“This mental mucus is driving me mad. The Japanese blow their noses on paper too.” Thus begins The Diary of Andrés Fava (Archipelago), Julio Cortázar’s novella first published in 1995 and now translated into English by Anne McLean. Andrés Fava is the author of this fictional diary, in which he muses on dreams, philosophizes about art, records conversations he has had and recounts the sights of his day. The diary ends with an incomplete sentence, only when Fava runs out of paper, a suitable conclusion for a dream-like novella. The entries are filled with pearls of wisdom, poetic references, poems, much absurdity—all without plot or consistent structure. This is perhaps not a book for everyone, but for Cortázar fans, or readers willing to let an author indulge, the payoff is worth the few hours it takes to read the book. Archipelago Books has just published another Cortázar novel, Astronauts of the Cosmoroute: A Timeless Journey from Paris to Marseille, which is typical of the contents of their catalogue: obscure, forgotten books previously not translated into English. It is a small press founded in Brooklyn in 2003 as a non-profit enterprise with the goal of introducing international fiction to the American market, where only about one percent of all published books come from outside the USA. The press publishes novels, novellas and poetry, all printed on high-quality paper with elegant design, and has built up a list of some thirty books, with more to come. So far Archipelago has published translations from Arabic, Basque, Chinese, Croatian, French, German, Greek, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Polish, Portuguese, Russian, Turkish and Spanish, from authors as well known as Cortázar, Robert Musil and Rainer Maria Rilke, and lesser-known authors such as Poland’s Magdalena Tulli. Archipelago books cannot easily be found in stores, but the entire catalogue is available at archipelagobooks.org.
Another elegant Archipelago production is Posthumous Papers of a Living Author by the Austrian modernist Robert Musil. It is filled with Musil’s reflections on subjects as mundane and varied as flypaper, sheep, monkeys, poets, painters, doors, binoculars and the death of the great (long) novel. Because of their brevity, the essays and stories are limited in scope, but they show an original and progressive thinker who writes stimulating commentary on even the most ordinary subjects. Musil discusses the effect of postcards on a traveller’s experience, the place of the Oedipus complex in contemporary society and, in one of the more compelling pieces, the paradox of monuments: they “are so conspicuously inconspicuous” that they draw attention away from what they represent. This book was first published in 1936, but Musil’s precise language and critical analysis keep his work relevant and accessible.