Monica Carter is a freelance critic.
As I continue on keyboard jacking the BTBA blog this week, I continue also to give praise to some of the publishers who started roughly around the time the award began and have grown right along side us. After A for Archipelago comes E for Europa Editions – the sleek and suave playboy of international literature. Europa puts out the kind of books The Most Interesting Man in the World would read. On one hand, they are gritty with their notorious list of European Noir titles; on the other hand, they are the penultimate cultivated dinner guests with authors like Jane Gardam, Steve Erickson and Elena Ferrante. Granted, they are not solely a publisher of literature in translation, but international literature is their aim as state in their mission statement below:
With offices in New York and London, Europa Editions is an independent publisher of quality fiction. The company was founded in 2005 by Sandro Ferri and Sandra Ozzola Ferri, who are also the owners and publishers of the Italian press, Edizioni E/O. The idea behind the creation of Europa Editions was to capitalize on Edizioni E/O’s deep roots in European publishing to bring fresh international voices to the American and British markets and to provide quality editions that had a distinct look and consistently high level of editorial standards. The Europa catalog is eclectic, reflecting the founders’ belief that dialogue between nations and cultures is of vital importance and that this exchange is facilitated by literature chosen not only for its ability to entertain and fascinate, but also to inform and enlighten.
What book got me first? The Days of Abandonment by Elena Ferrante. Then it was Ferrante’s Lost Daughter. I couldn’t be happier to see that Ferrante is gathering the respect and praise she is receiving currently, but as with many readers who discovered a great writer early on in their career we can’t help but wonder what took everybody so long. I have recently been emailing with one of my fellow judges and he had just finished Ferrante’s newest, Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay and he said that he thought it was better than the last one and that she was “the real deal.” “Of course!” I wanted to scream. Not because everybody should know of her greatness by now, but because her novels are so brutally candid about womanhood, motherhood, friendship between women, and she writes about women have that society at large considers taboo. Even though her first few novels are slim, each one infused by a different singular, suffocating voice, the Neapolitan novels are thick and cast with a Shakespearean set of characters. The pairing of Ferrante and her translator, Ann Goldstein, has given Europa a literary powerhouse that pleases both critics and readers.
Besides Ferrante, they stole my wanna-be-a- drunken-sailor heart with dedication to European Noir. Originally, Europa called it “Mediterranean Noir” but they are expanding which is wise because if there is one thing that is not getting enough attention in the publishing world, it is global noir. I am serious about this. Although there are the City noir titles by Akashic which are good, they are akin to a sample platter of authors of noir. With Europa, you get the feast. My first noir writer I encountered through Europa was Jean-Claude Izzo. He fulfilled my drunken sailor dream and then some. I read his Marseilles Trilogy in a weekend and quickly tore through The Lost Sailors and A Sun for the Dying. Again, the same translator throughout Izzo’s work, the talented Howard Curtis is that invisible presence that makes it all work as a good translator should.
Besides Ferrante and their growing list of European Noir, I can’t help but mention their artwork. They have great covers. Having worked in bookstores, there’s no better way to attract attention to a book than a really stunning cover facing out. Europa covers are easy to spot and quite diverse. I am a huge enthusiast of cover art and Europa has accomplished a difficult task by developing it’s own identity but also making each cover original and individual.
Well, Europa Editions, you’re on my dance card. I love you for your jet setting style. I love you because you would be equally comfortable drinking a forty out of paper bag or a bottle of Dom at the Ritz. You always look good even though I am never sure what to expect when I turn the page. But that’s what makes me love you, you brilliant fool.Tweet
Our love for Marian Schwartz—translator from the Russian of Mikhail Shishkin’s Maidenhair along with Mikhail Bulgakov’s The White Guard and all the Andrei Gelasimov books that AmazonCrossing has been bringing out, and dozens of other works—runs deep, which is why we’re all really excited that she won the Read Russia Prize in the Contemporary Russian Literature category.
The awards ceremony for the Read Russia Prize has taken place on September, 6 within the stately confines of Moscow’s Pashkov House, part of the Russian State Library. This biennial event, which is supported by the Moscow Institute of Translation, is designed to honor the best translators working in any language and to facilitate the further translation of Russian literature. It encompasses four categories: Classic Russian Literature, 20th Century Russian Literature (published before 1990), Contemporary Russian Literature (published after 1990), and Poetry. [. . .]
The nominees for the Contemporary Russian Literature category were Julie Bouvard for her French translation of Eduard Kochergin’s Christened with Crosses, Ives Gauthier for her French translation of Andrei Rubanov’s A Successful Life, Nicoletta Marcialis for her Italian translation of Zakhar Prilepin’s Sin, Ljubinka Milincic for her Serbian translation of Georgy Vladimov’s The General and His Army, Ewa Rojewska-Olejarczuk for her Polish translation of Viktor Pelevin’s T, and Marian Schwartz for her English translation of Leonid Yuzefovich’s Harlequin’s Costume. The winner was Marian Schwartz, who was emotional and grateful as she accepted her award.
