30 March 15 | Chad W. Post | Comments

If you happen to live in Rochester, or would like to visit and check our Open Letter and/or the University of Rochester’s Literary Translation Programs, I HIGHLY encourage you to come out this Thursday for one of the most star-studded translation events we’ve ever put together.

In honor of The Man Between: Michael Henry Heim & A Life in Translation, the three editors of this volume—Esther Allen, Sean Cotter, and Russell Scott Valentino—are coming to town to talk about Heim and his lasting influence on a variety of aspects of the field of literary translation.

Esther, Sean, and Russell (all of whom are greatly respected for their own personal translations) did an amazing job putting this book together, creating a volume that’s both a homage to one of the most important literary figures of the twentieth century and a book that adds a lot to translation studies. The essays in this book—from a variety of contributors, including Dubrakva Ugresic, Celia Hawkesworth, Rosanna Warren, Maureen Freely, Alex Zucker, Breon Mitchell, and more—are by turns engaging, heartbreaking, brilliant, and intellectually stimulating.

I’ll be moderating this panel, and there will be a reception to follow.

So, if you’re in the area, here are the specifics

RTWCS: Michael Henry Heim & A Life in Translation
Thursday, April 2nd at 5:00pm
Welles-Brown Room in Rush Rhees Library (755 Library Road at the U of R)

Hope to see you there!

30 March 15 | Chad W. Post | Comments

On Tuesday, April 7th, one week from tomorrow, we’ll be announcing this year’s Best Translated Book Award longlists for both Fiction and Poetry. I’m going to unveil the poetry longlist at 10am, and the fiction one precisely at noon. (Eastern time. Because as much as I dislike East Coast Bias, our time zone is clearly the most important.) So, get ready. I think these lists are going to generate a lot of discussion . . .

As in years past, we’ll be highlighting all of the titles with special “Why This Book Should Win” posts, giving judges and readers a chance to cheer on particular titles, and explain what it was about these individual books that makes them so special. These are some of my favorite posts of the year, so personally, I’m really looking forward to that.

But, also as in years past, I want to make a game out of all of this . . . Over the next five days, I’ll provide a series of clues about the two longlists (mostly the fiction one), and if you’re able to guess—on your first try, with no mulligans or reversals of opinion—all of the books on one of the two lists (25 for fiction, 10 for poetry), then I’ll give you a life-long subscription to Open Letter. Only one person can win this, and all you have to do is send your complete set of guesses to chad.post [at] rochester [dot] edu before Sunday, April 5th at 8pm EDT, and I’ll respond by telling you how many you have correct. First one to get all 25/10 wins.

(Next Monday I’ll post a list of “Honorable Mention” titles, which is why you have to get your guesses in by Sunday. And before 8pm because that’s when Opening Night kicks off for the St. Louis Cardinals and I have priorities.)

So, here’s your first set of clues. Really basic information:

  • There are nine languages represented in the list of twenty-five longlisted fiction titles. The top three languages made up seventeen of the total books.
  • There are sixteen different places of origin with a book on the list. The top three locations make up eleven of the total titles.

More clues tomorrow.

25 March 15 | Chad W. Post | Comments

A couple weeks ago, Valerie Miles organized a special one-day conference on “Publishing Spanish Writers in English.” It featured a series of interesting, well-designed panels: one with Barbara Epler from New Directions and Jonathan Galassi from FSG talking about editing Spanish-language lit; one on magazines featuring Lorin Stein from The Paris Review, Willing Davidson from the New Yorker, Edwin Frank from NYRB, and Larry Rohter from the New York Times; one on rights with Elizabeth Kerr from Norton, Amy Hundley from Grove, and Anna Soler-Pont from the Pontas Agency; and one on grants with Margaret Carson from the PEN Translation Committee and Amy Stolls from the NEA, and some other speakers and presentations as well. (Also, there was a reception with lots of Spanish wine, where I learned about the El Caganer, Catalonia’s amazing contribution to pooping culture.)

