Now in paperback. Euripides, the last of the three great tragedians of ancient Athens, reached the height of his renown during the disastrous Peloponnesian War, when democratic Athens was brought down by its own outsized ambitions. “Euripides,” the classicist Bernard Knox has written, “was born never to live in peace with himself and to prevent the rest of mankind from doing so.” His plays were shockers: he unmasked heroes, revealing them as foolish and savage, and he wrote about the powerless–women and children, slaves and barbarians–for whom tragedy was not so much exceptional as unending. Euripides’ plays rarely won first prize in the great democratic competitions of ancient Athens, but their combustible mixture of realism and extremism fascinated audiences throughout the Greek world. In the last days of the Peloponnesian War, Athenian prisoners held captive in far-off Sicily were said to have won their freedom by reciting snatches of Euripides’ latest tragedies. Four of those tragedies are presented here in new translations by the contemporary poet and classicist Anne Carson. They are Herakles, in which the hero swaggers home to destroy his own family; Hekabe, set after the Trojan War, in which Hektor’s widow takes vengeance on her Greek captors; Hippolytos, about love and the horror of love; and the strange tragic-comedy fable Alkestis, which tells of a husband who arranges for his wife to die in his place. The volume also contains brief introductions by Carson to each of the plays along with two remarkable framing essays: “Tragedy: A Curious Art Form” and “Why I Wrote Two Plays About Phaidra.”
An NYRB Classics Original Set just after World War I, An Ermine in Czernopol centers on the tragicomic fate of Tildy, an erstwhile officer in the army of the now-defunct Austro-Hungarian Empire, determined to defend the virtue of his cheating sister-in-law at any cost. Rezzori surrounds Tildy with a host of fantastic characters, engaging us in a kaleidoscopic experience of a city where nothing is as it appears—a city of discordant voices, of wild ugliness and heartbreaking disappointment, in which, however, “laughter was everywhere, part of the air we breathed, a crackling tension in the atmosphere, always ready to erupt in showers of sparks or discharge itself in thunderous peals.”
In the fall of 1849, Herman Melville traveled to London to deliver his novel White-Jacket to his publisher. On his return to America, Melville would write Moby-Dick. Melville: A Novel imagines what happened in between: the adventurous writer fleeing London for the country, wrestling with an angel, falling in love with an Irish nationalist, and, finally, meeting the angel’s challenge—to express man’s fate by writing the novel that would become his masterpiece. Eighty years after it appeared in English, Moby-Dick was translated into French for the first time by the Provençal novelist Jean Giono and his friend Lucien Jacques. The publisher persuaded Giono to write a preface, granting him unusual latitude. The result was this literary essai, Melville: A Novel—part biography, part philosophical rumination, part romance, part unfettered fantasy. Paul Eprile’s expressive translation of this intimate homage brings the exchange full circle.
“It was surprising what old experiences remembered could do to a presumably educated, civilized man.” And Hugh Denismore, a young doctor driving his mother’s Cadillac from Los Angeles to Phoenix, is eminently educated and civilized. He is privileged, would seem to have the world at his feet, even. Then why does the sight of a few redneck teenagers disconcert him? Why is he reluctant to pick up a disheveled girl hitchhiking along the desert highway? And why is he the first person the police suspect when she is found dead in Arizona a few days later? Dorothy B. Hughes ranks with Raymond Chandler and Patricia Highsmith as a master of mid-century noir. In books like In a Lonely Place and Ride the Pink Horse she exposed a seething discontent underneath the veneer of twentieth-century prosperity. With The Expendable Man, first published in 1963, Hughes upends the conventions of the wrong-man narrative to deliver a story that engages readers even as it implicates them in the greatest of all American crimes.
AN NYRB CLASSICS ORIGINAL Winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature Young Once is a crucial book in the career of Nobel laureate Patrick Modiano. It was his breakthrough novel, in which he stripped away the difficulties of his earlier work and found a clear, mysteriously moving voice for his haunting stories of love, nostalgia, and grief. It has also been called “the most gripping Modiano book of all” (Der Spiegel). Odile and Louis are leading a happy, bucolic life with their two children in the French countryside near the Swiss mountains. It is Odile’s thirty-fifth birthday, and Louis’s thirty-fifth birthday is a few weeks away. Then the story shifts back to their early years: Louis, just freed from his military service and at loose ends, is taken up by a shady character who brings him to Paris to do some work for a friend who manages a garage; Odile, an aspiring singer, is at the mercy of the kindness and unkindness of strangers. In a Paris that is steeped in crime and full of secrets, they find each other and struggle together to create what, looking back, will have been their youth.