Emotional and grateful and BAD ASS.
Following this deserved victory, Russia Beyond the Headlines did a whole feature on Marian that’s both wonderful and fascinating.
It kicks off with a bit about Harlequin’s Costume, which came out from Glagoslav in 2013:
The novel is the first in a trilogy, based on the real-life adventures of Ivan Putilin, a legend in his own lifetime. In the late 19th century Putilin was a chief inspector of police, chasing St. Petersburg’s most notorious criminals. Later contemporaries dubbed him a Russian Sherlock Holmes, but in Yuzefovich’s hands, Putilin’s stories become something richer and more multi-layered than traditional murder mysteries. Harlequin’s Costume originally appeared in Russian in 2001, and its sequel, Prince of the Wind, won the National Bestseller literary prize.
OK, that sounds pretty good, but check out the jacket copy:
The year is 1871. Prince von Ahrensburg, Austria’s military attaché to St. Petersburg, has been killed in his own bed. The murder threatens diplomatic consequences for Russia so dire that they could alter the course of history. Leading the investigation into the high-ranking diplomat’s death is Chief Inspector Ivan Putilin, but the Tsar has also called in the notorious Third Department – the much-feared secret police – on the suspicion that the murder is politically motivated. As the clues accumulate, the list of suspects grows longer; there are even rumors of a werewolf at large in the capital. Suspicion falls on the diplomat’s lover and her cuckolded husband, as well as Russian, Polish and Italian revolutionaries, not to mention Turkish spies.
That’s how you sell a book. Cuckholds and werewolves.
What’s particularly interesting is that this is one of the few books that Marian translated on spec, hoping that she would find a publisher for it.
“Having translated about 70 books over the last 35-plus years, fewer than five of them, probably, have been at my initiative,” she told the Moscow audience for the Read Russia Award Presentations. “I found, appreciated, and translated Harlequin’s Costume on spec, convinced that it would find a publisher eventually.” In the end, the book was finished only with help from a grant, and it was several years before Glagoslav published it in 2013.
“My hope is that this prize will help in finding a publisher for all of Yuzefovich’s books,” says Schwartz, describing him as “one of the most overlooked authors in English translation.” She is also translating and seeking a publisher for Yuzefovich’s more recent, more serious novel Cranes and Pygmies, which won the Big Book award in 2009.
I have a feeling that a few publishers are going to be contacting her about this . . .
Another great aspect of this article is that it gets at why Marian became a translator, and what she hopes to accomplish. These bits should be really interesting to anyone new to the field—anyone hoping to translated 70+ books over their lifetime:
“I became a translator,” she says, “largely because I felt that was the one role – bringing Russian literature to the English-speaking audience – I could play best. It was something a native speaker of Russian could not do.” [. . .]
The intended readership is central to Schwartz’s perception of her role. She told RBTH last year that she would “dearly love to see more … translated books that would appeal to a broader audience.” Apart from Yuzefovich, the authors she wants to translate more of in future include Andrei Gelasimov, whose comic, poignant, accessible novels she has almost single-handedly brought to the attention of Anglophone readers. She also has her eye on Olga Slavnikova’s novel The Man Who Couldn’t Die (Bessmertny) and Dina Rubina’s novel The Petrushka Syndrome.
“What all these books have in common, apart from their literary brilliance,” says Schwartz, “is what I see as their potential appeal to the Western reader. These are books I’d like to share with the American audience.”
I don’t read this as Marian seeking out pulpy best-sellers that Americans with Twilight for, but rather that her role is bringing interesting works of Russian literature to Americans—blending her knowledge of U.S. readers and academics with her expertise in Russian lit.
Marian really is a hero and having the chance to meet her in person is one of the reasons I encourage all emerging translators to attend ALTA.Tweet
First up today is Aurora Venturini, who kicks off the whole anthology, and who published her first book in 1942 and her most recent book in 2013. That’s longevity!
I think of the Golden Age playwrights and the surprising formal hybridity they managed. Lope de Vega, for example (along with many others), used the tragicomedy to convey his characters’ development. I had those authors as a point of reference for this first chapter of my novel, Las primas. I explain what the family of the protagonist, Yuna, was like: what her mother did, what her cousins were like, her sister, her aunt Nené, and the art professor, whose role in the development of the story is crucial. Yuna’s mother feels a profound detachment from her family in particular because her husband abandoned her with two very strange daughters. One is a handicapped girl, Betina, who’s in a wheelchair. The other is Yuna, the narrator, who loves to paint. In this first part I tried to describe not only this girl’s talent when she attends a fine arts school in La Plata, where she wins prizes at exhibitions, but also the astuteness of the professor. Yuna has trouble speaking, and since she can hardly read or write, she expresses herself through painting. She meets a professor who values her very highly and who tells her they’re going to show her work first in Buenos Aires and then in Europe. He tells her they’re going to travel and she jumps on the professor to kiss him and they fall over together. “No, Yuna, that’s not done. Because men are fire and women straw and the devil comes along and blows.”
