Skulls of Istria

Summary: “A man sits at a bar in Piran on the Adriatic coast in former Yugoslavia and tells his story to a large man who speaks no English, yet plied by free liquor remains, at times in a drunken sleep, head on the table as the words drift over his skull. This tavern confession is told by a defrocked historian from the United States, who unwittingly, perhaps naively, brought his talents to the turmoil of the Balkans. His tales in the first chapter take us to Capodistria, Ancona, Venice, and back to the bar where we began, linked by the physical presence of a wind known as the Burja (the Italian bora), a great wind capable of lifting cars into the air. But the unnamed narrator is not simply telling random stories. As we move through the next four chapters, we realize that this book is indeed confessional, an apology of sorts, yet with a broken man’s defiance; it is a meditation not only about hats and a historian’s attempt at written redemption, but about love and politics, history and warriors who drink blood, the isolation of a stranger in a strange land and the choices that lead us to death and our inability to use language to transcend ourselves – a paradox, as the language does indeed transcend, not as poetry transcends, but as exceptionally precise prose armed with irony, with philosophical insight, transcends. But I must do better than that when trying to describe the impact of the prose! There are passages throughout that possess a Joycean verbal inventiveness, emotionally charged language and unsettling images that force the reader to capitulate to a vision of reality that resonates with a beauty we rarely glimpse, and a truth that of necessity must expand our notion of whatever reality we think we inhabit. As example: “You look at me in that aggressive quid pro Balkan way, sizing me up by what you take to be elemental mammalian factors — how much can he drink, how long can he hold a live and kicking sheep over his head, how many Turkish boys will he rape, how long can he stare into the squidless Adriatic ink with his miner’s helmet and not see himself, what fair widow could make tender his heart—but you don’t see all the dimensions available to you, you don’t see a past. An admirable blindness, I grant you, to be envied. Whereas a trained historian such as myself sits next to you and I can smell your past like the placenta from a birth of pigs rotting in the sun. I can’t look at you and avoid your past.” In short, the tales in the first chapter and those that follow, in particular an eponymous episode that captures the horror of the Balkan war through historic mayhem, with an echo of both Hamlet and Breughel, are all lost in the trail of a Burja, that great wind which is like a cleansing of the soul. And that is in the end what Skulls of Istria is – a cleansing of the soul, comparable to similar novels such as Camus’ The Fall, which it exceeds in artistry, and Antonio Lobo Antunes’ South of Nowhere, perhaps the only comparable book of its kind.”

Afterword:

What begins as a confessional novel with the casual beckoning of William F. Aicher’s A Confession , Albert Camus’s The Fall , and László Krasznahorkai’s “The Last Wolf” transitions into a frenetic descent into the bitter truculence of William Gaddis’s Agapē Agape and finally into the intense crescendo of historio-geographic onslaught found in Henry Miller’s Black Spring and Louis-Ferdinand Céline’s Journey to the End of the Night . Yet Rick Harsch, an American expatriate living in Slovenia, stands out from the pack with an utterly original voice, a craftsman under the spell of Joyce, in command of every element of the prose. Not an ellipsis is out of place.

The rambling narrator, who cares not whether his subservient audience of one is coherent or not, sweeps the reader away like the famed burja, a powerful wind that blows from the Hungarian basin to the Adriatic. From the first page we know that our narrator will be digressive, forceful, and sardonic. Who better to give us a diatribe of eastern Europeans and Slavic history? Matching the ever-rushing pace of his confession is the glut of word play, effortlessly compounding English and Slavic languages to achieve neologisms as poignant as they are inventive. A small example would be “squidnuncs,” which, in the context of fishermen, is a maritime play on the word quidnunc (an inquisitive, gosspiy person).

Effortlessly peppering the lingual rampage are an abundance of aphoristic quips and deft locutions: “Hyperborean philosophers bleating Wagnerian from the peaks”; “Never mistake religious or linguistic fidelity for the abominable integrity of blood”; “…that’s the best thing about being in a foreign land, the language barrier, it takes a great deal longer to despise the people you meet…”; “…what are academicians if not gangsters of the mind?”; “…American tourists always think that to step out of western Europe is to step into a war”; “…fascism is not possible without nationalism”; and “You don’t acquire virtue by the evil of your adversary”.

The narrator is a defrocked historian, whose credentials are stricken on the discovery of plagiarism. Nonetheless, his mind is brimming with historical knowledge, especially of the eastern European and Slavic territories. Istria is an interesting locale shared as it is between the three countries of Italy, Croatia, and Slovenia. From this store of knowledge, I was forced to dig into the stories of Josip Broz Tito and Gabriele D’Annunzio, among others. You get the sense that this narrator (and his creator) absorbs every book and every conversation on these matters. He mixes facts with the jousts of many presumably late-night conversations over maybe a little too much viljamovka. But the resulting synthesis, for us, is a veritable feast of signposts for further study, further broadening of mind.

