The British Centre for Literary Translation—located in Norwich at the University of East Anglia—recently launched a search for a new director. You can get all of the information here, but here’s a brief summary of what sounds like one of the coolest translation-related positions ever:
Apply now for the post of BCLT Academic Director
£45,941 to £53,233 per annum
The School of Literature, Drama and Creative Writing is seeking to appoint an Academic Director for the British Centre for Literary Translation.
The Centre is a vital point of intersection between professional translation and academic study, founded in 1989 by W.G. Sebald and supported by the University of East Anglia and Arts Council England.
This is an exciting opportunity to shape the next phase of its development in the context offered by UEA’s internationally famous Creative Writing programme and Norwich’s status as England’s first UNESCO City of Literature.
The Academic Director will be a Senior Lecturer in the School of Literature, Drama and Creative Writing, engaging in both undergraduate and postgraduate teaching and published research.
The post is available on a full-time indefinite basis from 1 March 2014.
The closing date is 12 noon on 22 November 2013.
And from the job description PDF, here’s a paragraph about the scope of the job:
The Academic Director will be responsible for leading the academic programme of BCLT through teaching, research and organisation, ensuring that the academic and public programmes complement and gain from each other, and acting as advocate for the role and activities of BCLT within UEA. S/he will have particular responsibility for raising BCLT’s academic profile, and developing its academic activity to parallel the well-established outreach programming.
I feel like there’s probably a number of readers of this blog who would qualify for such a position . . .Tweet
Jenn Witte is a bookseller at Skylight Books in Los Angeles
I fall in love easily. Books possess me and while reading them I am completely blinded. Is this a terrible quality in a panelist? I wonder, but I’m going to declare that my engagement with these books is fair in that I give them my whole self, one at a time. When I finish a book, separate myself from it, move on, only then do I begin to develop the perspective needed to pitch them against each other.
A bit like a young me, quietly crushing on some cutie I’d never talk to in school, I doodled about two of the books that I’m obsessing over. I animated them specifically to debut on this blog, but got excited and ended up leaking them onto my own blog/portfolio ahead of time. As a bookseller, it is in my nature to promote the books that I feel strongly about. I can’t help it.
I felt that the animation I made for Karl Ove Knausgaard’s My Struggle: Book Two could be used to help promote the kickstarter campaign Archipelago was running at the time (I’m happy to report that they exceeded their goal). The turtle works in a couple of ways, for me at least, to represent the pace of the book as well as the potential that it has to win, slow but steady, somewhere down the line.
When I drew this animation of Seiobo There Below, it was a happy accident that I finished on its date of publication, so I leaked it to New Directions in case they could use it to help readers pronounce the title with confidence. (Feel free to send me requests for future pronunciation animations. This is a serious issue in translated literature.)
It is with blind confidence that I present these books as extremely strong candidates for this year’s award. I had the same blind confidence in Clarice Lispector’s A Breath of Life last year, which made it to the shortlist by a hair and quickly revealed itself to be too… of a way to win. She has a strong musk, I must admit— Karl Ove does, too. Everyone I’ve spoken to at the store has marveled at how they can coexist with his character, how they don’t mind devoting so much time to his books, despite everything (a tweet as evidence). I would love to hear from people who don’t enjoy living through this book. I didn’t expect to, at all, but it owned me. I sit at my dining room table now and I am transported to the conversation I read while sitting there before. I was knitting a scarf at the same time, and wearing it now takes me to Stockholm. On the other end of the spectrum, ,Seiobo There Below perfectly presents the world to the individual in a floating rainbow soap bubble, clean and shiny and at a safe distance. It is a bit of a trophy already. This might prove to be a more winning quality in a candidate. Time will tell. I ride my bike along the Los Angeles river every day, and the herons I see now remind me of the most beautiful first chapter I’ve ever read. Thank you, László, thank you forever.
To be fair, I’ve been equally enchanted by dozens of other eligible and ineligible books this year, and I hope to draw my way through understanding where they belong in the context of this award. I’ll be over here in Los Angeles, thinking about the whole world, thinking about nothing but the book in front of me, scribbling its name over and over, trying not to lose my identity, and trying to identify for everyone.Tweet
Last week, Open Letter editor and resident expert in all things Latvian, translated aloud a bit of an article decrying the Latvian stand at this year’s Frankfurt Book Fair. I’m paraphrasing here, but the gist of the article was that the stand was lame, boring, the laughing stock of the fair, and not nearly as cool as the Estonian and Lithuanian ones, thus severely damaging Latvia’s international reputation.
