Posts filed under 'Translation Tuesday'

Translation Tuesday: “Le Rouge et le Noir (Moving House and Farewell)” by Zsófia Bán

As we were leaving the paralyzed city and the country, we too were facing a journey, though rather than flight, it turned out to be a return.

An award-winning fiction writer, essayist, and critic who grew up in Hungary and Brazil and now teaches American literature, Zsófia Bán is no stranger to forking paths; the roads not taken. Her beautiful essay below segues quickly from house-moving to the broader and richer philosophical theme of derailment against the backdrop of the ongoing refugee crisis. We hope you like it as much as we do.

* * *

In memory of Svetlana Boym

 

Tumultuous, yes, tumultuous is what the summer of 2015 was. An unruly, riotous, tempestuous, bewildered summer, ravaged by the lack of order. Only the weather would not stir, hellbent on keeping up the atmospheric conditions prevalent since the beginning of summer. All heat records were broken, with temperatures close to 40 degrees recorded in July and August. We were clearly making meteorological history in Europe. The dull blanket of heat paralyzed our reason just enough to keep us from realizing the obvious until it was too late: history was being made, quite apart from the weather. In fact, the masses, the tumult of refugees pouring through the southern border, then the large families stranded in railway stations in the heart of our city, the gathering of desperate, exhausted people robbed of almost all their possessions warned us clearly enough, that this was the time, here and now, of fateful events. As we were leaving the paralyzed city and the country, we too were facing a journey, though rather than flight, it turned out to be a return: the compulsive, perpetual return to memory, to absence, to the relentless rigor of facts.

On August 3 we packed the car and set out for Berlin. With an ingenious space-saving trick we packed the child’s plush animals into plastic bags shrunk with a vacuum cleaner, so even the plumpest specimens were docilely flattened to two dimensions.

1vacumedanimals1

Photograph by Zsófia Bán

Once taken out of their plastic bags upon arrival, they slowly regained their original dimensions: the breath of life gradually returned into them. Zserbó, the giant owl was the first to come to, then Dr Czuki-Czukermann, the anteater and finally Menyus, the ferret, Pöpe, the parrot and the rest, the whole sizeable coterie. The child greeted each miraculous resurrection with a dance of joy: her friends were saved, we had outwitted Archimedes or one of those types. The death news that came the day after our arrival flattened us to two dimensions the same way, except we held no hope of ever regaining our original shape. Remembrance, however alive, is inevitably flatter than the tumultuous nature of presence, the noisy, confusing, disorderly and yet, by virtue of the senses, coherent presence which only one word fits: the person’s name. The name that refers to the single being who is the sum of her traits: the voice, the gait, the colorful fabric of her mind, the fears and desires, the betrayals of the body, the dreams, and the loneliness. Her name is a message inscribed in stone, the imprint of sea-waves on prehistoric geological strata.

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Translation Tuesday: An excerpt from “Mountain of Light” by Gen’yū Sōkyū 

Eventually we stopped speaking, and came to see each other as “contaminated.”

Akutagawa Prize winner Gen’yū Sōkyū has an unusual vocation among litterateurs: he is the chief priest of a temple in Fukushima, where nuclear disaster struck following the earthquake and tsunami of March 2011. Both a leader and a major voice in reconstruction efforts, Gen’yū uses fiction to grapple with the catastrophe, and in this story, “Mountain of Light”, he imagines (perhaps even hopes for) a future of provincial ascendance and “Irradiation Tours”. In this excerpt, the narrator relates his coming to terms with his father’s devotion in collecting the community’s “irradiated”—their radiation-contaminated waste, in other words.

The next time I saw Dad was at Mom’s funeral. He himself would die three years later at ninety-five—twenty-five years after our last conversation—of old age, not cancer. After my mother’s cremation, he spoke to me.

“Your ma had a hard time of it, but it was all worthwhile. Thanks to the irradiated, we managed to live meaningfully, right up to the end, and that’s no joke. When my time comes . . . you’ll burn me on top of that mountain, right?”

