Cover image for Good on paper : a novel
Good on paper : a novel
Cantor, Rachel.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Brooklyn : Melville House, [2016]
Physical Description:
299 pages ; 23 cm
Is a new life possible? Because Shira Greene's life hasn't quite turned out as planned. She's a single mom living with her daughter and her gay friend, Ahmad. Her PhD on Dante's Vita Nuova hasn't gotten her a job, and her career as a translator hasn't exactly taken off either. But then she gets a call from a Nobel Prize-winning Italian poet who insists she's the only one who can translate his newest book. Stunned, Shira realizes that--just like that--her life can change. She sees a new beginning beckoning: academic glory, demand for her translations, and even love (her good luck has made her feel more open to the entreaties of a neighborhood indie bookstore owner). There's only one problem: It all hinges on the translation, and as Shira starts working on the exquisitely intricate passages of the poet's book, she realizes that it may in fact be, well...impossible to translate.
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"Is a new life possible? Because Shira Greene's life hasn't quite turned out at planned. Shira is a permanent temp with a few short stories published in minor literary magazines and a PhD on Dante's Vita Nuova that she abandoned halfway. Her life has some happy certainties, though- she lives with her friend Ahmad, and her daughter, Andi, on the Upper West Side. They're an unconventional family, but a real one, with Friday night dinner rituals, private jokes, and the shared joys and strains of any other family. So when she gets the call from Romei, the winner of last year's Nobel Prize and the irascible idol of grad students everywhere, and he tells her he wants her to translate his new book, Shira is happy . . . but stunned. Suddenly, Shira sees a new beckoning- academic glory, a career as a literary translator, and even love (with a part-time rabbi and owner of the neighborhood indie bookstore). That is, until Romei starts sending her pages of the manuscript and she realizes that something odd is going on- his book may in fact be untranslatable. A deft, funny, and big-hearted novel about second chances, Good on Paper is a grand novel of family, friendship, an

Author Notes

"RACHEL CANTOR was raised in Rome and Connecticut. She is the author of the acclaimed novel A Highly Unlikely Scenario ,and her short stories have appeared in The Paris Review , One Story , Ninth Letter , and The Kenyon Review , among other publications. She has received fellowships from Yaddo, the MacDowell Colony, the Millay Colony, the Djerassi Resident Artists Program, and elsewhere, and has been a scholar at the Bread Loaf, Sewanee, and Wesleyan writing conferences. She lives in Brooklyn."

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

A rising star in academia, Shira Greene was on her way to a PhD with a dissertation on Dante's Vita Nuova when she unexpectedly became pregnant while traveling in India. Ten years later, she is a single mom living with her daughter, Andi, at the home of Shira's childhood friend, Ahmad, and working a series of uninspiring temp jobs in New York City. Then a call comes in that could turn her life around. Romei, a Nobel Prize-winning poet and author, chooses her to translate his newest work from Italian. Shira envisions big commissions, new writing opportunities, and the chance to restart her faltered career. The idea sounds good on paper, anyway. Unfortunately, the work Romei sends seems to vaguely resemble her own meager writing and her own life; it even seems to mirror Dante's themes. Is this some elaborate game? Shira spends so much time researching the translation, she begins to neglect her family. While Cantor's (A Highly Unlikely Scenario; or, A Neetsa Pizza Employee's Guide to Saving the World, 2014) frequent Dante references can be befuddling at times, the mystery and meaning of Romei's unconventional tale keep the reader turning pages.--Borman, Laurie Copyright 2015 Booklist

Publisher's Weekly Review

Shira Greene is working as an office temp and living with her daughter, Andi, and Ahmad, her best friend, when she gets a life-changing telegram: Romei, the mysterious winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature, wants her to translate his latest, a work of poetry and prose based on Dante's La Vita Nuova (literally "new life"), the same work that Shira was translating when she abandoned her Ph.D. At first, Shira thinks that someone is playing a joke, but she's happy to have a second chance at her career; she even begins to imagine love with the eccentric part-time rabbi and owner of the neighborhood bookstore that publishes Gilgul, the literary journal where one of Rachel's stories caught Romei's eye. Cantor's follow-up to 2014's A Highly Unlikely Scenario (which PW starred) starts light and shimmers with humorous touches, but as Romei's faxed pages begin arriving, Shira panics, fearing the work is not only untranslatable but designed to break her. Translation is a metaphor through which Cantor uses her considerable powers with language to refract larger questions about family bonds, storytelling, and letting go of fantasies of new life and waking up to the life that is yours. (Jan.) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

Library Journal Review

Shira Greene has been asked to translate a new book by Romei, a Nobel Prize--winning poet. Shira, who walked away from her PhD dissertation on Dante's Vita Nuova, published a few short stories in a small literary magazine, and works for a temp agency, has no idea why she has been approached by Romei. Once the poet begins faxing Shira his work, the situation becomes more confusing. Despite her knowledge of Italian, Shira is unsure how to translate this untranslatable work of literature. In addition, her personal life is getting uncomfortably shaky as she begins a romance with Benny, the neighborhood bookstore owner, and argues with Ahmed, her longtime friend and roommate who serves as the surrogate father for Shira's daughter, Andi. -VERDICT In -Cantor's second novel (after A Highly Unlikely Scenario) nothing is straightforward-neither the work Shira is translating, nor her private affairs, nor her family history. Yet as the tragedies and comedies of her experiences begin to blend in with Romei's book, the possibility of a vita nuova (new life) for herself and her daughter as well as friend Ahmed and new love Benny seems real.-Andrea Kempf, formerly with Johnson Cty. Community Coll. Lib., Overland Park, KS © Copyright 2015. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.