A new month brings an abundance of fresh translations, and our writers have chosen three of the most engaging, important works: a Japanese novella recounting the monotony of modern working life as the three narrators begin employment in a factory, the memoir of a Russian political prisoner and filmmaker, as well as the first comprehensive English translation of Giorgio de Chirico’s Italian poems. Read on to find out more!
The Factory by Hiroko Oyamada, translated from the Japanese by David Boyd, New Directions, 2019
Review by Andreea Scridon, Assistant Editor
Drawn from the author’s own experience as a temporary worker in Japan, The Factory strikes one as being a laconic metaphor for the psychologically brutalizing nature of the modern workplace. There is more than meets the eye in this seemingly mundane narrative of three characters who find work at a huge factory (reticent Yoshiko as a shredder, dissatisfied Ushiyama as a proofreader, and disoriented Furufue as a researcher), as they become increasingly absorbed and eventually almost consumed by its all-encompassing and panoptic nature. Coincidentally wandering into a job for the city’s biggest industry, or finding themselves driven there—against their instincts—by necessity, the three alternating narrators chronicle the various aspects of their working experience and the deeply bizarre undertones that lie beneath the banal surface. READ MORE…
Whether this March the leaves are falling or only starting to grow, new books in translation continue to push through borders and languages. This month, our editors review new translations from Germany and Lebanon, whose stories span diverse regions and explore complex notions of belonging.
Pearls on a Branch by Najla Jraissaty Khoury, translated from the Arabic by Inea Bushnaq, Archipelago Books
Reviewed by Anaka Allen, Social Media Manager
“It happened or maybe no.
If it did, it was long ago
If not, it could still be so.”
For twenty years, in the midst of Lebanon’s civil war that lasted from 1975 until 1990, the traveling theater company Sandouk el Fergeh (the Box of Wonders) traversed the Levant searching for inspiration for their live shows. The actors and their marionettes would travel from shelters to refugee camps, villages to towns, performing the oral tales painstakingly collected by their founder Najla Jraissaty Khoury. It was no small feat trying to find and record stories during wartime when suspicion and fear were particularly acute, not to mention the difficulty in assembling complete narratives from a depleting cache of collective cultural memory.
Oral tales are one of the most fragile cultural legacies, and too often die with their storytellers. So, what happens to the oral history of a region suffering through war and displacement? That’s what Khoury hoped to find out, and the question is what inspired her to embark on a rescue mission in search of these unwritten remnants of Lebanese, Syrian, and Palestinian culture. She collected dozens of folktales, writing them down exactly as they were told (repetitive phrases and all), culled one hundred from that catalog, and published them in Arabic. English speakers now have the opportunity to read a selection of thirty stories in Pearls on a Branch.
War, So Much War by Mercè Rodreda, tr. Maruxa Relaño & Martha Tennent (Open Letter Books)—reviewed by Sam Carter, assistant managing editor
“The sleep of reason produces monsters,” reads one of the epigraphs to Mercè Rodoreda’s Quanta, quanta guerra, now available in English as War, So Much War from Open Letter Press. Drawn from the title of a famous Goya etching, it is a fitting prelude to a work that explores the ravages of war from a pseudo-picaresque perspective in which we find ourselves face-to-face with a narrator coming to terms with the unnerving and unending monstrosity of war, rather than encountering a delinquent carefully crafting a tale of struggle and self-justification. Even if this conflict initially resembles the Spanish Civil War, in his narration, protagonist Adrià Guinart insists on an ambiguity permeating all levels of the work and suggesting the plausibility of less localized interpretations.
In sparse prose, crisply translated by both Maruxa Relaño and Martha Tennent, Adrià recounts his interactions with the figures he meets throughout a journey that begins with an enthusiasm for the escapist possibilities of war and yet ends on entirely different note. His own narrative “I” proves elusive as it frequently disappears into a chorus of other voices that dominate the task of depicting a war-torn landscape. Describing the novel’s structure with another of its epigraphs—“A great ravel of flights from nothing to nothing,” from D. H. Lawrence—is ultimately too tempting to pass up, for it is precisely in its itinerant quality, in the way it moves from one episode to another without the need to establish definitive links, that the novel finds its strength. READ MORE…