I was invited to be part of the rights panel, mostly to speak about the Translation Database and all the information I could pull from it specific to Spanish-language books in the U.S.

One of the things that I hadn’t really been thinking about is how, now that we have years and years of data, I can use the database to analyze publishing trends from a particular language or area of the world. How the data can map where books are coming from, who’s publishing them in the States, etc. I love running the big, general updates and looking at the overall number of books making their way into English, but anyone interested in this can dig into the data and get a more fine-tuned look at what exactly is going on.

So, in preparation for this conference I ran a bunch of reports and created this workbook covering Spanish-language literature in translation over the past seven-and-a-half years.

This workbook breaks down the number of Spanish-language titles translated into English by year, and compares this figure to the total number of translations published during that same time; it collects data on the country of origin for all of the Spanish books in translation; and it breaks down how many Spanish-language titles individual publishers published during a given year.

You can look through all of that and make your own conclusions, but here’s bulleted-list of things that I took away from this mini-report:

  • Since 2008, the number of translations of fiction and poetry appearing in English for the first time ever (and available in the U.S.) has increased from a low of 48 books (2008) to a high of 71 titles (2013).
  • Excluding data from 2015 (which is incomplete), there is an average of 44 works of fiction published each year, and 14 works of poetry for a total of 58 new titles every year.
  • Spanish has been the second most translated language for five of the past seven years, coming in first in 2009 and third (behind France and Germany) in 2014. France has been the most translated language for six of the seven years, coming in second one time, in 2009.
  • There are more books being translated in 2014 than in 2008 by a significant percentage (a 64% increase over that time), but Spanish really hasn’t kept pace (a 48% increase from 2008 to 2013, when it had its best year).
  • Spanish has made up between 11.19% and 16.90% of all translations published; French has made up between 14.96% and 17.80%.
  • French literature is expanding rapidly, going from 60 books in 2008 to 105 in 2014. Some of this is due to the launch of French-only presses like Gallic Books and Le French, but Spanish has seen the launch of Hispabooks and Cubanabooks, so this doesn’t fully explain the rapid growth for French titles translated into English.
  • In terms of where these Spanish books are coming from, the majority of Spanish titles come from: Spain (117, 27.02% of total), Argentina (101, 23.33%). Mexico (60, 13.86%), and Chile (53, 12.24%). Those four countries account for 76.45% of all Spanish books translated into English.
  • Spain and Argentina have been steadily growing, with Mexico and Chile holding steady.
  • Over the past seven years, commercial presses have accounted for 14.55% of all Spanish translations, whereas independent and university presses make up 85.45%.
  • The number one publisher of Spanish-language literature in English is New Directions with 39 books since 2008. The top seven publishers of Spanish-language literature have brought out 123 books over this time—28% of all the Spanish-language books that made their way into English.

Personally, I’m most interested in the report of where the books are coming from. It’s maybe not surprising that Spain, Argentina, Mexico, and Chile account for such a huge portion of translated books, but wow, are there are lot of countries that must have authors deserving of being translated into English.

Anyway, this is definitely something I want to start doing more of—playing with the data I’ve been collecting to make some interesting findings. Next up, a breakdown of how many women writers get translated and where they’re from . . .

24 March 15 | Chad W. Post | Comments

The Man Booker International Prize is awarded every two years to “a living author who has published fiction either originally in English or whose work is generally available in translation in the English language.”

According to their website, the goal of the award is to honor “one writer’s overall contribution to fiction on the world stage” and as such, they consider the writer’s entire body of work and not just a single book. Furthermore, there are no submissions from publishers, so the judges decide who to consider and who gets the £60,000 cash prize.

OK, so today, they announced the finalists for this year’s awards, and the ten authors are:

César Aira (Argentina)
Hoda Barakat (Lebanon)
Maryse Condé (Guadeloupe)
Mia Couto (Mozambique)
Amitav Ghosh (India)
Fanny Howe (United States of America)
Ibrahim al-Koni (Libya)
László Krasznahorkai (Hungary)
Alain Mabanckou (Republic of Congo)
Marlene van Niekerk (South Africa)

For once, I’m familiar with all of the authors on the list, and have read books from more than half! It’s an interesting list of finalists, and impressive that there are writers from a number of countries that aren’t always represented on lists like this.