With skull imagery always comes the enigmatic scene of Hamlet with Yorick’s skull held aloft. Earlier in Hamlet, the titular Dane refers to the encasement of his mind as a globe (no doubt a play on the venue in which the play was performed). The mind, then, is a symbol of confinement–Hamlet’s nutshell. In Harsch’s book, the image of the skull is conflated with that of a prison. “Islands are perfect prisons, for the mind so readily adapts itself to the idea of isolation…”. The mind, here, is “happily trapped in his skull,” and can be counted as king of infinite space. The paradox of slave and free man.

Chris Via

Recent Instagram post about Skulls of Istria

boos2readinthedark:

Rick Harsch’s tavern confessional is a brilliant look at the bloody history of the Balkans. It reminds me of a bit of Mathias Enard’s Zone as remimagined by a drunken Joycean master storyteller. Such an excellent thing of wonder it is! Get in touch with @rick.harsch for your copy. Do it now!

matthew.s.brown: “At least one great truth is revealed looking down from the sky: you don’t see people. What did our agents see from the moon? The Rift Valley, where humans came from, and the Great Wall of China, the emblematic human structure. Even from a few hundred feet you don’t see people, just their toys.”

‘about halfway through, so much to unpack and love on every page. hit mr. harsch up and order some books from his corona/samizdat publishing house.’

New from corona/samizdat

Exif_JPEG_420

Arjun and the Good Snake, being an ophidiological account of six weeks in India without Alcohol, by Rick Harsch…10€/9€ in the stricken hemisphere where the Americas remain hydraviral

Exif_JPEG_420

The latest version of Arjun and the Good Snake arriving to the coast

here is the summary of the book on the site goodreads:

This is a memoir about alcoholism and venom, all things Indian and some things half, for instance the author’s son. Rick Harsch is a writer living on the coast of Izola where great wine is cheap and suicide is on his brain. He determines on a trip visit his Indian wife’s family in Chennai, India, that he will stay dry, spend his six weeks writing, searching for snakes, carving coconut masks with his son, and rambling about Chennai. The book refuses to spare the author as he takes his dull machete through the gruesome jungles of the unforgiving terrainof his confessions, striving to reach the placid stasis of architectural analysis, the humor of his relatioinship with his son, even the salubrious emetic of rage against forces arrayed against him, real and apparent and maybe, often illuminatingly historical–you will never want to visit Vasco da Gama’s statue again–and, finally, above all exoterica, the snakes of India.
The author would add that or largely this is a philosophical book, potently soteriological, though perhaps, like a sanatorium, not for everyone.

Voličina

I don’t recall how many of the books were originally printed, but my friend Ivo, who lives in Maribor, found these copies of the originals–two in their printshop wraps still (pristine!)–at his family home in Voličina, which I have taken a pleasing photo of that may morph into the logo for corona/samizdat. Here are the books and the protologo:

Exif_JPEG_420

Exif_JPEG_420

 

 

corona/samizdat catablog part 1 and now 2

Exif_JPEG_420

corona/samidat is a non-profit press. authors receive 50% royalties once expenses are made, the other 50% goes back into the press.

for specific ordering techniques advice and directions to the ratline, contact rick.harsch@gmail.com

These are our magnificent printers, the Knapic family, who are from a bit east of Ljubljana but work there on Trieste Street–Tržaška cesta. They do an incredible job with the books:

Exif_JPEG_420

By the way, in Slovene knap means miner, so I need to ask them about the origin of their name. There are a lot of mining towns on the Sava, which flows their direction if a bit south of there. If you hear a Slovene say ‘Mat kurba!’ you know they are from the Sava mining town of Trbovlje.

First photos of the books and basic information, then more information on the books (part II of this blog).

  1. Walk Like a Duck, a Season of Little League Baseball in Italy, by Rick Harsch, 646 pages. 20€/20$
  2. The Manifold Destiny of Eddie Vegas, by Rick Harsch 717 pages. 20€/20$
  3. An Angel of Sodom, pocket size (148mm X 105mm), by David Vardeman, 416 pages. 10€/10$Exif_JPEG_4204. Skulls of Istria, by Rick Harsch, pocket size, errata slip, 175 pages. 10€/10$Exif_JPEG_4205. The Driftless Trilogy, by Rick Harsch, pocket fat size, 725 pages. 16.50€/16.50$/15.00 (€? $? Australian special.)                                TDT frontcover

6. Sea Above, Sun Below, by George Salis, pocket size, 366 pages. 10€/10$

SASB Introduction Chris Via

We haven’t finished with prices. There is the disturbing matter of postage. I have sent a bunch of books by boat, not having thought about it, simply sending them navadno (normal), and they are taking a very long time to reach their destinations. All prices I give now will be letalsko (air mail). Air generally seems to require an extra 2 euros, so you simply need to let me know if you wish me to send them by boat and subtract 2 euros from the total.

