4 August 15 | Kaija Straumanis | Comments

This morning, the National Endowment for the Arts announced the recipients for its FY 2016 Literary Translation Fellowship. A total of $275,000 in grants will go to support twenty translators in their projects to translate fiction, creative nonfiction, and poetry. Since 1981, the NEA has awarded 410 fellowships to 363 translators, with translations representing 66 languages and 77 countries.

From the NEA website:

“The NEA is committed to providing Americans with diverse art experiences,” said NEA Chairman Jane Chu. “Our support of literary translation provides opportunities for readers to expand their knowledge of other cultures and traditions while also experiencing some of the world’s most talented writers.”

Four of this year’s twenty recipients are tied ever-so-closely to Open Letter Books. In alphabetical order, and with a mere fraction of the skills and attributes they all boast, they are:

  • K. E. Semmel, St. Louis Cardinals fan, and translator from Danish. His translation of Naja Marie Aidt’s Rock, Paper, Scissors comes out next week.
  • Benjamin Paloff, translator from Polish and Czech. His translation of Andrzej Sosnowski’s Lodgings came out in 2011.
  • Will Vanderhyden, University of Rochester MALTS graduate, and translator from Spanish. His translation of Carlos Labbé’s Navidad & Matanza came out last August, and his translation of Labbé’s Loquela is forthcoming this December.

A massive congratulations to all twenty fellowship recipients, and we look forward to seeing your final project results and products!

For the full NEA press release, go here.

For the full list of NEA Literary Translation Fellowship recipients, go here.

3 August 15 | Kaija Straumanis | Comments

The latest addition to our Reviews section is by P. T. Smith on Kristiina Ehin’s Walker on Water, translated by lmar Lehtpere and out from Unnamed Press.

Here’s the beginning of Patrick’s review:

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 a criticism, nor the identification of a flaw is that Walker on Water is an unusual book that pushes boundaries, and the readers it would most appeal to are vastly different. This book is for those who like their stories very brief, abstracted, non-linear, without traditional character or plot, and for those to whom fabulism appeals, those who want stories to be strange and magical, something resembling, but far from, fairy tales.

When you look underneath a woman who walks on water, whose husband comes home and takes his brain out of his head, or a woman who collects her husband’s “big juicy apricots,” look past character names like Teacher of Joy, Surrealist’s Daughter, Stone Chunk, and Beautiful Question, Ehin’s stories are predominantly about relationships, mostly that between lovers. Her characters fall in and out of love, back in and out again, ever changing, ever keeping secrets. At times, the connections to tangible, and recognizable aspects of relationships are visible, though even then there is no certain, specific comparison—as in “Cushions,” where the narrator and her husband are literally deaf to each other, and only each other: “I realized that whenever I related my tales to my husband, he was relating his to me at the same time.” But mostly, when the people come into conflict with one another, the parallels to our lives are indistinct.

The repetition with variation of conflict is not necessarily man versus woman, but man and woman struggling within themselves, and it is the outward expression of that struggle that erupts their relationships. Many of the stories open quickly, directly into their odd world, as in the first sentence of “Patterns,” when the narrator tells us “The three men I’ve bitten arms off of are doing well.” These men, all named Jaan, did nothing to deserve her violence—this impossible, animalistic violence. Each of them simply woke her, but in the wakings, no matter the love, or the peacefulness of the situation, there is a suggestion of control, such as when one has made her breakfast and wants to eat it with her before it gets cold. The women of Walker on Water are tensed, so aware of a culture in which men are violent, are cruel and controlling, that they live on the taut edge of fight or flight. So the arm-chewing woman, when her husband came to her, “felt his gigantic, rapidly twitching muscle” and “Rage struck [her] like a thunderbolt.” She did not want to bite his arm off, but taken from sleep, the instinct, the reaction to the dark potentials of intertwined lives, could not be helped.

For the rest of the review, go here.