Before leaving for Paris, you received a prize from Borges’s own hands, and later, when you were eighty-five, you won another award from young Argentine writers who considered you one of their own. Narratively, Paris was like an intermezzo between Buenos Aires and Buenos Aires.
I began writing here but I love Paris very much. It was the happiest time of my life, amazing to be in Paris at the height of existentialism. I entered university in 1942 and ended up with a doctorate in Philosophy and Education. Afterward, with the Revolución Libertadora in ’55, I had to leave, and in Paris I specialized in psychology. The French authorities were good enough to give me citizenship and I was able to work. Nothing like what happened to me in Argentina after the fall of Perón, where I was attacked over and over. But no one remembers that and no one talks about it. Because people who went to war don’t talk, the ones who talk are inventing, because if someone told what actually happened no one would think it was possible. But I went to Paris and that influenced me because I was with the greatest writers. I was with poets like Quasimodo, I took courses with Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir, I was very close friends with Violette Leduc. We had such beautiful experiences, the nights we’d get together in the Latin Quarter. And now, here, the “youth” prize for Las primas opened the door to many opportunities, the novel has been adapted for the theater several times and has been translated into many languages.
My mom carried a pointer when she taught and wore a white dustcoat and she was very strict but she was a good teacher in a suburban school for not the brightest kids from middle class families on downward. The best one was the grocer’s son Ruben Fiorlandi. My mom rapped the ones that acted up on their heads and sent them to the corner wearing the colored cardboard donkey ears. The misbehavior was rarely repeated. In my mom’s opinion a little blood makes any lesson stick. The third graders called her the third grade miss but she was married to my father who left her and never performed the obligations of a pater familiae. She worked as a teacher in the mornings and came home at two in the afternoon where dinner would be waiting because our small dark housemaid Rufina did the cooking. I was sick of stew every day. A chicken coop clucked behind the house and in the yard squash sprouted miraculously and unruly golden sunflowers stretched from the earth to the heavens next to violets and stunted roses that gave that miserable heap its perfume and that’s how we ate.
I never admitted that I learned to read time when I was twenty. That confession embarrasses and surprises me. It embarrasses and surprises me for reasons that you’ll find out later and lots of questions come to mind. One I remember especially: What time is it? Honest truth I couldn’t tell time and clocks frightened me just like the sound of my sister’s wheelchair.
She was even more of an idiot than me but she could read the face of a clock even though she couldn’t read a book. We weren’t typical, never mind normal.
Vroom . . . vroom . . . vroom . . . murmured Betina my sister wheeling her misfortune around the garden and the stone courtyards. The vroom was usually wet with the idiot’s drool. Poor Betina. Freak of nature. Poor me, another freak, and my mom weighed down by abandonment and by monsters even more so.
But everything in this awful world passes. That’s why it doesn’t make sense to dwell too much on anything or anyone.
Sometimes I think we’re a dream or a nightmare relived day after day that at any second will stop that won’t appear on the screen of the soul to torture us any more.
That was the psychologist’s diagnosis. I don’t know if that’s all it was. My sister had a crooked spine, from behind in her chair she looked like a tiny hunchback with puny legs and massive arms. The old lady who came to darn the socks said that someone had done something to my mom during her pregnancies, the worst during the one with Betina.
I asked the unibrowed mustachioed lady psychologist what a mental disorder was.
She said it was related to the soul but that I wouldn’t understand till I was older. But I supposed that the soul was something like a white sheet inside the body and that when it got stained people became idiots, Betina a lot and me a little.
I started noticing when Betina wheeled around the table with her vroom that she was dragging a little tail that stuck out through the back of the wheelchair seat and I told myself it had to be her soul coming untucked.
When I asked the psychologist this time if the soul had anything to do with being alive she said it did and even added that when it was missing people died and the soul went to heaven if it had been good and to hell if it had been bad.
Vroom . . . vroom . . . vroom her soul dragged more and had more gray stains every day and I decided that it wouldn’t be long before it fell out and Betina would be dead which didn’t matter to me because she made me sick.
When it was time to eat, I had to feed my sister and on purpose I’d mistake the orifice and I’d put the spoon in her eye, in her ear, in her nose, before finally her cakehole. Ah . . . ah . . . ah . . . moaned the filthy creature.
