In the religion column the robot wrote: human.
It was an old spaceship with no windows (they couldn’t afford a new one). Before takeoff, they painted stars on the ceiling of their child’s bedroom.
A Children’s Story
All the children in the kindergarten had superpowers. One could move clouds (and furniture) through the power of thought. Another could walk on air as high as the tops of trees. A third (her name was Sappho) could stretch her arm up and touch the moon. There was also a child who could replace his stutter with a song.
Carlos Velázquez, The Cowboy Bible (Restless Books, January 2016). Translated by Achy Obejas—review by Selina Aragón, Spanish Social Media Manager
The Cowboy Bible (La Biblia Vaquera) is Carlos Velazquez’ second book, which contains two fictional and three nonfictional stories, plus two neither-fiction-nor-nonfiction texts and two epilogues. They are all set in the land of PopSTock!, for which there is a map at the beginning of the book.
The Cowboy Bible is also a character that metamorphoses into other characters (The Western Bible, The Cowgirl Bible, etc.) who live and act in different times and spaces but share the same talent for entering the dark alleyways of life. Despite their morally questionable actions, wrestlers, drunkards, DJs, street-food sellers, whose “legendary” deeds go from writing songs about drug dealers to crowning a Queen of Piracy in reality shows, become underground heroes equivalent to Mexican popular culture icons:
“I went dressed as a Cartesian seminarist. As soon as the guy in charge of composing the soundtrack to reflect the wrestling audience’s passions saw me take a step forward the ring, he put on a song by the great Sonora Dinamita.”
Mark Kongstad, Am I Cold (Serpent’s Tail, November 2015). Translated by Martin Aitken—review by Beau Lowenstern, Editor-at-Large Australia
Am I Cold throws you into a world of hedonism and extravagance. It is Danish author Martin Kongstad’s first novel to appear in English, and his second body of fiction after 2009’s short story collection Han Danser På Sin Søns Grav (He Dances on his Son’s Grave). The story follows Mikkel Vallin, a recently-divorced, recently-unemployed writer who—toeing the line between unreliable narrator and protagonist—takes the reader through the moonlit halls of Copenhagen’s artistic elite as he attempts to find existential clarity through a lens of sex, alcohol and debauchery. Loosely held together through Mikkel’s polemic, endeavoring to destroy “coupledom” and the trappings of monogamy, the novel endures in a pre-2008 micro bubble of Denmark and seductively draws you into a chilling, often hilarious world that somehow exists in spite of itself.
In this episode, we look at the concept of home; how we shape it and how it shapes us. Yardenne Greenspan takes a look at literature of trauma, bringing us work by two Israeli authors Yonatan Berg and Ron Dahan, who recount the horrors they have seen (and have been a part of) in their country, as well as Yehiel De-Nur better known by his pen name, Ka-Tzetnik 135633, a Holocaust survivor who in bitter detail recounts his time in Auschwitz. What unites these authors is their experience with LSD. Flashbacks to their traumatic experiences directly inform upon their writing and present the reader with a complex portrait of trauma. Daniel Goulden brings us a report from the Brooklyn Book Fair with recordings of Jonathan Lethem, Vivian Gornick, John Leguizamo, Cecily Wong, and Chinelo Okparanta discussing their respective homes and how that informs upon their work. READ MORE…
Eugene Vodolazkin, Laurus (Oneworld Publishers, October 2015). Translated by Lisa C. Hayden—review by Beau Lowenstern, Editor-at-Large Australia
Laurus, the second novel by Russian writer Eugene Vodolazkin (after Solovyov and Larionov, due to appear in English in 2016), is in one breath, a timeless epic, trekking the well-trodden fields of faith, love, and the infinite depth of loss and search for meaning. In another, it is pointed, touching, and at times humorous, unpredictably straying from the path and leading readers along a wild chase through time, language, and medieval Europe. Winner of both the National Big Book Prize (Russia) and the Yasnaya Polyana Award, Vodolazkin’s experimental style envelopes the reader, drawing them into a world far from their own, yet indescribably intimate.
