31 August 10 | Chad W. Post | Comments

Bill Marx’s new PRI’s The World World Books podcast features an interview with Ross Benjamin, recipient of this year’s Helen and Kurt Wolff Translation Prize for Speak, Nabokov and translator of Joseph Roth’s Job, which is due out in November from Archipelago Books.

It’s clear from this interview that Ross not only is a great translator, but also an amazing reader, and after listening to this, I feel like I need to read more of Roth’s works . . . starting with this one. (And his comments on why books need to be retranslated—not always because the original translation is flawed, but sometimes because the new translation can enrich the work—are pretty interesting.)

From the Archipelago website:

Job is the tale of Mendel Singer, a pious, destitute Eastern-European Jew and children’s Torah teacher whose faith is tested at every turn. His youngest son seems to be incurably disabled, one of his older sons joins the Russian Army, the other deserts to America, and his daughter is running around with a Cossack. When the parents flee with their daughter to America, further blows of fate await them. In this modern fable based on the Biblical story of Job, Mendel Singer witnesses the collapse of his world, experiences unbearable suffering and loss, and ultimately gives up all hope and curses God, only to be saved by a miraculous reversal of fortune.

And speaking of Archipelago, their Fall 2010 catalog arrived yesterday, and as always, they’re bringing out some great books, including:

Stone Upon Stone by Wieslaw Mysliwski, translated from the Polish by Bill Johnston, which is “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.” (Check out this recent RTW Podcast for more info on Stone Upon Stone and Bill’s translation.)

and

My Kind of Girl by Buddhadeva Bose, translated from the Bengali by Arunava Sinha, which is “a Bengali Decameron for the twentieth century.” (Although much shorter.) The novella takes place in a railway station where four strangers are trapped overnight. “The sight of a young loving couple prompts them to share their own experiences of the vagaries of the human heart with each other in a story cycle that is in turn melancholy, playful, wise, and heart-wringing.”

and

The Chukchi Bible by Yuri Rytkheu, translated from the Russian by Ilona Yazhbin Chavasse, which is “a collection of the myths and tales of Yuri Rytkheu’s own shaman father. The stories compose both a moving history of the Chukchi people who inhabit the shores of the Bering Sea, and a beautiful cautionary tale, rife with conflict, human drama, and humor.”

16 December 09 | Chad W. Post | Comments

I’m a big fan of year-end lists. Especially year-end lists that include Open Letter titles . . . But seriously, the International Reads for the Holidays feature that Bill Marx put together for PRI’s World Books is a very solid, quirky, highly literary collection of great titles from 2009.

Bill is a panelists for this year’s Best Translated Book Award for Fiction, which I believe is why he goes on about “old” books and “new” retranslations in his openind statements. (We’ve had ongoing discussions about which titles qualify for the award, which we set up to honor new voices, new books that had never before been available to English readers. Although point taken re: ham fisted crap translations and the way the media tends to ignore new, complete translations of old books. But still . . .)

Anyway, here’s Bill’s fiction list:

  • Memories of the Future by Sigizmund Krzhizhanovsky. Translated by Joanne Turnbull. (NYRB Classics) A Russian writer whose morbidly satiric imagination forms the wild (missing) link between the futuristic dream tales of Edgar Allan Poe and the postwar scientific nightmares of Stanislaw Lem.
  • Your Face Tomorrow Volume Three: Poison, Shadow and Farewell by Javier Marías. Translated by Margaret Jull Costa. (New Directions) The final installment in Marías’s super spy novel extraordinaire, a final playing out, to the point of demonic exhaustion, of the last century’s obsession with double agents, secret codes, voyeurism, and betrayal.
  • The End of Everything by David Bergelson. Translated by Joseph Sherman. (Yale University Press) First published in 1913, Bergelson’s prophetic novel makes use of a surprisingly nervy minimalism to tell the tale of a beautiful woman from a privileged background whose life is shattered by a marriage of convenience – a searching diagnosis of the anxious hollowness at the center of Jewish life during the turn-of-the-century.
  • Orlando Furioso by Ludovico Ariosto. Translated by David Slavitt. (Harvard University Press) An at times intentionally zany new version of one of the literary high points of the Italian Renaissance, an epic crowded with jousting men and monsters that influenced Spencer’s “Faerie Queen,” that Shakespeare lifted a plot from, and that Italo Calvino and Jorge Luis Borges admired.
  • The Salt Smugglers by Gerard de Nerval. Translated by Richard Sieburth. (Archipelago Books) This volume is the rib-tickling oddity of the year: the first translation into English of an experimental novel that, back in 1850, appeared in a French newspaper masquerading as reportage.
  • The Golden Calf by Ilya Ilf & Evgeny Petrov. Translated by Konstantin Gurevich and Helen Anderson. (Open Letter) A satire of political and economic corruption in 1920s Russia whose delicious blend of the daffy and the acidic resonates today.

