Monthly Archives: August 2014

Weekly News Roundup, 29th August 2014: Big Bucks, Howl-ing Translations

This week's literary highlights from across the world

Here are some things that might cheer you up: prizes are just the best, aren’t they? American poet (and former poet laureate) Robert Hass has snagged the 100,000-dollar Wallace Stevens Award, bucking the all-too-popular poor poet trend. And fellow Big Important Writer E. L. Doctorow wins the Library of Congress Prize for American Fiction. On the other side of the equator, Chilean writer Antonio Skármeta has won the country’s highest literary award.

Here are some unfortunate things. London-based superstar architect Zaha Hadid, who designed the stadium for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, sues the venerable New York Review of Books for defamation regarding the work conditions of those building the familiar-looking (hmm, feminine perhaps) stadium. Often considered India’s greatest storyteller, U. R. Ananthamurthy has passed away (let’s hope we see some more of his work in English, at least posthumously!). And nomadic Irish poet Desmond O’Grady, who you might recognize from his bit in Fellini’s La Dolce Vita, has passed at age 78.

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Summer News from Asymptote

Plays, data maps, video projects, and book reviews from Asymptote's team of editors and contributors!

Remember Isle-to-Isle? Chief executive assistant Berny Tan and Sher Chew’s collaborative data visualization and experimental reading project based on Jules Verne’s The Mysterious Island? (Now say that three times fast!). Well, the yearlong project is going strong, and the two collaborators reflected on their first five weeks with Mr. Verne in the Parsons Journal for Information Mapping. In this fascinating read, they delve into the trials of imagining the novel in map and diagram form.

For all you D.C. and Austin theatergoers: drama editor Caridad Svich’s Spark will receive its world premiere at the Theater Alliance, Anacostia Playhouse, on September 4–28, 2014, in Washington, D.C., under Colin Hovde’s direction. Likewise, her play Guapa will be produced at the Austin Community College-Rio Grande Campus on September 25–October 5, 2014 in Austin, TX, under Tomas Salas’s direction.

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Who’s Who in La Zona?

A conversation with translator Steve Dolph on Juan José Saer

Steve Dolph is the translator of three books by the late Argentine novelist Juan José Saer, who died in Paris in 2005. All three were published by Open Letter Books, the most recent (June ’14) being Saer’s final, unfinished novel, La Grande. Mr. Dolph is currently a Ph.D. candidate in Hispanic Studies at the University of Pennsylvania, where his research treats Renaissance ecopoetics and the pastoral tradition. His most recent translation, of Sergio Chejfec’s “El entenado” / “The Witness,” is available in the July 2014 issue of Asymptote.

This interview was conducted via e-mail over the early summer months, rambling like “a long afternoon’s conversation,” as Dolph commented, which is perhaps the most apposite way to approach an author so devoted to the vagaries of unfocused thought, and the ways its wandering through time and space makes itself manifest in language.

—Jeremy M. Davies

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Translation Tuesday: “The Jails Take to the Streets” by Carmen Boullosa

Fresh fiction by Mexican writer Carmen Boullosa, translated by Kristina Zdravič Reardon

Featuring a kidnapping, a prison, a drug lord, an inmate called the Inmate-Prince, and a prostitution network, Carmen Boullosa suggests through stark satire in this story that truth is, indeed, stranger—and more complex—than fiction. At the same time, she addresses the narrative gaps between truth and fiction head-on with four levels of meta-narrative.

To begin, she writes that this piece is “a conversation between a film producer (John Grandcaca), a multi-award-winning Mexican writer (Julio de la X), and the assistant producer, with a moralizing note from the author.” At once, we see four levels of narration: the writer’s script, the summary of the script from the assistant producer, the commentary on the summary of the script from the producer to the writer, and the commentary from the fictional stand-in for Boullosa. Yet the narrative proves even wilder than the layers might at first suggest.

Mexico released official crime rate statistics from the last several years this spring. While some claim the statistics are dubious, the publication highlights a high number of kidnappings, extortions, and thefts across the country. Boullosa draws attention to these through dark humor here, and in doing so, forces the reader to reflect on the gaps between truth and fiction and how we, as readers, navigate that divide.

—Kristina Zdravič Reardon

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On the Dearth of South Asian Translations in the U.S. (Part III)

We can't just blame the publishers when there's a glaring lack of institutional support.

Read all posts in Mahmud Rahman’s investigation here.

It would be exciting if an academic publisher steps forward with a contemporary South Asian literature list. Until that day comes, what might be more realistic are initiatives from small publishers. In recent years, besides old stalwarts like NYRB, New Directions, and Dalkey Archive, we’ve seen the emergence of translation-focused publishers like Archipelago, Open Letter, and now, Deep Vellum.

