Posts filed under 'asymptote blog'

In Review: Abdulai Sila’s novel confronts the future of Guinea-Bissau

She wants to create a school unlike those she attended, which were born out of the “civilizing” arm of the colonial regime.

“It was the first time the Sepoys had seen such a cowardly Chief of Post. It left them very disillusioned. They told everyone in the tabanca what had happened, adding a little salt of course.”

No “salt” appears to be lost in Jethro Soutar’s translation of The Ultimate Tragedy, which is the first Bissau-Guinean novel to be translated into English.

Reflecting the Bissau-Guinean oral traditions that influenced Abdulai Sila’s writing style, the novel reads like an uninterrupted conversation about what the future holds for this nation, seemingly on the verge of liberation.

Indeed, it is not difficult to imagine protagonist Ndani’s life (re)told in an oral narrative as she transforms from cursed outcast to abused servant, to the wife of a wealthy régulo in whose village she will meet her true love. With every change in Ndani’s environment, we are introduced to a different facet of colonial-era Bissau-Guinean society: rural, under-served poor; white, colonial elite; powerful, indigenous leaders; and finally, Church-educated citizens.

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Recovery in Ruins: A Review of Bella Mia

Caterina has always identified herself in relation to her sister; she was the ‘other’ twin.

In the wake of the more recent earthquakes in central Italy it seems painfully appropriate that Calisi Press should choose to release the English translation of Donatella Di Pietrantonio’s award winning Bella Mia, set in the aftermath of the devastating 6.3 magnitude earthquake in L’Aqualia in 2009, the deadliest Italy had seen since 1980.

In the early hours of 6 April, 2009, amidst the chaos of the tremors, one woman dies. She leaves her only son behind, left in the care of her surviving twin sister, Caterina, and their elderly mother. The broken family becomes the center for Pietrantonio’s moving tale of recovery. Set in the ruins of a family and the wreckage of the city, the story details the delicate stages of grief as each character moves to re-build their lives after the disaster.

Caterina’s sister Olivia was a constant presence in her life, and one cannot help but think of the powerful female relationships depicted in Ferrante’s novels when reading Caterina’s memories of the two as children, surviving the complex and riddled world of the schoolyard and vying for attention from their peers. In her death, Olivia becomes omnipresent in the lives of those she has left behind: her son blindly chases cars driven by women who look like her; her mother builds her day around visiting her grave, her sister still wears her clothes for good luck. Caterina’s survival guilt is evident—she is ‘alive by mistake’ as far as her nephew is concerned—and the constant expectation that she ‘should be his spare mother’ rather than his grieving aunt torments her. ‘We could have swapped deaths, as we’d always swapped clothes, books, occasions,’ Caterina obsesses. She dwells on the inevitable, unanswerable question: why her? Why was fate kind to her and not her twin? For two people so tightly bound for so many years, why at this point in time were they so violently torn apart?

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Ask a Translator with Daniel Hahn

Imagine, a future in which we translators get to translate books that someone has actually bothered to edit already!

This week marks the final posting in our ever-captivating series with writer and translator Daniel Hahn. The question for this last column comes from Asymptote Editor-in-Chief, Lee Yew Leong, who also explains how he invited Daniel Hahn to be our columnist, a year ago:

When I asked this very specific favor of him over Michelin-starred dimsum last year, I expected Daniel to say he’d think about it and get back to me. This was our first meeting in person, after all. But he agreed immediately to do it for us—for free (we can’t afford to pay ourselves at Asymptote, let alone others). That’s how he came to field wide-ranging questions about the art of translation, from whether a code of ethics exists, to how a translator can improve—questions that came from Asymptote readers the world over.

Having submitted a column every month without fail since December 2015, Daniel now contributes his final essay, making it one full year as our agony uncle in residence. This time, he takes a question from me. I thought I’d try an ambitious one, make it a bit more difficult for him, you know? So I ask him to peer into the proverbial crystal ball. Scroll down below to read his nuanced, optimistic answer, acknowledging post-Brexit uncertainty. Whatever you make of his thrilling column (not to mention his Oulipian, or shall I say, Hahn-like, attempt to make a connection to all previous eleven essays), the future of translation is certainly a better one for Daniel’s advocacy, and willingness to shine the way ahead, that’s an inspiration to all of us working in world lit. Cheers, Danny, and thanks so much for this past year from all of us at Asymptote!

You’ve just returned from your nth Writers Festival this year—where you no doubt had the chance to observe the ‘state of translation’ (in a different country, on a different continent) up close. In fact, I can’t think of anyone more suitable to pose this question to: What does the future of literary translation hold for editors, translators, and readers, say, ten years from now?

