Translations

Translation Tuesday: Excerpts from Mediterranean Suite by Florin Caragiu

Not far away, the frescoes catch in their fishing nets The memory and the wind. Closely following behind us, the dolphins.

Today’s Translation Tuesday is brought to you by MARGENTO, Asymptote Editor-at-Large for Romania and Moldova, and poet and translator Marius Surleac. As you immerse yourself in these lines, it is worth keeping in mind Florin’s unique profile and approach to creation as he combines poetry, mathematics, and Eastern Orthodox theology. There is a specific emphasis on mystical practice, particularly the kind that involves “iconic Hesychasm.” These excerpts from Florin Caragiu’s work, Mediterranean Suiteexplore a sense of nostalgia, loss, and change.

Excerpts from Mediterranean Suite

It was only after long that we found the poet’s grave

In the graveyard by the sea. We barely made out

His name on the burial stone. We had passed

The spot several times

Without noticing it. Just as day after day people keep reaching

Your sight and you have no idea what they’re holding back.

Just as the blotchy calligraphic lettering

Overshadows a voice and its sharp beams

Coming out of a cloud of sea gulls, out of the lighted beacon

Piercing the sea’s costa and its coastal heart,

The wave amphitheater, and the city’s watery arteries.

 

Not far away, the frescoes catch in their fishing nets

The memory and the wind. Closely following behind us, the dolphins.

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Translation Tuesday: Excerpt from Formaldehyde by Carla Faesler

​"There is a human heart the size of a fist inside of a jar."

This glimpse into a new work by Carla Faesler offers an intriguing portrait of a married couple’s life and the spectre of their daughter, memories of a deceased mother, and a heart preserved in a jar. This excerpt seems to almost represent a cross-section of the story, focusing on one particular, seemingly normal day, yet with flickers of the past as well as into the future. The ending leaves us unsettled, but wanting more—we’ve become witness to a family’s mysterious secret, and we won’t be let go just yet. 

Excerpt from Formaldehyde

“The heart, if it could think, would stop.”

—Fernando Pessoa, Book of Disquiet

Febe, Larca’s mother, swallows her pills in the morning. Her circulatory system pumps the pharmaceuticals in minutes. Only then can she cook breakfast. When the effect peaks, she’s finishing her second cup of coffee. Larca walks to school hand in hand with Celso, her father, while Febe, engrossed like a hen, perches in her armchair, purveying a section of foliage out the window, a bit of sky, the fraction of a lamp post, to wonder how her husband, after dropping off their daughter, can walk to the hardware store and hoist the storefront’s heavy curtain under the constant watch of the guards. The physical force flushes red Celso’s face, supplied with blood by a network of fine veins. Then Febe, pallid, stands to fix her hair and slip something on in time for her husband to come home. Once he’s climbed the stairs, they greet one another with the warmth of a hand resting on a shoulder or the idle motion of clothes settling. Immediately then, two mannequins long out of fashion go down the white wood stairs. They drive to the market to buy food, and they check up on grandma’s house, which is really the house of Cristina, Celso’s dead mother, where everything remains unchanged thanks to Aurora who, despite her ponderous age, has held to her thrifty ways. They leave behind some groceries and the daily request that she resist the cloisters that have her walled in, consumed. It’s not that there are ghosts, with the family legend there would be enough dead to populate a country, it’s Aurora who frightens herself, the terrible appearance of her varicose veins, her wearied insides burdening her with the notion that she won’t ever disappear.

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Translation Tuesday: To a Girl Sleeping in the Street by Nazik al-Mala’ika

"people are a mask, artificial and fake, their sweet, gentle exteriors hide burning hate"

Though best known as the pioneer of “free verse” in Arabic, Nazik al-Mala’ika was in fact a fervent defender of Arabic meter, both in her poetry and in her criticism. Indeed, her theory of free verse was not very “free” at all, but rather took the undulating metrical feet of classical Arabic verse as the basis for a new prosodic system. Where classical poetry is governed by fixed line lengths and strict monorhyme, al-Mala’ika’s prosody allowed modern poets to vary the number of feet in each line and weave their rhymes as they saw fit. “Meter is the soul that electrifies literary material and transforms it into poetry,” she wrote in the critical text Issues in Contemporary Poetry. “Indeed, images and feelings do not become poetic, in the true sense, until they are touched by the fingers of music and the pulse of meter beats in their veins.”

