Special thanks to Megan McDowell for sending me a whole new batch of translator photos so that I can continue this series.
For those who don’t know, this series grew out of an idea I had at the American Literary Translators Association (ALTA) conference that took place back in November. Megan McDowell (the official ALTA photographer) and I thought it would be fun to ask a bunch of translators a few questions and thus make them more “visible.”
A few short weeks after the conference, and just as this series was getting into high gear, ALTA sent out an e-newsletter that posed the question, “Do You Recognize Any of These Translators?” and included a link to a page on their site where a picture of me was identified as Lucas Klein. (It’s now fixed.) This was a source of great amusement to a few people, and thankfully Lucas and I were both able to appear at the same party at the same time to put to bed all those Clark Kent/Superman rumors. (No, I don’t know which is which either.)
I do feel like there is some sort of weird connection between the two of us though . . . I mean, that picture does sort of look like Lucas. And more to the point, my grandfather’s name was “Klien,” so maybe we’re inverted doppelgangers or something. The least we could do is have a shibboleth to identify other mislabeled translators that are part of our little clique . . .
Onto the questions:
Favorite Word in Any Language: Cipher
Tying this back into “shibboleth,” I think Mr. Klein has a bit of an obsession with secret societies and codes . . .
Best Translation You’ve Done to Date:
“I’ll come is empty talk I’ll go and then no trace”
Lucas was the first (and I believe only) translator to take my question and reinterpret it in a much more precise, micro sort of way. I was really hoping someone would give us a single line instead of a full work—there’s something powerful about this sort of focus.
Book That Needs to Be Published in English Translation: Poems of Li Shangyin
Li Shangyin was a poet of the late Tang Dynasty, but the most interesting facts from his Wikipedia entry are:
Edward Gauvin is simply awesome. I first met him when he was working at the French Publishers’ Agency. Actually, that’s not exactly accurate. I first corresponded with him when he was at the FPA, but I first met him in person when he was visiting Rochester. See? People do visit Rochester. Edward’s actually been up here twice (at least), including last fall when he was here to participate in a Reading the World Conversation Series roundtable with Michael Emmerich, Martha Tennent, and Marian Schwartz. (Click here to watch the video of the event—it really was one of the best RTWCS events to date.)
One of the things I really like about Edward is his broad literary interests. Sure, he’s well versed in the Oulipo, in all facets of “high art,” but he also knows a shitload about international science fiction and translates a lot of graphic novels for First Second Books. (Another reason to love Edward—and this isn’t an intentional attempt to bury the lead—is just how much he knows about international comics. It looks like I’m going to help put together a series of events at the next New York ComicCon related to international graphic novels, and along with Douglas Wolk and Laurel Maury, Edward’s one of my go-to people for info on who/what I should know about.)
Edward was also an ALTA fellow a few years back, and has since had a residency at the Ledig House and found a publisher for his first book-length prose translation (the beginning of which won him the fellowship . . . I think).
Anyway, to the questions:
Favorite Word in Any Language: “Indefferer” to be indifferent to as in “cela m’indiffere,” which is equivalent to “that leaves me cold.” “Thesauriser” (or “to amass”) comes a close second.
To amass something with complete indifference . . . sounds like b-school speak.
Best Translation You’ve Done to Date: has to be my labor of love to date and first book-length prose fiction translation: A Life on Paper, the selected stories of Georges-Olivier Châteaureynaud
Small Beer Press will be publishing this in May, and more info can be found here. Before linking to some of the online excerpts, here’s the jacket copy, which is sure to get more than a few people interested:
In many ways, Châteaureynaud is France’s own Kurt Vonnegut, and his stories are as familiar as they are fantastic. A Life on Paper presents characters who struggle to communicate across the boundaries of the living and the dead, the past and the present, the real and the more-than-real. A young husband struggles with self-doubt and an ungainly set of angel wings in “Icarus Saved from the Skies,” even as his wife encourages him to embrace his transformation. In the title story, a father’s obsession with his daughter leads him to keep her life captured in 93,284 unchanging photographs. While Châteaureynaud’s stories examine the diffidence and cruelty we are sometimes capable of, they also highlight the humanity in the strangest of us and our deep appreciation for the mysterious.