31 July 15 | Chad W. Post | Comments

This week’s Best Translated Book Award post is by reader, writer, and BTBA judge P. T. Smith. For more information on the BTBA, “like” our Facebook page and follow us on Twitter. And check back here each week for a new post by one of the judges.

Up until college, I didn’t put much, if any, thought into my reading methods. I read what I was assigned for school, and outside of that, read what I wanted, when I wanted to. During college I started choosing an order to read books in, planning a dozen at a time. After some years, I found a new reading method: reading an author’s entire oeuvre, in linear fashion, then moving on to another. I mention all this, leaving out minor phases, and variations of the methods, because as a BTBA judge, I have to come up with a new pattern, while preserving as much of my current habits as I can.

I read multiple books at a time, different types for different reasons, and a genre novel is always one. I deeply love genre, it dominated my childhood reading, particularly science fiction, but also detective, noir, fantasy. This foundation fell apart, during some of those insufferable years of young lit snob pretension, but for years now, has reestablished and strengthened itself. Not wanting to leave this, my eyes seek out genre-in-translation when I peruse and stack books as they arrive.

For years now, since well before Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, crime fiction has been translated in relatively high numbers, and even more so in the time since that series’ success. In recent years, we’ve had the modern, unrelenting Scandinavians, hard-boiled classics like Manchette, the contemporary grim Mediterranean noir of Jean-Claude Izzo and Massimo Carlotto, the resurgence of Simenon, so I had no worries about finding translated crime novels to read this year. Science fiction, however, generally hasn’t faired as well. After all, we’re still waiting for the Bill Johnston translation of Stanislov Lem’s utter classic, Solaris to make it into a print edition.

There does seem to be a tide of change coming though. When a conversation with a translation fan rambles on long enough, more often than not, affection for science fiction comes up. Foreign, seemingly highbrow, authors are more welcoming of genre, and less determined to blend it, or make it literary, justify it as many English-language writers do. With these things, and crime fiction’s success, it’s satisfying to see translated science fiction getting healthier. University of Nebraska Press’s Bison Frontier of the Imagination series has been publishing translations years, and shows no signs of slowing down. Melville House has published both modern authors like Jean-Christophe Valtat and classic ones like the Strugatsky brothers. Lui Cixin’s Three Body Problem had mainstream success in the SF world. Andri Snær Magnason’s “Vonnegutian LoveStar”: http://www.rochester.edu/College/translation/threepercent/index.php?id=6702 is brilliantly fun satire of contemporary life, tossed a few years in the future.

Those efforts help set up the BTBA SF books this year. Leading the way, if only for their flashy covers and early arrival in my mailbox, are the first two publications in Restless Books’ Cuban Science Fiction series. A Planet for Rent and A Legend of the Future have little in common besides being Cuban and good. This is a fine move by Restless, not making a cultural statement about what Cuban SF is, instead just letting the books do what translation does best: offer the literature from other languages that most deserves to be read, and lay out alternative stories, or alternative ways to tell familiar stories.

A Legend of the Future—translated by Nick Caistor, whose name seems to be popping up on excellent translations rather frequently—is by Agustin de Rojas, who the jacket copy calls the “patron saint of Cuban science fiction.” He died in 2011 and published this book in 1985. On the other hand, Planet for Rent was published in 2001, the author goes only by Yoss, and he looks like Criss Angel with a DFW bandana. The differences are not all biographical detail. Rojas’s is a straightforward novel, and in the vein of Arthur C. Clarke in that the book is about people doing their jobs. The characters of his book and Clarkes’ are scientists as professionals. In Legend of the Future, an extended, deep-space journey with a small crew turns disastrous, half the crew dies, the captain is left nearly paralyzed, only able to speak, another is distraught, and a third has a slowly-explained conditioning triggered in her. They work desperately, yet rationally, skillfully, to figure out what exactly went wrong, what they can do about it, and how to get home.

