Posts filed under 'Religion'

In Conversation: Hamid Ismailov

I wish that different literatures were mutually translated, bypassing English or other dominant global languages.

Very rarely does contemporary Uzbek prose get translated directly into English. Yet English readers have just been given a rare chance to discover the novel The Devils’ Dance (Tilted Axis Press, trans. by Donald Rayfield), by the prominent Uzbek writer and journalist Hamid Ismailov. In it, Ismailov introduces the curious reader to perhaps the most famous modern Uzbek writer, Abdulla Qodiriy. The novel tells the story of Qodiriy, who, like many intellectuals in the Soviet Union in the late 30s, was imprisoned and eventually shot dead. While in jail, Qodiriy attempts to recreate the unfinished novel the KGB has just confiscated, which portrays Oyhon, a poet-queen who lived in the last, grand days of nineteenth-century Turkestan when London and Saint Petersburg were fighting over Central Asia in the Great Game. I interviewed Ismailov about his diverse identities and the place of Uzbek literature in today’s global writing. 

Filip Noubel (FN): You are a global writer: you were born in what is today Kyrgyzstan, studied and worked in Uzbekistan, and now live in London. You write in both Uzbek and Russian, and appear in translation in a number of languages ranging from English to Chinese. In your books and interviews, you often refer to the plurality of cultures but also to their clashes. How is this multiple identity shaping your writing?

Hamid Ismailov (HI): Recently I did a DNA test, and aside from the obvious, I discovered that 4% of my genes are of South Asian origin and 2% are Irish, not to mention 1% Native American. So if my genes are telling me that I’m related to people like Rabindranath Tagore and James Joyce even on a genetic level, so be it! But, generally, the people of Central Asia, which is an area historically placed in the middle of the Silk Road, should be blessed to be born into multiculturalism, multi-lingualism and multi-identity. If you read my book The Railway you can see how many nationalities, traditions, and ways of life I have been exposed to in my childhood, so no wonder that I love to write in different languages, and to put myself into different shoes. In fact, exploring “otherness” both as a subject and an object is the most interesting part of literature.

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Translation Tuesday: An Excerpt from Silva Rerum by Kristina Sabaliauskaitė

"There was a desperate need for faith so that all this activity would really have some meaning."

For the second Translation Tuesday in a row, we are proudly featuring an author from Lithuania—not just for their excellent writers, but because the Baltic countries are is this year’s Market Focus at this year’s London Book Fair.

This excerpt is by one of the country’s most lauded authors, Kristina Sabaliauskaitė, from her four-part historical novel, Silva Rerum. The novel gives us a panoramic sweep of history from 1659 to 1795 in narrating the generations of a noble family, the Narwoyszes. In Lithuania, the series has been a literary sensation on the level of Knausgaard in Norway or Ferrante in Italy. This excerpt, a seriocomic episode about the death of a beloved cat, provides us with a taste of what Sabaliauskaitė’s talent has in store for the world. 

This showcase is made possible by Lithuanian Culture Institute.

On that hot July in the year of Our Lord 1659 Kazimierz and Urszula Narwoysz saw death for the first time. Even though death was all around them, the twins in the tenth year of their lives looked directly into its grey mutable face for the first time and that confrontation which lasted but a few moments, it could be said, decided their fate.

Everything had started several weeks before, when their beloved tabby Maurycy died, a well-fed creature, their companion from the cradle who, keeping his claws retracted, like a Stoic, suffered all their pranks with patience. Even their favourite prank where one of the twins would hold it tight, while the other pulled on its tail. Caught unawares, Maurycy obeyed nature and, forgetting the forgiveness of felines to small children, struggling fiercely, would scratch the one holding it. Most often it was Kazimierz who would feel the brunt, since it was Urszula who had the miraculous ability to put on an angelic face and ambush the cat by pulling on its tail; sometimes, amusing themselves, they would tie something that made a noise to its tail and wrap the unfortunate pet like a babe in swaddling clothes. The last time was when they took things too far: without anyone seeing them and exercising great caution they wrapped Maurycy up and changed their newborn sister lying in her cradle with him. The wet nurse, on seeing the cat wrapped up, began to scream in a voice not her own, while the twins fell around and shrieked with laughter, and later they themselves were screaming in voices not their own while being thrashed, this dangerous prank causing even Jan Maciej Narwoysz to lose his normally unshakeable patience.