All of which is nonsense. The Latvian national stand was basically like every other national literature stand. Sure, it didn’t have the sleekness of the Catalan stand, or the extravagance of the Polish stand, but it was functional and totally fine. And did nothing good or bad to Latvia’s reputation. Not to put too fine a point on it, but I’m 100% sure that outside of the handful of self-hating Latvians, no one spent a single minute evaluating this stand. Sorry Latvia, but no one cares how fancy or bare-bones your Frankfurt Book Fair displays are.
But to show that Eastern Europeans aren’t the only ones capable of putting on a bad show, The Hindu has this article about the disaster that was the Indian Publishers Stand:
Of the 40 Indian publishers who hired their stands through the good offices of Capexil, (Chemicals and Allied Products Export Promotion Council) at the recently concluded Frankfurt Book Fair, most have returned home angry, disappointed and disgruntled. [. . .]
The Indian publishers’ stand looked like a shoddy bazaar. The publishers’ names and stand numbers were not in alphabetical order and a visitor had to browse through the entire lot in order to find the right exhibitor. In contrast, the stand opposite, that of the National Book Trust was a swish, elevated red and white affair, with persons willing and ready to help and guide the visitors. [. . .]
“For many of us, especially the first-time participants the Fair was a disaster, a waste of hard-earned cash. Nothing was set up. My stand had not even been erected on the opening day of the fair. I had to go running around, begging for help from Ramesh Mittal, Chairman of Capexil’s Book Publishing and Printing panel and the elusive contractor, a certain Mohit Singla. I paid over Rs. 3,30,000 and I have absolutely nothing to show for it. It’s been a total waste,” Vijay Ahuja of DBS Imprints told The Hindu during a visit to his stall at the Frankfurt Book Fair.
One of my favorite people in the world, Urvashi Batalia, even got into this with some sharp comments:
Urvashi Butalia of Zubaan Books, a veteran of many Frankfurts said, “Everyone was blaming Mr. Mittal of Capexil. He is a very decent man but the organisation under him turned out to be totally incompetent. The contractor turned up very late on the eve of the opening. That is the only day exhibitors get to set up their books and displays. Our badges and directories were not given on time. He never bothered to introduce himself and we did not know what was happening. We received only one badge whereas every exhibitor has to be given two. Each badge costs 45 Euros — not a small sum for a struggling Indian publisher to cough up. We decided to go through Capexil because it was working out cheaper.” [. . .]
Said Urvashi Butalia, “Whatever the rights and wrongs of the matter, the fact is that the collective Indian stand always looks the worst in the Fair. Even Pakistan last year had a wonderful stand, attractive and beautifully laid out. This is a good example of how India shines abroad!”
So for those who were lucky enough to attend the FBF, which was worse—the Latvian stand or the Indian one?Tweet
Like most people in publishing—or most readers I know—I have approximately a hundred million books on my “to read” shelves. Which in no way stops me from buying more and more books, or, in this case, setting aside everything I “should” be reading to check out a book that won’t be available until April of next year.
The sort of cryptic, yet promising opening of the jacket copy first caught my attention:
Viviane is both an engrossing murder mystery and a gripping exploration of madness, a narrative that tests the shifting boundaries of language and the self. For inspiration, author Julia Deck read the work of Samuel Beckett, because, as she says, “he positions himself within chaos and gives it coherence.”
But it’s this line from the second paragraph that convinced me that I should read this right now:
You are not entirely sure, but it seems to you that four or five hours ago, you did something that you shouldn’t have.
Writing in the second-person is tough to pull off, but that sentence is basically perfect.
Aside from that, I don’t know too much more about this book. It’s published by Minuit—which is surprising, since they don’t often publish debut novels—and will be coming out New Press next year in Linda Coverdale’s translation. And it was nominated for the Prix Femina, the Prix France Inter, and the Prix du Premier Roman, three of France’s ten thousand literary awards.
