Posts filed under 'Fiction'

Anita Gopalan on the Joys of Translation

These references are woven inside the text, sometimes explicitly, sometimes covertly. They pulsate with meaning...

Anita Gopalan, a Bangalore-based translator, received the 2016 PEN/Heim Translation Fund Grant for her translation of the Hindi novella Simsim by Geet Chaturvedi. Despite India producing a wealth of literature, Gopalan is only the second Indian to have received this grant. Over email, Poorna Swami asked Gopalan about Hindi literature and translating Chaturvedi.

Poorna Swami (PS): So you have a rather unconventional literary background, and even worked for many years in the banking sector. How did you find your way into translation? What do you enjoy most about it?

Anita Gopalan (AG): Although I don’t have a conventional literary background, I am striking out on a new path that is only natural to me. You see, when I was young I wanted to become a writer. Our house in Pilani was filled with books and I had access to all kinds of texts. At age eleven, I started on unabridged Dickens, by thirteen, it was Bonjour Tristesse and Lady Chatterley’s Lover, and I had already written a whole book of poems (in Hindi, English, and Marwari). I read my poetry out loud to all our house maids and they were the ones who lovingly listened to it. But something happened that even I can’t fathom—my last poem was about suicide, and that was that. I did not become a writer. Rather, I thrived doing math—Hilbert spaces, isomorphisms—and moved on to banking technology and had a wonderful career in that field.

Years later, I had to cut down on my hectic work schedule due to a health condition and suddenly there was a vacuum. “To believe you are magnificent. And gradually to discover that you are not magnificent. Enough labor for one human life,” Czesław Miłosz said, and that fit my condition perfectly. I again turned to writing, and Facebook became the medium for me to post my writings and music. Here, I became acquainted with the wonderful writer Geet Chaturvedi. Interestingly, his first work that I read was not poetry or fiction—the genres he is famous for—but a short essay on music. His splendid poetic prose and sharp insights were evident even in that post. I fell in love with his writings. It was his poems that enchanted me most. A couple of years ago, he suddenly asked me to translate them. I was taken aback. I hadn’t translated anything before, but at the same time I was thrilled.

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What’s New in Translation? November 2016

Asymptote reviews some of the best new books from French, Swedish, and German.

cabo-de-gata

Cabo de Gata, by Eugen Ruge, tr. Anthea Bell, Graywolf Press

Review: Sam Carter, Assistant Managing Editor, US

First published in German in 2013—when his In Times of Fading Light appeared in EnglishEugen Ruge’s Cabo de Gata, out this month from Graywolf Press, might strike a familiar note for readers who have witnessed a surge in autobiographically-inflected works that frequently take the production of fiction as a subject worthy of novelistic exploration. Hailing from both the Anglophone world and beyond, such novels record the process of their creation or the struggles to even begin them, and Ruge quickly aligns himself with this approach in his tale of a writer’s attempt to get away from it all in the hope of figuring something out. “I made up this story so that I could tell it the way it was,” declares the dedication to this slender volume, and a more precise formulation arrives soon after as the narrator recalls a period in which “I was testing everything that I did or that happened to me at the same moment, or the next moment, or the moment after that, for its suitability as a subject … as I was living my life, I was beginning to describe it for the sake of experiment.”

While in Cabo de Gata, a small town on the Andalusian coast, the narrator quickly settles into routines designed to simultaneously distract him from blank pages and provide him with some inspiration to fill them. The local fishermen, whom the narrator visits on his daily stroll, can empathize with such difficulties: ¡Mucho trabajo, poco pescado! A lot of work for only a little fish—it’s a piscatory philosophy that applies just as well to the writing life. Ruge, however, proves to be an exceptionally gifted angler as he reels in catch after catch in what would seem to be difficult waters, namely a single man’s short trip to this seaside village.

Serving as a metronome marking out the rhythm of memories that constitute the novel, a refrain of “I remember” begins many of the paragraphs that have been expertly rendered by translator Anthea Bell. Far from repetitive or reductive, such a strategy instead seems somehow expansive, particularly when we are reminded that, “fundamentally memory reinvents all memories.” Both the vagaries and the vagueness of memories—“I remember all that only vaguely, however, like a film without a soundtrack,” remarks the narrator in a line that will be hard to forget—serve as the subjects of reflection that find their counterpart in the rhythms of the sea and the surrounding Spanish countryside.

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Weekly News Roundup, 3 June 2016: Superstar Contributorstars

This week's literary highlights from across the world

Happy Friday, Asymptote!