Thanks, Yew Leong—like the other questions weren’t big and challenging enough already! How am I supposed to answer this?

Actually, though… Maybe it’s not so hard as all that? Because I’m not convinced that ten years from now things will be wildly different—not the things that matter, anyway.

For one thing, principles and values shouldn’t change just because context changes. We may well be entering a pretty dark time in political / social / economic terms—from the particular (western, Anglophone) place where I’m sitting, at least; but that doesn’t change the importance of what my colleagues do. On the contrary. Back in March I wrote about the translator’s responsibility and power in today’s too-divided world—and that sure as hell isn’t going away anytime soon; we just need to know that we can keep responding to challenges not with surrender but with defiance. (We will.) READ MORE…

Translation Tuesday: “Look at Winter in a Certain Way” by Chou Meng-tieh

all fallen leaves are destined to return to their branches

Today is #GivingTuesday! If you’ve been enjoying our Translation Tuesday showcases at the Asymptote blog and on The Guardian, consider signing up to be a sustaining member at just $5 a day. We’re still several members short of reaching our target; each additional membership helps us get closer to being able to continue beyond April 2017.

For today’s showcase, we’re thrilled to present poetry by the celebrated poet Chou Meng-tieh, named the first Literature Laureate by Taiwan’s National Culture and Arts Foundation in 1997. But his literary achievement belied a lifetime of monastic poverty, decades of which he spent selling books out of a roadside stall. Two years after Chou’s passing in 2014, without any surviving family, our editor-in-chief presents a new translation of one of Chou’s seminal poems, marked by his characteristically ascetic vision.

look at winter in a certain way

 

look at winter in a certain way

start from sunlight—

clumps of parasites up to no good

puncturing holes in snow’s body

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Translation Tuesday: An Excerpt from “Brothers” by David Clerson

In his dream, he was walking on the ocean as one might walk across a desert, an ocean covered in bodies, a dry sea, not fit for life.

David Clerson’s Brothers is an original, phantasmagoric piece of fiction that is steeped in myth and fable. In a world of “gruesome, gargantuan creatures, two-headed fish, turtles with shells as big as islands, whales with mouths so large they could consume entire cities,” two brothers set out to find their dog of a father. The elder brother is missing an arm, while his younger brother has been fashioned by his mother from that arm. Excess and adventure abound as fresh, original writing draws us in to “surreal, hostile worlds.” We meet the leech-boys, a wooden puppet the brothers drag from the sea to become a member of the family, six pig-children, and more, all conveyed in a tone that lies somewhere between delirium and a disturbing dream.

The sailboat was small and light, made of wood, and it glided on the ocean, attended by graceful seagulls and a few cormorants. This craft was much easier to handle than the brothers’ rowboat. This time, the older brother headed straight out to the open sea, pushed by fair, warm summer winds.

He had secured Puppet’s head to the bow, leaving his figurehead clad in the grey pelt. Often, the wind would fill the pelt, moving the body and limbs. It seemed to dance at the bow, and it made the older brother smile, a fleeting happiness.

There had been a barrel of fresh water in the boat when he set sail, along with a few dry biscuits and some smoked herring. The older brother ate parsimoniously, nearly fasting, and he almost never slept, his eyes wide open over dark circles carved out by a scalpel.

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The Happy Translator with Many Heads

Because we were many, our golden moments were also many.

At the time of Teffi’s famous dinners with Rasputin in 1916 (memorialised in an unusual, humanising account), she was at the peak of her renown, one of the most celebrated and beloved of Russian writers. Her admirers came from across the political spectrum and included not only Vladimir Lenin and Tsar Nicholas II but also many writers. Following Teffi’s death in Paris in 1952, her work sank into oblivion—perhaps because she was a woman and an emigrée, and because some wrongly thought her work too witty to be serious. Fortunately, after long years of obscurity, Teffi is being rediscovered. Three volumes of her work are now available in English translation: Subtly Worded (2014), Memories (2016)[i], and Rasputin and Other Ironies (2016) (published as Tolstoy, Rasputin, Others, and Me by NYRB in the United States) This is largely thanks to the efforts of expert translator and my former mentor, Robert Chandler, who is one of the principal translators and a great advocate of collaborative translation.

Each book has been translated collaboratively and is the product of anywhere from three to six hands—or heads—and that’s only counting the translators named on the copyright page.In the case of ‘Rasputin’, the number is probably closer to ten, as Robert took the text to translation summer school and his entire group had a go at it, multiplying the golden moments in translation. While Robert and Elizabeth Chandler have been a central guiding presence throughout, the rest of us have been involved in some books but not in others or have played different roles from one book to the next.

