This week’s Translation Tuesday features microfiction by Gyrðir Elíasson. “The Viola Couple,” translated into a familiar monologue style by Mark Ioli, renders a melancholic protagonist in the throes of loss and ennui. What begins as a mindset typical of a sort of modernist masculinity slowly morphs as the character’s observations reverberate through the prose, changing the concerns from a self-conscious banalness into a metaphoric repose. The change in mood is expertly reflected by the expanding sentence length and conceptual language that increases in complexity. The story seems to suggest that what we focus on can help to shape thought and that singular problems appear different depending on the objects that we hold close to our psyches.
Dedicated to ÓJS
My cat isn’t dead, but he is on a hunger strike. It’s taking a toll on him. I bought him this premium food that was insanely expensive, but he wants nothing to do with it and demands his generic Bónus food back. It’s been several days, and we’re both locked in a battle of wills. No resolution is in sight. The cat mainly lies around inside on the couch, casting accusatory glances at me if I walk past him.
These have been trying times for me, both on account of the cat and various other things. I am alone (apart from the cat), and only those who have endured being alone for an extended period of time can understand the effect it has on your psyche.
Sigrún Pálsdóttir’s profound and inward-looking saga, History. A Mess., was July’s Asymptote Book Club selection, translated from Icelandic to English. Callum McAllister speaks to the novel’s translator, Lytton Smith, on the process of translating this sweeping and intuitive work. In this conversation, the two discuss the intricacies of translating the evasive language of space and the even more mysterious language of the inner self, and Lytton gives as well some much-appreciated recommendations of Icelandic literature.
Callum McAllister (CM): Iceland is well-known for its impressively high literary output and vibrant creative culture, but Icelandic isn’t a widely spoken language. Are you daunted by how much Icelandic literature has yet to be translated into English, or do you think it gives you more freedom to opt for your favorite texts? Is there anything you’d love to see in English or work on next?
Lytton Smith (LS): Definitely daunted, even as I’m excited by the opportunity! There are wonderful translators from Icelandic working to bring more books into English (which can then also be a gateway to other languages), but there’s a limit to how many presses are willing to do what Open Letter does and take a chance on publishing titles—especially when translations are hard to sell to readers. I’m looking forward to Sigrún’s next novel, which is in part about the theory that Icelanders “discovered” America, and Ófeigur Sigurðsson, whose novel Öræfi / The Wastelands I translated last year (Deep Vellum), has another two novels that center on volcanoes that I’d like to translate. And I’d love to translate another book by the amazing, singular Kristín Ómarsdóttir. Next up, I’m lucky to be translating some of Andri Snær Magnason’s work.