The poignant unraveling of a marriage, the fierce beauty of the natural world, the mysterious power of Irish lore, and the gripping story of strangers in a strange land rife with intrigue and violence—The Night Swimmer is a novel of myriad enchantments by a writer of extraordinary talent."" — IndieBound



Check out Matt’s new blog about research and his new novel, The Night Swimmer, Ireland and other current side projects here.

Praise & Reviews
"When Bondurant explores what it is like to push yourself to the brink, whether with physical activity, drugs and alcohol, or lust, he captures an intensity of experience the reader won’t soon forget."
—- Bookpage

""Bondurant has written another nervy, robust and suspenseful novel." —- Kirkus

"Atmospheric…fluidly narrated…excels at depicting his wild setting..." —- Publishers Weekly
In the News

The Night Swimmer is #20 on Amazon's Spring Reading List

Star Tribune Reviews The Night Swimmer

Wind-battered Cliffs in Unlucky Ireland

Kazi Book Review of The Night Swimmer

"Pub Crawl" NYTimes Review


 



The Night Swimmer          The Wettest County in the World          The Third Translation          


Delicious Chocolate Wedding Favors for a Cause


Matt Bondurant is the author of The Third Translation, The Wettest County in the World, and The Night Swimmer. You can follow Matt on twitter at @mbondurant

 



The Night Swimmer          The Wettest County in the World          The Third Translation          








  • Cover
  • Summary
  • Excerpt
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Reviews

"Bondurant uses the forbidding landscape of the southern Irish coast, blasted by wind and rain and always in the grip of the ocean, "a kingdom of darkness and cold," to generate remarkable tension, both psychological and somehow atmospheric..." —- Booklist

"When Bondurant explores what it is like to push yourself to the brink, whether with physical activity, drugs and alcohol, or lust, he captures an intensity of experience the reader won’t soon forget." —- Bookpage

""Bondurant has written another nervy, robust and suspenseful novel." —- Kirkus

"Atmospheric…fluidly narrated…excels at depicting his wild setting..." —- Publishers Weekly

Buy Now

The Night Swimmer, Matt Bondurant’s utterly riveting modern gothic novel of marriage and belonging, confirms his gift for storytelling that transports and enthralls.

The poignant unraveling of a marriage, the fierce beauty of the natural world, the mysterious power of Irish lore, and the gripping story of strangers in a strange land rife with intrigue and violence—The Night Swimmer is a novel of myriad enchantments by a writer of extraordinary talent.

A few places where you can purchase this book:

Amazon Target
Barnes & Noble Alibris

 

 




The Night Swimmer          The Wettest County in the World          The Third Translation          








  • Cover
  • Epitaphs
  • News
  • Reviews
  • Buy Now

Epitaphs

The first literary notice of the conspiracy trial appeared in the issue of Liberty Magazine for November 2,1935. The author was Sherwood Anderson, who, it was stated, had "attended the trial." The article was entitled "City Gangs Enslave Moonshine Mountaineers." It was two pages in length; the reader was informed that the reading time was 9 minutes 50 seconds.
The Great Moonshine Conspiracy Trial of 1935, t. Keister Greer. (849)

What is the wettest section in the U.S.A., the place where during prohibition, and since, the most illicit liquor has been made? The extreme wet spot, per number of people, isn't New York or Chicago...the spot that fairly dripped illicit liquor, and kept right on dripping it after prohibition ended…is Franklin County, virginia.
Sherwood Anderson, liberty Magazine 1935

Abshire, who asserted he did not have his own gun out of its holster, said he then walked toward the boys and told Jack that neither he nor Rakes was afraid and that although one car had gotten away the best thing for them to do was to surrender and "take their medicine." Rakes then drew his gun, abshire continued, and told the boys they were under arrest, but Jack turned sideways as if to draw his gun and Rakes fired as Abshire failed in his effort to catch Jack's arm. Forrest, hearing the shot, ran toward them and Rakes shot again, dropping him in the snow covered road. "Deputy Abshire Gives Version of Shooting of Bondurant Boys" The Roanoke Times, june 11,1935

Courtroom exchange during Grand Jury investigation between Forrest Bondurant and defense attorney Timberlake:

Defense Attorney Timberlake:
You and your brother Jack Bondurant were both armed, weren't you?
Bondurant: Yes, sir.
Timberlake:
And you covered the officers with your pistols while Everett Dillon made off with one of the liquor cars, didn't you?
Bondurant: No, sir. We never touched our pistols.
Timberlake: You told (Deputies) Rakes and Abshire that "somebody is going to die." Unless they let you go across the bridge, didn't you?
From Grand Jury testimony as recorded in The Great Moonshine Conspiracy Trial of 1935, t. Keister Greer. (140)

Fred O. Maier of Standard Brands also attended and testified that 70,448 pounds of a single standard brand yeast was sold in Franklin county in four years. There were other startling figures introduced by the government on the purchases of commodities necessary to illicit liquor making, such as sugar,33,839,109 pounds; corn meal,13,307,477 pounds; rye meal,2,408,308 pounds; malt,1,018,420 pounds; hops,30,366 pounds; and miscellaneous grain products,15,276,071 pounds; non-gurgling five-gallon tin cans,600,000... "The sugar would be enough for two tons per person, while the five-gallon cans, if flattened out, would be enough tin to roof 2,900 homes of 40x40 feet."
An Old Virginia Court, marshall Wingfield 1948

R.A. Sink, a member of the Franklin Conty Board of Supervisors, testified that the reputation of the Bondurants, jack, forrest and Howard, for telling the truth,"could not be other than bad. People throughout the community seem to have lost confidence in them and don't believe what they say." He commented on the "drinking liquor, shooting and fighting around their gas station." "I've heard the women folks say they were afraid to pass there." Sink quoted their grandfather (in-law), r.L. Minnix, as saying that they (the Bondurants) were "the toughest mess that ever struck our section."
From Grand Jury testimony as recorded in The Great Moonshine Conspiracy Trial of 1935, t. Keister Greer. (445)

Both victims came to their deaths from pistol and buckshot wounds inflicted by "persons unknown,"…wounds on Richards' indicate he was shot from behind with a shotgun since the buckshot wounds on his hands showed they probably were on the wheel. Several bullets passed completely through his body but one slug found appeared to be from a .45 colt automatic. Richards was slain 17 days before the grand jury, before which he was to testify, convened at Harrisonburg.
"Start of Alleged Conspiracy Laid At Hodges' Door" The Roanoke Times, may 28,1935

Somebody, we say, ought to write a book about Franklin County and the extraordinary revelations of these several and continuing actions. But if anybody does, it is to be hoped that he will not be merely a dramatist. He ought also to be enough the sociologist and economist to probe deep beneath the surface in an effort to understand first causes in Franklin County. For people in Franklin County were not any worse in the beginning than people in other counties.
An Old Virginia Court, marshall Wingfield 1948

Here is revealed the beauty of discipline: it provides a means for guilty man to suffer chastisement on earth instead of having to wait for the day of judgment.
Doctrinal Treatise: Old German Baptist Brethren

"Cruelty, like breadfruit and pineapples, is a product of the south."
A Story Teller's Story – Sherwood Anderson


Wake up, wake, up, darlin' Cory What makes you sleep so sound When the revenoo-ers are comin For to tear your still house down? Go away, go away, darlin' Cory Stop hangin' around my bed. Bad liquor destroyed my body, Pretty women's gone to my head. Don't you hear those bluebirds a-singin'? Don't you hear their mournful sound? They are preachin' Cory's funeral In some lonesome graveyard ground. The last time I saw darlin' Cory She was sittin' on the bank of the sea, With a jug of liquor in her arm And a .45 across her knee.
Appalachian Mountain song

The shooting of the Bondurants is the nadir of Franklin County historical culture. The Bondurants plainly were not saints.
The Great Moonshine Conspiracy Trial of 1935, t. Keister Greer

There is a great black bell without a tongue, swinging silently in the darkness. It swings and swings, making a great arch and I await silent and frightened. Now it stops and descends slowly. I am terrified. Can nothing stop the great descending iron bell?
A Story-Teller's Story, Sherwood Anderson


Attorney Dillard: Are you the Commonwealth's attorney of Franklin County?
Lee: I am.
Dillard: Are you familiar with the facts concerning the death of Jeff Richards and his prisoner Jim Smith?
Lee:
I am. On the night of October 12,1934, richards' car was discovered on the roadside with its lights on, in gear and with the switch on. His body lay 15 feet to the rear, pierced with buckshot and .45 caliber pistol bullets. The bullets were fired while Richards was on his back, one of them being fired directly into his head. His prisoner Jim Smith was mowed down by a charge of buckshot as he started to run and found dead in front of the car.
Commonwealth Counsel:
Were you a deputy sheriff in October of 1934?
L.W. Frith (witness):
I was.
CC:
Did you have occasion to be at the murder scene on the morning of October 13,1934?
L.W. Frith:
Yes. Mr. Love and I were walking around the scene shortly after daylight on the morning of October 13th. We heard and automobile start up in the woods. We went that way, and saw a man walking on a little road. There was a car near him, and woman at the wheel. The man was carrying what looked like a shotgun. He got in the car, which was a maroon colored model, and they pulled away before Love (sheriff) and I could get near enough to get the number.
From Grand Jury testimony as recorded in The Great Moonshine Conspiracy Trial of 1935, t. Keister Greer.

In one county (Franklin) it is claimed 99 people out of 100 are making, or have some connection with, illicit liquor.
Official Records of the National Commission on Law Observance and Enforcement, vol. 4, p 1075.