To honor al-Mala’ika’s belief in meter’s vitality—the way it can anchor meaning in the body, transforming ordinary speech into a form of incantation—I have rendered her metered, rhymed Arabic verse into English metrical forms that reproduce, in some form, the music of the Arabic. Where al-Mala’ika uses the mutadarik or “continuous” meter in Arabic, for example, I use anapestic hexameter, English’s answer to Arabic’s most galloping verse form. Al-Mala’ika’s poetry, with its balance between tradition and innovation, ultimately teaches us not to deal so violently with the past, but rather to tread lightly in poetry’s ancient footsteps. My hope is that my English renderings of her verse might begin to do precisely this.   

— Emily Drumsta

To A Girl Sleeping In The Street

In Karrada at night, wind and rain before dawn,
when the dark is a roof or a drape never drawn,

when the night’s at its peak and the dark’s full of rain,
and the wet silence roils like a fierce hurricane,

the lament of the wind fills the deserted street,
the arcades groan in pain, and the lamps softly weep.

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Translation Tuesday: Excerpts from Tempodrome by Simona Popescu

"You have as many countries as the languages you speak."

Today’s Translation Tuesday is brought to you by MARGENTO, Asymptote Editor-at-Large for Romania and Moldova. The lyrical excerpts from Romanian essayist and poet Simona Popescu’s writing explore a mood—memories of the nineties related as if at a remove, stating plainly what the narrator saw, while encapsulating the myriad complications simmering beneath the still surface of the narration. 

“I confess I do not believe in time. I like
to fold my magic carpet, after use,
in such a way as to superimpose one part
of the pattern upon another.”
—Vladimir Nabokov, Speak, Memory

“Then everything regroups as if in a hot fog
where things recover among the obscure
plantations of the accidental.”
—Gellu Naum, The Blue Riverbank

“I have no idea of time, and I don’t wish to have”
—Wislawa Szymborska, On the Tower of Babel

In the house of my childhood, somewhere in my parents’ mixed up bookcase, leaning on a couple of books stood a black teddy bear in a white sash ribbon with some red lettering on it saying Grüsse aus Berlin. On other shelves there were other “souvenirs” from Abroad. For instance, a wooden cylinder with a lid in the shape of a Russian church dome, with a rose and the word “Bulgaria” burnt onto it. Inside was a vial of Bulgarian rose perfume. My folks never traveled Abroad. In fact, nobody in our little town ever traveled Abroad. Not even the Saxons and the Hungarians who, judging by the language they spoke, had to have another country somewhere, if push came to shove, right? You have as many countries as the languages you speak, the saying went. The Hungarians and the Saxons were therefore half foreign. But even so, even they never got Abroad—it was only the old people that sometimes went, but they always returned. Nobody needed them and they didn’t need anybody or anything except a quiet life in their homes. Only old people returned. They and the migrating birds.

It was me who had brought the rose perfume home. I was 12 when I went, without my parents, on a trip—well, yes—Abroad. I don’t recall much. It was I think in spring, there was I think a crisp sun, I was on a terrace I think by the sea, somewhere on a cliff, there were breakers I think in front of me, not very close though, I think I never went down the stairs to dip my toes in the sea. In the “vision” conjured by the word “Bulgaria” in which I’m a child a milky light and a bluish expanse approach me. And I’m all alone there, for a second, my back turned on everybody else. And I can hear a roaring wind. (I am back there anytime I want. I’m 12 and then—as I keep adding now—44. I hold an invisible butterfly net in my hand and collect images with it.) READ MORE…

The Cage by Valeria Cerezo

Finn didn’t respect anyone who had made his Grandma suffer, even if it had happened a long time ago.

