This is cool . . . The NEA recently posted this page featuring links to samples from all the recipients of this year’s Translation Fellowships.
Here’s just a sampling of the samples:
The governor remitted an incomprehensible case to me. No sooner had he asked that I consult then I complied with the request. I had no wish to ponder the question of whether he, the governor, had the authority to remove a man convicted of murder from prison and have him escorted to my office with only a single guard at his side to “explain the situation to me,” in order to see “by what manner and how to proceed to the staying of the charges.” It was of utmost importance that I attend to him without evincing awareness of how he had reached me, nor with what high recommendations and designs on the part of the recommender. I had to attend diligently to my stability, my post, precisely in order to disencumber myself of him, and of the post.
I was also obliged to hear the prisoner out, which very shortly revealed itself to be impossible, for it is not possible to listen to one who does not speak. On the marrow of the question, that is, the narrative of his crime, he was closed up, not with steeliness but in absence and silence.
It was while reading Bartleby & Co., by the Spaniard Enrique Vila-Matas, that Pierre Gould found his calling. This astonishing book took the form of numbered sections that the narrator, a lowly bookkeeper, conceived as footnotes to an imaginary text. They all concerned a single subject: Bartlebys, named after Bartleby the Scrivener, who spent his time doing nothing in an office he never left. Bartlebys, as the narrator saw it, were writers “attracted toward nothingness” who never managed to set a single line down on paper or who, having done so, gave up writing in the end. Thus Vila-Matas invited readers on a sort of stroll “through the labyrinth of the No, down the roads of the most disquieting and attractive tendency of contemporary literature”: that of inquiring into what writing was, and “prowling about its impossibility.”
After a few pages of acclimation (Gould liked to finish books, not start them; what he needed was that all-encompassing book, the dream of demiurges and philosophers that rendered all further reading pointless, since everything had already been written in it) — after a few pages, then, Gould was hooked by the Spanish writer’s game. He came across names well-known (Walser, Rimbaud, Keats, Salinger) and less so (Bobi Bazlen, Gregorio Martínez Sierra, Enrique Banchs); he was surprised by the attitudes of these authors without bodies of work, or with aborted ones; admired their obstinacy in refusing to consort with writing despite their obvious talents. In his eleventh footnote, Enrique Vila-Matas’ narrator mentioned a collection like his own: Literary Eclipses, by the Frenchman Robert Derain, a volume entirely devoted to writers unique in having written one book and one alone before renouncing literature forever. “All the authors in this book are inventions,” the narrator adds, “just as the stories attributed to these Bartlebys were in fact written by Derain himself.”
Gould re-read this passage several times, wondering if Derain and his book really existed, or whether they too were inventions. That Vila-Matas spoke of them so casually and seemed to think so little of the fact a Frenchman had had his idea before he did made the latter hypothesis more likely. At any rate, Gould found the idea behind Derain’s Eclipses more interesting than that of Vila-Matas, whose selection criteria were looser. After all, his Bartlebys could have had the respectable beginnings of a career before giving up, whereas Derain’s eclipsees had had the willpower to quit after the heady exaltation of a first attempt. The former might well have confirmed the promise of a first book; the second, with superb hauteur, had not even conceded this much to literature.
Apart from cops and robbers, another popular game at the time was playacting cinema in the outer room of the grand house. Here, too, [the deaf and dumb cousin] Apyaya played a prominent role….
Whenever someone walked outside the door, the opening permitted the shadow to be projected onto the wall behind it…the image was small, elongated, and topsy-turvy.
This game of light-and-shadow held such magic that it never got stale. On top of that, the family elders considered real movies to be an evil thing, and only rarely, by accident, did anyone receive permission to see an actual film; therefore, this outer-room cinema was a means of entertainment just as TV is now. No need to buy a ticket, and no fixed show times. Watch as long as you like, and leave when you’ve had enough. The children greatly anticipated the long summer afternoons when the sun was at just the right angle, and when the outer room was free for use as a cinema. But there were also unspeakable afternoons when some grownup dropped by and dashed the children’s most fervent prayers. He’d waste priceless hours talking about nothing, laughing at stupid things, chewing paan, spitting away; all the while the group of kids slouched in the corners, flashing one another quizzical glances, and growing despondent, thinking only of the approaching sunset . . .
