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.
Happy Sunday! Today, we continue with our spotlight on our Close Approximations contest by showcasing the first edition’s winners. If you’re interested or know someone who might be interested, bear in mind that we’ll be awarding $4,500 total in prize money to six emerging translators, and our deadline closes in just sixteen days. Visit our contest page for full details.
The second of our two runners-up in the fiction category, Rhonda Dahl Buchanan, gives us this prize-winning translation of an excerpt from Mexican author Alberto Ruy-Sánchez’s Poetics of Wonder: Passage to Mogador.
What a thrill it was to see a sample of my translation from Poetics of Wonder: Passage to Mogador by the Mexican writer Alberto Ruy Sánchez, published in the January 2014 edition of Asymptote—complete with the beautiful Arabic calligraphy created by Caterina Camastra for the English translation of Nueve veces el asombro and an excerpt of the author reading a passage from the novel in the original Spanish.
I believe this recognition helped Dennis Maloney, editor of White Pine Press, secure a PROTRAD grant from the Fondo Nacional para la Cultura y las Artes (FONCA). With funds from FONCA’s Program of Support for Translation, Poetics of Wonder was published in July 2014 in the “Companions for the Journey” series of White Pine Press. In September 2014, Alberto Ruy Sánchez and I were invited to Washington, D.C. by the Mexican Cultural Institute to present a bilingual reading of the novel, and we’ve been invited back to D.C. by the Mexican Embassy for an encore book presentation this March.
Shortly before Christmas 2014, Texas Tech University Press published my translation of the Argentine writer Perla Suez’s novel La pasajera in their Americas Series, titled Dreaming of the Delta. I hope that being selected as a winner of the Close Approximations Competition will help me secure grants and publishers for future translation projects. I am truly grateful to Howard Goldblatt, Lee Yew Leong, and the Asymptote editors for this honor that truly has been the gift that keeps on giving!
—Rhonda Dahl Buchanan, Runner-up in the fiction category, Close Approximations
With less than three weeks to submit to our Close Approximations competition, we thought it’d be a good idea to revisit the winning translations of our previous edition (judged by Eliot Weinberger and Howard Goldblatt), each accompanied by a brief note from the victorious translator.
This year’s esteemed judges—Michael Hofmann (Poetry), Ottilie Mulzet (Fiction) Margaret Jull Costa (Nonfiction)—are itching to start reading your submissions, so we hope these prize-winning translations inspire you to submit your work and stand to win up to 1,000 USD in prize money! Visit our contest page for full details.
This weekend, we will be presenting the two runners-up in the fiction category. First up, Krista Brune’s prize-winning translation of an excerpt from Nuno Ramos’s Ó, from the Portuguese: READ MORE…
In this episode, we look at divergent forms of storytelling in translation—from the fact-centered world of literary reportage to the poetic proclamations of a third-millennium heart. Beatrice Smigasiewicz brings us coverage from Krakow’s Conrad Festival, where she caught up with one of Poland’s most prominent writers of literary nonfiction, Mariusz Szczygieł, and his award-winning translator, Antonia Lloyd-Jones. They discuss the legacy of 20th century reportage in Polish literature and the power of storytelling in dealing with the country’s wartime experience and postwar Communist era. Katrine Øgaard Jensen presents new translations of poems from Ursula Andkjær Olsen’s Third-Millennium Heart, an explosive collection that pushes story to the limit—breaking every rule of storytelling and yet bringing us a character who feels real. Olsen won the prestigious literary award Montanaprisen in 2013 for the book, excerpted here in its original Danish along with English translations.
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With the deadline for the second edition of our Close Approximations contest fast approaching, we’ll be proudly revisiting the winning translations of our previous edition, selected by Eliot Weinberger and Howard Goldblatt, over the next three weekends starting from tomorrow, right here on the blog.