A piece that will bring you face to face with the anxieties of childhood, with a dollop of the sticky sweetness of dulce de leche. It is a gorgeous treat that has been brought exclusively for Asymptote readers in translation by the Miguel Angel Asturias National Literature Prize for lifetime achievement winner, David Unger.

Finn is under the bed, perhaps the safest place in the world. The boy feels he has nothing to fear and yet, there he is, under the bed in the waning half-light. First he lies face down in back near the headboard. He finds a hair curler under the bed and spins it. He’s happy because sometimes the curler spins in a circle and other times it veers to the right or left.

There’s dust under the bed, a fine layer of dust. Finisberto imagines that his finger is a crayon and he draws the outline of a doll. He thinks it’s a good drawing. He turns on his back, counting the bed slats above him. He can hear someone calling his name from far off. It’s the calm voice of his grandmother, soft and sweet. “Fiiinnnn.” He likes the smell of his grandmother’s hands. Sometimes he grabs one of them and run it over his cheeks while watching television.

Her voice edges closer, dangerously close. Finn scrunches himself at the farthest corner under the bed and closes his eyes. He recognizes her steps on the carpet, the rhythm of her pace on the bare floor. He stifles his laughter. His grandma will think he’s lost; she’ll sit on the corner of the bed and shout out his name, pleading with God to make him appear. And then Finn will stick his hand out from under the fringes of the bedcover making believe it´s a cat´s claw hunting for his grandmother´s ankles.

This time, however, he has to be more imaginative: his grandmother already knows the cat-under-the-bed trick. This time he’ll pretend to be a spider climbing up her leg. Grandma will sit at the edge of the bed and call out to St. Kahn D. Cane, the patron of lost boys.

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Reevaluating the Urgent Political Relevance of 20th Century Brazilian Novelist Lima Barreto

"He’s the author who picks a fight with the republic, demanding more res publica."

Authors forgotten in their lifetimes sometimes resurface decades later, telling us stories that resonate far beyond their original historical moment. One such writer is Lima Barreto, whose poignant renderings of working class Brazilians from the turn of the twentieth century reverberate with contemporary relevance. Today, anthropologist Lilia Moritz Schwarcz tells Asymptote about her experience researching and writing the new biography of Lima Barreto, Lima Barreto, Triste Visionário, released in Brazil in July 2017.


Lara Norgaard (LN): In the biography you recently published, Lima Barreto, Triste Visionário, you read Lima Barreto’s fiction through the lens of history and anthropology. How was the experience of studying literature from that perspective? Why is historical context important for reading Lima’s work?

Lilia Moritz Schwarcz (LMS): Disciplinary contact zones are engaging spaces, but they are contested. I place myself at the intersection of anthropology, history, and literary criticism. It was a great concern of mine not to see literature as a direct reflection of reality, since we know that Lima Barreto, while reflecting on reality, also created his own. At the same time, Lima said he wrote literaturamilitante, a term he himself used. That kind of committed literature dialogues with reality.

Lima even suffered for that approach in his time. What we now praise as high literature used to be considered unimaginative. Can you believe that? His contemporaries said that because he referenced reality and his own life, he didn’t have imagination. For me, that was a big step. I thought, I’m going to write this life by engaging with the reality that Lima lived, just as he himself did. Take his first novel, Recordações do EscrivãoIsaias Caminha, which is the story of a young black man, the son of a former slave who takes the train to the big city, as Lima did. In that city he experiences discrimination. And the second part of the book is entirely a roman à clef, as it calls attention to journalism as the fourth estate. The novel was so critical that the media blacklisted Lima, and the book was terribly received. His story “Numa e a Ninfa” critiqued politicians and his second novel, The Sad End of Policarpo Quaresma, critiqued president Floriano Peixoto. Peixoto is part of the book. History enters the novel. And in that sense these novels dialogue with reality and invite the historian.