I would grab her hair and put her face in her food and then she’d be quiet. Why did I have to pay for my parents’ mistakes? I thought about stepping on the tail of her soul. The thing about hell stopped me.
Reading the catechism had burned the “thou shalt not kill” into me. But with every little bump today and again tomorrow, the tail grew and no one else saw. Only I did and I rejoiced.
(Translated by Steve Dolph)Tweet
Here’s the beginning of Chris’s review:
While looking back at an episode in his life, twenty-year-old Taguchi Hiro remembers what his friend Kumamoto Akira said about poetry.
Its perfection arises precisely from its imperfection . . . . I have an image in my head. I see it clearly before me. Its colors are glaring and harsh in their brightness. But as soon as I rush to capture it, it explodes, and what I write down are separate bits that don’t form a whole. Do you see it now? It’s as if I tried to glue together a broken vase, piece by piece. But the shards are so fragmentary that I don’t know which goes with which or how I fit them together, there’s always one fragment left over. But this fragment! It makes the poem. It alone gives meaning . . . . My requiem should be a vase with water shooting through the glue in its cracks.
Soon after this speech, Kumamoto wrote this “requiem”—which he also called “his poem”—and now Hiro is writing his. Also, like his friend, Hiro is fixated on a broken object; in this case, it’s his bedroom wall, which has a hairline fissure that he’s been staring at for the last two years, so he can figure out how to fit himself inside it. Hiro has spent a lot of time staring at this crack, because following a traumatic incident when he was eighteen, he became a hikikomori, a young person who shuts him- or herself in a room and has no interaction with anyone else. Even though his parents still left food at his door, they pretty much gave up on him. However, at the beginning of this wonderful novel from Japanese-Austrian writer Milena Michiko Flašar, Hiro finally re-emerges into the outside world.
For the rest of the review, go here.Tweet
Monica Carter is a freelance critic.
This week as I takeover the BTBA blog and I finally get the opportunity to do something I have been longing to do – highlight some of the incredible publishers the are committed to producing quality literature in translation. Each day, I will tip my hat to a small press that has grown with the Best Translated Book Award, which began in 2007. There are no specific requirements except that these publishers continued to refine their identities, remain loyal to their mission statements and produce great works each year for Americans to discover, read and discuss.
Since the alphabet begins with “A” and I have never been shy about my love for them, I will begin with Archipelago Books. Run by the elegant Jill Schoolman and a small staff, Archipelago is celebrating its tenth year in publishing this October. I could explain exactly what they are about, but they say it best in this excerpt:
Archipelago Books is a not-for-profit press devoted to publishing excellent translations of classic and contemporary world literature. In our first decade, we have brought out over ninety books from more than twenty-five languages.
Artistic exchange between cultures is a crucial aspect of global understanding. It has never been more important for voices from around the world to be heard in this country—our place in the world depends upon it. Sadly, less than three percent of new literature published in the United States originates outside the Anglosphere. By publishing diverse and innovative literary translations we are doing what we can to change this lamentable circumstance and to broaden the American literary landscape.
We are always striving to find literary voices that simply would never be heard in the U.S. without Archipelago. While our efforts, especially those of our translators and authors, have been recognized by numerous literary awards, the sort of recognition we seek is for those largely unknown and forgotten locales—the Spanish Basque Country, the Chukchi lands of Siberia, the scrublands of South Africa, war-torn Lebanon—and the writing that allows our readers to see these places through the eyes of the people who live there.
Not that I don’t think the above sentiment is lovely, but the reason I fell in love with Archipelago was a little reddish-orange covered number entitled, The Waitress Was New, by Dominique Fabre, translated by Jordan Stump. A slim, whisper of a book that speaks to aging, solitude and the need for human contact, it feels like a philosophy primer for the meaning of life. A short read with a long tail impact.
Any book after that I spied with the tiny cluster of islands on the spine went immediately into my hands. I was obsessed.
Then came Georg Letham:Physician and Murderer by Ernst Weiss, translated by Joel Rotenberg. A compelling, creepy read about a murderer who still wants to use his talents to contribute to humanity (check my review here. My site is under construction, by the way) in this original tale of a man’s own struggle between good and evil.
Seeming able to choose classics and contemporary fiction and poetry with equal expertise, Archipelago steadily built a long list of premiere literature in translation from well-chosen locations that represented lands and peoples with deep traditions not known outside of that area. Along the way, Achipelago picked up numerous prizes and garnered more attention from the media. Then they virtually hit gold. This gold, otherwise known as the “Norwegian Marcel Proust”, is Karl Ove Knausgaard. I don’t know whether or not Archipelago had the foresight of Knausgaard’s success because the fact is they would have picked up Knausgaard for the quality anyway. What sets Archipelago apart from most publishers is not only their impeccable taste, their faith in their writers and their translators, but it is this magical element – they have faith in readers out there, in you and me. I don’t know about you but I feel underestimated by most American media, including publishers, and I appreciate that someone doesn’t assume I will run screaming from the bookstore because a book is over 300 pages.
