open letter books
Translated by Katie Whittemore
There is a small plastic horse in the corner of the modest fenced-in yard. It looks like it’s been there for eternity, yet it’s not actually old. That particular corner is the only part of the yard that has been conserved as a garden, that wasn’t sealed with cement and tile and made into a patio.
Translated by Rosmarie Waldrop
They were men who did nothing but walk walk walk. They were big, they were bearded, they wore leather caps and long raincoats…
Translated by Victor Meadowcroft and Anne McLean
Mothers stay with their children during the first years, and then, when the children can — apparently — defend themselves, they release them, they cast them into the naked tumult, and forget them. I’ve seen mothers who despair at having to provide for their children, letting out huge yawns while contemplating them.
Translated by Heather Cleary
The characteristic scent of Buenos Aires, a mix of aquatic plants and the local soil, which—as many have told me and I’ve also read—still filters through the streets on the breeze, was an incipient aroma slowly rising off the river to form waves of disparate and paradoxically incomplete smells that morning, probably due to the hour.
Translated by Katy Derbyshire
Once tall and slim, Bassel’s body is no longer immune to time’s passing – his hair has gone grey but at least it hasn’t fallen out like most of his contemporaries’, his belly has grown soft and visibly convex, and his back is no longer strong and straight. A slipped disc a year ago came as a rude reminder of advancing age.
Translated by Anna Halager
Oh, my head. I let out a deep sigh and smell alcohol. My stomach roils and I heave my body out of bed, go to the bathroom. Shit, my head is about to explode. I still feel drunk. My eyes won’t focus and my legs aren’t working right. I kick the clothes I dumped on the floor because they block my way and I walk five long metres to the bathroom, my hand over my mouth.
Translated by Mirza Purić
They’ve brought us to the front line. Mud and fog everywhere. I can barely see the man in front of me. We almost hold onto each other’s belts lest we get lost. We pass between burning houses. The file trudges on along rickety fences. The mud sticks to our boots, stretches like dough.
Translated by Jeff Diteman
“Excellent work,” says the raspy-voiced, pock-faced man, as he holds out a copy of Spain: One Year of Dictatorship, “really excellent.”
Translated by Isabel Fargo Cole
It was hot, a damp hot hell, sweat emerged from all my pores. I began excreting smells, how strange, as though something within me were starting to mold, an extraordinary fromage, as though I smelled of my eyeballs, which bulged and welled with what seemed a sort of slime, a turbidity likely rising up from my loins, a twinge from the groin that brushed my heart, stinging; it dug slowly into my brain, but I hadn’t felt its onset.
Translated by Andrea Rosenberg
Javier eyed his father’s invulnerable back as the old man, sitting up in the bow, received the morning full on his face. His father was skinnier and shorter than Javier, and he was wearing a polo shirt that had started out red but had long since faded.
Translated by Julia Johanne Tolo
This is the globe. It’s blue, with green, orange, and yellow sections. Sometimes pink or red. It turns in the dark, and has two white spots. The North Pole and the South Pole. If you want to leave the globe you have to send an application to somewhere like NASA, and you’ll need to be good at physics, math, and chemistry.
Translated by Niina Pollari
She believes she’s very happy. She tells herself that a loving husband, three beautiful children, a red granny cottage in an idyllic countryside setting, and a newish Opel station wagon in the yard is exactly what she’s always wanted.
Translated by Owen Witesman
Imagine you are partially blind. Minus eleven diopters. Imagine a dark exam room at an optometrist’s office. You’re sitting in a comfortable leather chair, afraid you’ll lose your sight entirely. You’ve carefully placed your old glasses on the table. The plastic rims, electric-blue ten years ago, are scuffed now.
Translated by David M. Smith
I kept my mouth shut and realized that Stovner was a very small place, and Tante Ulrikkes vei even smaller. I realized that in Stovner, people lived in houses on one side and housing on the other, and that the two were nothing alike, something that held true for Oslo just as much as the rest of the world.
Translated by Allison M. Charette
You cannot walk fast in Antananarivo. There’s a weight in the air, a heat that makes everything slow and viscous. There’s a constant small of noxious gas, an acid odor that gets into your lungs, infests your muscles. There’s the red dust, blackened by exhaust fumes, and the perpetual suffocation of the city, so precariously perched, so dry.
Translated by Donald Nicholson-Smith
Alain leaves everything behind walking, walking toward the station… walking toward Claire, toward a happiness cold as the sun in this country.
Translated by Isabel Fargo Cole
Later, to restore the sense of uniqueness, of something transcending the symphony, vocal force and splendid voices were sought after.
Translated by Ellen Elias-Bursać and David Williams
Marlene was Polish (in age she could have been my daughter) and she occasionally cleaned my apartment for ten Euros an hour. Who knows how she’d found her way to Amsterdam and from where, but in the flood of words she showered on me in her poor, strongly Polish accented English, I remembered mention of a collective somewhere in Belgium with its leader whom she referred to, reverently, as “Baba.”
Translated by Izidora Angel
The chains they took off, the ropes they left on, and they forced him, bound, into the car
By Elena Alexieva
I still can’t get used to living on ground level. The fact that from my kitchen window I see the people walking between the apartment blocks almost in their actual size keeps astonishing me. Living on the ground floor means we have no terrace. But we do have bars on the windows which we didn’t put there.
Translated by Donald Nicholson-Smith
She lives alone in a smoke-filled apartment. Now and again a glass of wine may be seen–hers, or that of a casual visitor. A bird lives there too, looking out of the window for hours, indifferent, distant. One day she decides to bring some plant life into her home to freshen things up…
Translated by Alex Zucker
Don’t stink and watch your weight. Those are the most important resolutions I know of. Every morning I plop myself down in front of the mirror and stare into my face, just in case it might finally tell me something I don’t know. It stares right back, as if expecting the same from me.
