Monday, November 12, 2007

Sunday afternoon reading: The Maias or another re-discovery

I started a new translation of The Maias by Jose Maria Eca de Querios, on Sunday, which I'd come across in a review in the NYT's and it seems fantastic so far, at least if you are a fan of the late-Victorian novel. All the traditional themes are there (a large country house, a portrait of a multi-generation family in decline, from an aristocratic past to a set of dilettante-ish university-educated aesthetes). But all from the context of a Portuguese diplomat.

What I love about coming across books The Maias is that I can still discover new books that have been around for a century even though I've been a pretty serious semi-pro reader for much of my life.

Just when you think you can't possibly find another great work in a certain period, one turns up. Before The Maias, it was some of the great central European writers like Joseph Roth's The Radetzky March which I'd somehow missed even though I've heard it's a staple in German schools. The good and hopeful news if you still bother to read novels is that our greater access to more international cultures will continually produce a stream of not just good or interesting but newly translated world-class works which haven't yet reached a global audience.

It's highly unlikely--though not impossible--that I might still come across something great written in English that I haven't encountered before. But it's extremely likely that there are entire traditions that I haven't yet come across. On a lot of fronts, the the emerging global economy is a mixed bag. But when it comes to expanding our access to great art, it's seems all good, at least on a Sunday afternoon with The Maias.


Yanni said...

Ever read Epitaph of a Small Winner by Machado De Assis? Was written in the late 19th century. It's hilarious and sad at the same time.

sk said...

Thanks for the suggestion, Yanni. Have enjoyed Assis, at least in translation, as well. He had a unusual following among the fiction writers I knew at Iowa, perhaps because of his experimental style, building novels out of short comic scenes. In any case, open to any other suggestions for South or Central American writers that I could find in translation.