In this podcast, Chad and Tom discuss Tom’s recent article in Publishing Perspectives (which he wrote in response to Amazon’s infamous letter to readers), along with some thoughts on why we shop at bookstores, and Julian Gough’s Litcoin project.
Also, as mentioned at the end of the podcast, Chad and Tom will be discussing Roberto Bolaño’s A Little Lumpen Novelita on an episode at the end of September. If you have any thoughts, questions, or opinions about the book, Bolaño, the translation, etc., please send them to firstname.lastname@example.org.
(You can also use that email to tell Chad and Tom that they suck, or to recommend other topics you’d like to hear on the show.)
This week’s music is War on the East Coast by The New Pornographers.
A lover of foreign literature (particularly from Eastern Europe and Russia) Brandy—a new addition to our reviewer pool—recently finished a BA in English Language and Literature at Brock University in St. Catharines, Ontario, and will be starting her MA this fall at Queen’s University, Kingston.
Here’s the beginning of her review:
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 living. Predictably enough, The Matiushin Case is nothing like Crime and Punishment, although anyone familiar with Russian literature can see how Pavlov gamely attempts to tick off certain boxes that are often associated with Serious Russian Themes: the unflinching examination of even the darkest corners of human existence, the exploration of wider social themes and problems through the careful depiction of individual experience, all heralded by a Biblical epigraph—“Am I my brother’s keeper?”—to signal the novel’s soul-searching, philosophical designs. For anyone who loves Russian literature, as I do, all of these elements are entirely welcome, but in Pavlov’s hands, the results are often mixed.
The Matiushin Case follows the relentlessly miserable life of the titular protagonist, from his troubled childhood in the shadow of his domineering father, Grigorii, and his rebellious elder brother, Yakov, to his experiences as a young man in the Soviet army. Much of the novel’s plot, such as it is, simply follows Matiushin as he sinks further and further into the deadening routine and violence of army life, first through his initiation and training, then his stint in an army hospital, and on through his life as a prison guard. This led me to consider that a more accurate comparison to Dostoevsky—if there really has to be one—would be to The House of the Dead, that wonderfully strange hybrid of memoir and fiction based on Dostoevsky’s life in a Siberian prison. This reflects the greatest strength of Pavlov’s novel, for the impression created by his detailed depictions of Matiushin’s daily struggles lend a rather haunting and bleak atmosphere to the work as a whole, offering the reader a truly vivid snapshot of army life in the declining years of the USSR.
For the rest of the review, go hereTweet
Earlier today, Asymptote published an interview between Jeremie Davies, senior editor at Dalkey Archive Press, and Spanish-language translator Steve Dolph. Over the course of the summer, the two corresponded in a great discussion about the great Argentine author Juan José Saer. Here, Part I of the interview, Steve talks about what it’s like to read and translate Saer (three Saer novels translated by Steve are available from Open Letter, including the latest, and Saer’s final work, La Grande.
Below is the beginning of the interview, title “Who’s Who in La Zona“—be sure to follow Asymptote’s posts to catch Part II of the interview.
Would you mind sharing how you first became involved with Juan José Saer’s work, as reader or translator? I mean, was he an extant enthusiasm even before your association with Open Letter?
I can’t really say when as a common reader I first came to know Saer, but I was aware of his work well before the translation project came along. I know I had seen the translations from Serpent’s Tail even before I became seriously interested in translation at all. In the constellation of contemporary Latin American novelists, he figures prominently as a kind of anti-Márquez, insofar as the mythical place he most often visits in his fiction—the city of Santa Fe—is strongly affected by globalization, and fractured. In Márquez the force of history is basically recognizable, and solid, which produces a more or less reliable narrative memory and sense of place. The opposite is the case in Saer. Everything is in doubt, especially the narrative’s ability to recreate a reliable sense of place. But for me that sense of contrast only came much later, when I’d been working on the translations for a while. Before that, he was just another monster in the vast bestiary of Latin American fiction. It took a happy accident for me to get to work on his writing in translation.