I also read the excellent North American biographer of Dostoevsky, Joseph Frank, who calls attention to how it’s possible for novels to structure a biography, not the other way around. So I tried to include Lima Barreto’s voice in my book. He’s the writer, and rather than explain something in his place it would be better to let him say it. And so, looking at the biography, you’ll find that I often intersperse my voice with Lima’s. Those were the methods I used working in the contact zones between disciplines.

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Translation Tuesday: Poem by Gintaras Grajauskas

"i improve the barricade: sealing cracks with old newsprint and chewing gum"

This week’s poem from renowned Lithuanian poet Gintaras Grajauskas stages a humorous and absurd scenario that hinges on the paradoxical phrase “it’s pointless to resist,” when in fact both sides are resisting each other. Indeed, in these dark and uncertain times, “resistance” is a word on many people’s lips, but Grajauskas knows that to take matters too seriously is self-defeating—after all, humor and satire is a form of resistance itself. In the end, however, what side we align ourselves can often remain a mystery, and all we’re left to do is build up our defences. We’re thrilled to present this translation in English from Rimas Uzgiris, who is the translator of Grajauskas’s book, Then What, forthcoming from Bloodaxe Books in 2018.

Untitled 

i’m building a barricade
around myself

pushing the armoire and bed together,
knocking down the refrigerator

they send a negotiator:
a pizza delivery man

it’s pointless to resist, he says

it’s pointless to resist, i reply

he exits like a victor,
leaving me crabmeat pizza

the postman comes, saying:
this is a registered letter, sign here

i sign, we both smile –
it’s pointless to resist, says the letter

i don’t argue, but politely agree:
there isn’t the slightest hope

then comes the mormon:
do you know god’s plan, he asks

i know, it’s pointless to resist, i say,
and the mormon murmurs down the stairs

so i improve the barricade: sealing cracks
with old newsprint and chewing gum

the doorbell rings and rings

the pizza delivery man, postman
and mormon are at the door

what more, i ask

you were right, they say, it’s pointless
to resist, and there isn’t the slightest hope

which is why we’re on the same side
of the barricade

Translated from the Lithuanian by Rimas Uzgiris

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Translation Tuesday: “Blind Spot” from Brief Cartography for Places of No Interest by Marcílio França Castro

"We banished from cartography all lions, mermaids, pygmies, and dragons. The sterilization of maps only confirms the disdain we have for nature."

When I first met Marcílio França Castro at a coffee shop in Brazil during the winter of 2016, he showed up toting a bag full of presents for me. When he dumped the bag onto the table, out came books, like he was some sort of combination of Jorge Luis Borges and Santa Claus. What most impressed me was his eagerness to promote Brazilian literature in general; several of the books were from his peers and not just ones he had authored. And perhaps Borges is a good comparison for Marcílio; indeed, his writing is in line with the likes of Borges, Calvino, and Cortázar. Yet he does not simply imagine other worlds, he perceives with brilliance unsuspected oddities in places of absolutely no interest. In his short stories, which range from traditional length to flash fiction, and with a prose that is at once economic and yet never lacking in precision, Marcílio França Castro transforms his culture’s most unsuspecting spaces into fantastic reading. The author and I have worked together in producing translations for many of his stories, overcoming differences in idioms, metaphor, sentence structure and other obstacles found in the passage from Portuguese to English. Most importantly, this project kept the translator sane during the subsequent North Dakotan winter of 2017. 

—Heath Wing. 

The manuals say such devices are made to take anything. Bumps, turbulence, high winds, lightning. Even crashes and hurricanes. It’s said they come out unscathed from the most intemperate of weather. You know the protocols. For every inconvenience there is a plan, an automatic fix. An aircraft like this one, with all its resources, ought to be, according to the manuals, practically uncrashable. That’s why, if it were up to manuals and manufacturers, our role would be merely to maintain course and keep her steady, taking advantage of the dignity of flight and the charm of our profession. And that’s really what we do here, before this gorgeous instrument panel, full of buttons and colorful lights: with the prudence it conveys, we relax and commend our fate and everyone else’s to the invisible wisdom of the display.