I had a few exchanges with Will Evans, founder of Deep Vellum. As a new kid on the block based in Dallas, Texas, Evans is effervescent about Deep Vellum’s mission. Starting out with a list of five impressive titles translated from French, Russian, Spanish, and Icelandic, their initial plan is to publish ten books a year. In a recent interview with this blog, Evans confidently declared, “Deep Vellum is going to publish translations of literature from every language.”

My conversation with him about South Asian translations revealed that visibility is a problem. Larger publishers may have resources to scout out interesting titles (though one doesn’t see this go beyond certain languages and regions). But smaller publishers rely on information channels that are already in place. READ MORE…

Weekly News Roundup, 22nd August 2014: PEN Awards, Don’t Kill Lawyers!

This week's literary highlights from across the world

Congratulations are in order: a virtual round of applause to the Asymptote contributors and staff lauded in the 2014 PEN Translation Fund winners: blog friend, interviewer, and invaluable assistant managing editor Eric M. B. Becker, for his translation of 2014 Neustadt winner and Mozambican author Mia Couto; and contributing editor Sayuri Okamoto for translating Japanese author Gozo Yoshimasu (“untranslatable?” ha! Just take a whiff of our January 2011 issue); former contributor Benjamin Paloff for his work with Czech writer Richard Weiner; and Philip Metres and Dmitri Psurtsev for their work with Russian writer Arseny Tarkovsky (sneak peek in our October 2012 issue). Felicitations!

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Publisher Profile: Tulika Books

An inside look at translating and publishing children's literature… in nine languages!

Interview with Radhika Menon, founder & managing editor of Tulika Books, India.

Sohini Basak: How did Tulika start out?

Radhika Menon: When we set up Tulika Publishers in 1996, we wanted to create Indian books that were as good as the best books anywhere. No, not “just as good as.” We want to give the children supremely good books and we wanted these books to be right in the Indian context. Our own generation had been fed books from the West, and had been taught to keep away from the more didactic, mass-produced Indian books. Good books, we assumed, came from elsewhere, usually from England!

We needed to reflect a contemporary Indian sensibility. But the contemporary Indian reality was vast, varied, and multilingual. It was clear to us that we would have to publish in as many of the Indian languages as possible.

Today we publish picture books in nine languages simultaneously—English, Hindi, Tamil, Malayalam, Kannada, Telugu, Marathi, Gujarati and Bengali. We also do bilingual books—English paired with each of the other eight languages. Some of the books for older children are in English alone and they too reflect a contemporary “Indianness” in their perspective, and in their very feel and look. READ MORE…

Fickle Fate, Fantastic Fakery: Daniel Kehlmann’s “F”

A review of Daniel Kehlmann's "F," translated by Carol Brown Janeway

Here are the surefire steps to prevent me from reading any book.

1. Describe it as “Holden-Caulfied-meets-X.”

2. Describe it as “(insert famous author here)-ian.” Don’t get me started on the god-awful neologisms “Dickensian,” or, even worse: “Kafkaesque.”

(But sometimes hapless reviewers like myself have no choice but to commit these crimes of equivalence. And reviewing translations is especially tricky).

Not only do critics fumble when appraising prose written by a translator (as opposed to the quote-unquote “original” author), but we even stumble in the face of plot and character: clueless as to if these are culturally determined and unique to their (unknowable) contexts. Even worse for us all, thanks to an education resolutely committed to politicizing every text, we reviewers (rather stupidly) cannot help but ask: where is the equivalence? What’s the project here? What does it mean?

For this review, I read Austro-German author Daniel Kehlmann’s latest novel, F, translated into English by superstar Knopf translator Carol Brown Janeway (who also translated some of Kehlmann’s other novels: Measuring the World and Fame). And in this review—I hope you’ll forgive me—I’m terribly guilty of equivalence. I hope you’ll see why.  READ MORE…

Translation Tuesday: Marcel Schwob’s Mime XII and XIII

"The fig trees have shed their figs and the olive trees their olives, for a strange thing has come to pass on the island of Skyra."

Read all previous posts in Asymptote’s “Mimes” translation project here.

Mime XII. The Samian wine

The tyrant Polycrates gave orders to bring three sealed flasks, each containing a different delicious wine. The conscientious slave took one flask made of black stone, one flask of yellow gold, and one flask of clear glass, but the careless steward poured one Samian wine into all three flasks.

Polycrates looked at the black stone flask and raised his eyebrows. He broke the plaster seal and sniffed the wine. “This flask,” he said “is made of base stuff and the odour of its contents does not entice me much.” Picking up the golden flask, he admired it. Then, having unsealed it, “This wine,” he said, “is doubtless inferior to its beautiful container with its wealth of vermilion grapes and lustrous vines.” Grasping the third flask, that of clear glass, however, he held it up to the sunlight. The sanguinolent wine glinted. Polycrates popped the seal, emptied the flask into his cup, and drank it in one. “That,” he said with a satisfied sigh, “is the finest wine I have ever tasted.” Then, setting his cup on the table, he knocked the flask, which smashed into smithereens.

