Posts filed under 'editor'

Editors in Slovak Publishing Houses: An Endangered Species?

It cannot be repeated often enough that the editor’s work on a book is as important as the work of those responsible for its physical production.

No longer plagued by censors and paper shortages since the end of communism, the publishing industry in former Czechoslovakia has faced other kinds of constraints that it shares with much of the commercially-driven world in which we live. Literary scholar and critic Ivana Taranenková shares with Asymptote’s Slovak editor-at-large Julia Sherwood the findings of a survey comparing editorial practices in Czech and Slovak publishing houses before and after 1989. The survey was carried out by the web journal Platform for Literature and Research, which Taranenková runs together with her colleagues Radoslav Passia and Vladimír Barborík.

Recent publications of new literary works by Slovak authors as well as works in translation have exposed a trend that is trivial yet irksome. While the number of published books continues to grow and their visual quality is improving, pundits have increasingly noted the declining standard of manuscript editing. This is a problem not just for literary reviewers, but also for those who judge literary awards when they assess each year’s literary output.

Editorial standards are often so dismal that these poorly edited manuscripts can no longer be seen as just isolated instances of incompetence or failure on the part of individual editors (as some reviewers have suggested), but rather as a systemic issue. Other than in some major publishing houses, the profession of editor appears to be waning, a victim of the drive for “increased efficiency” in publishing, and a growing reliance on outsourcing that requires a smaller investment of time and money per book, ultimately resulting in dilettantism. The same also applies to emerging independent publishers.


The Tiff: Is the Translator Responsible for Political Problem Texts?

Yardenne Greenspan and Marcia Lynx Qualey on the choices we translators can make

M. Lynx Qualey: The most important decision a translator must make is: Will I translate this text?

Being an essentially freelance profession, translation has a mountain of drawbacks, but it does make a bit more allowance for choice. The injunction to “translate only what you love” works—as long as you have a stable income outside of translating. I prefer Samah Selim’s version: “Never translate a book you don’t like unless you have to.” Or my own: “Never translate a text you think you’ll regret (unless creditors are outside the window).”

Yet what makes for a “politically problematic” text may have less to do with the text itself and more to do with context. Propagandists thrive on selective translation. The MEMRI “media monitoring organization,” described by Guardian reporter Brian Whitaker, is perhaps the largest ongoing Arabic-English translation project. Some of the individual news and cultural texts that MEMRI translates might be innocuous, but the project as a whole furthers a political agenda.


Editor-at-Large Testimonial: Rahul Soni

Our India editor-at-large Rahul Soni looks at his Asymptote favorites—and muses on what he hopes to see in issues to come

It’s hard to choose just one piece that I’ve been proud to introduce to Asymptote readers—as editor, aren’t I supposed to be proud of everything selected for inclusion?

But if pressed, I’d perhaps name Banaphool’s Nawab Sahib, translated from the Bengali by Arunava Sinha. Banaphool (1899-1979) was an extremely prolific writer, with 586 short stories, 60 novels, five plays, an autobiography, numerous essays, and thousands of poems to his credit—apart from being a painter and practicing doctor. And as the story in question reveals, his fame is not simply a matter of numbers—Banaphool possessed a keen eye for structure and pacing, the telling detail, and for human absurdity.

Banaphool was a great literary craftsman who operated in a breathtaking range of registers. Still, though the master of many tones, Banaphool consistently invited his own, unique sensibility into his writing. And he may very well have invented the genre of the very short story—often less than a page in length—a form that is now finding currency under the nomenclature of “flash fiction”. I’m grateful to Arunava Sinha, without whose lovely translations we of the non-Bengali-speaking/reading world may have had to wait much longer to be introduced to this great world author.

Looking forward, I am most excited about bringing to our readers (and an audience of readers worldwide)—a novel(la) by one of the foremost men-of-letters in Hindi named Dharamvir Bharati, called Suraj ka Satvan Ghoda (which translates to The Seventh Horse of the Sun).

Published in 1952, it is what might be called an experimental novel, incorporating elements from “folk” storytelling into a novel-in-variation-form structure (to use, anachronistically, Milan Kundera’s term), and is written in a whimsically and colloquially, with an ironic take on the Marxist politics that has been (and still is) so dominant in Hindi Literature.

Sui generis: it is unique in Hindi literature (and, indeed, it is singular in the author’s own oeuvre as well), a far cry from conventional European modes of novel-writing. In terms of the history of the novel, The Seventh Horse of the Sun stands as a signpost to one of the roads not taken. It was adapted into a movie of the same name by Shyam Benegal in 1993 —one of the most singular masterpieces of Hindi cinema. Shamefully enough, there is but one translation of the novel, one lacking in both quality and distribution. This is clearly a disservice to the text, the author and the readers. It is my hope that I will be able to, some day, secure permission for a fresh translation and present it to our readers.