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Marianne Katoppo: The Frog who Left the Coconut Shell Far Behind

"Katoppo’s novels tell the story of independent women restrained by conservative men."

Writer and world-renowned feminist theologian Marianne Katoppo maintained that theology was rooted in language. Asymptote Indonesia Editor-at-Large and poet Norman Erikson Pasaribu makes the case that with her writing, Katoppo also challenged and defied the systemic injustices of Indonesian society that were inherent in language, too. Enjoy Norman’s beautiful essay in English and scroll down to read it in the original Indonesian. 

From approximately the 500 classic Malay proverbs that I had to memorize as a child, one of the proverbs I loved most was: ‘Like a frog under a coconut shell.’

The illustration is clear: a frog that never surpasses the boundaries of a coconut shell will only view the world as a dark, quiet, and limited place. If anyone were to tell it that there’s another world: a colorful and bright place, with music and an open natural landscape, this frog will say it’s a lie.

—Marianne Katoppo

“After all, language is where theology begins,” Marianne Katoppo writes in her revolutionary book, Compassionate and Free: An Asian Woman’s Theology (1979).

She then presents an argument about how sexism and patriarchy in the church are rooted in language. She says that in Hebrew, the Holy Spirit Ruakh is feminine, which evolved into Pneuma, a gender-neutral form in Greek by the Septuaginta translator, and then changed into the masculine in Latin. “Therefore, the Trinity we have now is entirely male,” Katoppo concludes.

Indonesia is a nation where people’s lives are strongly driven by religion. This is clear even in the first principle of Pancasila, the Indonesian state’s foundational philosophy: “Believe in the one Supreme God.” Thus, although the Indonesian language does not have the concept of gender in its grammar, it is unsurprising that the country’s religious institutions—which have been long dominated by men—have also contributed to an unfair system of privileges. Religious institutions often become the first barrier that “the other” has to face in order to be a whole individual.

Marianne Katoppo’s life was a constant battle against such oppressive structures. Born in 1943, Katoppo was raised in a family with feminist values. Her father was the minister of education of the short-lived State of East Indonesia (1946—1950), and he upheld gender equality among all of his ten children. Katoppo pursued her theological education at the Jakarta Theological Seminary before leaving Indonesia and continuing her theological studies in Switzerland, Japan, England, Korea, and Germany while also studying languages. Later, she continued to explore the edges of the world to teach feminist theology.

Katoppo’s interest in theology was entwined with her passion for languages. She published her first short story at the age of eight. Besides her seminal work, Compassionate and Free: An Asian Woman’s Theology, Katoppo also published five novels: Dunia Tak Bermusim (A World with No Season, 1974), Raumanen (1977), Anggrek Tak Pernah Berdusta (The Orchid Never Lies, 1977), Terbangnya Punai (The Green Pigeon Flies Away, 1978), Rumah di Atas Jembatan (The House on the Bridge, 1981). She won the prestigious Jakarta Arts Council Novel Competition in 1975 for Raumanen and became the first woman to win the SEA Write Award in 1982. Fluent in twelve languages, she translated Knut Hamsun, Nawal El Saadawi, and Elie Wiesel into Indonesian—all of which were published by Obor, a Catholic publishing house in Jakarta. Given the enormity of her achievements, I—born and raised in Indonesia—seriously believe that no Indonesian man has matched Katoppo’s accomplishments. READ MORE…

Translation Tuesday: “The Lost” by Jan Čep

“Quite a detour,” said the old man shaking his head. “You must have gotten lost.”

Today we’re thrilled to present a story by Jan Čep, a Catholic Modernist whose stories depict characters lost both spiritually and geographically. Weaving together deep mysticism and delicate realism, his style of writing has earned him a reputation as one of the most distinctive voices in twentieth century Czech prose.