Archipelago Books, this love letter is to you. You have made my life better through reading, through your sophistication and through your loyalty. You’ve even made my bookshelves prettier. Don’t go changing, I love you just they way you are.Tweet
As a weekend send-off, I thought I’d round off this week’s entries in the Month of a Thousand Forests with a bit from one of my favorite books of recent times — Senselessness by Horacio Castellanos Moya.
You hopefully know this by now, but if you order A Thousand Forests in One Acorn from the Open Letter site before the end of September, use the code FORESTS and you’ll get it for only $15.
It seems to me that these pages reflect the absurdity and ridiculousness of desire, and also the complexity of the human psyche, never really content with what it has. I like the correspondence between the earthquake and the anxiety of the character. I also chose this chapter because I greatly enjoyed writing it.
My dead are present in the majority of my books, sometimes quite veiled, sometimes less so. My father died when I was thirteen and since then, every now and then, death rings its bells again: friends and cousins murdered in the flower of life, the beloved elderly who die old. It seems that I write not so much to conjure death but to settle scores with her, to pay her for my dead, and also to settle scores with the murderers. The influence of Faulkner is permanent, but for me it is easy to speak literarily with Onetti, for reasons of language, and because he is the Latin American writer I most admire, although he himself said once, with a wink of modesty, that one should not read his work but rather that of Faulkner. Still, recently I have not conversed much with dead writers; instead I have returned to thinkers addicted to the aphorism, like Cioran, Nietzsche, Canetti, Schopenhauer. Perhaps as I get older and I begin to descend the opposite slope I am looking for another type of conversation, more concise and profound. In practical terms, I turn to Sophocles when I am blocked: only he is able to unblock me.
Lying in the bed, the recently possessed body snoring beside me, I was taken by surprise by an idea, an idea that suddenly blinded me, the idea that hell is the mind not the flesh, I became aware of this at that moment, the idea that hell resided in my agitated mind—distraught—and not in the sweating flesh, for in no other way could I explain the fact that there I was in my bed in my apartment in the Engels Building, unable to enjoy the splendor of Fátima’s milky-white skin, a skin that in other circumstances would have delighted all my senses, but whose proximity had now plunged me into a state of such dire agitation that I would have given anything for her not to be there, for nothing to have happened between us, for everything to have been just one more of my fantasies. But no, I told myself as I tossed and turned in bed without being able to fall asleep, with anguish gnawing away at the mouth of my stomach, no, that body I had so strongly desired had only made me understand the vulnerability of pleasure, its fragile and crumbling nature, I reproached myself, unable to find a comfortable position that would allow me to fall asleep or even relax, my gaze fixed on the windows whose curtains I had not closed completely and through which midnight and its suspicious sounds entered; that body so desired by everybody had suddenly lost its charm when just one hour before she had asked me point blank if I’d rather she suck it or masturbate me, a question that didn’t make any sense considering the fact that we had been kissing and touching each other passionately for only three minutes—a few seconds more, a few seconds less—on the couch in my apartment, and what should have followed, after she already had my member in her hand and I had my middle finger inside her pussy, was to get totally undressed and lick each other all over until we consummated the act of love, instead of her posing that indecent and inappropriate question as to whether I preferred a blow job or a hand job, as if that whole preamble of confessions, caresses, and kisses that had begun in that beer joint Tustepito as evening was falling had been only a ruse to bring on the moment when she could ask me what I preferred, a hand job or a blow job, something I’d expect from a shrewd prostitute showing her price list to a horny client rather than this Spanish beauty whom, according to me, I had seduced with my charm. Who knows what expression she saw on my face, but she immediately explained in no uncertain terms that she didn’t plan on fucking me—damn it!—that she had a boyfriend whom she loved very much and who would arrive in the country the next morning, a boyfriend she would never be unfaithful to, even though at that very moment she held my member in her hand and was offering to let me choose if she would jerk me off or suck it, she repeated, instead of getting naked and giving herself to me as logic would dictate. I told her to suck it, because it wouldn’t have been a good idea to remain aroused and with my balls bursting, such a strain causes pain and makes walking difficult, even though the magical moment had already passed, that instant when the magic of possession rises resplendent had gone to the dogs the moment she asked that indecent question, more typical of a professional than a girl who’s been seduced, I thought as I contemplated her with my member in her mouth, sucking, with agitated and slightly arrhythmic movements, which made me worried I would sustain an injury, perhaps the scratch of a canine, so I suggested she calm down, take it more gently, resting my hands on her head, not concentrating too much on the pleasure she was supposedly giving me but rather attempting to figure out what difference it would make as she was reaffirming her fidelity to her boyfriend, who would arrive the following morning and whom I had just found out about, if she had given me a blow job or been penetrated, a difference that was frankly difficult for me to discern, much more so when she tried to talk without taking my member out of her mouth, saying something like “ca-cu-ca-ci,” and looking at me worriedly and without diminishing the flurry of her movements she mumbled over and over again in a guttural way “ca-cu-ca-ci,” with such concern in her eyes, until I told her that I couldn’t understand what she was saying, that she should take my member out of her mouth before talking, which she did immediately and then she clearly repeated what before I had heard only as “ca-cu-ca-ci,” which in fact was the question, “Are you happy?”
