Thanks to a blown out tire, which forced me to spend most of last Friday riding in a tow truck and sitting in a tire shop, I didn’t have a chance to write my weekly Weekend Reading post.1 So this week, I’m going to triple up on the normal post and write about the three books I hope to spend the next four days reading.
First up is Wiesław Myśliwski’s A Treatise on Shelling Beans, which is translated from the Polish by Bill Johnston and published by Archipelago Books. In case you don’t remember, Bill’s translation of Myśliwski’s Stone Upon Stone won the Best Translated Book Award in 2012, so I’ve been looking forward to this for a couple years.
And to be honest, I’ve been reading it for the last week. In many ways, it’s similar to Stone Upon Stone—a long, looping monologue detailing the crazy adventures of one person’s life, very plain language, intricate narrative structure—but also a bit different in the way that narrator isn’t quite as self-mythologizing as the guy from Stone Upon Stone, and the general setting (in a part of Poland completely destroyed in WWII). Regardless, it’s an excellent book, and one that I’m definitely going to finish tonight or tomorrow, and will be reviewing in full next week.
Next up is a book I should’ve read years ago: The Girl with the Golden Parasol by Uday Prakash, translated from the Hindi by Jason Grunebaum, and available from Yale University Press. Jason is a good friend, and one of the funniest people I know, which is one reason it’s inexcusable that I’ve had this on my “to read” shelf for so many months.
The main reason I’m picking it up now though is thanks to Jason’s essay “Choosing an English for Hindi” from the invaluable collection, In Translation, which was put together by Esther Allen and Susan Bernofsky.
In this essay, Jason invents two possible readers for this novel—Krishna, who lives in South Delhi, is a polyglot who is comfortable reading and speaking in Hindi, English, and Panjabi; and Kris, an English-reader born in Detroit and living in Chicago who has lots of South Asian friends and has attended bhangra dance parties. The crux of Jason’s piece is on whether he should translate The Girl with the Golden Parasol for Krishna (and the potentially huge audience of Indians who would be comfortable reading this book in English), or for Kris (and the much smaller number of American counterparts who might buy this), and what falls out from that particular decision.
Leaving certain words from the Hindi in the English translation won’t be the only difference in strategy if I translate for Krishna. I might also decide to write in a more South Asianized English. I might use an idiomatic phrase like, “I am just coming,” confident that Krishna would take this to mean what in American English would translate as, “I’ll be right back.” Sometimes Uday’s characters use English words in their Hindi or even speak in complete English sentences, like when the protagonist, Rahul, bursts into tears, and his friend implores him (and this is the Hindi), “Don’t be senti, Rahul!” “Senti” comes from the word “sentimental,” and here means an excessive public display of emotion: when someone loses it, can’t keep a grip on himself, fails to keep a grip on himself or hold it together. Krishna would know what “senti” means, and I could leave this, and many other instances of English-in-the-Hindi, as is.
There are several more interesting examples, but you’ll just have to buy, borrow, or steal In Translation to find out what they are.
And the last book I’d like to get to this weekend: The Only Happy Ending for a Love Story Is an Accident by J. P. Cuenca, translated by Elizabeth Lowe, and available from Tagus Press.
First off, this is a Brazilian book, and if you’ve been following this blog at all the past few months, you’ve probably heard about my Brazil obsession. (Which will culminate in our publication of Rafael Cardoso’s The Chronicle of the Murdered House in Margaret Jull Costa’s translation a few years from now.) As a result, I’ve been reading bunches of Brazilian books, but mostly by author’s I’d already heard of. By contrast, I hadn’t heard of J. P. Cuenca until reading “Before the Fall” in Granta’s special young Brazilian authors issue.
It’s also really intriguing that the setting for this book is Tokyo, in the near future, and featuring a mad poet whose hobby is spying on his son. I’ve read the first few chapters in this book, and can confirm that the jack copy is pretty much on target:
In poetic and imaginative language, Cuenca subtly interweaves reality and fiction, creating a dreamlike world whose palpable characters, including a silicone doll,2 leave a lasting impression. Written like a crime novel, full of odd events and reminiscent of Haruki Murakami’s work,3 this disturbing, kaleidoscopic story of voyeurism and perversion draws the reader in from the very first page.
What I really like about this book though is the title. Such a great title. And the fact that it’s from Tagus Press, a relatively new venture specializing in lusophone writing.
Anyway, that’s it for this week—see you after the break!
1 OK, yes, I know this is only “weekly” in my mind, but I do have every intention of making this a more regular feature. Also, to follow up on the last one of these posts—the one about Viviane by Julia Deck—I have to tell you that Viviane turned out to be amazing. So amazing that I’m going to be teaching it in my class next semester, and highly recommend it to everyone.
2 If I had written this copy, I would’ve referred to Yoshiko as a “silicone sex doll.” I’m not sure how accurate that is, but from the first page: “I could not be anything else because I have this body, and I only have this body, I am this body. And the purpose of this body is just one thing: to serve Mr. Okuda.”
3 But better.
At some point, we’ll run a review of this book, but for now, I just wanted to point out UWAP’s conscientious approach to highlighting the fact that this book is a translation—an approach that truly sets a new standard for all publishers to follow.
First off, here’s the front cover. Note that Jason’s name is equally as large as both the title and the author. That in and of itself is pretty impressive.
BUT, what’s really impressive is the spine:
And there you are. Based on this single data point, I think that from now on every publisher who fails to acknowledge the translator on the spine deserves to be publicly shamed.
Simply put, Jason Grunebaum is one of the funniest people I’ve ever met. Super energetic, witty as all get out, he should have his own reality show. (Or something.) At least a podcast. Or a regular guest spot on someone else’s podcast. (Jason: you going to be at MLA? If so, let’s talk.) He’s also one of the only Hindi translators I know . . . and I’m hoping that one day Open Letter will publish a translation of his.