Awarding a total of $4,500 in prize money to six winners this time are Michael Hofmann (Poetry), Ottilie Mulzet (Fiction) and Margaret Jull Costa (Nonfiction). If you’re inspired by what you read here, there is still time to enter, and we are encouraging submissions via our Submittable portal. Entrants have until December 15 to be in with a chance of winning up to 1,000USD, in addition to publication in our April 2016 issue, joining a roster of translators we have published that includes J.M. Coetzee, Lydia Davis, Susan Bernofsky, Robert Chandler, Ros Schwartz, Daniel Hahn, Pierre Joris and Rosmarie Waldrop.
To further pique your interest, here’s more about our wonderful judges and what they think about the act of translation.
Happy Thanksgiving to all American readers! Ahead of Black Friday and Civilised Saturday (the antidote to Black Friday proposed by some booksellers in the UK), here are some book recommendations from the Asymptote Blog staff.
The Fly Trap by Fredrik Sjöberg, translated by Thomas Teal—reviewed by blog editor Ryan Mihaly
Fredrik Sjöberg’s excellent nature-memoir The Fly Trap, translated by Thomas Teal, caught me completely off guard. I did not expect to be so enthralled by the musings of a fly collector (properly, an entomologist) who lives alone on an island in Sweden. The book is unforgettable from the very first line: “It was during the time I wandered the streets near Nybroplan with a lamb in my arms.” The first chapter details Sjöberg’s brief stint with a community theatre where he was responsible for carrying a lamb to the set every day, because the director of the play refused to use a mechanical lamb. This bizarre and beautiful chapter serves as a brief prelude to his even stranger life collecting flies. READ MORE…
Advertisements are the translator’s hell. Only the other day, I struggled with a Russian analogue to “a patient journey to asthma management:” each version sounded either too Western or too Soviet. That fruitless exercise has put me in mind of Victor Pelevin, one of the most popular contemporary Russian authors, whose books are often tributes to his early career in advertising.
A classic example is Generation “П,” originally published in Russian under this funky title in 1999. The П is for P, which is for Pepsi. It traces a copywriter’s journey (sic) to greatness in the formative days of Russian capitalism. Andrew Bromfield’s version, published by Faber and Faber, is called Babylon, referring to the name of the protagonist, Vavilen Tatarsky (his pet name, “Vavan,” is rendered as “Babe” here), which brings up a whole host of Sumerian associations in the book. The book’s US title, Homo Zapiens, is Pelevin’s own invention: a term for a model consumer, it appears in a text communicated by the spirit of Che Guevara by means of an ouija board, where it’s abbreviated to ХЗ, a shortened form of the Russian equivalent of “fuck knows.”
I’d spotted it lying in the ditch, one eye open, but perfectly still, its left side covered with black blood, its tongue hanging limply from its mouth. I’d stopped, as though the dead animal had been a boundary stone ordering me to a halt, and I’d taken the time to stare it down, thumbing my nose at death or bad luck.
It was a long-legged husky with lovely grey and black fur. Its half-open mouth showed off teeth more white than yellow. And even in this lifeless state, lying there in the ditch, it was impressively built. It was a dog from the north, well used to sniffing around bears and moose. It was also a pet, trained to warn humans of the dangers of the wild. But at the end of the day it was just another animal lying dead at the side of the road, hit by a pickup rattling by at 120 k.p.h. or a truck piled high with heavy logs.
And even though the sight of the dog was enough to spoil anyone’s appetite, I hadn’t eaten since the night before and hunger was gnawing away at my stomach. I looked at the animal, at its lifeless eye that would never see another thing, and I thought back to the grilled cheese I had eaten at nightfall at the rest stop in Hearst, the improbably French-speaking town in northern Ontario. I thought back to the coffee, too, paid for with my last few dollars, that I’d sipped slowly as I waited for morning to come. I recalled it sliding down into my stomach, whetting my appetite; I heard my stomach rumble and I thought of eating again, and told myself that I’d need to get to my destination before I could eat. And so I walked away from the dog, stuck my thumb in the air, and focused on the road. I walked. A cloud of smoke came out of my mouth and the frost creaked beneath my boots.
