Translations

Translation Tuesday: Excerpt from Sun-Tzu’s Life in the Holy City of Vilnius by Ričardas Gavelis

It goes without saying that among the general company there was a dissected frog trumpeting the end of the world.

This week’s Translation Tuesday sees Elizabeth Novickas render Ričardas Gavelis’ hallucinogenic modernism at its most intense and challenging. In this short extract, we follow the stray dogs, rubbish-tip flies, and neighbourhood drunks of Vilnius as the everydayness of their actions is transformed into something altogether stranger. 

The most important musical happening in Vilnius—and therefore the Universe—is the brilliant concert of the flies over Karoliniškės’ garbage containers. It is considerably deeper and metaphysically purer than Tarasov’s famous fly-sound installation. It’s a true live concert brimming with improvisation; its sounds determine the movement of the stars, the smells of Vilnius’s streets, and Vilniutians’ sexual mores.

Those flies buzzing above the new gray containers are numberless, but only a complete idiot would say they’re identical, or more or less identical. If that was all they were, they certainly wouldn’t determine either the movement of the stars or Vilniutians’ sexual moods. Those flies are much more varied than humans: from the tiny Drosphila to the impressive horse shit fly. When Apples Petriukas went looking for the meaning of life in the garbage dumps, he counted one thousand seven hundred thirteen varieties of flies. I go up to Korals’ reeking garbage containers and simply wave to that surreal orchestra with my hand—I don’t even need a baton. The domain of the flies greets me with a majestic fortissimo, in which individual musical themes diverge only later: humming, whining, buzzing, as well as all the other fly sounds. But this is merely the beginning of the beginning—the buzzings will out-buzz one another; primary and secondary motifs will be born, as well as fly self-disclosures and leaps into infinity toward the Absolute of the flies. And on top of all of that, you need to add the smell! Only the concerto grosso of Vilnius’s flies synthesizes a flawless musical sound and an artistic smell. The reek of that concert is simply unmatched—almost as amazing as that of my attire.

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Translation Tuesday: “Shchepliak” by Zigmunt Leyb

The long gray years are stifling his marrow, devouring him piecemeal, chilling his blood.

From Yiddish writer and political activist Zigmunt Leyb, this week’s Translation Tuesday centers on Shchepliak, an old man living a bleak and lonely life in Vienna. Written nearly a century ago, Leyb’s writing nonetheless feels modern in its spareness and simplicity.

Shchepliak lives in a little room that is long and narrow. Its high, empty walls are gray, the uppermost edges a mix of dark patches of shadow and broad swaths of cobwebs. Shchepliak roams about his room, measuring. He moves his rags from one spot to another, mends a hole, sews on a patch. And when he is beset by an attack of gray yawning, which makes his small eyes fill with salty tears, he sets down the bundles, rubs his eyes, and looks around the room. He then walks slowly over to one patch of empty wall and directs his eyes toward a yellowed stain. He raises his head, his eyes boring into the yellow stain as he thinks and thinks—until the loud chime of a clock somewhere frightens him, interrupting the dull muddle of his changeless thoughts.

Shchepliak perks up his ears, wrinkles his narrow brow, opens his mouth like a pitiful child, and listens to the chime of the clock.

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Translation Tuesday: “At Least Here, It’s Warm” by Guram Rcheulishvili

“There was the sound of smacking lips: he threw the blanket over his head, but still, he heard it. His heart ached.”

In this week’s Translation Tuesday, Guram Rcheulishvili tells the story of Vaja Jandieri, alone, in an unfamiliar environment, as he attempts to ski in Bakuriani, Georgia. Excitement and then ennui set in amongst the snowy slopes where the people speak Ossetian, and are from another world unlike Vaja’s . . .

Vaja Jandieri was now sitting in a small, warm room. He could hardly ever find such a room. This year, Bakuriani was extremely cold. Thin walls were unable to stop these freezing chills. Vaja was sitting, pleased that he had found such a warm room. The housekeeper set the tea to boil as a small boy memorized his algebra formulas. The door suddenly flew open, as a woman, his Ossetian neighbor, burst in.

“This year is so cold,” she said.