Indeed, anderson is out of fashion. But ironically Anderson's place as hero has been taken by two writers who owe him a great debt: Ernest Hemingway, the recipient of this year's Nobel Prize for literature and the 1953 Pulitzer Prize, and Willaim Faulkner, by general agreement our most distinguished writer of fiction, awarded the Nobel Prize in 1950. The development of these two prize pupils forms a curious pattern; in each case Anderson helped the younger man break out of anonymity and into print, lent him important parts of his art, watched the novice refine his craft and exceed Anderson's own work in quantity and quality, and finally found himself rejected as mentor and friend.
Sherwood Anderson's Two Prize Pupils, by Willaim L. Phillips, the University of Chicago Magazine, january 1955

There is a special poignancy in the failure of Anderson's later career. Anderson is connected with the tradition of the men who maintain a standing quarrel with respectable society and have a perpetual bone to pick with the rational intellect…Anderson never understood that the moment of enlightenment and conversion – the walking out- cannot be merely celebrated but must be developed, so that what begins as an act of will grows to be an act of intelligence.
Sherwood Anderson, by Lionel Trilling


Neither of us – Hemingway or I – could have touched, ridiculed, his work itself. Be we had made his style look ridiculous; and by that time, after Dark Laughter, when he had reached the point where he should have stopped writing, he had to defend that style at all costs because he too must have known by then in his heart that there was nothing else left.
Sherwood Anderson: An Appreciation, by William Faulkner

So there I was on Dreiser's doorstep facing him. I am quite sure my voice trembled. "I am Sherwood Anderson. I thought I would come to see you." "Oh, hello," he said. He shut the door in my face.
The Memoirs of Sherwood Anderson

I got a letter from Hemy. This after he had written and published the book called The Torrents of Spring, and I thought it the most completely patronizing letter I had ever received. In the letter he spoke of what happened as something fatal to me. He had, he said, written the book on an impulse, having only six weeks to do it. It was intended to bring to an end, once and for all, the notion that there was any worth in my own work. This, he said, was a thing he had hated doing, because of his personal regard for me, etc., but that he had done it in the interest of literature. Literature, i was to understand, was bigger than both of us.
The Memoirs of Sherwood Anderson


Soon there will be no such thing as individuality left. Hear the soft purr of the new thousands of airplanes far up in the sky. The bees are swarming. New hives are being formed. Work fast, man.
The Memoirs of Sherwood Anderson


For fear the hearts of men are failing, For these are latter days we know The Great Depression now is spreading, God's word declared it would be so I'm going where there's no depression, To the lovely land that's free from care I'll leave this world of toil and trouble, My home's in Heaven, i'm going there In that bright land, there'll be no hunger, No orphan children crying for bread, No weeping widows, toil or struggle, No shrouds, no coffins, and no death
"No Depression in Heaven" The Carter Family 6/9/36

Both victims came to their deaths from pistol and buckshot wounds inflicted by "persons unknown,"…wounds on Richards' indicate he was shot from behind with a shotgun since the buckshot wounds on his hands showed they probably were on the wheel. Several bullets passed completely through his body but one slug found appeared to be from a .45 colt automatic. Richards was slain 17 days before the grand jury, before which he was to testify, convened at Harrisonburg.
"Start of Alleged Conspiracy Laid At Hodges' Door" The Roanoke Times, may 28,1935

In one county [Franklin] it is claimed that 99 people out of a 100 are making, or have some connection with, illicit liquor.
Official Records of the National Commission on Law Observance and Enforcement,1935


News

Columbia, Red Wagon get 'Wettest' (From Variety)
John Hillcoat to direct moonshine gang movie
By TATIANA SIEGEL

Columbia Pictures has preemptively snapped up Matt Bondurant's upcoming novel "The Wettest County in the World" for Douglas Wick and Lucy Fisher to produce through their Red Wagon shingle. John Hillcoat, who's shooting the bigscreen adaptation of Cormac McCarthy "The Road," is attached to direct. Based on a true story, "Wettest County in the World" revolves around a moonshine gang operating in the bootlegging capital of America -- Franklin County, Va. -- during Prohibition. The novel, to be published by Scribner/Simon and Schuster in October, draws its roots from Bondurant's grandfather and two granduncles, who made up a fierce criminal gang at the center of the country's moonshine trade. The three brothers were eventually killed in 1930 after they refused to join the illegal cartel set up by Commonwealth's Attorney Carter Lee, grandnephew of Robert E. Lee. Carter Lee was subsequently tried for conspiracy. Col prexy Matt Tolmach said the book "is beautifully observed and has a very distinctive, strong narrative voice in the tradition of some of the best American novels." This kind of material, he added, "is rare and doesn't come along very often." Hillcoat's credits include period Western "The Proposition."

Sony Travels To The "Wettest County" (From Dark Horizons)
By GARTH FRANKLIN Sony Pictures has pre-emptively picked up the rights to Matt Bondurant's upcoming book "The Wettest County in the World" reports the trades. The historical crime drama is based on the author's grandfather and two grand-uncles - three infamous brothers who made up a fierce criminal gang at the center of the American South's moonshine trade. The brothers eventually were shot in December 1930 after they refused to join the illegal cartel set up by the Commonwealth's attorney Carter Lee, grandnephew of Robert E. Lee. Carter Lee subsequently was tried for conspiracy. Writer Sherwood Anderson was on the trail of the bootlegging story for both Liberty magazine and researching his own novel "Kit Brandon." 'Wettest' follows not only the brothers but Anderson's attempts to get inside the Mafia-like violence and double dealing in what turned into the biggest bootlegging conspiracy the country ever saw. No writer is on board to adapt the project, but John Hillcoat ("The Proposition," "The Road") is attached to direct.

Wettest County now on Facebook


Reviews

The Boston Globe—A Family History Distilled Vibrantly -- Read the article


In the Roanoke Times -- Read the article


Book Review—The Wettest County in the World


By Jennifer Reese


Part family history, part fiction, Matt Bondurant's somber, engrossing novel, The Wettest County in the World, patches together the legend of his paternal grandfather and uncles, a fearsome trio of bootleggers in rural Prohibition-era Virginia. He's wonderful at evoking historical atmosphere — the elaborate stills camouflaged in the woods,the music, the drunken gatherings that explode into shattering violence. —Entertainment Weekly, 10-24-08

When your entire life is based on a theory that you’re indestructible, what else can you do but test it?
By Mark Athitakis
You have to go back to William Faulkner’s novels about the Snopes clan to find the kind of cold-blooded Southern amorality that drives Matt Bondurant’s second novel, The Wettest County in the World. Based on the lives of Bondurant’s grandfather Jack and granduncles Forrest and Howard, the story is set in Prohibition-era southern Virginia, where the three brothers manage a thriving moonshine trade. The business doesn’t get scrutinized too closely by the authorities because it "kept Franklin County relatively solvent and livable. And because they were afraid." With good reason: Early on Bondurant describes, in gruesome detail, Forrest getting his throat slashed, a moment that’s all the more fearsome because he survived it. Bondurant’s prose is thick with the kind of blood-soaked descriptions that would do Cormac McCarthy proud; halfway through, he need only invoke the words "table saw" to make you go pale. Yet Bondurant is too thoughtful and observant a writer to make this simply a redneck Grand Guignol, and the story gets some perspective and literary heft from its fictionalization of novelist Sherwood Anderson, who visited the region in the mid-’30s in the hopes of reviving his fading reputation. In an afterword, Bondurant explains the pains he went to to get the facts straight, but Forrest’s horrid scar is doing the metaphorical work that all good fiction does, gaining resonance with every near-miss that he survives: When your entire life is based on a theory that you’re indestructible, what else can you do but test it?
—Washington City Paper

Moonshine Brings Misery to Virginia
By Lauren Bufferd
In the 1930s, Franklin County, Virginia, held a dubious distinction: nearly 100 percent of the population was illegally trading in liquor. Sherwood Anderson called it "the wettest section" of the United States, positing that even after Prohibition had ended, the moonshine continued to flow. These facts are the starting point for Matt Bondurant’s gritty novel based on the lives of his grandfather and great-uncles, who were notorious bootleggers in Franklin and who also testified in the county’s most infamous federal trial. For his fictionalized account, Bondurant listened to family stories and combed through archives, news clippings and court transcripts to get the details, but as he points out in the afterword, it was his job to explore the emotional truths behind the action. Bondurant imagines that the devastating loss of their mother and sisters in the Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918 had great impact on the Bondurant sons—Howard, Forrest and Jack—who within a decade had become active in the illicit manufacture and transporting of liquor. The novel’s action sweeps from a violent attack against Forrest in 1928 to an unsolved crime six years later when two men were hospitalized, one castrated, and the other with legs shattered from hip to ankle. The crime attracted the American writer Sherwood Anderson, who came to the area in hopes of writing an article about a mysterious female bootlegger and the upcoming federal trial. Stymied by the overwhelming silence of the community, Anderson took to the county roads, trying to find the Bondurant brothers and break the secrecy surrounding the violence. Bondurant has immersed himself in the sights, smells and sounds of rural Virginia, and the novel has almost a documentary feel. His rich descriptions of the county landscapes and the hardscrabble lives of its inhabitants invoke the small-town streets and struggling characters of Anderson’s best known novel, Winesburg, Ohio. At the same time, the action builds with the tension of a good thriller. One caveat to the more sensitive reader: The Wettest County in the World is extremely graphic, with multiple descriptions of physical injury, brutality and sadistic behavior. There are tender moments, however, all the more lovely for their infrequency. —BookPage, October Advance Review