Sounds like something we’ll definitely be looking at for the 2011 Best Translated Book Award . . .
Most Difficult Translation You’ve Ever Done: “The Red Loaf” by Pieyre de Mandiargues. He’s another mid-century fantastical writer. His Goncourt-winning novel The Margin was translated by Richard Howard (as were a number of others through Grove, and Boyars), and his sadistically decadent The Englishman in His Château was recently published by Dedalus Press, in their notable European fantasy line. None of his many short stories have yet appeared in English.
This is sort of a bonus question from Edward since most translators either answered the “best translation you’ve done” or “most difficult.” But what the hell, Mandiargues sounds pretty interesting as well . . .
What Book Needs to Be Published in Translation: the stories of Noel Devaulx
As Edward mentioned in an e-mail to me, there’s not a ton of info on Devaulx available online, but there is a more academic article by Mark Temmer entitled “Noel Devaulx: His Fantasies and Allegories” that has a nice provocative opening:
Noel Devaulx writes as much to be misunderstood as to be understood. The resolution of the paradox lies in the nature of irony, which displays ignorance or weakness to further its own ends. It must be confessed, however, that such stratagems do not always succeed; initial defeats may be too great or adversaries too dull. And lest so much subtlety go to waste, it seems worth while to renounce human encounters in favor of anonymous readers on whose part one may suppose intelligence and sympathy.
Noël Devaulx is the secret master of the 20th century French fantastique. His prose has the shimmer of Mérimée and the seemliness of Flaubert; clearly, he keeps Nerval by his bedside, the better to read it by the light of a Baudelairean lunacy. In his hands, the Kunstmärchen—nine collections’ worth, over nine decades—is reinvented as the vessel of a personal metaphysics; evident in every one is his mandarin mastery of narration. Jean Paulhan, an early champion, famously called his hermetic, exquisite tales, oft-featured in the NRF, “parables without keys”: spellbinding, even when perfectly obscure, for the secret to his prose is promise. Some enticing deferral of revelation extends past his final lines, into silence. [. . .] Many of Devaulx’s tales are haunted by death and madness, but Sainte Barbegrise reads like a virgin spring, or a breeze from a summer kingdom. It belongs, for its humor, for its merry invention, for its skillful use of marvel, on a shelf with Little, Big, At-Swim-Two-Birds, or The Complete Tales of Ketzia Gold.
Click here to read the rest of the posts in the “Making the Translator Visible” series.
I was actually a bit scared of Wendy when I first met her. Not because she was particularly frightening (I’ve gotten over my fear of librarians . . . well, at least most of them), or because she was so much taller than most of the other translators (“tall” being totally ALTA-relative), but because the first thing she told me was that she had been hoping to meet me so she could ask about the manuscript she had submitted months and months ago . . .
(Quick digression: Although we do try our best to read and evaluate all submissions in a timely manner, you have to understand that this is incredibly complicated and time-consuming. On the low end, we receive 5-10 queries or submissions every week. And E.J. VanLanen is responsible for reading them all. [That’s called “passing the buck.”] At the same time, he’s also responsible for the website, editing all the books we are publishing, contracts, etc., etc. So, yes, we fall waaaayyy behind. A more relevant excuse re: Wendy is the fact that she sent it to the “email@example.com” address. Don’t do that. Send all your submissions either to me or to E.J. at e.j.vanlanen [at] rochester.edu. And we will read them. Sometime. Promise. End digression.)
After withstanding the storm of embarrassment, I did spend a good deal of time talking to Wendy. She’s a very funny, bright person who works as a librarian at Mansfield University and has a few interesting alphabet obsessions. Namely, she works her way through her “to read” shelves based on the author’s last name (I think she told me she was into the F’s, but I might be misremembering), and seeing that she already knows English, French, German, and Hindi, she next wants to learn either Dutch or Italian to keep the alphabet streak alive. (I think she was half-joking about that, but hey, why not?)
On to the questions:
Your Favorite Word in Any Language: Potato, pomme de terre, kartoffel, आलू (aloo)
I feel like there was a story behind Wendy’s love of the word “potato” in all the languages she knows, but I’ll be damned if I can remember what that story might be.