In 2008 I had just come off editing Calque and was looking for a book project and shopping around some poems and stories I’d translated. Out of the blue Suzanne Jill Levine contacted me, asking if I’d be interested in translating one of Saer’s novels for Open Letter, because she was busy and couldn’t do the project. I read the book—Glosa, which was published in English as The Sixty-Five Years of Washington—sent Open Letter a sample, and because I loved the writing I asked if they were planning to do more than the one. It turned out they were planning three, and I signed up to do them all, sight unseen.
For the entire interview, go here.Tweet
Here’s the beginning of Paul’s review:
One hundred years have passed since the start of World War I and it is difficult to believe that there are still novels, considered classics in their own countries, that have never been published in English. Perhaps it was the overwhelming number of novels in English in the years following the war that prevented their appearance. Just looking at the list of American authors, a country whose contribution was quite short, Wharton, Cather, Cummings, Faulkner, Dos Passos, and of course Hemingway with A Farewell to Arms, makes it obvious that it was a subject that once had to be written about. Still, that doesn’t explain why perhaps the most famous WWI novel is from Germany, Erich Maria Remarque’s All Quiet on the Western Front. Maybe it was that a second even more devastating war eclipsed the first one, and pushed it into the background. It is a shame, because as Paul Fussell noted, World War I was a literary war and Gabriel Chevallier’s Fear: A Novel of World War I, ably translated by Malcolm Imrie, is a long overdue addition to that literature in English.
Gabriel Chevallier (1895-1969) was called up at the beginning of the war, wounded, and after convalescing returned to the front for the remainder of the war. Fear follows a similar trajectory: call up, wounding and hospitalization, and a return to the front. It follows a typical pattern of novels written by veterans and even echoes that of Remarque. The power that comes in front line narratives is not in the intricacies of plot, but in how they can evoke the experience of war. Chevallier is successful in his descriptions of the front lines, the constant shelling, the gruesome description of the dead, and one will come away with a sense of the terror and fear men faced. At times there is a monotony in this and it seems as if all there is to the book is moving from shell hole to shell hole. Yet it is that repetition without seeming purpose, a drama played out on an isolated stage where little context exists and the characters just survive one shelling after another, that is the real story.
For the rest of the review, go here.Tweet
Considering that the fall semester and season are night, we just wanted to post a brief reminder that Three Percent is happy to add literary translation events to its Events Calendar.
To have events added to the calendar, please send all relevant event information (time, location, description, etc., and web link, if available) to kaija[dot]straumanis[at]rochester[dot]edu.
If you’re unsure whether your event qualifies, please feel free to send questions to the same email above.Tweet
With Tom on vacation, Chad recorded a special episode of the podcast with Heather Cleary and Jason Grunebaum, both of whom have a book on the National Translation Award longlist. They talk about Sergio Chejfec’s The Dark, Uday Prakash’s The Girl with the Golden Parasol, air shows, the future of the American Literary Translators Association, and other non-sports related topics. (Seriously, this is a sports-free podcast.)
As an added bonus, there’s a short conversation Chad had with Uday Prakash about his collection The Walls of Delhi.
This week’s music is Killer in the Streets from the new Raveonettes album, Pe’ahi.
Here’s the beginning of Patrick’s review:
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 leftovers of the war simmer to a boil, is World War II. Little Grey Lies is a war novel without war, and about the inevitability of the next. War is a filter over the book, it is life in the inescapable aftermath of war, not the destruction, not the loss of life and property, but instead the constant memory, the subconscious, ongoing afflictions. In that space, it is the intricacies of personal connections, of secrets and the desire to out them, that become the conflicts.
Max, the character we spend the most time with, is a journalist and the book is both the narrative of his discovery of the story, and the story itself. In the first pages, he witnesses a procession of veterans, in memory of the Battle of Mons, England’s first encounter with the Germans during World War I. It is from this battle that the novel finds its birth: a myth of angels as archers protecting the defeated, yet heroic troops becomes a necessary faith for some, and even those who don’t believe are awed by the legend.
