Place: England

Translation Tuesday: “Icelanders” by Vanda Rozenbergová

But it’s wintertime, it’s been snowing a lot and as long as the weather stays like this the sky will be the same every day.

Shortlisted for Slovakia’s most prestigious literary prize, the Anasoft Litera, it will not be unfair to say that Vanda Rozenbergová is a master of the short story form. In this story, she explores domestic tensions and dashed dreams through the skillful use of a child narrator.

I was in my room playing with my toy cars but Becko kept taking my black sports car away so I had to give him a slap on the hand, Stop it, Becko! I said. I’d been working on a racetrack for my lorries but because it was a Sunday I had to listen to my mum cursing ‘cause the kitchen is next to my room. “Bloody Sundays,” she said, then I heard a pot lid bang on the floor and a knife strike a chopping board. I used to think she was crying but she was just moaning aloud about having to cook. “I’m as lonely as little orphan Annie,” she kept shouting but Daddy and I had no idea who little orphan Annie was. And there’s another thing I don’t get: why does my mum keep doing stuff she hates, why does she keep roasting meat, peeling potatoes, grating carrots, baking and frying, and why does she always clean up afterwards but never sit down with us to eat and instead say she’s had her fill, having breathed in all the cooking smells. And then in the morning she pulls my trousers up to my ears, bundles me into the car and starts doing her hair as we’re driving and tells me with hairpins in her mouth to eat all my sandwiches at school ‘cause she made them for me even though she didn’t feel like it, she hates making sandwiches, as if I didn’t know she hates making them. I’m sure by next year I’ll be making my own sandwiches. But why does she keep on doing stuff she hates? Why doesn’t she just stay in bed and rest and receive visitors, why doesn’t she give me, Daddy, and Becko a hug and ask us to bring her a cup of tea?

When I ask her about it she blames it all on Daddy, but he’s totally not like her, he loves to lounge around and crack jokes, never in a hurry to go anywhere, not even to work. All my friends like him, and sometimes they go to see him for a chat ‘cause he works in the kebab shop next to our school. He doesn’t serve people at the counter, he’s at the back prepping vegetables. He brings home kebabs and doughnuts but Mum doesn’t eat that kind of stuff so it never makes her happy. Becko is not my real brother, I’ve made him up. I told Dad about him and he said that it was OK, that there was this other world and Becko does exist there. When he said that he was lying on a rug under the window looking at the sky, and then he told me a secret, which is that sometimes on his way home from work he stops by the hospital to see his friend who’s sick. I didn’t know what to say so I asked if at least his friend had a nice room, if it had a telly and stuff like that. Of course there’s a telly, said Daddy, and went over to the next room to put some Icelanders on the stereo. Because my Dad loves Icelanders. He loves Icelandic music and Icelandic people.

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Weekly Dispatches from the Frontlines of World Literature

The latest literary news from Spain, England, and Iran

Holidays are nearly upon us, but there is no rest in the world of literature. This Friday, Asymptote staff brings you dispatches from Spain, The United Kingdom, and Iran. Spain mourns the death of poet Adolfo Cueto, says Editor-at-Large Layla Benitez-James, while her colleague M. René Bradshaw has plenty of awards news from the UK. To wrap up, Editor-at-Large for Iran Poupeh Missaghi writes about the recent scandal involving the late poet and filmmaker Forugh Farrokhzad. 

Layla Benitez-James, our Podcast Editor, gives us the rundown on literary awards and new publications:  

Many in Spain’s creative community are mourning the death of Spanish poet Adolfo Cueto who passed away unexpectedly in Madrid on Sunday, December 4 at the young age of 47. His collection of poetry, Dragados y Construcciones, won him the Premio Alarcos de Poesía in 2010, followed by the Ciudad de Burgos de Poesía in 2013 for Diverso.es, and the Manuel Alcántara Prize in 2016.