The Bloody Business of Corn What whiskey makes us remember
After 9/11, sages in the publishing world predicted a further decline in novel reading and an increased interest in nonfiction. The real world was too much for us, now, to fool around with fanciful, made-up stories. Sure enough, among storytelling books, the memoir reigned on high until several of the most successful turned out to be fiction. Or at least fictionalized versions of 'the truth.' Well, good. Fiction's probably a better medium for memoir anyway. Twain declared that Tom Sawyer was all 'true.' Wolfe didn't make much up, did he? My Antonia is an emotional autobiography of Willa Cather's youth. Then there's Joyce's Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. Matt Bondurant's second novel, The Wettest County in The World, openly and happily sits on the fence between these fields. Subtitled, A Novel Based on A True Story, it begins, "The brindled sow stood in the corner, glowering at the boy. Jack Bondurant hefted a bolt-action .22 rifle with a deep blue octagon barrel, the stock chewed and splintered from brush and river stone." Here you have, right away, the rich, flavorful detail, the authority of deeply involved witness, and the presence of Jack Bondurant, the author's grandfather, as the main character. And, of course, the direct, unblinking promise of bloody violence. Bondurant's grandfather and two grand-uncles ran illegal whiskey-white lightnin', moonshine (its makers just called it corn or whiskey)-out of Franklin County, Va., in the 1920s, and were known for the brutal enforcement of their independence and protection of their investments. Matt Bondurant recreates, or I should say largely imagines, the circumstances and events that led to a fatal confrontation between the Bondurant brothers and a corrupt local syndicate bent on controlling all the illegal hooch coming out of the county. In an afterword, Bondurant (The Third Translation, 2005) explains that, starting with family stories and historical record, including the transcript of a well-known trial, he essentially wrote "a parallel history" of these people from his family's past. He had to invent much of it, and says, "My intention was to reach that truth that lies beyond the poorly recorded and understood world of actualities." Jack Bondurant-whom the author knew only as an old, quiet man his family visited a few times each year -- comes alive here as an ambitious young fellow determined to escape his apparent fate as a poor tobacco farmer. Jack's brothers, Howard and Forrest, are complex, violent, taciturn men who, respectively, make and distribute whiskey, bringing Jack into the business when it's obvious he won't stay out. The Bondurant brothers are the crime bosses of Franklin County, until the local Commonwealth Attorney decides to horn in with corrupt lawmen as his enforcers. The ensuing conflict is bloody, murderous and inexorable. A cut throat, a castration, a body broken from head to toe, men shot at close range -- we can assume that these are not necessarily details Bondurant made up, but he recreates them vividly. It's not all grim, though. In one hilarious chapter, "Aunt Winnie" returns home early to find that her house and all its plumbing have been transformed into a still. One of the book's more curious elements is Bondurant's use of Sherwood Anderson, author of the iconic Winesburg, Ohio, as a character. Anderson, who moved to Virginia and bought a couple of local newspapers, provides a pensive outsider's perspective. In some of Bondurant's most wonderfully gloomy, lyrical prose, the author-turned-journalist ruminates on the grim economic forces behind such a booming illegal trade. "It was a never-ending battle to make do with what you already had," he writes, "and when things gave out they literally exploded into red dust." But the real heart of the book is Bondurant's grandfather, Jack, a sensitive young man ill-suited to the violent world of whiskey running, yet determined to escape from a Sisyphean life of back-breaking work with little or no material reward. He won't maim and murder for his reward, but he'll help his brothers do that, without apology. Watching a group of embittered old-timers, he thinks, "They only chew on the cud of their past. That'll never happen to me.... Not to me." It's a remarkable story, one that I suspect Matt Bondurant had to tell, and he's done it beautifully. —PASTE Magazine, November Issue


Starred Review
This fictionalized tale of Depression-era bootlegging from Bondurant (The Third Translation) enlists the help of Winesburg, Ohio author Sherwood Anderson to investigate Bondurant family lore. In 1928, a pair of thieves accost Bondurant's real life great-uncle Forrest at his Franklin County, Va., restaurant. They're after a large cache of bootlegging money and end up cutting Forrest's throat. The story of his survival and his trek to a hospital 12 miles away has taken on mythical proportions by the time Sherwood Anderson arrives in Franklin County in 1934 to research a magazine piece on the area's prolific moonshiners. Soon after Anderson's arrival, two anonymous men appear at the same hospital, one with legs "meticulously shattered" from ankle to hip, the other one castrated, with the by-products of the deed deposited in a jar of moonshine. The arc of the story lies between the attack on Forrest and that on the two men. Bondurant endows his gritty story with all the puzzle-solving satisfactions of a mystery. It's a gripping, relentless tale, delivered in no-nonsense prose. (Oct.) —Publishers Weekly, 6/9/2008

This family saga follows the Bondurants, bootlegging brothers runnin' stills, runnin' loads, and runnin' from the law in Depression-era Virginia. The book is mainly narrated through the experience of the youngest Bondurant, Jack (in truth, a grandfather of the author), and his family's moonshine enterprise supplies the action in a plot that evokes the culture of distilling and distributing white lightning. To optimistic Jack, bootlegging is both a bond to his older brothers, Forrest and Howard, and a means to make cash to impress a girl. Forrest, by contrast, is taciturn and suspicious: the world is violent, and he meets it on that ground. Tender of the stills and imbiber from same, burly Howard is always ready to take on the Bondurants' enemies, corrupt law officers. Wending through this conflict in flash-forward mode is novelist Sherwood Anderson, who plumbs the Bondurant story a few years after the brothers' climactic confrontation with the county sheriff. Descriptively gritty and emotionally resonant, novelist Bondurant dramatically projects the poverty and danger at the heart of the old-time bootlegging life. —Booklist

THE WETTEST COUNTY IN THE WORLD: A Novel Based on a True Story Hard-living bootleggers and crooked lawmen wrestle for control of the moonshine business in a fictional re-creation of the hard past of a lawless county. Drawing on his real life relatives and actual events, Bondurant (The Third Translation, 2005, etc.) sends past-his-prime author Sherwood Anderson into the hollows of western Virginia in the mid-1930s. Reduced to working for newspapers, the author of Winesburg, Ohio is there to report on the saga of the Bondurant brothers and their bloody defiance of corrupt attorney Charles Carter Lee. Anderson hopes to reclaim his place in the literary world with an accurate portrayal of these tough men. But no one will talk to an outsider about the bootlegging business or the series of shootings and knifings that continued to characterize Franklin County through the end of Prohibition and led ultimately to the longest criminal trial in the history of the Commonwealth. The Bondurants, like all the distillers in their mountain county, work in secrecy, carrying out their trade alongside legitimate businesses, eking out incomes shrunk to near nothing by the Great Depression. Sons of a law-abiding tradesman, the brothers were set on their shady paths by the sweeping forces of World War I and the epidemic of influenza that killed their mother and all but one of their sisters. Army veteran Howard, brainy Forrest and their admiring youngest brother, Jack Bondurant, took up the dangerous business of white lightning as reasonably—or unreasonably—as today’s ghetto youths take up drug dealing. What put them in mortal danger in an already dangerous business was not the roaming federal investigators but their refusal to join the cartel run by the county’s top legal figure. That they survived not only the warfare but massive doses of their own potent liquor is a testament to a kind of toughness that may no longer exist. Gritty, gripping depiction of very wild lives. —Kirkus Reviews

Interweaving the bleak portraits of Walker Evans, the charged landscapes of Annie Dillard, and the breakneck plotting of Cormac McCarthy, Matt Bondurant mines his own family history to offer a novel that's both a gritty, fast-paced tale of bootleggers and car chases and a timeless hard-knock ballad, a myth fixed in the amber of one small community's imagination. THE WETTEST COUNTY IN THE WORLD is a suspense story dashed to tintype smithereens, each one a jewel. —Ellis Avery, author of THE TEAHOUSE FIRE


"Bondurant tells a distinctively American story. The gritty, suspenseful narrative gripped me and wouldn't let me go. It also touched my heart in all the right ways. Matt Bondurant's writing is as full of beauty as it is of verve and grit. Thank God it's legal to write so well." —Lee Martin, author of River of Heaven and The Bright Forever

"Brilliantly conceived, and so close to home, this novel proves Matt Bondurant's burgeoning talent — a book for thirsty American readers to guzzle down, a book for all young American writers to admire." —Alan Cheuse, author of The Fires

"In his scintillating new novel, Matt Bondurant explores a crucial period in the history of Virginia and of his family. His gorgeous, precise prose brings to life an amazing cast of characters, including Sherwood Anderson, and often deadly battles of Prohibition. The Wettest County in the World is a remarkable compelling, highly intelligent, and deeply moving novel." —Margaret Livesey, author of The House on Fortune Street and Eva Moves the Furniture

Buy Now

White mule, white lightning, firewater, popskull, wild cat, stump whiskey, or rotgut? Whatever you called it, Franklin County was awash in moonshine in the 1920s. During Prohibition, the Bondurant Boys were moonshiners and notorious roughnecks who ran liquor though Franklin County, Virginia. The Wettest County in the World is their story, a white-knuckle fable of bootlegging, revenge and remorse. Based on the true story of Matt Bondurant's grandfather and two granduncles, The Wettest County in the World is a gripping tale of brotherhood, greed, and murder. Forrest, the eldest brother, is fierce, mythically indestructible, and the consummate businessman; Howard, the middle brother, is an ox of a man besieged by the horrors he witnessed in the Great War; and Jack, the youngest, has a taste for luxury and a dream to get out of Franklin. Driven and haunted, these men forge a business, fall in love, and struggle to stay afloat as they watch the world they know crumble around them. In vivid, muscular prose, Matt Bondurant brings these men, their dark deeds, their long silences and their deep desires to life.

A few places where you can purchase it:

Amazon Target
Barnes & Noble Alibris

 

 




The Night Swimmer          The Wettest County in the World          The Third Translation          








  • Cover
  • Summary
  • Excerpt
  • Reviews
  • Buy Now

Summary

Walter Rothschild is an American Egyptologist living in London and charged by the British Museum with the task of unlocking the ancient riddle of the Stela of Paser, one of the last remaining real-life hieroglyphic puzzles in existence today. Drawn into its mystery, Rothschild becomes the dupe of seduction, robbery, and a conspiracy engineered by a cult devoted to ancient Egyptian mysticism. With no one to trust and nothing as it appears, he must fight an elusive enemy to save his livelihood--and his very life.

Enlightening as it entertains, The Third Translation is a magnificent blend of fact and fiction. Bondurant masterfully weaves a wealth of fascinating, arcane information into a thrilling debut novel. Engagingly plotted, extensively researched and utterly original, this well-crafted literary suspense novel takes you from the fast-paced streets of modern London into a lost world of sacred antiquities and ancient mysteries.


Excerpt

Excerpted from THE THIRD TRANSLATION by Matt Bondurant
Copyright © 2008 by Matt Bondurant. All Rights Reserved. Published by Hyperion.