That afternoon the house emptied out, the voices in the neighboring rooms fell silent, the wagon of a child stood overturned in the yard, and inside the half-open gate peeked someone’s goat. Clouds covered the sky and hills encircled the ravaged and vindictive countryside; the trails led nowhere and the steel surface of the pond shimmered with hostility.

Petr Kleofáš left the house and set out on the first trail he found without meeting a single soul. On a marshy meadow with dry grass, stumps of old willows stood over black pools. Grey groves, blasted by the breath of age and death, bit maliciously into the barren hillsides. Past the pond on the other side, crooked roofs from the village hunched beneath the dismal sky.

Petr Kleofáš found himself in a grassy ditch below an empty stubble field with two stunted pine trees. A bit further stood a forest, full of dry needles and fallen cones. The only sounds were the rustle of dry grass and the bloodless whisper, like fire consuming paper, inside Petr Kleofáš. He half-knelt, half-lay on the cold earth; eyes closed, he silently counted the beat of his slowing heart. The sense of sheer nothingness and the proximity of death caused a poisonous and grotesque sweetness to spring inside him. Damp and cooling colors flowed before his eyes…

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Translation Tuesday: “Punctuation of Life” by Lidija Dimkovska

Now we meet in front of the immigration desks

In this poem by Lidija Dimkovska, the full stops at the end of each word raise more questions than the simple answers they appear to be. These categories create both lack and excess in meaning when stripped from their contexts—there is a sense of isolation but at the same time a certain kind of clarity that in life, for better or worse, we often move from having just one home to having many. 

Punctuation of Life                                                 

“Those who forgot me would make a city.”
Joseph Brodsky, May 24, 1980

Home.
Fatherland.
Language.
Family tree.
Individual and collective memory.
Archetypes.
Atavism.
Uniqueness.

Ah, a misprint.

Home?
“Fatherland”
Language!
Family tree;
Individual and collective memory…
Archetypes –
Atavism:
Uniqueness.

Complaint.

Those who have forgotten me, Joseph,
would make not one but three cities,
except the citizens have either died or moved away.
Now we meet in front of the immigration desks
at the border of the earthly, or the heavenly kingdom.
One alien is akin to another,
so we all fill in the forms together
passing the same pen from one to another.
It’s only the punctuation of life
that we all, covering the form with our hand,
write
for ourselves.

Translated from the Macedonian by Ljubica Arsovska and Patricia Marsh

Lidija Dimkovska was born in 1971 in Skopje, Macedonia. She is a poet, novelist, essayist, and translator. She competed her PhD in Romanian literature at the University of Bucharest, Romania where she worked as a lecturer of Macedonian language and literature. She lives in Ljubljana, Slovenia and translates Romanian and Slovenian literature to Macedonian. She has published six books of poetry and three novels, translated to more than 20 languages. She received the German poetry prize “Hubert Burda,” the Romanian poetry prizes “Poesis” and “Tudor Arghezi”, the European Prize for Poetry “Petru Krdu” and the European Union Prize for Literature, among others. In the States, The American Poetry Review in 2003 dedicated the cover page and the Special Supplement to her. In 2006 Ugly Duckling Presse from N.Y. published her first collection of poetry in English, Do Not Awaken Them with Hammers, and in 2012 Copper Canyon Press published her second book of poetry pH Neutral History (short-listed for the Best Translated Book Award 2013). 

Ljubica Arsovska is editor-in-chief of the long-established Skopje cultural magazine Kulturen Život and a distinguished literary translator from English into Macedonian, and vice versa. Her translations from English into Macedonian include books by Isaiah Berlin, Toni Morrison, Susan Sontag, and plays of Lope De Vega, Harold Pinter, Edward Albee, Tom Stoppard, and Tennessee Williams. Her translations from Macedonian into English include works by Lidija Dimkovska, Dejan Dukovski, Tomislav Osmanli, Ilija Petrushevski, Sotir Golabovski, Dimitar Bashevski, Radovan Pavlovski, Gordana Mihailova Boshnakoska, Katica Kulafkova, and Liljana Dirjan, among others. 

