Russell Valentino is a superstar in the world of literary translation. Just look at his bio from the University of Iowa:
Russell Scott Valentino is professor of Slavic and comparative literature and chair of the Department of Cinema and Comparative Literature. He has published a monograph on nineteenth-century Russian literature and seven book-length literary translations from Italian, Croatian, and Russian. His essays, translated fiction, and poetry have appeared in journals such as The Iowa Review, Two Lines, POROI, Circumference, Asia, Modern Fiction Studies, Slavic Review, and 91st Meridian. He is the recipient of a 2002 NEA Literature Fellowship and a 2004 Howard Foundation fellowship, both for literary translation, as well as two Fulbright research awards to Croatia.
And if that’s not enough, he’s also the founder and publisher of Autumn Hill Books (a few months back we reviewed Becka McKay’s translation of Suzane Adam’s Laundry, which was published by Autumn Hill), and was recently named the editor of the Iowa Review, replacing David Hamilton, who has been editing the journal for the past 2 years. (And yes, Russell has plans for bringing more translation to the pages of the Iowa Review. And launching an online review section that may even cover some books not yet translated into English.)
Unfortunately, we interviewed Russell before coming up with the “favorite word in any language question” (Russell: maybe you could add something in the comments?), but here are the rest of his responses with my comments in italics:
Most Difficult Translation You’ve Ever Done: Persuasion and Rhetoric by Carlo Michelstaedter
As you might have noticed, Russell rephrased our question from “best thing you’ve ever translated” to “most difficult,” pointing out that it took him ten years to complete this book, which was published by Yale University Press in 2004 and is available (in part) via Google Books. I don’t know much about the book itself, but this brief description from Amazon.com sounds intriguing . . . and a bit depressing:
Ostensibly a commentary on Plato’s and Aristotle’s relation to the pre-Socratic philosophers, Michelstaedter’s deeply personal book is an extraordinary rhetorical feat that reflects the author’s struggle to make sense of modern life. This edition includes an introduction discussing his life and work, an extensive bibliography, notes to introduce each chapter, and critical notes illuminating the text.
hours of completing Persuasion and Rhetoric, his doctoral thesis, 23-year-old Michelstaedter shot himself to death. The text he left behind has proved to be one of the most trenchant and influential studies in modern rhetoric, a work that develops Nietzschean themes and anticipates the conclusions of, among others, Martin Heidegger.
Books You Think Need to Be Published in English: La Langue maternelle and Apres J.C. by Vassilis Alexakis
One of the joys of asking a lot of translators what books should be published in English is finding out about authors you’ve never heard of . . . although maybe you should have. Alexakis isn’t exactly unknown, having won the Prix de l´Académie Française in 2007 for Apres J.C. Of course, there’s not much info available on him in English, but according to Wikipedia (World’s Favorite Go To Source for Quick Info), he “is a Greek-French writer of numerous novels in Greek, his mother tongue, and French. His works, drawn from two cultures, are full of tender irony; his style gives the reader an intimate and personal perspective on his stories.” Although neither of these two books are available in English, Autumn Hill published Alyson Waters’s translation of “Foreign Words“http://www.autumnhillbooks.com/foreign_words/foreign_words.htm a few years back. Here’s the AHB description:
Foreign Words is a book that takes us on a journey through time and space with the story teller as he travels from Paris where he lives as the book opens, to Greece where he grew up, and where his father has just died, to the Central African Republic as he undertakes the study of Sango.
Why learn Sango is a question the book’s narrator himself has trouble answering. His ruminations on the surprising decision to study it are both humorous and penetrating.
Following up on last week’s post about the various summer/fall 2010 previews that came out from The Millions and elsewhere, I thought that over the next few days, we’d highlight some forthcoming titles that sound pretty interesting to me. Sure I’m missing things and whatnot, so feel free to overload the comments section with recommendations.
The Return by Roberto Bolano, translated from the Spanish by Chris Andrews (Chile, New Directions)
Let’s start in the Southern Cone with the latest book from international superstar Roberto Bolano. Fans of his can’t get enough, and this collection of stories—his second to appear in English—should be fantastic. The earlier story collection, Last Evenings on Earth, is one of my favorite of all his ND books. And this collections sounds just as stunningly strange and wonderful: “Consider the title piece: a young party animal collapses in a Parisian disco and dies on the dance floor; just as his soul is departing his body, it realizes strange doings are afoot — and what follows defies the imagination (except Bolaño’s own).”
The Private Lives of Trees by Alejandro Zambra, translated from the Spanish by Megan McDowell (Chile, Open Letter)
Personal favorite from our list. I love Zambra’s style, his directness. This book is about a man who tells his step-daughter a nightly bedtime story about “The Private Lives of Trees.” On this particular night his wife is late . . . and then later . . . and later. And the book ends when either she arrives or he decides she never will. If you want a chance at winning a free copy of this, visit our Facebook page and “like” or comment on the Private Lives of Trees post.