At the front of the procession is Colonel William Strether, who becomes the focus of Max’s London investigation. Strether is a respected man, utterly in control with every precise movement of his body. Working as a maître d’ he plays the room like a puppeteer: “he didn’t take their order but dictated it to a server standing behind him, commented on the menu, assembled the meal while making the client feel he was doing it himself.” Strether is a true Fascist believer, a powerful leader of men, even if “he rarely spoke in public, took no defined position, he waited for when he was alone with the leaders.” He doesn’t hesitate to use violence to lead his men, to train them toward order. It’s all part of his hiding a lie—one that is again a violence, though now against himself—and part of the inevitable path to the next war.
For the rest of the piece, go here.Tweet
In a different time in my life, I would’ve jumped on the chance to apply for this job at the NEA:
As the Grants Management Specialist (Literature), you will be responsible for the following tasks:
Review, organize, and process organizational grant applications from the Literature field, and follow these applications through the complete review process from receipt to final report.
Use expertise in the Literature field to serve as liaison between the Agency and field concerning applications, grants, guidelines, and related policies and issues affecting that field.
In consultation with the Grants & Contracts Office, monitor grantee performance through review of progress, interim and final reports, amendment requests, conversations with grantee, etc., to assure that the grantee is functioning in accordance with the terms and conditions of the grant.
Counsel applicants and prospective applicants about proposed projects in context of published guidelines and with knowledge of field activities and trends as well as agency funding history of specific projects.
Manage items related to special projects that arise. Duties might include managing meetings and convenings, webinar development and management, and other work items as they occur as well as processing cooperative agreements, interagency agreements, contracts, and other government documents.
The posting for this job is only open until MONDAY, AUGUST 18TH, so if you’re interested, you need to get on this right now. Also, according to Literature Director Amy Stolls, if you apply you HAVE to follow the directions exactly or everything will go awry. (Having submitted a fair share of NEA grants, there are probably more opaque directions than necessary. But still.)Tweet
Also announced today is the NEA’s publication of The Art of Empathy: Celebrating Literature in Translation, a free book comprised of nineteen pieces on translation from a host of translators, publishers, advocates, professors, and readers.
Here’s a bit about the collection from NEA Director of Literature, Amy Stolls:
Translation is an art. It takes a great deal of creativity and patience to do it well, not to mention a deep knowledge of a writer’s language, place, and oeuvre. But it also takes fortitude, for translators are notoriously underpaid and underappreciated, their names often left off the covers of the books they create. In fact, we owe a good deal of thanks to a good number of hardworking people and organizations who are (and were) responsible for making translated work available, accessible, and visible to us among the fray, most notably the publishers who take the financial risk to publish and promote these books in an increasingly crowded market. Over the last 15 years, I’ve seen more and more of these advocates of translation enter the game, promoting literature in translation not just from across
the borders, but from within our own communities. [. . .]
Our goal for this book was simple: to illuminate for the general reader the art and importance of translation through a variety of points of view. Each essay tells a different story; each story adds to our understanding of this little-known art form. And in case you read through these passionate essays and find yourself inspired to make the next book you read a work in translation, we’ve asked each of our contributors to recommend three books. These are not necessarily the quintessential, canonical, must-read translations from an academic point of view, but rather three books that they simply loved and wished to share.
If you haven’t already downloaded it from the link above, I think you will after reading this table of contents:
“Hearing Voices” by Angela Rodel
A translator’s journey begins with a love of Bulgarian music.
“Choosing a Twin” by Gregory Pardlo
On kinship, mental yoga, and the rebirth of a poem.
“Work of Purpose, Work of Joy” by Charles Waugh
Giving voice to the invisible and forgotten in Vietnam.
“Living with Translation” by Howard Norman
A writer’s deep and enduring immersion in the joys of translation.
“The Collaborative Approach” by Sylvia Li-chun Lin and Howard Goldblatt
A married couple explains how two translators make one work of art.
“By the Light of Translation” by Natasha Wimmer
How the slowest kind of reading leads to an act of seeing.
