Translation Tuesday: “Homecoming” by Badai

Eventually, at the edge of his vision, where the fog begins to thin, a figure of a person emerged.

This week’s Translation Tuesday features the work of Badai—an indigenous Taiwanese writer. “Homecoming” probes at themes of reunion, service, and loss through the eyes of a young man torn between the traditional ways of his family and the projects of the nation-state. Juxtapositions between the mountains where the protagonist lives and the flatlands with the military bases, government projects, and different linguistic groups are drawn into tension. This tension is extended for the protagonist as roads, schools, and parks show the growing homogeneity of the national culture. Pride in one’s service—to family and to the state—are complicated things for young men and women. Moments like those expressed here show the complex interrogation that the short story form provides. Here, the interrogation revolves around one’s implication in the changing social fabric of Taiwan. 

A young man was on a bus, heading home. His name was Dumasi. Dumasi had already transferred buses once; this was the second leg of his journey, and he was forcing himself to nap because he still had the final leg ahead of him. The bus would drop him off at the last stop, and then he would hike for two hours up mountain trails. Not that he felt the slightest bit tired. Every inch of him was bursting with the excitement of returning home. Nonetheless, he shut his eyes to rest.

A voice said: “Hey, mister bus driver, this is my stop!”

Dumasi opened his eyes: there was a middle-aged man walking unsteadily up the aisle, laden with bags and bellowing good-naturedly in the direction of the driver’s seat. For Dumasi, the sight and sound of this man was deeply familiar, comforting even—from his broad shoulders to the way he spoke Mandarin with a thick, mountain-man accent.

Dumasi reached down to his luggage and ran his hand along a bulge in the bag. Good—the two bottles of sorghum liquor he’d bought for his homecoming were intact—all was in order. Father will be so happy, he thought to himself. READ MORE…

Announcing Our September Book Club Selection: The Siege of Troy by Theodor Kallifatides

Kallifatides has a stark, sensitive writing style that, in its simplicity, reveals a sense of reverence for his subjects.

Contemporary writers have continually found original ways to tell enduring stories, as demonstrated masterfully in our September Book Club selection, The Siege of Troy by Theodor Kallifatides. By weaving the retelling of a classic myth with a World War II-era bildungsroman, this stirring novel simultaneously enlivens The Iliad while delivering a potent and poetic demonstration of war’s senselessness. Psychologically probing and structurally unique, The Siege of Troy is a thoroughly modern work that proves why we return again and again to timeless themes—there is always something new to be found there.

The Asymptote Book Club aspires to bring the best in translated fiction every month to readers in the US, the UK, and the EU. You can sign up to receive next month’s selection on our website for as little as USD15 per book; once you’re a member, you can join the online discussion on our Facebook page.

The Siege of Troy by Theodor Kallifatides, translated from the Swedish by Marlaine Delargy, Other Press, 2019

No matter how many stories we’ve heard about love, war, and growing up, they never fail to reach our hearts in the specificity of our own place and moment. This is the simple, poignant premise of Theodor Kallifatides’s The Siege of Troy, translated from the Swedish by Marlaine Delargy, which sets an adolescent boy’s coming-of-age story against a selective retelling of The Iliad.

A Greek immigrant to Sweden, Kallifatides grew up during the German occupation of Greece, and his nameless protagonist emerges sweetly and painfully into his early manhood under the same conditions. The war is nearing its end; though both the occupiers and the occupied are exhausted, tensions continue to surge and survival is far from guaranteed. During regular air raids, the protagonist’s teacher recites The Iliad from memory to her class while they all take shelter in a cave. READ MORE…

Weekly Dispatches from the Front Lines of World Literature

Our wide-ranging literary dispatches this week cover protests, translations, and debuts.

This week’s dispatches report on a four-day literature festival in Italian-speaking Bellinzona in Switzerland, a new podcast dedicated exclusively to Guatemalan and Central American literature, as well as news of the arrest of journalist Hajar Raissouni in Morocco and a theatre group resisting such censorship and freedom of the press violation with a performance of Don Quixote.

