By Kevin Rabalais
First, there was the title. From the crowded bookshelf sang three words: Ways to Disappear.
We deserve, as readers, to be able to browse at leisure, taking all the time we need to make our latest discovery. Some of the time, however, we find ourselves in a rush and learn to scan the stacks quickly. We seek names. Each of us keeps a growing list, recommendations from friends or endorsements from beloved authors. Sometimes we need a quick fix and search for an old favorite. Then there are those occasions when we browse by the publisher’s logo at the bottom of the spine. I am happy to go into a bookshop and purchase—without reading the name of the author, title or any description of plot—books published by (to name a few) Pushkin Press, Europa Editions, Archipelago Books, Farrar, Strauss and Giroux, Yale Margellos, Vintage or New York Review Books Classics. The title that called out a few days ago—Ways to Disappear—bore one of my trusted logos on the spine: Daunt Books. Already, I had two indications that this book was calling to me. Then something else happened.
“I love that book!”
The voice came from behind me. I turned to see a smiling bookseller. She wanted—in the parlance of readers, the word, perhaps, is needed—to tell me more. She didn’t discuss plot or characters. She talked, instead, about how this novel by the young American poet and translator Idra Novey had achieved something of a cultish status among her colleagues. I experienced, in that moment, a reader’s trifecta: an alluring title, a publisher I had come to at once trust and adore, and a recommendation from a bookseller (at Readings Carlton, otherwise known as the 2016 International Bookstore of the Year).
Several times each week, I lug stacks of books home from libraries and bookstores. Rarely do I read any of those titles immediately. It’s as though I can hear the voice of Arthur Schopenhauer skipping in the back of my mind: “Buying books would be a good thing if one could also buy the time to read them; but as a rule the purchase of books is mistaken for the appropriation of their contents.”
I returned from Readings and set Ways to Disappear on an empty desk. The next morning, I stepped into Novey’s lush world about a famous Brazilian writer who disappears, in the opening pages, into a tree, with a suitcase and a cigar. Then, over the next few days, I found absolute pleasure in Novey’s pages.
After Beatriz Yagoda’s disappearance, her daughter and publisher attempt to find her. Hearing the news of her author’s self-imposed exile, Yagoda’s American translator travels to Brazil. She offers her services to the family, hoping to find her author and discover any recent work. What follows is a novel-as-sheer-pleasure about love and literature, crime and desire, the translation of art and ideas among cultures and generations.
Novey has published two poetry collections. Her translations include The Passion According to G. H. by Clarice Lispector, whose biography, along with her style and sensibility, infiltrates this debut novel by a writer who balances her ideas about the impetus to create and recreate with vivid characters that give Ways to Disappear the drive of a page-turning beach read. Her novel makes me even more excited about what I’ll discover next from Daunt Books. It also gives me another name to add to that long list of writers to carry through my days.