Also of importance: This is a slim 149 pages, which is the perfect length for me to read tonight, seeing that most of the rest of my weekend will be consumed with baseball watching . . . I’ll let you know on Monday if it’s as good as Wacha’s postseason.Tweet
OK, I’ve been promising this for a long time, but I’ve finally got my stuff together and have information on the five judges for this year’s BTBA in Poetry.
Bios for all five can be found below, and for publishers looking to submit their books, here is a PDF of mailing list label that you can use, and here’s one with everyone’s email addresses if you’d rather submit electronically.
As with the BTBA in Fiction, any book published for the first time ever in translation between January 1, 2013 and December 31, 2013, AND available for sale in the United States is eligible. To enter a book in the contest, all you have to do is (e)mail a copy to all of the judges. (And one to me for record-keeping.)
In terms of timeframes, all poetry books should be sent to the judges by January 31st, 2014.
The finalists for this year’s Poetry award will be announced on Tuesday, April 15th at the same time as the Fiction finalists.
OK, now onto this year’s judges:
Stefania Heim is author of the collection of poems, A Table that Goes on for Miles (forthcoming January 2014 Switchback Books). Her poems, translations, and works of criticism have appeared widely, in publications including A Public Space, Aufgabe, Harper’s, Jacket2, The Literary Review, and The Paris Review. She is a founding editor of CIRCUMFERENCE: Poetry in Translation and will soon be joining the Boston Review as a new Poetry Editor.
Bill Martin is a translator, critic, and educator, and co-organizer of The Bridge reading series for literary translation.
Rebecca McKay is a poet and translator based at Florida Atlantic University. Her poems and translations have appeared in American Letters & Commentary, ACM, Third Coast, The Iowa Review, Hotel Amerika, Rhino, Natural Bridge, Rattapallax, and elsewhere.
Daniele Pantano is a Swiss poet, translator, editor, critic, and Reader in Poetry and Literary Translation at Edge Hill University, England. For more information, please visit his website..
Anna Rosenwong is a translator, poet, and higher educator. She holds an MFA from the University of Iowa and a PhD in Comparative Literature from the University of California, Irvine. She is the author of By Way of Explanation (Dancing Girl Press) and the translator of José Eugenio Sánchez’s Suite Prelude a/H1N1 (Toad Press) and Rocío Cerón’s Diorama (Phoneme Press). Her work has appeared in World Literature Today, Translation Studies, Pool, Jacket 2, Anomalous Press, The Kenyon Review, Painted Bride Quarterly, The St. Petersburg Review, Eleven Eleven, Hayden’s Ferry Review, Words Without Borders, and elsewhere.
So start sending in your submissions . . . now!Tweet
Here’s an open letter from Jonathan Wright about some shit that went down with Knopf and Dr. Alaa Al Aswany, the author of The Yacoubian Building. If nothing else, you MUST check out this set of corrections from Al Aswany. It is things. And something I’m using in my classes from now until forever . . . Anyway, the letter:
Why translators should give Dr Alaa Al Aswany and Knopf Doubleday a wide berth
For the sake of fellow translators who might find themselves caught up in similar circumstances and because I do not think that abuses should go unnoticed, I would like to lay out the facts surrounding the project to produce an English version of The Automobile Club of Egypt, the latest novel by well-known Egyptian writer Alaa el-Aswany. Firstly, I should say that I am not of an argumentative or litigious nature and have never before had any dispute with any of the authors or publishers of the eight of so books I have translated over the last few years. On the contrary, my experience of life is that, if you have a strong case and are willing to press it, your opponent usually gives way. That’s because, to paraphrase Descartes, a sense of justice is the most fairly distributed thing in the world, since no one ever desired more of it than they already have.
So when Aswany unilaterally and whimsically withdrew from an agreement arranged between me and his publishers, I assumed he would offer his apologies, honor his obligations and make speedy and generous compensation for the time and effort I had expended on his behalf. The more so since Dr Aswany and I are hardly strangers. I have met him many times, interviewed him on two occasions for television and he and his wife have visited me for lunches and dinners at home in Cairo and at my country house in Fayoum on two or three occasions. We had worked together since 2009 on his political writings, specifically the weekly columns he wrote for Egyptian newspapers, the English version of which I prepared for international syndication. He was always pleased with my work and I had great respect for the brave position he took against police brutality in the last years of the Mubarak regime, against plans to install Mubarak’s son Gamal as his successor and then against the military rulers who ruled Egypt up to June 2012. I remember meeting him in Tahrir Square in February 2011 as he shouted in outrage that police snipers were shooting at the crowd from somewhere near the Interior Ministry. After the revolution, I worked on a volume of his articles, The State of Egypt, which won good reviews and sold well in the English-speaking world. When the literary elite belittled Aswany’s novels, I always stood up for him, arguing that Egypt and the Arab world in general needed good story-tellers who put plot and character ahead of literary ostentation and obsessive self-analysis. I said there was room for everyone, and that Aswany filled a gaping hole.