Best Translation You’ve Done to Date: Chapter 1 of Wendy 2 ou les Secrets de Polichinelle (Wendy 2 or The Secrets of Punch) by Vincent Ravalec
Book That Needs to Be Published in English: Vincent Ravalec in general!
This is the chapter that Wendy submitted to us so, so many months ago, so I actually have a ton of info from her cover letter about Ravalec and this particular book. Here are the highlights:
Vincent Ravalec is a well-known contemporary French writer of avant-garde novels, short stories, poems, and pop songs. Born in Paris in 1962, he stopped his formal schooling at the age of fourteen, then worked as an apprentice carpenter and assistant movie producer before beginning to write in the early 1990s. In 1994, he was awarded the very first Prix de Flore for his novel Cantique de la racaille (Flammarion), which he later adapted into a film. He has since been rolific, publishing fourteen novels, five collections of short stories, one volume of poetry, three essays, and a work of non-fiction to date. His better-known works include Un pur moment de rock’n roll (Le Dilettante, 1992), Vol de sucettes (Le Dilettante, 1995), and L’effacement progressif des consignes de sécurité (Flammarion, 2001).
Wendy 2 (Flammarion, 2004) begins as the strange tale of a young Parisian girl named Wendy Angelier who finds herself contacted by the spirit of a murderer who died in a prison brawl when Wendy was eight and half. The catch is that the murderer is also named Wendy Angelier, and she claims to be an Angel sent by God’s Secret Service to initiate young Wendy into the fold. As Wendy senior explains the universe to her young charge, leading her down ever more dubious paths, Ravalec’s narration heightens the reader’s sense of unease with constant interjections alluding to some terrible purpose. Gradually Wendy’s friends and family get sucked into the unknown horror that seems to be lurking around every corner, and the prospect of a happy ending looks bleak.
But then, more than three-fourths of the way through, everything is suddenly uprooted from the fictional world and dropped abruptly into our own, with Ravalec himself not only meeting his characters but becoming one of them. This is the sort of meta-fictional twist that literary critics love to analyze, but Ravalec beats them to the punch. Very shortly after the narrative shift, he provides a careful list of all the ways in which it could be interpreted, leaving the reader unable to determine the truth with any kind of certainty. In the end, there are more questions than answers, and Ravalec has earned an unassailable place in 21st-century experimental fiction.
And there you go. And yes, I did read the sample immediately upon return from ALTA . . . E.J.‘s looking at it now. [Buck officially passed once more.]
Click here for other entries in the “Making the Translator Visible” series.
This is a bit of an interlude post in the series. I don’t have a picture of Charlotte—she wasn’t at the ALTA conference—so I’m hardly following through on the “visible” aspect of these entries, but after writing about the “most published translators” of the past few years, it was brought to my attention that Charlotte Mandell should basically top this list.
Which is true. Over the past two years, she’s translated:
Abdelwahab Meddeb, Tombeau of Ibn Arabi and White Traverses, with an afterword by Jean-Luc Nancy. (Fordham University Press, 2009)
Jean-Luc Nancy, The Fall of Sleep. (Fordham University Press, 2009)
Jonathan Littell, The Kindly Ones. (HarperCollins, 2009)
Pierre Bayard, Sherlock Holmes Was Wrong: Reopening the Case of the Hound of the Baskervilles. (Bloomsbury, 2008)
Jean Paulhan, On Poetry and Politics (co-translated with Jennifer Bajorek and Eric Trudel). (University of Illinois Press, 2008)
Marcel Proust, The Lemoine Affair. (Melville House, 2008)
Peter Szendy, Listen: A History of Our Ears. (Fordham University Press, 2008)
Pierre Birnbaum, Geography of Hope. (Stanford University Press, 2008)
Honoré de Balzac, The Girl with the Golden Eyes. (Melville House, 2008)
Mathias Enard, Zone. (Open Letter, 2010)
Which is phenomenal, impressive, Herculean even. Just in terms of total pages, this is impressive (Zone’s a long book, but not nearly as long as The Kindly Ones), but in terms of overall quality, difficulty of the texts, etc., this is an incredible feat.
