A very merry greeting to you, Asymptote readers. Today is Leo Tolstoy’s 188th birthday, so we’ll kick this Weekly News Round Up with the Read Russia translation prize shortlist. If you happen to be in Moscow on September 10th, why not go see the award ceremony?
Russia’s rich literary history is well-known, but did you know that the most translated short story in African history is from Kenya? It’s a fable about how humans learned to walk upright and it was written by Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o.
Going to better-known literary histories, statisticians predict Japanese writer Haruki Murikami is most likely to win the Nobel Prize in Literature this year. They predict it’s more likely than Philip Roth, Ngugi Wa Thiong’o, and Joyce Carol Oats. It’s great to see so many faces in world literature on the list. READ MORE…
Hello there, Asymptote readers! The weekend is upon us with its festivities and time to read all the things we meant to read during the week. Our Weekly News Round Up is a great way to catch up on what you missed: a starting point, if you will.
August was Women in Translation Month. It was a time to honor those who face different forms of sexism and hardship around the world simply for their sex. These women, despite these hardships, still go and do what speaks to them. In this case, it’s translation. Read this list of women translators from India, for example.
Ah India, a place where so many languages are spoken. And who gets to decide what is truly from or for a specific language? LitHub writer Gabrielle Bellot discusses this matter in her essay about who decides what is English and what is not. In it, she discusses Singlish, a Singaporean colloquial English, and compares it to her own Dominican roots. READ MORE…
Friday is trickling in through the time zones of the world this morning, Asymptote readers. And trickling along with it is today’s Weekly News Round Up. We start this week with some self-reflection on self-translation in this essay by Ilan Stavans. Stavans is a polyglot who speaks English, Spanish, Yiddish, and Hebrew. In 2001, he published his memoir On Borrowed Words, which was supposed to cover the subject of self-translation. Since then, Stavans has more to say about it.
Self-reflection can lead people down paths of self-discovery, and critical thinking can do the same. However there are sources that spark critical thinking that leads to nothing, or perhaps, too much of something. This may be the case of the cryptic Voynich Manuscript, about to be released by a Spanish publisher. Apparently no living person can understand it. READ MORE…
What a week for world literature, am I right Asymptote readers? I have a lot of good news, but also sad news, for you this week. Legendary Bengali activist and writer Mahasweta Devi, who had an unmatchable empathy and understanding for the oppressed classes, passed away last week. Her publisher Naveen Kishore and translator Gayatri Spivak remember her. Art is a gift, and Devi gave us so many gifts.
While Devi cannot be replaced, there are so many up and coming writers all over the world that are starting to make their names in world literature. Literary prizes are now being announced. Longlists and shortlists galore, and winners too! The winners of this year’s Jewish Culture prize for literature are Haim Sabato and Sarah Friedland. Friedland is a poet and Sabato channels the Sephardic traditions of Torah.
What a week it has been in literature! Have you spent the best part of last week submerged in our new July 2016 issue? If you haven’t, now might be a time to take a break, take a breath, and plunge into The Dive.
Also, July 28 is being celebrated as a Day of Creativity for Ashraf Fayadh, the Palestinian poet imprisoned in Saudi Arabia for writing that allegedly spreads atheism. Artists from around the world are using blogs, videos, social media, and other creative measures to support Fayadh.
One morning, in the dead of winter, three German soldiers are dispatched into the frozen Polish countryside. They have been charged by their commanders to track down and bring back for execution ‘one of them’—a Jew. Having flushed out the young man hiding in the woods, they decide to rest in an abandoned house before continuing their journey back to the camp. As they prepare food, they are joined by a passing Pole whose outspoken anti-Semitism adds tension to an already charged atmosphere.
The Pole did not reply. Bauer grunted louder: ‘What do you want?’
The Pole signalled—as if he were sorry, but not very sorry—that he didn’t understand.We believed him. But that didn’t alter the fact that he was facing up to us, in spite of his somewhat apologetic demeanour. He was leaning with one hip against the stove, calm and impassive, just as if he were at home.
Sitting on the bench, we looked up at him, and began to smile at the desire he had—we understood this now—to show us he was not afraid of us. Because we didn’t care if he was afraid of us or not. READ MORE…
From the award-winning author of Like Water for Chocolate comes a new tale of murder and redemption. For today’s Translation Tuesday showcase, we present the opening chapter of Laura Esquivel’s new novel, Pierced by the Sun, slated for release in bookstores on July 1.