I’m not even sure how to predict the potential winner of this award, but for a bit of context, here are the last few winners: Lydia Davis won the prize in 2013, Philip Roth in 2011, Alice Munro in 2009, Chinua Achebe in 2007 and Ismail Kadaré won the inaugural prize in 2005. Hmm. Lots of Americans and Canadians . . . No offense to Fanny Howe, but I really hope one of the other writers wins this year. Maybe Aira or Krasznahorkai? My gut tells me it’s going to be Couto or Mabanckou.

24 March 15 | Chad W. Post | Comments

OK, now that we have the ALTA 2015 location set (Tucson), the dates (October 28-31), hotel (Marriott University Park), and keynote speakers (Stephen Snyder and Jerome Rothenberg), it’s time to send out the call for Travel Fellowships.

Each year, between four and six $1,000 fellowships are awarded to emerging (unpublished or minimally published) translators to help them pay for hotel and travel expenses to the annual ALTA conference.

At the conference, ALTA Fellows are invited to read their translated work at a keynote event, giving them an opportunity to present their translations to an audience of translators, authors, editors, and publishers from around the world.

Applications must be submitted through our applications portal by June 1, 2015.

Applications must include:

a cover letter explaining your interest in attending the conference
current CV / resumé
up to 10 pages of translated work (poetry or prose, double spaced)
the corresponding original language text

Geoffrey Brock, Jennifer Croft, and Sidney Wade are judging this year. So, good luck! Get your applications in. (And I’m talking about YOU, my students and former students. ROCHESTER REPRESENT.)

20 March 15 | Kaija Straumanis | Comments

The latest addition to our Reviews section is by P. T. Smith on The History of Silence by Pedro Zarraluki, translated by Nick Caistor and Lorenza Garcia, and published by Hispabooks Publishing.

Here’s the beginning of Patrick’s review:

Pedro Zarraluki’s The History of Silence (trans. Nick Caistor and Lorenza García) begins with the narrator and his wife, Irene, setting out to write a book about silence, itself called The History of Silence: “This is the story of how a book that should have been called The History of Silence never came to be written. Although common, failure is not easy to explain.” I prepared for a self-aware, post-modern, and concept-heavy work. While Zarraluki never abandons his exploration of silence, I couldn’t have been more wrong. The narrator and Irene dive into the philosophies of silence, into religious ideas, into odd experiments with it, but this is a novel about relationships, about complicated, emotional, thoughtful, sexual people. Zarraluki creates whole, original characters in the brush of a couple sentences, builds their relationships with the others, and then plays out all the shades of those human interactions. It’s in the midst of that, of what people say and don’t say to each other, in the way things are said and the silence behind words, that the history of silence is uncovered.

When the pair are focused on their work of silence, they experiment and run tests—they try to not speak to each other for a week; Irene collects photos of loud events and posts them all over the apartment, till it drives their housekeeper to panic at the intensity of them. They push the boundaries of silence as they and their friends push the boundaries of relationships. The History of Silence begins in the intimacy of a single couple, moves to the intimacy that couple shares with their group of friends, and from there to the individual lines between each and every one in the group. It isn’t elaborate, it isn’t a complicated step-by-step move around the group, but a work of finesse.

Go here for the rest of the review.

18 March 15 | Kaija Straumanis | Comments

The latest addition to our Reviews section is by P. T. Smith on Flesh-Coloured Dominoes by Zigmunds Skujiņš, translated by Kaija Straumanis and published by Arcadia Books.

