Place: Kazakhstan

Translation Tuesday: “The Notes of a Writer” by Almaz Myrzakhmet

Don’t writers employ souls of innocent people?

Our Summer 2018 issue launched a few days ago and it is filled with gems from around the world. This Translation Tuesday we bring you another fabulous translation from a language and country never before featured on the blog! Translator Mirgul Kali introduces us to the piece:

Kazakh writer Almaz Myrzakhmet’s brilliant prose is often described as detached, but this is the detachment of a sharp and skillful writer confident in his ability to lure an unsuspecting reader into his story and play with their mind. “The Notes of a Writer,” which follows a young author who is anguished by the visions of his own unwritten story, is both a puzzle and a taste of the joys and struggles of the creative process.

The most delightful and challenging moments in translating this short story concern the old Kazakh expressions which refer to images that might not be easily invoked in an English-language reader’s mind. Yet they offer a rare and intimate glimpse into the culture and history of the nomadic people who had for centuries roamed the steppes of Central Asia. The language of the Kazakhs, who bred horses, maintains that misery can be “the size of a long trough,” evoking an image of an old wooden tub filled with putrid water; that the laughter of happy lovers sounds like a “jingle of coins,” perhaps at a lively, colorful market in a town along the Silk Route; and that fear feels like “a snake coiled in your bosom.” You are invited to discover these expressions, scattered like vintage jewels throughout Myrzakhmet’s striking post-modernist story.

The sound of her heels—like a tongue clicking—would begin at the bottom of a staircase, eventually reach the brown door of my rental apartment on the third floor, reverberate weakly and pause. At this point, she would become unusually still as if she was holding her breath and listening. A moment later she should tap the door timidly with the tips of her fingers.

I would open the door immediately. Acting as if she came to her own place, she barely looked at me and walked in, grazing me with her shoulder. The usual moves. Her, glancing over a picture of a bear playing with cubs, listlessly flipping through scribbled pieces of paper on my desk, walking over to a window and looking out—these actions were her daily routine. A bed would squeak as she sat on it. I would lock the door and take a cigarette from the desk.

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