The weekend is upon us—here’s a detailed look at the week that was by our editors-at-large. In the United States, Madeline Jones reports directly from the trenches of the Book Expo in New York City. A gathering of publishers, booksellers, agents, librarians, and authors, the event is the largest of its kind in North America. We also have Sarah Moses filling us in with tidings from Colombia and Argentina, and updates on the Bogotá39, a group of thirty-nine Latin American writers considered to be the finest of their generation. Finally, Julia Sherwood brings us some hot off the press literary news from the Czech Republic. Settle in and get reading.
Madeline Jones, Editor-at-Large, reports from the United States:
Last week in New York City, Book Expo (formerly Book Expo America) set up shop at the famously-disliked Javits Center on western edge of Midtown Manhattan. Publishers, literary agencies, scouts, booksellers, and readers gathered for discussions about the future of publishing, meetings about foreign rights deals, publicity and media “speed-dating” sessions, and more. Authors and editors spoke about their latest books for audiences of industry insiders, and lines trailed from various publisher booths for galley signings.
Though the floor was noticeably quieter than previous years, and certainly nothing compared to the busy hub of foreign rights negotiations that the London and Frankfurt book fairs are, Asymptote readers will be pleased to hear that multiple panel discussions and presentations were dedicated to foreign publishers, the viability of selling translations in the U.S., and indie books (which more often tend to be translations than major trade publishers’ books). READ MORE…
As the week comes to a close, we’ve been busy reading and re-reading the Fall 2016 issue of Asymptote, while trying to escape the fact that November is nearly upon us. This week, we hear from Alice Inggs, Editor-at-Large based in South Africa, who shares the details of the literary awards season from across the continent. We visit Editor-at-Large Marc Charron in Canada next, before heading south to catch up with Blog Editor Nina Sparling in New York City.
Alice Inggs, Editor-at-Large in South Africa, sets us afloat with a whirlwind literary tour of the continent:
After peaking in the polls but missing out on the Nobel Prize for Literature, Kenyan writer Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o, author of Decolonising the Mind: The Politics of Language in African Literature and In the House of the Interpreter: A Memoir, was subsequently awarded the prestigious Pak Kyong-ni Literature Award by the South Korean Toji Cultural Foundation. Thiong’o, a champion of African literature(s), has produced novels, plays, short stories, and essays, publishing primarily in the Gikuyu language.
In West Africa, Abubakar Adam Ibrahim won the Nigeria Prize for Literature for Season of Crimson Blossoms, which explores sexuality, loss, and community through an affair between a twenty-five-year-old street gang leader and a devout widow and grandmother. Shortlisted candidates included Elnathan John (Born on a Tuesday) and Asymptote-featured writer Chika Unigwe (Night Dancer).
Via Ann Goldstein, also the translator of Elena Ferrante, here is a colorful extract from Emanuele Trevi’s Something Written, winner of the 2012 European Literature Prize and finalist for Italy’s Strega Prize. In a few deftly executed strokes, the literary critic recreates the cutthroat atmosphere presided over by a former boss (aka “Madwoman”), and mulls over what he took out of that period of “extravagant daily persecution”.
Among the many—too many—people who worked for Laura Betti at the Pier Paolo Pasolini Foundation in Rome, all of them endowed with a colorful store of more or less unpleasant memories, I believe that I can boast of, if nothing else, above-average endurance. Not that I was at all spared the extravagant daily persecution that the Madwoman (as I soon took to calling her, in my own mind) felt it her duty to inflict on her subordinates. On the contrary, I was so irredeemably odious to her (there is no more precise word) that I succeeded in plucking all the strings of her protean sadism: from the ceaseless invention of humiliating nicknames to real physical threat. Every time I entered the offices of the foundation, in a dark, massive corner building on Piazza Cavour, not far from Castel Sant’Angelo, I sensed almost physically the animal hostility, the uncontrollable rage that flashed, like the zigzag lightning in a comic book, from behind the lenses of her big square sunglasses. The standard greetings immediately followed. ‘Good morning, little slut, did you finally figure out that it’s time to GIVE HIM YOUR ASS? Or do you think you can still get away with it?!? But you don’t fool ME, you sweet-talking little slut, it takes a lot more than someone like you’—and this first blast of amenities was ended only by the eruption of a laugh that seemed to come from a subterranean cavern, and was made more threatening by the counterpoint of an indescribable sound halfway between a roar and a sob. Very rarely could the avalanche of insults dumped on the unfortunate victim be traced back to meaningful concepts.
