Dark Constellations by Pola Oloixarac, translated from the Spanish by Roy Kesey, Soho Press, 2019
The Incas, according to Pola Oloixarac’s Dark Constellations, didn’t see the night sky as we do: instead of what we might call “connecting the dots,” they focused on the darkness between the stars, the shapes formed by negative space. If true—and it’s hard to know what, exactly, is true in Dark Constellations—it’s an intriguing image, one that informs our understanding of the novel’s structure as well as its content.
Dark Constellations, translated into English by Roy Kesey, is the second novel from Pola Oloixarac, one of Argentina’s rising literary stars (pun intended). Like her countrywoman Samanta Schweblin, whose story collection Mouthful of Birds has recently garnered considerable attention, Oloixarac tends to blur the line between science and the supernatural, taking a certain kind of pleasure in repeatedly throwing the reader off balance. Dark Constellations, however, has a much wider range than Schweblin’s stories, skillfully handling subjects as varied as botany, world history, and computer programming. The book’s publisher, Soho Press, calls Dark Constellations “ambitious,” and while I agree completely, I would argue that the novel’s ambition is its greatest weakness as well as one of its strengths.
Chaos: A Fable by Rodrigo Rey Rosa, translated from the Spanish by Jeffrey Gray, AmazonCrossing, 2019.
Imagine finding yourself in an unknown country, with no understanding of how you got there and the taste of dread in your mouth, and you’ll have a good sense of how it feels to read acclaimed Guatemalan writer Rodrigo Rey Rosa’s novella Chaos: A Fable. According to the publisher’s synopsis, Chaos sets out to be both a “provocative morality tale” and a “high-tech thriller,” and, indeed, it seems to land somewhere between the two: think John le Carré “espionoir” meets Franz Kafka’s The Trial.
Translated from the Spanish by Jeffrey Gray, Chaos is Rey Rosa’s nineteenth novel (the seventh to be translated into English). It follows Mexican writer Rubirosa as he reconnects with an old friend in Morocco and, by agreeing to a seemingly simple favor, finds himself drawn into an international plot to end human suffering by bringing about a technological apocalypse. Chaos indeed.
For a novel titled Chaos, it is perhaps unsurprising that I found the reading experience itself disorientating; so much so, in fact, that as soon as I read the last line, I had to flick back to page one and read it all again to make sure I hadn’t missed anything. (Fortunately, at only 197 pages, you can pretty much do so in one sitting.) Starting—mundanely enough—at a book fair in Tangier, the novella takes the reader on a breath-taking ride via the United States and Greece to Turkey. And I’m sure that, even on a second read, there were allusions and references that went far over my head.
Sauntering Verse, a new app for auto-generated poetry, uses Dadaist language to redefine the experience of physical space. In this essay, Lara Norgaard tests the app while reflecting on its implications for our relationship with technology, and the art that it creates. What contexts do we bring to the art we create and consume? What does it mean to be an artist when art is made possible just by taking your phone on a walk?
It is warm and cloudy on the afternoon following the first round of Brazil’s presidential election. The extreme right-wing candidate Jair Bolsonaro received just over 46% of the popular vote—he would come to win the run-off election just weeks later. It feels like the world I woke up to earlier that morning was not precisely my own, as if a body-snatcher stole my world instead of my skin.
The day is a blur: I walk a few meters from the living room to the kitchen in my apartment. Outside the window, the skyline of nearly identical high-rises in the Brazilian city that I call home glint in clouded sadness, weighed down by more than 186 thousand people who voted for a man whom The New Yorker has called a cross between Donald Trump and Rodrigo Duterte. Perhaps he will not win in the second round, but perhaps what is already bad will get worse. This eventuality feels so surreal that I focus on boiling water for a calming mug of coffee. I glance down at my phone. It wrote me a poem:
She skipped it
A rear Jesus
They of them
The sagging can retract or sagging sagging
A quirky staging
She pots him
We are back with our first Translation Tuesday of 2018! Today, we showcase two short poems by Burmese writer Maung Day wherein he imagines worlds without mysteries or poets. Enjoy!
Fire Alarms Are Real
All the poets in the world
Will be gone in a day or two
After singing of roses and naked monks.
Then we can start our celebration
With giraffes sitting on top of poles
And people eating curries with green rice
While their souls defecate on their heads.