(Translated by Katherine Silver)Tweet
This book literally just arrived in our office, which is perfect, since I’m taking off in 15 minutes to go camping and will definitely bring this with me.
If you don’t already know Julio Cortázar’s work, run to the nearest bookstore and buy Hopscotch and 62: A Model Kit. After that, you will, like everyone else who’s been indoctrinated into the World of Cortázar, seek out every last thing that he wrote, and cherish all of his books. (One hidden gem worth checking out is Autonauts of the Cosmoroute, which Archipelago brought out a few years back.)
Anyway, this particular book is a mash-up of literature and comics that seems particularly Cortázar-esque. On his way home from the Second Russell Tribunal (which was dedicated to investigating human rights violations in Latin American countries), Cortázar read issue #201 of Fantomas: The Elegant Menace which contains a cameo by Julio Cortázar!
Out of this, he wrote this book, which contains parts of the original comic book along with a text that ends up exploring human rights abuses and the other evils of multinational corporations and political regimes.
This came out in Spanish in 1975, but has never before been translated into English. Semiotext(e) did a great job with this, and I can’t wait to get the tent set up so that I can dive in . . .
The first author in today’s Month of a Thousand Forests entry is Rafael Sánchez Ferlosio, who has a couple books available already in English, both translated by superstar Margaret Jull Costa.
What’s most interesting about his work—at least to me—is his obsession with words, grammar, precise writing. Valerie explains this a bit in his bio, then touches on it in the interview. He seems like the sort of author that a lot of professors could use in an advanced Spanish class . . .
And remember, if you order A Thousand Forests in One Acorn from the Open Letter site and use the code FORESTS, you’ll get it for only $15.
Of course, after his incursion into the world of fiction writing, [Ferlosio] rejected “the grotesque imposture of the literati,” and dedicated the years that followed to the study of grammar. Seized by this passion, Sánchez Ferlosio would spend those years in a “graphomaniacal furor” in absolute silence in terms of publishing. As he once said, “I don’t write with the immediate need to publish. I always say that I know how to knit, but I don’t know how to make a sweater.”
For reasons of mental health (grammar is tremendously obsessive), he returned to the publishing world (that doesn’t publish) in 1974 with Las semanas del jardín (a title inspired by the novel that Cervantes never managed to write). The years that followed, he dedicated to his work as an essayist and in 1986 he returned to writing fiction with El testimonio de Yarfoz.
The largest part of his most recent work has centered around essays with titles like Vendrán más años malos y nos harán más ciegos, a collection of reflections and aphorisms that won him Premio Nacional de Ensayo and Premio Ciudad de Barcelona. Like a dyed-in-the-wool bellicose intellectual, he has freely proclaimed a total lack of influence from contemporary literature, similarly his complete repudiation of television, sports, and publicity. His darts have struck such figures as Ortega y Gasset, Julián Marías, Karl Popper, and García Lorca.
His agent, Carmen Balcells, once said of him that he has written two or three hundred times as many pages as he has published. Though the number is, perhaps, exaggerated, there is no doubt that Rafael Sánchez Ferlosio is an author as irrepressible as he is indispensable. With your permission . . .
Critics have said that you are “the twentieth century author with the greatest lexical richness and that you use the language with the greatest precision and meticulousness. That the breadth of your narrative register does not cease to amaze, from fantasy to the objectivity of El Jarama.” All told, this precision has an impressionistic poetic and a symbolic strength. The fantastical world of prince Nébride comes to seem even more real than reality itself. In the beginning was the word. Could Yarfoz and prince Nébride be a sort of fantastical Don Quixote and Sancho Panza? Prince Nébride seems to be a character of uncertain destiny.
The greatest lexical richness is false because what I have are prohibitions—self-prohibitions—and not a very broad vocabulary. For example, I can’t say “efectuar.” I never use the verb efectuar or the verb realizar. I always say “hacer” and I was greatly annoyed when I discovered that the verb efectuar was already in use in the sixteenth century. I am precise and meticulous in terms of description, but it’s not richness of vocabulary. Sometimes I have a predilection for antiquated words—some—very few, but that’s another story.