All translation is approximate, but we don’t always like to think so. “Approximate Translation” is a performance that grapples with intelligibility, performing sections of Ouyang Jianghe’s poem Between Chinese and English. And speaking of canny approximation, the Los Angeles Review of Books‘ “Multilingual Wordsmiths” series continues with Ann Goldstein, past journal interviewee and translator of Italian fever-phenom Elena Ferrante. READ MORE…

Weekly News Roundup, 6 May 2016: The Best. Translated. Book.

This week's literary highlights from across the world

Happy Friday, Asymptote! The biggest news this week is that of the official announcement of Three Percent‘s Best Translated Book Award winners, so we won’t keep you waiting: in the fiction category, Mexican novelist Yuri Herrera’s Signs Preceding the End of the World, translated by Lisa Dillman, took home top honors (you can read a review the blog published preceding the award here—we totally called it). And in the poetry category, Rilke Shake by Brazilian author Angélica Freitas and translated by Hilary Kaplan snagged top honors. Big congratulations to the winning writers, translators, publishers, editors, and readers! READ MORE…

Translation Tuesday: “The Princess” by Alit Karp

As she baked the cake, she thought about what she would say when she'd present it to the Princess.

By the time Nils Holgersson turned forty-eight, he already lived very far north, in Jokkmokk, the capital of Swedish Lapland, which could only with the utmost pretension be called a capital city, since it was no more than a small, remote village upon which, as Tacitus wrote, the sun never shone in the winter and never set in the summer. He worked as a custodian at the only local high school, which had three classes for each grade and a dormitory so that students who lived as far as 100, 200 or even 1000 kilometers away would have a place to stay. The school menu was standard for Sweden: mashed potatoes with butter and strips of bacon on Mondays, fried fish and potatoes on Tuesdays, pea soup and pancakes with jelly on Wednesdays, tuna salad on a roll on Thursdays, and noodles with ground beef on Fridays, which was the children’s favorite. He knew all this from his wife, Maria, who was the cook in the school where he worked as the custodian.

No children had been born to them. They accepted this as their lot in life and did not ask questions, neither of the doctors nor of their own parents, who were still alive when children remained a possibility. Sometimes Nils would amuse himself with the notion that if he had a son, he would teach him how to hold a hammer, how to drive in screws, and how to chop down trees. Most of the time, however, he did not torture himself with such pointless musings.

He rarely spent time with Maria during work. She would be in the kitchen and he’d be in the schoolyard, which was generally covered in ice, or else he’d be in the classrooms or the bathrooms. They didn’t think it was appropriate to consort as a couple just because they were lucky enough to share a workplace. If by chance they passed each other in the hallway, they would mumble feeble greetings and continue on their way. In the evenings, when they met at their home adjacent to the schoolyard, they did not engage in long conversations: Hi. Hi, do you want to eat? Yes, thanks. Beer? Yes, please. Can you turn up the volume on the television? Thanks. They would doze on and off until midnight, each in an armchair, and then go to sleep in their bed, which was neither particularly big nor particularly small, but in any case no act of love had been committed there in quite some time.

One particular morning Maria burst into the school storeroom which served as Nils’ office and said to him breathlessly, “Did you hear? Princess Victoria is getting married in two months and her wedding procession will pass through all of Stockholm. We have to be there. She’ll be so disappointed if we don’t go. And I want to bring her a present, something that will remind her of that day in the forest, you remember, right?” READ MORE…

Translating Magpies: A Writer’s Travails in Translation

Author Rachel Cantor on faking it until making it in Italian translation and her novel, Good on Paper

Shira, bless her heart, is a good but underachieving translator. She usually translates the lesser-known works of lesser-known writers (her relationship with translation is ambivalent, to say the least); more often, she temps in New York City’s outer boroughs. But because of a ground-breaking translation she wrote in grad school of Dante’s La Vita Nuova (using a Buber-Rosenzweig leitwort approach), the Nobel Prize-winning poet Romei commissions her to translate his latest work, which riffs off La Vita Nuova in ways he promises to explain. As Shira begins to translate his Vita Quasi Nuova, however, she begins to suspect that Romei has another agenda, one that involves her personally and has nothing whatsoever to do with poetry…

Shira is not real, of course: she’s the narrator of my novel Good on Paper. To do justice to her work, I read books about literary translation, theories of translation, the practice of translation, especially from the Italian. I used as much detail as I plausibly could, so that Shira’s work could feel real, and her translation dilemmas—essential to the plot—would seem both urgent and specific. She talks—knowledgeably, I hope!—about terza rima and the “eleven-syllable Italian line.” Research because I couldn’t draw on my own experience. Like Shira, I spent my formative years in Italy, but her skill with the language far exceeds mine. Asked to read Italian novels in school, I labored; asked to translate something (anything) once in high school, I chose a Petrarchan sonnet, and did a serviceable job, though there was one line in the octave I just couldn’t get right. READ MORE…

Translation Tuesday: “Okinawa, Mon Amour” by Betina González

In Japan everything always happened in reverse: wolves did not eat people, kamikazes were not afraid of death, grumpy people smiled.