Tumasik: Contemporary Writing from Singapore edited by Alvin Pang, translated from Chinese, Malay, Tamil and English by a variety of translators (Singapore, Autumn Hill)
Not surprisingly, not many works of literature from Singapore make their way into this country, which is one reason why this book is so intriguing. This anthology is a collaboration between Autumn Hill Books and the University of Iowa’s International Writing Program and features work from thirty-nine contemporary writers. To illustrate the range of pieces in this book, here’s a brief description of a few pieces (from Autumn Hill’s website): “Tan Chee Lay’s meditative ‘Post-Terrorist Phenomena,’ a candid re-examination of the War on Terror, carries the subtle assurance of centuries of literary tradition in ‘san wen,’ a popular Chinese form of creative non-fiction; Malay-Muslim Johar Buang’s verse is recognizably modern, yet draws from the same mystical tradition as Rumi and other Sufi masters; Yeng Puay Ngon’s Ginsbergesque long urban poem, Wena Poon’s magic realist short story and Xi Ni’er’s barbed fictive quips would all find favor in global literary circles today, while remaining grounded in a sense of place.”
Winter Journey by Jaume Cabre, translated from the Catalan by Patricia Lunn (Spain, Swan Isle Press)
A few years back, when I visited Barcelona on an editorial trip—and fell in love with the works of Merce Rodoreda and Quim Monzo, along with Spanish wine, tapas, and the entire Catalan culture—Jaume Cabre’s massive book Les veus del Pamano had recently come out. It sounded pretty interesting, but for a variety of reasons, we couldn’t get it on our list. So I’m really glad that someone else is making some of his work available. Winter Journey is supposedly a collection of short stories, but according to Swan Isle it is “a singularly brilliant and enigmatic narrative, novelistic in its approach, with mysterious connections linking characters, objects, and ideas across time and place. The text takes the form of a Schubertian musical progression in prose, a philosophical mystery moving freely through a labyrinth of centuries and cities, historical and contemporary.”
Tomorrow we’ll look at August . . .
Three Fates Linda Le Mark Polizzotti New Directions
A relatively young press, Autumn Hill Books is one of those impressive indie presses that gets nowhere near the attention it deserves.
Autumn Hill Books is a nonprofit based in Iowa and is closely linked to the writing programs at the University of Iowa, especially the International Writing Program. (Which is no surprise, since AHB’s founder, Russell Valentino is an Associate Professor of Russian, Cinema and Comparative Literature, at the University of Iowa.)
The mission of the press is noble: “Autumn Hill Books is an Iowa non-profit corporation whose emphasis is on making fine translations of primarily contemporary literature from around the world more widely available in English.”
I just received three of their recent publications in the mail: Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh by Slobodan Novak, translated from the Croatian by Celia Hawkesworth; The Death of the Little Match Girl by Zoran Feric, translated from the Croatian by Tomislav Kuzmanovic; and Anima Mundi by Susanna Tamaro, translated from the Italian by Cinzia Sartini Blum and Russell Scott Valentino. Each of these books looks really interesting and are representative of the unique, exciting fiction coming out from indie presses these days.
Feric’s The Death of the Little Match Girl is the one that I’d like to read first, due in part to Michael Orthofer’s review and this bit from the description:
It is a world unto itself loaded with creepy settings, biazarre exchanges, and dark, sardonic humor. The novel ends up being not so much a murder mystery as a bizarre, uncomfortable fusion of detective story, crime novel, political thriller, and raw, grotesque fiction. In short—Balkan krimic.
Overall, this is one of those presses that more people should know about, and their forthcoming title Laundry by Suzane Adam sounds intriguing.
The Boston Globe has an excerpt from Poems from Guantánamo: The Detainees Speak, which is:
a collection of 22 poems by 17 detainees at the US detention center at Guantánamo Bay. Edited by Marc Falkoff, each poem had to be cleared by the Pentagon.
I think this book—which also features an afterword by Ariel Dorfman —is quite a coup for the University of Iowa Press. The University of Iowa, in addition to the U of I Press, also supports the intriguing Autumn Hill Books, who seek to make “fine translations of primarily contemporary literature from around the world more widely available in English.”
Prose translators will likely disagree, but I believe translating poetry requires a significant level of talent, a commitment to the text, and near mania, all of which suggests that the undertaking is the greatest possible challenge. The task is to. . .
The biggest issues with books like The Subsidiary often have to do with their underpinnings—when we learn that Georges Perec wrote La Disparition without once using the letter E, we are impressed. Imagine such a task! It takes a high. . .
Following The Infatuations, Javier Marías’s latest novel seems, like those that have preceded it, an experiment to test fiction’s capacity to mesmerize with sombre-sexy atmospheres and ruminative elongated sentences stretched across windowless walls of paragraphs. Thus Bad Begins offers his. . .
Death by Water, Kenzaburo Oe’s latest novel to be translated into English, practically begs you to read it as autobiography. Like The Changeling, as well as many other works not yet released in English, Death by Water is narrated in. . .
Jocelyne Saucier’s Twenty-One Cardinals is about the type of unique, indestructible, and often tragic loyalty only found in families. For a brief but stunningly mesmerizing 169 pages, Twenty-One Cardinals invited me in to the haunting and intimate world of the. . .
We know so very little; so little that what we think to be knowledge is hardly worth reckoning with at all; instead we ought to settle for being pleasantly surprised if, on the edge of things, against all expectations, our. . .
Many of Virginie Despentes’s books revolve around the same central idea: “To be born a woman [is] the worst fate in practically every society.” But this message is nearly always packaged in easy-to-read books that fill you with the pleasure. . .