Open Letter’s Ingrid Winterbach took home the M-Net Prize in Afrikaans last night for her newest novel, Die Benederyk. She also won in 2007 for The Book of Happenstance, which just so happens is on sale now.
Three Percent favorite Ivan Vladislavic also won last night, in the English category, for his novel Double Negative.
Just an FYI: We’re giving away 10 copies of Book of Happenstance via GoodReads. If you’re interested in getting in on the action, just follow the directions below.
I first found out about this, because they included an excerpt from Ingrid Winterbach’s The Book of Happenstance, which we’re bringing out in June. The excerpt is fantastic, naturally, but the care and design that’s gone into this web feature is equally impressive. In addition to the excerpt itself, the righthand column contains a number of cool extras, including a link to read the piece in the original Afrikaans, or to hear Ingrid read it in Afrikaans. There’s also a note from the translators (Ingrid and Dick Winterbach). Obsessed with translation issues as I am, I think their comments are really interesting:
An important motif in the novel The Book of Happenstance is the loss of words in Afrikaans – the countless words that have fallen into disuse for a variety of reasons. The protagonist is a lexicographer, who collaborates with an etymologist in cataloguing these obsolete words. The novel accordingly foregrounds language: it focuses on unusual words, word play, the etymology of words, free association. This foregrounding of language poses very specific difficulties for the translator. It requires an attention to language akin to that needed for the translation of poetry.
These disused words occur frequently in the text (sometimes running for paragraphs on end). What is interesting for an Afrikaans reader, however – familiar with the current status of a word – could very well be wearisome to the foreign language reader, unnecessarily and frustratingly slowing down the narrative. The challenge was to retain as many of the words as possible – but still make them as captivating as possible for the foreign reader.
Also included in this issue of Asymptote:An excerpt from Imre Kertesz’s Fiasco which is translated by Tim Wilkinson and has a very striking opening:
Your manuscript has been assessed by our firm’s readers. On the basis of their unanimous opinion we are unable to undertake publication of your novel.
We consider that your way of giving artistic expression to the material of your experiences does not come off, whereas the subject itself is horrific and shocking. The fact that it nevertheless fails to become a shattering experience for the reader hinges primarily to the main protagonist’s, to put it mildly, odd reactions. While we find it understandable that the adolescent main protagonist does not immediately grasp what is happening around him (the call-up for forced labour, compulsory wearing of the yellow star, etc.), we think it inexplicable why, on arrival at the concentration camp, he sees the bald-shaven prisoners as “suspect.” More passages in bad taste follow: “Their faces did not exactly inspire confidence either: jug ears, prominent noses, sunken, beady eyes with a crafty gleam. Quite like Jews in every respect.”
It is also incredible that the spectacle of the crematoria arouses in him feelings of “a sense of a certain joke, a kind of student jape,” as he knows he is in an extermination camp and his being a Jew is sufficient reason for him to be killed. His behaviour, his gauche comments repel and offend the reader, who can only be annoyed on reading the novel’s ending, since the behaviour the main protagonist has displayed hitherto, his lack of compassion, gives him no ground to dispense moral judgements, call others to account (e.g. the reproaches he makes to the Jewish family living in the same building). We must also say something about the style. For the most part your sentences are clumsy, couched in a tortuous form, and sadly there are all too many phrases like “…on the whole…,” “naturally enough,” and “besides which …”
We are therefore returning the manuscript to you. Regards.
There’s also a section of Liu Zhenyun’s Cell Phone, which is described by translator Howard Goldblatt:
Cell Phone began as a joint project between Liu Zhenyun, one of the country’s most respected novelists, and Feng Xiaogang, creator of the cinematic blockbuster and China’s most successful director of mainstream films. The co-written script for the movie spawned the novel, both of which appeared at the end of 2003. While observing friends at a party kept busy answering cell phones, Liu noted the camouflage and pretenses employed in many of the conversations, which seemed to hold deep secrets, and he sensed that these instruments of ubiquitous communication could be a double-edged sword, capable of linking practical utility to moral expedience. That is the core issue of Liu’s novel, whose light-hearted, often comical tone lays a thin veil over the author’s evocation of the cost of technology’s incursion into urban life and the concomitant loss of privacy, already in short supply in Chinese society.
The insular village surrounded by oceans of billowing needle trees is one of the recurring themes in Lindgren’s writing. In The Tree, this conceptual image is crucial. Isolated in time and space, the village comes to stand for the paradoxical pairing of insular, uncultivated narrow-mindedness and refined, perfected, material and social culture where everyone and everything knows its place and function. It is a seemingly eternal place, of great beauty and cultural depth, yet always on the brink of annihilation.
Asymptote is quickly establishing itself as one of the most interesting—and best designed—translation websites out there. Keep up the good (and beautiful!) work.
The new issue of everyone’s favorite provocatively named webmag/blog is now available and includes a few translation-related items.
First off, there’s a review of To Hell with Cronje by Ingrid Winterbach and translated from the Afrikaans by Elsa Silke. The review is solid, and starts with a nice bit that references BTBA longlist title Agaat.:
2010 might be called a banner year for Afrikaans women in English, if a few fat books can be said to make a banner. Marlene van Niekerk’s Agaat won a blurb from Toni Morrison and a review from The New York Times, while a reprint of Begging to be Black by Antjie Krog flew disappointingly under the radar. Somewhere in the middle was Ingrid Winterbach’s To Hell With Cronjé, published by Open Letter Books back in September in an adroit translation by Elsa Silke. Not to be outdone by the extravagant praise heaped on Agaat, Open Letter brought out the big guns: Winterbach has produced no less than “a South African Heart of Darkness,” we’re told, “an eerie reflection of the futility of war.”