Anna Aresi, Copy Editor, reporting from Switzerland

An interest in mapping (often the result of conquests and colonization) and remapping—rethinking what was erased and systematically left out in the mapping process—is at the core of Lost Children Archive, Valeria Luiselli’s latest novel. In Lost Children Archive, mapping is related to sound: “Focusing on sound forced me to hear as opposed to seeing, it forced me into a different rhythm. You cannot consume sound immediately,” she explains, “when focusing on sound, you have to sit with it, let it unfold.” It is within this rhythm, she adds, that English emerged as the language that was conducive to the writing of this novel, which she had begun writing in both English and Spanish simultaneously.

Luiselli reflects on this and other aspects of her writing in an intense conversation with Italian writer Claudia Durastanti, in the intimate setting of Bellinzona’s social theater. 

Every year, Bellinzona—the capital of Swiss Italophone Canton Ticino—hosts Babel Festival, a four-day event entirely dedicated to literature and translation. This year’s fourteenth edition, entitled “You will not speak my language,” explored the limits and boundaries of language and literature, as well as languages that are “imagined, invented, despised, censored, regional, silent, visual, and enigmatic.”

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How Should We Review Translations? Part III

Reviewing poetry in translation means writing about the power of art. It means writing about something the market doesn’t want us to write about.

In this third and final installment, we hear from Johannes Göransson and Katherine Hedeen, both of whom direct our attention to what we should consider when engaging with poetry in translation.  Göransson details the idea of a deformation zone that disorients our conventional understanding of the relationship between the original and the translation. Calling on us to care about poetry in translation precisely because the market does not care about it, Hedeen envisions the practice of reviewing these translations as an act of subversion and as a gesture of solidarity. Be sure to check out parts I and II if you missed them. And if you’re interested in reading even more, at the end of today’s installment, Criticism Editor Ellen Jones has offered a list of other contributions to this ongoing and important conversation on what it means to review translations. 

 

Deformationszon

Viltstängslet har upphört
fladdermusar fittar sig
kring krubbet
Vårt pösmunkfetto slaggar
I sin goda roa,
som stötdämpad
av svallningar
I knubbet

— Aase Berg 

Deformation Zone

The wilderness fence has ceased
flutterbats cunt
around the grub
Our doughnutfatso slops
in peace and quiet,
as if shockmuffled
by ripples
in the plump.

— Translated by Johannes Göransson

 

1.

Anybody who is willing to engage deeply with a foreign text in translation can write a review of such a work. And it’s important that you do. You don’t need specialist knowledge of the foreign culture, nor do you need to be able to read the original. All you need to do is to open yourself up to poetry—even poetry that may come out of traditions different from those you are used to.  READ MORE…

How Should We Review Translations? Part II

Above all, the translated poem allows us into its world—which exists somewhere between a language we don’t know and a language that we do.

In this second installment of our forum on reviewing translations, Lauren Albin and Sue Hyon Bae, two of the translators of Kim Hyesoon’s A Drink of Red Mirror, reflect on their engagements with both the poet’s work and the culture in which it was produced. They highlight the dangers of adopting the role of an interrogator and emphasize the need for good faith in any encounter with a translated work. Today we also feature a contribution from Matt Reeck, who takes the opportunity to reflect on the ways that reviews might take into account contexts of reception and underscores how the idea of world literature can restrict our ability to understand local specificity as it attempts to develop a global framework. If you missed the first installment of this forum, be sure to check it out here, and stay tuned for tomorrow’s contributions from Katherine Hedeen and Johannes Göransson.

I want to point out this sentence in Matt Reeck’s review of Kim Hyesoon’s A Drink of Red Mirror, which becomes the foregrounding reason for his question of whether Korean poetry should be made more Korean in translation: “Kim’s poems are not confessional (which might make them indicative of the writer’s life and culture), nor are they written in a style that’s reflective of a social reality.” The reviewer’s desire for the poet’s confession quickly brings to mind one of the seminal poems of Kim’s collection—“Cultural Revolution in My Dream”—where Ms. Photon, a symbol of the bright light used by an interrogator to extract confessions, uploads a confessional software to the poet’s body. What I mean to say in drawing this comparison is that, Reeck got it wrong. Kim’s poems are confessional, but perhaps, they are not the confession that the reviewer wishes to hear—a situation that recalls Ms. Photon, who keeps on interrogating the poet even after there are no real crimes left but only a continuously generated confession. Therefore, the reviewer rejects Kim’s poems and along with them he rejects Kim’s social reality and Kim’s Korea, asking for translations that are more Korean than the originals and pressing for a false confession. 