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Translation Tuesday: Five Poems by Benito del Pliego

Destruction/satisfaction: everything is a question of measurement.

Openly encouraging an oracular approach in which readers pose questions to a series of poems and identify either themselves or others through the answers they obtain, Fable showcases Benito del Pliego’s familiarly deft touch as he places puns alongside paradoxes and striking images next to penetrating insights in moving explorations of isolation and recollection. Continuing a career-long commitment to fostering meaningful interactions between a text and its interlocutors—whether readers, accompanying illustrations, or other poems in the collection—this Spanish poet highlights the unfamiliar in the familiar and makes poetry about the everyday seem anything but ordinary. These poems are taken from the collection Fable / Fábula, recently launched at McNally Jackson Books in New York.

 

THE SALMON

—It’s hard to move forward when you only want to go against the current.

Later you discover that nothing remains, that the future has countless origins.

Sometimes you feel like a shipwrecked sailor; sometimes you think anyone who wants to flee never goes further than herself.

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Mid-autumn News from the Asymptote Team

From poetry to graph theory to dance, we've been keeping busy.

Poetry Editor Aditi Machado‘s poem ‘Route: Desert’ was recently published in Poor Claudia.

Drama Editor Caridad Svich‘s new play, Archipelagopremieres in the UK on 24th November at the Lighthouse in Poole, directed by Stephen Wrentmore. Her essay, ‘Six Hundred and Ninety-Two Million: On Art, Ethics and Activism’ recently appeared on Howlround.

Romania and Moldova Editor-at-Large Chris Tanasescu, aka MARGENTO, co-authored an academic article on artificial intelligence with Bryan Paget and Diana Inkpen that has recently been published in the Journal of the Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence. This is part of an ongoing research project, The Graph Poem, led by MARGENTO that applies graph theory to poetry computational analysis and poetry composition or generation.

Contributing Editor Ellen Elias-Bursac‘s translation of Hotel Tito by Ivana Bodrožić will be published by Seven Stories Press. Read an exclusive excerpt in Asymptote‘s Spring Issue! She has also just been elected Vice-President of the American Literary Translators’ Association.

Assistant Editor K.T. Billey, who also edited Asymptote‘s recent Special Feature on Canadian Poetry, has three new poems in the latest issue of the Denver Quarterly

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Ask a Translator with Daniel Hahn

We look for what works as a piece of excellent English writing on its own terms

Acclaimed author, editor, and translator Daniel Hahn is back again with an insider’s perspective on all things related to translation. This week, he responds to a question from Belgian reader Karel Caals and reveals the inner workings of judging translation contests, grants, and prizes. 

Have you ever judged a translation for a contest or a grant? If so, what was the process like; what do you look for, especially, to separate the wheat from the chaff?

One day I’m going to write one of these columns that won’t just say, essentially, “it depends”.

But since you ask: It depends.

Yes, I’ve been on judging panels for translated fiction (such as the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize for adult fiction, the Marsh Award for children’s); or for fiction in English for which translations are eligible alongside originally Anglophone work (the IMPAC Dublin Award for adults, the UKLA Book Awards for children); as well as grant-making committees for organisations like English PEN, which for some years has supported the translation of international literature and the promotion of translated work in the UK. And, yes, each is looking for something subtly or drastically different, and each has quite distinct criteria, and so it depends.

In most cases, the aim is to find a really good translation (I’ll pretend for a moment that we’d all agree what that is), though not infrequently the translations are judged in such a way that the act of translation per se, and the translator her/himself, aren’t mentioned in the evaluation process at all.

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Translation Tuesday: Two Poems by Philippe Beck

Space creates grammar. (And in itself creates is said in space.)

Complex, haunting, and profoundly literary, Didactic Poetries is French poet Philippe Beck’s response to Schiller’s statement: “We are still waiting for a didactic poem where thought itself would be and would remain poetic.” In recognition of his entire oeuvre, Beck was awarded the French Academy’s Grand Prix de Poésie [Grand Poetry Prize] in 2015. We present two poems from his debut publication in English, released by Univocal Publishing today.

