Language: Danish

What’s New in Translation? February 2017

Asymptote reviews some of the best new books from French, Kannada, and Danish.

 

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Pretending is Lying by Dominique Goblet, tr. Sophie Yanow, New York Review Books

Review: Sam Carter, Assistant Managing Editor

Dominique Goblet’s Pretending is Lying, translated by fellow cartoonist Sophie Yanow in collaboration with the author, immediately recalls the best work of those figures like Alison Bechdel, Adrian Tomine, and Chris Ware, who have done so much to insist on both the relevance and elegance of the graphic narrative form in the Anglophone world. Fortunately, New York Review Books is dedicated to showcasing the many voices contributing to an ongoing, worldwide comic conversation, and its latest contribution is this Belgian memoir. Originally titled Faire semblant c’est mentir, it centers on the experiences of Dominique—a fictionalized version of the author herself—as she navigates fraught relationships with her parents, including with her looming lush of a father. Also sketched out is a romantic relationship where Dominique attempts to grapple with that most fundamental question of heartbreak: why did he leave me?

A certified electrician and plumber, Goblet clearly understands a thing or two about the necessary connections running through structures to make them work, and her illustrations carry this skill into Pretending is Lying, her first work to appear in English. Image and text perform an intricate choreography, reveling in an aesthetic that frequently slips between the easily imitated and the utterly remarkable. If the easy analogy for reading comics is the process of examining a series of film stills—and even if we might be tempted to label parts of the construction of this work cinematic—I would instead suggest that Goblet offers something that more closely resembles a well curated series of photographs, each of which could easily stand on its own, given each frame’s clarity of vision and attention to detail.

In illustrations that move from Rothko-like explorations of pure color to nuanced collections of penmanship that gradually reveal a series of ethereal forms, the melancholia that we often find in other works emerges here as well—maybe there’s something about the form that lends itself well to expressions of such emotions in its ability to match words with alternatively visceral and measured strokes. The muted color palette of Pretending is Lying is also remarkably expressive. READ MORE…

Weekly Dispatches from the Frontlines of World Literature

This week's literary news from the Nordic countries, the UK and Israel.

The week is nearly over, which not only means it’s the weekend but also that it’s time for our literary catch-up! For this edition, Blog Editor Hanna Heiskanen shares updates on the upcoming awards season, among other news from Scandinavia. Editor-at-Large Julia Sherwood then reports on literary happenings from the UK. Rounding it all up is our correspondent for Israel, Alma Beck, currently residing in New Orleans, where she teaches philosophy for children.

Obligatory reminder: After you’ve caught up with all the news, head over to our just-launched Fall 2016 issue here!

First up, Blog Editor Hanna Heiskanen has the latest from the Nordic countries:

Lars Huldén, the Swedish-speaking Finn poet, has passed away at the age of 90. Born in Pietarsaari, Finland, Huldén was a much loved and highly regarded writer, scholar, translator, and recipient of the Swedish Academy Nordic Prize in 2000. He grew up among a tradition of oral storytelling in the local Swedish dialect and worked tirelessly throughout his adult life, publishing a large collection of poetry, prose, plays, and sonnets, among other works. He also produced Swedish translations of Finnish and English classics, such as the Finns’ national epic, Kalevala, and Shakespearean texts.

Finnish Literature Exchange (FILI) is accepting applications for grants until November 1. If you are a publisher, translator, author, or event organizer interested in working with Finnish literature, FILI has a handy guide on their site to guide you through the options. FILI, founded in 1977, hands out approximately 700,000€ worth of grants annually, in addition to hosting translator residencies and maintaining a database of translations of Finnish literature.

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What’s New in Translation? December 2015

So many new translations this month! Here's what you've got to know—from Asymptote's own.

Mark Kongstad, Am I Cold (Serpent’s Tail, November 2015). Translated by Martin Aitkenreview by Beau Lowenstern, Editor-at-Large Australia

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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.