Throughout, cohesively worked into the narrative as part of the conditioning, as memories vividly relived as like hallucinations, reveal just how tightly-knit this crew was, still is, and the philosophy and indoctrination that created that. The characters are put in situations, through changes, only possible in SF, but the psychological exploration of death, desires, thoughts, and values among deeply emotional-connected people struggling to find a way to survive catastrophe is relatable and human. It’s a fantastic book, well-plotted and paced, that plays with some traditional SF rules and gambits, while ever-exciting in the new avenues it creates.

Plot and human relationships are the main forces in Legend of the Future, while Planet for Rent, translated by David Frye, is in the allegorical SF tradition and tells multiple stories instead of just one: it made up of short stories separated by narratives about the world Yoss built, allowing for info-dumps without awkward interruptions. In the future, advanced alien races have decided that humans will destroy themselves before being able to join the larger galactic civilization. With that, the aliens take over, instituting their own rules for fuel use and population growth. They wipe out cities, as punishment, as a way of showing their dominance, and to reestablish “ecological balance.”

Under this harsh rule, the police state with its swift and severe punishments, the purposeful structural poverty, the denial of emigration, Earth becomes a parable for a third world nation, as administrated by a country like the US. It survives on tourism, on selling its culture, and its bodies, all for the entertainment of the rich xenoids, and the humans who successfully collude. The stories are about the sex trade, art, illegal emigration, and inter-species offspring. Yoss’s writing is politically and socially motivated, but by committing to the genre, the imaginative aspects, the entertainment takes precedent over any agenda—at times, one to one connections with reality are clear, other times left in the dust of creative drive.

It is hard to imagine either book written by an English-language author. Rojas’s for its basis in a scientific culture that preaches ideology of the collective, and its conflicted take on that, portraying affection for it and damage done by it. Yoss’s for the remarkably clear expression of how whole cultures and economies are hobbled by more economically and industrially dominant cultures, preaching both their superiority and beneficence, but a clarity not self-righteous, not so committed to message that craft and art are lost, as an English-language author, determined to speak for others, could easily do.

It’s early in the year, dozens more books are going to come to my mailbox, including SF, and hopefully those will live up to these two. I’m in the beginning of Martin Vopenka’s Fifth Dimension, handpicked by translator Hana Sklenkova as one of the best untranslated Czech SF novels. A man, his business and career ruined, for a large sum of money agrees to live in isolation from everyone, including his family, for a year as part of an as-yet unexplained experiment. This beginning touches on one of the pleasures of SF set in the present: the tension of waiting for the SF kernel to expand. I’m looking forward to receiving Taiyo Fujii’s Gene Mapper, translated from the Japanese by Jim Hubbert, a highly praised and awarded contemporary novel. It pushes technological advances and predictions 30 years into the future and I like that type of SF while harboring an affection for Japanese literature.

As with the rest of translated works, as much as there is, I want more translated SF. I want to read the freshest, weirdest SF that other countries are putting out. I want to read the classics that are only just making it into English. I want to see how writers from other countries are affected by English-language writers, to see old ideas in new interpretations. There are books coming out this year I’ve yet to discover, so if you work for a press publishing SF in translation this year, or a fan of any, let me know. I don’t want to miss any of it, and I may find myself writing a second SF post. If you’re a SF fan, talk to fans of translation; if you’re a translation fan, talk to SF fans. Let’s get those worlds, with all their overlap, working to get more of these books into the world.

24 July 15 | Chad W. Post | Comments

This week’s Best Translated Book Award post is from judge Kevin Elliott, bookseller at 57th Street Books in Chicago.

As a reminder, you can stay up to date with all BTBA goings on by liking our Facebook page and by following us on Twitter. And by checking in regularly here at Three Percent.

Recently, Benjamin Moser, author of “Why This World: A Biography of Clarice Lispector” wrote an op-ed for the New York Times discussing the state and struggle of international literature in English translation. Among the statistics and observations of what it takes to bring great writers of non-English languages to not only America, but the world at large, Moser notes that “Literature is made by a community: present and past, dead and alive,” but cautions against the homogeneity that our English-ruled world could impose upon that very same literature.

