Amelia Rosselli’s work is deeply marked by her family and personal history. Born in 1930 to a British activist and a martyred Italian-Jewish antifascist, she lived as an eternal outsider in France, the US, the UK, and Italy. A polyglot with persistent depression, her poetry challenges. It challenges the confines of genre and conventional syntax, it challenges the society with which she was ever at odds, and it challenges the reader to accompany her through her brave literary wanderings. Rosselli ended her own life by jumping out the window of her fifth-floor apartment in Rome in 1996.
Obtuse Diary, published by Entre Rios Books in late 2018, is the first and only collection of Rosselli’s prose. The writing spans a number of years and is organized into three sections and two illuminating afterwords, one by the author and one by one of the translators. Asymptote’s Lindsay Semel spoke with Deborah Woodard and Roberta Antognini, two of the collection’s three translators, about the joys and challenges of rendering Rosselli’s stunning and difficult Italian into English.
Lindsay Semel (LS): Tell me about the origin of this project. How did you come to translate this text together? What was the collaboration process like?
Deborah Woodard (DW): Translating Amelia Rosselli’s Diario Ottuso into Obtuse Diary was quite the saga. It’s a little book, but it took forever to translate. Giuseppe Leporace, my first co-translator, and I brought out some sections of the Diary in The Dragonfly, a selection of Rosselli’s poetry, back in 2009. After we finished The Dragonfly and brought it out through Chelsea Editions, I decided to rework Obtuse Diary and publish it in its entirety. When Giuseppe became too busy to review it with me, he graciously stepped down from the project. On Giuseppe’s suggestion, I worked on the Diary with Vanja Skoric Paquin, a talented young linguist with a particular gift for unraveling snarled syntax. When Vanja gave birth to her daughter she, in turn, stepped down. A year or so passed, and then I recommenced with Dario De Pasquale. Dario and I tore the earlier translation apart, sentence by sentence. When Dario became too busy to continue to translate with me (do we see a pattern here?), I was extremely fortunate to join forces with Roberta, my current—and from here on out, sole—co-translator on the final version. READ MORE…
Another issue of Asymptote means another dazzling array of voices, languages, and genres in translation. If you’re not sure where to begin, look no further than these recommendations from the editors who compiled this spectacular issue.
From Lee Yew Leong, Fiction and Poetry Editor:
This issue’s Fiction section is memorable for being the first fiction lineup in an Asymptote issue (and there are now 34 of them!) that does not include a single European author. Naguib Mahfouz and Bernardo Esquinca have already been singled out by the blog editors last week, so I’ll touch briefly on works by Bijan Najdi and Siham Benchekroun—two ambitious short stories that are remarkable in different ways. Showcasing the acclaimed narrative technique for which he was known, Najdi’s heartbreaking story “A Rainy Tuesday” (translated beautifully by Michelle Quay) unravels the thin seam between memory and reality, leading us on a nonlinear journey through grief. Benchekroun’s “Living Words,” on the other hand, is also a personal essay that exults in the very richness of language. Kudos to translator Hannah Embleton-Smith who masterfully tackled a text that leans so heavily on French phonetics to make synaptic leaps—and gave us something in English that preserves the delight of the original French. My personal favorites from the Poetry section this issue are the new translations of The Iliad by James Wilcox, which inject vigor into an ancient classic, and Tim Benjamin’s introduction of Leonardo Sanhueza, 2012 winner of the Pablo Neruda Prize for career achievement. Benjamin’s evocative translations bring into English for the first time an extraordinary poetic voice that deserves to reach a wider audience.
From Joshua Craze, Nonfiction Section Editor:
“Personal Jesus” by Fausto Alzati Fernández is a visceral study of the self that drugs make. Ably translated by Will Stockton, the prose slows down time, as we wait on the side of the highway, hoping for a fix, and then, finally, time stops, in the infinite space of the hit. Fernández explores an enchanted world, in which of all the dumb sad morass of the human animal is given the possibility of transcendence, and yet—cruelties of cruelties—it is this very transcendence that produces the animals living half-lives that stumble around his dealer’s living room. “Personal Jesus” is a love letter, written to a cleansing balm that leaves us only more pitiful than before.
Zahia Rahmani’s “Muslim”: A Novel (translated into English by Matt Reeck and published by Deep Vellum) is a combination of fiction and essay, written with a “stark and uncompromising beauty.” When the novel was first excerpted in Asymptote back in 2015, Matt Reeck highlighted the way in which “The novel’s experimental form stages the gaps between places, and between accepted norms, where a person cast adrift must live.”
Now, Asymptote Book Club subscribers will have a chance to discover this “contemporary classic” in full. You can join our discussion on the Asymptote Book Club Facebook group, or sign up to receive next month’s title via our website.
“Muslim”: A Novel by Zahia Rahmani, translated from the French by Matt Reeck, Deep Vellum, 2019
Reviewed by Erik Noonan, Assistant Editor
The protagonist of Zahia Rahmani’s “Muslim”: A Novel has lived a life contained within the constraints of a pair of quotation marks. The exercise of her voice in the printed word—French in the original, English in a new translation by Matt Reeck—represents an effort to outtalk the multitude that would mischaracterize her and confine her to a type. She speaks out even though her efforts to liberate herself have only shrunk the bounds of her freedom.
One morning (it doesn’t really matter which, but it’s March, it’s Saturday, it’s the year 2010, it’s the twenty-seventh) a young man is jogging with his dog down a quiet street in a residential neighborhood south of the German city of Hanau when something happens—the dog runs ahead or lags behind or darts off in search of something that caught its eye and is hit by a car. When the car’s bumper strikes the dog’s ribs, the bottom of the bumper, which is particularly sharp, slits the animal’s stomach open and turns red; immediately afterward, the rest of the dog’s body is swallowed by the car, which stops after a few meters, when it’s already too late. When the dog’s owner rushes to the car and sees that the animal has been run over, he quickly calculates that the chances of saving the dog are zero; nevertheless, the animal is still panting softly and tries to stand, all the while looking up at him, its eyes nearly popping out of its head. The dog, of course, is unable to stand since its body has been sliced in half, and the dog’s owner kneels next to it and begins to pet it and whisper soothing words as tears stream down his face. The animal stops breathing seconds later, and, when the young man goes to pick up the dead body, he notices its intestines are full of Argiope spider larvae; since the young man is studying to be a veterinarian, he is able to identify the larvae on the spot, and then remembers two things he recently learned in one of his classes: first, that the females of the species simulate coitus with each other to entice the males to mate; and second, that after consummation the males release their sperm-filled sex organs inside the females and try to flee, but are typically caught and devoured by them. READ MORE…