Patrick has been a powerhouse of reviews this past month—and this isn’t even the last from him! Here’s the beginning of his review:

There are plenty of reasons you can fail to find the rhythm of a book. Sometimes it’s a matter of discarding initial assumptions or impressions, sometimes of resetting oneself. Zigmunds Skujiņš’s Flesh-Coloured Dominoes was a defining experience in the necessity of attempting the latter. It has quite possibly the most misleading, inaccurate cover copy of all time. Surrealism is an overused term, applied to anything odd, just to the right of realism, but Flesh-Coloured Dominoes is the most straightforward work I’ve seen called Surrealist. This isn’t a criticism of the book itself, it couldn’t be, but when you go into a story wanting the unsettling, funny, and strange, then encounter dry, if beautiful and emotional verisimilitude outside of a few occasions, it is hard not to be disappointed. In addition to claiming Surrealism, the copy tells us that Skujiņš’s novel is split into two parts: the eighteenth century and the modern world. By modern world it means the era of World War II, and with a child protagonist, very much of that wide genre of storytelling.

But enough with the damned throat-clearing and correctives, a book needs to be seen on its own actual terms. Flesh-Coloured Dominoes is a novel with a sense of physical detail that gives the time periods and their characters lush life and a nuanced creation of how those characters interact with each other—both in their emotional connections and in the single touch of the fantastic, where lives separated by time intermingle and overlap. It is the story of a family in a Latvian town surviving the multiple occupations, Russian and German, of World War II, and how just as that history can’t be separated from the past, neither can the individuals from one century to another.

For the rest of the review, go here

17 March 15 | Chad W. Post | Comments

So, every year, PEN Awards a bunch of books with a bunch of money in a bunch of different categories. Some of these categories are dedicated solely to works in translation (like the PEN Translation Prize, PEN Award for Poetry in Translation), and other longlists just happen to include translated books.

Since we cover translations exclusively, and publish them, exclusively, and work, on a regular basis with several of the judges awarded these prizes and the presses winning them (Open Letter struck out again this year, which, you know, it’s like they say, “never a bridesmaid”), I figure it’s kind of our obligation to list all of the relevant books from the longlists that were announced today. So here goes:

PEN/Diamonstein-Spielvogel Award for the Art of the Essay ($10,000):

For a book of essays published in 2014 that exemplifies the dignity and esteem that the essay form imparts to literature.

Judges: Diane Johnson, Dahlia Lithwick, Vijay Seshadri, and Mark Slouka

Sidewalks by Valeria Luiselli, translated from the Spanish by Christina MacSweeney (Coffee House Press)

All love to Valeria Luiselli and the great people at Coffee House. I love this book, and it should win. (Which, sorry, Valeria, Caroline, Chris, and company, basically guarantees you won’t win. I’m awful at being able to predict what judges value. I think I went one for six at the NBCCs, which was better than usual.)

Next up, the PEN Award for Poetry in Translation

The $3,000 PEN Award for Poetry in Translation recognizes book-length translations of poetry from any language into English published in the previous calendar year and is judged by a single translator of poetry appointed by the PEN Translation Committee.

Judge: Ana Božičević

Sorrowtoothpaste Mirrorcream by Kim Hyesoon, translated from the Korean by Don Mee Choi (Action Books)

Love Poems by Bertolt Brecht, translated from the German by David Constantine & Tom Kuhn (Liveright)

I Am the Beggar of the World by Eliza Griswold, translated from the Pashto by the author (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)

Selected Poems by Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, translated from the Spanish by Edith Grossman (W. W. Norton & Company)

Where Are the Trees Going? by Venus Khoury-Ghata, translated from the Arabic by Marilyn Hacker (Northwestern University Press)

Breathturn into Timestead by Paul Celan, translated from the German by Pierre Joris (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)

Guantanamo by Frank Smith, translated from the French by Vanessa Place (Les Figues Press)

Skin by Tone Škrjanec, translated from the Slovenian by Matthew Rohrer and Ana Pepelnik (Tavern Books)

Diana’s Tree by Alejandra Pizarnik, translated from the Spanish by Yvette Siegert (Ugly Duckling Presse)

Autoepitaph by Reinaldo Arenas, translated from the Spanish by Kelly Washbourne (University Press of Florida)

And now, the one you’ve been probably waiting for, assuming you’re aware of the various PEN prizes and have an interest in this kind of thing—the PEN Translation Prize!