She could spend long hours dedicated to this work and show no signs of fatigue. Ironing brought her peace. It was her favorite form of therapy and she turned to it daily, even after a long day of work. Lupita’s passion for ironing had been handed down to her by her mother, Doña Trini, who had washed and ironed other people’s clothes for a living her whole life. Lupita would invariably repeat the ritual learned from her sacrosanct mother, which began with the spraying of the garments. Modern-day steam irons do not require an article of clothing to be moist, but for Lupita there was no other way to iron. She considered it sacrilegious to skip this step.
That night when she got home, she immediately headed to the ironing board and began to spray the garments. Her hands trembled like a hungover alcoholic’s, which made the spraying that much easier. It was imperative that she concentrate on something other than the murder of Licenciado Arturo Larreaga—the delegado of her district, Iztapalapa—which she had witnessed just a few hours earlier.
As soon as the clothes were properly sprayed she went into the bathroom and turned on the shower, giving the water time to warm up. She filled a bucket with a copious amount of detergent and placed it in the shower. Before she stepped in she opened a plastic bag and immediately recoiled from the stench of the urine-soaked pants that were inside. She submerged the pants in the bucket and started to wash herself. She scrubbed away the cloying smell of urine that had emanated from her body, but the shame that was embedded deep in her soul remained. READ MORE…
When K. went home early in the morning and turned his car into the short, ice-coated driveway, he saw the bird. It was a blackbird. It was standing on one of the posts without moving. Its bird feet were sticking in a thin layer of snow, which made it look as if it didn’t have any feet and was just lying there, in the snow, motionless, like a disoriented tennis ball that has been knocked a long way out of bounds. READ MORE…
Nadia Comaneci’s gold-medal performance at the Olympic Games in Montreal is the starting point for a whole new generation. Eric Dupont watches the performance on TV, mesmerized. The son of a police officer (Henry VIII) and a professional cook—as he likes to remind us—he grows up in the depths of the Quebec countryside with a new address for almost every birthday and little but memories of his mother to hang on to. His parents have divorced, and the novel’s narrator relates his childhood, comparing it to a family gymnastics performance worthy of Nadia herself.
Life in the court of Matane is unforgiving, and we explore different facets of it (dreams of sovereignty, schoolyard bullying, imagined missions to Russia, poems by Baudelaire), each based around an encounter with a different animal, until the narrator befriends a great horned owl, summons up the courage to let go of the upper bar forever, and makes his glorious escape.
From the first lot we lived on, if you went down a big grassy hill and crossed the road you’d find us by the river. In the summer, the sand could become burning hot in the sun, despite the glacial currents that flowed down from Labrador. Reels of dried-up seaweed revealed how high the tides rose and stretched out in arcs from east to west. We found green sea urchin skeletons, blue shells, and pink tampon applicators. Sometimes we would step on a piece of glass polished by the salt. It would slide so smoothly between our fingers that we could barely imagine its sharp past. When we held it up to the sun it would look like part of a stained-glass window washed up on the beach at Matane. Coke and Pepsi bottles produced translucent shards of polished white. The green bits of glass came from 7UP bottles. Beer bottles splintered into small, dark amber pieces. On this strip of beach, the waves deposited at our feet the shattered stained-glass windows of a church sunk off the Matane coastline. My sister and I picked up the pieces without ever beginning the impossible task of putting them back together. We knew that they had once been part of a whole, but that an earthquake had probably separated them. The sea salt had made them smooth so that their edges no longer fit together. They had taken on a shape all their own. They could be traced back to a family only by their colour. A distant kinship. They had ended up where the Gulf of St. Lawrence melts into the northern blue sky, leaving ships arriving from the Atlantic in July dangling from an invisible thread. The horizon gives way to a blue void that draws the soul northward. The trip is pleasant enough. When you really let yourself go, you soar high above the gulf, the taiga, and the permafrost, until you reach the tundra, where on a sunny January day you can drift off into the light of the north. READ MORE…
Recently, Interview Features Editor Ryan Mihaly spoke via e-mail with Alfred MacAdam, translator of the likes of Fernando Pessoa and Surrealist filmmaker and novelist Alejandro Jodorowsky. For an excerpt from Jodorowsky’s Albina and the Dog-Men, check out this recent installment of Translation Tuesday. This interview is also available in the Asymptote Fortnightly Airmail. Subscribe here.