The corona aspect of this press includes the lower prices for the books. The first two were going to be sold by the press I fled from for 26 and 27 dollars. So they are now down to 20, euros for Europeans, dollars for new worlders and others have the choice. But the post is a relentless matter and I want to recoup the price (except for envelopes). So I will give you the latest euro prices and ask those who pay in dollars to convert using google euros to dollars or something like that.

Books 1 and 2 each cost 8.57€ airmail.

Skulls of Istria costs about 4.50€ airmail.

The other three cost 5.42€ airmail.

Multiple books are cheaper. For, instance, 4 copies of The Driftless Trilogy cost about 15€ the other day.

When I don’t know what the post is for a certain combination of books I am happy to accept postal payment after I know the precise charge, meaning after I have sent the books. I have made that arrangement so far with two people this weekend.

TDT backcover

Warehousing

One of Ronald Reagan’s gifts to US and world culture was a tax on warehousing of books. corona/samidat books tax the shelves to some degree, but we pay not warehouse tax.

Exif_JPEG_420

Here are some more photos; as I had trouble uploading them earlier, I am now in a slumberous phrenzy of fotogyration:

Exif_JPEG_420        104491809_3030644703689948_5248182258711006472_o

unnamed2

to be continued

continuing

corona/samizdat, an independent imprint of Amalietti&Amalietti

This press began under emergency conditions when I was forced to withdraw The Manifold Destiny of Eddie Vegas from River Boat Books because an important review was going to coincide with the release of the book and the publisher of RBB, Peter Damian Bellis, tried to convince me it was fine to release the novel with only 16 advance copies ready for sale. The main faults with the advance copy were the lack of a table of contents and no blurb from Steven Moore on the front. While I don’t relish the notion of tarnishing a person’s reputation by revealing his name, when that person’s behaviour has reached a degree of the egregious that eggs me toward extreme eggitation, I find it necessary to restrain myself only at the point where you readers might tire of the topic. The fact is that not only was this the fifth publication date planned for the book, Bellis did not tell me that he was so in debt with his printer that there was no chance of printing the final version of the book for months. So on about April 16 I pulled the books, which were due out on May 26. (The story leaves Bellis behind, so thank the keyboard angels for parentheses: most pertinently, it has come to light that back in February he sold multiple phantom copies of his own out of print book, collecting the money for books and postage and simply not sending anything. Patient purchasers waited a long time before contacting him and myself and various others, trying to understand what was going on because the last thing one expects in the book world is such as the outright swindling that in fact occurred.)

I borrowed money and arranged printing of Eddie Vegas and Walk Like a Duck, a Season of Little League Baseball in Italy, here in Slovenia, and the books were available, remarkably, by April 24. And the printers are great. Over the next few weeks, I began thinking it might be a good idea to print Skull of Istria, to liberate it from the fiend as it…was. Yet when a small amount of unexpected dough came to me, a finer thought intruded: what about David Vardeman, who by this time not only wanted nothing to do with Bellis, had no idea whether Bellis, who intended to publish him, wanted anything to do with Vardeman. I would publish Vardeman! The exclamation point is the lightening strike, as opposed to the silly little bulb, of inspiration. Simultaneously, two notions were swimming about the muckponds of my mind (allow me the occasional romantic turn of phrase): how the fuck to be a publisher without really being a publisher and what a marvelous opportunity to bring back the pocket book. My former Slovene publisher, Amalietti&Amalietti, agreed to take on the imprint corona/samizdat and it turns out the pocket size books are truly pocket size and far less expensive to print than larger books. So upon the publicaton of David Vardeman’s collection An Angel of Sodom the actual corona/samizdat was born.

Exif_JPEG_420  David Vardeman is by birth an Iowan, by nature a fricasee, an author of imperturbable visions. I am still waiting for an independent review of his book to appear. Til then, I am his greatest known fan, and I suppose it would seem a bit incestuous for me to praise his work here where I have no idea whether you are interested in an elusive blend of surreal, hyperreal, and the Beckettian banal, in a novel and stories laced with venomous and quirky surprises, psychological insight moving about on artificial limbs, folly modernized into uncontrollable higher gears, a book I could as well introduce by quoting his Mr. Perlmutter’s introduction in a boardroom “…allow me to introduce my father who today has joined us in his magnificent pig’s head.”

