Translation is often asked to be a silent art, an art so subtle that the reader never even sees a ripple in the translator’s wake. The translator is asked to tread softly, to follow an arbitrary measure of “accuracy” or “faithfulness.” This is precisely why Sawako Nakayasu’s Mouth: Eats Color: Sagawa Chika Translations, Anti-translations, & Originals is so brilliant. Within these pages, Nakayasu is at once invisible and intensely present, creating not a translation that masquerades as a stand-in for the original, but rather a translation that works to create new and exciting pieces that coexist alongside the original poetry. READ MORE…
"...translations can never be approached as though they were original texts—even though this is so often the case."
In Review (again): Best Translated Book Award-winner Signs Preceding the End of the World, by Yuri Herrera
"Lisa Dillman’s recreation of Herrera’s Signs in English is deserving of its own neologistic praise."
Signs Preceding the End of the World begins with a gaping sinkhole, swooping to rush open, our protagonist Makina deftly moving away and on with her day. So we might consider the language of Yuri Herrera’s writing and Lisa Dillman’s translation into English: opening up before us, perhaps cataclysmic, rushing, yet simultaneously unruffled, pithy.
As Dillman notes, it is especially timely for this book to come to fruition. In this era of extreme fear-mongering, insisting on farcical walls being erected at illusory borders, this novel ventures into themes and questions of migration, immigration, transnationalism, transculturalism, language hybridity, and, of course, death and the end of the world—which these days seems to be looming ever-closer on our horizon.
We follow Makina as she journeys to track down her brother on the other side of the US-Mexican border. Makina is a character eluding cliché and expectation, with a sort of quiet, no-nonsense demeanor but also a brittle resilience that manages to subvert machismo and, furthermore, the eye-roll-worthy genres of feisty damsel or unrealistically sexualized waif. Makina is dexterous in her actions, observations, and expressions. Dillman writes her reflections with pointed beauty. For example, once Makina reaches US territory:
They are homegrown and they are anglo and both things with rabid intensity; with restrained fervor they can be the meekest and at the same time the most querulous of citizens, albeit grumbling under their breath. Their gestures and tastes reveal both ancient memory and the wonderment of a new people. And then they speak. They speak an intermediary tongue that Makina instantly warms up to because it’s like her: malleable, erasable, permeable; a hinge pivoting between two like but distant souls, and then two more, and then two more, never exactly the same ones; something that serves as a link.
This month's hottest new releases in translation—reviewed by Asymptote's own
Night Sky Checkerboard by Oh Sae-young (Phoneme Media), translated by Brother Anthony of Taizé. Review: Theophilus Kwek, Executive Assistant
More than three decades after arriving in Korea, and two decades into a rewarding career in translation, Brother Anthony has crafted yet another elegant and necessary rendition of contemporary Korean verse: his first collaboration with Oh Sae-young, and only the second full-length volume of the latter’s poetry in English translation. This book provides timely insight to a prolific artist whose work, in the words of fellow poet Ko Un, is suffused with a “thirst for the universe beyond the generations.” READ MORE…
"Medvedev uses everything as 'an opportunity to think a little' about what is in the world and is the world around him."
It’s no Good is a collection of Russian writer Kirill Medvedev’s poems, essays, actions (mostly reports of his protests), and obituaries, taken from his published books, blog, websites, and Facebook account.
Perhaps reading what appears in the copyright page of the book (“copyright denied by Kirill Medvedev”) and the first lines of the first poem in the collection “I’m tired of translating / I probably won’t translate / anymore” will be enough hint that we are in for a ride that will demand us to look, question, rethink, and look again and again. A writer who makes the choice to leave the literary scene behind is not one you can read and walk away from unscathed. READ MORE…
So many new translations this month!—Here's what you've got to know, from Asymptote's own.
Mario Bellatin, The Large Glass (Eyewear Publishing, February 2016, United Kingdom and Phoneme Media, January 2016, United States). Translated by David Shook—review by Alice Inggs, Editor-at-large, South Africa
Can a life be expressed in a single narrative, or a single form; can it be confined to a single genre? Mario Bellatin’s experimental autobiography (or is it autobiographies?), The Large Glass, employs three different ways of writing a life, challenging the accepted idea of what constitutes biography, and therefore self-expression.
This is not the first time Bellatin has engaged with the genre. His 2013 novel, Shiki Nagaoka: A Nose for Fiction, is a satirical biography of a fictional Japanese author, which includes excerpts, photographs and a bibliography. As critic Diana Palaversich explains, “With Bellatin you are never on solid ground”.
The Large Glass is non-linear, and at times almost nonsensical, rendering memory as character. Bellatin’s style has been described as hewing closer to that of avant-garde filmmakers—Lynch, Cronenberg—than anything literary. This brand of inscrutability or opacity—inherent in all three sections of The Large Glass—means that to distil meaning from Bellatin’s work it is necessary to rely on aspects of the author’s “objective” biography. This has something of a Lazarus Effect on Barthes’s dead author. But to what end?
