Posts filed under 'Translation'

Highlights from Our Winter 2017 Issue

The blog editors share their favorite pieces from our latest issue!

Here at the blog, we’ve been mesmerized by the new Winter 2017 Issue since its launch on Monday. We hope you’ve had time to dive in, too, but if not, here are a few great places to start!

“Daland” by Lika Tcheishvili, translated from the Georgian by Ekaterine Chialashvili and Alex Scrivener, is a curious little story, told in the first person by an unnamed dock worker in Bandar Abbas, Iran. Anyone who has seen or read about Lin Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton will find themselves in familiar territory when the narrator becomes the unlikely participant in a duel. Any sense of familiarity stops there, however. The man who challenges him is a mysterious smoker with a perpetually fresh lily—flowers foreign to Bandar Abbas—in his lapel and an appointment with a schooner no one has heard of…

I also cannot get the words of Christiane Singer out of my head. In her essay, “The Feminine, Land of Welcome,” translated from the French by Hélène Cardona, she writes to women, “stand bewitched and ready to leap: the queen, the sister, the lover, the friend, the mother—all those who have the genius for relationship, for welcoming. The genius for inventing life.” She highlights the danger of defining women only by their commonalities, as well as the horrors that could have come to pass—and could still—in a world without women. Their absence would be powerfully felt, even in comparison to situations in which they are already roundly ignored or discredited.

—Madeline Jones, Blog Editor

In “Always Already Translated: Questions of Language in Singaporean Literature”, Boston-born Philip Holden, who has lived in Singapore for more than 20 years, writes lyrically about this multilingual city-state. Having worked with languages Holden mentions—Malay, Malayalam, Javanese, and many others—I loved his description of situations where “I speak in Mandarin to Chinese patients, and they reply not to me but to my Chinese co-worker, who looks back at me in incomprehension. She speaks in Malay to older Chinese and Malay patients, and they reply in Malay not to her but to the third of us, the Indian woman who wears a tudung that marks her out as Muslim and, by a process of mistaken association, Malay.” Multilingual societies are sadly often depicted as wrought with conflict. While language in Singapore is, like everywhere in the world, a political issue, too, Holden focuses on the opportunities it provides for performing and literary arts. We don’t have to search for a common language, he argues—it’s more interesting to find “holes between languages that everyday translation continually fills up”.

I have never read Albanian literature before, however. If you are like me, I can warmly recommend the three poems by Luljeta Lleshanaku, one of the country’s most important writers, as an introduction. Taken from the collection Negative Space and translated by Ani Gjika, the poems describe a simple life: apple trees, a butcher carving meat, “gardens hidden behind houses like sensual neck bites”. But behind each poem is a rotten apple, or cold floors, and getting one’s way without any real gain—poetic realism. Do also have a listen to the translator reading the original text in Albanian!

—Hanna Heiskanen, Blog Editor

Check out the gorgeous video preview of the new issue here:

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Read More from the Asymptote team:

Weekly Dispatches from the Frontlines of World Literature

The latest literary news from Argentina, France, Taiwan, and Singapore.

The end of the year is nearly upon us, and we can hardly believe it here at the Asymptote blog. 2016 has been difficult the world over, but that hasn’t stopped a flourishing of creative energy in literature and the arts—which may be of more importance now than ever. This week, we check in with Asymptote team members on the latest literary happenings in places they call (or have once called) home.

Our world tour begins in Argentina, where Assistant Editor Alexis Almeida brings us the latest:

As the year comes to an end, there has been a steady stream of literary festivals in Buenos Aires. Most recently, the sixth annual Fanzine Festi took place at the Convoi Gallery, which featured zines and underground presses like Tren en Movimiento, alcohol y fotocopias, Fábrica de Estampas, Ediciones de Cero, and many others. On the same weekend, Flipa (Fería del Libro Popular [Popular Book Fair]) took place at the Paco Urondo Cultural Center. This initiative, free and open to the public, came out of “Construyendo Cultura,” a collective of cultural spaces in Buenos Aires, and aims to create a editorial circuit that reaches “the largest possible number of authors, readers, and spaces for the diffusion…of collective, homegrown presses and graphic cooperatives.” This is just another example of the thriving DIY print culture in Buenos Aires. Also held recently was La Sensacíon, a monthly book fair held at the bookstore La Internacional in the Villa Crespo neighborhood. It boasts titles from independent presses such as Blatt & Ríos, Fadel & Fadel, Milena Caserola, and others.