I don’t care who Elena Ferrante is. I know some people really, really care, including some folks at The New York Times, which just published an article on the Italian author’s mysterious identity. Some people, it would appear, won’t let it rest until they know the name of the author behind the so-called Neapolitan series of novels, which has rocked the literary world on both sides of the Atlantic.
But not me. Every time it comes up, I think, “I don’t care.”
And it’s not because I’m only slightly interested in Italian literature. Oh no. Italian literature is my life. My idea of paradise is being in a room in Italy—any room—where I’m so surrounded by the Italian language, I feel submerged. I read the Ferrante books one after another in the original Italian. I even have a copy of the Italian newspaper article about Ferrante’s identity that inspired the article in The Times. (My partner happened to be in Switzerland the weekend it appeared in an insert to Il Corriere della Sera, and he brought it home for me).
It’s not because professional nosiness is foreign to me. I’m a journalist, in fact. READ MORE…
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Asymptote‘s fifth anniversary celebration in New York brought together top literary translators Ann Goldstein (translator of Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan tetralogy) and Natasha Wimmer (translator of seven Roberto Bolaño novels including The Savage Detectives and 2666) for an evening of conversation moderated by acclaimed fiction writer Frederic Tuten. Whether you couldn’t join us in NYC or just want to revisit this fun and informative discussion, this month’s Asymptote Podcast gives you a front-row seat! Podcast Editor Daniel Goulden brings you the highlights from the New School panel, which includes introductions by Poorna Swami, our own Editor-at-Large for India, and several terrific questions brought forward by audience members during the Q&A. Download your copy now. It’s almost as good as being there in person!
This event was co-sponsored by the Liberal Studies Department, New School for Social Research.
My Brilliant Friend is the 30th book to be published by INAQUE, a small independent publisher in Bratislava, and one of very few in Slovakia to specialise in translated literature. Elena Ferrante’s books appear in INAQUE’s Women’s Fiction series, which features stories by Jamie Quatro and Tessa Hadley, among others. Titles planned for 2016 include The Story of a New Name, part two of Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan saga, Manual for Cleaning Women by Lucia Berlin, Jenny Erpenbeck’s The End of Days and Kate Bolick’s Spinster: Making a Life of One’s Own, life stories of distinguished and unjustly forgotten women who lead a full and fascinating life without the need for fathers, brothers or husbands.
Julia Sherwood: Sometimes an encounter with a book or an author is almost a story in its own right. Where did your own stories intersect with those of Elena Ferrante’s novels?
Aňa Ostrihoňová: Sometime in 2006 in Villerupt in France, I went to see Days of Abandonment during a festival of Italian cinema. A friend was keen to see the movie because, like three other movies shown that day, it starred her favourite actor Luca Zingaretti. I was struck by one scene in particular, in which Olga, the protagonist, is talking to the editor of a publishing house who has asked her to translate a novel. The editor tells her that the manuscript she delivered is a great story but it’s not the book she was supposed to translate. Later I realized this was a ploy the scriptwriter used in order to include in the movie the story of La Poverella, which comes back to haunt Olga in hallucinations from her Naples childhood. The scene doesn’t occur in the book.
Last year, a hashtag became wildly popular in the American literary scene for an author no one has seen and who writes in a foreign language.
This year, a different author—one whom everyone knows because she’s won a Pulitzer Prize, among other honors—is taking the nearly unprecedented step of publishing a memoir called In Other Words in dual language format. And—wait for it—the part of the book that contains her original manuscript isn’t in English.
The two authors have something in common: they both write in Italian. That, and they could be presiding over a renaissance in Italian literature (Well, they may be, if publishers, cultural organizations and/or the Italian government exploit this convergence. More on this later).
The first writer is the mysterious Italian novelist Elena Ferrante, celebrated on Twitter by the slogan #ferrantefever, and the second is Jhumpa Lahiri, a British-born, American citizen who decamped to Rome in 2012, with the unusual project of ceasing to read and write in English. (The two have something else in common: Ann Goldstein is their Italian-English translator).