1: A Mooring Post
This morning i'm thinking about the shape of a man's life, the chiseled arrangement, the pigments and textures. The way in the end it comes together to project a phantom in the mind of another, a smoky trail seen over the shoulder. The image of Alan Henry is stronger than any idea, and to this day I can still see him, bursting into our flat that night like a loosed rhino. The image of Mick Wheelhouse isn't quite so sharp, dim around the edges, like brittle papyrus. I know that I remember them this way because of the part I played in their deaths. This was in London, the end of October 1997. I had a week left on my contract with the British Museum to solve the cryptographic riddle of the Stela of Paser. My daughter, whom I'd abandoned at a young age and whom I hadn't seen in three years, was due to arrive in London in a matter of days.

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Alan Henry said we had to go out that night, that we had to meet this new friend of his. I was looking forward to a quiet night on the battered love seat with Gardiner's work on the Twelfth Dynasty Hymns of Sobek, but Alan Henry was not one to be obstructed by the passive pursuits of Egyptology. He wore a white T-shirt and a green fishing vest, and his boots looked like something from the circus, freakishly large and a gleaming, deep blue. My flatmate Mick was in his Y-fronts, frying a pan of sausages on our hot plate. He spat into the sink, fingered his thin hair into a ponytail and laid a staggering raft of Arabic curses on Alan and his family. But Mick put some pants on. I was trying to find my wallet in a stack of dirty laundry.

Mick Wheelhouse was my colleague at the British Museum, an Egyptologist and translator born and raised in England. Mick usually tagged along whenever Alan came by, complaining most of the time and fingering his prayer votives. Mick and Alan were both just young kids barely over twenty. I was forty-six years old then, still in the thick heart of my career as an Egyptologist and cryptographic translator. Alan Henry had to duck his head slightly because of the way the ceiling sloped in our tiny flat. He was a giant man, over six and a half feet tall with hands like bunches of bananas. Alan Henry wore large, squared glasses with thick black frames, and he commonly referred to himself as "a scholar and a gentleman." He put his hand on my shoulder and regarded the scaled-up copies of the Stela of Paser I had on the wall. They covered one whole side of the apartment; the other walls were papered with copies of glosses of the Stela and my hand-drawn charts of the transliterations, as well as some of Champollion's tables.

Ah, yes! he said. Fascinating stuff. But let's move! He waved his massive arms at Mick, who was scowling into his pot at the stove and whispering into his small carved wooden-ear votive of Deir el-Bahri. He held it up to his mouth like a tiny secret telephone. Whatever he was saying, it wasn't complimentary. Before we left the flat Mick had to pack away his stylus and clay tablets, wrapping each carefully in wax paper to keep them damp. The floor was always covered with shavings because Mick carved his own styluses, the reeds imported from Cairo. Mick's specialty and true interest lay in hieratic and demotic scripts, which are essentially the shorthand or cursive forms of hieroglyphics. He was an expert on troublesome translations, from just about any period, and Dr. Klein brought him here two years ago from Cambridge to tackle the Stela of Paser, but like the others before him he had come up with nothing. Now there was me.

Our excursions with Alan usually started this way; he was always discovering some fascinating or important figure we had to meet. Once, Alan's friend was an old New Zealand rugby legend, another time it was a German nuclear scientist who claimed to have his own personal satellite. He tried to show it to us from the vantage point of an alley in Mayfair.
See? he said, pointing into the vague, yellow-gray London night. That one there.
I saw a few specks of light, but nothing seemed to be moving.
That one? I pointed up in the general area of a few white dots.
No, not zat one, zat one!
I'm not one to find much fascination in eccentric behavior, though my ex-wife used to claim I did. Yet while it seemed that he was always bursting into our flat and dragging us out somewhere, I liked having Alan Henry for a friend. He was still just a kid and always fired up about something.

Alan Henry lived down the hall in our old Georgian row house one block from Tottenham Court Road, in Bloomsbury, London. Alan was a writer from North Dakota doing a book about a secret failed Canadian moon-shot mission in the late fifties. I still have no real idea why he was in London to do this. He did enjoy lurking in the new British Library, doing research, reading dusty hermetic religious texts, esoteric mysticism, and theoretical physics. That's where I first met him.

A minute later we were following Alan's booming feet as we stumbled down the seven flights of stairs to the street. Great Russell Street ended to the west into Tottenham Court Road and Oxford Street, the busiest intersection in all of London. The streets were thronged at this hour, teeming with tourists and locals all out for a night on the town. It was the kind of area that, much like Times Square in New York, attracts crowds who come to see the crowds. And then there is the whole left/right thing. An Englishman will want to walk to the left of course, but since a full half of the people on the streets are tourists who want to go right, what you are left with is a complete muddle of head fakes and dance steps as the opposing crowds attempt to sift through one another. Alan Henry just bulled his way through the milling bodies and stomped across Oxford Street with Mick and me in his wake, heading into Soho. The theatre crowds were just letting out, the Dominion Theatre on the corner was running Les Miserables and the tourists were thicker than desert flies. The night was cold with the kind of dampness that somehow, despite waterproofed and insulated footwear, manages to seep into your shoes and roost deep in the knuckles and sockets of your joints. It was the peculiar kind of English cold that never leaves you, the kind of cold that wakes you up in the pale hours of the morning, huddling under a rough tent of four blankets, to inspect your bluing toes with blind, numb fingers. The kind of itching, irritating cold that might drive you to conquer and colonize the far corners of the globe.

Along the way Alan told us that this guy he wanted us to meet was a favorite author of his, whom he happened to bump into in a bar. The next Salman Rushdie, he said. Believe it.

Alan Henry was always going on about some new writer. As we walked he was swigging from a huge flask he kept with him at all times in his vest pocket. He passed it to me and I took a slug. The gin warmed from his body sank into my chest like hot sand. The flask was engraved with a picture of a jaunty old British sailor and the words: HMS Valiant. Mick sniffed it suspiciously as Alan waved it under his nose, then took a grimacing sip.

Oxford Street was especially crowded as a large semicircle of people had gathered around the entrance to the Virgin record superstore to catch a glimpse of some American professional wrestlers who were apparently shopping. Alan was a big fan of this particular sport.

It's the modern Roman arena, he said, swiveling his bristled, boxlike head, except we're more civilized. We've distanced ourselves from the violence, made it cartoonish and unreal. The cultural feed bag for the great unwashed masses. Just like Elizabethan theatre.

Gutter poetry, Mick muttered, flicking his cigarette ash.

That surprised me. I didn't think Mick gave a damn about anything, other than industrial-strength insecticides and his secretive translations and mutterings. But I was wrong about a lot of things then.

Crowds in that area of the West End aren't so unusual; various famous people occasionally shopped around the intersection of Tottenham Court Road and Oxford, the gateway to Soho, and they often drew huge crowds. We plowed through the craning throng and made our way down Frith Street. When we reached Soho Square, Alan took a couple of skipping steps and started doing slow, heavy cartwheels through the cigarette-butt grass of the tiny square, his bulky frame rotating like a wagon wheel. He did at least six in a row, spinning through the shadows of the pitiful, choked trees staked out with wires. Mick and I trotted after him to keep up. The dark places of Soho Square were filled at night with groups of paired men, pants around their ankles, embracing madly under the stunted elms and the dim light of London stars, and they clutched knees and shoulders in fright as Alan rolled through to the other side and into the street where he rounded off his last turn with a whoop and a deep bow. Alan burned like a torch in the night. He was excited for us to meet his new friend, and remembering him now, how I wish I could see him like that again.

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I think that maybe I was their last hope, the last chance the museum and Dr. Klein had to get the Stela solved. I was perfectly happy out in Abu Roash, just outside Cairo, working on a dig with an Italian group who liked my work when Klein cabled me from London. In those days I was just wandering around to wherever a translator specializing in Egyptian cryptography and paleography was needed. I guess you could say I had little ambition, at least in terms of prestige or money. I was getting to the point in my life when I really should have been thinking of settling into something, something with some kind of security and retirement. But it never seemed like it would end.

I know Mick resented the fact that the board stuck me in his flat on Great Russell Street, three blocks from the museum. The Bloomsbury area of London is extremely expensive and open flats are rare, so the board had to scrimp a bit to make it work. I didn't mind the cramped living arrangements too much because the perks were huge: unlimited access to the British Museum, day or night, with the most extensive collection of Egyptian antiquities in the world, guaranteed publication and a bonus for solving the Stela of Paser, not to mention a chance to work independently on one of the last remaining cryptographic puzzles of the ancient world.

Though our flat was like a matchbox. Mick and I shared a bedroom, and when I sat up and swung my legs off the narrow bed, my knees touched the edge of Mick's mattress. You had to leave the bathroom door open to sit down on the toilet. The roof was steeply sloped because we were in an attic space, and to get to the one small window in the narrow rectangle that was our living room you had to get down on your hands and knees. It had been built for diminutive seventeenth-century Englishmen, not massive, sprawling Americans like Alan Henry or chubby types like myself. Mick was small enough, built like a reed quill, or the wandering-snake hieroglyph that curls over the moon. Still, I didn't mind. I've never been comfortable with even slightly extravagant lodgings. We never spent any time there anyway; we practically lived in our lab with the Stela.

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The surviving fragment of the Stela of Paser is 112 centimeters by 85 centimeters, a large section of the original slablike limestone monument, the kind often set up in tombs or temples. It's essentially shaped like a gravestone, and our conception of the gravestone comes from this Egyptian form. It has a deeply incised frieze of deities along the top, with the rest of the tablet covered in a grid of incised lines, each square containing one hieroglyphic symbol, sixty-seven squares wide and eighty squares deep. We know this based on calculations, as a good portion of the bottom section is worn beyond recognition, the edges are shattered and incomplete, and a large fissure runs diagonally from bottom left to top right, rending the piece in two parts. Much like the Rosetta Stone, only about two-thirds of the text is available. There is also a name or signature in the top corner, identifying the author as one "Paser, True-of-Voice." True-of-voice is an ancient Egyptian epithet referring to judgment after death, indicating the person as deceased. For the ancient Egyptians, only in death comes the power of truth; the ultimate power was the ability to cross back and forth over the two lands of life and death. With this title Paser was claiming the knowledge of the dead, an understanding of the other side of life as well as this one.