“An Act of Imagination” by Philip Boehm
The commonalities between a translator and a theater director.
“Daring and Doubting” by Russell Scott Valentino
The translator’s claustrophobic, questioning mind.
“The Sharable Rightness of Meaning” by Esther Allen An ode to the magnificent Michael Henry Heim.
“The Myth of the ‘Three Percent Problem’” by Chad W. Post
What the statistics on translated books in America really tell us.
“A Universe of Layered Worlds” by Olivia E. Sears
The unexpected journey from the exotic to the universal.
“Recovering the Culture” by Nicolás Kanellos
Reaching the Latino community in two languages.
“The Value of Publishing Translation” by John O’Brien
How one publisher found support from other countries.
“Toward an Understanding of Translation” by Rainer Schulte
A reflection on how we communicate and translate in modern-day life.
“Engaging the World” by Susan Harris
The value of writers’ firsthand perspectives.
“Brokers of Babel” by Edward Gauvin
An argument against fidelity.
“A More Complex Occasion” by Pierre Joris
Enriching poetry through the imperfect nature of languages.
“Carrying Words Through Time” by Kazim Ali
The transformation of a poet who translates.
“The Art of Empathy” by Johanna Warren
Learning how to listen.
Go get it now. And for those of you out there who teach, this is a perfect—and free!—book to use in a class on international literature and/or publishing and/or translation.Tweet
Bunch of interesting stuff from the National Endowment for the Arts today, starting with the announcement of the FY 2015 NEA Literature Translation Fellowship Recipients.
You can read the whole announcement and descriptions of all the projects here, but below is the list of the winners and a few projects that caught my eye.
First, this year’s recipients:
Bruce Fulton (in collaboration with Ju‐Chan Fulton)
Katherine M. Hedeen
Adam P. Siegel
Steven J. Stewart
And a few projects:
Jennifer Croft, Tiffin, IA ($12,500)
To support the translation from the Polish of Olga Tokarczuk’s novel Runners. Runners was awarded Poland’s most distinguished literary prize (the Nike) in 2008. It intertwines travel narratives and reflections on travel with observations on the body and on life and death, offering thoughts on such topics as travel‐sized cosmetics, belly dancing, maps, relics, the Maori, Wikipedia, Cleopatra, and the effects of airports on the psyche. Born in 1962, Tokarczuk recently founded her own digital publishing house in an effort to encourage Poland’s creative younger generation.
Bruce Fulton (in collaboration with Ju‐Chan Fulton), Seattle, WA ($12,500)
To support the translation from the Korean of a compilation of multigenre literary works by Ch’ae Man‐shik. One of the great talents of modern Korean literature, Ch’ae Man‐shik (1902‐50) is known as a master storyteller who gleaned material from everyday life. His command of idiom, realistic dialogue, and keen wit produced a unique fictional style. His subject matter is couched in a particular period in Korea’s turbulent modern history – the Japanese colonization of the Korean peninsula from 1910 to1945. This compilation will include six stories (including his debut story); one novella; two sketches; one travel essay; one personal essay; one critical essay; one children’s story; two plays; and two roundtable discussions involving writers and critics. Ch’ae Man‐shik is currently represented in English translation by only a few stories and a single novel, currently out of print.
Cynthia Hogue, Phoenix, AZ ($12,500)
To support the translation from the French of Joan of Arc by experimental French poet Nathalie Quintane. This serial poem, composed of fifty untitled prose poems on the subject of Joan of Arc, raises questions about the embodied experience of the actual peasant girl who lived a short life and came to a violent end in 15th‐century France. Quintaine (b. 1964) writes a feminist corrective of an iconic national heroine, written in the margins of the dramatic, inherited myth of Joan of Arc. Quintaine is at the forefront of a generation of contemporary writers whose works interrogate French capitalist, colonialist, and nationalist narratives. This project will make Quintane’s work available to English readers for the first time.