 

Liminal Poem

If an I does not begin,
it is because of the sum
of strong concerns
that make and unmake
someone’s history
in the history of some ones
in the history of many
and not in everyone’s.
For a someone differs
in the sum of possible exchanges
with everyone
(the big I is also
theoretically absent, and
the ordinary you and I
strive to become a You
before the imagined arrival
of the big I
that does not exist);
discussions begin
because of discussions.
What must be said
is not already spoken
in the individual’s brain,
nor in the Collective,
but it is said
because of the conversation
which creates necessity
all around brains
and hearts.
And the world is not everyone’s
negative rough draft.

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Stephen Henighan on Globalization, Translation, and The Avant-garde

Translation started not as a way of nourishing the avant-garde—it started as a way of bolstering national identity.

This interview marks the launch of a new series here at the Asymptote blog: “Meet the Publisher.” Every month, we will bring you an insider’s look at the world via in-depth, intimate conversations with publishers of literature in translation from around the globe. This week, contributor Sarah Moses brings us an interview with editor Stephen Henighan of Biblioasis in Ontario, Canada, on the process, politics, and passion of publishing translations.

Sarah Moses says: “Biblioasis started out as a bookshop in Windsor, Ontario in the late 1990s. In 2003, founder and owner Daniel Wells took an interest in publishing and, alongside editor John Metcalf, began to acquire, edit, and launch the press’s first titles. Biblioasis now publishes between twenty-two and twenty-five books a year divided between new literary fiction, non-fiction, and poetry, alongside reprints and regional-interest books. Biblioasis’s head office still includes a bookstore, and the press also runs a quarterly magazine, Canadian Notes & Queries. The Biblioasis International Translation Series, which accounts for four titles a year, includes works from French Canada and around the world, as well as books written in Canada in languages other than French or English. I sat down with series editor Stephen Henighan to chat about the press and literary translation in Canada.”                                                                                                                                    

Sarah Moses (SM): I’d like to begin by asking you about literary translation in Canada. How would you say it differs from other countries?

 Stephen Henighan (SH): In other cultures—and Buenos Aires, where you’ve just come from, is a good example, if you think back to Jorge Luis Borges and his friends in the early part of their careers, but also in New York or London or Paris—translation was an avant-garde activity. It was an activity that might nourish national literary debate, but above all it was there to give you aesthetic relief from the national context.

I think what happened in Canada is that, especially in the 1960s and 1970s, the literary elite was nationalist and therefore wasn’t all that interested in translation. There had been odd translations from French-Canadian literature to English-Canadian literature, mainly in the 1940s and 1950s, but the real translation culture begins in the late 1960s in the Eastern Townships of Quebec, where in the village of North Hatley writers of English and French were living side by side. That’s where Sheila Fischman, who has gone on to translate more than one hundred and fifty books, got her start.

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Dig Deeper into Our Fall 2016 Issue

Selected highlights in the new issue from Asymptote section editors!

Last week, we launched “Verisimilitude,” our star-studded Fall 2016 edition. Since then, we’ve been overwhelmed by the critical reception: A Public Space called the issue “a gold mine of work from 31 countries” while The Chicago Review of Books proclaimed it “f**ing gorgeous.” Among the never-before-published work by both well known and emerging translators, writers, and visual artists we presented in this quarterly issue, Anita Raja’s essay on translation made The Literary Hub‘s Best of the Week roundup. Thank you so much and do please keep spreading the word so we can connect our authors with even more readers! This week, to guide your exploration of the new issue, some of our editors contribute highlights from their respective sections. Follow them from Ireland to Iraq to Mexico to Korea and back again.

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Tactile Translations, Stefana McClure. Review: Eva Heisler, Visual Editor.

Using sources as various as a Japanese translation of The Little Prince, Samuel Beckett’s Molloy, or a U.S. government redacted report on “enhanced interrogation techniques,” artist Stefana McClure slivers printed matter and re-employs it as material with which to construct her enigmatic objects: stones wrapped in paper; a ball wound of the paper shreds of a novel; a nearly black “drawing” knit from redacted texts. Carmen Hermo’s conversation with McClure delves into the thinking and process behind the artist’s “tactile translations.”

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Translation Tuesday: An excerpt from “Everything There Was” by Hanna Bervoets

We started craving other things. Things that were there. Though they were becoming scarcer by the day.

Today we present a haunting extract from a newly translated novel by critically acclaimed Dutch writer, columnist, and journalist Hanna Bervoets. Stranded in a school building after a catastrophic event leaves the outside world uninhabitable, a TV crew and the subjects of their documentary struggle to survive in Bervoets’s post-apocalyptic universe. From the scattered diary pages of the crew’s researcher, we learn the troubling story of everything there was, and the little there was left.