The Japanese novelist and critic, Minae Mizumura’s book, The Fall of Language In The Age of English, is half memoir of a writer finding her literary voice through U.S. education and the ultimate decision to practice her art in her native (and dying) Japanese. The other half is a much more academic screed against the very same homogeneity that Moser openly struggles with. To Mizumura, this homogeneity is a present threat that endangers the truths in literature that cannot be translated no matter how hard we work at it. In the shadow of that threat lies her steadfast loyalty to writing not only in her native tongue, but also with a conscious awareness and reverence for the literary traditions of Japan.

To Mizumura, dying languages are worth preserving through literature. To Moser, literature of all languages is worth translating. In fact, works of lost literature are waiting to be discovered.

Both Moser and Mizumura mention the invasive reality of English on the world of literature. In their own separate ways, both argue for the concurrent needs to both preserve and promote regional literatures. It is a delicate balance, to be certain. One actively pursues new translations from the Portuguese. The other consciously writes in her native tongue despite being educated in America. One brings a nearly forgotten voice into English on a wider scale than ever before. The other reinterprets an English classic to reflect the post-war conditions of Japanese tradition in the face of the American led industrial globalized society. It is, however, a society that has led to opportunities of discovering more international writing as well as the decline of the very traditions that Mizumura laments in the wake of popular writers such as Haruki Murakami.

Where, then, does this place the three percent figure that is front and center to the English reading world in relation to works in translation? How does someone like me, who is only fluent in the most dominant of languages (with some understanding of casual kitchen Spanish and a picture-book reading competence in German) become so interested in translated fiction? How do I convince others to pick up a lesser known novel that took more than a year of laborious and patient translation work and give it a chance? Why does it matter?

I spend a lot of time thinking about these questions as not only a bookseller, but as a person in an ever-increasingly connected world.

First, I think it matters exactly because we are living within such prevalent connection. Connections that can seem intimate, but so often result in quick flashes and selfies across our screens . . . gone in less time than it takes for Nicholas Cage to steal a sports car. Literature, for me, has always been about curiosity in other perspectives about the world, whether that is a personal narrative of universal human themes or a plot-driven story that pushes us to think in different ways. In a world where seemingly everyone has access to each other all the time, literature gives us a moment of pause and growth. A pause that doesn’t always present itself to us in a media saturated globalized world.

Convincing other people to take these pauses in others’ experiences of the world—especially from other cultures—often boils down to curiosity, which is a quality I find most readers possess. Though it may make Mizumura’s hair stand on end, I don’t see it as much of a stretch to point out to casual readers that learning how one Japanese individual cleans her apartment (Marie Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic Of Tidying Up) isn’t that far removed from learning how one Afrikaner woman organizes and makes sense of her life and family history (Karel Schoeman’s This Life). A stretch for some, of course, but you’d be surprised at how many customers in my store don’t realize that one of the most popular books currently featured on daytime talk shows is translated from another language . . . and how much pointing that fact out to them has opened them to the realization that translated works of all kinds can be relevant, interesting, and perhaps even important to them.

My conscious interest in international literature started unexpectedly when the editor of this site, Chad W. Post, reached into the trunk of his car and handed me a strange and little known novel by the British experimental writer, Ann Quin. The book was Tripticks and I was told it was “British and intense and about America.” I doubt Chad remembers the exchange, but I read the book and thought it was like nothing I had read before. There was a beat sensibility to it and a Woolf-like tone, but with a completely different feel and a critical romanticism about America that I found utterly compelling. And for some unknown reason, It stuck in my head that it was British. It wasn’t British like Dickens or Austen or Hardy. It was something new to me. From that point, I remember paying more attention to where authors were from and began consciously seeking out contemporary novels from other countries and cultures.