I can no longer feel the same way about Dr Aswany, especially in his private capacity as an individual with social obligations towards those around him. The least I can say is that he is not an honorable man. But let others be the judge, as I explain the origins of our dispute:
In August 2012, I was approached by the American University in Cairo (AUC) Press, with whom I have an amicable working relationship dating back some years, to see if I would be interested in handling the English version of Aswany’s novel, The Automobile Club of Egypt, which he was then planning to finish by the end of November. I said I would be pleased to take it on.
I communicated with Dr Aswany about the book on and off between September 2012 and February 2013, mainly to get a clearer idea of when it would be ready. This was against the background of AUC Press telling me that they intended to recommend me as the translator, with Dr Aswany’s knowledge and approval.
On February 15, I sent Dr Aswany an email, saying, “Do let me know how you are progressing with The Automobile Club. I’m looking forward to seeing a copy and starting work on it.” He replied, “I finished already the novel I will send the Arabic version next week to my agent Andrew Wylie. He asked me to have the text first and then he will send it to the publishers. I think you will have the text through Wylie very soon.”
On February 20, AUC Press sent me the complete Arabic text of the novel and asked me to prepare a 15 to 20-page sample for submission to the New York-based publishers Knopf Doubleday, saying they would need to approve the sample before we went ahead with the project.
On February 27, I submitted an 8,600-word sample to AUC Press.
On March 14, AUC Press sent me an email, saying that Knopf has studied the sample and had agreed to go ahead with the translation. It then laid out the basics of what would become our contract—payment, deadlines etc.
On March 27, George Andreou, an editor at Knopf, sent me an email, saying, “I am writing to introduce myself as Dr Alaa’s editor at Knopf and to say how pleased I am that you have accepted the commission to translate his new book. I look forward to working with you on the editing of the English version. In the meanwhile, if I can answer any questions, please don’t hesitate to be in touch.” I said he could help by expediting the contract process.
On April 11, I reminded Mr Andreou of the contract and he replied, “It has been ordered. Sorry for the delay. We’ll be back in touch shortly as to when you might expect it.” The same day Jahua Kim of Knopf emailed me, saying, “There is a backlog in the contracts department at the moment, but we should have your contract ready in about a week. Please feel free to reach me if you have further questions.”
On April 25, Dr Aswany sent me a message, saying he thanked me for my “efforts translating The Automobile Club” and asked if I had any questions. I replied that I was making good progress but I would prefer to ask my questions all at once at a later stage. His assistant replied, “Dr. Alaa is glad you are working on it currently . . . and he will be very willing to help anytime.”
On May 1, William Shannon of Knopf finally sent me a contract (for text, click here), with a cover note saying, “If the agreement looks in order please print out and sign three copies and return signed copies to Juhea Kim in George Andreou’s office.” I returned the copies as requested, both as signed and scanned JPEGs by email and as hard copy by mail.
On May 11, I received an email from Dr Aswany’s agent, Andrew Wylie, saying, “On further reflection . . . and in consultation with Dr Alaa and with Knopf, we are obliged to withdraw the request for you to translate the novel.” The message gave no substantial explanation. I replied that I had already signed a contract and done a large several months of work on the project. I said Dr Aswany was free to choose another translator but Knopf and/or Dr Aswany had an obligation to pay me for the work I had done and for the time I would have wasted.
On May 12, Dr Aswany sent me an email, his only message ever on this matter, despite he long acquaintance and amicable relations. He said he wanted Mr X (his identity is irrelevant) to work on The Automobile Club. The explanation he offered for his decision was “I think you could understand that I feel comfortable to work with him.” He blamed AUC Press for what he called a misunderstanding and said he wasn’t aware I was working on it (although we had in fact discussed it openly several times). At this stage Aswany had not seen the sample submitted to Knopf in February. But he now asked for a sample translation and, strangely, also proposed giving Mr X a role editing my translation. I sent him the 8,600-word sample that Knopf had approved.