For a book-length translation of prose into English published in 2014.

Judges: Heather Cleary, Lucas Klein, Tess Lewis, and Allison Markin Powell

Trans-Atlantyk by Witold Gombrowicz, translated from the Polish by Danuta Borchardt (Yale/Margellos)

The Gray Notebook by Josep Pla, translated from the Catalan by Peter Bush (New York Review Books)

The Symmetry Teacher by Andrei Bitov, translated from the Russian by Polly Gannon (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)

The Master of Confessions by Thierry Cruvellier, translated from the French by Alex Gilly (Ecco)

The Man Who Loved Dogs by Leonardo Padura, translated from the Spanish by Anna Kushner (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)

I Ching translated from the Chinese by John Minford (Viking Books)

Baboon by Naja Marie Aidt, translated from the Danish by Denise Newman (Two Lines Press)

Texas: The Great Theft by Carmen Boullosa, translated from the Spanish by Samantha Schness (Deep Vellum Publishing)

Self-Portrait in Green by Marie NDiaye, translated from the French by Jordan Stump (Two Lines Press)

The Woman Who Borrowed Memories by Tove Jansson, translated from the Swedish by Thomas Teal & Silvester Mazzarella (New York Review Books)

Is the I Ching really prose? I’ve never thought of it in that way myself, but OK. Maybe there’s something special about this particular translation? It would be interesting to know how the judges evaluated this one.

Other than that, solid list. Well done, judges. Good luck to all the translators and authors!

I can’t figure out from the main PEN award page if they’ll be announcing finalists [UPDATE: It’s on April 15th], and I’m too tired stupid and lazy to dig into this any more. The winners will be announced on May 13th, along with all the lifetime achievement awards.

16 March 15 | Kaija Straumanis | Comments

The latest addition to our Reviews section is by Vincent Francone on Iraqi Nights by Dunya Mikhail, translated by Kareem James Abu-Zeid and published by New Directions.

Here’s the beginning of Vince’s review:

In a culture that privileges prose, reviewing poetry is fairly pointless. And I’ve long since stopped caring about what the world reads and dropped the crusade to get Americans to read more poems. Part of the fault, as I’ve suggested in past reviews, rests with poets who seem hell-bent on insulating their art from the community at large, which is why Dunya Mikhail’s work, which work sin so much the opposite manner, is always such a pleasure. It’s enough to get me screaming back into the void.

Mikhail’s previous collection, Diary of a Wave Outside the Sea, arrived not to push the possibilities of poetry—there’s a prevalent wrongheaded belief that poets have a responsibility to always explore uncharted territory—but to remind readers why we go to poetry in the first place. Comprised of separate approaches, mostly written out of necessity (the section composed in Iraq being considerably more coded), the achievement of that book is that it encompasses disparate styles that communicate the poet’s experience with equal success. Nothing new, just fine writing.

For the rest of the review and a preview of the poetry, go here.

13 March 15 | Kaija Straumanis | Comments

The latest addition to our Reviews section is by Tiffany Nichols on Andrea Cannobio’s Three Light-Years, translated by Anne Milano Appel and published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

Friday the 13th! Go catch some black cats before the weekend!

Here’s the beginning of Tiffany’s review:

I would like to pose the argument that it is rare for one to ever come across a truly passive protagonist in a novel. The protagonist (perhaps) of Three Light-Years, Claudio Viberti, is just that—a shy internist who lives in an apartment above his mother and below his ex-wife, and religiously eats boiled vegetables every day for lunch at the same cafe at the same table. Claudio spends over two years obsessing about Cecilia, a doctor and fellow colleague, until the day he is able to stutter out his profession of love for her, only to proceed in engaging with her in his car a safe distance from the hospital where they work. Following and/or during this engagement (not clear), Claudio also stumbles into a relationship with Cecilia’s sister, Silva, who shortly thereafter learns she is expecting. These ingredients and known plot “twists” are the makings of an episode of Grey’s Anatomy, except with a passive protagonist as a stand-in for McDreamy. Disappointingly, no attempts were really made to make the characters compelling or interesting beyond those of our typical hour-long sitcoms located in hospitals in Seattle and Los Angeles. The only interesting twist was that this hospital is located in a suburb of a large Italian city, and with that comes the typical romantic stereotypes.

