…of translated books in the U.S., that is. I’ve just finished SIGNS PRECEDING THE END OF THE WORLD by Yuri Herrera (translated by Lisa Dillman), a beautifully written and moving story of a young Mexican girl who crosses the border into the United States in order to deliver a message to her older brother, who crossed long before her and had stopped sending letters or messages of any kind back home to her and her mother. The story is ethereal, poetic, and yet is grounded in familiar descriptions, moments, and feelings.
I found this lovely book when I went to a deceivingly large bookshop (the pathway through many bookshelves winds forever to reveal a sizable shop, despite its small storefront) in Hyde Park in May called 57th Street Books, where one of the authors I work with at St. Martin’s spoke about her book on the South Side. The owner handed me this book. And he also passionately shared his goal of stocking the best translated literature out there.
Though I could label myself as an editor or a writer, I call myself first and foremost a lover of literature. I grew up reading translated works of literature, from Kafka or Flaubert or Marquez. And as an editor, I have the ability to help these kinds of riveting, eye-opening stories make their way into the marketplace—and thrive. Of course, getting to publish new American authors is one of the great pleasures in the work that I do. But I want my list to be filled with works from all over the world in an effort to remind American readers that there are many, many perspectives. And without reading them, we run the risk of folding into our own little world.
So go out and buy a translation! Another one that I read recently (and affected me very deeply, in more ways than one) is WILLFUL DISREGARD by Swedish author Lena Andersson.
Moving to a foreign city can be somewhat daunting. I remember moving to Paris and having to adapt not only to a new city but also to a new culture and a new language. It’s difficult at first, but as time goes on, you get the hang of things. Parisians started becoming my family, and French my language. Moving back to the States was a reverse culture shock, and I missed drinking wine on a daily basis and buying a baguette from the boulangerie right the down the street from my house.
This is Mexico: Tales of Culture and Other Complications (She Writes Press, March 2015) by Carol M. Merchasin begins much like mine. Merchasin moved to Mexico with her husband, envisioning a fresh and new way of life. What she finds is a culture shock like no other. From chapter to chapter, she recounts her experience with merchants who give no change, house maids who bring their children to work, and other culture quirks that at the same time annoy and inspire her.
This expatriate sets up the book with a different story for every chapter, highlighting a different aspect of Mexico that presented a cultural challenge for her. As she infuses elements of humor and a light tone, Merchasin presents Mexico as her and her husband (or, as she refers to him in the book, Senor Reoberto) see it as foreigners adjusting to a new world.
Travel writing can be a difficult feat, and while Merchasin does a thorough job of presenting Mexico as an expat might see it, there was not a keen sense of connection with how Mexico functions. I wished I were reading individual stories of people she interacted with every day, rather than the solo story of Merchasin’s daily life. Though she gives glimpses into those lives—particularly with her cook and maid—I thought a unique story like this would have provided a more rounded view of Mexico had she centered chapters around other people rather than herself.
Nevertheless, if you’re looking for a light, interesting narrative about an American’s life in Mexico, this is the book for you.
I have a Saturday afternoon routine in my small neighborhood in North Greenpoint, Brooklyn. There’s a coffee shop by the train station—sitting on a main stretch of road across from my favorite bar and leading to a quaint, local favorite bookshop—that makes killer cappuccinos. It’s a large shop, with a spacious bar and charming baristas. During the weekdays and weekends alike it attracts locals who want to get some work done with the luxury of an almost-perfect coffee and a playlist that will make you wish you had a broader iTunes library. It smells of steamed milk and toasted bread and espresso.
I spend my afternoons as one of the locals, typing and highlighting, reading and dissecting. And whether I’m working on a freelance piece or catching up on reading for work, this coffee shop makes me feel like I’ve made a home for myself in this big, bustling town.
And I have. Six months after I drug my oversized suitcase to my one-month sublet in Harlem, I’ve found a long-term apartment in a neighborhood that I’m more than thrilled to call home. And I couldn’t be happier to be here.
To the future, wherever it may be and however it may go. May we all make bold decisions that force us to grow everyday. And may we never shy away from what makes us better, stronger, more decisive. May these decisions lead us to find what we ultimately want for ourselves—our purest dreams, our truest passions, and our deepest loves. May we never settle for anything other than the very best.