Moving away from Reeck’s review, when the reviewer of translated work plays at interrogator, the perspective of the translated poet is immediately endangered. The interrogator is a figure employed by repressive regimes to reconstruct narratives, to revise the truth, to rewrite what actually happened, and to reconstruct history. Interrogators often already know what story they wish to tell and work to illuminate only that reality. An interrogator is also someone who has inherent power over another. While Ms. Photon extracts false confessions, the sun, in Kim’s “Lady Yuhwa,” “streaming like a searchlight / pursues and violates the woman” of the poem. A reviewer who steps into the role of interrogator assumes power over the poem and violates it intentionally or unintentionally by forcing it to conform to their own ideas about what it should be; silencing the poem, instead of allowing the work to speak in its own language of idea, even when that language seems to push at the boundaries of our minds.  READ MORE…

Translation Tuesday: Two Poems by Du Ya

He recalls darkness: changes in earth over hundreds of millions of years / It astounds him: black, plummeting, set in motion eons ago

This week’s Translation Tuesday features two labour-centric poems by Du Ya. “The Coal Miner” could be construed as a multivalent metaphor aligning the work of a coal miner with an unbearable lack of clarity regarding one’s position in the world. On another register, however, “The Coal Miner” shows how one’s occupation and environment can be written on and in the body, as well as the mind. “Copper” looks at the quality of the sub-strata itself. It is an homage to the hidden beauties and forms that underpin all that happens upon a surface. Copper’s stability, its cycles, and their accumulations might be related to translation itself, a conceptual attitude that recalls the archaeological cultural exercises of Walter Benjamin and the re-working of source materials to gain new insight or expression. Time can be read in the changes in striation and the different iterations of copper, constantly moving beneath the surface and in the hands of artisans, as a poem or thought too changes—and stays the same—as it moves.

The Coal Miner

He means to tell people about the light
but each part of his body revolts
disobeys the center, speaks only of darkness

Having gnawed so long on that mighty seam, he has no idea
that his lungs, liver, and intestines are now made of coal
The textbooks teach this: “change in quantity leads to change in quality”

His body is such a fitting exhibit, it needs no explanation
It wears pitch black shadowless silk
like a government official donning a tailored uniform

Yet he still speaks of light—and for light
he daily lowers himself underground (and time flows unchanging)
Not even the nightfish has seen such darkness

Sometimes, in the subterranean depths, he is frightened
He recalls darkness: changes in earth over hundreds of millions of years
It astounds him: black, plummeting, set in motion eons ago

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How Should We Review Translations? Part I

A review is seriously lacking if it ignores a book’s translated nature.

Today marks the start of our forum on the question of how we should review translations. Along with a general introduction by Criticism Editor Ellen Jones, this first installment contains contributions from Bilal Hashmi and Sophie Lewis. Drawing our attention to what something as simple as a question mark might signal, Hashmi alerts us to the importance of openness when engaging with translated texts, and Lewis helps us envision what the potential participants and platforms in a healthy reviewing ecology would look like. You’ll find more reflections, recommendations, and reconsiderations here on Wednesday and Thursday.

In July of this year Asymptote published a review of Kim Hyesoon’s A Drink of Red Mirror, translated from the Korean by Jiwon Shin, Lauren Albin, and Sue Hyon Bae, with contributions from Rebecca Teague, Dakota Hale, Kevin Salter, Sierra Hamel, and Nicole Lindell (Action Books, 2019). The review, written by translator Matt Reeck, sparked some heated discussion on Twitter on account of the questions it asked about the poems’ “Koreanness” and the visibility of that “Koreanness” in translation. A conversation began about the need for more reviewers of colour, and about the usefulness of concepts like “world literature” and “national literatures” in reviews of this kind. A factual mistake was pointed out and subsequently corrected, but it remained clear that some disapproved of the review’s tone and perspective. In writing about Kim’s poetry, Reeck attempts to interrogate his own position as a US-based reader and all the assumptions he therefore brings to a work translated from Korean; nevertheless, the review was seen to perpetuate and privilege those narrow assumptions.