Heart of Darkness, of course, was published in 1902, the same year in which To Hell With Cronjé takes place. And to be sure, there are other similarities as well: Winterbach’s novel explores the familiar “dark side” of English colonial expansion, and it does it in a chilly, not-quite-accessible way that recalls Marlow’s uncanny journey upriver. But there is a pointed irony to the fact that a book about the Anglo-Boer war should be compared to this most famous “Khaki” exploration narrative. Winterbach’s is a tale told from the other side, of a people formatively stuck between colonizer and colonized. (She is not alone in this effort: André Brink, for example, has made numerous recent forays into white South African vigilantism at the turn of the twentieth century.) While Conrad anticipated the glorious twilight of an empire, Winterbach rests on the tip of an iceberg that’s only begun to form.
There’s also a review of Javier Marias’s While the Women Are Sleeping, translated from the Spanish by Margaret Jull Costa:
Given Javier Marías’s clear love for dark motivations and ghost stories — not magical realism, thanks, but the kind of creepy Poe-tasting that confounds literalists and raises kids’ hackles ‘round the campfire — While the Women Are Sleeping is initially a confusing prospect. The collection’s ten stories span thirty years, from 1968 on, but his narrators all feel like different flesh on the same skeleton, a parade of bourgeoisie vacationing with wives or visiting New York or taking sinecures in Spain; they exist as non-entities, mere witnesses with interchangeable values. Characters encounter specters both literal (“The Resignation Letter of Senor de Santiesteban”) and dubious (“One Night of Love”), but with resignment: where rabbit-hole fate draws, say, thematic predecessors like Juan Preciado (from Juan Rulfo’s classic spookfest Pedro Páramo) or Felipe Montero (Carlos Fuentes’s Aura) deep into the uncanny, Marías’s narrators operate in helpless acquiescence to the macabre. When the nameless chronicler of Sleeping’s title story discovers an acquaintance’s plan to murder his lover Inés, he’s not provoked or frightened so much as discomfited — while the prospect of another’s death gives him pause, it’s the newly discovered proximity to the dark side that makes him paranoid and neurotic.
Of course, that’s Marías’s milieu: for all his promised heebie-jeebies, his real hobbyhorse is everyday solipsism.
There’s a lot of interesting non-translation related stuff as well, including an article on the lifespan of the literary magazine, and interviews with Bradford Morrow (whose new book seems to be getting a lot of praise), Emma Straub (interviewed by super-bookseller Michele Filgate), and Evan Lavender-Smith.
OK, so I didn’t get to writing up all the things I wanted to this week, but before taking off for Amsterdam and the Non-Fiction Conference (see next post), I thought I’d share our Summer 2011 catalog.
With a little luck, I’ll highlight each of these next week, with excerpts and the like, but for now, here’s a list of all five titles along with links to their Open Letter pages, where you can find cover images, jacket copy, links to excerpts, author bios, etc., etc.
Excellent collection of Monzo’s stories, and the second book of his that we’re publishing. Next up: 1000 Morons.
This is the first of three Chejfec titles we’re publishing, the other two being The Dark and The Planets. First came across Chejfec in a post by Scott Esposito at Conversational Reading linking to a recommendation at Hermano Cerdo written by Enrique Vila-Matas about how totally awesome this book is. (Or some similar Spanish phrasing.) We then went on to buy the rights to all three books thanks to a brilliant excerpt that was in BOMB magazine.
This is one of the funniest books I’ve ever read. And the second Open Letter book in which guinea pigs are subjected to uncool things. I get the strangest reaction from friends when I try and describe just how funny the narrator’s guinea pig “experiments” are. Like the one with the record player. Or the stove. Or the bathtub. . . . Um, yeah. But seriously, it’s hysterical—mainly because of the voice of the befuddled, clueless narrator. And we have some awesome promotions in mind for this . . . none of which involve the harming of physical, living guinea pigs. Promise.
This new collection by Can Xue (who has also been published by New Directions, Northwestern, Yale, and Conjunctions) is the first Chinese title to come out from Open Letter. She’s a very interesting, unique writer who reminds me a bit of Rikki Ducornet. The stories are a bit surreal, surprising, and, at time, disorienting in a very pleasurable way.
We published Winterbach’s To Hell with Cronje last fall to some good attention. She’s a stark, interesting South African writer, and in the end, I think Book of Happenstance is an even better book than Cronje . . .
More all next week . . .
The second issue of Little Star (Ann Kjellberg’s new magazine) is available now, and actually contains an excerpt from Ingrid Winterbach’s forthcoming novel, The Book of Happenstance. (Not to jack this post, but I’ll be posting info about all our spring titles—including this one—in the very near future.)
To celebrate Winterbach, Little Star just posted an excerpt from her first Open Letter novel, To Hell with Cronje.
Read, enjoy, and purchase here. (And don’t forget to support Little Star—such a wonderful journal. In addition to Winterbach, Issue #2 contains an story from Juan Jose Saer . . . )
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