For the rest of the review, go here

The History of Silence
The History of Silence by Pedro Zarraluki
Reviewed by P. T. Smith

Pedro Zarraluki’s The History of Silence (trans. Nick Caistor and Lorenza García) begins with the narrator and his wife, Irene, setting out to write a book about silence, itself called The History of Silence: “This is the story of how. . .

Read More >

Flesh-Coloured Dominoes
Flesh-Coloured Dominoes by Zigmunds Skujiņš
Reviewed by P. T. Smith

There are plenty of reasons you can fail to find the rhythm of a book. Sometimes it’s a matter of discarding initial assumptions or impressions, sometimes of resetting oneself. Zigmunds Skujiņš’s Flesh-Coloured Dominoes was a defining experience in the necessity. . .

Read More >

Iraqi Nights
Iraqi Nights by Dunya Mikhail
Reviewed by Vincent Francone

In a culture that privileges prose, reviewing poetry is fairly pointless. And I’ve long since stopped caring about what the world reads and dropped the crusade to get Americans to read more poems. Part of the fault, as I’ve suggested. . .

Read More >

Three-Light Years
Three-Light Years by Andrea Canobbio
Reviewed by Tiffany Nichols

I would like to pose the argument that it is rare for one to ever come across a truly passive protagonist in a novel. The protagonist (perhaps) of Three Light-Years, Claudio Viberti, is just that—a shy internist who lives in. . .

Read More >

The Little Horse
The Little Horse by Thorvald Steen
Reviewed by P. T. Smith

The last five days of the eleventh-century Icelandic politician, writer of sagas, and famous murder victim Snorri Sturleleson (the Norwegian spelling, Snorre, is preserved in the book) make up Thorvald Steen’s most recently translated historical fiction, The Little Horse. Murdered. . .

Read More >

Guys Like Me
Guys Like Me by Dominique Fabre
Reviewed by Peter Biello

We all know Paris, or at least we think we know it. The Eiffel Tower. The Latin Quarter. The Champs-Élysées. The touristy stuff. In Dominique Fabre’s novel, Guys Like Me, we’re shown a different side of Paris: a gray, decaying. . .

Read More >

Birth of a Bridge
Birth of a Bridge by Maylis de Kerangal
Reviewed by Christopher Iacono

One hundred pages into Birth of a Bridge, the prize-winning novel from French writer Maylis de Kerangal, the narrator describes how starting in November, birds come to nest in the wetlands of the fictional city of Coca, California, for three. . .

Read More >

Faces in the Crowd
Faces in the Crowd by Valeria Luiselli
Reviewed by Valerie Miles

At 30, the Mexican writer Valeria Luiselli is already gathering her rosebuds. Faces in the Crowd, her poised debut novel, was published by Coffee House Press, along with her Brodsky-infused essay collection, Sidewalks. The essays stand as a theoretical map. . .

Read More >

Fantomas Versus the Multinational Vampires: An Attainable Utopia
Fantomas Versus the Multinational Vampires: An Attainable Utopia by Julio Cortázar
Reviewed by Cameron Rowe

Fantomas Versus the Multinational Vampires: An Attainable Utopia (narrated by Julio Cortázar) is, not disappointingly, as wild a book as its title suggests. It is a half-novella half-graphic novel story about . . . what, exactly? A European tribunal, Latin. . .

Read More >

Self-Portrait in Green
Self-Portrait in Green by Marie NDiaye
Reviewed by Lori Feathers

Marie NDiaye has created a tiny, psychological masterpiece with her Self-Portrait in Green. In it she explores how our private fears and insecurities can distort what we believe to be real and can cause us to sabotage our intimate relationships.. . .

Read More >