His hearing wasn’t so good by that time, so while I said “Don’t be stupid,” apparently what he heard was “Okay, I’ll do it,” although I didn’t realise this until much later. He held my hands in front of Mom’s altar and said “Thank you” over and over again . . . It might’ve been a misunderstanding, but that was the first time he had ever shown me gratitude.

My brother and sister-in-law had only offered incense at the crematorium, and were no longer there. He was a consultant to an electronics manufacturer, and even though he said he had a meeting to attend, I was sure they had left out of fear. I too had debates with the missus about the effects of low-level exposure, almost every night. Eventually we stopped speaking, and came to see each other as “contaminated.” We’d separated by then. And that’s when I finally realised that we were both being completely ridiculous. READ MORE…

Highlights of Our 2016 (Part I)

Thanks to an incredible team behind me, 2016 was a startlingly good year for Asymptote.

1. Amazing scoops 

Where to begin? Interviews with Junot Díaz, Ann Goldstein, Yann Martel, László Krasznahorkai, Pierre Joris, Sawako Nakayasu and Ha Jin. Anita Raja‘s essay on “Translation as the Practice of Acceptance.” Sibylle Lacan on her psychoanalyst father, Jacques Lacan. Vicente Huidobro, one of the very first Latin American avant-garde poets. Jan Dammu and Rasool Yoonan, from the current issue. Hsia Yü. The visual artist and poet Caroline Bergvall. Rising fiction stars Youssef Rakha, Olga Tokarczuk, and Marek VadasPatrick Chamoiseau on Martiniquais writers. Experimental poems translated by Martin Rock and Joe Pan from the Japanese of Nenten Tsubouchi. Karina Lickorish Quinn‘s Spanglish contribution to our Multilingual Writing Special Feature. Drama by György Spiró. These were some of our favorite things.

2. Our eight events in three continents

This year, Asymptote celebrated its fifth anniversary by meeting readers in the flesh in three continents and five cities (New York, London, Ottawa, Chicago, Belgrade, and Hong Kong; photo documentation and event summaries can be found here). Attracting the biggest turnout with 165 attendees was the New York event held at The New School, featuring Ann Goldstein and Natasha Wimmer in conversation with Frederic Tuten. On the other side of the Atlantic, 2016 saw three Asymptote events at Waterstones, Piccadilly, in March, July, and September. The last, organized in honor of International Translation Day, had Adam Freudenheim, Laura Barber, Deborah Smith, and Laura Barber speaking to a sold-out room of 70, with moderator Jonathan Ruppin saying afterwards that Asymptote had become “a real force in London.”

3. Our partnership with The Guardian turns one

Promoted to The Guardian’s international readership, beyond the small circle of world literature aficionados, Asymptote’s showcase at The Guardian represents, for translators, an unparalleled reach in the English-speaking world. As editor of Translation Tuesdays, I either commissioned new work or partnered with publishing houses to present fiction, nonfiction, and poetry from five continents and twenty-nine countries (including underrepresented ones like Andorra, Uzbekistan, Singapore, Iran, and Congo). In curating for diversity, I attempted to correct a Eurocentric bias that has hitherto characterized the canon (European work accounted for just 41% of this year’s lineup; find the full breakdown by continent and country here). Watch this space for our final Translation Tuesday showcase of 2016 next week, where we present an extract of “Mountain of Light” by Akutagawa Prize winner Gen’yū Sōkyū, translated especially for the occasion by contributing editor Sim Yee Chiang.

4. We gave away $4,500 to six emerging translators

This year, we upped the ante and added one more category to our translation contest: Nonfiction. Awarding $4,500 USD (up from $3,000 in 2014) in prizes to six best emerging translators working into English were esteemed judges Michael Hofmann, Ottilie Mulzet and Margaret Jull Costa; additionally, we arranged with The Guardian to present the top entries in each category over three consecutive Tuesdays (one of them, Sean Gasper Bye’s translation of Filip Springer’s extraordinary History of a Disappearancewas even shared 2,275 times, attesting to the newspaper’s incredible reach). Note: this is now an annual contest, with the deadline for the next edition coming up Feb 1, 2017! As with the 2016 edition, we will also be arranging for the winning entries to be showcased in The Guardian, allowing them to be noticed the world over, and possibly launching careers. Find the details here.