SASB Introduction Chris Via

George Salis is what I like to call a young buck. Still in his 20s, he sent his first novel, that there book to your left, to 100 or so publishers before the shambles that is River Boat Books accepted it. So I got to know George and his very ambitious and beautiful book. George is a talented critic and interviewer, which you can witness here: https://thecollidescope.com/, where the latest accomplishments include a review of Alexander Theroux’s Laura Warholic and an interview with Theroux himself. As for this novel, I leave it to the talented and increasingly popular reviewer, who wrote the introduction to this book, Chris Via, to tell you:

While we are on Chris Via’s youtube channel, we might as well continue with his review of The Manifold Destiny of Eddie Vegas:

Exif_JPEG_420

Walk Like a Duck, a Season of Little League Baseball in Italy

By design undisciplined, this diary of a baseball season is mulitidisciplinary, and if nothing more it is certainly a successful antidote to George Will, that stuffy fascist who is forgiven too much for loving baseball.Photo1182

 

To your right is my son, Arjun, a few years before the season covered in the book…

 

Life Vardeman’s book, Ducks has yet to be reviewed, so I will offer a pertinent page as description:

 

Exif_JPEG_420

Skulls of Istria

Exif_JPEG_420

Peter Amalietti, the publisher of Amalietti&Amalietti came up with the brilliant idea of using a dance of death fresco painted in the 14th century in an Istrian church not far from where I live in Izola to decorate the cover of this novel. I’ll be forever grateful. This novel comes with an errata sheet, for on the very first page a line is missing. There are also spacing errors and uninvited dashes intervening.  This is the result of reducing the size of the book by changing fonts and lax checking by an author who had been lulled to lazy by the previous successes of the copy feller and printers. I could not find any more actual textual errors, and in my opinion the number of the other errors is minimal–there seem very few as the book proceeds past the first chapter. It would not disturb me–and it does not–but reader beware. The book has a preface by the mysterious Stuttgartian Klaus Hauser, an introduction by the Maltese translator and literary professor Clare Vassallo, along with an afterword I will offer here by Chris Via, who, having now come up three times, I might use an excuse to discuss what I really think about the appearance of the incestuous in this cooperative literary venture. All of us involved from the United States–let Gospod Amalietti speak for himself–share the same combination of disdain for the literary establishments of particularly the US and the belief that what we do ought earn us a living. The problem is not just that the publishing industry is so warped by profit motives misperceived as needs, but also that the culture in general is insufficiently art bemused to form a phantasm of cultural need that must be granted life as a governmental fait accompli. Absent a culture worthy of human history, writers must at times find their own places, work together, help each other, and if necessary spread word about each other and their works. Here I will tell you to begin preparing yourself for George Salis’ next novel, a maximalist masterpiece still in the molding, molting your way as the novel Morphological Echoes. Hints of his genius abound in the book available now from corona/samizdat. Vardeman is older than I am, so his debut may be his rabbit song–if so, so be it: I have derived such a virtual warm rainy season of pleasure since its printing, from re-reading stories, finding new ones, simply holding it, looking at the remarkable painting on the front (detail from a painting called Angel by Edvard Belsky) and I know it will mean even more to David Vardeman himself–once it gets to the US (no more mailing by boat except by special request).

So then, another round of applause for Chris Via:

Review of Skulls of Istria

Chris Via

What begins as a confessional novel with the casual beckoning of William F. Aicher’s A Confession , Albert Camus’s The Fall , and László Krasznahorkai’s “The Last Wolf” transitions into a frenetic descent into the bitter truculence of William Gaddis’s Agapē Agape and finally into the intense crescendo of historio-geographic onslaught found in Henry Miller’s Black Spring and Louis-Ferdinand Céline’s Journey to the End of the Night . Yet Rick Harsch, an American expatriate living in Slovenia, stands out from the pack with an utterly original voice, a craftsman under the spell of Joyce, in command of every element of the prose. Not an ellipses is out of place.

 

The rambling narrator, who cares not whether his subservient audience of one is coherent or not, sweeps the reader away like the famed burja, a powerful wind that blows from the Hungarian basin to the Adriatic. From the first page we know that our narrator will be digressive, forceful, and sardonic. Who better to give us a diatribe of eastern Europeans and Slavic history? Matching the ever-rushing pace of his confession is the glut of word play, effortlessly compounding English and Slavic languages to achieve neologisms as poignant as they are inventive. A small example would be “squidnuncs,” which, in the context of fishermen, is a maritime play on the word quidnunc (an inquisitive, gosspiy person).

Effortlessly peppering the lingual rampage are an abundance of aphoristic quips and deft locutions: “Hyperborean philosophers bleating Wagnerian from the peaks”; “Never mistake religious or linguistic fidelity for the abominable integrity of blood”; “…that’s the best thing about being in a foreign land, the language barrier, it takes a great deal longer to despise the people you meet…”; “…what are academicians if not gangsters of the mind?”; “…American tourists always think that to step out of western Europe is to step into a war”; “…fascism is not possible without nationalism”; and “You don’t acquire virtue by the evil of your adversary”.

