22 May 12 | Chad W. Post | Comments

The people at Very Short List were kind enough to ask me to put together a special list featuring items related to World in Translation Month.

For anyone who doesn’t know, VSL started a few years ago with a very simple idea: every day subscribers would receive an email highlighting one cool and interesting thing. Could be a book, a website, a short video, whatever—just something interesting to check out. Over time, the site has evolved a bit, and the new format is based on having three links: one featured idea and two related things.

To see the email/feature in its colorful glory, simply click here.

The three things I chose to feature were the BTBA 2012 finalists, The Canvas, and this amazing Bill Johnston t-shirt.

Just to dwell on the Bill Johnston t-shirt for a minute, this is something that Kaija Straumanis designed as a way of honoring Bill—this year’s winner of the BTBA for his translation of Wieslaw Mysliwski’s Stone Upon Stone. The plan is to sell these through Archipelago’s site, and at the ALTA conference this fall. (And to make up t-shirts for other BTBA winners . . . )

Proceeds from sales of these shirts are being split among all worthy parties, so by buying this, not only will you be pimping one of the greatest translators working today, but you will be helping out Archipelago Books and Open Letter. And beyond that, it’s just totally rad.

Here’s the front graphic:

And here’s where you can buy it.

13 June 11 | Chad W. Post | Comments

The latest addition to our Reviews Section is a piece by Kaija Straumanis on Wiesław Myśliwski’s Stone Upon Stone, translated from the Polish by Bill Johnston, and available from Archipelago Books.

Kaija Straumanis is a grad student in the MA translation program (MALTS for short) here at the University of Rochester. She’s currently in Latvia, “partying like an Eastern European” (?!) and trying to find the perfect work of Latvian Literature for Open Letter.

I assigned Stone Upon Stone for the “World Literature & Translation” class I taught last spring. It’s 534 pages long. I initially thought there was going to be a silent coup, with everyone griping about all the stuff they have to do for other classes . . . But no! Everyone loved the novel. (Or almost everyone—I’m remembering this with an optimist’s viewpoint.) And with good reason. This is my early favorite for the 2012 Best Translated Book Award due to Szymek’s incredible voice, and Bill Johnson’s amazing translation. This is a stunning book—one that is very easy to get sucked into . . . Those 534 pages fly by as if it were a novella! (Well, OK maybe not fly, but still.)

Here’s the opening of Kaija’s review:

It doesn’t take that many pages to figure out that the narrator of Stone Upon Stone is a womanizing, egotistical douche bag. Through a hyperbolic and highly digressive retelling of his life (ironically centered on the construction of a tomb), main man Szymek Pietruszka makes it clear that he is known by all around him as the best drinker, fighter, singer, dancer, ladies’ man—all the men want to be him and all the women want to be with him, etc. etc. But what’s amazing is that as much as Szymek is the type of guy you’d want to elbow hard in the back of the neck “on accident,” you can’t help but feel for and even like him. In just under 600 pages of palpable rural Polish imagery and culture, author Wiesław Myśliwski shows how easy it is to take a man who has seemingly spent his life at the top of his game and break him down piece-by-piece until he has nothing left but himself and the land.

Wiesław Myśliwski (1932- ) is an award winning Polish novelist and playwright whose novels have largely not yet been translated into English (with the exception of Palace [1991, Peter Owen Ltd] and the forthcoming A Treatise on Shelling Beans [2013, Archipelago]). Stone Upon Stone (Polish original published in 1984) has been called Myśliwski’s “grand epic,” and not without reason. In addition to specializing in all things Polish countryside, Myśliwski is a master not only of invoking location, but also of creating characters. The voice of Szymek Pietruszka is so distinct and so unique that it’s almost unreal to think the English translation is, in fact, a translation. That’s not to say it’s been streamlined to fit what could be considered a more “American” ideal or standard for fiction—this book is undeniably European. It’s more like the book was originally written in English.

Click here to read the entire review.

13 June 11 | Chad W. Post | Comments

It doesn’t take that many pages to figure out that the narrator of Stone Upon Stone is a womanizing, egotistical douche bag. Through a hyperbolic and highly digressive retelling of his life (ironically centered on the construction of a tomb), main man Szymek Pietruszka makes it clear that he is known by all around him as the best drinker, fighter, singer, dancer, ladies’ man—all the men want to be him and all the women want to be with him, etc. etc. But what’s amazing is that as much as Szymek is the type of guy you’d want to elbow hard in the back of the neck “on accident,” you can’t help but feel for and even like him. In just under 600 pages of palpable rural Polish imagery and culture, author Wiesław Myśliwski shows how easy it is to take a man who has seemingly spent his life at the top of his game and break him down piece-by-piece until he has nothing left but himself and the land.