The top line of text that lies outside the grid reads like a title or set of instructions. It reads: As for this writing, it is to be read three times. Its like has not been seen before, heard since the time of the God. It is set up in the temple of Mut, Lady of Isheru, for eternity like the sun, for all time. That's the easy part. It's the "three times" that throws us off, because we can only read the text in two ways at this point, horizontally and vertically. The other obvious possibilities, like backward and diagonal, have been tried and proved unsuccessful. Mick spent three months trying to put together a gloss of the outer ring of the Stela and came up with nonsense. Most of it is a direct hymn to the goddess Mut, an obscure figure in the Egyptian pantheon, popular among ancient Egyptians but little studied in modern scholarship. She is mostly referred to as some sort of moon goddess, often contained in what Egyptologists call "crossword pieces" like the Stela of Paser, due to their physical resemblance to crossword puzzles, though in fact they look much more akin to a "word find" game.

The truth is I'd been working on the Stela for a few months and produced nothing. All the other translating work for the British Museum had been offloaded to Mick, to allow me to concentrate fully on this one project. Mick had been working almost exclusively on the cursive scripts since the board took him off the Stela. That was the easy work; anything past the Third Intermediate period was child's play to any Egyptologist worth his gypsum. But there were lots of cursive and funerary hieratic scripts laying about the museum, and Dr. Klein's desk was stacked with documents and requests from museums from Cairo to Berlin for translations.

Mick had a lot of these projects already laid out on our shared worktable in the lab in the basement of the British Museum, covering most of it with his guides and script keys. I didn't mind since I had most of my guides and grids pinned on the walls. I had large-scale reproductions taped everywhere, with colored sections marking certain aspects and grammar, plus my handwritten sheets on either side listing all the possible determinatives and other notes. In our lab the Stela itself was fixed to an iron stand, angled like a drafting desk, with a wire grid that I'd rigged up on the front surface. Each symbol was in its own box and marked with note tabs, numbered and outlining consonant shifts and bilaterals. I was better able to study the possible patterns this way. I preferred to work standing up and pacing, which drove Mick mad. He worked on one of the tall stools, perched like a water bird flipping his papers back and forth between his fingers as he tried to work out the ligatures. I'd never spent this long on a single piece before; most pieces of this size I could knock out in a month tops-give or take a few extra days for the poetic translations and possible transliterations, if they wanted them.

Our lab was bigger than our whole apartment, and we had it all to ourselves, just the two of us and the Stela.

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That night in late October Alan Henry brought us to the Lupo Bar in Soho, West Central London, a tight, deeply cushioned place with a plaque hanging out front depicting Romulus and Remus suckling the she-wolf. We found Alan's writer sitting on a couch set in one of the back rooms. He had a young woman draped on his shoulder. It was the usual Soho crowd: young, carefully coifed, and clad in black. I was probably the only guy in London who habitually wore a pea-green corduroy jacket and slacks. Alan thumped off for the bar so I took it upon myself to do introductions.

I'm Walter Rothschild, I said. And this fellow, I said pointing at Mick, is Dr. Mick Wheelhouse.

We pumped hands and said English sorts of things like cheers and right and brilliant and then sat down. Alan brought over a rack of double gin and tonics with a plate of lime wedges. The writer was a rumpled Anglo-Pakistani named Hanif and his lady friend was called Erin. She had a round elfin head and spiky black hair with purple tips like a crown. Slight like a boy in her stretch pants, with a tight, long-sleeved black top that formed around each individual breast like a mold. A sharp nose and lips painted maroon. I'd seen lots of girls like her around in West Central London. She was a Soho queen to be sure.

I drank off most of my glass right away. I got nervous around new people, particularly friends of Alan Henry. It was never quite clear when the shouting would begin and I wanted to be adequately numbed. The gin tasted like clear electricity and popped blue lights in my eyes, deepening the music's pulse into a comforting, though rapidly increasing beat. I didn't have a particular attraction to booze, but sometimes it helped to stifle the process of translation and interpretation, which, after twenty years of training, almost perpetually occurs in my head. It can be a problem sometimes.

Hanif was a swarthy fellow with a wild head of curly jet black hair. I'm pretty sure he was already stinking drunk when we got there. I'd never heard of him, but then I don't know much about writers, or at least writers of this millennium. I could tell you all about the rich poetry of the twelfth-century b.c. scribe Tjaroy or the lyrical prose of Amennakht, son of Ipuy, but not much about anybody after the Arab conquest in a.d. 641. Alan said Hanif was supposed to be something special, a hot writer who was part of the new wave of Pakistani neo-post-colonialism that was sweeping Britain and the U.S.

Hanif said he met Erin last week "on holiday." She offered us some cigarettes in a silver case and I took one. I noticed she had three fresh packs of cigarettes stacked on the table as well. I'm about as ambivalent toward cigarettes as I am toward alcohol, but I did like the shifting shapes of smoke. Hanif began enthusiastically lecturing us on the merits of British women versus Pakistani, his eyes squared and his lips flecked with spittle.

The modern British woman, he slurred, is the perfect construction of decadent sensuality and imperialist fascism. She has no regrets or pretense of altruism. Decades of selective breeding have produced a singular race of such inept spiritual fortitude, braced only by the technology gap, which they use to hold sway over the developing world.

Alan seemed to hang on his every word, nodding his head and smacking the table with his palm to punctuate Hanif's points.

She wears ridiculous silk knickers to bed, Hanif continued, then immediately dives for the crotch, insatiable. Yet she insists that you take off your socks, even if it's bloody freezing in the flat!
Bollocks, I heard Mick mutter under his breath.
What is to be done? shrieked Hanif, sweeping his arm and clearing the table of drink glasses and ashtrays, sending them shattering across the floor.

I watched Mick eyeing the tight curve of Erin's folded legs. She was curled up against Hanif, her eyes almost closed as he rambled on at a frenetic pace. Erin nodded and smoked, and when Alan came back with more drinks, she sat up quickly and downed her glass, sucked on the lime wedge for a moment and went back to Hanif's shoulder with a contented look. She looked supremely relaxed. Her eyes blinked slowly, languidly. The liquid in our glasses shook with the thumping bass of the music, something eerie and intricately syncopated.

Then Alan explained what it was Mick and I did for a living, though I don't think Hanif was ever quite clear on it. But Erin started asking me questions about my work.

Normally I'd be scared to death of a woman like Erin. She was young and beautiful. But I was feeling the gin coursing through my arms and legs. So I slouched in the deep velvet cavity of my chair and started telling her about the Stela of Paser, but somehow ended up talking about my daughter, Zenobia, and her mother, Helen.

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Zenobia's mother was a musician I met while I was at Berkeley. Helen was the first-chair cellist for the San Francisco Symphony for seven years. Now she gives private lessons and teaches at a boarding school. I can't say that our marriage, short as it was, or our falling in love, was accidental or tragic. But I didn't see it coming. I was just admiring the way a good cellist can stretch a note, so unlike the sharp concise quality of other instruments, like the piano. Helen played Bach's Cello Suite no. 1 for her thesis recital, and sitting in the front row of the auditorium I felt for the first and last time the truest stirrings of something like love, or as close as I could get to it.

It's true I should have known better. I work in lost time, in the lasting binds of history. I am surrounded by monuments and records of time and loyal remembrance. Three years after that recital I was away at a dig in Syria dusting off a bit of papyrus, looking for an inscription when I realized I didn't want to go back. I remember sitting in the desert at night and looking back at my home, the little white walk-up we had in North Beach with a small, common atrium space in back, lined with brick paths around roughly trimmed topiary, where Helen would practice afternoons and the group of elderly Italian ladies next door and across the way would clasp their hands together and shower her with gardenia petals. She would play little cuts of Verdi sometimes and the ladies cooed like swallows in the fading light. I remember standing with my daughter clutching my finger in her tiny baby fist like it was an anchor to this earth. The sour, earthy smell of her chubby body. And I knew I shouldn't have been there, it should have been someone else in my place.

I'd only seen my daughter twice in the last six years. I saw her briefly a few years ago in New York and she stopped by my Princeton apartment for a night in 1991, when she was on her way to New Hampshire for a Grateful Dead show. Zenobia was a junior at Mount Holyoke then, studying English literature. She had two guys with her, skinny fellows with long hair and smelling strongly of incense and body odor, and they smoked pot all night. I made spaghetti and bread with some Chianti I brought back from Italy. She treated me almost like a stranger, and I guess I deserved it. I sat there in a chair while they smoked and talked and tried not to look at her too much. The two guys seemed to think what I did was interesting, but Zenobia just rolled her eyes whenever I spoke. Several times she deliberately mocked me, making fun of my current life, being deliberately cruel to me. But I didn't say anything about it. I wanted to do the right thing.

I went to bed at about two in the morning, and I woke just about an hour later to the sound of my daughter screaming. I was halfway down the hall in my underwear before I realized it was the sounds of the three of them having sex. I went back to my room and standing there in the dark I concentrated on the hanging icicles outside my window. I felt dust collecting around my bare feet on the cold floor. I was beginning to understand the stillness of age and the slow slipping of time. I want to say that I wept all night, and that in the morning I begged for her forgiveness and we were reborn. But I didn't. For most of the night I looked at the faint city stars from my window and pieced together my own constellations, Horus, Ra, Seth, Amun, Helen, even my daughter. She had a place there, faint but still part of the order.

In the morning they were gone and a note was stuck to the fridge that said:
Thanks for the food and couch space.
Miss you.
Zenobia.
That's when I wept.