I don’t now how to apply personality and fate to these characters, but they aren’t characters of personality. They are characters of fate because they are part of a plot; here, for example, they are going into exile. They have personalities like everyone, but the manifestation of their personalities is not part of the plot. They have almost no personality, but they do have fate; things happen to them, they do things. So the previous comparison of Yarfoz and prince Nébride, because they are on horseback, is absolutely ridiculous, in the first place because Don Quixote and Sancho Panza are definitely characters of personality and all of Quixote is the manifestation of their personalities. Besides, mounts—the donkey and the horse—are subject to sumptuary norms of the time in which Quixote was written, perhaps they were in decline, but up until then the mount you rode was symbolic of your social status. It was prohibited for a peasant like Sancho Panza to ride a horse. Maybe already in the seventeenth century some peasants did because there were so many bandits who rode horses around the end of the sixteenth century and at the beginning of the seventeenth, but before then horses were status symbols, and the “nobleman” Alonso Quijano the Good had to ride a horse, as the word caballero (horseman) indicates. This is emphasized by, although I do not know until when, the fact that the mule was the mount of the clergy. The clerics rode mules, the caballeros rode horses, and peasants rode donkeys.
Apart from the escorts provided by the king, our expedition was made up of ten horses: Nébride rode one, his wife Táiz another, on another rode Sorfos, and on a horse he had just been given by Mirigalla, rode Sebsidio; Fosco, the carpenter, and Anarino, his wife, rode their own horses, each carrying one of their children; on another rode Chano, Táiz’s lady-in-waiting, on another Quiarces, the Atánida of Ebna, who had come along as the head of the household; on another was Nerigreo, the agronomist, and, finally, on the last horse, rode Vandren and myself; then came eight cargo mules and a mule driver, lent us by Mirigalla, who would return with the mule train. Only Fosco’s children and Vandren were without their own mount, and the horse the king had gifted Sebsidio was far and away the best.
XXIX. The “Path of the Iscobascos” is described in the Grágidos as a passageway carved out of living rock, but we would never have been able to imagine the monumental construction we would encounter that morning. We had only traveled a distance of eight hundred horses—not along the path leading to the cliffs, but on a path running perpendicular to that one, heading west, through the lush coolness of cedars and yews—when turning to the south we saw the path start gradually to drop underground, as if burrowing into the rock. We descended to a point where the walls of rock flanking the path closed in a vault over our heads, forming an underground tunnel. My sense of direction led me to believe that the mouth of the tunnel was perpendicular to the line of cliffs such that, if it continued in a straight line, inevitably there would be a light at the other end. But this was not the case; instead it continued to drop, maintaining the same angle, through the heart of the living rock, banking slowly to the right. It got so dark that our guide lit a torch, by which light I saw the great craftsmanship of the stone carvers, no hollows or protuberances, and I could see a channel, about a foot wide and a foot deep along the right hand wall, coursing with clear, fast-moving water. Soon, however, a light appeared and the tunnel opened into a room with a circumference of at least two-hundred-and-fifty horses, positioned parallel to the vertical face of the precipice that we had encountered days before. The tunnel was the entryway to a ramp cut into the stone wall of the Meseged, forming a sort of lateral groove, so that not only the floor was stone, but the right-hand wall and the ceiling were stone as well; on the left, it was open to the air, but a thick stone parapet came up to a safe height. It was a kind of overlook cut into the wall but always descending, almost rectilinear, with only a few protrusions and recessions in the hard stone wall. The channel of water still coursed rapidly to our right. Soon we saw that at a distance of approximately one-hundred-and-fifty horses the ramp seemed to dead-end against a wall, on a landing that was either wider than the path, or cut deeper into the rock; but when we came up to the wall, we saw that at the landing another tunnel opened into the rock; this second tunnel also curved, but not as sharply as the first one, delving into the rock, and always descending, inscribing first three quarters of a helicoid to a point where, turning back on itself, it rotated a final quarter of a circle, arriving parallel to the cliff face once again, giving way to another ramp, identical to the first, but the inverse of it because now the stone was on our left and the emptiness on our right. Seeing this, we understood, in essential terms, what the so-called “Path of Iscobascos” was: if we had been able to look down at it from the plain, we would have seen a succession of zigzagging ramps cut into the stone, mysteriously connected at the ends by tunnels that penetrated the heart of the rock, always descending, inverting and dropping to the next ramp, emerging parallel to the cliff face thanks to the doubling back or inverse curvature of the last quarter of a circle. In the end, the totality was not structurally different from a great spiral staircase, but one that had been pressed flat, except at its extremes, against a single plane. The guide told us that the landings at the ends of the ramps, along with the square recesses that appeared here and there, greater in number all the time approaching the center, were pullouts for carts that crossed paths while descending and ascending, for resting mules, fixing malfunctions, or any other eventuality. Before long we saw water tanks, troughs, and even small gardens, jutting out over the luminous abyss. In places where the rock seemed unstable, the parapet extended in columns to the bridge that formed the ceiling, all of it carved out of living rock, not a single fabricated feature. Our admiration for that prodigious construction increased at each new ramp: I even thought I saw the melancholy dissipate in Nébride’s eyes, replaced by a glow of joy for the past and excitement for great public works.