The first thing one notices at the venue of the 2nd annual Indo-American Arts Council Literary Festival is the number of Indians in various gradations of “Indian Attire”—from the skimpy Bollywood sari, to the elegant Kanjivaram, to the ubiquitous sherwani with a baseball cap. Such South Asian exuberance against the drab backdrop of Hunter College’s linoleum floors, dubious escalators, and gray dry-wall is enough to pique anyone’s interest, let alone a bunch of homesick Indian bibliophiles waiting to take selfies with their favorite writers.
An ambitious attempt on the part of the Indo-American Arts Council, led by director Aroon Shivdasani, the Festival gathers together prominent Subcontinental voices as diverse as Salman Rushdie, Suketu Mehta, Meena Alexander, Padma Lakshmi and Mira Nair, as well as emerging writers like Sharbari Ahmed, Raghu Karnad, Manreet Sodhi Someshwar, Mira Jacob, and Tanwi Nandini Islam.
Only two years old, the Festival is in its nascent stages, and perhaps that is why the panel discussions at times felt disjointed, as did its choice of panelists. The topics often veered sharply from the literary into an ersatz representation of South Asian identity—India’s rich, politicized literary landscape got less than its proper share of attention in what is supposed to be a festival of literature. The opening panel comprised of Salman Rushdie and Suketu Mehta in conversation with Amitava Kumar, although brimful of witty lines and pictorial anecdotes, often detoured from a discussion on writing by these accomplished authors into scattered riffs on their pasts, their political affiliations, and their sense of belonging to the “Old Boys’ Club” of Bombay writers. These digressions not only alienated younger audience members but also missed the opportunity to center the discussion on the writers’ craft. To make matters worse, there were not enough checks and balances to prevent an audience member from indulging in frivolous and self-promoting questions, only to waste precious panel time. Also, conspicuous by their absence at the Festival were diaspora writers such as Vandana Khanna, Srikant Reddy, and Nalini Jones, just to name a few, who would have added greater value to the panels, but who were, for reasons unknown, not included.
Happy Friday, Asymptote! Do you have Thanksgiving reading? Distract from your family with novels from Korea—here are five Korean-language tomes (in translation) you should read now. Or you could use Jamaican novelist Marlon James’ recent Man Booker win as an opportunity to uncover more about today’s Caribbean writing. Belarusian Nobel laureate Svetlana Alexievich isn’t widely available in English—yet: three more of her nonfiction works will soon be published through Random House. And if you haven’t by now, you’ve no excuse anymore: check out new Azerbaijani literature through a new, super-easy online portal. READ MORE…
Project ARIADNE is a revolutionary global arts movement promoting woman-led theatre in current and former zones of conflict. Their mission is to provide a stage to women across the world making theatre either because of the wars they have lived through, or in spite of them.
Susannah Tresilian is a founding member of the project and its current Artistic Director, collaborating with theatre-makers around the world, including Hope Azeda (Rwanda), Dijana Milosevic (Serbia), Frédérique Lecomte (Burundi), Iman Aoun (Palestine), Patricia Ariza (Colombia) and Ruwanthie de Chickera (Sri Lanka).
Her corpus of work focuses predominantly on the promotion of gender equity within international theatre. Recently, her work has seen her collaborating with the Belarus Free Theatre in London and Minsk on Soul Power: The Opera. The Belarus Free Theatre is an underground theatre troupe banned in their home country by the presiding Lukashenko regime, often described as the last dictatorship in Europe. The artistic directors of the group are currently in political exile in London, and are residents of the Young Vic Theatre. The Arts Council offers a bursary for actors and theatre-makers to travel to Minsk and work with the troupe in lieu of their exiled members. Tresillian is covertly working with them, enabling other actors and theatre-makers such as Jude Law, Michael Attenborough, and Sam West to make the journey.