Wiesław Myśliwski (1932- ) is an award winning Polish novelist and playwright whose novels have largely not yet been translated into English (with the exception of Palace [1991, Peter Owen Ltd] and the forthcoming A Treatise on Shelling Beans [2013, Archipelago]). Stone Upon Stone (Polish original published in 1984) has been called Myśliwski’s “grand epic,” and not without reason. In addition to specializing in all things Polish countryside, Myśliwski is a master not only of invoking location, but also of creating characters. The voice of Szymek Pietruszka is so distinct and so unique that it’s almost unreal to think the English translation is, in fact, a translation. That’s not to say it’s been streamlined to fit what could be considered a more “American” ideal or standard for fiction—this book is undeniably European. It’s more like the book was originally written in English.

This is something that can be credited to translator Bill Johnston, who through interviews and discussions on the translation of Stone Upon Stone communicates the utmost care and consideration that went into his translation of the novel. This is not a text you could chuck into something like Google Translate and get back even a modicum of the introspection and linguistic qualities necessary to make Szymek Pietruszka “happen.” Stone Upon Stone is a work that would demand the complete understanding of its narrator—possibly even demanding becoming one with the narrator—and judging by the final product, Johnston has done this mammoth read due justice.

And although the book appears massive, it reads surprisingly quickly. The borderline stream-of-consciousness narrative style runs a full circle course through Szymek’s life, and the narrative voice is simple, conversational, and easy to follow. It’s like pulling up a stool at the bar in your hometown next to that oddly endearing (and rather inebriated) story-teller who everyone knows and who oozes faux modesty and a lingering scent of cabbage pierogis.

It was the same when I was older and I’d go caroling with the other boys, no one would agree to be King Herod, because death cut Herod’s head off and no one liked to be killed. So I was always Herod, because I preferred being king to being afraid of death. We had a real scythe, one that was used for mowing, not a fake one with a wooden blade. When death cut your head off with a real scythe you felt death was real, too, and not Antek Mączka dressed up as death in a white sheet. Especially because each time I was killed the blade of the scythe had to touch my neck, not just knock my crown off . . . There was just that one time Antek Mączka brought the scythe down and nicked my till I bled, so I took his scythe away from him and kicked his ass and he didn’t play death anymore.

Even though the entire novel may at first seem like nothing more than one tangent after another, there is a method to the rambling madness. Each chapter heading is closely connected to everything that falls under it. For example, the chapter “Brothers” looks not only at Szymek’s relationship with his own brothers, but also looks at his dealings with a pack of vengeful brothers from next door, and even at the greater “brotherhood of man.”

It is precisely the things that determine Szymek’s douchery—and the similar or complete opposite actions and reactions of those around him—that make Szymek more realistic, easier to relate to, and ultimately more human and even likeable. Instead of seeing him for the demigod he makes himself out to be, we get to know Szymek as a man who has lived through the struggles of pre- and post-ward Poland, dealt with the hardships of rural Polish life, family struggles, personal gains and losses. The more Szymek talks himself up, the more he undoes his facade. And the more the mask is undone the more it becomes clear that this is less the story of one man and more the reflection of human kind. Of course it helps that any hint of overbearing life lessons or preaching is ushered out by Szymek’s outlook on the world, which is an odd combination of life-loving cynicism and matter-of-fact morbidity. Pair this with flawless delivery and you get a novel that, although at times contains less palpable content and themes of death and suffering, warrants many outbursts of laughter at Szymek’s anecdotes. Sure, he may be a self-absorbed, quasi-alcoholic jag who represents human suffering, triumph and mankind as a whole, but he’s your self-absorbed alchy jag, dammit, and you just can’t help but love him for it.

14 January 11 | Chad W. Post | Comments

Absinthe 14 arrived in yesterday’s mail, and is loaded with interesting authors and pieces, including:

  • An excerpt from Wieslaw Mysliwski’s Stone Upon Stone, which was translated from the Polish by Bill Johnston and recently published by Archipelago books. (Actually using this in the “Translation & World Literature” class I’m teaching this spring.) Since there’s nothing about issue 14 on the “Absinthe website” quite yet, below is a description of the novel from Archipelago. And click here to hear the Reading the World Podcast episode featuring Bill Johnston.

