In November, Open Letter Books will publish an interesting anthology called The Wall in My Head (publisher’s book site):

On the night of November 9, 1989, after months of unrest in Europe and East Germany, the checkpoints between East and West Berlin were suddenly, almost accidentally, opened, starting a process that would bring together a Europe that had been divided for thirty years. THE WALL IN MY HEAD, an anthology that features fiction, essays, images, and historical documents, marks the twentieth anniversary of this momentous collapse and sheds light on how it came to pass. Combining work from the generation of writers and artists who witnessed the fall of the Iron Curtain first-hand with the impressions and reflections of those who grew up in its wake, THE WALL IN MY HEAD provides a unique view into the change, optimism, and confusion that came with 1989 and examines how each of these has weathered the twenty years since that fateful year. Highlights within include seminal excerpts from the work of Milan Kundera, Peter Schneider, Ryszard Kapuściński, Vladimir Sorokin, and Victor Pelevin, and new work from Péter Esterházy, Andrzej Stasiuk, Muharem Bazdulj, Maxim Trudolubov, Dorota Masłowska, Uwe Tellkamp, Dan Sociu, David Zábranský, Christhard Läpple, and a host of others.

The reason I’m telling you about it is that in an admirable combination of PR and generosity, Open Letter is making the pre-publication galleys available online for a limited time. Go here and click on “View Item” on the left, and you can read as much of the book as you like. (Via Lizok’s Bookshelf.)


  1. Paul Wilson, I knew that name sounded familiar! He hung around and taught English to The Plastic People of the Universe, possibly the greatest underground thing ever to happen to Czechoslovakia. They deserve a special mention here: one (or possibly more) of their songs had lyrics in Swahili. Nothing meaningful, mind you – the guys just went to a bookstore, got a Swahili dictionary and leafed through it looking for words they thought sounded interesting. They got enough of them together for at least one song.
    Somewhat OT: it’s funny how things change. Back in the day, Václav Havel was the icon of our desire for freedom and democracy. Now he dismisses the opinion of the vast majority of his fellow Czechs as untrustworthy, hypocritical and, quote, “foul smelling”.

  2. I recently read the best succinct quote I’ve ever seen about power (from here, about Karzai):
    “When you come to power your eyes go blind, your ears go deaf and you don’t know anything anymore.”
    Not that Havel had all that much power, but I don’t think it takes much of a dose to trigger the reaction.

  3. Entirely coincidentally, of course, today is the anniversary of the day in 1961 when the Wall went up!

  4. “Not that Havel had all that much power, but I don’t think it takes much of a dose to trigger the reaction.”
    Karzai is the king of Kabul and that’s about it. But his cluelessness dates from way back. His only real claim to power is that he’s a Popolzai, the Afghan equivalent of an uppah-claaaahss twit.
    Did you see where there’s a spoof party in Germany whose only platform plank is building the wall again?

  5. Today is also the anniversary of the discovery of electromagnetism (embarrassingly I had to be reminded by PeeZed Myers).
    My old supervisor was very big on Ørsted. He hung out with a lot of poets and other bigwigs of the Romantic Era – Oehlenschläger for instance. The arts and sciences were very closely knit in that period.

  6. discovery of electromagnetism
    Meaning what? Maxwell putting it all together?

  7. Sorry, you must mean the first link between electricity and magnetism, not the last.

  8. Oh, look. Paul Wilson wrote the preface and did most of the translations in a volume of Havel’s mostly VONS-era prose we have here.
    I should apologize to all the translators for my lack of attention and more for assuming there wasn’t any backstory.

  9. It looks like a strange mixture. On the one hand, you have universally known fiction writers like Sorokin, Pelevin or Kundera. On the other hand, you have journalists like Gessen, Trudolubov or Iosebashvili. One can’t help feeling that old excerpts from famous authors were included just to attract attention.

  10. Well, they have to attract attention to get people to buy the book. I have no problem with that.

  11. I would guess that Gessen is actually far better known in the US than Sorokin, and possibly better known than Pelevin. She often writes in English, and gets published in places like Vanity Fair and the New York Times.

  12. Yes, good point about Gessen. She’s very familiar to American readers (of the sort who read books like this, obviously).

  13. Though Sorokin and Pelevin have good followings in the U.S., I echo Vanya’s guess about Gessen’s overall name recognition here. I think the blend of writers, topics, and nationalities should be a strong selling point for the book: just about any reader interested in the general theme should find something new and intriguing.

  14. I read all the Russia-related entries and quite a few of the others; it’s really very well done (with nice illustrations, too).

  15. That’s good to hear, Languagehat. I think I’ll probably buy it when it’s available in print.

  16. “When you come to power your eyes go blind, your ears go deaf and you don’t know anything anymore.”

    That reminds me: some LH reader once recommended a story by some Eastern European writer (I want to say Czech, but I’m not sure), a parable about a ladder or pyramid that a well-meaning man climbs, and at every new, higher level he loses interest in those dwelling below whom he’d initially meant to help. Anybody know what I’m talking about?

  17. January First-of-May says

    Anybody know what I’m talking about?

    The Tale of the Stairs, by Hristo Smirnenski (of Bulgaria), which is (or, at least, used to be) occasionally quoted by Nick Nicholas.

    (I thought it was actually translated on his blog, but I have apparently mixed it up with something else; the reference I was thinking of is actually in a footnote.)

  18. That’s it — thanks very much! (Fast work, too. I like instant satisfaction.)

  19. And here’s the Bulgarian original, Приказка за стълбата.

  20. January First-of-May says

    Fast work, too.

    It would’ve been faster if I hadn’t fruitlessly spent several minutes looking for a version of the text on Nick’s own blog.
    I should probably have posted the name and then looked for the link, but I remembered the name as “Smirnenski’s Ladder”, so I had to google it up anyway because I wasn’t sure if Smirnenski was the author or the protagonist

Speak Your Mind