*** READ MORE…
Every year since 2009, writers, critics, and literature lovers have been flocking to the Austrian region of Wachau for the European Days of Literature. Late this October, I was fortunate to spend three glorious autumn days surrounded by vineyards in Spitz and Krems on the Danube, to talk about all things literary and listen to authors read from their works, all liberally sprinkled with local Grüner Veltliner. Literature was center stage throughout—and there was a perfect balance between readings, panel discussions, informal chats and the picturesque setting—no wonder many of the participants have been coming year after year.
The overarching theme of this year’s gathering—The Migrants (Die Ausgewanderten)—was chosen with a view to discuss the ways European literature has been changing through and along with the increasing migration of authors. Little did the organizers know that the symposium would take place at a time when migration dominates the media headlines as thousands of desperate refugees risk their lives to cross the Mediterranean and trek through Europe seeking sanctuary, putting the old continent’s humanitarian values, tolerance and unity to a test and threatening the very foundations of the European Project.
“Some of the best writing in Europe today is migrant writing,” said writer AL Kennedy, who tries not to define herself as having a specific nationality. In her powerful keynote speech (podcast recording here) she tackled the current migration crisis head on: “Between my first draft and my last a photograph of a small boy made it to headlines of many newspapers which had, only hours before, been pouring out hatred at refugees as a moral, cultural, biological and spiritual threat. As David Cameron put it: ‘a swarm of people.’ When people are in a swarm, they aren’t people. They are both of an alien species and a danger. When words put them in a swarm, they don’t receive the real world’s help.”
Practising art alone is not enough at times like these, she argued in her impassioned address, for “true art is not an indulgence but a fundamental defence of humanity.” She challenged writers to take on a more activist stand, using tweets, poetry, and bestselling novels, to create “50 shades of refugee.“
The Atlantic Grows investigates notions of family, colour and race, and specifically the relationship between two sisters who share the same mother and yet are divided – by their different fathers, by the colour of their skin, and by the Atlantic Ocean that separates their continents.
In the light of the desk lamp
that is yellower than the daylight
the skin of my hand looks almost green,
almost red, with a golden wash.
It is not white.
The wall is white.
The used tissues
and the unpaid bills are white.
My hand has a different colour. The colour has a name.
I learned it when I was small. I used it
in the kindergarten, in the recreation club after school
when I needed a felt tip
in that indeterminable shade of pink
to draw a fleshy arm or a face:
I need the skin-coloured one.
There was no other use for that felt tip.
Mirza Purić (b. 1979) is a translator and musician. A graduate of the University of Vienna, he has been an Editor-at-Large with Asymptote since 2014.
Who are you and what do you translate?
Out of necessity, I’ll translate whatever will bring home the bacon, but what I am is a literary translator. When I set out years ago I worked on fiction almost exclusively. These days I mostly do poetry, I don’t know how that happened. I also play obnoxious music on a bastard instrument which is neither a bass nor a guitar. I’m not sure if this answers the first question.
Describe your current/most recent project. Why is it cool? What should we know about it?
I’m working on a selection of poems by Yusef Komunyakaa, who is one of my favourite poets. There’s this sad cliché that says you can’t write about music just like you can’t dance about sculpture, or something to that effect. Whoever came up with that nugget of brilliance has obviously never read Komunyakaa. Apart from that, I try to make myself available to young, up-and-coming authors, people who swim against the tide and/or operate outside of the mainstream, so I’m always on stand-by for Sarajevo Writer’s Workshop, a group of promising young writers and poets founded by the American writer Stacy Mattingly (check out her essay on a project she led for the University of Iowa’s International Writing Program). As Asymptote’s editor-at-large I constantly snoop about for new talent. This country being what it is, a lot of gifted people don’t have a platform. Asymptote provides one, and I do what I can to help these people hop on it. READ MORE…