17 June 14 | Chad W. Post | Comments

This match was judged by George Carroll. For more info on the World Cup of Literature, read this, and download the bracket.

Garcia Marquez was my gateway into non-dead-white-guy authors in translation. I read One Hundred Years of Solitude on a chaise lounge in Waikiki, on a trip when my friend Howard and I drank the pool bar out of Heineken. But I was sober enough most of the time, enough to appreciate that there was more out there to read than my then steady diet of American noir.

The first line in One Hundred Years of Solitude and the first line of the second chapter are the only two sentences I’ve committed to memory—that, and the opening of James Crumley’s The Last Good Kiss.

Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendía was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice.

When the pirate Sir Francis Drake attacked Riohacha in the sixteenth century, Ursula Iguaran’s great-great-grandmother became so frightened with the ringing of alarm bells and the firing of cannons that she lost control of her nerves and sat down on a lighted stove.

When I finally caught up with Abraham Trahearne, he was drinking beer with an alcoholic bulldog named Fireball Roberts in a ramshackle joint just outside of Sonoma, California, drinking the heart right out of a fine spring afternoon.

I first read Murakami in a hammock in Mexico on my honeymoon. I was too lazy to locate a bookstore in Tecate, but found a galley of Kafka on the Shore in the hotel library. That started a thorough run of Murakami; that’s a hell of a lot of cats in a short period of time.

For years, when asked, I would say that either The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle or One Hundred Years of Solitude was my favorite book. The World Cup of Literature rules disallow both of these books because they’re pre-2000 releases. The only Garcia Marquez work that qualifies is Memories of My Melancholy Whores. Six Murakami titles qualify, including Kafka, but The World Cup of Literature entry is the very troubled 1Q84.

There are no match-ups in the first round of The World Cup of Literature that approach the naming rights, product placement, endorsement deals, or star bling of Colombia / Japan. The burden of commercial success over perceived literary merit haunted this match-up since the bracket was posted.

Crikey, it’s fucking hot in Manaus. Sweat is pouring over my eyebrows like Gullfoss (I seriously wish that Eidur Gudjohnsen was in Brazil rather than Luka Modric). The weather favors Team Garcia Marquez who thrives in heat and humidity. Team Murakami usually practices either in the mountains or at the bottom of wells.

1Q84 entered the pitch in its spiffy Chip Kidd designed kit, visibly suffering from over-exposure. The team is comprised entirely of members of former great Murakami sides with the exception of a young striker, Aomame.

The captain of the Colombia side, unlike many footballers who go by one name, has no name. We’ll just call him Jose Arcadio, because there’s one too many of them in One Hundred Years of Solitude. When manager Jose Pekerman realized that his side was a 90 year old journalist and a sleeping virgin on valerian, he decided to park the bus.

Alberto Zaccheroni sent multiple Murakami recurring themes down the flanks. Tengo, the other forward, confused, was unable to deliver any shots on goal, and waited sullenly for a midfielder to drop the ball on his only good foot (think Eddie Johnson or Wayne Rooney).

All Japan advance, all Colombia defense. Two minutes into stoppage time, Aomame realized it might go to PKs and you don’t know what a 90-year-old whore-monger can deliver when needed. Fuka-Eri sent a cross to Aomame who did a roll and scissors, then entered her parallel universe. She reentered the pitch reality on Arcadio’s weak side and finished into the bottom left corner.

Japan 1 – 0 Colombia

——

George Carroll is the World Literature Editor for Shelf Awareness for Professionals and the Soccer Editor for Shelf Awareness for Readers. In other words, he’s got this nailed.

——

Did 1Q84 Deserve to Win?

Yes
No


14 April 14 | Chad W. Post | Comments

Twenty-four hours from now the 2014 BTBA finalists will be announced—will In the Night of Time be on the list? Below are my reasons why it should be.