Two recent conferences spotlighted 20th century poets: Alejandra Pizarnik and Susana Thenon. The former was held at the MALBA contemporary art museum, and brought together various contemporary writers and literary critics, such as María Negroni, Daniel Link, and Federica Rocco, to discuss different aspects of Pizarnik’s work. There was also a screening of Virna Molina and Ernesto Ardito’s documentary, Alejandra. The latter was part of a series on gender and poetry presented by Arturo Jauretche University.

Ni Una Menos, the feminist advocacy group, recently led a march on November 25, for the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women. There was also a national assembly held the same day in public spaces in cities throughout the country, in which advocates and citizens made public demands for legalized abortion and stronger legislation for the prevention of gender violence, among other issues.

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Ask a Translator with Daniel Hahn

Imagine, a future in which we translators get to translate books that someone has actually bothered to edit already!

This week marks the final posting in our ever-captivating series with writer and translator Daniel Hahn. The question for this last column comes from Asymptote Editor-in-Chief, Lee Yew Leong, who also explains how he invited Daniel Hahn to be our columnist, a year ago:

When I asked this very specific favor of him over Michelin-starred dimsum last year, I expected Daniel to say he’d think about it and get back to me. This was our first meeting in person, after all. But he agreed immediately to do it for us—for free (we can’t afford to pay ourselves at Asymptote, let alone others). That’s how he came to field wide-ranging questions about the art of translation, from whether a code of ethics exists, to how a translator can improve—questions that came from Asymptote readers the world over.

Having submitted a column every month without fail since December 2015, Daniel now contributes his final essay, making it one full year as our agony uncle in residence. This time, he takes a question from me. I thought I’d try an ambitious one, make it a bit more difficult for him, you know? So I ask him to peer into the proverbial crystal ball. Scroll down below to read his nuanced, optimistic answer, acknowledging post-Brexit uncertainty. Whatever you make of his thrilling column (not to mention his Oulipian, or shall I say, Hahn-like, attempt to make a connection to all previous eleven essays), the future of translation is certainly a better one for Daniel’s advocacy, and willingness to shine the way ahead, that’s an inspiration to all of us working in world lit. Cheers, Danny, and thanks so much for this past year from all of us at Asymptote!

You’ve just returned from your nth Writers Festival this year—where you no doubt had the chance to observe the ‘state of translation’ (in a different country, on a different continent) up close. In fact, I can’t think of anyone more suitable to pose this question to: What does the future of literary translation hold for editors, translators, and readers, say, ten years from now?

Thanks, Yew Leong—like the other questions weren’t big and challenging enough already! How am I supposed to answer this?

Actually, though… Maybe it’s not so hard as all that? Because I’m not convinced that ten years from now things will be wildly different—not the things that matter, anyway.

For one thing, principles and values shouldn’t change just because context changes. We may well be entering a pretty dark time in political / social / economic terms—from the particular (western, Anglophone) place where I’m sitting, at least; but that doesn’t change the importance of what my colleagues do. On the contrary. Back in March I wrote about the translator’s responsibility and power in today’s too-divided world—and that sure as hell isn’t going away anytime soon; we just need to know that we can keep responding to challenges not with surrender but with defiance. (We will.) READ MORE…

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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Meet the Publisher: Coach House Books

It’s just coming across things that look really interesting and that I feel need a home in the English language.

Coach House Books publishes and prints innovative Canadian fiction, non-fiction, poetry, and drama. The press was founded by Stan Bevington in 1965 and takes its name from the old coach house where he began putting out early works by many Canadian authors, including bpNichol and Michael Ondaatje. Since 1975, translations of Québécois literature have been an important part of the press’ catalogue. Poet, translator, and science writer Sarah Moses met with Alana Wilcox, Coach House’s editorial director since 2002, to discuss printing presses, bookish books, and translating French-Canadian authors.