It’s #Giving Tuesday! If you’ve enjoyed our Translation Tuesday posts, please consider a $25 donation to our newly launched fundraising drive today! Every little will help us bring you more of what you love.

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In Japan everything always happened in reverse: wolves did not eat people, kamikazes were not afraid of death, grumpy people smiled, and Cinderella was a stoker’s son named Mamichigane.

Every day, Miriam thought about that typhoon-exhausted island she had never seen: Shuri Castle cloaked in flames, the drowned children of the Tsushima Maru, and the woman who came down from Heaven and had to stay on Earth because some man stole her magic kimono.

Every day, Miriam fed her fish, dusted off the glass cases of her tragic geishas, and cursed, with much gentility, her destiny as a South American. Her big brother’s explanations didn’t help much. As Kazuo so often reminded her, the Ryukyu Kingdom had little to do with Japanese traditions, and the people of Okinawa ever fled their island. Okinawa had to be the one place in the world with a commemorative statue of the Father of Immigration: Kyuzo Toyama, the hero who arranged the flight of the first Okinawan-Hawaiian citizens in 1899. For Kazuo, the argument reinforced a historical truth: their ancestors were in fact the first settlers of the Americas and, according to him, merely completing their millennia-long task. The Indian-American was practically Japanese; if Kazuo had any talent, he would draw a manga of the second wave of continental population, destined to perfect a race of supermen through dry-cleaning and karate. READ MORE…

Translation Tuesday: “Saliva” by David Clerson

I looked at the animal, at its lifeless eye that would never see another thing, and I thought back to the grilled cheese I had eaten at nightfall.

I’d spotted it lying in the ditch, one eye open, but perfectly still, its left side covered with black blood, its tongue hanging limply from its mouth. I’d stopped, as though the dead animal had been a boundary stone ordering me to a halt, and I’d taken the time to stare it down, thumbing my nose at death or bad luck.

It was a long-legged husky with lovely grey and black fur. Its half-open mouth showed off teeth more white than yellow. And even in this lifeless state, lying there in the ditch, it was impressively built. It was a dog from the north, well used to sniffing around bears and moose. It was also a pet, trained to warn humans of the dangers of the wild. But at the end of the day it was just another animal lying dead at the side of the road, hit by a pickup rattling by at 120 k.p.h. or a truck piled high with heavy logs.

And even though the sight of the dog was enough to spoil anyone’s appetite, I hadn’t eaten since the night before and hunger was gnawing away at my stomach. I looked at the animal, at its lifeless eye that would never see another thing, and I thought back to the grilled cheese I had eaten at nightfall at the rest stop in Hearst, the improbably French-speaking town in northern Ontario. I thought back to the coffee, too, paid for with my last few dollars, that I’d sipped slowly as I waited for morning to come. I recalled it sliding down into my stomach, whetting my appetite; I heard my stomach rumble and I thought of eating again, and told myself that I’d need to get to my destination before I could eat. And so I walked away from the dog, stuck my thumb in the air, and focused on the road. I walked. A cloud of smoke came out of my mouth and the frost creaked beneath my boots.

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In Conversation with Annie Zaidi

"...it became apparent at once that women have always used writing as a form of politics and activism."

In a conversation about a younger generation of Anglophone writers in India, Annie Zaidi’s name is bound to come up. From poetry to non-fiction to drama to a novella that is both ghost story and romance, her writing continually shifts forms, landscapes, and languages. Zaidi is the editor of Unbound: 2,000 years of Indian Women’s Writing and the author of Gulab, Love Stories # 1 to 14, and Known Turf: Bantering with Bandits and Other True Tales. She is also the co-author of The Good Indian Girl. Her work has appeared in several anthologies including Eat the Sky, Drink the OceanMumbai NoirWomen Changing India, and Griffith Review 49: New Asia Now. Zaidi spoke with me about her influences, process, and literary interests in an email interview. 

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Poorna Swami: Your grandfather was a well-known Urdu writer, and you have said in the past that literature was a big part of your childhood. How has that culture of language and literature influenced your career as a writer? Although you write primarily in English, does Urdu shape your work in any way?