And just to explain: The reason Charlotte didn’t pop up on the list yesterday is because a number of these are works of nonfiction, which aren’t logged into our database. I wish we could track nonfiction to, but we’re only three people (and honestly, I’m the only one who enters stuff into the database), who also have to run a publishing house, write grants, sell books, teach interns, etc., etc. But one day! One day when we receive a healthy-sized grant from a progressive foundation/individual/government organization who realizes the true value of this study, we’ll be able to add on nonfiction, kids books, graphic novels . . . And go back in time so that we can better identify translation/publication trends. So if you know anyone with a little extra money . . .
Anyway, since I can’t make her visible with an ALTA pic, instead I’ll just repost this video of a conversation between Charlotte and E.J. VanLanen that took place here in Rochester a couple months ago and features a very odd moment of chair theft:
And Charlotte—keep up the amazing work!
OK, I’ve really fallen behind with this series of posts, but I’m getting back on track now. . . . Although in my defense, I’m still waiting for a few more photographs . . . But anyway, here we go with Erica Mena’s write up:
Meeting Erica was one of the real highlights of ALTA. I’ve already gone on and on about how cool passionate translators are, and how many are — to steal a phrase from Susan Harris of WWB — “alluringly short,” and Erica fits both of these categories. At the first panel I went to, she stood up for the rights of young translators to essentially “play jazz” when bringing literature from one language into another. (This might be too much to explain here, but to provide a bit of a context, this panel was in honor of Suzanne Jill Levine, and during the discussion she talked about how translation was essentially performance. That in a way, the original text was a score, and it was up to the translator to bring it to life in a new context/space. Then someone said you had to practice for decades to become skilled enough to be able to do this. All the younger people gasped—who wants to slave away at translation for decades to get to the part where it gets fun! Obviously, you need to know the rules to know how to break them, but starting with that in mind sounds a bit more appealing and productive.)
We spent a good deal of time together at the conference—including an epic dinner that featured Erica screeding about Junot Diaz’s The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, which she totally abhors—and have become close friends since, so I could go on and on here.
But sticking with the professional side of things, Erica was also on the “future of ALTA” panel and will definitely be playing a large role in this organization’s evolution. She’s the head of the publications committee and is also helping redesign the website into something much more useful than what currently exists. (No offense, but the ALTA site is barely more functional than the Houghton Mifflin Harcourt website, which is most definitely the nadir of all publisher websites . . . at least until Ron Hogan gets over there and starts fixing HMH’s e-strategies.)
Most importantly, Erica and I will be launching a translation-centric podcast early next year. (Not written in stone, but we’re thinking of calling it the Reading the World podcast . . .) We’re planning on recording a half-dozen episodes at MLA with people such as Larry Venuti, Esther Allen, and Suzanne Jill Levine. As someone who’s wanted to podcast for years, I’m really psyched to finally have a plan to actually do these . . . in that way, Erica’s a bit of a catalyst for good things . . . I’ll definitely post about this again once we have more concrete details about when these will be available, etc.
Anyway, onto the questions!
Your Favorite Word in Any Language: Enmudecer, which means “to fall silent.”
Personally, I love verbs for non-actions. Reminds me of Vila-Matas’s Bartleby & Co. and the “Literature of the No.”
Best Translation You’ve Done to Date: “Tales from the Autumn in Gerona” by Roberto Bolaño
Ok, so most everyone agrees that the poetry of Bolano’s collected in The Romantic Dogs isn’t really his best work. Or even necessarily great poetry. But according to Erica—and I’ve read a bit of her translation and have to agree—Bolano’s prose poetry is much, much better. “Tales from the Autumn in Gerona” is from Tres, which consists of three prose poems and which may be forthcoming from New Directions. (Although that’s a bit unclear . . . Maybe someone could e-mail/post a comment to clarify?) I know Erica finished a translation of this collection last year, and again, based on the part that I’ve read, I think Bolano fans everyone would appreciate reading this collection . . . In the meantime, Words Without Borders will be publishing “Tales from Autumn in Gerona” in their March issue . . .
