20 May 08 | Chad W. Post | Comments

Ari Messer — who works at Stone Bridge Press and freelances for the San Francisco Bay Guardian — is going to be covering some West Coast translation related events for us. (And possibly some interviews as well.) Here to kick things off is a write-up of a recent “Lit & Lunch” event put on by the Center for the Art of Translation.

Continuing what has become an invaluable tradition for the literary translation community in the Bay Area, the Center for the Art of Translation held another “Lit & Lunch” reading last Tuesday at the 111 Minna Gallery in San Francisco’s SoMa district. Featuring translators Sidney Wade and Erdağ Göknar, “Turkish Writing Today” wasn’t nearly as packed as W.S. Merwin’s “Lit & Lunch” last month — where he pontificated sweetly on everything from the Troubadours to Ezra Pound’s surprisingly positive influence (to paraphrase: “You are too young to have anything to write about yet. You think you do, but you don’t. Go translate.”) — but there was still a sizable turnout, including a handful of people who, judging by a show of hands, actually spoke Turkish. Both translators were grateful for a chance to speak about translation in a public forum. In Göknar’s intro, he said, “Translation is often work that is done in silence, and then . . . remains that way.” We laughed, but it’s unfortunately too true.

Wade, an acclaimed poet, highly musical translator, and professor at the University of Florida, read a striking version of Orhan Veli Kanık’s “I Am Listening to Istanbul with My Eyes Closed,” setting the mood for a string of contemplative, sensory-oriented poetry that seemed to move outward in concentric rings from initial moments of personal perception. Wade, guest poetry editor for the CAT’s next Two Lines anthology (coming soon), closed with three new translations from that book: “With Your Voice” by Zeynep Uzunbay, translated by Saliha Paker and Mel Kenne; “Done with the City” by Gülten Akin, translated by Cemal Demircioglu, Arzu Eker, and Mel Kenne; and “Rosestrikes and Coffee Grinds” by Seyhan Erozçelik, translated by Murat Nemet-Nejat. She prefaced the Erozçelik poem (#3 in a series about coffee grinds) with a statement about the prevalence of fortune telling using coffee grinds in Turkey, and while she read the poem there was a palpable sense in the room of being transported to a realm just beyond the everyday (and certainly beyond the chaos of downtown SF).

Wade, who does poetry, and Göknar, who does prose, both noted Western readers’ lack of context when reading Turkish writing in translation, especially Orhan Pamuk’s “revolutionary” and “activist” writing, labels that readers are prone to invoke while ignoring his esteemed (and vast and deeply literary) historical imagination. They also discussed how the linguistic structure of Turkish naturally leads to epic, unfolding lists (even in poetry), making it the job of the translator not to keep these unravellings engaging — they usually are already — but to organize them in a way that feels natural in English, uncluttered but full of surprises.

Göknar read from his award-winning translation of Pamuk’s My Name is Red, noting how Pamuk plays with “the linguistic genealogy of a 16th-century novel,” then gave a sneak preview of his translation of Ahmet Hamdi Tanpınar’s A Mind at Peace, coming in August from Archipelago. He noted that in the face of numerous inquiries he receives for doing new translations, Archipelago was the first press to ask him which book he thought should be translated. Good thing they did. Even the brief excerpt from the novel, which Pamuk has called “the greatest novel ever written about Istanbul,” already felt magical and haunting, and it was cool to have a sneak preview, since Göknar had just noted that Tanpınar (1901-62) was known more as a poet during his lifetime, his novels mainly existing in serialized form until after his death. International film festivals get their snazzy previews — we want our literary ones!

....
The History of Silence
The History of Silence by Pedro Zarraluki
Reviewed by P. T. Smith

Pedro Zarraluki’s The History of Silence (trans. Nick Caistor and Lorenza García) begins with the narrator and his wife, Irene, setting out to write a book about silence, itself called The History of Silence: “This is the story of how. . .

Read More >

Flesh-Coloured Dominoes
Flesh-Coloured Dominoes by Zigmunds Skujiņš
Reviewed by P. T. Smith

There are plenty of reasons you can fail to find the rhythm of a book. Sometimes it’s a matter of discarding initial assumptions or impressions, sometimes of resetting oneself. Zigmunds Skujiņš’s Flesh-Coloured Dominoes was a defining experience in the necessity. . .

Read More >

Iraqi Nights
Iraqi Nights by Dunya Mikhail
Reviewed by Vincent Francone

In a culture that privileges prose, reviewing poetry is fairly pointless. And I’ve long since stopped caring about what the world reads and dropped the crusade to get Americans to read more poems. Part of the fault, as I’ve suggested. . .

Read More >

Three-Light Years
Three-Light Years by Andrea Canobbio
Reviewed by Tiffany Nichols

I would like to pose the argument that it is rare for one to ever come across a truly passive protagonist in a novel. The protagonist (perhaps) of Three Light-Years, Claudio Viberti, is just that—a shy internist who lives in. . .

Read More >

The Little Horse
The Little Horse by Thorvald Steen
Reviewed by P. T. Smith

The last five days of the eleventh-century Icelandic politician, writer of sagas, and famous murder victim Snorri Sturleleson (the Norwegian spelling, Snorre, is preserved in the book) make up Thorvald Steen’s most recently translated historical fiction, The Little Horse. Murdered. . .

Read More >

Guys Like Me
Guys Like Me by Dominique Fabre
Reviewed by Peter Biello

We all know Paris, or at least we think we know it. The Eiffel Tower. The Latin Quarter. The Champs-Élysées. The touristy stuff. In Dominique Fabre’s novel, Guys Like Me, we’re shown a different side of Paris: a gray, decaying. . .

Read More >

Birth of a Bridge
Birth of a Bridge by Maylis de Kerangal
Reviewed by Christopher Iacono

One hundred pages into Birth of a Bridge, the prize-winning novel from French writer Maylis de Kerangal, the narrator describes how starting in November, birds come to nest in the wetlands of the fictional city of Coca, California, for three. . .

Read More >