In the Night of Time by Antonio Muñoz Molina, translated from the Spanish by Edith Grossman (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)

In the Night of Time is a huge book. Six-hundred and forty-one pages of very mannered, wandering prose depicting the general chaos of the Spanish Civil War, and the personal chaos that architect Ignacio Abel undergoes during the war’s buildup. It’s more of an emotional book than a political one, with most of the “action” revolving around Ignacio’s love affair with a young American, and the harm this causes to his wife and family.

That’s all fine, but reason number one that I think this book should win the BTBA is for the way in which it depicts the terrifying ambiguity of the start of a war. Throughout the first 400+ pages of the novel, war is always on the horizon. Franco’s Fascists are nearby, moving toward Madrid, gathering support from the general populous fed up with the Republican Party. Molina’s presentation of the way in which the newspapers are completely unreliable at this time—several characters point out how the advances and retreats never quite add up—and that most people don’t think anything will come of the revolutionary uprisings around the country, is kind of terrifying. And then everyone starts carrying guns, “just in case” . . .

The sense of loss portrayed at the end of the book, once Ignacio is in America, working at a small liberal college and war has officially broken out, is incredibly powerful and saddening. I’ve always been interested in the Spanish Civil War and its craziness, and this novel reinforced my desire to learn more about the various nuances of the conflict.

But sticking with this novel, and why it should win, there are two more things that I want to point out. First, the prose itself. As I read this, I was frequently reminded of Javier Marias. Going back to an adjective from above, Molina’s writing is very “mannered.” Which is true of Marias as well. But where Marias tends to circle around and around a particular thought or action, Molina has a bit more forward motion.

He didn’t pretend. It was easy for him to talk to Adela and his children and not feel the sting of imposture or betrayal. What happened in his secret life didn’t interfere with this one but transferred to it some of its sunlit plenitude. And he didn’t care too much about the ominous prospect of immersion in the celebrations of his in-laws, usually as suffocating for him as the air in the places where the lived, heavy with dust from draperies, rugs, faux heraldic tapestries, smells of fried food and garlic, ecclesiastical colognes, liniments for the pains of rheumatism, sweaty scapulars. A sharp awareness of the other, invisible world to which he could return soon made more tolerable the painstaking ugliness of the one where he now found himself and where, in spit of the passage of years, he’d never stopped being a stranger, an intruder.

Also, this is translated by Edith Grossman, one of the most important translators ever. Her contributions to world literature—both in terms of her translations, like her Don Quixote from a few years back, and in terms of her own writing, like Why Translation Matters—deserve to win all of the awards.

Finally, from a reader enjoyment perspective, I finished this book in just over a week. Every chapter—each of which almost stand alone and little set-pieces advancing a couple parts of the overall story in a way that defies traditional, linear storytelling—was compelling and brought me right back into the world of this haunted man, on the run from the self-destruction of his homeland, where his betrayed wife and abandoned children are maybe still alive, and kept me reading. This is a shit argument, I know, but the fact that Molina’s writing has the power to keep me reading is some sort of internal proof that this is a damn good book—one deserving of the BTBA.

8 April 13 | Kaija Straumanis | Comments

The latest addition to our Reviews Section is by Tiffany Nichols on Hi, This Is Conchita and Other Stories by Santiago Roncagliolo, translated from the Spanish by Edith Grossman and published by Two Lines Press.

Tiffany, who is relatively new to the Three Percent contributors’ club, is an avid reader of literature in translation and runs the mouthwatering food porn and book-geeking Tumblr blog tiffany ist.

Here’s a bit from Tiffany’s review:

When starting Hi, This Is Conchita and Other Stories, Santiago Roncagliolo’s second work to be translated into English, I was expecting Roncagliolo to explore the line between evil and religion that was front and center in Red April. Admittedly, I could have not been more wrong. Hi, This Is Conchita and Other Stories makes no direct mention of religion or evil, instead consisting of four dark short stories, each focusing on isolation and detachment. What draws the reader to the characters of this work is that each of us has analyzed such a withdrawn individual in ourselves, or in another, with gross curiosity and misunderstanding.