Book that Needs to Be Published in English: String by Farhad Shakley, a Kurdish Poet
Another cool thing about Erica is the work she does helping collaborate on translations from Arabic into English. She’s not fluent in Arabic, but works wiht a fellow translator to transform a more literal translation into poetry. This sort of “collaboration” is always a bit controversial, with translators, publishers, writers, and readers coming down on both sides of the issue. See recent arguments about Pevear and Volokhonsky, etc. At Dalkey, we published a couple collaborations that Damion Searls did that were absolutely wonderful (I’m thinking of Jon Fosse’s Melancholy), and the retranslation of The Golden Calf that we’re releasing tomorrow is another excellent example of how translator collaborations can be extremely effective. In my opinion, however it happens, making more Arabic poetry accessible to English readers is indisputably a very good thing.
In terms of Farhad Shakley, here’s a link to his Wikipedia entry. [INSERT TYPICAL DISCLAIMER ABOUT WIKIPEDIA HERE.] Sounds like an interesting guy, both for his poetry and for the fact that he used to publish Mamosta-y Kurd, a Kurdish literary magazine.
Click here for the rest of the posts in the “Making the Translator Visible” series.
Gary is another great example of the hyperactively funny male translator. He’s incredibly fun, warm, and without going into any ALTA politics, one of the important people on ALTA’s board and committees who is liked by all sides. In addition to his ALTA work, and serving as review editor for Translation Review, Gary teaches at Long Island University’s Brooklyn Campus (in contrast to the most excellently named C. W. Post campus).
Anyway, this ALTA conference was the first time I met Gary in person, although I’ve talked with him by phone and e-mail over the past year or so while serving on ALTA’s publications committee. He really does have boundless enthusiasm, and I’m sure will be a huge player in ALTA’s development—especially in terms of its publications, website, and involvement with younger translators.
On to the questions:
Favorite Word in Any Language: carpetovetonico, which refers to a fustian madrileno
I so love the specificity of this word. Not just a pompous Spaniard, but a fustian Madrileno. Now I just need to find a good moment in which to use this . . . Hopefully without starting a bar fight . . .
Best Thing You’ve Translated to Date: La vida es sueno (Life Is a Dream) by Pedro Calderon de la Barca
Calderon (1600-1681) is considered by many to be one of Spain’s greatest playwrights, and, according to Wikipedia (the internet’s greatest quick hit informational resource), he “initiated the second cycle of Spanish Golden Age theater.” Here’s a description of Life Is a Dream (also from Wikipedia—which I feel the need to apologize for, but seriously, this description kicks ass all over the one you can find on the Penguin Classics website):
In the play, the king of Poland has had his son Segismundo imprisoned all of his life because it has been prophesied that the son will bring disaster to the country. The king tells his subjects that his son died after childbirth. After his son has grown to be a man, the king reveals to his court that his son lives, and allows the court to vote in favor of allowing the son to become heir. However, the son turns out to be violent, killing a man and attempting rape. For this he is drugged and returned to his prison, and told upon waking that the previous day’s events were merely a dream. Still, his jailer scolds him for his un-princely behaviour, which prompts remorse in Segismundo. Rebels who are working against the king, who have found out about the treatment of Segismundo, break him out of prison. The rebels defeat the king’s army; however, Segismundo doubts again if he is in reality or a dream, finally deciding that even in a dream we have to behave well because “God is God” and forgives the king . The play ends in a wedding.
(Totally side note, but I think it would be great to do some special panel/podcast/interview with drama translators to talk about the special issues involved in translating plays . . .)
Book that Needs to Be Published in English Translation: Retranslation of Jose Hernandez’s Martin Fierro
As one of the most important Argentine works of all time, I approve this recommendation. In fact, it’s almost shocking that there aren’t new translations of this every few years . . . Maybe it’s time for a Penguin Classics edition?
Don’t mean to play favorites here, but to be honest, in my opinion, Marian Schwartz is one of the smartest, most talented translators working today. Especially in terms of Russian translation. And retranslation. In recent years, she’s translated Envy by Yuri Olesha, Oblomov by Ivan Goncharov, A Hero of Our Time by Mikhail Lermontov, and I know of an unpublished version of Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina.
The real reason I chose to feature Marian today though is to congratulate her on winning this year’s AATSEEL Award for Best Translation into English for her translation of Mikhail Bulgakov’s The White Guard, which came out from Yale University Press. (As a sidenote, one of my interns is preparing a review of this which should run in the next few weeks.)