Reviews

"...this is a beautifully written, thoroughly researched, and finely detailed novel...The Third Translation is well worth reading." —Amazon.com

"Inventive... In Bondurant's ambitious debut, a sprawling picaresque is infused with mythic resonance... [THE THIRD TRANSLATION] is a prose poem to London's squalid demimonde." —Publisher's Weekly

"First-time novelist Bondurant became fascinated by the Stela of Paser while working at the British Museum. His extensive research has paid off in a literary page-turner whose characters are as compelling and complex as the Stela itself." —Booklist

"A compelling amalgam of history, mysticism and suspense, The Third Translation is tantalizing brain candy - highly recomended..." —Bookpage

"The Third Translation is an absolutely wonderful specimen of a debut novel, one that combines gripping action and academia in a superbly erudite manner. Bondurant has found the fabled "third way" with a story that unites and engages both the pulse and the mind of the reader, engendering a new type of tale that is both brainy and breathless." —Washington Examiner

"The Third Translation, is a literary work, driven by complex characters and a sense of humor drawn from the likes of such postmodern masters as Don DeLillo and Thomas Pynchon...it doesn't read like the latest Grisham. For one thing, Rothschild is a meticulously constructed character...There are plenty of absurdist touches, too: giant professional wrestlers... as well as a darkly funny tangent about a lost Canadian mission to the moon...a remarkable sequence of events that Bondurant renders like Jack London in a fever dream." —Washington City Paper

"The Third Translation is a clever, twisty tale that involves a cult, pro wrestlers and researchers with dark secrets. Bondurant, who once worked at the British Museum, does well with pace and dialogue. His plot vibrates with enough of London today and Egypt way back to keep listeners hanging on." (audio book) —St. Paul Pioneer Press/ The Palm Beach Post

"Matt Bondurant's THE THIRD TRANSLATION cross-pollinates Egyptologists with professional wrestlers, thieves with novelists, hydroelectric engineering with space-program conspiracies. It pits the solvable mysteries of crime against the theoretically solvable mysteries of lost civilizations and unsolvable mysteries of lost wives and estranged daughters. In chronicling a week in the broken life of a cautious intellectual yanked into the hugger-mugger of the London night, this literary page-turner doesn't so much blur the distinction between fictional genres as render them useless. I understand that it's unlikely Bondurant is the bighearted bastard child of A.S. Byatt and Jonathan Lethem, unlikelier still Saul Bellow and Zadie Smith, but anyone reading this brainy, engaging debut novel will be forgiven for their suspicions." —Mark Winegardner, author of That's True of Everybody, Crooked River Burning, and the forthcoming The Godfather Returns.

"How rare to encounter a young writer whose first steps press so deep and leave, I'll bet, lasting footprints on the literary landscape. In the past twenty years I can recall exactly a handful whose debut novels so dazzled me with their arcane intelligence and cosmic conspiracies, their dark artful blendings of sophistication and vulgarity — Richard Powers and his THREE FARMERS, David Foster Wallace's BROOM, Bruce Duffy's tour de force on Wittgenstein, Donna Tartt and her SECRET HISTORY, Jonathan Safran Foer. Make it a neat half-dozen: Matt Bondurant and his extraordinary THE THIRD TRANSLATION." —Bob Shacochis, National Book Award Winning Author of Easy In The Islands, Swimming In The Volcano, and the non-fiction book The Immaculate Invasion.

"THE THIRD TRANSLATION has the complex twists of the passageways of an ancient tomb, but Matt Bondurant knows the path through and he leads us to a deep chamber of treasure. This novel provides a thrilling reading experience and it marks the beginning of a brilliant new literary career. Bondurant is the real thing." —Robert Olen Butler, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of A Good Scent from a Strange Mountain and Had a Good Time: Stories from American Postcards.

"Matt Bondurant has written the kind of novel I'm always dying to read. THE THIRD TRANSLATION is funny, suspenseful and smart, and its characters are complex and unique...This novel is a treat from beginning to end." —Elizabeth Stuckey-French, author of Mermaids on the Moon and The First Paper Girl in Red Oak Iowa

"Through otherworldly prose and oracular voice, Bondurant excavates the ancient world beneath the modern and translates the oldest story into hip London-speak. Like an archeologist who stands before a dark pyramid and perceives the glowing tomb within, Bondurant somehow knows the secret yearnings all humans harbor, and these he coaxes golden and fabulous onto the page. THE THIRD TRANSLATION has the mystery, power and beauty of an ancient hieroglyph, and this novel is sure to last as long." —Adam Johnson, author of Emporium and Parasites Like Us

Buy Now

An ancient mystery, a hidden language, and the secrets of a bizarre Egyptian sect collide in modern-day London in this ingenious novel of seduction, conspiracy, and betrayal alter Rothschild is an American Egyptologist living in London and charged by the British Museum with the task of unlocking the ancient riddle of the Stela of Paser, one of the last remaining real-life hieroglyphic mysteries in existence today. The secrets of the stela-a centuries-old funerary stone-have evaded scholars for thousands of years due to the stela's cryptic reference to a third translation.

A few places where you can purchase it:

Amazon Books-A-Million
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Photo by Marion Ettlinger

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Matt Bondurant was born and raised in Alexandria, Virginia. He received his B.A. and M.A. in English from James Madison University, then went on to earn a PhD in English – Creative Writing from Florida State University. He is the author of three novels, The Third Translation (Hyperion 2005), The Wettest County in the World (Scribner 2008), and The Night Swimmer (Scribner 2012), as well as numerous published stories, poems, essays, and reviews.

His second novel, The Wettest County is currently being made into a film by Director John Hillcoat (The Road) starring Shia Labeouf, Tom Hardy, Jessica Chastain, Mia Wasikowska, Gary Oldman, and Guy Pearce, to be released in 2012.

Matt's short fiction has appeared in journals such as Prairie Schooner, The New England Review, and Glimmer Train, among others, and in 2008 he was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. Matt’s poetry was recently featured in Ninth Letter, The Notre Dame Review, and other journals, as well as anthologized in Imaginative Writing: The Elements of Craft, the most widely adopted creative writing text in America. His reviews and essays have appeared in journals such as The Southeast Review and The Northern Virginia Review, and the San Francisco Chronicle.

Matt has presented scholarly work at The Philological Association of the Carolinas, The Group For Early Modern Cultural Studies, AWP, The National Creative Writing Conference, and The Madison Conference on English Studies, focusing on topics such as Postmodern African Novelists, The Fiction Workshop Model, and Jane Austen. He has been a featured speaker or reader at dozens of literary festivals, workshops, and conferences, and he currently leads the Book Club for the Dallas Opera.

A former John Gardner Fellow in Fiction at Bread Loaf, Kingsbury Fellow at Florida State, and Walter E. Dakin Fellow at Sewanee, Matt has recently held residencies at Yaddo and the MacDowell Colony. He has appeared on various media outlets, including Radio France, NPR, and The Discovery Chanel, and has served as an editor on numerous literary journals.. In the past Matt worked for the Associated Press National Broadcast Office in Washington DC, as an on-air announcer and producer at a local NPR station in Virginia, and as a Steward at the British Museum in London, England. During other periods Matt was a waiter, bartender, office temp, lifeguard, barrista, university English professor, or just unemployed. He currently teaches literature and writing at the University of Texas at Dallas.

A longtime competitive swimmer and former collegiate water polo player, Matt enjoys water sports of all kinds, and will jump in any body of water he can find. He is an itinerant runner, triathlete, competitive sailor, and long distance swimmer. Most recently he came in 2nd place in the Beginish Island 4 Mile Race (Ireland), and in the summer of 2011 he will be competing in the "Around the Rock" Alcatraz swim race.











The Apostrophe Cast Interview: Matt Bondurant

Click here for the original podcast from Apostrophe Cast

Dear Matt, I wonder where you will be when you read this interview email? Will you be checking your blackberry on the back of a jetski in the Dead Sea? Will you be in an internet cafe in Amsterdam eating a cone of fries with mayonaise? Who knows...

Dear Guy, I am sitting in my home office in Plattsburgh, NY. Not very exotic. I just played tennis, so I'm wearing shorts and a bit sweaty, so that's something. It's a difficult life I lead.

Who is your favorite Civil War general? Why? Have you ever grown a large beard?
I am from Virginia so this is a very important question, one that I have pondered for many years. I'm also obviously going gray on this one -- besides, Union generals, barring Grant, pretty much blow. I'm tempted to say Lee, as I grew up in the same neighborhood. Jeb Stuart has the great ëstache and hat. But I will go with Jackson; the combination of old testament personality and unbridled enthusiasm. Plus, his death, shot by his own troops, is the ultimate irony for the Confederacy. I have grown a decent beard several times, not large like a hobo beard or anything. My problem is I don't have much upper lip growth, so I look like a Mennonite.

Do you still have a copy of the first poem you ever wrote? When did you write it? What was the title? What was it about? Will you publish it or any part of it here? I believe I do have a copy of a poem I wrote in 5th grade. It involved a creature called an "Arn" that was like a huge rainbow-colored dog with a rhino horn. I had a sophisticated internal rhyme sceme and an illustration to accompany. I won some kind of award for it. The "Arn" liked to play with children, but then they all left him for some reason and he wandered off alone. Even as child I was steeped in pathos, or something like it. That poem will never see the light of day again.

What poem should a person read if their loved one is going away on a long trip?


This is How Memory Works
by Patricia Hampl
You are stepping off a train.
A wet blank night, the smell of cinders.
A gust of steam from the engine swirls
around the hem of your topcoat, around
the hand holding the brown leather valise,
the hand that, a moment ago, slicked back
the hair and then put on the fedora
in front of the mirror with the beveled
edges in the cherrywood compartment.

The girl standing on the platform
in the Forties dress
has curled her hair, she has
nylon stockings ñ no, silk stocking still.
Her shoulders are touchingly military,
squared by those shoulder pads
and a sweet faith in the Allies.
She is waiting for you.
She can be wearing a hat, if you like.

You see her first.
That's part of the beauty:
you get the pure, eager face,
the lyrical dress, the surprise.
You can have the steam,
the crowded depot, the camel's-hair coat,
real leather and brass clasps on the suitcase;
you can make the lights glow with
strange significance, and the black cars
that pass you are historical yet ordinary.

The girl is yours,
the flowery dress, the walk
to the streetcar, a fried egg sandwich
and a joke about Mussolini.
You can have it all:
your in that world, the only way
you'll ever be there now, hired
for your silent hammer, to nail pictures
to the walls of this mansion
made of the thinnest air.