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New Podcast Episode

In this month’s podcast, storytelling—from the factual to the fractured

In this episode, we look at divergent forms of storytelling in translationfrom the fact-centered world of literary reportage to the poetic proclamations of a third-millennium heart. Beatrice Smigasiewicz brings us coverage from Krakow’s Conrad Festival, where she caught up with one of Poland’s most prominent writers of literary nonfiction, Mariusz Szczygieł, and his award-winning translator, Antonia Lloyd-Jones. They discuss the legacy of 20th century reportage in Polish literature and the power of storytelling in dealing with the country’s wartime experience and postwar Communist era. Katrine Øgaard Jensen presents new translations of poems from Ursula Andkjær Olsen’s Third-Millennium Heart, an explosive collection that pushes story to the limitbreaking every rule of storytelling and yet bringing us a character who feels real. Olsen won the prestigious literary award Montanaprisen in 2013 for the book, excerpted here in its original Danish along with English translations.

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Translation Tuesday: from The Atlantic Grows by Julie Sten-Knudsen

"Two moths have gone into the trap, their bodies are stuck to the paper, their wings are still flapping."

The Atlantic Grows investigates notions of family, colour and race, and specifically the relationship between two sisters who share the same mother and yet are divided – by their different fathers, by the colour of their skin, and by the Atlantic Ocean that separates their continents.

***

In the light of the desk lamp
that is yellower than the daylight
the skin of my hand looks almost green,
almost red, with a golden wash.
It is not white.
The wall is white.
The used tissues
and the unpaid bills are white.
My hand has a different colour. The colour has a name.
I learned it when I was small. I used it
in the kindergarten, in the recreation club after school
when I needed a felt tip
in that indeterminable shade of pink
to draw a fleshy arm or a face:
I need the skin-coloured one.
There was no other use for that felt tip.

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Translation Tuesday: from Godhavn by Iben Mondrup

"I think we’ve got the origin of the world here. I have it in the cup.”

Knut stalks along the mountain. René should be here by now. Since his father had to work, his family stayed in Godhavn instead of going on vacation. Didn’t he see that Knut was back? He would’ve heard the helicopter, at any rate, as it flew over town.

They’d written to each other throughout the summer; a vacation is interminable without one’s friend around. Every day Knut ran to check the mailbox his father had installed next to the road when they reached the summer house in Denmark. Three letters, that was it. Thick envelopes, three or four pages each. Both boys used unruled paper, competing to see who could write the straightest lines. They’d never acknowledged it. Nonetheless, they both knew what was happening. René always won. READ MORE…

Translation Tuesday: Multilingual Poems by Peter Wessel

Translated by Elena Feehan.



Select translation:

Bedstefar

 

Ma petite fille,

Salome, mit barnebarn,

mi nieta

para ti soy “Bedstefar”,

tu única palabra en danés.

Le meilleur père, père

de ta mere,

ton grand-père danois

en danois.

 

Cubana de padre, francesa

de madre

y yo, tu raiz nórdica.

doce por cien

y medio, lo que hay de danés

en mi poesía

ou d’alcool

dans une cépage de bonne qualité.

 

De moi t’as déjà herité

Plus que ta mere:

un mot, an

heirloom du nord:

“Bedstefar”

avec tout ce que celà

veut dire

y con todo lo que tu dirás

cuando me llames,

quand tu m’appelles.

 

When you call my name.

 

Blodets bånd, siger vi.

Barnebarn, grandchild, petit en–

fant,

blood of my blood

a bond which cannot be severed.

Más que un vincula, plus que un lien,

yet nada

nothing

rien

unless we invest it with meaning.

 

So, what sense

qué sentido tuvo para mí

tu nacimiento?

Hvad betød din fødsel for mig,

en far

der aldrig er blevet kaldt, har

hørt sig kalde

far

og kun sjældent

rarement

a pu agir, actuar,

como père?