Myśliwski’s grand epic in the rural tradition—a profound and irreverent stream of memory cutting through the rich and varied terrain of one man’s connection to the land, to his family and community, to women, to tradition, to God, to death, and to what it means to be alive. Wise and impetuous, plain-spoken and compassionate Szymek, recalls his youth in their village, his time as a guerrilla soldier, as a wedding official, barber, policeman, lover, drinker, and caretaker for his invalid brother. Filled with interwoven stories and voices, by turns hilarious and moving, Szymek’s narrative exudes the profound wisdom of one who has suffered, yet who loves life to the very core.

  • An excerpt from Agnomia by Robert Gal, translated from the Slovakian by Michaela Freeman and Jim Freeman, and opening interestingly enough:

They select some man, sufficiently experiment with him and only then identify him as the object of the experiment. They slip him hidden meanings of his multisense expressions which, for them, are univocal. They let him deal with it for years. What they tie in a knot through definition in a moment, he is forced to spend years untying through conscientious interpretation. In the meantime, their definitions are petrified solid. His interpretations appear, as if they were made of butter and deliberately throw them on his head, so that they could laugh at these babbles.

  • A bit about Mateiu Caragiale’s The Rakes of the Old Court, which was published in 1929 and was recently voted “the Romanian novel of the twentieth century.” This bit from the intro by Paul Cernat makes it sound pretty interesting:

For those who wish to gain a closer knowledge of the peculiarities of the Balkan mindset, a reading of this text, which has the value of an emblem of national identity, is, I might say, obligatory. Of course, we are dealing with a “Balkanism” that has been filtered through the work of Huysmans and Edgar Allen Poe, captured in a hypnotic narrative whose density of meanings has led literary theorist Matei Calinescu to compare it with Borges’ El Aleph. It is an unusual narrative, whose effects are those of an addictive literary drug.

There’s also a piece by Thomas E. Kennedy called “A Visit to Hunger 120 Years Later,” and book reviews of The Other City by Mchal Ajvaz (reviewed by Jeff Waxman) and When a Poet Sees a Chestnut Tree by Jean-Pierre Rosnay (reviewed by John Taylor).

As mentioned above, the Absinthe site for issue 14 is still coming together, but you can order the issue by clicking here.

20 July 10 | Chad W. Post | Comments

Over the past few years, Amazon.com has been awarding grants to a number of interesting projects, including a lot of ones related to literature in translation. Their list of grantees includes Open Letter (for The Wall in My Head,), PEN America (for the Translation Fund), Words Without Borders, Copper Canyon, Milkweed, Asian American Writers’ Workshop, Poets & Writers, Small Press Distribution, etc., etc.

The latest addition to the list is the extremely worthy Archipelago Books:

Archipelago Books is delighted to announce today that it is among a diverse group of nonprofit organizations to receive a $25,000 grant from Amazon.com. Archipelago Books is a Brooklyn, NY-based not-for-profit press dedicated to publishing world literature in translation. The generous grant from Amazon.com will be used to support the forthcoming publication of the novel Stone Upon Stone, written by Nike Prize-winning author Wiesaw Myliwski and translated from the Polish by Bill Johnston. The novel will be released in December of 2010.

Myliwski’s novels and plays, among them Widnokrag [Horizon] (1996) and Traktat o uskaniu fasoli [A Treatise on Shelling Beans] (2006) focus on life in the Polish countryside. Although he has twice received the Nike Award (the Polish equivalent of the Booker Prize), Stone Upon Stone will be Myliwski’s first work published in English translation. Stone Upon Stone has already received much praise in the Polish press. Anna Tatarkiewicz called the novel “the first masterpiece in Slavic literature, perhaps even in European literature, in which the fate of the peasant attains the standing of human fate in all its tragic vastness.” Meanwhile, Krystyna Dabrowska hailed the novel as “A hymn in praise of life. . . . A paean to speech and the art of storytelling.”

So great to see Amazon.com continue this program and their support of very interesting projects and presses.

And since everything’s connected, here’s a link to the most recent episode of the Reading the World podcast which features Bill Johnston talking about the process of translating Stone Upon Stone.

....
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