“An incident with a pig”
It happened one fall when the pigs were being butchered. The dickens only knows how or why, out of all the decent Krukelis pigs, there arose one mischievous, unutterably disobedient pedigreed sow, who thought up all sorts of trouble for the Krukelises, as if the devil himself had in truth beset her and wagged her tail. Zidorius’s pigs were always white, but this one was as black as tar. True, she did farrow twelve at a time, but then she’d crush half of them, and even eat a few. If you left the door open for a second, the sow would run inside, knocking over the benches and the table. One time Zidorius returned from the fallow field to find the sow lying in the bed, and around her, wiggling all at once were black, spotted, and even white piglets! Full of gratitude and fatherly joy, Zidorius called to his wife:
“Just look, what a lady! She even knows to put her head on the pillow! Really now, Elziuk, what a clever little thing!”
He counted them up — there were twelve, but four were already crushed to death. When they tried to get her out of the bed, the proud lady showed her teeth, since all her family were spoiled that way: Zidorius’s farrowing sows were always put in a warmer and softer spot. Zidorius and Elzė decided to leave the sow indoors for a few days, while they settled down for the night in the kitchen or the granary. What ungratefulness! The next morning the sow chewed up Zidorius’s Sunday coat. There was a leather wallet and several dozen bills in its pocket.
“She ate it, that creature of the devil!” Zidorius screamed, shaking the empty wallet.
Be sure and check out the main page to read these complete samples and 16 more . . .
The National Endowment for the Arts just announced this year’s recipients of their Literature Translation Fellowships, and wow is this a loaded group. It’s very exciting to see so many friends and colleagues on this list, and a lot of the projects sound really amazing . . . Below is the list of winners with shortened NEA descriptions for the projects. You can read the complete descriptions and find out more about the various fellowships by clicking the link above.
To support the translation from the Spanish of Zama, a novel published in 1956 by Argentine writer Antonio Di Benedetto. Zama is the second of Di Benedetto’s 10 novels, none of which have been translated into English. Part historical, part allegory, the novel is written in a precise, jarring style that contrasts with the prevalent flowing prose of magical realism associated with works from Latin America. A quarter of a century after it was published, it won the prestigious Italia América Latina prize.
To support the retranslation of The Mysteries of Paris by French novelist Eugène Sue. This novel, about the Parisian criminal and working class, caused a sensation when it was published serially in 1842 and 1843. Sue’s work was groundbreaking for its unmannered and realistic depiction of the echelons beneath the aristocracy. This is the first English retranslation of this classic in more than 100 years.
To support the translation from the Romanian of Belgrade in Five Friends and Other Poems by Nichita Stanescu. Stanescu is a major figure in Romanian postwar poetry but remains largely untranslated into English. He is credited with bringing modernism into the Communist era. In the translator’s words, the poet’s stark language has a de-familiarizing perspective as it “seduces the reader away from the human, enabling us to reconsider ourselves from the objects’ points of view.”
To support the translation from the Swedish of a collection of contemporary poetry by Håkan Sandell. Sandell has recently been awarded a writer’s pension for life from the Writers Union and the government of Sweden, among other top poetry honors in his country. This translation will preserve the music and form of the original work of a poet known for marrying romanticism and a wide range of traditional forms.
To support the translation from the Russian of The Joyous Science: The Selected Poetry of Maxim Amelin. Born in 1970, Amelin is considered one of the defining voices of the “Thirty-Year-Olds,” the last generation to grow up under Soviet power. He has helped run two of Russia’s most successful and respected post-1991 publishing houses. His poetry has been called “archaic-innovative,” offering a nod toward the classics while using slang and contemporary references.
To support the translation from the French of Fear of the First Line, selected stories from Belgian writer Bernard Quiriny. Quiriny won Belgium’s top literary prize in 2008, taking him from a cult favorite to heir to the Belgian School of the Bizarre. Published in 2005, Fear of the First Line features stories in the fabulist tradition, incorporating the literary styles of absurdism, surrealism, existentialism, and magic realism. Quiriny writes with cleverness and ease, often paying homage to past masters via riffs and inversions.