 

¿Qué tal te sientes como abuelo?,

me preguntaban,

and I was at a loss, no supe contestar

comment je me sentais.

I didn’t feel any different, no notaba

ninguna diferencia

and could not see why I should have changed.

 

Pasaron cinco años, cinq ans

sans practiquement se voir

y solo ahora me doy cuenta,

only now,

gazing back at a gap of five years,

do I realise how you, ou plutôt

ta presence,

changed the perspective of my life,

gav mit liv

et dybere perspektiv

making both past and future unfold.

 

Probablement, je n’ai jamais occupé

la place du père,

dans la vie de tu mama.

Like a fool I offered her up

as a sacrifice for my love to her mother

y su abuelo, mi suegro, me la arrancó.

 

That man, tu bisabuelo, now dead,

rife with heirs and hardly mourned

stole my daughter and supplanted me

leaving me,

dejándome,

a childless, self-deceitful

papa chatré.

 

Salomé, nieta mía,

para ti soy todavía poco más

que una palabra, but a word which,

ahí dedans,

contains,

esconde,

gemmer et løfte, a

meaning and promise

that we both must explore:

 

din “Bedstefar”,

la meilleur père

de ta mere.

***

Offering

 

The pain,

el dolor de esas dulces disonancias.

Le ton aigu, den skærende

intonation

pa nippet til… a breath

from keeling over.

 

Et smertefuldt, jublende skrig.

 

Like Coltrane

we must squeeze the reed, estrujar

nuestra alma

hasta que la nota se quiebre, indtil

kernen spaltes, permitiéndonos

seguir fluyendo

 

indtil

sjælen kælver

og døden os skiller

 

until we cave in

and death do us part.

 ***

Django’s Lullaby

 

Toutes les chansons d’amour,

todas las flores de primavera y los

colores de otoño

que je t’aurais cueilli

se me han marchitado.

 

The songs that my thoughts of you

stirred in the wind

are now a dry rustle, an autumn lullaby

perhaps.

Fugle som trækker mod syd,

pájaros,

birds of passage.

 

Que venga la nieve, la

neige, la manta suave y blanda,

the sweet, forgetful snow

that will cover all the wounds

calmará el ardour de las heridas

and the broken stems

with its cool whiteness,

su fría blancura.

 

La neige de noviembre,

november

sur les petals bleus de mes pensées

de nous.

Bedstefar

My granddaughter,

Salomé – ma petite fille,

mit barnebarn,

mi nieta –

for you I am “Bedstefar”,

the only word you know in Danish.

The best father”, your mother’s

father,

the Danish for

your Danish grandfather.

 

Cuban on your father’s side, French

on your mother’s

and me, your one Nordic root.

12.5%:

like the Danish in my poetry;

or the alcohol content

of a fine wine.

 

You’ve already inherited

from me

more than your mother ever did:

a word, a Northern heirloom:

“Bedstefar”

and all that word means

and all that you mean

when you call me,

when you call me it.

When you call my name.

 

Blood ties, we call them.

Barnebarn, grandchild, petit en-

fant,

blood of my blood

a bond which cannot be severed.

More than a bond, more,

yet nothing,

nada,

rien

unless we invest it with meaning.

 

So,

what did it mean for me,

your birth?

What did your birth mean for me,

a father

who has never been called,

never heard himself called

father,

and has only

rarely

been able to act

as a father?

 

How do you feel about being a grandfather?

people would ask me,

and I was at a loss, I didn’t know how to answer,

how I felt.

I didn’t feel any different, nothing

tangible,

and could not see why I should have changed.

 

Five years passed

and we scarcely saw one another,

and only now do I realise,

only now,

gazing back at a gap of five years,

do I realise how you, or rather

your presence,

changed the perspective of my life,

made that perspective deeper,

making both past and future unfold.

 

I suspect I never really fulfilled

the role of father

in your mother’s life.

Like a fool I offered her up

as a sacrifice for my love to her mother,

and her grandfather, my father-in-law, tore her from me.