Do you have a favorite relative? Yeah, that would be my grand-uncle Forrest. In the 1920?s he had his throat cut from ear to ear and walked through the mountains in a snow storm holding his neck together. Later some sheriffs shot him in the gut. Then a few years later a rival dropped a load of logs on him, crushing nearly every bone in his body. He lived. He was bad-ass, as they say. I just wrote a novel about him and his brothers (one of whom was my grandfather) titled The Wettest County in the World which comes out in October from Scribner.

How would history be different if William the Conqueror had lost the Battle of Hastings? Certainly the English language as we know it would be quite different as we wouldn't have nearly as much latinate influence. The cultural influence is hard to parse out. Perhaps we'd have more reverence for Odin and the Norse pantheon. Saunas would be more popular?

Were you raised in an organized religion? What influence has it had on your work?
I was raised a Lutheran. The influence is minimal. (that is a very "Lutheran" response)

When was the last time you ate a steak and how rare was it?
Last week I had an excellent grass-finished organic t-bone from a local farm up here in northern New York. The marinade: oil, vinegar, garlic salt, pepper, soy sauce, a spoon of horseradish. Done over charcoal, medium rare to medium, buttered potatoes on the side. Outstanding.

How important is loyalty in your life? Are you loyal? To what/who? I am a Boar according to the birth calender thing you sometimes get as a placemat in Chinese restaurants. We are fiercly loyal, and "prone to marital strife." This doesn't seem to make sense to me. Also, how come the Boar is like the only animal with such a specific fault? Its not like we are "impatient," or "stubborn." Prone to marital strife? That's bullshit.

Which of the female Peanuts characters do you find most attractive? Has this changed as you have aged? I've always been a bit partial to redheads. Peppermint Patty is certainly fiercly loyal. I'll bet she is also a Boar. She is one of the truest, most fervent romantics in the peanuts pantheon. Her pursuance of Chuck is astonishing. And, she's a phenomenal athlete. Her name is Peppermint Patty, who has a name like that? The name tells us so much about her. Is she named after the chocolate mint treat, or what that candy named after her?

What is your favorite flag?
I like simplicity and order in my flags; I like a direct symbolic gesture and a two-color scheme. Austere, something easily recognizable on a smoke-filled battlefield. No text or little pictures. Something like the classic red English cross on a white field. Scotland. Denmark. Finland. Sweden, though the blue is little soft for my taste. Is there a flag that more directly announces the personality of its people than the German flag? Though I'm not limited to straight lines ñ Japan is interesting. But if forced to choose, I'm going with my ancestral homeland, France.

These are the best interview questions I've ever had.
(Anytime)
Thanks,
-Matt
Bon Voyage,
GBB


The Slushpile Interview

Question: What is your worst rejection story?

I went through several drafts of a story with Walter Kirn at the Atlantic Monthly, who in the end finally passed on it. Man, that was a real bitch getting that close to one of the holy grails of short story publications. Over the years I've had tons of rejections. I have them all in a file. Every once in a while when I'm feeling good I'll take them out and remind myself what a sorry writer I really am.

My best story: I applied to MFA programs in poetry a year out of college and was rejected by every one, and rightly so. I was personally rejected by Larry Levis at Virginia Commonwealth University, and I keep his letter taped to my wall as I reminder of that humiliation, that one of the greatest poets of the second half of the twentieth century actually read my ridiculous poems. He died shortly thereafter. I'm serious! My terrible poems killed Larry Levis! Yeah, he was a longtime drunk, with multiple health problems, but I can just picture him there at his cluttered desk, glass of whisky in his hand, reading my poems and thinking that the world really was just too devastatingly trite to go on living in it.

I love Larry Levis, he informs my work always. I still read a decent amount of poetry, and consider it the highest of the literary arts. Just out of my reach. But I hope there is a drop of poetry in my prose, at least that is what I'm shooting for.
Question: At one point, you were employed at the British Museum and you arranged some viewings of the collection with curators in the Egyptian area. What began your interest in Egyptian history?

I've been interested in ancient cultures forever. We had a subscription to National Geographic growing up, so ancient Egypt was always a part of my world. I love history, of all kinds.

When I lived in London I was lucky enough to be just down the street from the British Museum, who has the largest collection of Egyptian antiquities in the western world. It's also always free. I spent a lot of time there.

Question: The Third Translation is your first published novel. Is it the first one you attempted to write? If you have worked on other novel ideas, can you tell us about them? If you have worked on other novel ideas, can you tell us what caused you to abandon those projects?

It is the first novel I ever seriously attempted to write. I mean, I started a few other novels at one time or another, but they never made it past twenty or so pages. They are all too stupid to mention. I abandoned them because they clearly had no arc, no superstructure. They weren't going anywhere. After a while you realize you are just writing words. Sometimes you begin with the greatest idea, life-like characters, a sense of generous plot, and it still won't work. It is pointless to continue. I'm not sure if I can break it down any better than these vague notions. Lorrie Moore once said in a story that writers have no idea what they are really doing. When I try to answer a question like this I think she is right.

Question: The narrator, Walter Rothschild, is an American Egyptologist living in London. To say that he is obsessive about his studies is an understatement. When faced with a beautiful woman at a bar, Rothschild starts doodling Egyptian scripts on cocktail napkins. A bathroom attendant is "like a shriveled one-eyed Horus, years after Seth tore out his falcon eye, the wedjat, the eye of truth…" When he's in a heavy metal/punk bar, he meets a pair of men: one with a mohawk and piercings and one with a bald head covered in tattoos and Rothschild says "Anton and Gunnar stared at me with expectant grins, their pupils deep and wide as the eddying pools of the Nile. I thought of Seth emerging from the marsh reeds…" When telling his estranged daughter of his crisis, he says "I thought about The Instruction of Any, a New Kingdom instructional text…" When Rothschild watches a life-and-death struggle between his friend and one of his tormentors, he says "I thought of the struggles of Seth, anarchy versus order, the protector of the badlands, the outlying territories, the defender of the endless sands of Egypt."

Now, The Third Translation is narrated in the past tense, from a remove of time passed, of time for introspection, of time for reshaping memories. But in your effort to show Rothschild's obsession, did you fear that you might make him an unlikable character? What techniques did you use to illustrate his obsession without making the reader just get sick of hearing him talk about Egypt?

I wasn't afraid of making him an unlikable character – I think he naturally is unlikable in many ways. The guy is sort of a jerk; he means well but has little sense of responsibility or perspective and behind the façade of bumbling academic is a very self-obsessed person, something Penelope saw through right away. I was afraid of making him too likable. Name one great literary character who is completely likable? Now think of all the unlikable ones.

I think many readers may get sick of hearing him talk about Egypt – I get sick of hearing it from him. But that forms the template for his understanding the world. It is his metaphorical palette. The rest of us have a more varied store of things to compare our sensory experience to, but Walter doesn't. I tried to edit it down a bit, but I couldn't stop him entirely. I was just following him around and listening. It was a good time.

Question: Rothschild is obsessed not only with Egypt, but also with preserving his place in history. Towards the end of the novel, one of his colleagues in the adventure writes an elaborate way that Rothschild can preserve his body for future generations to find. Do you think that writers have a similar obsession with history? Is our writing a way of preserving our place in the world?

Of course. More than the biological imperative, it is a supremely arrogant enterprise, writing. To earnestly believe that thousands of people will want to read this absurd story I just made up, some figment of my imagination? I don't believe that we ever write just for ourselves, even in our diaries. "I'm writing this only for me." That is just a lie we tell ourselves so we don't have to confront our own obsession with immortality. It is the part of ourselves we hope to leave behind, how we will be known, a monument to our accepted greatness. It is the innermost part of us crying for attention, really. I find it embarrassing even to think about.

Question: You teach at George Mason University in Virginia. Do you teach creative writing or literature courses? If you teach creative writing, what kind of work do you see in your classes? Overall, how would you rate the quality of student fiction?

I do a little of everything at GMU. I'm not tenured and I'm still a sort of junior faculty member there, so I have to do whatever they give me. I do some composition, some literature, some writing. But I'm glad to have the job, and GMU has been very good to me. I actually like teaching literature best – I am a fan of literature first and foremost. The highlight of my teaching career was teaching Shakespeare in London. My ultimate teaching job would be teaching Shakespeare, a revolving literature class, and a workshop. The student fiction I've seen in my career varies as greatly as the personalities of the students themselves. I think most undergraduate fiction, the vast majority of it, is quite terrible, as it should be. Occasionally there will be a prodigy of some kind, but mostly it is just far too early to have the tools and wisdom to present a fabricated vision of the world that is compelling to others. That is a lot to ask.

You have to also understand that a portion of your undergraduate class is there purely because they understand it is a class that will be easy to pass and get an A in. I'm amazed how many teachers won't admit that. So they are blowing it off. Then you have a group that is emulating someone so closely it is more of a parody, like Hemingway, King, or Bukowski. Man, so many young English majors love Bukowski. A lot of graduate level writing sucks too, let's be honest. But that is where you should be feeling yourself out, finding your voice, so that's cool too.

Question: Of all the bad guys in literature, of all the mercenary types to provide the muscle, what prompted you to pick professional wrestlers?

First, I just thought it was kind of funny. I used to be a fan as a kid. When I was getting my MA my friends and I watched it regularly and did a sort of dramatic/literary/cultural theory commentary. Deconstructing the display. You know the bit in The Third Translation about it being basically the equivalent of Elizabethan theater? Not too far off if you think of it. Contrary to what many think, it is a testament to our progress as a civilized people, instead of the Roman arena or horrible practices like bear baiting in Elizabethan England (Shakespeare's biggest competition) we have fake violence. There is a level of safety, while still allowing us to revel in our natural inclination for bloodlust. It was a lot of fun. And they are larger than life figures, beyond stereotypes moving into archetypes, almost mythological in a sense. Kind of like the figures that inhabit ancient mythologies, and so it made sense that Walter Rothschild, who tends to view everyone in this context (massive, striding gods, shriveled demons, etc.) would come up against them. And I always wanted to make up my own wrestler persona.

Question: Rothschild is able to lose hours, even days, when working on his translations and his research. What is your writing style? Do you find yourself disappearing into your work the way Rothschild does?