5. Daniel Hahn became our resident Agony Uncle for a year

Fielding questions from curious/mystified international readers, Daniel Hahn presided over a monthly column for one entire year. (His last contribution here contains hyperlinks to all previous columns.) Along the way, he ruffled feathers and sparked controversy by opining that translators’ names needn’t necessarily be featured on covers. But mostly, Daniel’s very popular ‘Ask a Translator’ edified and entertained. When I reached out personally to thank Lin Falk van Rooyen for signing up as a sustaining member recently, she even singled out Daniel’s feature for praise:

As a translator I have personally benefitted greatly from Asymptote’s in-depth, inspiring, informative (esp. ‘Ask a Translator’ by the ever sincere, ever astute Daniel Hahn), essential and yes—ambitious!—endeavour to promote and disseminate world literature. 

Part II of ‘Highlights’ continues tomorrow.

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Join Lin Falk van Rooyen in standing behind our mission: become a sustaining member today! Each additional membership takes us closer to being able to operate beyond April 2017. Or, if you are American, consider a one-time tax-deductible donation via our Fractured Atlas Page. 

 

Translation Tuesday: A selection from Poems for Michael Jordan by Francisco Ide Wolletter

fate is the phenomenon of the ball passing through empty space to arrive at your empty hands

Awarded first place in the CNCAs Roberto Bolaño Prize for Young Literary Creation in the Poetry category, twenty-seven-year-old Francisco Ide Wolleter stands out from the latest generation of Chilean litterateurs. His “Poems for Michael Jordan” are miracles of observation, imbuing quotidian life with existential drama. You won’t ever watch basketball the same way again after this.

I

 the ball’s porous plane

makes me think of human skin

 

a tactile nostalgia

though contact is always illusory

 

the facts are thus: we’re structured on emptiness

built of atoms,

atoms whose nature is to repel

and be repelled.

 

that’s why we don’t mix with things

that’s why when we touch

we haven’t really touched anything at all

 

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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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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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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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Translation Tuesday: An excerpt from “Colonel Lágrimas” by Carlos Fonseca

The colonel inhabits his century with the anonymity of a fish in water.

Today we present an extract from Carlos Fonseca’s dazzling debut about the demented final project of a brilliant mathematician. Recalling the best of Bolaño, Borges, and Calvino, Colonel Lágrimas is an allegory of our hyperinformed age and of the clash between European and Latin American history.

The colonel aspires to have a thousand faces. The file endeavors to give him only one. Now that he’s sleeping we can remove the folder from the cabinet where it is stored, remove the blue band that protects the file, and thumb through it at our leisure, study the case history hidden behind this tired man’s dreams. On the first page in this heavy, grayish folder, we find the fundamentals of an identity: a name, date of birth, and place of origin. Strange inflexibility for a man who dedicated his life to being many, to seeking happiness through a schizophrenic multiplicity of personalities. The colonel inhabits his century with the anonymity of a fish in water. And, nonetheless, a name and a date bring continuity to the archive. Clearly, the sleeping man is only one. We are left with the magic of perspective, looking at him from a thousand different angles, drawing a kind of cubist portrait of this tired man. At times, asleep though he is, it would seem that the colonel is posing for us: he turns to one side, he turns to the other, he changes positions as often as he changes dreams. We tell ourselves that we must look at the file with the flexible gaze of one who catalogues dreams, we must analyze the colonel’s masks from the elusive position of happiness.