As Spanish writers come to terms with losing one of their literary greats, they are also celebrating the accomplishments of Eduardo Mendoza, who has just won the Miguel de Cervantes Prize. The award celebrates an author’s entire career, and for Mendoza, the honor comes on the heels of the Premio Ciudad de Barcelona, Premio al “Libro del Año,” Premio de Novela Fundación José Manuel Lara Premio de la Cultura de Catalunya, and the Premio Franz Kafka, among many others. Mendoza was born in Barcelona in 1943, and his win has been especially heartwarming to the city. A group of young writers born after the invention of the prize in 1976 were inspired to get together and talk about the modern state of writing in Spain and Barcelona’s role as a key literary city.

The work of twelve important writers is about to debut in a new collection, Mujer, lenguaje y poesía, which will be forthcoming early in the New Year. Poets Alicia García Núñez, Lola Nieto, Laia López Manrique, Miriam Reyes, Chus Pato, Flavia Company, and Elena Medel, among others, will appear in this new anthology which hopes to expand the contemporary conversation of poetry in the country.

Further discussion and promotion of modern verse took place at the event “Displaced Verses: Nomadic Poetry Recital,” part of the recent Encuentro euroMediterráneo, a meeting of creative people showing solidarity with refugees. Participants hailed from eighteen Euro-Mediterranean countries: Spain, France, Belgium, Italy, United Kingdom, Germany, Serbia, Croatia, Greece, Turkey, Syria, Libya, Jordan, Palestine, Egypt, Tunisia, Algeria, and Morocco. The conference continued the trend of poets and writers in Spain taking an active role in advocating for human rights, highlighting the overlap of the poetic and the political.

In a similar spirit, María Isabel Quiñones, also known as Martirio, dedicated her recent Premio Nacional de Músicas Actuales 2016 to “young people who are ready to fight.”

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Carlos Fonseca on Masks, Perspective, and History

An identity is nothing but a coherent life narrative weaving together separate fragments of lived experience.

Carlos Fonseca is the author of Colonel Lágrimas, first published in Spanish in 2015 by Anagrama (Barcelona) and coming out in English on 4 October from Restless Books. A British Academy Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Cambridge, Fonseca’s research interests lie in Latin American literature, philosophy, and art history, and the formal links between novels and politics, among many others. He was born in Costa Rica and grew up in Puerto Rico, but he considers himself Latin American.

Blog Editor Hanna Heiskanen interviewed Carlos over email about his debut novel, the people who inspired his characters, and his thoughts on identity and the evolving nature of memory. Read an excerpt of Colonel Lágrimas here.

Hanna Heiskanen (HH): Could you begin by describing your book to someone who doesn’t know anything about it?

Carlos Fonseca (CF): Imagine a book that works like a virtual map: you can zoom in or you can zoom out. If you zoom in, you will see the daily life of an eccentric old man who is constructing an encyclopedia of human knowledge. If you zoom out, you will see the political history of the twentieth century. Colonel Lágrimas tries to link these two narrative layers.

HH: This is your first novel—how did you get into writing fiction, and why did you want to tell this particular story?

CF: The novel sprang from two different events. The first is the moment in which a friend of mine tells me the life story of the eccentric mathematician Alexander Grothendieck, a brilliant thinker who ended up locked in his cabin in the French Pyrenees, imagining a universal theory of knowledge. The second was the moment I sat down and, influenced by the works of the American photorealist portrait painter Chuck Close, attempted to imagine what a close-up portrait of my character would “sound” like, what his voice would sound like. The moment I figured out which type of narrator I wanted, the novel’s structure became clear to me.

HH: History, its blurriness and dependence on perspective is one of the leading themes in your narrative. I understand your academic research also has to do with representations of history. How did your research seep into Colonel Lágrimas?

CF: I felt that the life of Alexander Grothendieck—upon which the character of the colonel is based—represented in some ways the history of the twentieth century: a century that began with an addiction to political action and ended up hooked on data. A century that moved from the battlefield to Wikipedia, so to speak. I wanted to explore, through the novel, this idea of contemporary history as a giant museum where the possibility of political action itself is at stake.