Look ahead. The sky’s magnificent, full of stars; someone might say it’s a painting commissioned to decorate the cockpit. A captain, from the moment of departure, always has his beard well-groomed, his uniform impeccable; he pilots the plane with swan-like indifference. That’s how the passengers see you. We fly calmly. The seats are anatomic and dinner well-balanced. An almost anesthetic experience. The Pacific is nothing more than an enormous tapestry of black silk that clips the horizon. We think and act as if the world outside no longer existed, as though the clouds and the ocean below us were but unfailing radar bleeps or a set of geographical coordinates. In truth, as we fly we simply ignore the substance found in Earth’s elements. Try this coffee, it’s wonderful.

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The Postcolonial Kitchen: Vietnamese Recipes from Marguerite Duras’ Childhood

Duras’ recipes illustrate how cooking—like literature, like memory—is a subjective experience in a continual state of being perfected.

The prolific French writer and filmmaker Marguerite Duras is perhaps best known for her novel The Lover, winner of the 1984 Prix Goncourt, as well as for her 1959 Oscar-nominated screenplay Hiroshima mon amour. In 1987, she published a collection of texts entitled La vie matérielle (Practicalities), in which she relates “everything and nothing” relating to her life, from her work to everyday thoughts. Duras was an avid cook and had intended to include some of her recipes in the collection, too. Ultimately, though, while some recipes made it into La vie matérielle, most did not. After Duras’s death in 1996, her son Jean Mascolo sought to rectify this by publishing the slim volume La Cuisine de Marguerite (Benoît Jacob), a collection of his mother’s recipes as recorded in her handwritten notebook. After a false start in 1999 when Duras’s literary executor blocked its sale, the book was finally republished and circulated in 2014.

The recipes in La Cuisine de Marguerite are a captivating mix of flavors and influences. This can be expected from any collection of recipes curated over a lifetime. However, given her international experiences, Duras’s collection ranges wider than many others. Traditional French fare is sparsely represented in her recipe book, with leek soup, vichyssoise, and chicken liver pâté scattered here and there among the more plentiful offerings of further-off origins: nasi goreng from Indonesia, rougail sauce from Réunion, spare ribs from the U.S. The recipes are mostly brief, though some are characterized by spirited notes, such as her instructions for Dublin coddle (“The Irish will tell you: add more wine […] Don’t listen to them.”) and gazpacho (“The Spanish use broth in the place of water. They’re wrong.”). In the preface to the book, Jean Mascolo writes that the book “has no other pretense than to evoke Marguerite Duras in a daily activity that she did not hesitate, with a smile, to make as creative as her writing.”

Among the most personal recipes in the book are those originating from the place of Duras’s birth in 1914: the Gia Định province in French Indochina, near what is now known as Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. Duras was the middle child and only daughter of two schoolteachers who had answered the French colonial government’s call for volunteers. Her father died early on, plunging the family into poverty, after which her mother allowed the children near-complete freedom. Unlike the other colonists, the siblings were allowed to play with Vietnamese children, and Duras spoke fluent Vietnamese. She had no taste for French foods—the Normandy apples and the meat that her mother occasionally served the family—preferring rice, soups from street vendors, and fresh fish cooked in nuoc-mâm, Vietnamese fish sauce.

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Translation Tuesday: The Judgement of Richard Richter by Igor Štiks

An excerpt from acclaimed writer Igor Štiks' soon-to-be-published novel, in translation.

Igor Štiks is no stranger to Asymptote. As his April 2012 interview with us states, he was born in Bosnia, wrote his books in Croatia, and now divides his time between Edinburgh and Belgrade. The title character of Štiks’ soon-to-be-published novel, The Judgement of Richard Richter, is a Viennese writer and journalist who retreats from Paris and a painful divorce to his childhood home of Vienna just as he’s turning fifty, in 1992. In the midst of remodeling the apartment where he’d been raised by his aunt Ingrid, he stumbles on a letter written by his late mother, hidden in a blue notebook, tucked behind a bookcase in a wall he’d been demolishing.