To support the translation from the Spanish of the novel Península, Península by Mexican writer Hernán Lara Zavala. Written in 2008, this historical novel is Lara Zavala’s second, and focuses on the Caste War of Yucatán (1847-1901), a dramatic event in Mexican history which began with the revolt of native Mayans against European descendants. This epic novel explores the tensions between the old and new world Mexico. Lara Zavala was awarded Mexico City’s prestigious 2009 Elena Poniatowska Ibero-American Prize for this work and has garnered praise for his treatment of a taboo topic.
To support a translation of Manzoor Ahtesham’s Hindi novel The Tale of the Missing Man. Ahtesham has been publishing fiction for more than three decades and has won many of the top literary prizes in his native India. This is his third novel, published in 1995, which playfully explores what it means to be Muslim in post-colonial India.
To support a translation from the Yiddish of Chassidim Re-tell, a collection of Chassidic tales by Rabbi Tovia Halberstam. These authentic folktales give the reader entry into Chassidim culture through its storytelling tradition. They reintroduce readers to the original, full-length tales, which are mostly only available in American culture through anecdotes or extended sayings. Rabbi Halberstam, a master Chassidic storyteller and the translator’s father, emigrated from Poland in the 1920s and published a series of these tales in Yiddish newspapers and broadcast them on a popular radio program in the 1950s. Sixteen years after the Rabbi’s death, Halberstam discovered the handwritten manuscripts used for the radio program in his mother’s house.
To support the translation from the Arabic of Closing His Eyes, a collection of short stories by Iraqi prose writer and critic Luay Hamza Abbas. Published in 2008, Closing His Eyes is the fourth collection of stories from Abbas. Two of the 17 stories in this collection have been selected for publication in five different languages. The title story, “Closing His Eyes,” was selected for the 2006 Kikah Best Short Story Award in London. Abbas’s work is known for its unique, individualized perspective on the treatment of the themes of violence, identity, and authoritarianism.
To support the translation from the Russian of selections from the memoir How Much Is a Person Worth? by Eufrosinia Kersnovskaia (1907-94). After Kersnovskaia’s escape from a labor camp in Siberia, she traveled 900 miles through the Siberian taiga on foot, only to be captured and sent to the Gulag for 10 years where she worked as a swineherd, medical assistant, morgue attendant, and miner. Her handwritten journals and illustrations first appeared in print in a popular Soviet magazine in the early 1990s. Due to her photographic memory and vivid, ironic writing, her essays are important additions to the works about this era in Russian history.
To support the translation from the Hebrew of Reality Crumbs, a collection of Raquel Chalfi’s poetry. This collection will draw from Chalfi’s 10 volumes of poetry, representing 35 years of her work, including Solar Plexus, Poems 1975-1999 (2002), Secret Details from the Transparent Binder (2007), and Witches (2009). Her Tel Aviv-based poems have carved a niche in the contemporary Hebrew poetry scene. This would be the first collection by Chalfi to be published in this country.
To support the translation of Steel and Flesh: Korean Stories 1945-48, an anthology of prose from North and South Korea. The project is the first of a three-volume series titled The Land Also Rises: Stories from the Korean War and Division. Steel and Flesh incorporates the post-liberation, pre-war period during which Korea was portioned and occupied by Soviet and U.S. forces. The work includes a range of authors, both well-known Korean writers as well as those whose work has rarely been available in English.
To support the translation of the 1934 Lithuanian novel Frank Kruk by Petras Cvirka (1909-47). Cvirka’s fame as a writer and social realist came posthumously during the Soviet era; there are numerous books about him, as well as documentaries, streets in his name, a postage stamp with his picture, a statue, and a museum on the site of his birthplace. Frank Kruk, his first novel, is a comic tale told in two volumes of the adventures of an immigrant to the United States and then his life after he returns to his home country. The novel is considered a classic because of its humane and humorous treatment of perennial themes of immigration and corruption.
To support the retranslation from the Ancient Greek of the epic 6,000-line poem “Argonautika” by Apollonius of Rhodes. The poem narrates the famous quest of Jason and the Argonauts to recover the Golden Fleece, complete with murder, monsters, magic, and heroism. The project will reintroduce the formal elements and sound of the original – aspects missing in existing 20th-century translations.