Despite the rampant spread and saturation of the English language in culture and literature, an English novel about America led me to the wider world of international literature and, in part, to a genuine curiosity in understanding experiences around the world. From a bookselling perspective, I don’t see why a book about cleaning your clutter can’t do the same. Of course, with the popularity of authors like Knausgaard or Murakami among readers these days, leading someone to the next translated novel isn’t often that much of a stretch, but with only three percent of all books published in America being translated, I’m happy to have an entry point for readers available anywhere I can find one.

As for approaching four percent, it may not be something achievable in the near future for books in translation based on scale alone, but I’m seeing small micro publishers sprout up regularly who are dedicating their efforts toward bringing international literature to the English reader. In a way, the larger issues that Moser and Mizumura struggle with and passionately work for aren’t dissimilar from what I aim to do as a bookseller. Every day I work to preserve the importance of taking the time to read books while simultaneously aiming to open people up to discovering the myriad nuances of art and experience.

Over the next year, I’ll be reading through as many of the hundreds of eligible titles for the 2016 BTBA as I can. I couldn’t be more excited to be a part of the process. But as much as I’ll be offering my opinions and reactions to the books themselves, I’m also interested in sharing what I’ve seen happening in translation at the bookselling level. From the energetic and passionate publishers I’ve been in communication with to the unique ways that different bookstores work to point out the existence and importance of international lit, there are amazing things happening to bring more readers (and more books) into the three percent realm many of us are eager to grow.

21 July 15 | Kaija Straumanis | Comments

The latest addition to our Reviews section is by J. T. Mahany on The Nightwatches of Bonaventura by Bonaventura, translated by Gerald Gillespie, and published by University of Chicago Press.

J. T. is a graduate of the University of Rochester’s MALTS program, and is currently in the MFA program at Arkansas. He’s also the translator of two of “Open Letter’s Volodine books”:http://www.openletterbooks.org/collections/antoine-volodine—_Post-Exoticism in Ten Lessons_ (May 2015) and Bardo or Not Bardo (forthcoming April 2016).

Here’s the beginning of J. T.‘s review:

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 soliloquies in miasmic graveyards, a pregnant nun is entombed alive for her sins of the flesh. These events, and a cornucopia more like them, are all delivered to us through the eyes of the watchman Kruezgang as he makes his rounds in a nineteenth-century German town. The sixteen chapters, each comprising a separate nightwatch, and labeled as such (i.e., “Nightwatch 1. The Freethinker,” etc.), were originally published in 1804, to little public fanfare.

For the rest of the review, go here.

20 July 15 | Kaija Straumanis | Comments

The latest addition to our Reviews section is by Christopher Iacono on Pavane for a Dead Princess by Park Min-Gyu, translated by Amber Hyun Jung Kim, and published by Dalkey Archive Press.

Here’s the beginning of Chris’s review:

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 pavane (a slow procession) that a princess would have danced to in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Even though it’s an elegant piece of music, Ravel has claimed that the title is meaningless: According to a story that appeared in the Rocky Mountain News in 1970, he told someone, “I simply liked the sound of those words and I put them there, c’est tout.”

Korean novelist Park Min-Gyu was obviously inspired by Ravel’s work, but he’s not offering a strict interpretation of it. Unlike the French composer, Park writes about a time he lived in (the mid-1980s), a time when people in his country were beginning to get wealthier (thanks to the housing boom and the stock market), but didn’t know what to do with their new wealth. It was also a time when women, regardless of whether they were beautiful or ugly, were exploited for business purposes. In fact, his novel looks at society’s obsession with beauty by pairing a good-looking narrator with a love interest—the “princess” in this story—who is “extraordinarily ugly.” The result is a haunting (albeit flawed) love story, as well as a commentary about our obsession with money and beauty.

For the rest of the review, go here.

17 July 15 | Kaija Straumanis | Comments

The latest addition to our Reviews section is by Caitlin Thomas on Tram 83 by Fiston Mwanza Mujila, translated by Robert Glasser, and published by Deep Vellum.