One author shooting to prominence, and shining a spotlight on Italian literature from the inside, the other already enjoying almost unparalleled prominence in American letters, choosing to embark on a courageous path—one which will almost certain provoke curiosity about Italian among non-Italian readers.
Is Italian literature, both in translation and in original form, having its moment? Oh gosh I hope so.
Natasha Wimmer‘s translations include The Savage Detectives and 2666, by Roberto Bolaño. She lives in New York City.
Who are you? What do you translate?
In an attempt to avoid the obvious, I’ll borrow the 25-things-people-don’t-know-about-you meme from years ago. Except let’s make it five, and keep it translation-specific.
1) The first word I ever spoke in Spanish was ”hola”—except that I pronounced it ”olé.” 2) I learned lots of Spanish from watching dubbed versions of Highway to Heaven (Autopista hacia el cielo) and Murder She Wrote (Asesinato Escribió). 3) My first translation project was Pedro Juan Gutiérrez’s Dirty Havana Trilogy, which stretched my skills to the breaking point with its Bukowskian cool and scatological sex scenes. 4) I was once given the wrong draft of a novel and had to go back over every word of the translation to make sure it matched the proper version. 5) My working title for the translation of The Savage Detectives was The Wild Detectives. 6) (bonus point) I was convinced that American readers would respond better to The Savage Detectives than to 2666—the popular success of 2666 in the U.S. was a total surprise (to me, at least).
Italian novelist Elena Ferrante has been called scrittrice oscura: an “obscure writer” who never makes public appearances and uses a pen name. In 1991, when her debut novel was due to be published, in a letter to her publisher she wrote: “I do not intend to do anything for Troubling Love, anything that might involve the public engagement of me personally. I’ve already done enough for this long story: I wrote it.”
And in a recent interview, she talked to her editors about her writing practices, the female voice and the origins of her books. While the fourth and final of her Neapolitan novels, The Story of the Lost Child, published this month, is making its triumphant entrance, let’s return to La figlia oscura (2006), a precursor to the quartet, which, according to Ferrante, is the book she is “most painfully attached to.” Ann Goldstein, Ferrante’s regular translator, has chosen a nonliteral title for it, The Lost Daughter, replacing by “lost” the word that usually means “unclear” or “murky”, all the better to convey the multitude of meanings the original title encapsulates.
The “lost daughter” of the title has many incarnations: as a little girl who wanders away on a beach; as the narrator’s own daughter in a similar situation; as both of her daughters (now in their twenties), living far away and calling only when they need her; as Leda herself, who “didn’t start liking myself until I turned eighteen, when I left my family, my city.” Another interpretation of the title can be found in Nina, the mother of the girl lost on the beach, a beautiful young woman chosen by Leda as a mirror in which to scrutinize her own past life: “Choose for your companion an alien daughter. Look for her, approach her.” READ MORE…
Happy September, translation friends! ’Tis the season for fall, or spring, depending on your relation to the equator (in any case, happily changing foliage awaits).
We often lament that non-English-language authors go unfairly un-translated, while their anglophone counterparts enjoy worldwide fame. Not this time: celebrated British author Martin Amis’s latest World War II novel, The Zone of Interest, will likely not appear in French or German translation. But Japanese heavyweight and writing machine Haruki Murakami is slated to publish yet another novel this coming December, hot on the heels of his latest release (at only 96 pages, this one is no IQ84). And other publishers just have to compete: here’s news of book publishers attempting to successfully pull off the ol’ “Murakami One-Two,” including Norwegian Karl Ove Knausgaard (My Struggle 3.5, thanks to Archipelago Books), and a fresh release of Chilean mastermind Roberto Bolaño’s earlier work through New Directions Press. Meanwhile, here’s an appreciation of an author I’m personally thrilled to have read in translation: Argentine all-around genius Julio Cortázar, who would be one hundred years old this month, but doesn’t read a day over yesterday. And finally, none other than Newsweek has decided to profile the hardworking and far-too-invisible people who facilitate global reading: the translators. The article features an interview with translational superstars like Edith Grossman and Natasha Wimmer.