Marian is also a former president of ALTA, a great speaker on all things translation (she gave a couple killer presentations here at the U of R—including a great speech on retranslations), and a very encouraging, very engaged, very realistic reader, translator, and thinker . . . Personally, I think all young translators should spend some time with her if at all possible—Marian would be an excellent mentor.
Anyway, gushing aside, here are her answers and comments:
Best Translation that You’ve Done to Date: The Tattered Cloak and Other Stories by Nina Berberova
Since I have my issues with Russians and their
lack of understanding of copyright issues, I want to share a brief story (which I’m hopefully not screweing up too bad) Marian told me about Berberova. Back when Marian’s first translations of Berberova were about to come out, she got a gall from Berberova in which Berberova was all excited about all the different places publishing her story. “It’s going to be in here, and also here, and here. . . . “ In Russia, more is obviously better and legal conventions be damned!
Book that Needs to Be Published in English Translation: Cranes and Pygmies by Leonid Yuzefovich, and The Man Who Couldn’t Die by Olga Slavnikova
This is a sort of perfect response. Not necessarily for the choices themselves, but for the googleability of the translations. As it turns out Cranes and Pygmies — which won the Big Book Award — is one of the projects Marian’s currently working on and you can read a sample by clicking here.
And an excerpt from The Man Who Couldn’t Die appeared in Word Without Borders.
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.
Robin Myers is one of the very cool young translators that I met for the first time at this year’s ALTA conference. In many ways, she’s the perfect example of the benefits of ALTA’s fellowship program . . . A student at Swarthmore who is focused on translating Spanish poetry, I can’t imagine she would’ve ever attended ALTA if she hadn’t have received a fellowship. But thanks to that, she was able to attend a lot of panels (which I think she liked), meet a lot of fellow translators (such as Stephen Kessler who talked to her about translating Luis Cernuda), present her own translations (which must be an amazing experience), and have a great night out at Liquid Kitty (and yes, I’m just going to let that statement ride).
It’s meeting people like Robin (and Erica and Sarah and Andrea and Wendy and Lucas and Jason and J.P. and a host of other young, hip translators, many of whom will be featured here in the near future) that makes the ALTA conference so much fun, and gives me a great deal of hope about the future of the organization and translation as a whole. That there are so many energetic, brilliant, passionate people involved in this field is incredibly encouraging and exciting.
Anyway, on to the questions and comments:
Favorite Word in Any Language: Luciernaga (“firefly”)—for the sound!
This really is a beautiful word to pronounce—or hear pronounced. Much more so than “firefly.” What’s really funny about Robin’s answer is that “luciernaga” was Megan McDowell’s second favorite word, and at one point, Robin tried to change her answer to “murcielago,” which is Megan’s absolute favorite word.
Best Translation You’ve Done to Date: “Don’t Copy Pound” by Gonzalo Rojas
Again, I can’t find a copy of the English version of this poem online (Robin—you should post it in the comments or e-mail it to me), but here’s a write up on Rojas from Poetry International that mentions it:
Rojas is a hard-to-classify, somewhat enigmatic poet, whose work nonetheless convinces instantly. He admonishes, jokes, complains and protests, in a poetry that defies all existing hierarchies. It is even anarchistic, in every possible way. There is a constant tension between colloquial speech and poetic license, between the ordinary and the absurd.
Rojas likes to drop names, from the past as well as the present. Past and present freely intermingle. Nor does he leave out the future. The dramatic unities of time, place and action are abandoned with an obvious vengeance and even the syntax is free. All in all, one might argue that he is not unlike Ezra Pound. Significantly, one of Rojas’s funniest poems bears the title ‘Don’t copy Pound’. Rojas does not copy Pound, but he shares the American’s awesome vitality. And he, too, needs many words. There is, indeed, a talkative quality to this poetry. We are continually being talked to, engaged in polemics, in dialogue. We, the readers, are kept on our mettle. The poem rarely shows us where it is going until we have reached the end. While reading, we seem to be determining the outcome ourselves.
‘Desocupado lector’ (To the idle reader) has such an ending, which determines the perspective in retroaction. In this case the perspective is abysmal, yet the effect is bracing rather than depressing. It is all part of Rojas’s careful design.
