Posts filed under 'book review'

Oh Canada: Donald Winkler’s New Translation of Samuel Archibald’s Arvida

"It is not clear where one story begins and the other ends, or where the animal begins and the man begins."

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.

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The Tiff: How Should We Review Translations?

Sue Burke and Maia Evrona on the ideal review for a translation—and the tendency to forget the translator entirely.

Sue Burke: The book review said that Angelica Gorodischer “writes poetic, vigorous prose.” Yes, she does. And she doesn’t – that is, I wrote the poetic, vigorous prose.

I’m the translator for Gorodischer’s novel Prodigies, published this year by Small Beer Press. The review was in Kirkus. At least it listed me as the translator and it was favorable, even if it wasn’t ideal.

What would be an ideal review for a translation? While any book review has to cover a lot of ground, at some point I think it ought to explicitly acknowledge that the work being reviewed is a translation and mention its apparent approach, since a translation in some way rewrites the original. If possible, it might compare a passage of the original to the translation and note whether the translation wrestles successfully (or not) with linguistic and cultural challenges, captures its literary quality like elegance or immediacy or wit, and accurately conveys both the meaning and subtext.

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In Review: “A Tabby-cat’s Tale” by Han Dong

“To return to ‘small talk’ from the social and political imperatives of Mao-era and post-Mao-era fiction is in itself a political act.”

In 1931, Ba Jin, anarchist and pioneer of modern Chinese fiction, wrote “Dog,” a short story in which a desperate street urchin—envious of the more comfortable lives of foreign-owned lapdogs—deludes himself into believing that he himself is a dog. Though artfully written and moving, Ba Jin’s “Dog” is unmistakably agitprop: the “dog” is really a man, and the man is really a symbol of a China cowed by imperial powers and rapacious warlords.

About seventy years later, Han Dong, a Chinese writer best known for his nonconformist poetry in the eighties, writes a novella entitled “花花传奇” (Hua Hua Chuanqi), translated by Nicky Harman in a recent Frisch and Co. web release as A Tabby-cat’s Tale. By way of contrast with Ba Jin’s “Dog,” Han Dong’s title tabby, Hua Hua, is simply a cat, albeit a very odd one. And if the reader comes to this novella seeking insight into the grand moral dramas of dissenters and dictatorships, she will be gravely disappointed. Instead, with the great care of someone who truly loves animals, Han Dong relates the daily drudgery of preparing catfish guts for Hua Hua’s nightly meal; the irritation of picking up after an animal who refuses to confine his excrement to a box; and the nightly chore of manually picking through the minion of fleas that infest the tabby and drowning them in a bowl of water until “the surface of the water is black with Tabby’s fleas.” And yet, this shaggy cat story is told satirically in a grand register that would more befit the historical dramas of Ba Jin’s “Dog.”

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In Review: Selected Stories by Kjell Askildsen

"This is an Askildsen character: injured enough to be stuck inside himself, helpless to deny the dark impulses he also contains."

A man. A woman. Intimacy. Distance. These are the elements, according to Norwegian writers Bjarte Breiteig and Øyvind Ellenes, writing in the literary magazine Vinduet, that make up a Kjell Askildsen story. And indeed, in Selected Stories, a collection of 11 of Kjell Askildsen’s stories translated by Seán Kinsella from Dalkey Archive Press, characters who approach each other yet are repelled by each other and by themselves are the thread running through the work. The four elements are like the last few impossible letters you are stuck with at the end of a Scrabble game. You can arrange and rearrange them and study the board, and while they will combine in umpteen ways, they will never resolve into one word you can lay out, cleanly.

Askildsen, at 84, is one of the grand old men of Norwegian literature. Frequently mentioned alongside other greats like Jon Fosse and Tor Ulven—also to be published by Dalkey Archive in its series of translated Norwegian modern writing—Askildsen’s first story collection From now on I’ll follow you all the way home was published in 1953. The last stories in the book are from the collection The dogs of Thessaloniki, published in 1996.

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In Review: Pitigrilli’s “Cocaine”

A new translation of Pitigrilli's "Cocaine" is as titillating as its title

It should come as no surprise—if titles mean anything at all, that is—that Pitigrilli’s Cocaine was banned shortly after its 1921 publication. The slim Italian novel is not short on the white stuff, and it doesn’t skimp on the excesses we associate with its sniffing: sex, orgies, general underworld shadiness, all glimmering with the luster that illicit substances (if only through their very illicit-ness) can provide.

To readers in 2014, the novel’s purported depravity may appear mellowed, but Cocaine shocks the system all the same. The real blow in reading this nonagenarian novel, rereleased in a new translation by Eric Mosbacher through New Vessel Press, is its stomach-turning linguistic smarts that elevate this by-turns insightful and nonsensical tale to M.C. Escher-esque levels of depth. Cocaine isn’t about the drug, after all: storming through the not-quite surreal, the book reveals the addictive authority of the words we use.

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In Review: “Word by Word”

"Saroyan’s comparison of his grandmother’s mustache to Stalin’s had to be blacked out by the editor in the whole print run."

Czechoslovak history is closely connected to language and culture; it follows that translation, in particular, is a mighty revolutionary tool in times of oppression…

The twenty-seven interviews with the oldest generation of Czech translators collected in Word by Word (With Translators on Translating) reveal the personal histories of the people who, for more than half a century, were the arbiters of the literary masterworks available to thousands of Czech and Slovak readers.

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