Sarah Moses (SM): Could you begin by talking about the history of Coach House?

Alana Wilcox (AW): Coach House has been around since 1965, so we celebrated our fiftieth anniversary last year—not me personally, but the larger undertaking. It’s always been a press that focuses on innovative work, poetry, more difficult fiction, that kind of thing. It’s a long and convoluted story, like that of many presses: more difficult years, less difficult years, but we’re still at it, still publishing translation.

SM: What do you mean by more difficult fiction?

AW: I would include translation in that. By difficult I don’t necessarily mean fiction that’s hard to read, but that’s hard for people to think that they want to read—even though they might love it when they get into it.

SM: Could you tell me a little about the printing side of Coach House?

AW: We print our books here: we have an old Heidelberg printing press and binding equipment. Printing on location has always been the thing with Coach House. It’s interesting when the means of production is available to the writers and the editors—it just makes publishing a more tangible, real process. We always make the authors come in and glue the first copy of their book, if they can. There’s just something so beautiful about that. READ MORE…

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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The Happy Translator with Many Heads

Because we were many, our golden moments were also many.

At the time of Teffi’s famous dinners with Rasputin in 1916 (memorialised in an unusual, humanising account), she was at the peak of her renown, one of the most celebrated and beloved of Russian writers. Her admirers came from across the political spectrum and included not only Vladimir Lenin and Tsar Nicholas II but also many writers. Following Teffi’s death in Paris in 1952, her work sank into oblivion—perhaps because she was a woman and an emigrée, and because some wrongly thought her work too witty to be serious. Fortunately, after long years of obscurity, Teffi is being rediscovered. Three volumes of her work are now available in English translation: Subtly Worded (2014), Memories (2016)[i], and Rasputin and Other Ironies (2016) (published as Tolstoy, Rasputin, Others, and Me by NYRB in the United States) This is largely thanks to the efforts of expert translator and my former mentor, Robert Chandler, who is one of the principal translators and a great advocate of collaborative translation.

Each book has been translated collaboratively and is the product of anywhere from three to six hands—or heads—and that’s only counting the translators named on the copyright page.In the case of ‘Rasputin’, the number is probably closer to ten, as Robert took the text to translation summer school and his entire group had a go at it, multiplying the golden moments in translation. While Robert and Elizabeth Chandler have been a central guiding presence throughout, the rest of us have been involved in some books but not in others or have played different roles from one book to the next.

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Translation Tuesday: Five Poems by Benito del Pliego

Destruction/satisfaction: everything is a question of measurement.

Openly encouraging an oracular approach in which readers pose questions to a series of poems and identify either themselves or others through the answers they obtain, Fable showcases Benito del Pliego’s familiarly deft touch as he places puns alongside paradoxes and striking images next to penetrating insights in moving explorations of isolation and recollection. Continuing a career-long commitment to fostering meaningful interactions between a text and its interlocutors—whether readers, accompanying illustrations, or other poems in the collection—this Spanish poet highlights the unfamiliar in the familiar and makes poetry about the everyday seem anything but ordinary. These poems are taken from the collection Fable / Fábula, recently launched at McNally Jackson Books in New York.

 

THE SALMON

—It’s hard to move forward when you only want to go against the current.

Later you discover that nothing remains, that the future has countless origins.

Sometimes you feel like a shipwrecked sailor; sometimes you think anyone who wants to flee never goes further than herself.

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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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Stephen Henighan on Globalization, Translation, and The Avant-garde

Translation started not as a way of nourishing the avant-garde—it started as a way of bolstering national identity.

This interview marks the launch of a new series here at the Asymptote blog: “Meet the Publisher.” Every month, we will bring you an insider’s look at the world via in-depth, intimate conversations with publishers of literature in translation from around the globe. This week, contributor Sarah Moses brings us an interview with editor Stephen Henighan of Biblioasis in Ontario, Canada, on the process, politics, and passion of publishing translations.

