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.
This week’s Translation Tuesday features the work of Mohamed M. Farrag. The prose is short, succinct, and hits like a hammer—much like the vision of masculinity embodied in the story. Enigmatic messages, the codes that construct subjects along certain lines, flow freely between a boy and his grandfather. These messages transport generational models of masculine repression as they are passed down; in just a few lines, Farrag aptly demonstrates the ways in which the social codes that dictate behavior are transferred. However, the end of the story leaves us with a question: can the script of behavior be broken by reflection and release? Or is this too a planned movement, derived from what came before? Regardless, the emotions captured here are delivered with an uncanny availability: the rhythms that the translator pulls from the original present an ordinary scene that makes one feel as if the answer to some pressing, universal question is close at hand. But the true answer is only a choice: to show or to hide.
He sat beside his dying grandfather; a man known for his cruel heart. He’d never seen him cry. Gently, the grandfather caught his grandson’s hand. “Do you know, son, what my father told me when he saw me crying on the day of my mother’s death?”
“No.” The young boy shrugged.
He said, “Men don’t cry, whatever happens.” And then he wiped my tears. “When my wife died your mother was still young. Her death stung me, but I didn’t cry in front of her. I didn’t want her to fall apart. I kept my tears inside.” READ MORE…
This week’s reviews of the newest and most compelling translated literature include the latest work by Poland’s preeminent writer, Olga Tokarczuk, a fascinating portrayal of manic self-interrogation and class by Stéphane Larue, and a darkly dionysian tale of the female gaze by the award-winning Nina Leger. Our editors burrow into the philosophy, language, and atmosphere of these three novels to give you some extra additions to your reading list.
Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead by Olga Tokarczuk, translated from the Polish by Antonia Lloyd-Jones, Riverhead Books, 2019
Review by Andreea Scridon, Assistant Editor
Janina Duszejko is the kind of woman that many would call “eccentric”: she’s in her mid-sixties, often bordering on paranoia, and she’s firmly convinced by astrology, absolute vegetarianism, and William Blake. In rural Poland, Janina—as she hates to be called—lives peacefully and in relative solitude as a guardian for the summer cabins surrounding her home. However, she quickly comes into conflict with the insensitive and barbarous hunters who reign over the area. The death of a neighbor escalates such tension, creating a series of mysterious murders that Janina will be privy to, and which will culminate in an unexpected twist.
For many, summertime offers that rare window of endless, hot days that seem to rule out any sort of physical activity but encourage hours of reading. While these might not be easy beach reads in the traditional sense of online listicles, we are here with a few recommendations of our favorite translations coming out this month! These particular books, from China, France, and Argentina, each explore questions of masculinity, death, and creativity in unexpected ways while also challenging conventional narrative structures. As always, check out the Asymptote Book Club for a specially curated new title each month.
Ma Bo’le’s Second Life by Xiao Hong, translated from the Chinese by Howard Goldblatt, Open Letter (2018)
Reviewed by Sam Carter, Assistant Managing Editor
The “second life” in the title of this scintillatingly satirical novel alludes to how we live on in fictions as well as to how fictions sometimes take on a life of their own. Partially published in 1941 simply as Ma Bo’le, Xiao Hong’s late work was in the process of being expanded, but the throat infection and botched operation that cut her life short at age thirty left further planned additions unfinished. Fortunately for English-language readers, though, it’s now been capably, inventively, and gracefully completed by Howard Goldblatt in an exemplary instance of a translation demanding—as do all renderings into another language—that we attend to its twinned dimensions of creativity and craft. Previously the translator of two Xiao Hong novels as well as a quasi-autobiographical work, Goldblatt was undoubtedly the perfect person to carry out what he fittingly calls “our collaboration,” which is the result of “four decades in the wonderful company—figuratively, intellectually, literarily, and emotionally—of Xiao Hong.”