The next day, on May 13, Charles Buchan of the Wylie Agency sent me a message dictated by Andrew Wylie, saying, “Alaa Al Aswany has reviewed the opening pages of your translation of The Automobile Club, and he has found the translation unsatisfactory . . . The book will be translated by Mr X. I have notified AUC and Knopf accordingly.” Dr Aswany and his assistant had spent several hours overnight poring over the sample text, trying to identify aspects that they thought they might plausibly present as ‘mistakes’, apparently to justify retroactively their decision to withdraw from the contract. They were a little overenthusiastic and their efforts are risible. If anyone is interested in the details, the whole document is available here.] The relevant Arabic text and the relevant part of the English version are available here and here.
The document, which was circulated to several people, contains remarks that would be defamatory under British law. One of the most outrageous is Aswany’s objection to the spelling Fatiha for the first chapter of the Quran. Fatiha is of course the standard transliteration favoured by most academics and publishers. He writes: “Mr.Wright wrote ‘Fatiha’ instead of ‘Fatha’. The ‘Fatha’ is the most famous Muslim prayer and the only explanation of this mistake is that Mr. Wright is not able to read this very famous word correctly in Arabic.” The document continues in similar vein. I particularly admired Aswany’s ingenuity when he objected to ‘I felt lonely’ for the Arabic ‘aHsastu bil-wiHsha’. He would prefer ‘I felt solitude’. He insists on placing chalets rather than beach houses on the Mediterranean coast. No big deal, but it might give readers the impression they are in the Swiss Alps. The list goes on. But the bigger picture is that Aswany and his assistant appear to think that a translation must match the original word by word, with nouns replacing nouns and so on. Or perhaps they don’t really think that: maybe they just thought it would be a good wheeze to avoid their financial obligations under an inconvenient agreement. If Hell exists, I assume it has a special corner for those who bear false witness against their colleagues for the sake of financial gain.
To continue the story: on May 21, Mr Andreou, in a rare moment of honesty from Knopf in the course of various exchanges, wrote to me saying, “As you know, I was content with your sample. It is simply not feasible, however, for us, as Dr Aswany’s publisher, to proceed with an arrangement that displeases him: author’s (sic) have their prerogatives.” In other words, his justification for withdrawing from the agreement was based on the decision of the author, which itself appears to have been based on a whim. He offered me a small amount in compensation, and I said his offer was inadequate.
After a series of exchanges over the proportion of the work completed, Knopf has ignored my proposal, now about one month old, that we choose an independent arbiter to make an assessment—an idea that strikes me as eminently reasonable.2
Knopf has argued that we never had an agreement because I do not have a contract signed by them (they never sent me a signed copy), and that therefore their offer is ex gratia. My legal advice is that this argument is baseless and that all the elements of an agreement exist. The contract makes no provision for unilateral withdrawal and the only quality provision refers to a final text to be submitted in September 2013, which will never be completed. On October 15, Knopf tried a new approach, alleging that it never even approved the sample translation submitted in February. This is what in plain English we call a lie and, as I noted above, Mr Andreou said the opposite on May 21.
I did have one further exchange with Dr Aswany, when I informed him on May 22 that until our dispute was resolved I could no longer translate his political articles. His response illustrates his attitude to those he deals with. His only concern that my ‘unprofessional’ decision, which he didn’t appear to expect, had disrupted the worldwide distribution of one short article. Under ordinary circumstances, he said, he would have withheld the money I was owed for previous articles—a total of about $600. “Despite all this, I will arrange to give you your money, because I believe I should behave well to the end,” he added.
Thank you, Dr Aswany, you are very gracious, but you have not behaved well. In fact, your behavior has been despicable.
Aswany can be contacted at email@example.com
The editor-in-chief at Knopf is Sonny Mehta, contactable at firstname.lastname@example.org
I can be contacted at email@example.com or in London on +447586244484
Oct 23, 2013
1 Holy shitsnacks is all of this document insane. It’s the worst sort of authorial interference in a translator’s work, and is both rude and pretty lame.