HH: You also write about how we can’t escape the inevitability of inheritance“walking on a tightrope” means you can only walk in one directionand whether it’s possible to change the narrative and thus the course of history.

CF: I think you are absolutely right: it is a novel about inheritance. A novel about what it means to inherit a history, a history both individual and communal. The protagonist, like Grothendieck, is the son of two left-wing anarchists and, as such, he must learn how to inherit this political tradition. In a way, I was interested in exploring the Colonel’s eccentric projects and actions as his way of appropriating the anarchist tradition from which he came. It is, indeed, a novel about the ways in which we narrate history and the consequences these narratives have upon us.

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Asymptote Celebrates International Translation Day in London

On September 29, join Asymptote in London for a special celebration of world literature.

Book lovers wary of what Brexit will mean for the arts and culture in the United Kingdom can take some small comfort: British readers are going international.

This year, a survey commissioned by the Man Booker International Prize found that literary fiction in translation is outselling its English-language counterparts. Right now, translation seems more important than ever—suddenly, it seems, world literature has taken root in this island nation, where fiction sales are stagnating overall. How did this happen? Is the movement permanent? Mindful of this year’s celebration of Women in Translation Month (#WITMonth), the release of the first Kurdish novel translated into English, and the globalization of Korean literature, how are publishers continuing to surface underrepresented voices?

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Plunge into the Multilingual Writing Feature from the July 2016 Issue

Readers must ask themselves whether they are entitled to a full understanding —or indeed if such a thing is ever possible.

The past two Mondays here at the Asymptote Blog, we’ve brought you highlights from the July 2016 issue, THE DIVE. This week we’re back with Ellen Jones, editor of the vibrant and provocative multilingual writing section.

The Asymptote July issue special feature on multilingual writing is the second of its kind. The more than two hundred pieces of original poetry and fiction received in response to last year’s call for submissions—many, many more than we were able to publish—opened our eyes to the wealth of new writers who are experimenting with language mixing, and persuaded us that it was necessary to run the feature again.

What I love most about this work is its variety. There are seven contributions, from writers as far afield as Peru, South Africa, and India that, between them, incorporate English, German, Spanish, French, Romanian, Sanskrit, Afrikaans, Italian, Nahuatl, and Arabic. But more importantly, they also make use of the spaces in between these languages: unique cross-lingual sound combinations and associations, and spoken varieties that are thriving but have yet to be documented. There is some poetry, some prose. Some written by well-established literary figures and some by poets who are only just finding their voices. Some pieces for readers of only English, others best left to the true polyglots among us.

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Live Today! Ask A Translator: The Best Tips

"...my aim is to take one superb piece of writing, and make another superb piece of writing that can stand in for it with a new set of readers."

Since we launched our ‘Ask A Translator’ column last December, award-winning writer, editor and translator Daniel Hahn has been on hand to remedy the translation woes of Asymptote readers around the globe. Given the overwhelming love that our readers show for the column and Daniel (seriously, you guys are the best), we can’t wait to welcome Asymptote fans to our very first literary salon today at Waterstones Piccadilly, London on July 20th. The event will be hosted by our Editor-at-Large, Megan Bradshaw and will see Daniel fielding questions from the audience and our readers via Twitter. You can find out more about the event and reserve your place here, or if you can’t attend the event, tweet us your translation question with #AskATranslator.

In anticipation of the event, we’ve put together a shortlist of the six most important lessons for aspiring translators:

  1. Don’t be starstruck by authors (and don’t be afraid to stand your ground)

“Imagine approaching pretty much any writer and saying, “Look, here’s the plan, we’re going to change lots of things in your book—no, I really mean lots of things, like all the words—then we’re going to publish it all over the world in your name, but you won’t get to see what it actually says… Sound OK?” They’d be within their rights to feel more than a little uneasy about it.