Spanning late fifteenth-century Russia to early twentieth-century Italy, the novel recounts the multiple lives (or stages of life) of a saint and the story of his becoming. Born Arseny in 1440, he is raised by his grandfather after his parents die from the plague that torments much of Russia and Europe. Recognising the boy’s gift for healing, his grandfather instills in him knowledge of healing and herbalism. Arseny aids the pestilence-stricken villagers, yet his powers of healing are overshadowed by his helplessness in preventing his grandfather’s death, as well as the passing of his beloved Ustina. Abandoning his village, past and namesake, Arseny begins a voyage that will transcend country and identity. Kaleidoscopic in his language and reach, Vodolazkin takes us on a journey of discovery and absolution, threaded together through the various, often mystical lives of Arseny as a healer, husband, holy fool, pilgrim and hermit. READ MORE…
Every year, as Holocaust Memorial Day approaches, my husband and I begin looking for a film, a book, or an article with which to commemorate the day. Each year this tradition becomes more challenging and more exciting, as we move away from Hollywood epics and into the realm of small-scale, private stories. As I grow older and my mind expands, I become more interested in the minutia of this enormous tragedy: what people talked about, what mundane things preoccupied their minds, what made them laugh.
In his memoir 33 Days, Léon Werth chronicles the time he and his wife spent on the road fleeing Paris during the Fall of France in 1940. They move between farmhouses and through blockaded roads. They worry for their teenage son, who has left earlier with friends. They pilfer whatever remains in empty homes and abandoned vehicles, and sleep on hay bales. They are at war, but not in the Holocaust. They are Jews who do not yet know what their identity will come to mean.
M. Lynx Qualey: The most important decision a translator must make is: Will I translate this text?
Being an essentially freelance profession, translation has a mountain of drawbacks, but it does make a bit more allowance for choice. The injunction to “translate only what you love” works—as long as you have a stable income outside of translating. I prefer Samah Selim’s version: “Never translate a book you don’t like unless you have to.” Or my own: “Never translate a text you think you’ll regret (unless creditors are outside the window).”
Yet what makes for a “politically problematic” text may have less to do with the text itself and more to do with context. Propagandists thrive on selective translation. The MEMRI “media monitoring organization,” described by Guardian reporter Brian Whitaker, is perhaps the largest ongoing Arabic-English translation project. Some of the individual news and cultural texts that MEMRI translates might be innocuous, but the project as a whole furthers a political agenda.
I came back from the American Literary Translators Association conference with plenty of memories and anecdotes. This was my first visit to Milwaukee, and I hardly saw any of the city: that’s how appealing the panels, readings, and after-hours activities were.
I got to know the interior of the Hilton City Center pretty well as I moved from readings to panels to award ceremonies to never-ending discussions over delicious local beer. I was moved by the different styles and languages of ALTA fellows, including our former assistant editor Megan Berkobien (Catalan). I was deeply inspired by the innovation of the ongoing bilingual reading sessions, where I envisioned Scandinavian hospital scenes translated by Roger Greenwald, a Russian animal revolution translated by Tanya Paperny, and a Sophocles play by Kayne Cheshire reimagined in the American West.
Mythology – Part Two
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In part two of our Mythology feature, we dig deeper into the rich and sometimes troubling relationship between legends of old and lives of present. Where do a nation’s myths come from? What does it mean to be both proud and critical of our cultural identity? How can art reconcile or challenge the way we relate to our heritage? We dive into these questions and more through a focus on two Western Asian countries: Israel and Georgia. Yardenne Greenspan, who grew up in Tel Aviv, examines her own difficulties with accepting the state-sanctioned version of history—she talks with fellow Israeli writers about the myths surrounding Israel’s public image. And Daniel Goulden and Rron Karahoda test out J.R.R. Tolkien’s theory as to why certain languages survive and others go extinct, through a celebration of Georgian music and folklore. READ MORE…
It was a full house at the New York Public Library on Wednesday night, and I learned just how similar Iranians and Israelis are.