Sarah Moses says: “Biblioasis started out as a bookshop in Windsor, Ontario in the late 1990s. In 2003, founder and owner Daniel Wells took an interest in publishing and, alongside editor John Metcalf, began to acquire, edit, and launch the press’s first titles. Biblioasis now publishes between twenty-two and twenty-five books a year divided between new literary fiction, non-fiction, and poetry, alongside reprints and regional-interest books. Biblioasis’s head office still includes a bookstore, and the press also runs a quarterly magazine, Canadian Notes & Queries. The Biblioasis International Translation Series, which accounts for four titles a year, includes works from French Canada and around the world, as well as books written in Canada in languages other than French or English. I sat down with series editor Stephen Henighan to chat about the press and literary translation in Canada.”                                                                                                                                    

Sarah Moses (SM): I’d like to begin by asking you about literary translation in Canada. How would you say it differs from other countries?

 Stephen Henighan (SH): In other cultures—and Buenos Aires, where you’ve just come from, is a good example, if you think back to Jorge Luis Borges and his friends in the early part of their careers, but also in New York or London or Paris—translation was an avant-garde activity. It was an activity that might nourish national literary debate, but above all it was there to give you aesthetic relief from the national context.

I think what happened in Canada is that, especially in the 1960s and 1970s, the literary elite was nationalist and therefore wasn’t all that interested in translation. There had been odd translations from French-Canadian literature to English-Canadian literature, mainly in the 1940s and 1950s, but the real translation culture begins in the late 1960s in the Eastern Townships of Quebec, where in the village of North Hatley writers of English and French were living side by side. That’s where Sheila Fischman, who has gone on to translate more than one hundred and fifty books, got her start.

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Dig Deeper into Our Fall 2016 Issue

Selected highlights in the new issue from Asymptote section editors!

Last week, we launched “Verisimilitude,” our star-studded Fall 2016 edition. Since then, we’ve been overwhelmed by the critical reception: A Public Space called the issue “a gold mine of work from 31 countries” while The Chicago Review of Books proclaimed it “f**ing gorgeous.” Among the never-before-published work by both well known and emerging translators, writers, and visual artists we presented in this quarterly issue, Anita Raja’s essay on translation made The Literary Hub‘s Best of the Week roundup. Thank you so much and do please keep spreading the word so we can connect our authors with even more readers! This week, to guide your exploration of the new issue, some of our editors contribute highlights from their respective sections. Follow them from Ireland to Iraq to Mexico to Korea and back again.

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Tactile Translations, Stefana McClure. Review: Eva Heisler, Visual Editor.

Using sources as various as a Japanese translation of The Little Prince, Samuel Beckett’s Molloy, or a U.S. government redacted report on “enhanced interrogation techniques,” artist Stefana McClure slivers printed matter and re-employs it as material with which to construct her enigmatic objects: stones wrapped in paper; a ball wound of the paper shreds of a novel; a nearly black “drawing” knit from redacted texts. Carmen Hermo’s conversation with McClure delves into the thinking and process behind the artist’s “tactile translations.”

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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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Weekly Dispatches from the Frontlines of World Literature

This week's literary news from Egypt, Bangladesh, the ALTA conference and on the recent Nobel Prize list.

Welcome to this edition of Asymptote’s weekly update, a hop, step, and jump tour de force bringing you the latest from three continents of literature in translation. To kick off, our Egyptian Editor-at-Large Omar El Adi sends us his bulletin, including news on literary prizes and an upcoming event in London. We then zoom in on Bangladesh, where Editor-at-Large for India Naheed Patel reports on recent festivals and the passing of Bangla authors. Also, US-based Assistant Editor Julia Leverone visited the ALTA conference so you didn’t have to. And finally Assistant Managing Editor Janani Ganesan gives us the round-up from the literary world on the Nobel Prize in Literature being awarded to Bob Dylan. 