***

In the midst of war, the weight of his heritage upon him, the little colonel learned to play with his masks. We find in the file, in almost indecipherable handwriting, a note that establishes the precise moment of what would be one of the great realizations of his life: to don a mask was to refuse a destiny. Dated in 1943 and signed by a certain Jacques Truffaut, psychoanalyst at a Parisian orphanage, the note is summarized in the following lines: “The boy refuses to answer in his mother tongue. He rejects Russian with an alarming rage. He seems to want to annul his origins. On the other hand, he caresses Spanish with an angelic fluency.” Truffaut knows little of those rainy Chalco afternoons. For him, Mexico calls up ideas of erotic barbarism, of adventure and expeditions with no return, and so, in an attempt to feel at home, he chooses to write, on the line for birthplace, the French name, Mexique. But the little colonel doesn’t like homes: he prefers a theory he discovers in a French copy of National Geographic, in an article about the tribal use of masks in northeastern Africa. He prefers to think that civilization originated with the simulacrum, feigned identity, anonymity with a face, endless flux. He thumbs anxiously, happily, through the article that tells of a certain Johann Kaspar Lavater, father of physiognomy, who thought he had discovered the moral outlines of personalities in people’s faces. The colonel sketches precise and fantastic drawings in which different faces are juxtaposed with animal physiognomies: a man with a pointed snout compared to a long-nosed dog, a man with a small nose beside a buffalo. He laughs in the midst of war, and his laughter is the first of many masks. Years later, the colonel will find in his love of butterflies a kind of final mask, a homeopathic remedy for this, his solitude of grand, dramatic laughter.

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Translation Tuesday: An excerpt from “Something Written” by Emanuele Trevi

For the entire duration of my last meeting with Laura, in her office, the sharp blade of a box cutter quivered a few millimeters from my jugular.

Via Ann Goldstein, also the translator of Elena Ferrante, here is a colorful extract from Emanuele Trevi’s Something Written, winner of the 2012 European Literature Prize and finalist for Italy’s Strega Prize. In a few deftly executed strokes, the literary critic recreates the cutthroat atmosphere presided over by a former boss (aka “Madwoman”), and mulls over what he took out of that period of “extravagant daily persecution”.

Among the many—too many—people who worked for Laura Betti at the Pier Paolo Pasolini Foundation in Rome, all of them endowed with a colorful store of more or less unpleasant memories, I believe that I can boast of, if nothing else, above-average endurance. Not that I was at all spared the extravagant daily persecution that the Madwoman (as I soon took to calling her, in my own mind) felt it her duty to inflict on her subordinates. On the contrary, I was so irredeemably odious to her (there is no more precise word) that I succeeded in plucking all the strings of her protean sadism: from the ceaseless invention of humiliating nicknames to real physical threat. Every time I entered the offices of the foundation, in a dark, massive corner building on Piazza Cavour, not far from Castel Sant’Angelo, I sensed almost physically the animal hostility, the uncontrollable rage that flashed, like the zigzag lightning in a comic book, from behind the lenses of her big square sunglasses. The standard greetings immediately followed. ‘Good morning, little slut, did you finally figure out that it’s time to GIVE HIM YOUR ASS? Or do you think you can still get away with it?!? But you don’t fool ME, you sweet-talking little slut, it takes a lot more than someone like you’—and this first blast of amenities was ended only by the eruption of a laugh that seemed to come from a subterranean cavern, and was made more threatening by the counterpoint of an indescribable sound halfway between a roar and a sob. Very rarely could the avalanche of insults dumped on the unfortunate victim be traced back to meaningful concepts.

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Translation Tuesday: An excerpt from “The Unfinished Life of Phoebe Hicks” by Agnieszka Taborska

The prospect of death, however, releasing her once and for all from any obligation to taste the fried fare, was not entirely unwelcome.

Rendered with a light touch, the fictional story of Phoebe Hicks is just as much about the place in which the action unfolds (nineteenth-century New England) as it is about its heroine, the inspired star of spiritualist séances. In the ingeniously composed miniatures that make up the book’s chapters (we present just a few of them below), Agnieszka Taborska consistently steers a middle course between rationality and the creation of a deception, between humour and erudition. Don’t miss the duel between Harry Houdini and our protagonist!