Patricia Marsh is a writer of fiction and non-fiction, author of The Scribe of the Soul and The Enigma of the Margate Shell Grotto, and translator of a number of plays and poems from Macedonian into English. She lectured in English at the University of Skopje for a long period before returning to live and work in the UK in 1992. 

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On The Revolutionary is a Hermaphrodite by Yemeni Novelist Mohammed “Al-Gharby” Amran Followed by an Interview with the Author

There is only one voice and it is the voice of violence.

The Yemeni literary scene is replete with examples of fiction that accompany the tragic events Yemen is going through, principally the war, on the one hand, and on the other the desire for social and political change. This phenomenon is clear in many Yemeni fictional works, including novels by Wejdi Al-Ahdal and Nadia Al-Kawkabani, as well as the short stories of Huda Al-Attas, Arwa ‘Abd Uthman, Saleh Ba Amer, and others. Mohammed Al-Gharby Amran in particular is among those who have touched the heart of real life in Yemen, and whose voice has reached the wider Arabic nation.

Mohammed Al-Gharby Amran’s most recent novel, The Revolutionary is a Hermaphrodite, was published by Dar As-Saqi in 2014. Prior to that, he had written two significant works, The Red Quran, published by Dar Riyadh Arreyis in 2010, and Yael or Yael’s Darkness.The former produced strong reactions, especially in Yemen, where the book was banned because of its bold ideas, and the latter received the Tayyeb Saleh Award in 2012. He has also written short story collections, including Bed Sheets[1] (1997), published in Damascus by The Union of Arab Authors, and Black Minaret, published in 2004 by The Union of Yemeni Authors and Writers.

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Translation Tuesday: The Scent of a Dream by Alberto Ruy-Sanchez

The unorthodox torment of Don Marcelino Menéndez y Pelayo

The feelings of guilt and uncertainty that dominate this stand-alone addendum to Alberto Ruy-Sanchez’s 1987 novel, Los demonios de la lengua, wrestle with the tension between religion and eroticism that was central to the author’s Jesuit upbringing. The story’s prose-poetry style prioritises diction and imagery over narrative, making for a complex and rewarding read.

Among Apples

Not words but serpents emerged from his mouth. And some of these vipers had the heads of goats, of iguanas, salamanders, toads; they were eagles without wings, fish without rivers, tongues without saliva. One tongue divided in two, in three, in ten, in six times one hundred and eleven nightmares. And the odor that emanated from these tongues, reminiscent of the rotten fish that serve as a delicacy in Sweden and an omen of tragedy in Denmark, was so dense as to be visible—and it looked back at us. It was a cloud with eyes, horns, jaws, a bristly beard and pointed ears. It looked like Satan on the verge of unleashing his fury, but it was only the scent of Don Marcelino’s breath as he dozed at midday.

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My 2016 by Lindsay Semel

I’ve found solidarity with characters who, like pebbles in the path of an avalanche, find themselves getting caught up in it.

This year, as I watched wide-eyed and drop-jawed the deeds and choices of my fellow humans, I read books that probe the alarming sensation of impotence in the face of inertia. I’ve found solidarity with characters who, like pebbles in the path of an avalanche, find themselves not stopping or redirecting the object in motion, but getting caught up in it.

I opened the year with a copy of S. Yizhar’s Khirbet Khizeh, lent to me by the writer, activist, and academic, David Shulman, who penned its illuminating afterward. Yizhar’s slim novella, originally published in Hebrew in 1949 with no English translation until 2008, narrates the exile of Palestinian villagers during 1948-9—the time Israel celebrates as the birth of its statehood and Palestine laments as its nakba or catastrophe. The narrator is one of the young Israeli soldiers sent to relocate mostly children and the elderly from the village destined to be resettled by Jews. His extremely complex voice captures the haunting cruelty of the task at hand without forsaking responsibility for his complicity—a complicity assured as much by official narrative as by official order. The novella is an important one in Israel’s national memory and happens to be good. Its intimate and colorful narrative voice, rich with Biblical references, shies away from none of the narrator’s labyrinthine conflict. And it’s never been more relevant. As I was reading the novel, I was living in West Jerusalem and visiting Palestine every weekend, bearing witness to the inheritance of the nakba. Over tea in their large, carpeted tent, the inhabitants of one village (clinging to the rocky hillside with nothing but the conviction that it belonged there) described their 4 am wake-up call by Israeli soldiers with stun grenades. Their offence? Asking for the soldiers to give back the generator they’d stolen. And whether you’re the one throwing the stun grenades, the one protecting your kids from them, or the one horrified by it all, the grenades still get thrown. READ MORE…