Editor-at Large Omar El Adi has the latest literary news from Egypt:

The inaugural annual lecture of the Saif Ghobash Banipal Prize for Arabic Literary Translation will be given by Palestinian author Anton Shammas at the British Library in London on 14 October. The jury for this year’s prize includes last year’s winning translator Paul Starkey, professor of Arabic Zahia Smail Salhi, writer and journalist Lucy Popescu, and literary consultant and publisher Bill Swainson. Paul Starkey’s 2015 win came for his translation of Youssef Rakha’s The Book of the Sultan’s Seal: Strange Incidents from History in the City of Mars (2014). An excerpt of Rakha’s third book Paulo (forthcoming in English) was featured in the Spring 2016 issue of Asymptote. The winner of the prize will be announced this December.

In Alexandria, Tara Al-Bahr, an interactive online platform, is launching its second print edition with original essays as well as translations into Arabic on the topics of cultural and artistic practices and urban change in contemporary Alexandria. Tara Al-Bahr launched in May this year, and its second printed edition came out on Thursday, 6 October.

The Facebook group Alexandria Scholars is commencing a series of talks, titled “The City Dialogue Series”, with the support of the Swedish Institute in Alexandria, and curated by the sociologist Amro Ali. The first lecture, “Alexandria and the search for meaning”, was on 10 October and explored solutions to the city’s problems “through the terrain of historical, urban, and philosophical analysis”. Future events involving writers, academics, political figures, and researchers have already been planned for November and December.

In publishing news, Mohamed Rabie’s Otared (2016) was released in English translation in September by AUC Press. The novel was shortlisted for the International Prize in Arabic Fiction in 2016 and is set in a dystopian post-revolutionary Egypt. An excerpt is available here.

Halal If You Hear Me, a forthcoming anthology of writings by Muslims who are queer, women, gender nonconforming or transgender, is calling for submissions. Editors Fatimah Asghar and Safia Elhillo are looking for submissions of up to five poems or two essays, including a cover letter with contact info and a short bio. Those interested should email halalifyouhearme@gmail.com before 1 December, 2016.

Editor-at-Large for India Naheed Patel shares some stories from the neighbouring Bangladesh:

Next month sees Bangladesh’s capital revving up for the annual Dhaka Literary Festival, which runs from November 17-19.  The festival has been held at the historic Bangla Academy since 2012, and is directed and produced by Sadaf Saaz, Ahsan Akbar, and K. Anis Ahmed. In the face of numerous recent Freedom of Expression violations in Bangladesh, the festival marks a resurgence of Bangladeshi literary culture, reaching across a number of different disciplines and genres: from fiction and literary non-fiction to history, politics and society; from poetry and translations to science, mathematics, philosophy and religion. The festival has more than 20,000 attendees and past contributors include Vikram Seth, Tariq Ali, Rosie Boycott, William Dalrymple, Ahdaf Soueif, Shashi Tharoor, Jung Chang, and Pankaj Mishra as well famous writers of Bangla literature like Hasan Azizul Huq, Selina Hossain, Debesh Roy, and Nirmalendu Goon.

In August and September Bangladesh mourned the passing of two prominent Bangla poets. Author, poet, and playwright Syed Shamsul Haq died at the age of 81 in Dhaka on September 27, 2016, and renowned Bangladeshi poet Shaheed Quaderi passed away in New York at the age of 74 on August 28, 2016. Haq was given the Bangla Academy Award in 1966 and the Ekushey Padak, the highest national award of Bangladesh, in 1984. He was also honored with a Swadhinata Padak in 2000 for his contribution to Bangla Literature. Payer Awaj Paoa Jay’ [We Hear the Footsteps] and Nuruldiner Sara Jibon [The Entire Life of Nuruldin], his most popular plays, are considered to be cornerstones of Bangladeshi theatre. Shaheed Quaderi received the Ekushey Padak in the category of Language and Literature in 2011 and was previously awarded the Bangla Academy Award in 1973. Prominent Bengali scholars such as Kabir Chowdhury, Kaiser Haq, and Farida Majid have translated his poems into English.

