Posts filed under 'GDR'

What’s New in Translation: September 2017

Looking for reading recommendations? Here are three releases—a book-length essay about translation, a German novel, and an experimental anthology.

Summer is drawing to a close and our bookshelves are groaning with the weight of new releases. Asymptote team members review three very different books—a genre-bending meditation on the practice of translation, a German bestseller about African refugees in Berlin, and an anthology of monologues that were once performed on the streets of Quebec City. There is much to delve into. 

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This Little Art by Kate Briggs, Fitzcarraldo Editions.

Reviewed by Theophilus Kwek, Editor-at-Large, Singapore.

It is in 1977, as he begins lecturing as Professor of Literary Semiology at the Collège de France, that Roland Barthes realizes he is no longer young: an “old and untimely body,” on a “new public stage.” But to speak to the students gathered—with their “new concerns, new urgencies, new desires”—he will have to “fling [himself] into the illusion that [he is] contemporary with the young bodies present before [him]”; he must, in Kate Briggs’s memorable words, forget the distances of age and time, and be “carried forward by the force of forgetting, which is the forward-tilting force of all living life.”

Briggs’s new book-length essay on translation, published this month by Fitzcarraldo (who surely must produce some of the most elegant books around) joins the ranks of treatises that ponder how we, as practitioners, should “properly register what’s going on with this—with [our]—work.” It’s an important question, she argues, not only because translation is a little understood (and hence undervalued) enterprise, but also because the process of translation itself sheds light on what it takes to make meaning, and art. Her answer, pursued over seven interlocking chapters, runs parallel to Barthes’s realization. Just as the old professor must “be born again,” translation is the work of making new: of bridging time and language to “make [literature] contemporary with [our] own present moment.” READ MORE…

In Review: “The Tower” by Uwe Tellkamp

An impressive and occasionally surreal collage of scenes and character studies from a country that is not mourned but most certainly vanished.

The Tower, by Uwe Tellkamp, may appear to be a monolithic, singularly heroic literary act by a surgeon and survivor of the indignities of the German Democratic Republic. This man, who lived to tell the tale, so to speak, penned an epic about a bourgeois family which has retreated into a kind of inner emigration in the crumbling but stately villas of the posh Weißer Hirsch neighborhood in Dresden. But The Tower is much more complex than that, and intellectually rich. The story, with echoes of Thomas Mann’s Buddenbrooks, focuses on three men of various ages and various levels of complicity with the putrefying system of 1980s GDR, and it is now (finally!) available in print in English translation.

Who are these three men? Christian is a pimply and ambitious young student who dreams of following his father, Richard, into the field of medicine; he ultimately signs up for three years of military service in the hopes of securing a spot as a medical student. His efforts to mimic Party loyalty are largely successful until his collapse as a soldier. His father Richard’s 50th birthday party opens the novel and initially Richard appears equally eloquent and morally blameless. However, numerous affairs and a secret second family make him a pawn in the hands of the Stasi. Finally, Meno, Christian’s maternal uncle—something of a mentor to the teenage boy, and a former botanist—works as an editor at one of the GDR’s few high-quality imprints that frequently ran short on paper, rounding out the trio of protagonists.

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