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In Jazz-like Dialogue: Interviewing Guest Artist Robert Zhao

In conversation with Robert Zhao, Asymptote's featured guest artist for the summer issue

As the guest artist for Asymptote’s summer issue, Singaporean visual artist Robert Zhao Renhui contributed our cover image and illustrated 15 texts in the Fiction, Nonfiction, Drama, and Latin American Fiction Feature sections. I interview him about this experience, as well as the relationship between image and text in his art practice.

I’ve been following your trajectory for quite a few years, but it’s safe to say that the Asymptote summer issue is presenting your work to an audience that is largely unfamiliar with your practice. How would you explain your art, and the Institute of Critical Zoologists, to our readers?

I am interested in both photography and nature, so in my work, I use photography to investigate our dialogue with nature. The Institute of Critical Zoologists (ICZ) is an umbrella concept under which I create and present my work. The meaning of the ICZ takes shape with each of my projects and exhibitions, which create different realities and fictions.

05_Lisa_and_the_Heavenly_Body

Could you describe the process of creating/selecting images for this issue?

There was a tension between choosing images that were too literal a representation of the text, and pictures that encapsulated a very personal connection to the text that regular readers may not get. My guiding principle was that my images should be in a jazz-like dialogue with the text, and occasionally surprise the viewer. I submitted a few pictures for each essay, leaving it up to the journal to do the final selection. In some cases, I didn’t know what was chosen until the issue was published. READ MORE…

Weekly News Roundup, 15th August 2014: Anna Karenina’s Face; Happy 30th, Dalkey!

This week's literary highlights from across the world

You won’t see her on any wanted posters, but literary police officers have made a composite image of Russian femme fatale, Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina (the endeavor reminds us how little we know about our favorite characters’ physical appearances—and why things are better that way). Anna’s popularity came as quite the surprise to many Russian readers at the time, who thought Tolstoy was just too, well, Russian to garner much readership outside his native country. READ MORE…

On the Dearth of South Asian Translations in the U.S. (Part II)

How some South Asian translations are making it—or trying to, at least—in the brutal U.S. publishing market

Read all posts in Mahmud Rahman’s investigation here.

Daisy Rockwell is a painter, writer, and translator. From 1992-2006, she made a detour into academia, from which she emerged with a Ph.D. in South Asian literature and a book on the Hindi author Upendranath Ashk. She had become interested in his writing as a grad student.

In an interview with CNN last year, she said: “Ashk asked me to undertake a short story collection shortly before his death, which I did somewhat reluctantly as I was more interested in translating his long novel, Falling Walls (something I’m finally working on now). It ended up being his dying wish to me, however, so I saw the project through. I finished most of the work around 2000, but had a very hard time finding a publisher, even in India.”

Her translation of Ashk’s Hats & Doctors came out from Penguin India in 2013. About her approach to U.S. publishers, she wrote: “I have tried and so far failed to get my translation published in the U.S., on numerous occasions. I have another work forthcoming and I will try with that too. We’ll see what happens. I haven’t had any explanations. So far I’ve approached them myself. Next up, my agent. Mostly I’ve tried academic presses and small presses. I haven’t tried that many, but since no one maintains a South Asia list, really, the entire thing feels kind of scatter shot and I’ve gotten discouraged easily.” READ MORE…

What We’re Reading in August

Featuring Eridanos Library favorites, tales of primeval and Mongolian displacement, and an anthology of stories about knock-offs!

József Szabó (technical manager): Of the books I’ve read during the past few months, Hans Erich Nossack’s An Offering for the Dead (trans. Neugroschel) has become a book I highly regard. It was my slow but steady mining of the out-of-print Eridanos Library series that led me to this short novel, whose not-so-familiar author stood out from the others in the set, such as: Heimito von Doderer, Michel Leiris, Piñera, Klossowski, Landolfi, Akutagawa, Savinio, Musil.

An Offering, stylistically, reads as if (Hamburger’s) Celan wrote a ~120-page surrealistic threnody in prose for European victims of a WWII bombing. READ MORE…

Translation Tuesday: “The Stops” by Artur Azevedo

A comedic piece about a missed connection by a 19th-century Brazilian master

Norberto, who at first enthusiastically accepted the stops the streetcars made in Botafogo, is now their greatest opponent. Do you want to know why? I will tell you:

One night, at the Expo, the poor young man met the most beautiful and fascinating woman his eyes had ever beheld, and this woman—oh, joy!…oh, fortune!…—this woman smiled gently at him, and with a sweet look she invited him to accompany her.

Norberto did not wait for the invitation to be repeated: he accompanied her.

She stepped into the Avenue of the Pavilions, made her way to the entrance, and went out as if she were going to take the streetcar; he followed her, but there were so many people leaving that he lost sight of her.

Desperate, he ran for the streetcars, some six or seven being ready to depart, and he climbed onto all the side-rails, searching in vain, with eyes peeled for the unknown beauty.

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