in translation, Open Letter got a lot of attention during the recent Nobel Prize kerfuffle. If you're not aware of this, before announcing the 2008 winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature (J.M.G. Le Clezio), Horace Engdahl, the Permanent Secretary of the Swedish Academy, gave a few controversial comments about American literature, pointing out that "The U.S. is too isolated, too insular. They don't translate enough and don't really participate in the big dialogue of literature." (More info can be found at here.)

Because of these statements—and the fact that only a handful of American critics knew of Le Clezio—a few media outlets did special features on translations, including NPR's Day by Day on which, David Kipen of the National Endowment for the Arts praised the University of Rochester, Open Letter, and Three Percent as "the place" to go to find out about international literature. And in her round-up of the Frankfurt Book Fair, Motoko Rich of the New York Times included Open Letter as one of the few independent presses seeking out foreign fiction at the Book Fair.

Donate to Open Letter/University of Rochester

As some of you know, Open Letter is a 501(c)3 organization that's part of the University of Rochester. Over the past year we've accomplished a lot of great things—releasing our first books, touring Bragi Ólafsson and Dubravka Ugresic, bringing Salman Rushdie and Umberto Eco to campus, increasing our coverage of translated literature on Three Percent, and offering internships to over a dozen University of Rochester students.

That said, publishing is—at best—a break-even business, and for those of us doing literature in translation, it's rarely even that. The best presses in America—Open Letter, Archipelago, Graywolf—are all non-profits for a reason, and it's thanks to the financial support of individuals that we're able to fulfill our mission.

If you'd like to join us in bringing international literature to English-readers, please donate at All donations are fully tax-deductible and benefit all of Open Letter's activities at the University of Rochester.

Forthcoming Books

The Taker

The Taker and Other Stories by Rubem Fonseca
On sale: November 11, 2008
Hardcover, $15.95 $12.00
Buy it now!

The Sailor from Gibraltar

The Sailor from Gibraltar by Marguerite Duras
On sale: December 16, 2008
Paperback, $12.95
Buy it now!