The narrator is a defrocked historian, whose credentials are stricken on the discovery of plagiarism. Nonetheless, his mind is brimming with historical knowledge, especially of the eastern European and Slavic territories. Istria is an interesting locale shared as it is between the three countries of Italy, Croatia, and Slovenia. From this store of knowledge, I was forced to dig into the stories of Josip Broz Tito and Gabriele D’Annunzio, among others. You get the sense that this narrator (and his creator) absorbs every book and every conversation on these matters. He mixes facts with the jousts of many presumably late-night conversations over maybe a little too much viljamovka. But the resulting synthesis, for us, is a veritable feast of signposts for further study, further broadening of mind.

With skull imagery always comes the enigmatic scene of Hamlet with Yorick’s skull held aloft. Earlier in Hamlet, the titular Dane refers to the encasement of his mind as a globe (no doubt a play on the venue in which the play was performed). The mind, then, is a symbol of confinement–Hamlet’s nutshell. In Harsch’s book, the image of the skull is conflated with that of a prison. “Islands are perfect prisons, for the mind so readily adapts itself to the idea of isolation…” The mind, here, is “happily trapped in his skull,” and can be counted as king of infinite space. The paradox of slave and free man.

The Driftless Trilogy

Taking matters into my own hands has proven most deeply satisfying with the disinterment of my first three published novels, The Driftless Zone, Billy Verite, and The Sleep of Aborigines.

I haven’t mentioned yet that both The Manifold Destiny of Eddie Vegas and Walk Like a Duck are Not for sale in the United States. Or have I? Anyway, the point is that I want very badly for a publisher to take them. Therefore, they can only be sold in ratlined samizdat fashion.

That said, I frankly don’t give a damn if anyone buys a copy of The Driftless Trilogy. I’m content to have it all over my apartment, with the cover designed by Jason Snyder and it’s shadow of a roach, the blurb by the unknown James Adler, who is not a writer, or not yet anyway, and with the back of the book which defies conventional presentation.

TDT backcover

Blurb of the author, disclaimer serving as descriptor, and Jimmy by the crotch in Trieste.

All three novels are satirical noir, Menippean to varying degrees. All are funny, and though it was 20 years since the publication of the first, The Driftless Zone, that I read them in print, I enjoyed all three thoroughly–in fact, was surprised at their combinations of humor, philosophy, raunch and revelry, the optimism of their pessimism, their inventiveness, the rules they gleefully broke.

So here I will just provide a brief excerpt from each:

The Driftless Zone: A cock is a big mean chicken worthy of respect. Spleen’s old man had his first heart attack while trying to bludgeon a king rooster named Wes.

Billy Verite: “Biliary dyskinesia, that’d be my guess.”

The Sleep of Aborigines: And death only is the sleep of aborigines.

At least two books will be published in the fall, a romp of satirical heft by the Slovene Bori Praper, and the third novel of the underknown, if highly noted, Jeff Bursey. With luck, more will be offered as well.

rick harsch, July 12, 2020

 

 

Skulls of Istria now available from corona/samizdat

Exif_JPEG_420 IMG_20200626_114629

Left: Skulls hot off the press                       Right: First postal day for Skulls, includes An                                                                                              Angel of Sodom and Eddie Vegas

 

here’s the books Afterword, by Chris Via:

Afterword

 

What begins as a confessional novel with the casual beckoning of William F. Aicher’s A Confession , Albert Camus’s The Fall , and László Krasznahorkai’s “The Last Wolf” transitions into a frenetic descent into the bitter truculence of William Gaddis’s Agapē Agape and finally into the intense crescendo of historio-geographic onslaught found in Henry Miller’s Black Spring and Louis-Ferdinand Céline’s Journey to the End of the Night . Yet Rick Harsch, an American expatriate living in Slovenia, stands out from the pack with an utterly original voice, a craftsman under the spell of Joyce, in command of every element of the prose. Not an ellipsis is out of place.

The rambling narrator, who cares not whether his subservient audience of one is coherent or not, sweeps the reader away like the famed burja, a powerful wind that blows from the Hungarian basin to the Adriatic. From the first page we know that our narrator will be digressive, forceful, and sardonic. Who better to give us a diatribe of eastern Europeans and Slavic history? Matching the ever-rushing pace of his confession is the glut of word play, effortlessly compounding English and Slavic languages to achieve neologisms as poignant as they are inventive. A small example would be “squidnuncs,” which, in the context of fishermen, is a maritime play on the word quidnunc (an inquisitive, gosspiy person).

Effortlessly peppering the lingual rampage are an abundance of aphoristic quips and deft locutions: “Hyperborean philosophers bleating Wagnerian from the peaks”; “Never mistake religious or linguistic fidelity for the abominable integrity of blood”; “…that’s the best thing about being in a foreign land, the language barrier, it takes a great deal longer to despise the people you meet…”; “…what are academicians if not gangsters of the mind?”; “…American tourists always think that to step out of western Europe is to step into a war”; “…fascism is not possible without nationalism”; and “You don’t acquire virtue by the evil of your adversary”.