The Large Glass magnifies those fundamental philosophical questions: Are we the same person throughout our lives? How do experiences and the manner in which we experience them and remember experiencing them shape our understanding of ourselves? How do these memories fit into the narrative of a life? Does a life have a single narrative? Bellatin seems determined to “reach that point where only language acts, ‘performs,’ and not ‘me.’” READ MORE…
Amy Rebecca Klein reviews David McLoghlin's translation: "to read Winter is to surrender to the flood of images we live in."
The title of Enrique Winter’s new chapbook, “Sign Tongue,” translated by David McLoghlin, poses a challenge for poetry: Can the flat mirror of language contain the fullness of the tongue, the way we taste and even kiss? Can we ever translate a single mother tongue into a form of collective experience when the real has no language at all, but has given rise to so many? Winter, who hails from Chile and has lived and studied in New York, and whose poems appear in “Sign Tongue” side-by-side in English and Spanish forms, understands that to name the world in only one language is to impose borders on his imagination.
Yes, if naming the world was the first thing Adam did, then it was also the task he could never do well enough—besides, of course, keeping Eve happy. How can one word—‘tongue’—mean both the cold and analytical and the warm and sensual? The sign, whether word or image, is always too simple to convey the thing we see.
"It is not clear where one story begins and the other ends, or where the animal begins and the man begins."
A story that can be retold and rewritten, but can all the while retain its own thingness—a story that can evolve in the imagination—is a finger in the face of the insipid outpouring of gifs and memes we daily consume, like Technicolor marshmallows shot out of the all powerful maw of the Facebook-Disney machine.
We of the lower forty-eight are fortunate, then, that something like Samuel Archibald’s Arvida, has been recently translated from the French by Donald Winkler. We need stories. And these stories from a land we’ve all been living alongside our whole American lives will do nicely. These are American stories. But another America, a hidden America, maybe even more American than the America we think we know.
Canada. In Archibald’s Arvida, there is an echo of some of the wavering visions we have of our northern neighbor (evergreen, flannel), but they are woven into the fabric of a working-class town, both factual and fabulous, immediately calling up comparisons to Canadian filmmaker Guy Maddin’s evocations of Winnipeg. Both Maddin and Archibald tell their tales utilizing a personal history of a family and a discreet location, while at the same time breathing into them a dream logic and fairy tale or fable-like tropes.
So many new translations this month! Here's what you need to know—from Asymptote's own.
Eugene Vodolazkin, Laurus (Oneworld Publishers, October 2015). Translated by Lisa C. Hayden—review by Beau Lowenstern, Editor-at-Large Australia
Laurus, the second novel by Russian writer Eugene Vodolazkin (after Solovyov and Larionov, due to appear in English in 2016), is in one breath, a timeless epic, trekking the well-trodden fields of faith, love, and the infinite depth of loss and search for meaning. In another, it is pointed, touching, and at times humorous, unpredictably straying from the path and leading readers along a wild chase through time, language, and medieval Europe. Winner of both the National Big Book Prize (Russia) and the Yasnaya Polyana Award, Vodolazkin’s experimental style envelopes the reader, drawing them into a world far from their own, yet indescribably intimate.
Spanning late fifteenth-century Russia to early twentieth-century Italy, the novel recounts the multiple lives (or stages of life) of a saint and the story of his becoming. Born Arseny in 1440, he is raised by his grandfather after his parents die from the plague that torments much of Russia and Europe. Recognising the boy’s gift for healing, his grandfather instills in him knowledge of healing and herbalism. Arseny aids the pestilence-stricken villagers, yet his powers of healing are overshadowed by his helplessness in preventing his grandfather’s death, as well as the passing of his beloved Ustina. Abandoning his village, past and namesake, Arseny begins a voyage that will transcend country and identity. Kaleidoscopic in his language and reach, Vodolazkin takes us on a journey of discovery and absolution, threaded together through the various, often mystical lives of Arseny as a healer, husband, holy fool, pilgrim and hermit. READ MORE…
Sawad Hussain reviews a book with a spooky streak of prescience.
Ebola ’76, by Sudanese novelist Amir Tag Elsir (and exquisitely translated by Charis Bredin and Emily Danby) is a fictionalized account of the first historically documented Ebola virus outbreak that took place in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and South Sudan. Published in April of this year, it was undeniably a shrewd choice by Darf Publishers to release it now: the original Arabic edition was sent to the presses back in 2012, prior to the major West African outbreak. As such, one would be hard-pressed to argue that they were not immediately drawn to it by the title. READ MORE…
So many translations hit the shelves this month—here's what you need to know, from Asymptote's own.
Mercè Rodoreda, Death in Spring (Open Letter, September 2015). Tr. from the Catalan by Martha Tennant—Review by Ellen Jones, Criticism Editor
Martha Tennant’s translation of Death in Spring, the (posthumously published) final novel by Mercè Rodoreda, is republished in paperback this month by Open Letter, having been long out of print. Written while in exile from Franco’s Spain during the Civil War, the novel is considered Rodoreda’s most accomplished work, and can be read as an allegory of a repressive regime.