One example: From the column entitled, “Mr. Wright’s wrong translation” (wow. WOW.), “My wife realized I needed some time alone.”
In the “The Correct accurate meaning of the word” column: “My wife understood my need for the solitude.”
The fuck? Seriously? Not only is the “Wright’s wrong” a terrible pun and really over-the-top, but “Correct accurate meaning” is redundant and sounds like someone who doesn’t understand English. That and “my need for the solitude.” Oh boy, oh boy.
And it goes on and on and on. “Like a bewitched city” to be replaced by “as if.” “I had a good look” versus “I had a look.” This reads like a hack job done by someone who wanted to create cause to get rid of Jonathan Wright as the translator.
2 This is a clause included in every single Open Letter contract. If we think a translation is awful, there is a system for sending it to three outside judges who evaluate it. No matter what, the translator gets 2/3 of the agreed to payment.Tweet
Hareven is an Israeli author who is most well-known for The Confessions of Noa Weber, an absolutely brilliant book that won the Best Translated Book Award in 2009. It was translated by the also brilliant Dalya Bilu and is available from Melville House.
Next year, Open Letter is going to be bringing out her follow-up, Lies, First Person, a really dark, fucked-up book about a woman who decides to take revenge on her uncle for crimes he committed against her sister when they were growing up. It’s really interesting and very readable, and I’ll be writing more about this in the not too distant future.
But for now, check out the new story, an excerpt of which is below:
Today is the first day of September and for a lot of people this means the beginning of a new school year. I want to experience a new beginning too, so I’ve decided to buy this notebook in which, from now on, I’ll write about everything that happens to me along with my thoughts about it. One day, when I open and read it, I’ll be able to remember how things really were—and I’m sure this will be meaningful. And, until then, I’ll have this diary, and it will be my best friend on lonely days.
So—hello, diary! My name is May Nathanson, which is short for Maya Nathanson. Daddy thinks “May” sounds better. In October I’ll be seventeen, and here’s the surprising part…I don’t go to high school anymore.
In order to explain to you, my new friend, how I grew up so quickly, and why it is that a girl like me doesn’t go to school, I need to go back a few months, to what happened in June. So be patient. (I’m sure you don’t lack patience.)
It all started when crazy Linda locked herself in the bedroom. In case you don’t know (how would you know if I haven’t told you yet?), Linda’s my mom, and please don’t think badly of me for calling her crazy. I’m not the only one who thinks so.
That evening some guests were supposed to come over: two important professors from Germany who came especially to see Daddy’s ward at the hospital, and a couple of doctor friends of his, and all of their wives, too. My dad likes to entertain, and he’s the most charming host in the world. (Okay, okay, maybe not the most charming, but pretty close to it.) If Linda wasn’t the way she is, I’m sure we’d have had guests much more often.
So this is what happened: Ofir and I were sitting upstairs in my room getting ready for the next day’s matriculation exams in government—separation of authority into legislative and judicial branches, stuff like that. At our school we can take two matriculation exams as early as eleventh grade—in language and in government—and we did language a little after Passover. (I don’t mean to brag, but I know I’ll get at least a B+.) Anyway, Ofir and I are sitting and cramming, and suddenly we hear a big metal boom from the kitchen downstairs, and then Linda’s footsteps as she runs up the stairs, and the bedroom door being slammed shut. Ofir looks at me, obviously embarrassed, asking me whether I want to go and see what’s going on, but scenes like this are pretty common with Linda, and I had no intention of encouraging her and her silliness. And guess what? Two minutes later, just as I expected, she started playing one of her stupid records—Leonard Cohen—melancholy trash that always depresses me.
Okay: So when Ofir saw that I wasn’t going to leave the room, we went back to studying. And he didn’t ask anything because he saw that I didn’t want to talk about it, and also because we’re friends and he knows a thing or two about my family. Anyway, what’s going on with Linda is not exactly a secret.
This is a strange book to review, since it’s less a “translation” and more of a “transformation,” but it’s also incredibly interesting and J.T. does a great job of highlighting what’s interesting about the approach and the text.
On a separate note, it’s worth spending some time with the Les Figues catalog. One of the most interesting presses in the States doing some really experimental, strange, intriguing works.