A couple of months down the line, we want to make sure that those who criticised Reeck’s review know that they have been heard, and that as a result of those conversations, Asymptote has a renewed commitment to considering the political and ethical implications of the articles it publishes. As part of that commitment, we want to provide a more formal space to continue discussing the important questions raised in responses to the review. We have therefore invited a series of writers to contribute to a forum on reviewing translations, including Reeck himself, two of Kim Hyesoon’s translators (Sue Hyon Bae and Lauren Albin), two editors at Action Books (Katherine Hedeen and Johannes Göransson), and others who have elsewhere written incisively on this very topic (Sophie Lewis and Bilal Hashmi). These contributions will be featured here on the blog over the coming days as part of the journal’s ongoing dedication not just to the exchange of literature through translation but also to the circulation of ideas about translation.

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Weekly Dispatches from the Front Lines of World Literature

This week, news of trans literature in Argentina, an inaugural book fair in Patagonia, and awards season in India.

Our editors report on literature’s integral role in political resistance and in supporting underrepresented voices, as feminist and trans theory workshops are organized in Buenos Aires and fuegino literature is promoted in Patagonia. In India, our reporter leads us through the awards season successes, celebrating many translated titles.

Allison Braden, Editor-at-Large, reporting from Argentina

Last month, a primary election that predicted a decisive win for the opposition in Argentina’s upcoming presidential elections sent the economy into convulsions, and the peso’s precipitous drop in value made headlines around the world. Amid the debate around the country’s future, the candidates have been conspicuously quiet on an issue important to many Argentine women: abortion, which remains illegal in most cases. But where the politicians are silent, Argentina’s women are not. Anfibia, a digital magazine of literary journalism launched by the Universidad Nacional de San Martín, is offering a workshop to challenge dominant ways of knowing and to provide women with tools to narrate experiences of violence. Also in this year’s lineup is a four-part workshop and practicum on trans theory, which seeks to answer whether it’s possible to develop a collaborative theory of the trans experience to guide, not only personal creativity, but also policy. Trans literature has won acclaim in Argentina recently. Rising literary star and trans writer Camila Sosa Villada, for example, unites literature and performance. According to a recent profile, “Camila is poetry onstage and puts her body on paper” (my translation). Her book Las malas was showcased at this year’s Feria del Libro in Buenos Aires, the largest book fair in Latin America. READ MORE…

Co-Translation: Thomas Bunstead and Daniel Hahn on Translating Juan José Millás’s From the Shadows

. . . Translation is a very curious combination of simultaneously being outside a text as an onlooker and deep within the guts of the thing.

For the month of August, Asymptote Book Club’s selection was From the Shadows, the English-language debut of acclaimed Spanish language writer, Juan José Millás. In the following interview, Asymptote’s Jacqueline Leung speaks to the novel’s translators, Thomas Bunstead and Daniel Hahn, on the pressures of translating a national literary hero, the various processes of co-translation, and how the novel’s pertinent themes of isolation and alienation relate to our current times.

Jacqueline Leung (JL): Juan José Millás is routinely recognized as one of the greatest writers in Spain today, and From the Shadows marks his long overdue debut into English. How (if at all) did these factors play into your process? I’m referring to critics’s inevitably high expectations regarding a literary master’s very first work in English translation, as well as the author’s own ability to potentially chip in on or judge the outcome. Was there an added sense of pressure or due deference on your end, or were you as free as ever to “play around”?

Daniel Hahn (DH): I don’t think it was a factor, actually—it’s certainly not something Tom and I ever discussed, whether between the two of us or with our publishers. You really just have to take each text as it comes, and simply commit to doing whatever it tells you to do, without fretting about expectations or reputations. Besides, while Millás is a big deal in Spain, I’m not sure the English-speaking world has been waiting on tenterhooks for a chance to read this translation—for all intents and purposes, he’s being presented to the Anglophones as a debut. Of course, this first book could turn out to be a stupendous runaway success, which would indeed put extra pressure and expectations on book two, but if that added pressure is the price we have to pay for insane bestseller sales, I’ll take it . . . READ MORE…

Giorgio de Chirico, The Poet

With a word, de Chirico made languages collide . . . In translation, I have tried to honor these textures, to stay hovering just a bit between.