Since when did our gardens become markets
Teeming with walking wardrobes and skeletal birds
Buying music cds from deaf physicians?
Maybe nothing’s too surprising anymore
Now that our place has become a willow tree,
Our houses the innards of a violent vegan,
And our genitals electronic cigarettes.
A few days ago, just as the busy Christmas shopping season in London got underway, Oxford Circus underground station was evacuated with thousands of people fleeing from one of the city’s busiest spots. Soon it turned out that what triggered the panic weren’t shots fired but rather an altercation between two men on one of the platforms. Fear has now pervaded our everyday lives.
Fear is Everywhere. European Literature Days couldn’t have chosen a more apt theme for the time in which we live. “Fear of those who flee and fear of refugees; anxiety about poverty and collapse; fear of religious fundamentalism and the implosion of values; fear of technology and of technology making humans obsolete; fear of permanent communication and language loss; fear of disorientation as well as of total control—the list could go on endlessly.” This is how the Artistic Director of the European Literature Days, Austrian writer Walter Grond (whose latest book, the historical novel, Drei Lieben/Three Loves, was published earlier this year), defined the headline theme of the gathering of leading European authors, this year held from 16 to 19 November in Spitz on the bank of the Danube in Austria’s wine region.
Today we present a haunting extract from a newly translated novel by critically acclaimed Dutch writer, columnist, and journalist Hanna Bervoets. Stranded in a school building after a catastrophic event leaves the outside world uninhabitable, a TV crew and the subjects of their documentary struggle to survive in Bervoets’s post-apocalyptic universe. From the scattered diary pages of the crew’s researcher, we learn the troubling story of everything there was, and the little there was left.
We haven’t turned on the computers in a long time. The last time we turned them off again, there still wasn’t any internet. Until then we still opened the browsers every day. Though perhaps that was just habit, like in the old situation, tearing a page off my calendar every morning, even though I already knew full well what day of the week it was, or what date. But the more often you do something, the stranger it is not to do it. So I can’t say whether we still believed the internet would come back. Just that we kept hoping it would.
It is perhaps hard for you to imagine how important the internet once was. I also find it hard to imagine. Perhaps it really wasn’t all that important.
But I think it was.
Julian Gough’s four-day visit to Vienna started on November 12th, with a reading at Lane & Merriman’s Irish Pub. The Pub features pictures of Samuel Beckett and pint glasses with Oscar Wilde on them, as well as the latter’s appropriate quotation for such an establishment: “Everything in moderation, including moderation” on the wall. The Pub also provided the perfect setting for a lively reading and a long and engaging Q & A session that touched on a number of important current issues—ra(n)ging from 21st century technology to the pros and cons of a return to a gift economy.
The reading was co-hosted by write:now, the Association of English-Language Writers in Austria, the Irish Embassy in Vienna and the English Department at the University of Vienna, each of whom managed to blackmail bring a fair amount of people to the event—the room was packed and the “antici… pation” was palpable. After I had introduced Julian, he took the imaginary stage. READ MORE…
Manufactured: c. 1966
Height: 5.9 inches, width: 15 inches
On display at the Malay Heritage Centre, Singapore
Jawi, an Arabic alphabet, was the dominant form of written Malay in Malaysia and Singapore for more than 600 years, but these days it’s in danger of becoming as obsolete as the typewriter.
Though the Malaysian ministry of education attempted to revive Jawi learning in the past—in 1970, elementary schools began teaching Jawi, and soon after high schools followed suit—by 1981, when I started Standard One (Malaysian first grade), Jawi was no longer part of the national curriculum. By 2006, Malaysia’s only remaining Jawi newspaper, the Utusan Melayu, which first appeared in Singapore in 1939, had ceased publishing.
As a translator of Malay into English, I’ve long been interested in Jawi, and when I spotted what I thought was a Jawi typewriter at the Malay Heritage Centre (MHC) in Singapore, I was immediately curious. I wanted to know where it came from, how old it was, who had owned it, how it was used. What follows is the conversation I had with the MHC concerning its typewriter, carried out over email. Noorashikin Zulkifli, Head of Curation and Programs at the MHC, helped trace the typewriter’s origins and explained its features. Encik Syed Ali Semait, Managing Director of Singapore-based Pustaka Nasional Pte. Ltd, the publishing and typesetting company that donated the typewriter to the MHC in 2012, helped identify the typewriter’s original owner. READ MORE…