From the unsent letter, he learns that his father was a man Richard had never heard of—someone called Jakob Schneider, a leftist Jewish antiwar activist from Sarajevo. Just then, in April of 1992, the war is breaking out in Bosnia. Moved by this unexpected information about his parentage and the mounting hostilities in Bosnia, Richter decides to go to Sarajevo to report from there as a war correspondent and, while he’s there, to search for more information about his father.

Once he arrives he is quickly caught up in the reality of the war and, at first, he sets aside his search for his father. Instead he finds a student, Ivor, to serve as his guide and translator, and he and Ivor decide to shoot a film about a play which is being rehearsed, amid the terrifying conditions of the siege, by a Sarajevo theater, based on a script adapted from the novel, Homo Faber, by Max Frisch. While working on the play he falls in love with Alma, the play’s leading actress. It is from this love affair and the outcome of the search for his father that he flees with such shame and horror, as described in the opening sentences of the excerpt, which we’re thrilled to present to you today in contributing editor Ellen Elias-Bursac’s excellent translation.

When the United Nations transport aircraft took off from Sarajevo on the morning of July 7, I was convinced that shame would strike me dead right there if I looked back once more at the city. I stayed in the seat I’d been assigned and fended off the desire to gaze one last time through the window at Sarajevo as I fled. I held my face in my hands, dropped my head to my knees, and didn’t even rise to lift a hand and wave to the besieged city I’d arrived in as a journalist in mid-May—only to desert it that day like a coward running from my own personal catastrophe, which had intertwined so strangely with the city’s calamity. Coward-like, I repeat, with no word of farewell. Or better, like a beggar in disguise, because there was nothing left of the old Richard Richter but, perhaps, the name on the accreditation ID that allowed him to board the aircraft as simply and painlessly as if hailing a cab to whisk him away from a war he had no tie to whatsoever.

And the tears that dripped onto the grimy iron deck of the aircraft, finding their way through his tightly squeezed fingers, might be perceived as nothing more than a perfectly reasonable human response to what he’d been through, a reaction to the stress that is invariably a part of the work of a journalist, a release of emotions now that the danger had finally passed, after our famous writer, valiant correspondent, and shrewd analyst of this tragic European war at the century’s end had chosen to withdraw. Perhaps to write a fat new book about his experiences and the bravery it took to be there, on the spot, before anybody else could, to open the eyes of Europe—as long as the honorarium was generous enough. No one knew that the man they took pains to extract from the plane that hot day in Split when the plane had landed was no longer the man listed on the ID attached to his shirt. No longer did he answer to that name.

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Translation Tuesday: Archilochus on the Solar Eclipse, 648 BC

All that we human beings have assumed will be in doubt

In tribute to the total solar eclipse that was visible across the United States on Monday, we’re excited to present a poem written nearly 2500 years ago on April 6, 648 BC by Archilochus, a Greek lyric poet from the island of Paros who was well-known for composing poems based on his emotions and experiences. What remains of the poem Archilochus composed is a fragment that recounts a solar eclipse, where, needless to say, things get very weird very quickly. Translated by Aaron Poochigan. 

Nothing’s unreasonable, nothing too much, nothing stunning,

now that Zeus the Father of the Gods has cloaked the light

to make it night at noontime, even though the sun was shining.

Terrible dread has fallen upon men. From here on out

all that we human beings have assumed will be in doubt,

and no one should be shocked to see, in briny acres, land

animals, walking creatures, having sex with dolphins, when

their four legs come to love the sounding waves more than the sand,

and dolphins with their flippers come to love a mountain glen.

*****

Aaron Poochigan is the author of the thriller in verse Mr. Either/Or (www.mreitheror.com) and the poetry collection Manhattanite (www.aaronpoochigian.com).

*****

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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: “Periyamma’s Words” by B. Jeyamohan

I felt that manners were nothing more than knowing to say the appropriate English words at the right times.