“Yes, woman, the walls aren’t able to stop it,” said the housekeeper.

“Mom,” said the boy as he closed his work, “in school it’s so cold, tha-”

“At least here, it’s warm,” said Vaja.

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Translation Tuesday: An Excerpt from The Lobster by Monique Proulx

The world froze for a fraction of a second; the cashier hurriedly sponged the counter as she leant towards Marceau: “What would you like, Monsieur”

Tensions in the family bubble and boil over in this excerpt from The Lobster by the award-winning Monique Proulx, translated by Frances Pope. What happens when Marceau brings home a lobster he can’t afford? Read on to find out.

“Are you mad? What d’you expect me to do with those? How d’you even eat them?”

As always, Laura’s first words were recriminations. It has to be said that the creatures were no less threatening for being quite dead; amongst the tangle of legs, claws, and feelers which now filled the sink, you could make out here and there the glimmer of a small, black, malevolent eye—more alive than the others, you’d swear—peeking at you with belligerent hate. Marceau had stopped twice on his way home, hearing the wind flap against the big plastic bag, worriedly checking to make sure that the contents weren’t still wriggling, and that his hand wasn’t about to be sliced clean off by a claw.

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Translation Tuesday: “The Attack of the Living Chairs” by Jonathan Minila

When I stood up, the chairs arranged themselves menacingly.

This week, we present a darkly funny short story in which an important dinner party is hijacked by a gang of malevolent chairs. Written by Jonathan Minila and translated from the Spanish by Will Stockton, “The Attack of the Living Chairs” is both an absurdist romp and a mocking portrait of Mexico’s ruling class. 

The chairs revealed themselves as soon as we crossed into the dining room. They drew back to the wall and surrounded us as we approached the table.

The women screamed. We did, too. The guest of honor—the President’s wife—swooned and fainted. I served as the home’s proprietor, and something had to be done.

I tried to pick her up, feeling ridiculous, disgusted to touch a woman with so much fat on her arms and such a formidable mustache. Still, everyone hoped I would find a solution.

My wife seemed to have been rendered speechless. The others, too. No one moved. Only me, who struggled to lift this influential fat woman.

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Translation Tuesdays: “Fragments from a story of my life I’ll never write” by Ruska Jorjoliani

"I go on. Until my nights end, as they did with Grandfather, with nothing left to tell, and he sings me a wordless song."

In this week’s Translation Tuesday, join Georgian writer Ruska Jorjoliani as she tells the stories of her grandfather and their people. Becoming a refugee as a result of war, Jorjoliani’s first-person narrator gradually finds new words, before finding the need to use those words—telling the story of family, dear yet far away.

Horses

Among us, epic tales were like wedges to keep the workbench of daily life from wobbling, benches with cheap tools on top, all of us dragging ours behind us the way we did our long, grueling winters. When I was a girl, the first creatures that roused my imagination were horses—starving, weary beasts, but still horses. Every morning I used to watch our neighbor Ciko saddle his bay, settle a rough woolly hat on his head, let out a shout, and gallop off, disappearing into the mountains. Ciko’s horse and Ciko, bent low over the halter, were the only beings who could travel beyond, exceed those limits set down by the laws of nature first and then by men, the only ones who could taste another air, other worlds hidden to the common gaze. After about twenty km, the rider had to dismount and walk up so that the horse didn’t fall into a gorge, then you’d arrive at a lake, green in spring and blue in summer—what it looked like in fall or winter you didn’t know, since no one had ever dared try the climb in those seasons—and then finally the mountain would begin to shrink like the tail of a hibernating dragon and you could make out the first houses of the others in the distance, those strangers, children of another god, the Kabards.

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Translation Tuesday: “Petri in Tunisia” by George Gömöri

this sweetened life will turn as bitter as / saliva mixed with blood in your mouth before you spit.

To ring in the new year, past contributor George Gömöri revisits the final year in the life of Hungarian poet György Petri (1943-2000). In the 1980s, Petri had been one of Communist Hungary’s most outspoken dissidents. He spent his last holiday abroad in Tunisia in early 2000 and died of throat cancer later that year. May this poem be a reminder to us all to make the most of our living moments.