Book that Needs to Be Published in English Translation: Poems of Ezequiel Zaidenwerg (Argentina) and Hernan Bravo Varela (Mexico). Both are young gifted poets, and are themselves wonderful translators into Spanish.
Not a lot available online about either of these poets, but is that all that surprising? I’m echoing something Erica told me (and hopefully not overlooking some kick ass website), but there really does need to be a better hub for information on international poets. There is lyrikline.org but they can only do so much . . .
I first met Matt Rowe when he attended his first ALTA conference a few years back as an ALTA fellow. Matt’s an interesting guy with, at expense of making a fool of my memory, an interesting history, having started his career in computers, working for, among other companies, Microsoft. Then he abandoned that all (well, sort of, he’s still involved heavily in fonts) for Indiana University and the study of translation. He translates from the Italian, gave a great presentation on the “Translator as Fiction” panel (which is a great example of what is so cool about ALTA: a whole, chatty panel about the appearance of translators in fiction and how they were portrayed), and is now living out Port Townsend way batting around a book idea about puzzles (can’t say more here lest someone steal his incredible idea) and obsessing over the Oulipo. (There are many worse movements you could obsess over.)
Very recently, like over the weekend type recently, Matt took the step to make himself more visible, launching Local Character a blog that combines his interests in contemporary world fiction, typeface design and typography, voice, community, travel, cognitive science, eccentrics, oddballs, and misunderstood geniuses, and puzzles. In his own words:
Since I’m a translator, writer, and editor, my major focus will be on fiction, translation, and book publishing worldwide. A number of other excellent blogs and web journals already focus on these topics; I’ll play nicely and support them as I work to develop my own niche, but Local Character will definitely range into areas those resources don’t touch. Exactly what “Local Character” ends up meaning will depend on your encouragement, responses, and participation.
As Local Character (both company and website) develops, this blog will continue to be its center. Here I will review books (and occasional work in other media), report and comment on news and developments, and link to other sources, both web and print. Over the next few months, I’ll fill out the links and the rest of the site design, mostly silently as I figure out what works and what doesn’t.
Really looking forward to following the development of Local Character . . . and now onto the questions:
Favorite Word from Any Language: Chiaroscuro
A very literary word that’s also fun to say: kee-ahr-uh-skyoor-oh.
Best Translation You’ve Done to Date: “Inviti Superflui” by Dino Buzzati, which became “Unwanted Invitations” in my version
Unfortunately, I can’t tell if Matt’s translation of this prose poem has been published or not . . . Regardless, Buzzati is a really interesting author, and Godine recently reissued The Tartar Steppe (“Often likened to Kafka’s The Castle, The Tartar Steppe is both a scathing critique of military life and a meditation on the human thirst for glory”) and NYRB brought out Poem Strip which sounds awesome. (“Featuring the Ashen Princess, the Line Inspector, trainloads of Devils, Trudy, Valentina, and the Talking Jacket, Poem Strip — a pathbreaking graphic novel from the 1960s — is a dark and alluring investigation into mysteries of love, lust, sex, and death by Dino Buzzati, a master of the Italian avant-garde.”)
What Book Needs to Be Published in English Translation: Fata Morgana by Gianni Celati
I’m not familiar with Celati, but after reading the brief Wikipedia entry—his first book included an intro by Italo Calvino! he translated Swift, Twain, and Celine into Italian!—I’m hoping Matt has a sample he can send our way . . .
Since I already wrote about her once, it only seemed fitting to make Pam Carmell a bit more visible . . . I met Pam at the first ALTA conference I ever attended. If I remember right (and trust me, I probably don’t), we ended up standing next to each other in a line for something (food?) and Cristina de la Torre introduced us. Pam’s big interest is in translating Cuban literature, and the special Cuban fiction issue of the Review of Contemporary Fiction came out of this meeting. (As did Pam’s translation of Jose Lezama Lima’s Oppiano Licario, which won her a NEA fellowship, but now may or may not see the light of day.)
Anyway, on to happier and more fun moments—questions and italicized comments!
Favorite Word in Any Language: Serendipity
No need to define this word . . . But to wax longingly for a second, serendipity is a perfect word to apply to conferences like ALTA. Or Frankfurt. Or BEA. Things just sort of happen at these gatherings. You randomly meet someone in line for food who loves Lezama Lima. There are happy accidents that lead you to finding out about some great writer from some more remote corner of the world. It’s great. Almost magical. Serendipitous discoveries make up part of the unquantifiable good that makes it worth investing in attending conferences like these.
