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Latest Review: "For Grace Received" by Valeria Parrella

The latest addition to our Reviews Section is a piece by Acacia O’Connor on Valeria Parrella’s For Grace Received, which was published by Europa Editions last fall (which is approximately 7 catalogs in “Publishing Time”) in Antony Shugaar’s translation.

Acacia is one of the MALTS (Masters in Literary Translation Studies) students here at the University of Rochester. (For more info on our programs, click here.) She’s been interning for Open Letter all semester, during which time she came up with a couple killer marketing ideas, including an iPhone app that we need a developer for (it’s an anti-guinea pig game) and a really, really cool idea about reading groups, the physicality of books, and Benjamin Stein’s The Canvas.

She actually wrote this review for another class, for which she was supposed to write a review that really looked at the translation as a translation. Which makes this a really interesting piece.

They say “See Naples and die” (Vedi Napoli e poi mori). I once thought this meant that Naples, bordered on one side by a still-active volcano and the sparkling sea on the other, is so breathtaking that there’s no use searching for anything more beautiful. Not so, a southern Italian corrected me. In Naples you notice every little angle of life: Leopardi’s desert flower growing out of the Vesuvian hillside; sad-faced old women in babushkas living on the ground floors of bent and dirty alleys; desperate Senegalese immigrants scheming to pick the pockets of almost-as-desperate Neapolitan teenagers; the soaring song of the tarantella. After a few days in Naples, you’ve soaked in everything in its chaotic, dirty, beautiful honesty.

[. . .]

The collection consists of just four stories, but together they manage to touch on many of the major obstacles life in Naples—or anywhere else—presents. Okay, so there are some things that life does not thrust upon everybody: stabbings, mob bosses, stints in prison, adulterous affairs, drug trafficking, black market books, black market CDs. But in a certain sense these events are incidental. They are presented matter-of-factly, because for anyone familiar with a certain reality of Naples it truly is a matter of fact. Equally important to Parrella’s stories, however, are the emotional consequences for her characters, who sense the limitations of their lives and grapple with them. A copy shop boy in the story “Siddhartha” who once played guitar beautifully and could again, maybe, someday. The woman who despite having it all, longs for “The Imagined Friend.” They are conscious of Possibility and this awareness is painful.

The challenge Parrella’s work presents the translator is that it is idiomatic and makes use of the local dialect. The narration is conducted in a modern voice of Italian while dialogue makes frequent use of dialect. When I began reading Shugaar’s translation before having read the Italian, I wondered if the author had cut down using dialect in this second book of short stories. Well, yes and no. Neapolitan does appear less frequently, appearing via the use of mo’ (now/_adesso_) and ‘sto (this/_questo_), for example. Where it does appear, however, is practically invisible in translation, indicating that Shugaar has normalized the text, attempting to render it in a single English voice. Not only are they normalized, sometimes dialect phrases or casual comments do not always appear in a similarly casual voice in English, thus seeming overformalized.

Click here to read it all.



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