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Translation Tuesday: Wanich Jarungkitanand’s “We Both Live Here . . . in the Same Soi”

She’s totally unaware that she has a secret admirer, an ardent observer.

Aree Manosuthikit’s translation of this short story by renowned Thai writer Wanich Jarungkitanand takes us to the urban slums of Bangkok, where a university student falls in love with a young woman who lives in his neighborhood. A poignant commentary on the social ills facing contemporary Thai society, “We Both Live Here . . . in the Same Soi” is one of Jarungkitanand’s best-known stories.

My house is in a soi (a narrow street branching off a main road). It’s like a thousand other cramped and congested sois in Bangkok’s Thonburi district. Since I have no time to mingle or make friends with anyone, I know only two people in this soi: the lady owner of a coffee shop and another from a small restaurant I frequent. We’re just acquaintances. Though I know them both by name, I don’t see why they should know mine or why I should bother to identify myself.

This soi is like all other sois, harboring boisterous gangsters and delinquents. They sit idly around in the coffee shop waiting for the weekend to come. Then they scoot over to the racecourse, come back flat broke at sunset, cry like babies over the money they’ve just squandered, and then plot a way to get it back in the darkness of the night.

This soi is a safe zone for drug pushers and addicts who abuse all sorts of illicit substances, from painkillers and marijuana to opium and solvents. It’s also a haven for all classes of thieves, from bandits-in-chief to rookies and the whole gamut in between. Frequenting this coffee shop has given me the idea that if I wanted to get involved in illegal activities, I could be an agent for the experienced criminals infesting this soi who steal cars, burglarize, brawl, rob, and murder. Once I witnessed two nonlocal gangsters getting beaten to a pulp right in front of the coffee shop.

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Translation Tuesday: Subimal Misra’s Anti-Fiction

It’s because of the trustworthiness of the writer’s effort that a piece of text is simultaneously story, history, proclamation, and personal diary.

Subimal Misra began writing exclusively for little magazines in the late sixties. His stories soon came to be known as ‘anti-stories,’ although he calls them ‘films.’ Misra credits Jean-Luc Godard with teaching him language, i.e., cinematic language, where the film is like an argument. By the end of the seventies, Misra was the uncrowned prince of Bengali parallel literature. But he had not written a novel because it would have been too long to get published. However, he had already started thinking of a longer format and the anti-novel, Actually This Could Have Become Ramayan Chamar’s Tale, a meta-fiction, appeared in 1982. This was followed by When Colour is a Warning Sign (1984), in which Misra carried the form he adopted in Ramayan Chamareven further—a kind of kaleidoscopic look at the society, world and times around him, focussing pointed beams of light on slivers of lived reality. With The Feathered Neck (1990), Misra completed his anti-novel trilogy. In 1988, Misra also wrote an essay explaining his ‘anti-novel.’

In this excerpt from When Colour is a Warning Sign, Misra shares an account of giving his manuscript to an editor to read, becoming dejected after the latter’s comment, and finally emerging with greater clarity and vision.

—Translator V. Ramaswamy

 

In the course of writing, I gave the manuscript to Nirmal-da of College Street to read and he later sent me his valuable opinion by letter. Nirmal Gupta was in his fifties, his sideburns were entirely grey, he ran a serious little magazine called Eikhon, it sold about a thousand copies. After reading his letter, as I was wondering whether I could write afresh, in a simpler way—as I was grappling with the subject—I saw to my surprise that Nirmal-da too was becoming entangled in the text, he was becoming another incident and clearly the complexity was continuously growing, multifarious, and more, what I have never thought also emerges clearly, page after page.

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Translation Tuesday: ‘Labyrinth’ by Kamil Bouška

A thin room showed me the map of the world and loneliness

This week, we travel to the Czech Republic, where the poet Kamil Bouška brings us ‘Labyrinth’, translated by Ondřej Pazdírek, winner of the 2017 Beacon Street Prize in poetry. Moving from a room to vast nature, to suburbia, and more, this poem rapidly moves between small and large worlds, negotiating a maze of all that ‘a strip of light’ touches.