Here’s the opening to the review:
Our Lady of the Flowers, Echoic is not only a translation, but a transformation. It is a translation of Jean Genet’s novel Notre Dame des Fleurs, transmuted from prose to poetry. Originally written in prison as a masturbatory aid (Sartre in fact called the book “the epic of masturbation”), Chris Tysh has taken Genet’s work and made something completely new out of it.
“On the news Weidmann, his head
Like a nun in white or a wounded
Pilot, falls down in silky rye
The same day Our Lady of the Flowers
Stamped all over France dangles his crimes
By a golden string—nimble assassins mount
The back stairs of our sleep”
The poem follows the life and death of the drag queen Divine, chronicling her (or his) misadventures and tribulations with the pimp Mignon-Dainty-Feet and the young murderer, the eponymous Our Lady of the Flowers. Throughout the narrative, there is love, hate, crime, passion, sex, and death. The story is told in the form of seven-line stanzas (two per page), broken up in a way to confuse any internal rhythm, just like the characters confuse traditional assumptions about gender.
Click here to read the full review.Tweet
The fine print attached to the Best Translated Book Award states that in order to be eligible, a work cannot have been previously translated. I don’t disagree with the rule, especially as we already over 350 books to consider, but worry that because of this stipulation we may miss out on notable books that we, as a jury, should in some way recognize. It’s with this concern in mind that I offer here a handful of new translations/reprints not eligible for the BTBA but nonetheless worthy of some attention.
The Woman of Porto Pim, by Antonio Tabucchi (Archipelago), trans. Tim Parks
Tabucchi is one of the great post-War Italian novelists and despite his place in the pantheon of European letters, he seems little appreciated in the U.S. The Women of Porto Pim is an ideal introduction: it’s as much a travelogue as a collection of tales about the remote volcanic outcrop of the Azores. Broken into two sections (with the evocative and impossible to resist titles, “Shipwrecks, Flotsam, Crossings, Distances” and “Of Whales and Whalemen”), this slim work, previously published along with The Flying Creatures of Fra Angelico in the early 90s, is a gorgeous, sometimes oblique portrait of a fascinating culture.
The Smell, by Sonallah Ibrahim (New Directions), trans. Robyn Creswell
In flat, unaffected prose that works more through what’s left unsaid, or what, for political reasons can’t be said, Ibrahim’s 1966 novel provides insight into Egypt that’s still relevant today. Written as a diary of an ex-prisoner finding his footing after his release, That Smell is a stark and haunting chronicle of life on constant threat of lock and key.
Happily, New Directions is publishing another of Ibrahim’s novels next spring, Stealth.
The Transylvanian Trilogy (or the Writing on the Wall trilogy), by Miklos Banffy (Everyman’s Library), trans. Patrick Thursfield and Katalin Banffy-Jelen
Comprised of They Were Counted, They Were Found Wanting, and They Were Divided, Banffy’s epic masterpiece is the Transylvanian (Romanian) equivalent of the great 19th century Russian novels. Set in the years leading up to WWI, the trilogy concerns itself with an enlightened landowner, Balint, who watches helplessly as his country slides into disaster. It’s an old story—that of the idle rich unconcerned with the sad and soon unavoidable state of the world—but Banffy, who like his protagonist was a politician who tried to get his countrymen to see the writing on the wall, handles the whole thing with grace and humor, though his story is bleak.
Winter Journeys, by Georges Perec and the Oulipo (Atlas Press), trans. Ian White, John Sturrock, and Harry Mathews
Georges Perec’s “The Winter Journey” is a story about a man who discovers a book, also called The Winter Journey, containing a secret that overturns everything we know about modern French literature. Unfortunately, this fictional discovery occurs in 1939 and with the outbreak of WW2, the book is lost and all attempts to track it down prove fruitless. Winter Journeys collects what turned out to be Perec’s prompt and twenty successive tales, each in some way building off another. A fine, playful time is had by all.
[A shameless plug: we’ll be hosting Oulipians Paul Fournel, Hervé Le Tellier, and Daniel Levin Becker for a reading of Winter Journeys at Green Apple Books on November 8.]