Clam Fritters

The theory that a piece of stale clam, which had found its way into a culinary delicacy known across New England, gave birth to Spiritualist photography is no exaggeration. Precisely this toxic morsel was the root of the madness possessing the hearts and minds of New England puritans for decades to come.

 On 1st November 1847 Phoebe Hicks returned home earlier than usual. Barely over the threshold, she rushed into her bedroom and instead of climbing onto the high and, by today’s standards, rather short bed ran straight to the washstand. She leaned over and threw up—once, twice, unable to control herself even after the third time. She vomited all night, occasionally rinsing her perspiring face in water from the blue sprigged ewer. After only an hour, she had nothing left inside but brown bile, which she continued to bring up. Strands of black hair escaped from her tightly-wound bun—stiff, sticky, stinking—and clung to her cheeks like seaweed. She shivered all over—hands numb, head splitting from the violent convulsions. Her back ached, jammed like her knees in an awkward position.

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Translation Tuesday: An excerpt from “Affections” by Rodrigo Hasbún

At your own wedding, at least for a couple of seconds, you feel like the loneliest woman in the world.

You marry a man with the same name as your father and this doesn’t amuse you. Your father isn’t there to shake his hand or to hug you, to offer you up with these gestures to the man who will take his place. At your own wedding, at least for a couple of seconds, you feel like the loneliest woman in the world. All women must feel this at their weddings, you think, in an effort to console or merely entertain yourself, or perhaps to do both things at once. Trixi is the only one there with you. That afternoon your family has reduced itself to her alone, and there’s something heartbreaking about this basic realization, but also something incomprehensibly liberating. Until recently, you thought that you would never do it, that marriage wasn’t for you. Months after meeting him, perhaps believing in the promise of a different life, one unremarkable Saturday you get married.

* * *

On the wedding night he can’t get an erection. You see him naked for the first time: his sinuous body, his long, slim dick, the scar from his peritonitis operation, and feel not a hint of excitement or conviction. Is this a typical wedding night? He touches you all over with his soft, rich kid’s hands. He licks your nipples and neck, kisses you clumsily either in desperation or impatience, perhaps fearing you or himself, but he can’t get an erection, not even when you stroke his dick. You wonder whether he might still be a virgin, whether perhaps he’s only ever been with whores, whether it isn’t women he’s into at all, whether he, like you, doesn’t understand why he got married. You wonder what your parents’ wedding night must have been like—it’s always been beyond you to imagine them young. You think about how your children won’t be able to imagine you. “You’re distracted,” your husband says. He’s a silent man, he knows how to look at himself from a distance. It’s the thing you most admire in him, perhaps the only thing you admire. Despite what you always believed, it’s something you have forgotten how to do. You feel too close to yourself, and from there everything looks blurred. “No,” you tell him, “I’m not.”

* * *

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Translation Tuesday: “Love in the Footnotes” by Mahsa Mohebali

My lover and I are sitting in our apartment, smoking gloomily. Depression, like ivy, ties us together.

Published in 2004 in Tehran, Iran, Love in the Footnotes is Mahsa Mohebali’s second short story collection. Within a year of its publication, the book was in its third print and reaping national prizes before it was banned by the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance. The titular short story, presented here, is concerned with love and its ensuing ennui. The theme of this story is by no means novel. What sets Love in the Footnotes apart from all other “love” stories is its unique development, with most of the story being told in the elaborate intertextual footnotes which weave together an intricate web of films, songs, paintings, and novels from different cultures, at the crossroads of which the protagonist locates herself. 

Maryam Zehtabi Sabeti Moqaddam, translator

In this story, Love happens. Like ivy, love wraps around my lover and me in the lines of this story. My lover and I and several films and stories get so tightly tangled that we become indistinguishable from one another.