Ut pictura poesis. The language of painters has long been a source of inspiration for poets, and a sense of poetics has equally been an irreplaceable element in painting. In this evocative, sensual essay on the iconic painter and poet Giorgio de Chirico (1888-1978), Stefania Heim illustrates the various intersections between literature and visuality, between translation into text and translation into images, and between life and the page. This piece has been adapted from the original introduction of Geometry of Shadows, the first comprehensive and bilingual collection of de Chirico’s Italian poetry and translated into English by Heim, which will be published by A Public Space Books in October 2019.

Sun-scorched piazza, marble torso, rubber glove, arched arcade tossing shadows, smoke puffing from a background train: the landscapes of Giorgio de Chirico’s imagination have become iconic. It is a kind of magic to imprint the scenes created by your yearning onto the malleable backdrop of so many minds.

The uncanny emotive power of de Chirico’s visual compositions has gotten him called a poet, even a great poet. “He could condense voluminous feeling through metaphor and association,” writes art critic Robert Hughes about the painter’s canvases, marveling that, “[o]ne can try to dissect these magical nodes of experience, yet not find what makes them cohere.” Metaphor, juxtaposition, unsettling connections, meaning evoked in the missing connective tissue between somehow familiar objects—these are a poet’s tools. De Chirico cultivated this association. He addresses the two “goddesses:” “true Poetry” and “true Painting.” With allusion, symbols, and mythmaking, he connects his work to the great striving of the ages. READ MORE…

Translation Tuesday: “Basketball, Tennis, and Swimming” by Régis Jauffret

Since then, everything has filled me with wonder. I dumped my entire fortune into this company, which doesn’t produce any more than it sells.

This weeks Translation Tuesday features the work of Régis Jauffret, a French writer working since the 1980s. Basketball, Tennis, and Swimmingis a micro-fiction that takes a look into the lived experience of depression—specifically a depression borne under a lack of inspiration and connection. Deep colors, sweeping juxtapositions, and a certain simplicity of thought feed into a narrative that questions schedules, labor, and purpose. An anti-capitalist vision of work opposed to melancholic states gives purpose to the purposeless. Uplifting narratives do not always have to be grand, this story shows, and the structures of neoliberal life worlds and traditional values can be tweaked with the help of a proper and poetic angle (and some odd desires!).

The staff have access to basketball hoops, three tennis courts, and a big pool with a sunroof, allowing them to enjoy some fresh air over the summer. It matters to me that everyone’s happy. I didn’t create this company to earn money, but to let the hopeless reacquire a taste for life.

I myself have known periods when I’ve risen at five in the afternoon, only to immediately lie back down after drinking some orange juice and eating a slice of bread. Those were the only times I saw my children, when they weren’t with their soccer team or at school. I came in contact with my wife’s body whenever she’d happen to be in bed, but I spent whole weeks without seeing her face in broad daylight. Medications in every color were piled up on the bedside table. I swallowed them without counting, and recognized them by their shape or their taste. I had gray dreams, without peaks or valleys, without sea, snow, night, or sun. Dreams like landscapes so flat, so desolate, that to my eyes nothing like them exists on our planet. I didn’t even think about death, it was too desirable for me to think possible. I slowly sank into the mattress, which cradled me like a cockle shell cast around my imprint.
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What’s New in Translation: September 2019

Looking for what to read next? Our staff share their latest discoveries in new translations.

It is another month bringing us various gifts in the form of translated literatures, and our editors have selected the finest. Read below to find reviews of a short story collection detailing the various and complex natures of India, a haunting and poignant Swedish novel, unsettling tales from Israel, and a poignantly feminist work from Palestine.

ambai

A Kitchen in the Corner of the House by Ambai (C.S. Lakshmi), translated from the Tamil by Lakshmi Holmström, Archipelago Books, 2019

Review by Ben Dreith, Assistant Editor

C.S. Lakshmi, who writes in English and Tamil under the pseudonym Ambai, is a scion of post-revolutionary Indian feminism and women’s studies researcher who was raised and educated in Mumbai, Bangalore, and New Delhi. Of her work, the most recent to appear in English is A Kitchen in the Corner of the House, a mellifluous and courageous work translated by Lakshmi Holström, a dedicated scholar who passed away in 2016. She will be missed, and her efforts, evident in the enduring legacy and themes of A Kitchen in the Corner of the House, may inform the concerns of Indian feminism in the English-speaking world for generations.