In Review: Samskara: A Rite for a Dead Man by U.R. Ananthamurthy

Asif he had become a stranger to himself, the Acharya opened his eyes and asked himself: Where am I?

NYRB Classics’ reissue of this book comes at an opportune moment, as societies around the world face the dangers of religious extremism and its focus on ritual and regulation rather than humanity. U.R. Ananthamurthy, in A.K Ramanujan’s translation from the Kannada, tries to teach Indian society a lesson in this story about the trouble with prioritizing tradition over compassion.

Samskara begins with one of the central cleansing and purification rituals in the rites of Hindu worship. Praneshacharya, the most respected Brahmin in his traditional and conservative agrahara, begins each day by bathing the sickly and desiccated body of his infirm wife.  Praneschacharya has faithfully carried out this ritual for more than twenty years. He views sexless marriage as a penance and a sacrifice that will deliver salvation in this life and in the next.  But the death of an impious and sinful Brahmin, Naranappa, in the agrahara brings Praneshacharya to a spiritual crisis of his own that makes him question his long-practiced rituals and beliefs. The cleansing ritual that he performs on his wife at the beginning of the story is the last time that he will perform this expiating routine; this is the beginning of the end for Praneshacharya’s spiritual cleanliness and purity.

Samskara—the compulsory rite given to Brahmins at their passing—becomes the central controversy of the novel. Naranappa has renounced the Brahmin rituals of the agrahara and has carried out the most outrageous and offensive acts to show his disapproval of his fellow worshippers and neighbors. He’s taken up excessive drinking, spent time with Muslims and ate meat with them, and caught fish from the sacred temple pond. The most impious of his actions, however, was casting off his lawful wife and his choosing to live with a lower class, outcast woman named Chandri.  Despite his hedonistic behavior, the Brahmins never excommunicated Naranappa from their small, conservative village.

It is Chandri, Narranappa’s low-born lover, who delivers the news of his death to the agrahara.  This announcement causes an immediate conflict over the performance of the death rites for this blasphemous man whom they continued to allow to live among them. The Brahmins’ failure to act in the face of Naranappa’s sacrilege can be viewed as the first of Ananthamurthy’s many criticisms of the Brahmins way of life; their laziness or fear or lack of conviction, or a combination of all three, prevent them from expelling Narranappa from the agrahara.  Now that he has died, none of them want to be responsible for performing the death rites for his body.

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Calling All Translators of Indian Literature

Asymptote celebrates the diversity and dissent within Indian writing

Only two weeks left to submit to Asymptote’s first-ever Special Feature on Contemporary Indian Language Literature in English Translation!

Since we first announced the Feature in August, we have received some very exciting work from all across the Indian map. And we can’t wait to find more voices, because in a country so large, we know there are more out there.

Take advantage of these last two weeks to revise your best translations and send them in!

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In Conversation with Oonagh Stransky: Part Two

Read part two of an interview with the translator of Pope Francis: also available in Asymptote's Fortnightly Airmail

Our last Fornightly Airmail featured the first part of an interview with writer, translator, and editor Oonagh Stransky, best known for her English translation of The Name of God is Mercy, by Pope Francis and Vatican reporter Andrea Tornielli. Here’s Part Two of the conversation Stransky recently had via e-mail with our Interview Features Editor Ryan Mihaly.

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Let’s move on to the book itself. Pope Francis recites Bible passages from memory (it seems) several times throughout the book. Did you translate his Italian quotations from the Bible? Or do you know if the original version of the book used passages from a particular version of the Bible?