 

That man, your great-grandad, now dead,

rife with heirs and hardly mourned

stole my daughter and supplanted me

leaving me,

dejándome,

a childless, self-deceitful

papa chatré ­– a castrated father.

 

Salomé, little one,

for you I am still scarcely more

than a word, but a word which,

deep inside,

contains,

conceals,

holds a

promise and a meaning

that we both must explore:

your “Bedstefar”,

the best father

of your mother.

 

***

Offering

 

The pain,

the pain of this delicate discord.

The pitch set high, the intonation

cutting,

on the verge of… a breath

from keeling over.

 

A painful, joyful cry.

 

Like Coltrane,

we must squeeze the reed, wring out

our souls

until the note cracks, until

its core is cloven, so we can

keep on flowing

 

until

our souls cave in

and death do us part.

 

***

Django’s Lullaby

 

All the love songs,

All the spring flowers and

                  autumn colours

I gathered for you

have withered in my heart.

 

The songs that my thoughts of you

stirred in the wind

are now a dry rustle, an autumn lullaby

perhaps.

Birds that fly south for winter;

birds of passage.

 

Let the snow come,

its soft and tender blanket;

the sweet, forgetful snow

that will cover all the wounds,

soothe the stinging cuts

and broken stems

with its cool whiteness.

 

November snow,

on the blue petals of my thoughts

of us.

 

***

Illustration by Dinah Salama.

******

Peter Wessel is a Danish-born poet who has divided his life between his homes in Madrid and the Medieval French pilgrim’s village of Conques-en-Rouergue (which he considers his second birthplace) since 1981. He teaches a university course titled “Rooted in Song—the Role of African Americans and Immigrant Russian Jews in the Creation of the American Dream” and defines himself as a musician who expresses himself through poetry. Peter’s last two books Polyfonías (2008) and Delta (2014) are multilingual poetry collections both of which include recordings of his readings in dialogue with the musicians from Polyfonías Poetry Project. He blogs at www.pewesselblog.com.

Translator’s Profile: K. E. Semmel

Q&A with K. E. Semmel, translator from the Danish and 2016 NEA Literary Translation Fellow.

K. E. Semmel is a writer and translator whose work has appeared in Ontario Review, Washington Post, World Literature Today, Southern Review, Subtropics, and elsewhere. His translations include books by Naja Marie Aidt, Karin Fossum, Erik Valeur, Jussi Adler Olsen, Simon Fruelund and, forthcoming in winter 2016, Jesper Bugge Kold. He is a recipient of numerous grants from the Danish Arts Foundation and is a 2016 NEA Literary Translation Fellow.

***

Who are you? What do you translate? 

First, thank you for asking me to do this interview. I’ve started an interview series with the Santa Fe Writers Project (SFWP) called “Translator’s Cut,” in which I travel the globe, so to speak, interviewing translators about their work. So I’m more used to being on the opposite side of an interview.

Who am I? I’m a literary translator and writer, working from Danish to English (though I’ve translated some Norwegian and would do it again if the right opportunity presented itself). My educational background is in History and Literature, and my professional background is in the nonprofit world. For the past couple years, however, I’ve been translating full time. Like with any translator, I suspect, my primary reason for translating is that I love books and literature and want everyone to experience some really fantastic books that I happen to be able to render in English. READ MORE…

New in Translation: Rock, Paper, Scissors by Naja Marie Aidt

Our India editor-at-large reviews Naja Marie Aidt's long-awaited first novel.

 

See here a picture of prosperous urban life—clean, quiet, well organized, polite and considerate—now lift up the top and see the unfounded rage, the explosive violence, and the metaphysical distress bubbling just under that calm surface. This is what Danish poet and writer Naja Marie Aidt conveys to us in her latest novel, Rock, Paper, Scissors (Open Letter, 2015), translated from the Danish by K. E. Semmel.