To support the translation from the Spanish of Woman in Battle Dress, a historical novel by Cuban writer Antonio Benítez Rojo. Published in 2001, this epic novel re-imagines the story of Henriette Faber, a 19th-century woman who posed as a man to attend medical school and work as a doctor during the Napoleonic wars. After immigrating to Cuba, Faber’s secret was discovered when she was prosecuted during a sensational trial for marrying another woman. She was exiled from Cuba in 1827.
John Galbraith Simmons
To support the translation of the French novel Aline and Valcour by Marquis de Sade. Composed while Sade was imprisoned in the Bastille and published in 1795 during the French Revolution, this 600-page epistolary novel is replete with Sade’s black humor, unique philosophy, and original thought. It consists of three interrelated stories that include unrequited love, perilous journeys to Africa and the South Seas Islands, and utopian and dystopian interludes. Only a few pages have ever been translated into English.
To support the translation of Black Olive Tree and Other Zapotec Poems by Mexican poet Natalia Toledo. Toledo is the first female poet whose work is written in both Zapotec, the language indigenous to the Juchitán region in Mexico, and Spanish. Her direct, visually inspired writing evokes the traditions and mythology of the region. This project is a rare instance of literature translated directly from Zapotec to English, demonstrating the contemporary nature of Isthmus Zapotec writing, unique among indigenous cultures.
To support the translation from the French of Paper Collage, a collection of essays and personal narratives by Georges Perros. These three volumes were published in 1960, 1973, and 1978 and include essays, short narratives, and original maxims for which Perros was famous. Perros’s work includes recurring themes of love, solitude, daily life, writing, death, and mostly atheistic meditations on the existence of God.
To support the translation from the Spanish of Legends of Guatemala, a collection of eight tales and myths by Nobel Laureate Miguel Ángel Asturias. Asturias is among the first to recover the Mayan heritage and cultural identity of Guatemala for world literature. He is best known for exploring indigenous perspectives using surrealistic and experimental prose styles and undercurrents of social protests. Written in 1930, Legends of Guatemala is his first major work. Only three of the tales have been translated into English. This translation will highlight the oral and poetic nature of the tales.
This is one of my favorite NEA programs, and it really makes my day to see Esther, Edward, John Taylor, Elizabeth, Jason, Sean, and Robert all on this list. Congrats to everyone, and I’m looking forward to reading a number of these books when they are finally translated and published.
This morning the NEA announced the new round of Translation Fellowships, awarding these gifted translators $10-$20,000 for their projects. Complete descriptions of all the projects, along with translator bios, are available on the NEA site. Congratulations to everyone who received a fellowship—this is one of my favorite NEA projects, and a great way to see what people are working on. Hopefully all of these titles will find a publisher—there are a few that sound perfect for Open Letter . . .
To support the translation from Japanese of the memoir Twelve Perspectives by Mutsuo Takahashi. Published in the author’s native language in 1970, Twelve Perspectives explores the effects of imperialism, war, and their aftermath on a Japanese family before, during, and after World War II.
To support the translation from French of In So Corrupt an Age, the journal of Charles Rist. A successful economist living in Paris, Rist (1874-1955) began keeping a personal journal in 1939, the day after Germany’s invasion of Poland. The daily entries record his reflections on the war and occupation.
To support the translation from Chinese of the novel Remains of Life by Wu He. The novel, written in 1999, describes a bloody episode in Japanese colonial history, the “Musha Incident.” In 1930, an aboriginal tribe called the Atayal started an uprising in rural Taiwan that was swiftly suppressed by the Japanese militia. The novel is written in an experimental style which includes stream-of-consciousness writing and very few sentence breaks or paragraph divisions.
To support the translation from Polish of selected poetry from The New Century: 1999 & Other Poems by Ewa Lipska. Ewa Lipska was born in Kraków, Poland, in 1945. Since 1967, she has published 19 volumes of poetry, much of which reflects her training as a visual artist and her engagement with social philosophy.
To support the translation from Spanish of An Open Grave and Other Stories, a collection of five novellas by Juan Benet. [. . .] In addition to the title novella about a boy possessed by the spirit of his grandfather, the collection will include “Baalbec, a smudge,” about a man’s return to his childhood home; “Mourning,” about a Spaniard who has returned wealthy from years in the Americas with a lack of scruples; “Sub rosa,” about a mysterious crime aboard a Spanish schooner; and “Numa, a Legend,” about a guard of an isolated mountain property. Of these five works, only two have previously been published in an English translation.
