17 November 11 | Chad W. Post

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.




Comments are disabled for this article.
....
Anna Karenina
Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
Reviewed by Christopher Iacono

For the past 140 years, Anna Karenina has been loved by millions of readers all over the world. It’s easy to see why: the novel’s two main plots revolve around characters who are just trying to find happiness through love.. . .

Read More >

The Cold Song
The Cold Song by Linn Ullmann
Reviewed by David Richardson

Linn Ullmann’s The Cold Song, her fifth novel, is built much like the house about which its story orbits: Mailund, a stately white mansion set in the Norwegian countryside a few hours drive from Oslo. The house, nestled into the. . .

Read More >

This Life
This Life by Karel Schoeman
Reviewed by P. T. Smith

Karel Schoeman’s Afrikaans novel, This Life, translated by Else Silke, falls into a genre maybe only noticed by the type of reader who tends toward Wittgenstein-type family resemblances. The essential resemblance is an elderly narrator, usually alone—or with one other. . .

Read More >

A Dilemma
A Dilemma by Joris-Karl Hyusmans
Reviewed by Christopher Iacono

In Joris-Karl Hyusmans’s most popular novel, À rebours (Against Nature or Against the Grain, depending on the which translated edition you’re reading), there is a famous scene where the protagonist, the decadent Jean des Esseintes, starts setting gemstones on the. . .

Read More >

Walker on Water
Walker on Water by Kristiina Ehin
Reviewed by P. T. Smith

There are books that can only wisely be recommended to specific types of readers, where it is easy to know who the respective book won’t appeal to, and Kristiina Ehin’s Walker on Water is one these. What makes this neither. . .

Read More >

The Nightwatches of Bonaventura
The Nightwatches of Bonaventura by Bonaventura
Reviewed by J. T. Mahany

Imagine the most baroque excesses of Goethe, Shakespeare, and Poe, blended together and poured into a single book: That is The Nightwatches of Bonaventura. Ophelia and Hamlet fall in love in a madhouse, suicidal young men deliver mournful and heartfelt. . .

Read More >

Pavane for a Dead Princess
Pavane for a Dead Princess by Park Min-Gyu
Reviewed by Christopher Iacono

In 1899, Maurice Ravel wrote “Pavane pour une infante défunte” (“Pavane for a Dead Princess”) for solo piano (a decade later, he published an orchestral version). The piece wasn’t written for a particular person; Ravel simply wanted to compose a. . .

Read More >

Tram 83
Tram 83 by Fiston Mwanza Mujila
Reviewed by Caitlin Thomas

Fiston Mwanza Mujila is an award-winning author, born in the Democratic Republic of Congo, who now, at 33, lives in Austria. From what I could find, much of his work is influenced by the Congo’s battle for independence and its. . .

Read More >

Twenty-One Days of a Neurasthenic
Twenty-One Days of a Neurasthenic by Octave Mirbeau
Reviewed by Lori Feathers

Twenty-One Days of a Neurasthenic is not a novel in the traditional sense. Rather, it is a collection of vignettes recorded by journalist Georges Vasseur in his diary during a month spent in the Pyrenées Mountains to treat his nervous. . .

Read More >

Sphinx
Sphinx by Anne Garréta
Reviewed by Monica Carter

Founded in 1960 by such creative pioneers as George Perec, Raymond Queneau and Italo Calvino, the Oulipo, shorthand for Ouvroir de littérature potentielle, came about in when a group of writers and mathematicians sought constraints to find new structures and. . .

Read More >