The narrator is a defrocked historian, whose credentials are stricken on the discovery of plagiarism. Nonetheless, his mind is brimming with historical knowledge, especially of the eastern European and Slavic territories. Istria is an interesting locale shared as it is between the three countries of Italy, Croatia, and Slovenia. From this store of knowledge, I was forced to dig into the stories of Josip Broz Tito and Gabriele D’Annunzio, among others. You get the sense that this narrator (and his creator) absorbs every book and every conversation on these matters. He mixes facts with the jousts of many presumably late-night conversations over maybe a little too much viljamovka. But the resulting synthesis, for us, is a veritable feast of signposts for further study, further broadening of mind.

With skull imagery always comes the enigmatic scene of Hamlet with Yorick’s skull held aloft. Earlier in Hamlet, the titular Dane refers to the encasement of his mind as a globe (no doubt a play on the venue in which the play was performed). The mind, then, is a symbol of confinement–Hamlet’s nutshell. In Harsch’s book, the image of the skull is conflated with that of a prison. “Islands are perfect prisons, for the mind so readily adapts itself to the idea of isolation…”. The mind, here, is “happily trapped in his skull,” and can be counted as king of infinite space. The paradox of slave and free man.

 

Chris Via

corona/samizdat, origins and books

Exif_JPEG_420                TDT frontcover    102270022_879969129189734_2873424587837006105_n

Exif_JPEG_420

by Rick Harsch, chief editor

corona/samizdat is an independent imprint of the Slovenian press Amalietti&Amalietti, which has published several of my books in Slovenian translation, including Skulls of Istria (goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/40731160-skulls-of-istria?ac=1&from_search=true&qid=9D4XOTJ0oE&rank=1). My most accomplished large work of fiction, The Manifold Destiny of Eddie Vegas (here given a magnificent review by Chris Via: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ngVSNv69LM8&t=36s), along with my ‘standard anti-fascist baseball memoir travelogue’ Walk Like a Duck, a Season of Little League Baseball in Italy, were to be published by Riverboat Books. The fifth date given for the release of these two books was May 26 of this year, 2020. By mid-April, when an advance copy had been sold to some number of people, and two reviews were planned, Peter Damian Bellis, the publisher of Riverboat Books, told me he had only 16 advance copies of Eddie Vegas to sell on that date, would have no updated copies ready, and by the way, had only sent three copies of Duck to anyone seeking a review or publicity of some kind, even though he had had the final copy since December. I could not allow him to sell any but the best copy for two very important reasons: 1) I had a very good blurb on the new cover written by the great critic Steven Moore; and, 2) He had left the table of contents out of the advance review copy. The latter may seem a small point, but instead the table of contents is a Rabelaisian list, a sneaky list in a books that has several Rabelaisian lists that lead up to a list that is unfortunately not Rabelaisian–but I won’t divulge that secret here. Look at the tabel of contents:

Exif_JPEG_420 Exif_JPEG_420

One may easily imagine Rabelais writing, ‘These were the chapters of his book.’ As designed, the chapters that are quite relevant to their contents do read like something Rabelais would scribble while drunk.

Here is what Steven Moore scribbled, whether drunk or not, I have no idea:

Exif_JPEG_420

Pardon me if I don’t reduce the size. For all I know that may be one of few highlights in my writing career.

So you see why I had to get the hell away from Bellis and Riverboat. There is a very strong urge I am resisting to go on about his malfeasance, but more important is what I chose to do. I pulled my books from his press–unbeknownst to Bellis I had never signed the contract he had sent me, as I had poor experiences with him the year before when he published, but did little else with Skulls of Istria (cover being designed as I write, and due for corona/samizdat print late this week or early next). I borrowed money that I used to print 100 copies of Eddie Vegas and 25 of Ducks, as the review I posted above was bound to attract buyers, and I wanted them to get the real book, and I was sure 16 copies would not be enough (before the review I sold 16 or 17/after the review I have thus far sold 20 more. Here I suppose I should explain the title of the press. Corona is self-explanatory, though it also suggests an effort to keep prices down (my copy of The Manifold Destiny of Eddie Vegas is 20 dollars or Euros, while the advance copy of it was sold for 27 by Riverboat). Samizdat is used for the necessity to write in the books that they are not for sale in the United States, as I still hope to find a publisher for Eddie Vegas and Ducks there. So anyone in the US buying the book must smuggle it in. Of course, they do so by contacting me, just on the far side of the ironed curtain, at rick.harsch@gmail.com, send money to Paypal, and have the book sent to them at their safehouses.