Rick Moody moderated a panel event for Live at NYPL, launching two new books from Akashic’s Noir Series: Tel Aviv Noir and Tehran Noir. Akashic Books’ Noir series includes over sixty anthologies of noir stories set in cities around the world. The panel guests included Tel Aviv Noir editors Assaf Gavron and Etgar Keret, Tehran Noir editor Salar Abdoh and Tehran Noir contributor Gina Nahai. Sitting in the audience, listening intently, I felt complicit.
I had translated eleven out of the fourteen stories in Tel Aviv Noir (two others were written originally in English, a third was translated from Spanish). I felt that where the book succeeded or failed, I shared some of the responsibility. I also felt simultaneously in and out of place: I’ve lived in Tel Aviv most of my life, but have never been to Tehran, though when I see pictures of its mountains I get that belly ache of longing.
These two facts are connected: as an Israeli Jew, much of that world is closed to me. READ MORE…
Isolation: that is the most powerful emotion that emanated from most of the stories in The Woman Who Borrowed Memories: Selected Stories of Tove Jansson. As I read them, breathlessly, I was plagued with that wonderful, excruciating sense of unease that radiates from a good, strong, melancholic book. It’s the tingling that comes before the numbness; that profound yet unknown sensation of loss that makes you sigh.
The stories mostly center around one protagonist and are written either in first person or a close third. Set in Scandinavian landscapes, strange and nameless cities or within the confines of a house, these stories follow the protagonists as they become locked in their own minds, detached from the world around them, either physically (the illustrator in Black-White), mentally (Aunt Gerda in The Listener) or emotionally (the sculptor in The Monkey). Often they are propelled into mysterious travel, accompanied by a stranger to whom they are instantly drawn and who highlights their own weakness (The Wolf and A Foreign City). Other times they are experiencing some undefined breakdown of their own, revealing only the symptoms, and not the cause, to the reader (as in The Storm or The Other).
Sophie Hughes (editor-at-large, Mexico): I happen to be reading two collections of short stories that focus on human relationships. Guadalupe Nettel (Mexico City, 1973) is a world-class writer, slowly emerging out of Mexico and just now available in translation. Natural Histories, translated by J. T. Lichtenstein, was published in June by Seven Stories Press in the United States, and you can read a lovely, illuminating, and entertaining piece on the process by Lichtenstein in Asymptote’s July 2014 issue.
I have two confessions to make.
The first is that I’ve never read Amos Oz before. For an Israeli, this is quite shameful. I’m not sure why or how it happened, but somehow, even though everyone I know has read at least some of his work, I’ve managed to miss out on his books. I’ve never had anything against him or any reason to avoid him. I’ve only ever heard brilliant things about him. So how did this happen? Maybe because there was always some other required reading for most of my high school and college years. Maybe because at some point I’d accumulated more books than I could keep up with and had no room for a new author in my life. After a while, I just accepted this shortcoming.
The second confession is that the idea of life on a kibbutz never appealed to me. Though I’ve always considered myself a socialist, or at least prone to socialism, I seemed to have skipped the naïve fascination kibbutz life holds for young Israelis, and headed straight towards cynicism and cringing. I’ve been exposed mostly to art that portrays kibbutz childhoods as traumatic—having to sleep separately from your parents, everyone knowing the details of your life, having not one thing which is entirely your own. Things didn’t look too good for adults, either: conformity was valued and independent thought discouraged. The good of the place, of the community as a concept, was held in higher regard than the well-being of the individuals that made up that community. All of these were elements I felt lucky to have avoided. I’m writing in past tense because this classic idea of a kibbutz is a fading one.
A soda machine burns outside a grocery store
and all the Pepsi and the Coke (diet, too) and the Sprite
Explode in all directions like grenades.
The village of Markabe is burnt and bombed like in a war movie.
And like in a war movie
there’s the guy who carries a heavy jerrycan on his back
and the guy with the cigarette between his teeth
and the guy called Nir
and the guy who’s going to die and doesn’t know it so he allows himself to reminisce about that time when