I have short auburn hair that falls across my forehead and temples. I weigh 99 lbs. and with heels on, I’m 5’ 5”. I got a BA in literature from The Islamic Azad University. I had been a homebody for a few years before I met my lover at a relative’s Sizde Bedar garden party. My lover has drunk eyes and is a clerk at the Central Bank. He’s tall and very amiable. He has no other remarkable features except that he tends to constantly stroke his mustache. In a corner of the garden, my lover looks at me with his languishing, entreating, and piercing eyes. I avert my eyes from him, look down coyly, and move away. My lover follows me and extends a glass to me. Our eyes meet for a moment. My lover draws me close very gently and fills my glass with a wine-like drink.1

1 See the miniature painting by Mohammad Tajvidi in Khwāja Shams-ud-Dīn Muḥammad Ḥāfeẓ-e Shīrāzī, Hafiz Diwan, Ed. Ghasem Ghani and Allameh Ghazvini, twenty-third edition, Tehran: Asatir Publication, 1995, p. 23, where the man in the miniature painting, with his beseeching eyes, clings to the girl’s robe, offers her a glass of wine while she turns the upper part of her body away from him and avoids his gaze as much as possible. In spite of her apparent apathy, she burns with a latent desire, evident as she watches the man stealthily out of the corner of her eyes. It seems as though the girl in the miniature painting has been looking forward to this moment for years and now that she finally has the opportunity to seduce, despite all the blood running to her cheeks, she tries to appear composed and indifferent. However, the man in the miniature painting doesn’t seem to be concerned at all. As in Hafez’s poem, “Curls disheveled, sweating, laughing, and drunk / shirt torn, singing ghazals, flask in hand,” he just gawks at the girl. He only thinks of getting together with his beloved and isn’t afraid of going down in history as a fool.

My lover and I are sitting in front of the TV, watching Medicopter 117, in our four-hundred-and-thirty-square-foot rental apartment on Hafez Street. At the most critical moment of the episode, I get up, go to my bedroom, put on my red nightgown and stand in front of the TV set, brushing my hair. In response to my lover’s protests, I look at him seductively. He smiles but still follows what’s happening on TV. I unplug it.2

2 See Graham Greene, Quiet American, Trans. Ezatollah Fooladvand, first edition, Tehran: Kharazmi Publications, 1984, p. 143, where Paul asks Fowler, the professional British journalist, what his most profound sexual encounter had been.

Fowler answers the quiet, young American, “Lying in bed early one morning and watching a woman in a red dressing-gown brush her hair.”

The middle-aged Briton had impregnated the scene with all the eroticism he could muster; a scene which he had most likely never experienced with any of his mistresses. But then, this was the only image that came to his exhausted and agitated mind while spending the night in the fortress, with the Vietnamese soldiers and the quiet American, anticipating the Viet Cong skirmishes. Probably, Fowler was not thinking about any of his mistresses in particular, not about Phuong, his Vietnamese phoenix, and not about his English mistress. That image was the culmination of his whole love life.

My lover and I are sitting in a beach café, sipping our cappuccinos. My lover’s wearing a white t-shirt, stuck to his damp body. I’m in a light-green manteau and have put a big white magnolia in one of its buttonholes. The fragrance of the magnolia and that of the cappuccino wafting out from my cup blend with the sea breeze and make me dizzy. I put my fingers on my temples and take a deep breath. My lover looks at me with worried eyes. I ask my lover to tell me the story of the drowning of the young couple again. He says that he has told me the story five times since yesterday and doesn’t feel like telling it any more.3

3 See Marguerite Duras, Moderato Cantabile, Trans. Reza Seyed-Hosseini, first edition, Tehran: Zaman Publications, 1973, p. 89, where Anne Desbaresdes is wearing a décolleté dress and has pinned a big magnolia to her chest. She gets up from the dinner party table quickly and is anxious to go to the beach bar and drink another glass of wine with Chauvin and ask him, for the last time, to tell the story of the young couple. It’s then that, for the first time, she discovers the magical power of magnolia and wine and the incredible and undeniable similarity of wine, magnolia, love, and exasperation. Anne Desbaresdes realizes that, just like when you drink a little wine, the fragrance of magnolia seems to be very innocent at the beginning, but, after some time, it overwhelms your mind and leaves no room for any other feelings or thoughts. This is how she feels at that moment: Intoxicated with wine and the strong scent of magnolia, she can think of nothing but love. Just like the scent of magnolia, love has inundated her mind, which is soon to be overcome by exasperation.