RM: What was it like translating Alejandro Jodorowsky’s Where the Bird Sings Best and Albina and the Dog-Men? Did Jodorowsky’s prose get under your skin? You are an experienced translator and are perhaps more immune to the novel’s effects, but I found Albina‘s dark mythology to be intoxicating. What was it like to translate that?
AM: First, let me say that when Ilan Stavans asked me if I might be interested in translating Jodorowsky, I was dumbfounded. To me he was the crazy filmmaker of the 1970s whose El topo or Fando and Lis knocked me and my friends silly. I had no idea he had metamorphosed into a novelist.
So when Ilan sent me Where the Bird Sings Best I was simply not prepared for what it was. First of all, the Jewish essence of the book, its tracing the circuitous route of Jews who end up in Spanish America, whose religion suffers innumerable modifications along the way, was, I thought, a subject whose time in Spanish American literature had long since come. By which I mean that in the U.S. we take our Jewish writers for granted, that the Bellows, the Malamuds, the Roths (both of them) are simply part of our culture. But where was the “great Jewish novel of the Spanish American world”? READ MORE…
The original version of “The Neighbor” was published in the author’s collection, Zoo, copyright 2006 by Editions P.O.L.
At the Dakota, my life was peaceful.
I had inherited the apartment from my father’s sister, along with a modest sum of money. Living at the Dakota carries with it certain obligations. When the co-op decides, for example, to renovate the basement, you’d better be able to pay your share.
Until then, I had always lived with my mother in a little village in the west of France. I was a furniture maker, I had my own workshop, and everything was going well. I’d led an idyllic childhood with my widowed mother, and I would have been satisfied to continue just as I was. My mother admired my work, above all the delicately inlaid little chests. The prospect of my leaving made her very angry. She used to hate her American sister-in-law.
But I couldn’t resist the lure of the Dakota. My aunt’s death literally changed my life. I gave up my work and crossed the Atlantic, and my main activity ever since has consisted of living at the Dakota. READ MORE…
The poplars’ catkins, no “Crematory” sign,
then a tin roof, the stack’s angled design,
that’s it, in the yard a guy’s on his phone,
the gate’s open, hello, best leave it alone,
a man stops me: Yes? —The office? I ask,
the grandma’s yours, then, the one o’clock,
that’s good, he adds, the old lady’s just out,
you mean…I thought, but could hardly doubt,
I’ve still to confirm she’s of our nation
and so by law allowed a cremation.
I show the papers to a woman fiddling
at a screen, the passport flat, its stitching
lies open, in the room’s press like a window,
its stamps attesting: the bearer to
all the countries of the world can go. READ MORE…
John Pluecker translates the epigraph (from Cristina Rivera Gazra) at the beginning of Antígona González—¿De qué se apropria el que se apropria?—as “What does the appropriator appropriate?” This apparently straightforward translation tellingly reflects the translation strategies he will deploy throughout the book.
This central question echoes a pronounced tendency in Pluecker’s translation: peopling. “The one who appropriates” becomes “the appropriator,” the agent of appropriation. Throughout this translation, subjects becoming into people from more distant Spanish syntax are an artistic and ethical point of return. “They” appears again and again in sentences without subjects, “una habitante de la frontrera” (a [female] resident of the border) becomes “a woman living on the border,” and “todos” unfailing becomes “all of us.” READ MORE…
Death can arrive at any moment and for one anonymous woman it came when she’d been gestating a fetus for six months. Her shrouded body ended up tossed into a mass grave in a random cemetery. As a compassionate priest devoted a few words to her out of the goodness of his heart, the gravedigger covered her body with dirt. No one claimed or identified the cadaver, and the few folks who noticed her obvious pregnancy assumed that the baby had died along with its mother.
However that wasn’t the case. The fetus continued to nourish itself on her inert body and, just as blackness was about to envelop its incipient existence, the only power able to change its inevitable fate intervened. Death. Death itself, whose job was to carry off designated souls without a second thought, fixed her eye on that small creature. READ MORE…