To support the translation from Spanish of the collection The Poems of Sidney West by the Argentine poet Juan Gelman. The author of the collection is an imaginary poet, Sidney West, who writes his work in English and who was supposedly translated into Spanish by Juan Gelman in 1969.
To support the translation from Czech of Is No Beginning: Selected Poems by Vladimir Holan. A life-long resident of Prague, Holan is often compared with Rainer Maria Rilke as a major figure in 20th-century European poetry. His poems embody the existential questions posed by cultural and political life in Czechoslovakia before, during, and after WWII.
To support the translation from Portuguese of In the Time of Jaguars, a collection of poetry by Brazilian poet Manoel de Barros. A beloved poet in Brazil, Barros has published twenty works of poetry, though his work is not yet available in English. His sensual poems gained much attention in the 1980s with numerous publications in Brazil and in 1989 with the release of O Caramujo Flor, a film by Joel Pizzini examining his work.
To support the translation from Spanish of the play Common Words by Cuban dramatist José Triana. Common Words, the seventh of Triana’s thirteen plays, is an exploration of one woman’s life in Cuba in the years between the Spanish-American War and the First World War.
To support the translation from German of Franz Werfel’s 1941 novel A Pale Blue Lady’s Handwriting. Born in Prague, Werfel (1890-1945) was a member of the city’s young, Jewish intelligentsia, which included Max Brod and Franz Kafka. [. . .] . Set in Vienna in 1936, the novel revolves around a married, Austrian civil servant who receives a letter from a Jewish woman who was once his lover. Though a “sanitized” and condensed version of the novel was published in 1944, this is the first translation of the complete work.
To support the translation from Polish of Colonies, a collection of poetry by Tomasz Rózycki. Rózycki was born in 1970 in Upper Silesia, an historic region on the western border of Poland marked by a continual shift of the country’s borders and thus a topic that permeates his poetry. Published in 2006, Colonies is Rózycki’s sixth and most recent book of poems.
To support the translation from medieval Cretan Greek of the Erotokritos by Vintzentzos Kornaros. The 10,000-line long poem is written in a 15 syllable folk meter and dates from the 17th century. It is the only known work of the author; until recently, sections of the poem were commonly recited by illiterate peasants. It is still performed by Greek singers, and is widely considered the work that made the vernacular popular and possible in contemporary Greek literature.
To support the translation from Spanish of Rafael Alberti’s three-part volume of poems, Returnings. Born in southern Spain in 1902, Alberti won the National Prize for Literature at age 23 and soon joined a circle of poets called the Generation of ’27, which included Federico García Lorca. During the Spanish Civil War, Alberti served as secretary of the Alliance of Antifascist Intellectuals, and fled first to Paris, then Buenos Aires after the war. In Returnings, Alberti includes poems in which thoughts of the poet’s youth return to him alongside more recent memories.
The Urdu word basti refers to any space, intimate to worldly, and is often translated as “common place” or “a gathering place.” This book by Intizar Husain, who is widely regarded as one of the most important living Pakistani writers,. . .
The Whispering Muse, one of three books by Icelandic writer Sjón just published in North America, is nothing if not inventive. Stories within stories, shifting narration, leaps in time, and characters who transform from men to birds and back again—you’ve. . .
Luis Negrón’s debut collection Mundo Cruel is a journey through Puerto Rico’s gay world. Published in 2010, the book is already in its fifth Spanish edition. Here in the U.S., the collection has been published by Seven Stories Press and. . .
To have watched from one of your patios
the ancient stars
from the bank of shadow to have watched
the scattered lights
my ignorance has learned no names for
nor their places in constellations
to have heard the ring of. . .
When Icelandic author Andri Snær Magnason first published LoveStar, his darkly comic parable of corporate power and media influence run amok, the world was in a very different place. (This was back before both Facebook and Twitter, if you can. . .
When starting Hi, This Is Conchita and Other Stories, Santiago Roncagliolo’s second work to be translated into English, I was expecting Roncagliolo to explore the line between evil and religion that was front and center in Red April. Admittedly, I. . .
Christa Wolf’s newly-translated City of Angels is a novel of atonement, and in this way the work of art that it resembles most to me is not another book, but the 2003 Sophia Coppola film Lost in Translation. Like that. . .