Annie Zaidi: Literature was a big part of my childhood, but not in the sense of literature with a capital L. My family had some literary background, and there were a lot of books around but there were no literary discussions and for many years, I did not have access to a good library. But books were seen as a good thing and we were bought books and comics from an early age. Books were my main source of entertainment and, later, my main solace. I read almost all the time and that turned me into somebody who didn’t know much except the world of words and stories. Turning to literature as a vocation was a very short step from there. READ MORE…

Translation Tuesday: “Chairs and Sentences” by Anna Weidenholzer

"Ferdinand only likes the thin straws, and he likes it when a straw bobs back up after being submerged in a beer bottle."

A brown leather sofa, on it a man, below it a Lurch. A Lurch is a bundle of dirt made of dust, fluff and hair. A Lurch is what I call a Wollmaus. Because the chairs are never cleared away I have a lot to do, the man says. Because the chairs are never cleared away I get angry. But because the chairs are never cleared away I have a job to do. It’s better to have a job than not having a job. Because what would I do if I didn’t have a job. I would just sit at home, sitting at home is nothing, what do you do when you don’t have a job. It’s better to work even if I get the same money I would get if I didn’t work.

The man takes his left hand from his stomach, lays it behind his head, moves his thumb back and forth. Ferdinand watches the man move his left thumb back and forth. Ferdinand watches TV. It’s after ten pm, Ferdinand prefers serious programmes, he appreciates their seriousness and while watching he frequently looks past the television. Is there a hole in the air? A student asked him once; no, a lake, Ferdinand had answered.

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Translation Tuesday: “Breaking Through the Drum” by Bohumil Hrabal

"and everything suddenly seemed so bizarre I thought my ticket-taker’s demon must have come back to play with my mind."

I never felt better than when I was tearing the stubs off people’s tickets and showing them to their seats. In primary school, I loved to make seating plans for the teacher. Then during the war, a weird thing happened to me. A kind of ticket-taker’s demon lit on my back and right in the middle of the newsreel, when the voice announced that eighty-eight enemy aircrafts had been shot down over Dortmund and only one German plane had gone missing, the perverse little imp whispered something in my ear, and I said in a loud voice: “Aw shucks, it’s bound to turn up again.” My voice sounded like it belonged to somebody else, so I turned up the house lights and ordered the person who’d said it to come forward. The other ushers and I walked through the audience, but no one confessed and so, invoking our official powers—we actually had such powers—I declared that the entire program, including the feature film, was hereby cancelled, the tickets were null and void and, as punishment, everyone had to go home without a refund. READ MORE…

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: “Spring’s Doings” by Orhan Veli Kanık

Just a few days ago, I overheard a woman. 'In my opinion, poetry,' she said, 'is a white automobile.'

I wanted to write something. I picked up paper and pen, and I walked out to the terrace. What I call terrace is on the top floor of the hotel where I live. The weather was spitefully tempting. A warm March sun penetrating all the way to your bones. Weather like this makes many a person happy at the end of winter. What is happiness? Has everyone in the world known it? Questions like this can be debated at length. Who knows, maybe if I did debate this one, I would take back what I said. So what if I imagine myself to be happy every once in a while? Since it seems certain that I won’t be getting my share of great fortune, I’ll make do with whatever comes my way.

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Close All Tabs But This One—Alejandro Zambra’s “My Documents” in Review

If you read the review all the way to the end, you'll win a prize (I'm serious). But I don't need to cajole you into finishing the book.

Alejandro Zambra deserves his very own sentence (so here it is).

I’ve come across far too many breathy, overeager reviews that are downright giddy to liken Zambra—Chilean writer, very of-the-moment—with someone entirely different. Predictably, Zambra’s equally hip literary/national compatriot Roberto Bolaño is at the tip of everyone’s tongue. And then there are other authors, nearly all of them translated—Karl Ove Knausgaard, Daniel Kehlmann, Elena Ferrante, Ben Lerner—who are inevitably mentioned in the same breathless swoop. It’s true that these writers are at-least-obliquely occupied with Zambra’s brand of hyper-real, genre-eliding, syntactically all-too-acute, auto-fictive and/or meta-fictive literary fiction, but there’s something decidedly pungent—and utterly unique—about Alejandro Zambra’s particular kind of fiction.

Did you count the hyphenations I needed to describe Zambra’s writing? There were eight of them. They’re intentional—as Zambra’s work, too, doubles, triples, even quadruples multiple intensities at once, though without the agglutinative slog that sentence carried (I am so sorry, dear reader). Zambra’s fiction occasions a rather hefty sleight of hand.

This is true, even with his latest publication—My Documents, translated by (Asymptote’s own former team member!) Megan McDowell and published by McSweeney’s this month. It’s his longest in English to date, and still a mere 240 pages long. I read it in a single sitting, but like I mentioned in this month’s What We’re Reading, I’ve kept chewing for weeks to follow.  READ MORE…