[…]

But just as I don’t always understand what they’re doing, they don’t always understand what I’m doing either. And their English is sometimes not quite as good as they think it is. (Or at least I hope it’s typically less good than mine, otherwise I might as well pack the whole thing in.) While I want them to be reassured, I’m the person who signs things off for the publisher, and I have to be happy with the English text—my name’s on it, too, and if something sounds funny that will end up being my fault.”

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Thank you, Britain

I fear that the diabolical pas de deux of racism and xenophobia that we are now witnessing will escalate.

The day after the EU referendum I woke up early to check the results. It was 5am and already clear that the Leave camp would win. I hadn’t expected that. Despite the growing popularity of right-wing populist parties such as UKIP, to the outsiders (and a large portion of liberal Britons too), this divisive brand of Euroscepticism seemed like the voices from the fringes. It is true that UKIP employed dramatic scaremongering as its major political strategy, using migrants as the folk devil on whom to blame Britain’s economic and social problems, both present and future. But to me their tactics stood in sharp contrast to what I have always admired about the British, that is to say kindness, tolerance and openness. Not surprisingly, the Leave win left the country in turmoil. Those on the Remain side are bewildered by the prospect of being torn away from an identity they have eagerly embraced as their own and, increasingly, many of the Leave voters express a similar sentiment. But the Brexit referendum also mobilized an indignant minority that had been previously silent, and galvanized blatant xenophobia, racism and bigotry. It is the latter that saddens me most.

I myself was an EU migrant who settled in the UK following the first eastern enlargement in 2004, although I had first arrived in Britain in the summer of 2003, eight months prior to Poland’s accession to the EU. I was an undergraduate student on a gap year in Liverpool, away from home for the first time. Despite its long tradition of multiculturalism, the city saw very few migrants from Eastern Europe and people knew very little about Poland. Often, on hearing my nationality, they would recite in one breath: Lech Wałęsa, John Paul II, vodka, and engage with me in long conversations about the Pontiff’s poor health. I felt welcomed, and I immediately fell in love with the city and its people. I loved how they talked and joked, how women wore strapless dresses on cold nights out and how families went on the ferry across the Mersey on Sunday afternoons. I myself spent countless hours in the FACT cinema on Wood Street and I can still remember films I saw that year: Young Adam, Sylvia, Calendar Girls and, my absolute favourite, Love Actually. I went to see art exhibitions in the Walker Art Gallery, learning about British painting, from Pre-Raphaelites, through the Stuckists to the Singh Twins. On the 1st of May 2004 I celebrated Poland’s accession to the EU with a group of English friends. The mood was jubilant and hopeful. We drank sparkling wine and, as naïve as it may sound, it felt like Europe was united again.

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Dispatch from Translation Day at Oxford University

There is more wisdom in a poem than a poet herself possesses. Though necessarily incomplete, translation captures some of that expansive heritage.

‘I live half an hour away from Gaza. Two years ago, when we began work, we were at war.’

It’s an overcast day, and soft light floods into the room, filled with students, writers, academics, and publishers. I count translators from at least four languages, but these are only the regular faces I know. Many others have come into Oxford especially for the day, drawn by a rich programme of talks, readings, and workshops. Up front, the Israeli poet Agi Mishol is telling us how she and her translator, Joanna Chen, started collaborating on their recent volume of Mishol’s verse, Less Like A Dove.

‘We were hard at work on a poem when it came. The siren caught us with dictionaries open, and there was nothing we could do. We found ourselves laughing and panicking in the same language.’

Chen, like Mishol, speaks with a poet’s careful precision, and laughs and nods at the memory. They are joined, on the panel, by Adriana Jacobs from the Oxford Centre for Hebrew and Jewish Studies, and open the session by reading some of the earliest poems Chen translated for the book. The poems are about place and displacement, and their voices, in Hebrew and English, rise and fall in turn. Call and response: a present-day liturgy of sorts.

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