We haven’t turned on the computers in a long time. The last time we turned them off again, there still wasn’t any internet. Until then we still opened the browsers every day. Though perhaps that was just habit, like in the old situation, tearing a page off my calendar every morning, even though I already knew full well what day of the week it was, or what date. But the more often you do something, the stranger it is not to do it. So I can’t say whether we still believed the internet would come back. Just that we kept hoping it would.

It is perhaps hard for you to imagine how important the internet once was. I also find it hard to imagine. Perhaps it really wasn’t all that important.

But I think it was.

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“The Fable of God’s Servant, the Unemployed Mr. Fistulka,” by Lidia Amejko

When Fistulka had a job, no one on our housing block contemplated the meaning of life.

The unemployed Mr. Fistulka came by our housing bloc, and leaning against the buzzer he pressed all the call buttons at once.

And all at once all went to the buzzer

And all at once all answered

And at once all in different voices, each in their own intonation, melody and pitch, in their own way bellowed loudly into the buzzer:

“Helllllooo?”

“Who is it?”

“Hello?”

“Who’s there?”

“You little fucker, what do you want in the middle of the night?”

As the symphony of voices echoed though the housing block, Fistulka asked in a hushed voice:

“Why am I here?”

I mean to say Fistulka asked about the meaning of his life. Night after night, sounding that same sentence in our heads.

Even Mr. Bolczyk, who survived all the occupations and somehow got a good night’s rest each night, would now only lay in bed staring at the ceiling, then get up nervously and lighting a cigarette, he would bounce around the apartment like a moth beating its wings against a glass lampshade.

And Lalek, the sheet metal worker stopped going to work. He closed down his car repair shop and now sits on the bench under the Osieka Epiphany, fixing his gaze on the periwinkle blue ceiling.

Fistulka infected our housing block with his question. Each of us walked around pale like vampires, tripping from a lack of sleep on the holes in the sidewalk; unemployed because it’s understood that before a person can really start living they have to answer that fundamental, “why?”

Only two places got busier, the church and the supermarket, Jericho. A few even started hanging themselves.

And it’s all because of unemployment: when Fistulka had a job, no one on our housing block contemplated the meaning of life.

In an emergency meeting, our housing block community convened. All heads agreed and a decree was reached to occupy Fistulka with “something.”

But I have to confess that nothing came of it. A strong fraction rose up against the decree. The owner of the supermarket claimed that what differentiates a man from an animal is that a man can search for his own meaning. The priest agreed in collusion like never before, and the one from the Galaxy funeral home chimed in, too.

So Fistulka continued walking around the housing blocks, tormenting people with his stupid question. He probably would have continued for a long time and I don’t know what would have happened to our housing block if the rabbit didn’t finish him off with his ears.

It was like this: Mr. Krasik the hunter that lived on the 20th floor—right next to Ms. Janina, Mr. Obrabek’s and the blunt smoker’s servant— killed a rabbit and hung it out in the freezing cold to get him ready for Christmas eve. The rabbit hung head down, stiff as an icicle, and just as Fistulka walked up under Krasik’s house about to pronounce his, “Why am I here,” the rabbit slipped out from between the rope and speared his ears like two blades into Fistulka’s head.

Then the question became irrelevant because Fistulka was no more.

That’s how the matter resolved happily and on its own. The priest said in a sermon that it was the housing block that we all carry inside us that killed Fistulka along with his question and he declared Fistulka a saint who died a martyr’s death in the hands of the rabbit, a symbol of our housing block’s wickedness (or something like this). And now we live peacefully, without questioning anything.

Only sometimes, when the buzzer rings in the middle of the night do we jump to our feet and wonder about the meaning of life.

Translated from the Polish by Beatrice Smigasiewicz

Lidia Amejko is a playwright and a short story writer. Her publications include When the Mind is Asleep–the Answering Machine Turns On, The Passion in the Bottle, and Stories Out Loud, among others.  She has been nominated multiple times for the prestigious literary NIKE award and translated into German, French and Bulgarian. She often adapts her stories for stage and radio production, and it’s this practice that seems to inform her use of language. Her fabulist style has been compared to Olga Tokarczuk’s. This story is taken from her second book, The Lives of Housing Block Saints, (2008), which was a winner of the Polish Book Editors Prize.  

Beatrice Smigasiewicz is a Fulbright scholar living in Warsaw and an editor-at-large for Asymptote. Her work has appeared in Denver QuarterlyArt PapersWords Without Borders, and BODY, an international online literary journal, among others. She holds an MFA from the Nonfiction Writing program at the University of Iowa, where she also studied literary translation. 

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