Visit the original article for the complete descriptions and his nonfiction list.

And while I’m writing about World Books, I want to mention (again) how impressive this program is. Over the past month, pieces have appeared on Horacio Castellanos Moya, Carl Gustav Jung’s Red Book, the passing of Chinese translator Yang Xianyi, Jake Adelstein’s Tokyo Vice, and the Best European Fiction anthology that Dalkey put out.

As part of the coverage of the Dalkey anthology, there’s also an interview with the volume’s “editor,” Alexander Hemon. Personally, I have a lot of issues with this book, why it was put together, and the way Dalkey’s marketing materials try and use “European” as a substitute for “World,” but regardless, this interview with Hemon is pretty interesting:

World Books: Are the writers in the anthology examples of authors who shape their fiction to address a global audience? Are there first class writers in Europe whose work resists adequate translation?

Hemon: Dan Brown (a cynical emotional manipulator) shapes his fiction to address a global audience. Great writers have integrity and sovereignty; they write what they write out of some kind of inner need, in pursuit of knowledge that is available only in literature. Rilke (whose work could also be accused of being removed from ordinary experience) believed that great art can only come out of necessity. I’m sure that there are writers in Europe who have yet to be translated or translated adequately–every great writer needs a great translator– but I do not believe that there is untranslatable literature. Robert Frost said that poetry is what is lost in translation, Joseph Brodsky said that poetry is what is gained in translation. I would go with Brodsky.

29 July 09 | Chad W. Post | Comments [1]

Over at World Books, Bill Marx has a very thoughtful review of two Swiss horror books: The Vampire of Ropraz, by Jacques Chessex, translated by W. Donald Wilson and published by Bitter Lemon (a Best Translated Book nominee) and The Black Spider, by Jeremias Gotthelf, translated by H. M. Waidson and published by Oneworld Classics.

The spanking new The Vampire of Ropraz asserts that, when faced with irrational violence, the forces of ignorance and fear predominate. The classic The Black Spider (which was first published in 1842; this is a reprint of the 1958 English edition) revolves around a reneged deal with the Devil, who wants, but doesn’t get, an unbaptized child as payment for his services. The betrayal unleashes the title monster, who can be stopped by goodness, if it is free of moral corruption and hypocrisy. The latter turns out to be a tall order. But at least there’s some Paradise around to counterbalance Gotthelf’s Hell.

Interestingly, both of these books root their avenging vision of mayhem in the brutal mistreatment of children. Gotthelf appears to wish for a God “Who would avenge Himself terribly for all the injustice that is done to poor children who cannot defend themselves.” In a strange way, the Devil is doing the Lord’s work by punishing the sadists among the low- and upper classes.

I was pleasantly surprised by The Vampire of Ropraz, and although The Black Spider doesn’t sound like my sort of book, it does come with a ringing endorsement by Thomas Mann, who claimed it is “like almost no other piece of world literature.”

18 August 08 | Chad W. Post | Comments

Over at PRI’s World Books, Bill Marx has a really interesting podcast interview with Marian Schwartz, whose retranslation of Bulgakov’s The White Guard was recently released by Yale University Press. (Bill Marx also put together a special White Guard related Geo Quiz.)

The interview is really interesting, touching on why people should read The White Guard in addition to The Master and Margarita, what some of the issues were with the previous translation, and, on a related note, how onomatopoeia works in the new version.

This isn’t the only new translation Schwartz has coming out this year—in October Seven Stories will release her retranslation of Ivan Goncharov’s Oblomov.

I’m looking forward to getting my hands on both of these titles, and we’ll definitely review them as soon as possible.

On a related note, Marian Schwartz will be here in Rochester on October 1st to participate in a translator’s roundtable (which will be recorded and posted here) in part to talk about the opportunities and challenges of retranslating classics.

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