Posts filed under 'imagination'

The Voice of Interiority: Lytton Smith on Translating Sigrún Pálsdóttir’s History. A Mess.

[The inward-looking quality] structurally and stylistically governs how the novel is written, its very form.

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.

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Translation Tuesday: “Winter is Good for Fish” by Anna Weidenholzer

When your house pet freezes to death in the refrigerator, you’re faced with an unpleasant situation.

This week’s Translation Tuesday draws us into the mind of a middle-aged woman named Maria, who is struggling to find a job. As she moves through her humdrum morning routine, Maria’s thoughts stray to her parents, her husband, and her former employer, and, from these fragmentary memories, we begin to piece together the circumstances that led to her current situation. In a prose colored with pathos and loneliness, Anna Weidenholzer, in Elisabeth Lauffer’s translation, nevertheless maintains a lightness and humor that make this story a pleasure to read. 

When he opens the door, I’ll say, Thank you for the invitation. I’ll say, My name is Maria Beerenberger, pleased to meet you. Have a seat, he’ll say, offering me a chair. I will have known what to wear. I will have thought about how I’d describe myself as a person. He’ll be wearing a necktie and a silver wristwatch. He’ll say, Frau Beerenberger, tell me a little bit about yourself. Gladly, I’ll say, gladly. I am familiar with the material. At least I’ve accomplished what I wanted to accomplish. And now we wait. What are you saying, he’ll ask. Frau Beerenberger, what are you talking about. Well, I’ll say, I am sitting across from you because I know the things people say, people who know what life is all about, because I’ll be one of those people. I didn’t believe in myself, you see, I didn’t believe in my future. Why, he’ll ask. Please explain. Then he’ll fall silent, lean back in his seat. Very well, I will say. As you wish. The day goes on, the light goes out, my neighbor used to say. Let’s start at the end.

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Translation Tuesday: “The Logic of the Soap Bubbles” by Luna Sicat-Cleto

. . . actually, it has now become more complicated because I now get imaginary enemies and lovers.

The mania present in this week’s Translation Tuesday is forceful and visceral, poured forth with a tide of senses, memories, tastes, smells, and visions. Upon the arrival of a spectral personification named Sandali, the inner monologue of Luna Sicat-Cleto’s narrator detonates, threading seamlessly through the past, the present, and the future. The word sandali, in Filipino, can be roughly translated as “moment.” In this story, we are reminded of exactly how broad, and how various, a moment can be.

That moment comes, unexpected, uninvited, she just appears, like a visitor, a visitor whom I cannot shove off, I let her inside, offer her coffee, she will not drink the coffee, she will merely stroke the cup’s ear, and will look at me from head to toe, like a child, she will stare, and I know that she is sizing me up because I too am sizing her, she will look out the window and whisper something about the weather, I will nod, as if I had heard what she had whispered but actually hadn’t, I have been deaf for a long time, I don’t recognize the noise I heard, I no longer know if birds still sing in the morning, whatever noise I heard, I’m sure that my eardrums have already burst, a noise that had pierced through to my brain, but it’s funny that I still recognize the sound of my own name, and this gives me hope, hope is a dangerous thing, they say that it is what thrusts people to madness, and when the visitor called my name, I did not know if I was dreaming, I lifted my head up and smiled, I was about to mention something about the weather, or our weight, whether we have gained or lost some, but I had forgotten what I was about to say as soon as she squeezed my palm, where the pulse lies, where the welt from the blade rested and she whispered: flee, flee and I will know what she wanted to happen, she wanted to sleep with me, I will not object, I will be even the one to usher her to bed, and I will feel her trembling, I will take off her clothes and she will do the same and we will begin our voyage, that’s how I see it, a voyage I will not object to, I will try not to think, I will let it be, she will come again tomorrow, my door will be open, I will not refuse, for I want our world to be filled with our children, the whole universe even, so that I wouldn’t feel lonely anymore, isn’t it right, Sandali, for that is her name, Sandali, she has neither parent nor sibling, neither home nor job, she is not bound to anything or anytime. Sandali, her name does not suit her, perhaps I needn’t give her a name, she is like a poem, a poem that does not have a name, if a person labels a poem a poem, it vanishes, it disappears like bubbles that can no longer be touched.

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What’s New in Translation: June 2018

Float away with one of these three new June releases.

Time for another round of translations hitting bookstores this month. June sees the publication of new translations from Morocco and Portugal. As always, check out the Asymptote Book Club for a specially curated new title each month.

ahmed b

The Hospital (translated by Lara Vergnaud) and The Shutters (translated by Emma Ramadan), from the French by Ahmed Bouanani, New Directions, 2018

Reviewed by Poupeh Missaghi, Iran Editor-at-Large

Two books by Ahmed Bouanani, Moroccan writer, poet, illustrator, and filmmaker hit the English literary scene this June.

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