I could not have managed any of this without Peter Amalietti, the chief of Amalietti&Amalietti. In fact, I spoke with him the Sunday after I broke with Riverboat, and had the printed books at home with me by Friday. Five days!

And I was very impressed with the printers, Primitus of Ljubljana, a small family operation that had actually printed two of my books in translation previously. I had always, as a young writer, imagined pocket book editions of my novels, but times have changed the book business even when it comes to the size of books. Pocket books are rare. I considered having Skulls of Istria made into a pocket book, but then I thought of the plight of David Vardeman, who was supposed to be printed by Riverboat, a book including the short novel An Angel of Sodom along with 13 more stories. Vardeman wanted nothing to do with Bellis and Riverboat, and as far as he knew, Bellis had forgotten him. I realized it was in my power to use corona/samizdat to finally get this genius into print. And so it has come to pass:

Exif_JPEG_420

That photo shows the actual size of the book. This is a pocket book that really does fit in pockets. It slides easily in and out of the front pocket of my jeans. Not only that, it is 416 pages of deeply strange and profound human hijinks that have me laughing throughout. It’s difficult to open to a page that does not have something on it that makes me laugh. It’s not a happy book, but Vardeman is a master at re-arranging sorrow into sqaums of laughter that flit uneasily to uncertain depths.

Given the extraordinary cover, a detail of a painting by the Ukrainian Eduard Belsky, I felt it important to follow with a great cover when I decided to print my own, long out of print The Driftless Trilogy, and so made an arrangement with the best book cover man in the business, Jason Snyder of Staten Island, who came up with the cover you see above. Here is the back cover of that trilogy:

TDT backcover

You may notice that the blurb is of the author and not his works, and the description of the book is provided through a disclaimer. You might even notice me giving the scrote of the statuesque James Joyce a squeeze in Trieste. Rather than suffer the Strings and sparrows of publishing fortune, I decided to do my own book my own way. You may find one story of the blurber on the front cover, the Aussie James Adler here on my blog and another somewhere at the goodreads site. Even I am confused about the Adler tale by now.

The biggest problem with this press is the fact that I am not and never will be a real chief editor or publisher. I only arrange. I facilitate. George Salis will be selling his ‘out of the US’ edition of Sea Above, Sun Below through corona/samizdat. His book will have a different cover (from his Riverboat one–good luck to you, George) and will be cheaper from c/s. The main thing, though, is that his novel is a fine piece of writing, as you will find here at goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/50920877-sea-above-sun-below?ac=1&from_search=true&qid=Qwz9gW3gNb&rank=3  

The next, fifth pocket book, will be by Bori Praper, Cynicism Management.

After that, the future remains uncertain. If any money is available, we may publish Larry Riley’s translation of the second half of Roberto Arlt’s The Flamethrowers, a bit of literary history that Riverboat had no idea how to disseminate. Arlt wrote The Seven Madmen, the first half of his novel, and that was translated and published in the US twice, but only after nearly 90 years did Riley’s seminal translation of The Flamethrowers appear in English.

corona/samizdat has no great ambitions, but those it has are diametrically opposed to the standard ambitions of almost all presses I have come to know something about. There is to be absolutely no attempt to make a profit. Once printing and author copy postage are paid, 50% of all sales go to authors, 25 to me, and 25 to Amalietti and Amalietti. My end will be funneled back into the press. The goal of each book is to simply publish something that deserves to be published. This is easily accomplished, as the removal of the profit shadow allows books to flourish. I, personally, don’t give a rat’s ass about typos or anything normally taken up by an editor. If a writer we come across has a book ready to print, tells me it is ready, we will print it if we have the money. We will not take submission from the general public. This press exists to get some writers into print, to keep some in print, return some to print. There is no reason this model should not be copied elsewhere. Bring the pocket book back. We can afford to print them and people can more easily afford to buy them. Don’t submit books to me or us: find your group of literary people and create a press.

incidentally, all of the books mentioned in this first communique from corona/samizdat should be published by the end of July at the latest.

you have my word on all of this,

Rick Harsch

The Role of JAMES ADLER in my fiction

It was ten years ago, so the writing prodigy James Adler, an Austrailian, must have been but thirteen years old when he wrote me, having read and loved my Driftless trilogy. He asked what I was writing and I told him about the little novels and he asked to see them and I sent him Kramberger with Monkey and Voices After Evelyn and Skulls of Istria and Adriatica Deserta, all in word format. He replied about a month later and said they were all good enough, but when was I going to write something big? That got my hackles up–I recall we had an exchange about hackles, what they were, when they had been imported to Australia and the fact that they caused more havoc on that big island than cane toads–when to establish his credentials–he was now 14, he sent me a novel he had crafted himself, a drawing of a middle aged woman on a telephone on a cover of a novel, typed, called It’s Danny. It was about a phone call a family received from the troubled and disruptive Danny, and was a masterpiece of dark comedy. I was utterly amazed. I asked if he had sent it out and he told me had absolutely no interest in writing for anyone but his friends and would never sully himself by publishing. Since then I have read at least five of his novels, all of them masterpieces, particularly Your Ape, a novel of 600 or more pages of a complexity that I cannot begin to describe but rivals Pynchon at the very least in its jubilance, sinister atmosphere, and extraordinary wordplay, not to mention many extended comic scenes that remain imprinted on my brain as if I had lived through them. So during the course of our correspondence an idea was born, I can’t say specifically how, that I write something big, and thus The Manifold Destiny of Eddie Vegas was born, and with some ideas from the young Adler sprinkled in, executed to the point where it has become my best work of fiction.