(Translated by Will Vanderhyden)Tweet
Had it not been for translators and their work, much of the world’s most important literature would only have been accessible to readers with specialized skills in foreign languages. Furthermore, without translations and the people who wrote them, a country would have been deprived of the contrasts, reflections and inspirations from other literatures that are so essential to the life and spirit of its national literature. Nonetheless, translators are severely underexposed in a country’s literary history.
This obvious but often glossed-over fact has now lead the Danish Association of Translators (DOF) to the initiative of making an online encyclopedia of Danish translators. In order to avoid the complete historical effacement of translators in the slipstream between cultural anonymity and linguistic transparency, between mere bibliography and pure theory, the online database will present men and women who have enabled Danish readers (and Danish writers) to engage with other literatures from near and far – the men and women who have actively conducted the exchanges that allow Danish literature to breathe.
This initiative is intended to work on several levels, both as a frame of reference for the history of translation in Denmark and as a qualification of translation criticism. The individual entries will present a translator and his or her bibliography and literary career. They will also contain details of the individual translator’s linguistic background, technical methods, apparent strategies, particular challenges and literary merits in a critical perspective, etc. The encyclopedia will be continually expanded.
TranslatorWiki! WikiTranslatorium? Whatever funny name you could come up with, this would be an interesting way of making visible the people who make visible the books we read from around the world.Tweet
All I have to say before we get to Vince’s review is that “Killybegs” sounds like something one might yell after a pint too many at some local bar. There’s something about the word that just makes it sound a little manic, a little on the edge. Which, if you look at Google pictures of the sleepy-looking fishing town town, appears to be completely not accurate. But . . . KILLYBEGS!
On to Vince’s review:
The central concern of Sorj Chalandon’s novel Return to Killybegs appears to be explaining how a person of staunch political activism can be lead to betray his cause, his country, his people. Truth be told, the real theme of the book is the importance and artifice of myths and legends. In this sense, the novel’s plot, loosely based on the infamous case of IRA leader turned informer Dennis Donaldson, serves to do more than artfully convey the manner in which a zealot becomes a traitor; the book details the manner in which we construct ourselves and the ease in which such façades are eroded.
I won’t go into the (pardon the euphemism) complicated history of Northern Ireland, but a quick study will inform the neophyte reader about Sinn Féin and the Troubles, giving them proper (though not necessary) background to enjoy Chalandon’s book. But no reader should consider Return to Killybegs a thorough study of the conflict in Northern Ireland, though in a sense this may be the ideal book to see beyond the history. Often such novels are marketed as windows into a world most readers would fear to actually visit, and we can thank Chalandon for his time as a reporter in Belfast, time that lent the novel proper verisimilitude. While in Belfast, Chalandon befriended Dennis Donaldson, and this relationship has spawned a novel that compresses nearly a century of Irish history into a few hundred quick-moving pages. This accomplishment might be possible in a strict biography, though the result would inevitably swing toward objective distillation of events. But in the fictional account of Tyrone Meehan, the protagonist of Return to Killybegs, the reader is offered a more probing view of the much-maligned traitor. One wonders if the real-life Donaldson is as sympathetic a character as Meehan. And sympathetic he is, allowing the reader to shelve the conflict that often arises when reading history: how do we pity a loathed historical figure?
For the rest of the review, go here.
(KILLYBEEEEEEEEEGGGSSSS . . . !)Tweet
Kamal Jann by the Lebanese born author Dominique Eddé is a tale of familial and political intrigue, a murky stew of byzantine alliances, betrayals, and hostilities. It is a well-told story of revenge and, what’s more, a serious novel that. . .
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The publisher’s blurb for Oleg Pavlov’s The Matiushin Case promises the prospective reader “a Crime and Punishment for today,” the sort of comparison that is almost always guaranteed to do a disservice to both the legendary dead and the ambitious. . .
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In the London of Hédi Kaddour’s Little Grey Lies, translated by Teresa Lavender Fagan, peace has settled, but the tensions, fears, and anger of the Great War remain, even if tucked away behind stories and lies. Directly ahead, as those. . .