There’s a slew of soon-to-be-profiled translators (like Becka, J.P., and Edward) that I first met at ALTA Richardson, which, though it wasn’t in the most hip, or interesting of surroundings (I mean, damn, the most entertaining thing we found was a 24-hour Casket Store—how’s that for nightlife?), was one of the first ALTA conferences I attended where I hooked up with a lot of young, fun translators.
Anyway, I feel like Jason and I have a special bond thanks to our time together at the Salzburg Seminar last February. After five days in a palace drinking beer on the honor system in the bierstube, we developed a certain rapport . . .
Jason is another person I’d point to as one of the key figures in the future of ALTA as an organization. He’s literally boiling over with ideas. His massive social network for translators, the Hindi translation competition, etc., etc. I can only imagine how much fun his classes at the U of Chicago must be, and I’m excited to read the novel that he’s been working on . . . Anyway, onto the questions and comments:
Favorite Word from Any Language:
“garbar”—a mess, fiasco, Benny Hill style descent into chaos
This is the perfect word for Jason to choose. I have no other comments.
Best Translation You’ve Done to Date: The Girl with the Golden Parasol by Uday Prakash
This came out last year (?) from Penguin India, but has yet to be released in the U.S. (Which maybe isn’t terribly shocking, but is a bit disappointing. There are so few Hindi books published in America—there’s only one listed in the translation database—and to have Jason helping promote . . . ) You can read a sample of this by clicking here. And here are links to a few reviews: Dawn.com, Tehelka, and The Telegraph (India).
Book that Needs to Be Published in English Translation: Basharat Manzil by Manzur Ahtesham
Another surprise: not much information online about this book. But here’s a (fairly generic) description I found:
Set in pre-independence Delhi, centred around a quiet building, Basharat Manzil, home to Billo and Bibbo. A story of love, patience and understanding. A story of ghazals, tawaifs, Batashonwali Gali, unfulfilled dreams and unrequited love.
The lives of the residents of Basharat Manzil, in particular that of Amina Begham, reflect the lives of millions of Indians. In this is the triumph of the novellist, that the reader easily identifies with the protagonists of his novel and as we read the novel, the story of Basharat Manzil quickly becomes the story of our own lives.
Hopefully as time goes on, people will start to read more Indian literature not originally written in English, and Jason will be there to translate and promote it.
Foreign Policy may not be the first magazine you think of when you think of literature in translation, but Britt Peterson put together a really cool set of translation-centric features for the May/June issue.
First off is a piece by Edith Grossman that’s related to her book Why Translation Matters:
The dearth of translated literature in the English-speaking world represents a new kind of iron curtain we have constructed around ourselves. We are choosing to block off access to the writing of a large and significant portion of the world, including movements and societies whose potentially dreadful political impact on us is made even more menacing by our general lack of familiarity with them. Our stubborn and willful ignorance could have—and arguably, already has had—dangerous consequences. The problem starts in the Anglophone publishing industry, where translated books are not only avoided but actively discouraged. [. . .]
Publishers have their excuses, of course. A persistent but not very convincing explanation is that English-language readers are, for some reason, put off by translations. This is nothing but a publishing shibboleth that leads to a chicken-and-egg conundrum: Is a limited readership for translations the reason so few are published in the Anglophone world? Or is that readership limited because English-language publishers provide their readers with so few translations?
To supplement this piece though (which is pretty much lifted from Edie’s aforementioned book), Britt put together a very cool feature called Overcoming the Language Barrier featuring nine translated pieces from around the world:
“I write in a language that has little to do with tulips, windmills, or silly snowmen with carrot noses, a language honed to denote Africa in all its harshness, cruelty, and beauty,” Thomas Dreyer writes in his essay “Not Our Leguaan.” It’s also a language, Afrikaans, that is rarely translated into English—like most languages, in fact, as literary translator Edith Grossman elaborated in her article for our May/June issue, “A New Great Wall.” But Dreyer’s piece, grappling with the complexities of creating art out of the language that once created apartheid, offers a crucial perspective for understanding the affairs of his country, and so do the eight other pieces in our first-ever Foreign Policy translation project.
Here’s the complete list of translated pieces with links to each one:
Very cool, and hopefully this isn’t just a one-off . . . It would be great if FP could run some translated works of nonfiction every so often . . .
Though far from the most convincing reason to read literature in translation, one common side effect is learning of another culture, of its history. Within that, and a stronger motivation to read, is the discovery of stories not possible within. . .
Despite cries that literature is dead, dying, and self-replicating in the worst way, once in a while a book comes along to remind readers that there’s still a lot of surprise to be found on the printed page. To be. . .
“I was small. And my village was small, I came to know that in time. But when I was small it was big for me, so big that when I had to cross it from one end to the other,. . .
A few weeks after moving into a farm house in the Welsh countryside, Emilie, an expatriate from the Netherlands, starts to think about her uncle. This uncle tried to drown himself in a pond in front of the hotel where. . .
Think back to the last adventure- or action-type book you read. Wasn’t it cool? Didn’t it make you want to do things, like learn to shoot a crossbow, hack complicated information systems, travel to strange worlds, take on knife-wielding thugs,. . .
In Aira’s Shantytown, while we’re inside the characters’ heads for a good portion of the story, the voice we read on the page is really that of Aira himself, as he works out the plot of the book he’s writing.. . .
Noir is not an easy genre to define—or if it once was, that was a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away; as a quick guess, maybe Silver Lake, Los Angeles, 1935. When two books as different as. . .