My lover and I are in our four-hundred-and-thirty-square-foot apartment. My lover is lying on the couch, a glass of ice on his chest and a cigarette to his lips. He’s staring at the ceiling and gives curt, nonsensical answers to all my questions. I’m sitting on the sofa and hanging my legs from its arm and thumbing through Art and Decoration magazine irately. I tell my lover not to ash his cigarette on the floor. He ignores me. He looks at the ceiling and flicks his cigarette ash on the floor again. I go stand at the head of the couch, my arms crossed, and look at him resentfully. He smirks while still looking at the ceiling. I yell at him and say that I’m sick and tired of him and the glass he’s always carrying in his hand. My lover puts on his pants, while cursing me under his breath, and buckles his belt. I’m standing in front of the door to block him, telling him that enough is enough; that he’d better stop pretending to be the hero of an American movie who is fed up with his mistress. He shoves me aside abruptly and slams the door.4

4 Don’t refer to happy-ending American movies. Because, unlike Jane Fonda or Julia Roberts, I’m not going to chase down my lover, find him in a park or a bar and bring him back home. As soon as he leaves, I put the opera Salome by Richard Strauss in my player and lie down on the couch and page through Oscar Wilde’s Salome and when Herodias asks Salome to dance for the propitious night, I join her with The Dance of Seven Veils. In the end, when Salome embraces John’s severed head, kissing the lips she couldn’t touch in his life, I take my lover’s photo off the TV set and kiss him on the lips. My sadism and vengefulness at that moment are no less than Salome’s toward John.

My lover and I are lying in the bathtub and are basking in the mild warmth of the water, slowly smoking our cigarettes. My lover rambles constantly and I respond with a dull smile and a duller voice. My eyes are closed and I’m still reminiscing about the previous hours, thinking to myself how my lover would feel if he knew what I was remembering. It gives me chills to even think about it. My lover says I’d better leave the bathtub because I might catch a cold.5

5 See Unfaithful, directed by Adrian Lyne—the scene in which the girl is lying in the tub and suddenly sees the words her naughty lover has written on her belly while she was sleeping. This is definitely the most critical moment in determining her relationship with her husband. Up to that point, it had all been just mischief or even a joke. However, when she gets the sponge and wipes off the heart and dagger sign and her own name, she realizes the magical power of concealment. She has now entered a new phase in her game. Before that, she could confess everything to her husband in a trance or frenzy. But then, she sees the joy and excitement of cheating. That her husband could’ve seen the sign but didn’t awakens the snake of risk-taking that had been lurking dormant in her heart and makes her repeat the dangerous game over and over again.

My lover and I are coming back from the party arm in arm. I’m wearing a dress with an open neckline and my lover is wearing jeans and a t-shirt as usual. We are both singing “Tonight Is the Moonlit Night” a little too loudly. We sometimes stagger and, to keep our balance, cling to each other’s arms, sometimes bursting out laughing. Whenever my lover gets to the word “my lover” in the song, he draws his eyebrows together and points his finger at me with a serious expression. I accompany him in a lower octave.6

6 See the first scene of the movie Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?. In this scene, Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton both try to conceal their innermost feelings towards each other. They engage in vigorous banter that might lead to insult and injury if they’re not careful. But oblivion comes to their aid. It helps them change their past memories and sometimes heal their emotional or mental wounds, arising from the death of a child, abortion, or an infidelity that was neither confirmed nor denied.