Told through the eyes of a nameless boy who seems perpetually on the cusp of manhood, the novel recounts the cruel, bewildering traditions of a village community constantly under threat of being washed away by the river that runs underneath it. The villagers’ brutalism is bizarre and often casual—they pour cement down people’s throats as they lie dying to prevent their souls from escaping, then bury them in hollowed out trees. A thief is imprisoned in a tiny cage until he begins to behave like an animal; children are locked in cupboards until they half-suffocate; and every year a young man is forced to swim underneath the village and endure inevitable mutilation or death.
Sawad Hussain reviews part 1/12 of Ahmed Fagih's compelling, complex epic of the heart.
It has been a while since I have come across a novel that not only keeps me spellbound but educates me thoroughly. Maps of the Soul, written by Ahmed Fagih and brilliantly translated by Thoraya Allam and Brian Loo, is such a work.
Set during the early 1930s in a Libya ruled by Italian colonialist Italo Balbo, Fagih introduces the reader to the louche neighborhoods of Tripoli alongside the glamorous lives of the prosperous (mostly Italian) elite. Tripoli, its architecture, markets, residents and nightlife are described in such vivid and palpable detail that it lends the novel a cinematic feel. A piece of historical fiction, Maps of the Soul is actually the first three installments of a much larger, twelve-part body of work.
The book opens with the gripping scene of the protagonist Othman al-Sheikh waiting to be executed. To his right, fellow Italian army soldiers are having their heads methodically chopped off by an Abyssinian warrior armed with a knife the length of a sword. As heads roll and blood spurts across the narrator’s face, we are transported back into time to supposedly understand how Othman al-Sheikh comes to end up with neck exposed, primed to be severed. The author’s decision to write in second person endows the novel with a personal sense of urgency that swiftly pulls the reader into the action, and propels the story forward effortlessly, and the translation has skillfully rendered an otherwise difficult form in English. READ MORE…
"The poem’s necessity makes me bitter."
Much has already been said about exile. Losing a country or losing a home is “like death but without death’s ultimate mercy,” “a kind of ripping apart,” “a condition of terminal loss.” Ferreira Gullar wrote Dirty Poem (newly translated by Leland Guyer for New Directions) in 1975 in Buenos Aires, while in political exile from the Brazilian dictatorship. Like the author himself, the speaker of Dirty Poem imagines his return home, an attempt to recover the São Luís do Maranhão of his childhood.
The opening stanzas of this 80-page poem are filled with gaiety and fond memories of youth in the northeast region of Brazil. But just a few pages later, the speaker “preaches subversion of political order” and is banished to Argentina. In a fine translation from the Portuguese, Leland Guyer captures the richness of language of Gullar’s poetry—from local idioms to the language of displacement. The book culminates in saudade, alienation, and decay. READ MORE…
P. T. Smith reviews a newly translated collection of short pieces by Robert Musil
At first appearance, the newly translated collection of short pieces by Robert Musil, titled Thought Flights by translator Genese Grill (Contra Mundum Press), seems at odds with the writer’s reputation. After all, he is most famous for the massive, unfinished Man Without Qualities. Why would he take time away from that project he was so dedicated to so he could write pieces of fiction only a couple pages long, essays about whether the crawl stroke is an art or a science, and satirical fragments like “War Diary of a Flea”? And considering all that Musil articulated about society, gender, philosophy, art, etc. in Man Without Qualities, is there reason to read this instead of, or after, that? The quickest way to answer both questions is hinted at by Grill in her introduction. The first: for Musil to maintain his sanity by taking breaks. The second: if you admire both the intellect and aesthetics of Musil and the serious play that Walser brought to his feuilleton, this is a chance to see what comes about when those two styles are combined.
Scott Beauchamp reviews the latest science fiction from Cuba, finally in English translation
Science fiction is an international project. It’s multi-racial, multi-ethnic, and accommodating enough as a genre to include authors of almost any identitification. So though it’s clear there isn’t a genre problem—there still is a publishing problem.
In America, for instance, there simply aren’t enough people of color and women authors being published. What’s more—further reflective of the problem of access to translated works in the United States (famously, only 3% of books published stateside are from translation)—the full range of exciting sci-fi published in Japan, China and India only makes its way to non-native readers in a slight trickle.
Cuban science fiction, however, is another problem entirely. All writing on the island was for decades subject to the whims of the Department of Revolutionary Orientation, and with trade in general being fairly limited in the 1960s and 1970s, Cuban science fiction has struggled to realize itself.
And now that the long-awaited global thaw is finally happening, Restless Books, a Brooklyn-based publishing house, is taking the noteworthy step of translating some of the most interesting sci-fi writers on the island. Yoss (whose birth name is José Miguel Sánchez Gómez), the author of A Planet for Rent, is one such writer. READ MORE…