The book is a collection of stories, told from multiple voices and perspectives, which centers on the travails and aspirations of women across a broad socio-economic and linguistic spectrum. The voices in A Kitchen in the Corner of the House reflect the varied cultural expectations and norms that simultaneously thrive and jostle for distinction within the Indian nation, which can be too easily regarded as a seamless whole by outside observers. What unites the characters in the stories, though, is a keen sense of subjective solidarity amongst women who are draped in desperation—and hope.

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Weekly Dispatches from the Front Lines of World Literature

In Romania and Albania this week, literature abounds.

Any occasion to celebrate language is a happy one, as demonstrated in this week’s dispatches from Romania and Albania. With events honoring Romanian Language Day and an emphasis on Albanian literature in Italy, the forces propelling the continuation and evolution of literary language are well and alive. Read on for the news, reported from the ground by our committed editors.

Andreea Scridon, Assistant Editor, reporting from Romania

Romanian Language Day has officially been celebrated on August 31 since 2011. This year, I had the privilege of being in Romania to observe this holiday, more specifically to find myself in Cluj-Napoca, a city with a powerful literary scene thanks to its academic and historical tradition. The event dedicated to this occasion (held one day before, on August 30) was held in an interwar casino revamped into an art gallery in Cluj’s central park, and the general public ranged from the city’s literary elite to a group of kids in baseball caps.

Horia Bădescu, one of the representative literary figures of the 1960s (available in English and French translation) and historian and writer Ovidiu Pecican spoke on the history, significance, evolution, and particularities of the Romanian language, while professor of journalism and writer Ilie Rad and translator Gabriela Lungu (who has translated books like Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa’s The Leopard and Alessandro Baricco’s Mr. Gwyn, among many others, from Italian to Romanian) discussed the originality, richness, and their own intimate perceptions of the Romanian language.

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“I Feel Free When I Write”: Linda Boström Knausgård on Her New Novel, Welcome to America

I am my dark, inner twin when I write.

Linda Boström Knausgård’s second novel, Welcome to America, is set not in the United States, but within the confines of a Swedish apartment swollen with family secrets and contrarian silence. Following the death of her father—a tragedy she is convinced she engineered through prayerBoström Knausgård’s child narrator, Ellen, stops speaking. While the trauma inciting Ellen’s selective mutism is palpable, the young protagonist synchronously radiates power, wielding her silence as the only means of maintaining control in the face of a self-absorbed mother, her increasingly volatile brother, and the specter of impending adulthood. Meticulously translated by Martin Aitkin, Welcome to America is Boström Knausgård’s defiantly pithy portrait of a family disconnected and consumed by grief. On the eve of the novel’s publication in the United States, we asked the Swedish author, poet, and radio documentary producer about writing bravely, the experience of being written into someone else’s narrative, and the unexpected power of silence.

 Sarah Timmer Harvey, August 2019

Sarah Timmer Harvey (STH): Welcome to America is your second novel to be translated into English. Did you collaborate with Aitken on the translation?

Linda Boström Knausgård (LBK): I didn’t work with Martin on the translation. In fact, I didn’t hear from him while he was working on it. Martin is a very good translator, and I think that he’s produced a beautiful translation. I’ve read it twice in English, and I am very happy with it. I believe that if I had started to concentrate too much during his work and asked him all my questions before he was ready, I’d be exhausted. Our languages have a lot of differencessentences do not start, or end, in the same way. I know Norwegian and Danish very well, and when it comes to translating work into these languages, it can be difficult not to intervene too much. When I finally had a book translated into Finnish, it was a relief because I didn’t understand a word. I think it’s best to let go as much you can, but you then must also be happy when you finally read it. If you have a good translator, you should stick with him or her!

STH: When you are writing, do you consider the language in which you are writing? For example, how Swedish might shape and contain the narrative? 

LBK: I write in Swedish and could not write in any other language, never! The language forms the story; it is my frame, and so I cannot abandon it. I love to write in Swedish. I like how it presents itself on the page, almost like a surprise. READ MORE…