My lover and I are sitting in our apartment, smoking gloomily. I lie on the couch more wearily and smoke and he lies next to the fireplace more morosely and smokes. Depression, like ivy, ties us together. I say it would be best if one of us left the other because usually in these situations one of the lovers leaves. My lover turns on his side towards me and says he doesn’t feel like wandering the streets and that if I’m tired of the situation, I can leave. I remind my lover that usually men are the ones to leave. Despite my persistence, my lover doesn’t give in and just looks at me with his drunken eyes. I tell my lover that I can no longer smoke, sadly; that I can’t stand his smoking either. My lover takes another puff of his cigarette and says that nothing like smoking exhibits depression so neatly. I go to my bedroom, my upper lip twitching in anger, and play Chopin’s sonata No. 2 in B-flat minor, and lie on the bed, thinking about a couple of trivial matters.7

7 Had Wim Wenders begun his Paris, Texas some scenes earlier, where the couple experiences exasperation, you could’ve seen that film. However, right now you’d better refer to Sonata No. 2 in B-flat minor by Frédéric Chopin, where the notes of the harp remind us of the monotonous rain and Chopin’s ennui on Majorca. When he was at his piano in his sixteenth century villa on the cliff, writing the destructive and exasperating notes of this sonnet, he had one thing on his mind: exasperation, exasperation with love; the inevitable exasperation that follows a long period of lovemaking, cheating, indifference, forgetfulness, argument, intoxication, and languor. It left Chopin with no other choice but to—while listening to the repetitive sound of rain and the waves crashing against the rocks, without taking heed of George Sand’s grumpiness—write the dreary notes that carry a devastating tempest within them. Probably, in the next room, George Sand was writing a story about a lover killing the object of their desire out of exasperation. However, I think if George Sand and Chopin had instead gone to Arles, where Van Gogh painted his beautiful sunflowers, before reaching that intolerable boredom that destroyed their relationship, they would’ve gone so mad that one of them would’ve either killed the other or, as Van Gogh did, cut off a piece of their body.

Translated from the Persian by Maryam Zehtabi Sabeti Moqaddam

Explore the rest of Asymptote’s Summer 2016 issue here.

Mahsa Mohebali (b. 1972) is an accomplished Iranian fiction writer and literary critic. Although she is best known for her critically acclaimed novel Don’t Worry (2008), which won both the Golshiri Foundation’s and the Press Critics’ Best Novel award, she has also penned the novel The Grey Spell (2002) and two short story collections, The Voices (1998) and Love in the Footnotes (2004), the latter of which is now banned in Iran despite being the winner of the Golshiri Foundation’s award for best short story collection. Her works are translated into Swedish, Italian, Turkish, and English and are widely circulated in Iran as well as being adapted for the stage.

Maryam Zehtabi Sabeti Moqaddam is a Ph.D. candidate in Comparative Literature at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. She received her MA in English Literature in 2012 from the University of Tehran where her research focused on black feminist dialogism in the works of Alice Walker and Zora Neale Hurston. She is particularly interested in women, gender, and sexuality studies and the intersection of religion and feminism. She is currently writing her dissertation on the representations of prostitution in Persian and Arab literature. She also aspires to introduce Iranian women writers to Western audiences through translation and criticism of their works.

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Read More from Translation Tuesday:

Translation Tuesday: Two Short Nonfiction Pieces by Roberto Merino

Waiting may be the most thoroughly human activity there is.

Described by Argentina’s Clarín newspaper as Chilean literature’s “best-kept secret,” Roberto Merino recently wrote evocatively about a childhood submerged in television for our Summer 2016 issue. Today we bring you two short nonfictions, about seasonal change, from the same pen.

Just Wait

I am waiting for something to change. While I wait, the days, weeks and seasons pass. Conversations from nearby buildings drift through my open window on summer evenings, snatches of song, appalled laughter. Hammers ring out in the afternoons. I get up very early each morning and before I know it I am taking taxis, making phone calls, setting my various affairs in motion.

The change I am waiting for will come from outside, and its causes will be revealed to me when whatever it is actually transpires. I am told that there can hardly be such a thing as chance, and that whatever happens to us is a consequence of our own doings: the law of karma, or of action and reaction. Gurdjieff says very much this: that what is happening to me now is the corollary of what I did yesterday, so today’s blunders will be sure to come back and weigh me down tomorrow or the day after.

READ MORE…