Yvette Siegert, New York, NY ($12,500)
To support the translation from the Spanish of the collected poetry of Argentine poet Alejandra Pizarnik. Born to Russian‐Jewish immigrants in Argentina, Pizarnik (1936‐72) was one of the leading avant‐garde writers of 20th‐century Latin American literature. This collection will focus on the several radical stylistic transformations Pizarnik’s work underwent, from the spare, luminous lyrics of her early poems to the dense, anguished prose poems of later works, and finally to the more dialogic, sometimes absurdist structures of the work she produced before she committed suicide at the age of 36. By that time, critics had already likened the scope of her literary influence to Arthur Rimbaud’s or Paul Celan’s.
Steven J. Stewart, Rexburg, ID ($12,500)
To support the translation from the Spanish of House of Geishas, a collection of microfictions by Argentine writer Ana María Shua. Shua (b. 1951) has published over 80 books in a multitude of genres and won numerous national and international awards. House of Geishas is her second book of microfictions, which are short narrative pieces that are typically less than half a page each. Many of the pieces appear as fables or dreams, while others provide quirky retellings of familiar stories drawn from history, mythology, and fairy tales. The pieces in the collection explore such themes as the way we deal with otherness, the weight of expectations imposed on us by our roles in life, and the problematic nature of memory.
Niloufar Talebi, San Francisco, CA ($12,500)
To support the translation from the Persian of selected poetry, prose, and interviews by Iranian writer Ahmad Shamlou. Nominated for the Nobel Prize, Shamlou (1925‐2000) was a poet, writer, encyclopedist, translator, journalist, editor, and human rights activist. He published more than 70 books, including novels, screenplays, children’s books, volumes of poetry, short stories, and essays. His translations into Persian include the work of Mark Twain, Langston Hughes, and Anton Chekov. Elegies of the Earth: An Ahmad Shamlou Reader will be a representative and comprehensive volume of his work throughout his 60‐year career. It will include a biography, timeline, and list of his works.
Jeffrey Yang, Beacon, NY ($25,000)
To support the translation from the Chinese of City Gate Open Up, a lyrical autobiogaphy by poet Bei Dao. The recipient of numerous international awards and shortlisted for the Nobel Prize for many years, Bei Dao is the author of seven poetry collections. This project aims to translate the lyrical prose memoir of his childhood and adolescence in Beijing, where he was born in 1949. It is a book not only of the poet as a child, but of the wondrous metropolis itself, coming alive through the luminous memories of its neighborhoods and residents, gardens, and temples, schools and music and vibrant ways of life. Since the Tiananmen Square Massacre in 1989, Bei Dao had been living in forced exile, moving from countryto country, forbidden by the Chinese government to return to his homeland. The compulsion to write this book began in 2001, when Bei Dao was allowed back into China to see his sick father.
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. . .
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. . .
Spoiler alert: acclaimed writer Stefan Zweig and his wife Lotte kill themselves at the end of Lauren Seksik’s 2010 novel, The Last Days.
It’s hard to avoid spoiling this mystery. Zweig’s suicide actually happened, in Brazil in 1942, and since then. . .
To call Kjell Askildsen’s style sparse or terse would be to understate just how far he pushes his prose. Almost nothing is explained, elaborated on. In simple sentences, events occur, words are exchanged, narrators have brief thoughts. As often as. . .
After a mysterious woman confesses to an author simply known as “R” that she has loved him since she was a teenager, she offers the following explanation: “There is nothing on earth like the love of a child that passes. . .
Floating around the internet amid the hoopla of a new Haruki Murakami release, you may have come across a certain Murakami Bingo courtesy of Grant Snider. It is exactly what it sounds like, and it’s funny because it’s true,. . .
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. . .
One hundred years have passed since the start of World War I and it is difficult to believe that there are still novels, considered classics in their own countries, that have never been published in English. Perhaps it was the. . .
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. . .
One of the greatest services—or disservices, depending on your viewpoint—Bertrand Russell ever performed for popular philosophy was humanizing its biggest thinkers in his History. No longer were they Platonic ideals, the clean-shaven exemplars of the kind of homely truisms that. . .