On November 1, 2016, Margaret Jull Costa’s translation of Thus Bad Begins by Javier Marías was published in the United States.
After a brief reading tour that brought Mr. Marías to receptive audiences in New York and Philadelphia, the author quietly returned home to Spain. News of the publication of "Thus Bad Begins" - as was the case with nearly everything else that tried to find oxygen in November 2016 - disappeared into an abyss darker than the bleak black Manhattan tower that bears the president's surname in gold lettering.
Back in 2013, with the US publication of his previous novel, "The Infatuations", Marías appeared poised to finally again some traction among American readers. Certainly, more took a chance on that slimmer standalone novel touted as a "mystery," than those who had been scared off by his 1,300-page novel-in-three-volumes, "Your Face Tomorrow", considered by many to be his highest literary achievement. Yet, for every unexpected American success of a novelist in translation (Roberto Bola´ño, Elena Ferrante, Karl Ove Knausgaard), there are countless writers such as Marías, for whom a large and loyal US readership remains elusive.
On its own, this would not be news. Marías himself is aware that Americans don not flock to translated fiction in droves. But given that Maria's name is perennially mentioned on short lists for the Nobel Prize in Literature, and that his work has been translated into 43 languages in 55 countries, and that he has sold more than eight million books worldwide, it's hard not to wonder: "Whats's wrong with the United States?" Though even that question evokes a much different specter today than it did just a few months ago.
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