Great question. In the introduction, Andrea Tornielli, Vatican-watcher and longtime member of the Pope’s entourage of journalists, describes the particulars of the situation well. He mentions that he sent his questions in advance. He also describes how prepared the Pope was for the interview: “Francis was waiting for me sitting at a table with a Bible concordance on it and some quotations from the Church Fathers.” In other words, he didn’t quote all the passages from memory, but came ready to share some key stories both from the Bible and his life.

One of the first questions I asked Random House was which version of the Bible should I use for the quotations. The reply came direct from the Vatican. For the Random House version, which is distributed in North America, South America, and Canada, the New American Version of the Bible was used. This created a few problems for the British version, published by Macmillan Blue Bird, and released in UK, Europe and Rest of World (as I believe Oceania is called), for which the New Revised Standard Version was used. To some degree, the quotations—as with any quotation within a translation—are a legal matter and have little to do with the translator. But what is really interesting here—and this may be one of the reasons that the experience of translating this book was a transformative experience for me—was the way Pope Francis didn’t simply drop quotes from the Bible. No, every quotation was reinforced with his own, simple words, or with an illustrative anecdote. Pope Francis doesn’t use the Bible as an end, but as a beginning of discussion. I really enjoyed that.

For example, in the chapter “Too Much Mercy?” Pope Francis quotes from the Gospel of Luke, which says there would be more joy in heaven over a single repenting sinner than ninety-nine righteous people who do not repent. But read how he explicates it afterwards: “It does not say: and if he should then relapse and go back to his ways and commit more sins, that’s his problem!”

You can hear Francis’s voice talking about the Bible, giving us an example to help us understand what he thinks it is trying to say. He does not raise the message up to a place where it is out of reach; he brings it to us, with a casual but strong comment. And with an exclamation mark! I love the places where there are exclamation marks. It is this back and forth with the sacred text that makes his comments easy to read, easy to understand, and possible to emulate.

One thing I should mention is that the Bull of Indiction that appears at the end of the text was not translated by me. That is an official Vatican translation. Of course, this begs the question, why didn’t they use a Vatican certified translator to do the translation of the whole book? I can only presume that both Editoria Vaticana and Piemme publishers wanted to be able to count on the editorial, legal, marketing, and publicity expertise of international publishers, and that these companies wanted the freedom to choose their own translators.

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In Conversation with Oonagh Stransky: Part One

Read an interview with the translator of Pope Francis: also available in Asymptote's Fortnightly Airmail

Oonagh Stransky is a writer, translator, and editor based in Italy. She is known, most recently, as the English translator of The Name of God is Mercy, a book-length dialogue between Pope Francis and Vatican reporter Andrea Tornielli. Here’s the first part of a conversation Stransky had via e-mail with Interview Features Editor Ryan Mihaly about translating the Pope.​

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My first question is simple. What was it like to translate the Pope? I grew up Catholic, considered myself Agnostic when I was in college, and now, like many, consider myself on a spiritual journey but am unsure what to call myself. The Pope’s words are incredibly moving, especially as he reflects on his experiences as a young confessor, and can no doubt effect, I think, nonbelievers. What was it like to translate these words, and what were your goals as the translator?

Translating the Pope’s words and ideas was a challenging and moving experience for me, as most literary translations are. I would say it was even a transformative one, too. Because I had a limited amount of time to work on the translation, as I will explain, the experience was especially intense and personal, even more than if I had had a lot of time to work on it. I had to immerse myself entirely in the text. In so doing, I not only discovered a gentle, deeply human side to this Pope, I felt something change or soften inside me.

As I mentioned, everything about the experience was intense. One day, out of the blue, I was contacted by Will Murphy, a Random House editor based in New York. I worked with Random House many years ago but have not collaborated with them since then. Murphy told me about the project, asked if I was available and interested, and suggested I do a sample. I agreed and sent it back to him that same day. Three days later I walked in to the Random House offices in Manhattan and left with a handshake and deal. I have been living in Tuscany now since 2009 and moved here from New York—I missed this kind of efficiency and directness! My negotiations led to a contract—which did not include everything I hoped for—but it was a job that I cared about and, of course, as a freelancer I have to be ready to bite the bullet.

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