James Adler will not send me a photo, nor do I have his permission to write this, but I think deep down he will appreciate this. I owe the resurrection of my writing career to this young man.

Why I’m glad Marlon James is through Talking about Diversity

Why I’m glad Marlon James is through Talking about Diversity

When Marlon James talks about diversity he talks in the liberal language of the audience he rightly feels can’t properly grasp diversity or its meaning and necessity. But nor can this audience do anything about it. Nor does it want to. So Marlon James cannot with his editorial words to do anything for the non-white, sexually heterodox people he champions. The best thing Marlon James can do is write fiction.

If Marlon James writes, diversity thrives. James is black, and from a post-colonial island. He speaks from two non-orthodox groups. White US Americans will always write and under the current socioeconomic system they will always thrive, will always be privileged. With the rise in recent decades of an abundance of woman writers, and more recently Indian, Korean, Chinese, African, African-American, gay, trans, and various other non-orthodox writers, diversity has proven it exists. What James laments essentially is the existence of socioeconomic disparities inherent to an oligarchic sociopolitical system with a racist and nationalist underpinning. Liberals are an essential pillar of that system. He should stop writing to them in their language. He is not one of them, and no sane anti-oligarch would want him to be one.

I read whatever the non-orthodox, Japanese-American, culturally somewhat Mexican Sesshu Foster of Los Angeles writes. Why? Because he is not writing to liberals. He’s writing on behalf of the victims of the oligarchic system in the United States. Who is he writing to? I would say he’s writing from. And if you want to read Sesshu Foster, you have to go to where he has established his world. It is not a world made for white liberals.

I’m white, so the best I can do is write against the oligarchic system. Non-white writers do best to write powerfully from a place alien to the orthodox, the liberal, the white. Marlon James’ discouragement is essential to the very process he is discouraged by, as it is hosted by the oligarchic, white patriarchal orthodox system; it is an attempt to alter that system from inside the mighty jaws of easy cooptation.

Stay diverse, Marlon James: that’s the most powerful thing you can do. And when your publisher wants to lay on you a cover with colors and design that scream your blackness, tell them to fuck off.

 

Rick Harsch

Why I’m glad Marlon James is through Talking about Diversity

Why I’m glad Marlon James is through Talking about Diversity

 

When Marlon James talks about diversity he talks in the liberal language of the audience he feels rightly can’t properly grasp diversity or its meaning and necessity. But nor can this audience do anything about it. Nor does it want to. So Marlon James cannot with his words to do anything for the non-white, sexually heterodox people he champions. The best thing Marlon James can do is write.

If Marlon James writes, diversity thrives. James is black, and from a post-colonial island. He speaks from two non-orthodox groups. White US Americans will always write and under the current socioeconomic system they will always thrive, will always be privileged. With the rise in recent decades of an abundance of woman writers, and more recently India, Korean, Chinese, African, African-American, gay, trans, and various other non-orthodox writers, diversity has proven it exists. What James laments essentially is the existence of socioeconomic disparities inherent to an oligarchic sociopolitical system. Liberals are an essential pillar of that system. He should stop writing to them in their language. He is not one of them, and no sane anti-oligarch would want him to be one.

I read whatever the non-orthodox, Japanese-American, culturally somewhat Mexican Sesshu Foster of Los Angeles writes. Why? Because he is not writing to liberals. He’s writing on behalf of the victims of the oligarchic system in the United States. Who is he writing to? I would say he isn’t. He’s writing from. And if you want to read Sesshu Foster, you have to go to where he has established his world. It is not a world made for white liberals.

I’m white, so the best I can do is write against the oligarchic system. Non-white writers do best to write powerfully from a place alien to the orthodox, the liberal, the white. Marlon James’ discouragement is essential to the very process he is discouraged by, as it is hosted by the oligarchic, white patriarchal orthodox system; it is an attempt to alter that system from inside the mighty jaws of easy cooptation.

Stay diverse, Marlon: that’s the most powerful thing you can do. And when your publisher wants to lay on you a cover with colors and design that scream your blackness, tell them to fuck off.

 

Rick Harsch