Translated by Celia Hawkesworth
On Saturday, November 19, 2002, sixty people incarcerated in a camp for illegal immigrants sew their lips together. Sixty people with their lips sewn reel around the camp, gazing at the sky. Small muddy stray dogs scamper after them, yapping shrilly. The authorities keep assiduously postponing consideration of their applications for leave to remain.
Translated by Susan Bernofsky
One Thursday in late August, ten men gather in front of Berlin’s Town Hall. According to news reports, they’ve decided to stop eating. Three days later they decide to stop drinking too. Their skin is black. They speak English, French, Italian, as well as other languages that no one here understands. What do these men want? They are asking for work. They want to support themselves by working.
Translated by Gaye Kynoch
The days and weeks in Lisbon, the clear, higher, harder light out here by the coast, the slightly forsaken haziness of the city, a forgotten region of outermost Europe, the sound of the street-cleaning trucks advancing slowly through the streets behind Praça do Rossio in the last hour before daybreak, like big beetles snorting hoarsely in the dust of the strangely quiet city…
Translated by Rachel Hildebrandt and Alexandra Roesch
White swathes of steam float across the deck. It wreaks. Someone has puked into the swimming pool, and fibrous chunks float on the surface. Leg of duck in a truffle reduction—the Chef’s daily special. As though in slow motion, the girl straightens up, staggers away, reeling between stacks of deck chairs and disappears into the haze.
By Alison Moore
He is not in the bedroom. She can hear the shower running in the bathroom, can hear him singing in there. She would prefer not to have to talk to this man who keeps calling her Ester as if he knows her. She is still annoyed with him for being so late and not even apologizing. She is obliged to feed the man – she wants to feed him, she always wants to feed men – but she would be pleased to get away without having to engage with him.
Translated by Jan Pytalski
The city was rebuilt to restore its previous look, sometimes down to exact details, following a naive belief that that would turn it back into what it used to be before the war. It was an exercise in fidelity without purpose, an empty gesture of men in love with history.
Translated by Michael Hofmann
On my lap the animal knows neither fear nor persecution. It feels happiest when pressed against me; it is loyal to the family that has nurtured it.
Translated by Janet Livingstone
The river draws closer and closer to the stream of gawking people. They jump onto the sandbags so they can see themselves in it. And at night they dream dreams on the shore. Dreams in which clouds of dust whirl behind herds of galloping animals.
Translated by C.J. Collins
I took the big bag that I had inherited from my grandfather down from the attic. It was brightly colored like a storm of rainbows. I hoisted it onto my back and went out into the street. I closed my eyes and began to choose samples at random from everything that was inside: humans and stones and dust and flowers and wind and the past and the present and the future.
Translated by Sherilyn Hellberg
The face, the voice, the hands press against the wall. Celestine up in the south-facing attic, in front of the stained mirror—and there is also a dried wreath there. In the darkness inside the wall, a glimpse of Celestine’s eyes. In one eye a nettle grows. The forest around the castle sparkled like silver, carrying Celestine’s name within it. She is furious; she hunts down the guests at the hotel when they sleep. She slides down the corridors. She licks their faces. She licks the sleep out of their eyes. She cries no no when the wall closes in on her.
Translated by George Henson
I was in Vienna this year, after a twelve-year absence. My arrival coincided with a mass rally of three hundred thousand people who protested against the return of Nazism to the country, precisely in Heroes’ Square, the same one where one million Austrians frenziedly cheered Hitler.
Translated by Jeffrey Zuckerman
Mudugan was a typical village of thieves, built in the middle of the forest in a gap that barely deserved to be called a clearing, so tightly did the trees encircle the log houses. There weren’t any paths that had been marked to get there and it was inaccessible to anyone who didn’t know exactly where the ravines and undergrowth were. That was where Umrug Batyushin learned to live his life as a self-sufficient child, there where he learned to shoot rifles, to carve up elk, and endure cold and hardship, as well as bear the howling of the wolves…
Translated by Mirza Purić
My husband is burly, and when he walks, it’s as if his steps are yawning. He stumbles over me as if over a pet. I sometimes hide behind a tree and wait for him to turn around. Or leave. If we’re going to a birthday party, I’m the one who wraps and carries the present. If he’s had a lot of wine, the room takes on a smell which makes me put on my shoes and walk up and down the street.
Translated by Chenxin Jiang
Europe is disintegrating, the old lady is falling apart. She recently appeared at the Museum Festival with a terrible heap of jewelry around her neck; she’d just dyed her hair blond; above her fake gold necklace hung her wretched, worn face, and then she laughed, walked up to the bar, embraced a tall young man and kiss him artfully.
By David Constantine
During the funeral, and after it when the mourners came back to her house, Katrin continued in the almost rapturous state she had been lifted into by the last hours of Eric’s life. It was over, accomplished, her strength had sufficed. And now meticulously she would attend in every detail to every thing that needed to be done. She allowed advice, but followed it her way; help, but she directed it. She accepted condolences, and herself extended them to whoever had been saddened by Eric’s death.
Translated by Susan Bernofsky
As soon as he entered the sleepers’ realm, the air around him grew sharply colder, with glittering silvery particles of light falling all around him. He watched the miniature flakes floating, they danced, liberated from gravity, yet still went on falling: falling ever farther until at last they alighted on the frozen earth and disappeared.
Translated by Martin Aitken
We come no closer, only the opposite—we are moving away. Moving backwards, losing the pores of the woman’s skin, we lose the pores, the fair down of her upper lip that you discovered, the lines of her skin reminding you of some other age—youth, funnily enough, that couldn’t quite be placed.