Caitlin is one of our interns at Open Letter this summer—which, effectively, is the first summer in a long time that 2/3 of our interns haven’t been named “Hannah.” (Which—hi, Hannahs!)

Here’s the beginning of Caitlin’s review:

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 effect on civilian lives. His first novel, Tram 83, is the story of Requiem, a gangster rapidly gaining power and influence in a fictional, dystopian African city and his friend, Lucien, a writer who visits him and is sucked into Requiem’s corrupt empire and the city’s outrageously extravagant, filthy-glamorous nightlife.

The title refers to Tram 83, a nightclub where wealthy tourists, gangsters, miners, and prostitutes (ranging in age from 12 to “ageless”) go every night, all night. The Tram is what holds the crumbling city together—where Requiem, his cohorts, and the city’s prostitutes peddle to wealthy tourists from around the world. The nightclub is also famous for its jazz music, in particular the Railroad Diva, a hugely talented jazz singer, whose spellbinding performances prompt the patrons to simultaneously lose control of every bodily function, fall in love, despair, and rejoice. The Tram’s jazz music elevates the nightclub to more than a Sodom-and-Gomorrah-like pit of debauchery while simultaneously keeping everything in check.

For the rest of the review, go here.

16 July 15 | Chad W. Post | Comments

We already did one post about Asymptote today, but this review by Pete Mitchell of Georgi Gospodinov’s The Physics of Sorrow is so wonderfully complete and serious that I just have to share it.

I’ll start by giving you the money shot from the review (at least in my opinion):

But Gospodinov is playing for higher stakes than the opportunity to be the Bulgarian Jonathan Safran Foer. He’s interested in the idea of a radical, trans-human empathy not for what it allows him to do in terms of storytelling, but in the way that it makes the entire world a potentially boundless repository of lived experience, a universal archive of the senses, of emotions, and of narrative.

That first sentence is totally going on the front of any future Gospodinov book. And makes me very happy given recent conversations I’ve had about Foer.

Anyway, the real focus of Mitchell’s review is on the archive and the role this plays in Physics.

The Physics of Sorrow, the second novel by Bulgarian writer Georgi Gospodinov, is obsessed by archives, collections, museums, and time capsules, by the traces of lost time captured in texts, pictures, objects, and ephemera, and by the ways in which these traces return to unsettle the present. It dances, too, around that peculiarly archival dilemma: whether to collect everything, centralise it, and set it in amber for posterity, or to throw it all away, live in the present moment, and give the past over to entropy and dispersal. No such proposal as Orbán’s was made in Gospodinov’s native country—since 2011, the records of the Bulgarian Committee for State Security have been open to the public—but Gospodinov’s interest in how history is written and fabricated, suppressed and unearthed, permeates his work to the roots. [. . .]

If Gospodinov wasn’t far too clever a writer to be pinned down on anything so vulgarly obvious as a straight-up allegory, you’d have to say that the myth of the Minotaur is his main vehicle for thinking aloud about the archive. As we’ll see, that’s not just ‘the archive’ as a repository of textual or material evidence, but ‘the archive’ in a more abstract sense: the accumulated records of narrative, of experience, of the individual and collective memory. In Gospodinov’s telling, the Minotaur is a victim, unable to choose the manner of his own conception, so helplessly malformed. His interment in the labyrinth signifies authority’s practice of disposing of the evidence of its own monstrosity. He’s the secret police file in the closed archive, the madwoman in the attic, the spectre of a repressed history that haunts the above-ground world. [. . .]

In its recursions and digressions, in its play of random association and apparently haphazard accumulation, Gospodinov’s novel itself recalls the texture of an archive. In reading it, you’re pleasurably pulled apart by the tension between form and formlessness, between aggregation and dispersal. You can begin to believe that you’re performing something like the work of historical research from primary sources: trawling through the disordered residue of the past and burrowing, through all the blind alleys and sudden, disorienting recontextualisations, toward some kernel of recoverable truth, some intimation of what really happened.

