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Adam Thirlwell on Michel Laub

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Best of Young Brazilian Novelist Michel Laub discusses his story ‘Animals’ – described by Adam Thirlwell in his introduction below as ‘very delicate and very brutal’ – with Ted Hodgkinson on the Granta Podcast.

GRANTA 121: BEST OF YOUNG BRAZILIAN NOVELISTS
Introduced by previous Best of Young Novelists

Michel Laub was born in Porto Alegre and currently lives in São Paulo. He is a journalist and the author of five novels. His latest book, Diário da queda (2011), received the Brasília Award, the Bravo!/ Bradesco Prize and the Erico Verissimo Award. It is being translated into Dutch, French, German and Spanish, and is forthcoming in English in the UK. ‘Animals’ (‘Animais’) is a new story. Here, as part of an ongoing series on the twenty authors from The Best of Young Brazilian Novelists issue – which was first published in Portuguese by Objectiva – Michel Laub is introduced by previous Best of Young British Novelist, Adam Thirlwell.

There’s no doubt that the international reader is always an insecure, worried reader, like some supine hysteric on a couch. I mean, I know nothing of the language in which this story called ‘Animals’ was written. Or also I do not know where precisely Porto Alegre is – where this story by Michel Laub begins. It does make, I’m just saying, a reader anxious. I have to assume that it’s Brazil. And yet also I think it’s possible in some bronco way not to care about these ethical problems and instead just attend to what’s right there.

So this story looks like a list of the animals that the novelist-narrator’s owned throughout his life, but really this list is therefore a pretext for a miniature autobiography and yet, really, to redescribe it one final time, this autobiography is a pretext for defining a life in one particular way: as a systematic process of loss. And this is moving, no question, but the thing I really love about this story is how it manages its matryoshka feat – to be at once a free floating meditation, leaping like some street cat from wall to wall, while also going deeper and deeper into a single theme.

Because the beauty of this story – and this beauty survives whatever anxieties its translator, Margaret Jull Costa, may have worried over to produce this very careful and very organized piece of English prose, just as it survives the anxieties in the present moment of its international reader – is the story’s agile movement. Its digressions are in fact progressions into its poignancy, so that the loss that this story sounds can be measured precisely by the giant ground that has to be covered in its twenty four meticulous paragraphs just to move the reader and the narrator a couple of hours further on from the story’s startling opening.

It’s very delicate and very brutal, this story. It makes me want to read everything Michel Laub has written. It also makes me want to learn another language. – Adam Thirlwell, Best of Young British Novelist, 2003

Animals

I

When I was eleven years old and living in Porto Alegre, my dog Champion was killed by our neighbour’s Dobermann.

II

Our neighbour was a Korean, the owner of a biscuit factory, and his house was subsequently demolished to make way for an apartment block. The same thing happened to our house and to the whole neighbourhood, which had a lot of empty building plots and broad pavements you could skateboard along.

III

The maid usually took Champion for his walks. On the day he died, he was sniffing around in a bush and, when the maid wasn’t looking, he managed to slip out of his collar, run off and stick his nose through the railings surrounding the Korean’s garden. The girl had worked for us for one or two years, but after that I never saw her again, and from the age of eleven until now I have never owned another dog. The only other pets I had were a hamster, a duck, a cat and a second cat.

Translated by Margaret Jull Costa.

To continue reading this story you can pre-order a copy of The Best of Young Brazilian Novelists, which is available in stores on 8 November, or earlier if you subscribe.

You can also see Michel Laub at the following events:

An Evening with Granta and the Brazil Institute
12 November, 6.30 p.m., King's College London, The Pyramid Room, 4th floor King’s Building, Strand Campus, London WC2R 2LS. RSVP to events@granta.com. Free.

Join Granta Best Young Brazilian Novelists Michel Laub and Tatiana Salem Levy, translator Stefan Tobler and Granta deputy editor Ellah Allfrey for readings and conversation about the next generation of Brazilian literature and its debut in the English-speaking world. Hosted by the King’s Brazil Institute, King’s College London.

The London Launch
13 November, 6.30 p.m., Foyles, 113–119 Charing Cross Road, London. RSVP to events@granta.com. Free.

Celebrate the launch of Granta 121: The Best of Young Brazilian Novelists with visiting authors Vinicius Jatobá, Michel Laub, Tatiana Salem Levy and Carola Saavedra, who will join Granta deputy editor Ellah Allfrey for readings and conversation. Come discover the writers who are carrying Brazil’s rich literary legacy forward.

Translating Culture: From Copacabana to Clerkenwell
14 November, 7 p.m., Free Word Centre, 60 Farringdon Road, London EC1R 3GA. £7/£5 concessions, tickets include a copy of Granta 121. Purchase tickets here or at the door on the night of the event.

Granta magazine introduces the next generation of Brazilian writers to the Free Word Centre for an evening of short readings with Best Young Brazilian Novelists Vinicius Jatobá , Michel Laub, Tatiana Salem Levy and Carola Saavedra. Then, award-winning translator Margaret Jull Costa and Michel Laub will explore bringing Laub’s short story ‘Animals’ into English with Granta deputy editor Ellah Allfrey.

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  5. FabioS.

    Sat Nov 17 20:57:09 GMT 2012

    Dear Adam Thirlwell,

    Is not my intention to drag You to a comtroverse but my friends and I have diferent interpretions on your article above. Since, I see no point to carrion a debate over someone else's opnion When You can solve the impasse strait with the source. I will like to ask You What excactly do You mean in your statements:
    "There’s no doubt that the international reader is always an insecure, worried reader"

    "I know nothing of the language in which this story called ‘Animals’ was written. Or also I do not know where precisely Porto Alegre is – where this story by Michel Laub begins. It does make, I’m just saying, a reader anxious. I have to assume that it’s Brazil. And yet also I think it’s possible in some bronco way not to care about these ethical problems and instead just attend to what’s right there."

    "may have worried over to produce this very careful and very organized piece of English prose, just as it survives the anxieties in the present moment of its international reader"

    To some people the way You treat the lack of kwnolge of the languange and the complement to the translator makes your critic insecure and puts a "shadow" over the brazilians work. Like, " what I am reading is the good work of the translator and I am not sure of this guy has to say"

    Thank You

    Fabio

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