Black Spider, by Jeremias Gotthelf (NYRB Classics), trans. Susan Bernofsky
This is an insanely creepy (and, Happy Halloween, timely) novella full of spiders, heartless and vicious landowners, desperate weak-willed farmers, bold women, satanic strangers, more spiders, cosmic horror, and even more spiders. Written in the mid-19th century by a Swiss priest, Black Spider was considered by Thomas Mann as a premonition of Nazism and is considered a classic of horror. Susan Bernofsky’s new translation of Gotthelf’s unique dialect and High German is full of life. A chilling book.
The only thing the typically spot-on NYRB Classics got wrong was not using Edward Gorey’s brilliant cover illustration from the old edition of Nineteenth Century German Tales (via 50 Watts), seen below.
This week’s podcast is the first one Tom and I have recorded in almost a month. So after a bit of catching up, we talked about David Bellos’s new translation of Simenon’s Pietr the Latvian, the difficulties of translating “I love you” and all the swears into Japanese, and this list of “The 20 Best Books in Translation You’ve Never Read.” As necessary, we also talked about the baseball playoffs and this cute flowchart.
Since Tom can’t post here, I just want to have the final word on our discussion of the list of translations that Stephen Sparks and I put together. First off, we didn’t give it this bombastic of a title, but whatever. We did put some time into coming up with twenty books that we love and that readers of international literature may not have heard of. As readers of heaploads of translated books, we had hundreds of titles to choose from. Every list is incomplete and flawed, but Tom’s accusation that this is “intentionally esoteric” is totally off-point. It is a symptom of today’s culture though, where if someone knows more about some topic that someone else, they are dismissed. Not to get all J-Franz about the kids these days and their Twitterversing, but there’s a reason why stupid websites like Flavorwire are popular—they replace genuine knowledge with listicles that make the common reader feel good about themselves. “Hey, I’ve read 20 of the 25 lists on the “Greatest List of Lists Created by Flavorwire” list! I’m gonna tweet this.” Sorry, Tom and whomever, for trying to share a bit of the lifelong research I’ve done on international literature. Next time someone wants to know about translated books, I’ll just search the “translationsIreadinHighSchool” hashtag and call it a day.
This week’s music is Rolling Waves by The Naked and Famous.
A man’s country may be cramped or vast according to the size of
his heart. I’ve never found my country too small, though that isn’t
to say my heart is great. And if I could choose it’s here. . .
The recent reissuing of several of Stig Dagerman’s novels by University of Minnesota Press has rekindled interest in his works, which have until now been little-known outside Sweden. Just twenty-four when he wrote A Burnt Child (here newly translated by. . .
Paul Klee’s Boat, Anzhelina Polonskaya’s newest bilingual collection of poems available in English, is an emotional journey through the bleakest seasons of the human soul, translated with great nuance by Andrew Wachtel. A former professional ice dancer(!), Polonskaya left the. . .
In Seiobo There Below, Lázló Krasznahorkai is able to succeed at a task at which many writers fail: to dedicate an entire novel to a single message, to express an idea over and over again without falling into repetition or. . .
There are curious similarities in three Italian mystery series, written by Maurizio de Giovanni, Andrea Camilleri, and Donna Leon.1
They’re all police procedurals, and all set in Italy: Naples, Sicily, Venice.
The three protagonists are Commissarios: Luigi Ricciardi, Salvo. . .
Poetry always has the feel of mysticism and mystery, or maybe this feeling is a stereotype left over from high school literature class. It is generally the result of confusion, lack of time committed to consuming the poetry, and the. . .
Our Lady of the Flowers, Echoic is not only a translation, but a transformation. It is a translation of Jean Genet’s novel Notre Dame des Fleurs, transmuted from prose to poetry. Originally written in prison as a masturbatory aid (Sartre. . .
Equal parts stoner pulp thriller and psycho-physiological horror story, a pervasive sense of dread mixes with a cloud of weed smoke to seep into every line of the disturbing, complex Under This Terrible Sun. Originally published by illustrious Spanish publishers. . .
From the start, Daniel Canty’s Wigrum, published by Canadian press Talonbooks, is obviously a novel of form. Known also as a graphic designer in Quebec, Canty takes those skills and puts them towards this “novel of inventory” and creates a. . .
Throughout his career—in fact from his very first book, Where the Jackals Howl (1965)—the renowned Israeli writer Amos Oz has set much of his fiction on the kibbutz, collective communities he portrays as bastions of social cohesion and stultifying conformity. . .