Labyrinth

A strip of light

in a threadbare carpet

lights up cities,

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Translation Tuesday: Xenia Emelyanova, Untitled

“Once upon a time,” I hear. “We were alive, we lived, bred impassability in our heads,

Xenia Emelyanova’s luminous “A golden cloud goes to fetch / the evening star” is dedicated to Russian punk singer Yanka Dyagileva who drowned under mysterious circumstances in 1991. Dyagileva’s final recording, “Pridyot voda” (The Water is Coming), includes the refrain “The water is coming / I will sleep.”

In this poem, as in her other work, Emelyanova explores what it means to be a woman, mother, and artist alienated from her surroundings and, at the same time, inextricably bound to them. Emelyanova’s poems resonate with an inner spirituality tied to nature, motherhood, and a certain faith in eternity and rebirth that shines through even the deepest suffering. For the translator, these poems present particular problems of register because their simplicity, sincerity, and spirituality are qualities difficult to render in contemporary English, where so much of our poetic discourse is highly self-conscious and skeptical.

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Translation Tuesday: Three Poems by Cyntha Hariadi (UWRF Feature)

you materialize an ocean / and I, a fish inside.

Welcome to the seventh and final installment of A World with a Thousand Doors—a multi-part collaboration with the Ubud Writers & Readers Festival to showcase previously untranslated contemporary Indonesian writing. This week, we feature three poems by award-winning Indonesian writer Cyntha Hariadi, translated by Asymptote’s Editor-at-Large for Indonesia, Norman Erikson Pasaribu.

We suggest reading installments onetwothreefourfive, and six of the series if you haven’t already. We also recommend the final reflection by Festival attendees Norman Erikson Pasaribu and Tiffany Tsao, Asymptote‘s Editor-at-Large for Australia.

Hands

they used to paw the sky, squeeze the clouds

they fought the wild crows, bargained with the gatekeeper of heaven

 

these hands—they took down the moon, put it here to light this bedroom

they tickled the sun, so it shone longer, brighter

 

now, they cave in every time I raise them up

they squeal in pain at the mere task of tying up my hair

 

sewn-up to this chest, they can only wait

for the saviour to stop its never-ending sob READ MORE…

Translation Tuesday: Mirror Beach by Dewi Kharisma Michellia (UWRF Feature)

Everyone is drowned in the sea of the universe. Jostling about, fighting the waves.

Ubud Writers and Readers Festival may have concluded last month, but our series, A World with A Thousand Doors hasn’t! In our penultimate installment of the series, we are proud to present a short story by Dewi Kharisma Michellia. 

“Dad, have you found the keys?”

I often hear grateful people say that each day in life has its own blessing.

“Son, put in the luggage in the trunk. Why do I have to tell you this? Where is your brother?”

If those people really admire the mystery of time, then it’s only fair if they extend the same admiration to space.

“If we leave now, will we still be able to see the sunrise, Dad?”

Each place has its own value, which can only be felt by those attached to that place.

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Translation Tuesday: Funeral Home by Ratih Kumala (UWRF Feature)

I don’t know where she got the news, but suddenly here she is, standing outside the hospital room.

Welcome to the sixth installment of A World with a Thousand Doors—a multi-part showcase of hitherto untranslated contemporary Indonesian writing. Curated by Norman Erikson Pasaribu and Tiffany Tsao, this series is a joint initiative between Asymptote and the Ubud Writers & Readers Festival. This week, Ratih Kumala, author of Cigarette Girl, spins a story in two voices—one belonging to a grieving widow and the other to her late husband’s grieving mistress. New to this series? Then do read installments one, two, three, four, and five. Stay tuned for more.

The first thought that entered my head when my husband gave up what remained of his ghost was how that woman might actually have felt more grief than me, his wife. At that moment, the clock hands shifted. It was three in the morning. My daughter sobbed, crying out for her Papa, her heartrending shrieks echoing down the hospital corridor. I wept quietly, while my son went very mute and cold.

I don’t know where she got the news, but suddenly here she is, standing outside the hospital room. Her face is darkened with grief. She attempts to enter, to approach my husband’s body, but I don’t let her in.

“Please. Have some respect for our family as we mourn,” I hiss. She stops short and looks at me for a while. Then she turns and walks away, probably crying as she goes.

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