Best Translation You’ve Done to Date: Women on the Frontlines by Belkis Cuza Male
This collection of poetry was published in 1987 by Unicorn Press (Greensboro). I was hoping to find a poem of hers to reproduce here, but I’m not having any luck with that . . . Nevertheless, you can check out her blog, and her bio is pretty fascinating:
Belkis was born in Guantánamo, Cuba. She studied Humanities in la Universidad de Oriente. In 1967 she married Cuban poet Heberto Padilla. Though initially a supporter of the Castro Revolution, Belkis later became a censor critic of his regime. She was jailed with Padilla in 1971 charged with “subversive writing”, It was known later as the “Padilla affair”. She went into exile in the United States with her little son in 1979, until the Cuban goverment authorized him to leave Cuba. She founded Linden Lane Magazine, a review of Latin American and North American writers in 1982. And in 1996, La Casa Azul.
Book that Needs to Be Published in English Translation: Cien botellas en una pared by Ena Lucia Portela
_Portela is a very young Cuban writer who has published a number of books over the past decade. (Her Wikipedia page has more details and general information.) Full publishing disclosure: Pam sent Open Letter a sample of this book, but unfortunately, we can’t fit it into our schedule . . . So, if any publishers out there are interested in taking a look, e-mail me (chad.post [at] rochester [dot] edu) and I’ll put you in touch with Pam . . . We are a full-service blog . . .
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.
So after the first ALTA panel—on the “subversive” translator and the idea of making the translator “visible” without interfering too much with the original text—Megan McDowell (pictured above) and I came up with a project idea. (Or what some may call a gimmick.) We thought that we could help literally make translators visible by posting pictures of ALTA attendees and asking a few questions. We thought it would be a cool way of letting non-translation world people get to know who these “invisible” translators are, while pointing out how cool the ALTA conference attendees are, and getting some good book recommendations along the way.
I think we did about 25 profiles, which I’ll be posting over the next couple weeks. I’ll include everyone’s answers, maybe another anecdote or two, and possibly some additional information about these people. (Translators tend to be pretty humble people and not very good at self-promotion . . .)
Anyway, re: Megan—I first met her ages ago, when she was a fellow at Dalkey Archive’s short-lived Chicago office. She was one of the best fellows we ever had. Very energetic, and very bright. Post-Dalkey, she spent some time in Chile, attended the University of Texas-Dallas where she studied translation, and got heavily involved with ALTA. (She was at the conference as the official photographer, making her the perfect partner for this project, and a good reason to feature her first.)
On with the questions with my comments in italics below:
Favorite Word, in any language: murcielago, which is Spanish for “bat.”
Weirdly, another translator picked this word as well . . . I’ll point this out again when I feature her, but not only did Robin Myers try and choose “murcielago,” but her other favorite word happens to be Megan’s second choice. It’s like translator telepathy.
Best Translation You’ve Done to Date: The Private Lives of Trees by Alejandro Zambra.
Which will be published by Open Letter this May . . . And in the meantime I HIGHLY recommend checking out Zambra’s Bonsai, which Melville House did last year, and which was a 2009 Best Translated Book finalist.
Book that Needs to be Published in English Translation: Ayer by Juan Emar.
We actually have this on submission . . . I have a feeling I’ll be able to repeat that a number of times over the course of this project, usually followed by “for the past eighteen months.” Which is not so cool. But seriously, Emar sounds very interesting and was featured in RCF a couple years back.
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. . .
Ilja Leonard Pfeijffer’s La Superba is appropriately titled after the Italian city of Genoa, where, after escaping the pressures of fame in his own country, the semi-autobiographical narrator finds himself cataloguing the experiences of its mesmerizing inhabitants with the intention. . .
It took reading 44 pages of Intervenir/Intervene before I began to get a sense of what Dolores Dorantes and Rodrigo Flores Sánchez were up to. Recurring throughout these 44 pages—throughout the entire book—are shovels, shovel smacks to the face, lobelias—aha!. . .