Continuing our spotlight on Close Approximations contest winners, we present today the top entry in the fiction category, notable for being the first Asian translation to receive the top award in the history of our contest, now into its third edition. (Find the official results and citations by judges David Bellos and Sawako Nakayasu here.) From 215 fiction and 128 poetry submissions, these six best emerging translators were awarded 3,000 USD in prize money, in addition to publication in our Summer 2017 editionJudge David Bellos says: “There were several contenders for second place, but I have absolutely no doubt that the prize itself must go to the charming, wonderful, unusual story of “Periyamma’s Words” by the Tamil writer B.Jeyamohan in Suchitra Ramachandran’s translation. It is a witty and heart-warming tale illustrating the paradoxical position of translation itself, as a way of crossing boundaries and as a way of understanding what boundaries cannot be crossed.”

Come, go, stop, food, clothes, son, daughter, road, house, sky, earth, night, day—these words came rather easily to her. If I said those words in Tamil, Periyamma would reply with the corresponding English words. It was only when Periyamma jumped to say ‘cat’ before I could say poo– that I realized I was quizzing her in order. So I changed the order. But then Periyamma started saying the English words just by looking at my eyes. So I pointed at different animals and asked what they were. Periyamma said naaipoonaikozhi in Tamil and then translated them—‘dog,’ ‘cat,’ ‘hen.’ It was only after Periyamma had mastered a hundred basic words—she would say them even before I could ask—that I moved on to concepts. That was when all hell broke loose.

Periyamma was not my periy-amma, big-mother, a name usually reserved for one’s maternal aunt. But everybody in our town called her that. Her house, they called the Big House. Situated in the town centre, that bungalow was built by Periyamma’s grandfather Thiruvadiya Pillai a hundred and fifty years ago. The word about town is that when it was built, the glass for the house sailed in from Belgium, the teak came from Burma, the marble from Italy, and the iron from England. The people who came to grind limestone for its walls stayed on permanently in our town, and as a result our town acquired a Lime Street. Our carpenters also moved in during that period. Periyamma’s wedding took place in that bungalow. That was the first time a mottaar came to our town. The newlyweds were paraded about town in that Ford motor car. Periyamma was not to step foot into that car ever again.

It has been forty years since Periyamma’s husband passed away. Her only son Arumugam Pillai had been a lawyer in Madurai, and he died there. His four sons were variously placed in Chennai and Delhi and Calcutta. None of them are alive now. A daughter of the oldest grandson is a doctor in America. She is the only person who has some semblance of a relationship to Periyamma. Periyamma went on living in that town, an ancient relic in the eyes of its fourth-generation inhabitants. In the olden days their family had six thousand acres of land to their name. Over the years, it had shrunk in various ways to a hundred acres. Those hundred acres had been neatly partitioned and sold over thirty years ago. In the end, all that was left over for Periyamma was that house, two acres of land around it, a good sum in the bank, and her jewelry. But that was more than enough for her to live in state.

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Translation Tuesday: “What No Longer Exists” by Krishna Monteiro

“Where is everyone?” They’re not here, I reply. They no longer exist, I proclaim.

Today’s Translation Tuesday feature is from Brazil. Adam Morris’s skillful translation brings out the haunting quality of the piece, a stunning meditation on life and the afterlife. 

“In the desert of Itabira
the shadow of my father
took me by the hand.”
—Carlos Drummond de Andrade

The first time I saw you since you died, you were in the living room, in front of my bookcase. The same immaculate beige overcoat as always, the firm press of your shoes crushing the surface of the carpet. You were reordering my books, removing volumes, violating pages, polluting my silence, my secrets. You were pulling from the shelves authors who had taken shelter there long ago, characters and dreams long since forgotten. Without realizing the distance between the two worlds that separated us, without considering that perhaps the cognac and cigarettes or the nightly fumes in which I indulged might be responsible for your return, I went down the stairs into the living room of the big house on Rua da Várzea where you and I and she (do you remember her?) had lived for so long. I ran down the stairs possessed, threw myself in front of you and addressed you with a courage that had never pulsed in me during the entire time you remained among the living.  READ MORE…