Thomas O’Mally Lindström is a small business owner who lives in an upscale apartment with his girlfriend, Patricia. The novel begins with Thomas and his sister, Jenny, making arrangements for the funeral of their father, Jacques. We see Thomas as a man who has his life put together: he runs a successful stationary business with his partner, he’s in a relationship with an attractive, intelligent and kind woman, he is an affectionate brother to Jenny and a good uncle to her daughter, Alice. Thomas seems to have successfully left behind his poor, abusive childhood; in which he and Jenny had suffered at the hands of Jacques, a petty criminal and drug-pusher.

Things start to fall apart when Thomas, while helping his sister sort out Jacques’s things at his rundown apartment, finds a huge sum of money hidden in an old, broken toaster. Thomas decides to keep the money even though he knows his father probably came by it illegally. He hides the money in his basement; but it makes him sick with anxiety every time he thinks about it. At his father’s funeral a few days later, Thomas is surprised to find himself overcome with grief; he begins to sob uncontrollably when his sister Jenny hugs him after the service. The funeral is one among a number of great scenes—the generic service, the chapel’s “white walls, hard benches,” the tacky flowers, the awkward handshakes and nods, Jenny’s pretentious eulogy—all of it sets Thomas down a fresh spiral of panic. READ MORE…

How Literary Translation Upgraded my MFA

Our new blog editor Katrine explains how literary translation transformed her creative writing MFA & writing practice overall.

First, I did it for the money. I used to work as a freelance journalist, and to support myself on the side I translated tv-shows, computer games, websites, you name it.  It paid well. So when I came to Columbia University to pursue an MFA in Creative Writing, I thought: hey, I’ll just do a double-concentration in fiction and literary translation so I can support myself as a translator of books while trying to make it as a writer. Ha! Ha.

I remember the writing program hosted a mingle with drinks on the first evening of our intro week, and halfway through the event I was already drunk on a) wine, b) nerves, and c) an incredibly long conversation with poet Timothy Donnelly about the great Danish poet Inger Christensen and Buffy the Vampire Slayer. READ MORE…

Interviewing Naja Marie Aidt

Eric M. B. Becker in conversation with the author of Baboon, a short story collection published by Two Lines Press

The first full-length work by Danish writer Naja Marie Aidt—born in 1963 in Greenland, raised in Copenhagen, and currently living in New York City—is now available in English with the translation of her short story collection Baboon, which earned her the biggest literary prize in Scandinavia, the 2008 Nordic Council Literature Prize, and is being published this month by Two Lines Press in a sharp translation from Denise Newman.

Aidt’s writing includes nine books of poetry, short stories, radio plays, plays, films scripts, and children’s books, and her work has been translated into Italian, German, French, Swedish, Norwegian, Latvian, Icelandic, and Czech. Her literary career began in 1991 with the poetry collection længe jeg er ung (“As Long As I Am Young”), part one of a trilogy she completed in 1994 and which, like Baboon, plumbs the depths of relationships with family and friends. Baboon is her third short story collection.

Although her subject matter with these new stories is quotidian, Aidt’s characters and their fates are anything but: After their son is tossed from a bike and injured, a husband decides there is no better time to reveal to his wife details of his affair with her sister; a well-meaning couple, forgetting to place a bag of candy in their supermarket basket, find themselves charged with theft above their assiduous protests.

In our conversation via email, shortly after the author’s return to New York from a reading tour in Denmark, we discussed the importance of place in Aidt’s fiction and her ability to recast the familiar as strange, as she puts it, to turn “frustration and sadness into a new possibility, a new freedom,” creating the impression that one is seeing with new eyes. READ MORE…

How well do you know your neighbor?

"The linguistic closeness is a false cognate for cultural closeness. And for that, we can't blame the translators."

My chair is uncomfortable, I don’t understand Danish, and it smells like someone in my general vicinity had kippers for dinner. I’m at the Oslo Central Library’s panel discussion on “What is good Scandinavian literature?,” and it isn’t going well. READ MORE…