This is one of the best ways of approaching this book, and will likely give you a way of thinking about it as a whole after being pleasantly dragged along its various side streets and digressive stories. It’s an incredible novel, one of those rare books that’s as entertaining as it is meaningful. (And is available for purchase now!)

16 July 15 | Chad W. Post | Comments

This post is from current intern, soon to be Literary Translation grad student, Daniel Stächelin.

From Mexican poet José Eugenio Sánchez and Danish poet Naja Marie Aidt, to Albanian author Ismail Kadare, among others, Asymptote’s Summer 2015 issue features some mind-bendingly vivid nuggets of literary and existential gold. And to call them gold is no stretch of the imagination; Asymptote blog editor Patty Nash writes, “This might be our most star-studded issue yet—our translators, our writers, and, as of the London Book Fair, Asymptote itself have all been bestowed with gold medal love.”

José Eugenio Sánchez has two poems featured in this issue that were translated by Anna Rosenwong, who recently won the the Best Translated Book Award for her poetry translations of Rocío Cerón. Definitely a great start to fantastic issue.

The selections from Maja Marie Aidt’s collection of poetry Everything Shimmers (translated by Susannah Nied), with their colorful and vivid vignettes, made me at times feel a little woozy. But that’s exactly what made them stick; from death and violence to the mundane, Aidt packages life in a surreal and captivating box that lacks corners or edges. Here are two stanzas from the first selection:

Spiderweb-fine jellyfish
moon jellies
floating through
the water as through
et himmelrum, a sky
now in their fifth stage
of peculiar existence and like
the shining violet
veins on your
suntanned hand:
the child in his fifth year
understanding now that people
can really be gone
and disappear

Children are left to cry themselves to sleep
while the adults talk psychoanalysis;
sikke en fest, what a party.
On the subway a mother hits her child; there’s no law against that;
so many threats, so many games.
At night I walk home along sinister streets. Rats scuttle.
People throng. Loud music
from a car full of bitching women. I have a bunch of carnations in my hand,
a blood-spotted dress with a train. Back behind the light is
a darkness I do not understand.
And the moon rises like a glowing grapefruit.
And the clouds drift.
Someone spits from a window
up high.

Boom. That hits me pretty hard in the gut. Not just because of its content, but because of the incredible quality of Aidt’s word choice and use of juxtaposition; having the crying, emotional children side by side with the cerebral and emotionless adults would definitely be a party where I’d sit by myself in a corner and quietly sip my drink and rethink my life and life in general.

The other submission that really stuck out to me was the short story, The Migration of the Stork,= by Albanian author Ismail Kadare (translated by Ani Kokobobo, Ph.D.). First written in 1986, the story follows the narrator as he follows the second-hand details of a love affair between a woman from the north and an older poet. But the version presented in Asymptote is the version he wrote in 1998, after the fall of communism, which makes itself pretty evident when it shifts to move political narration.

Here’s what the translator has to say:

. . . the mystery of the love story is a smoke screen for the darker realities of communist Albania. The discussions of the leader H are obvious allusions to Enver Hoxha, the Albanian dictator who regularly vacationed in Pogradec. Kadare renders the significant political tensions and downright paranoia typical of Hoxha’s later years in power. There are numerous road checks en route to Pogradec and reference is made to the fall from grace of Mehmet Shehu, Enver Hoxha’s second in command, who was found dead under suspicious circumstances in 1981. The death was declared a suicide, but there have been speculations that it was a murder ordered by Hoxha. (Kadare produces a fictionalized account of these events in his 2003 novel, The Successor.)