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“The Fable of God’s Servant, the Unemployed Mr. Fistulka,” by Lidia Amejko

When Fistulka had a job, no one on our housing block contemplated the meaning of life.

The unemployed Mr. Fistulka came by our housing bloc, and leaning against the buzzer he pressed all the call buttons at once.

And all at once all went to the buzzer

And all at once all answered

And at once all in different voices, each in their own intonation, melody and pitch, in their own way bellowed loudly into the buzzer:

“Helllllooo?”

“Who is it?”

“Hello?”

“Who’s there?”

“You little fucker, what do you want in the middle of the night?”

As the symphony of voices echoed though the housing block, Fistulka asked in a hushed voice:

“Why am I here?”

I mean to say Fistulka asked about the meaning of his life. Night after night, sounding that same sentence in our heads.

Even Mr. Bolczyk, who survived all the occupations and somehow got a good night’s rest each night, would now only lay in bed staring at the ceiling, then get up nervously and lighting a cigarette, he would bounce around the apartment like a moth beating its wings against a glass lampshade.

And Lalek, the sheet metal worker stopped going to work. He closed down his car repair shop and now sits on the bench under the Osieka Epiphany, fixing his gaze on the periwinkle blue ceiling.

Fistulka infected our housing block with his question. Each of us walked around pale like vampires, tripping from a lack of sleep on the holes in the sidewalk; unemployed because it’s understood that before a person can really start living they have to answer that fundamental, “why?”

Only two places got busier, the church and the supermarket, Jericho. A few even started hanging themselves.

And it’s all because of unemployment: when Fistulka had a job, no one on our housing block contemplated the meaning of life.

In an emergency meeting, our housing block community convened. All heads agreed and a decree was reached to occupy Fistulka with “something.”

But I have to confess that nothing came of it. A strong fraction rose up against the decree. The owner of the supermarket claimed that what differentiates a man from an animal is that a man can search for his own meaning. The priest agreed in collusion like never before, and the one from the Galaxy funeral home chimed in, too.

So Fistulka continued walking around the housing blocks, tormenting people with his stupid question. He probably would have continued for a long time and I don’t know what would have happened to our housing block if the rabbit didn’t finish him off with his ears.

It was like this: Mr. Krasik the hunter that lived on the 20th floor—right next to Ms. Janina, Mr. Obrabek’s and the blunt smoker’s servant— killed a rabbit and hung it out in the freezing cold to get him ready for Christmas eve. The rabbit hung head down, stiff as an icicle, and just as Fistulka walked up under Krasik’s house about to pronounce his, “Why am I here,” the rabbit slipped out from between the rope and speared his ears like two blades into Fistulka’s head.

Then the question became irrelevant because Fistulka was no more.

That’s how the matter resolved happily and on its own. The priest said in a sermon that it was the housing block that we all carry inside us that killed Fistulka along with his question and he declared Fistulka a saint who died a martyr’s death in the hands of the rabbit, a symbol of our housing block’s wickedness (or something like this). And now we live peacefully, without questioning anything.

Only sometimes, when the buzzer rings in the middle of the night do we jump to our feet and wonder about the meaning of life.

Translated from the Polish by Beatrice Smigasiewicz

Lidia Amejko is a playwright and a short story writer. Her publications include When the Mind is Asleep–the Answering Machine Turns On, The Passion in the Bottle, and Stories Out Loud, among others.  She has been nominated multiple times for the prestigious literary NIKE award and translated into German, French and Bulgarian. She often adapts her stories for stage and radio production, and it’s this practice that seems to inform her use of language. Her fabulist style has been compared to Olga Tokarczuk’s. This story is taken from her second book, The Lives of Housing Block Saints, (2008), which was a winner of the Polish Book Editors Prize.  

Beatrice Smigasiewicz is a Fulbright scholar living in Warsaw and an editor-at-large for Asymptote. Her work has appeared in Denver QuarterlyArt PapersWords Without Borders, and BODY, an international online literary journal, among others. She holds an MFA from the Nonfiction Writing program at the University of Iowa, where she also studied literary translation. 

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