Unfortunately, my process is not much like that at all. I wish it was. I wish I was as obsessed with writing as Walter is about Egyptology. Occasionally I find myself in the thrall of creation and find time has flown a bit, but mostly not. I'm often too hyper-aware of my self and surroundings, too many distractions, all that. I am not a disciplined writer by any means; my work habits are spotty. I have too many other hobbies and interests, that is the problem. I've often wished I wasn't such a dilettante as I would get a lot more work done. The fact is I have other things in my life. I should be working on the second novel instead of doing this interview! But if I'm not working on something, getting some writing done, I'm generally an unhappy bastard. I always feel like I should be writing. I just don't always do it.

Question: What is your single-best, most-important, can't-live-without writing tip you would offer to aspiring authors?

Besides reading everything, I think good advice is to write away from yourself as often as possible. Write from the viewpoint of or about someone you do not know and does not in any way resemble you or your life.

Accept the basic fact that your own personal (true) story is uninteresting to other people; the sooner you do that the better off you will be.

Question: What is your single-best, most-important, can't-live-without publishing tip for aspiring authors struggling to break into print?

I can only go with what I know here. Focus on one thing: write a good story and send it to only "top" journals. Everything else will take care of itself.


Code Read: Matt Bondurant never wanted to be the next Dan Brown. The literary world has other plans.

By Mike Kanin, April 29, 2005

Matt Bondurant claims to be social. But it's hard to take him at his word: He's soft-spoken and looks at the ground when he's thinking—)and sometimes when he's talking. And after a few minutes of conversation, it becomes clear that he likes to be left alone every once in a while.

Take, for example, his love for London.

"What's...wonderful about the English pub—)the English in general—)is that they'll just leave you alone," the 34-year-old author says. "If you want to go in there and sit and have a beer...and stare into space...people will not bother you."

Bondurant, it seems, isn't the type of writer who would delight in discussing his latest novel in front of some 100 million people as part of a special aired on the National Geographic Channel. In fact, he didn't even believe such an opportunity would ever arise.

"I fully expected to write a book that a few people found pretty interesting, and when it came out it [would make] the sound of a feather," he says. "And then I would continue my teaching jobs, live my merry little academic life, and that would be it."

That's not exactly what's happened. Bondurant's just-published first novel, The Third Translation, is a literary work, driven by complex characters and a sense of humor drawn from the likes of such postmodern masters as Don DeLillo and Thomas Pynchon. But its ancient-mystery backdrop has the author being hailed as a successor to Da Vinci Code scribe Dan Brown. Though Bondurant says that the premise of that book sounds like something he might be interested in, he didn't set out to emulate it.

"That bothers me," he says. Later, he adds, "I think [the book is] almost more about London than anything."

Indeed, Bondurant's affection for the British capital is obvious in The Third Translation, pinned as it is to Dr. Walter Rothschild, the first-rate hieroglyphics expert who narrates the book. Throughout, Rothschild voices various paeans to the city, culminating in a passage that comes 359 pages in: "[P]erhaps this is why I love London more than any other place in the western world; it is the only place in which I have felt completely a part of the pattern, the ordering equation, where the quiet heart, the tree in the garden, seems to have its moment in the sun."

Rothschild is tasked with unraveling the mystery of the Stela of Paser, an object in the British Museum that dates to Egypt's 20th dynasty. Originally tombstone-shaped but now worn and split in half, the 3,000-year-old rock is adorned with a hieroglyphic hymn to the mother goddess Mut.

So far, scholars have been able to create two translations, one that reads the glyphs vertically and another that reads them horizontally. But according to text carved above the body of the poem, the stela's creators meant for it to be deciphered three ways. The third reading, which has tantalized experts since the artifact was accessioned in 1835, is assumed to have in part eroded away.

This is all in Bondurant's book. Still, even from the start, he wasn't trying to solve a mystery. "What I became interested in early on," he says, "was not so much the piece itself but the character—)the guy who's down there doing it. It just seemed like such an extreme. Obscure and esoteric and essentially just [a] fun life to have. [But] also very pathetic at the same time, because you would have to be so singularly focused on this thing that the rest of your life surely must be falling apart."

"All these people spending their lives in the British Library...studying the most arcane things," he adds. "There is a part of me that would love to do that...but I can't. I don't have that obsession."

Still, for the better part of his adult life, he's been surrounded by it—)though mostly the mild variety that afflicts serious readers. The Alexandria native started in pre-law as an undergraduate and eventually earned a Ph.D. in creative writing from Florida State University. And although Bondurant, unlike Brown, has yet to appear on the National Geographic Channel, he has published stories in such respected literary journals as the New England Review and Prairie Schooner, among others.

Now employed by George Mason University, Bondurant was in London in 1999, to teach undergraduate courses in English lit when he stumbled across the stela. As part of its celebration of the 200th anniversary of the discovery of the Rosetta Stone, the British Museum had hauled out an assortment of dusty relics that, as Bondurant says in the author's note that concludes his book, "presented particular problems of translation or decipherment."

Bondurant became so entranced by the stela that, in the fall of 2002, he traveled back to London—)this time to take a job as an event steward at the British Museum. There, he was able to arrange a private viewing of the piece. "After a bit of searching," he writes in the note, "we found the Stela simply leaning against the rough stone wall.... My Egyptologist guide simply shrugged when I asked about the ‘third way' mentioned in the script. I had already begun the novel by this time and it was just as I had hoped: It was still a mystery."

As luck would have it, his fascination couldn't have been better timed. In 2003, as Bondurant was finishing up his manuscript, Dan Brown published The Da Vinci Code, a surprise hit that broke open the market for art-historical-conspiracy-theory fiction. A film starring Tom Hanks, Jean Reno, and Audrey Tautou is scheduled for a 2006 release.

Bondurant's agent, Alex Glass, says that he didn't see The Third Translation as the next Da Vinci Code. "I saw the novel as a literary novel....I did not see it as a potboiler," he says. Still, when he received the book in January of 2004, he says the success that Brown had had with his thriller was in the back of his mind. "A lot of the works I sell, the literary novels, I try to have some kind of angle to."

Glass says that by the end of the month, Hyperion had made an offer (reportedly of several hundred thousand dollars) and begun planning for a relatively massive print run of 50,000 hardcovers. Since then, the publisher has been marketing The Third Translation as a work involving the rather Brownian combination of "[a]n ancient mystery, a hidden language and the secrets of a bizarre...sect."

"They knew what it was," says Glass, "but they had to sell it."

According to an article in a recent issue of Publishers Weekly, it's not the only one. "Between February and June," writes Natalie Danford, "at least a dozen new titles [similar to The Da Vinci Code] will land in stores in an unstoppable flow not seen since Bridget Jones's Diary inspired the phrase ‘chick lit.'" She goes on to cite Bondurant's work as one of the five "Most Likely to Succeed," along with James Rollins' Map of Bones and Elizabeth Kostova's The Historian.

Danford's not alone. USA Today and Bookpage also anointed The Third Translation as a probable successor to the 18-million-copies-sold juggernaut. The reception has been unlike anything Bondurant expected. "If I was really honest with myself years ago when I was in grad school, struggling...I always figured I'd get something published at some point," he says. "I wasn't completely without hope. But nothing like this."

And it could get even crazier. "We...have a Hollywood agent, and he's trying to shop [the book] around," Bondurant says. He adds, "I cannot for the life of me imagine how this would possibly be done in a movie in any way." Nonetheless, the author has already been asked to think of actors and actresses he could see as his characters. "Paul Giamatti," he offers, suggesting that the vet most recently seen in Sideways would make a good Rothschild.

Despite the ready-for-the-screen spin marketers may give to The Third Translation, it doesn't read like the latest Grisham. For one thing, Rothschild is a meticulously constructed character, a hopelessly focused man who's lost everything to academia and hardly realizes it. There are plenty of absurdist touches, too: giant professional wrestlers named Gigantica, the Bartender, and the Pied Piper, as well as a darkly funny tangent about a lost Canadian mission to the moon that Bondurant and his friend Adam Johnson have now both published versions of. The "Canadanaut," so the story goes, is a little Saskatchewanian named Jacques sent up in "a glorified set of long johns."

He's recruited for the mission after a remarkable sequence of events that Bondurant renders like Jack London in a fever dream. After Canadian Space Administration officials raze Jacques' house to make way for a new launch pad, the poor guy is left with only his underwear and a few sled dogs. "As the officials watched from the heated cabs of their Sno-Cats," Bondurant writes,

Jacques stared at them for a moment, then squatted in the snow and defecated grimly. He picked up his excrement and molded it into the shape of a knife. It froze in a matter of seconds and taking hold of one of the dogs at his feet Jacques cut its throat in a quick motion....He butchered the dog...stripping out the meat and organs. Using the cleaned bones and tendons he fashioned a makeshift sled, using strips of hide as ropes he hitched up his remaining two dogs....Then as the officials watched in pure amazement, Jacques mushed the dogs and sped off over the frozen tundra, heading into the whiteness.

Johnson, a San Francisco–Êarea writer who's known Bondurant since their days at Florida State—)and whom Bondurant modeled a conspiracy-minded Rothschild compatriot after—)thinks his friend isn't just lucky. "Matt's a serious literary writer," he says. "He's done something that most first novelists don't do, [which] is look beyond themselves and have their personal story resonate into history, resonate into culture, then resonate into contemporary society.

"But you can't blame the publisher for trying to make money," Johnson adds, crediting Hyperion for trying to put such an ambitious novel "into the hands of as many people as possible."

For his part, Bondurant says he's never read The Da Vinci Code. "I asked my mother about it," he says. "She's a huge, huge...reader. She said she read the first 30 pages of it and then put it down. She said it was terrible--that the writing was really bad." CP




          






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Contact

Contact regarding The Night Swimmer
Lauren Lavelle
Senior Publicist / Scribner
1230 Ave. of the Americas, 12th Floor
New York, NY 10020
p: 212.632.4952 / f: 212.632.4957

All other professional inquiries
Alex Glass, Trident Media Group | Email

Depending on scheduling, the author is available for readings, book festivals, panel discussions, and reading groups/book clubs, in person or via email.

Appearances

Appearances will be listed here as the dates are confirmed.