Kadare reflects on the realities of being a writer in such a political climate, relating an incident of writers reprimanded for falling short on socialist realist cheerfulness. This cultural moment shows just how little room there was for any display of authorial creativity during Enver Hoxha’s repressive regime (1944-1985). Aside from limiting creative freedoms, the hyper-ideologized reality of communist Albania also appears drab and boring. The story’s narrator is grateful for the few surviving specters of an earlier era, like the great “stork,” Lasgush, a valuable muse that brings otherworldly charm to the socialist wasteland.

Lastly, there’s an interview with Mexican author Valeria Luiselli, in which she explains to writer and translator Ezio Neyra her progression as a writer and the insecurities that went along with being raised bilingually, having been forced to move frequently to different countries due to her father’s political career as an ambassador. Here’s an excerpt:

With so much traveling about and so many different languages, did Spanish end up becoming a sort of home that gave you confidence, the place where you felt most at ease?

I’ll start by saying that I don’t think Spanish ever became that sort of refuge you mentioned. In fact, the language in which I was writing and reading was English. Outside home, my life was lived in English; my school life, my intellectual life all happened in English. The language in which I felt most comfortable was English, and that was the way it was for a long time. But you could say that, in terms of Spanish, I felt more confident writing than speaking. I didn’t communicate badly in Spanish, but there were always high levels of uncertainty and resistance, and a sense of its not being natural. I spoke a sort of vacuum-packed Spanish. Out of context. I was aware that I spoke strangely, that I didn’t speak with the same fluency as my sisters (they had stayed in Mexico), who used to tell stories at mealtimes, make us laugh, things I couldn’t manage to do with Spanish. The terrain of writing in Spanish also ended up being a space where I could take more risks. It was a space where I could get my own back. I could experiment more without feeling observed or judged. In a sense, I used written Spanish as a way of making the language mine.

They then go on to discuss Luiselli’s novels Papeles falsos (published in English as Sidewalks), Los ingrávidos (published in English as Faces in the Crowd), and her most recent book, La historia de mis dientes (published in English as The Story of my Teeth, and which Chad tells me is “fucking fantastic”), all of which were translated in close collaboration by Christina MacSweeney, “the results of which often feed back into the Spanish ‘original.’”

If you’re looking for some gripping stuff to read this summer, then Asymptote’s Summer 2015 has a great selection. Sikke en fest!

15 July 15 | Chad W. Post | Comments

I really can’t be happier about this little bit of news from ALTA today . . . The National Translation Award Longlists were announced today, and of the twelve titles that made the prose longlist, Open Letter published four of them! Hot damn!

  • Street of Thieves by Mathias Énard, translated from the French by Charlotte Mandell;
  • This Is the Garden by Giulio Mozzi, translated from the Italian by Elizabeth Harris; and
  • La Grande by Juan José Saer, translated from the Spanish by Steve Dolph, all made the longlist.

They’re up against some tough competition though, which includes:

  • Conversations by Cesar Aira, translated from the Spanish by Katherine Silver;
  • End of Days by Jenny Erpenbeck, translated from the German by Susan Bernofsky;
  • The Mad and the Bad by Jean-Patrick Manchette, translated from the French by Donald Nicholson-Smith;
  • Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy, translated from the Russian by Marian Schwartz;
  • The Last Lover by Can Xue, translated from the Chinese by Annelise F. Wasmoen; and

That’s a really solid list—of translators, authors, books, and publishers. Well done, judging committee!

The poetry list also came out today, also featuring twelve titles:

  • Lazy Suzie by Suzanne Doppelt, translated from the French by Cole Swensen;
  • Wallless Space by Ernst Meister, translated from the German by Graham Foust and Samuel Frederick;
  • Sheds/Hangars by José-Flore Tappy, translated from the French by John Taylor.

Congrats to everyone involved! And tune in this September to learn the names of the five finalists in both categories . . .

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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. . .

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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. . .

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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. . .

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There’s little to say about a series of prose poems that willfully refuse to identify pronoun antecedents. Or perhaps there are a million things. The poems in Morse, My Deaf Friend— the chapbook by Miloš Djurdjević published by Ugly Duckling. . .

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