The first story, “Hi This Is Conchita,” is a collection of telephone conversations, unrelated at first, but which over time magically and seamlessly come together to reveal a social network of underlying love, deceit, and irony among the callers. The conversations are stripped of all literary fluff, leaving only the dialog exchanged on the line. One conversation involves an obsessive-compulsive phone sex customer who cannot reach climax due to his concern of the placement of a green filing cabinet in the office in which he secretly makes the calls. Another conversation concerns an ex-boyfriend who obsessively counts the most mundane things about his past relationship on his ex-girlfriend’s answering machine, trying to attribute these tallies to meaning in their failed relationship. The third conversation concerns a customer who uses a customer service line as his only daily form of human contact. The last focuses on a hit man who falls in love with his target, only to find that he has misidentified the target after it is too late.

8 April 13 | Kaija Straumanis | Comments

When starting Hi, This Is Conchita and Other Stories, Santiago Roncagliolo’s second work to be translated into English, I was expecting Roncagliolo to explore the line between evil and religion that was front and center in Red April. Admittedly, I could have not been more wrong. Hi, This Is Conchita and Other Stories makes no direct mention of religion or evil, instead consisting of four dark short stories, each focusing on isolation and detachment. What draws the reader to the characters of this work is that each of us has analyzed such a withdrawn individual in ourselves, or in another, with gross curiosity and misunderstanding.

The first story, “Hi This Is Conchita,” is a collection of telephone conversations, unrelated at first, but which over time magically and seamlessly come together to reveal a social network of underlying love, deceit, and irony among the callers. The conversations are stripped of all literary fluff, leaving only the dialog exchanged on the line. One conversation involves an obsessive-compulsive phone sex customer who cannot reach climax due to his concern of the placement of a green filing cabinet in the office in which he secretly makes the calls. Another conversation concerns an ex-boyfriend who obsessively counts the most mundane things about his past relationship on his ex-girlfriend’s answering machine, trying to attribute these tallies to meaning in their failed relationship. The third conversation concerns a customer who uses a customer service line as his only daily form of human contact. The last focuses on a hit man who falls in love with his target, only to find that he has misidentified the target after it is too late.

“Despoiler,” the second story in the collection, is an intriguing and atypical example of fabulism where Carmen, an isolated women crossing the right of passage of turning forty, is reacquainted with the beloved stuffed animals of her childhood in human form during Carnival. Of course, these animals appear to be adults in costume, but as we all learned at a young age—looks, especially when masks are involved, can be deceiving.

The third and probably most disturbing story, “Butterflies Fastened With Pins,” is a compendium of individuals who have committed suicide and whom the narrator has encountered. What is most troubling about the recollection of the suicides is how detached the narrator is from the victims, but how vividly he is able to describe everyone else’s personal reactions to the suicides and their aftermath. The narrator always remains detached, calculated, and controlled in descriptions of the facts surrounding the suicides, but provides an almost poetic account of how the other observers succumb to grief, misunderstanding of death, and inability to cope with the suicides.

The collection closes with “The Passenger Beside You.” Although “Butterflies” was the most disturbing, “Passenger” is by far the most eerie in the collection. In this account, Roncagliolo explores a corpse’s last moment of intimacy during a final examination by a medical examiner mechanically performing his job function. What is most unnatural about the account is how closely the reader will experience these last moments of intimacy from the perspective of the corpse. The corpse narrator vividly describes the methodical carefulness of the medical examiner’s touch, starting from the outside surface of the body and moving to his calculated exploration inside the corpse’s body. The progression will cause you to shudder, but will also leave you almost invigorated and intrigued by the intimate connection between the corpse and her detached examiner.

Roncagliolo is an incredibly gifted storyteller who is able to execute many writing styles, as evidenced in the shock thriller Red April and the delicate and sensual exploration of the relationships between the connected and detached in Hi, This Is Conchita and Other Stores. In each of these works, Roncagliolo reminds us that, although we are isolated by default, we are all connected to each other in some way. For this reason, in addition to Roncagliolo’s partnership with the translator, Edith Grossman, I urge everyone to actively follow the presence of Roncagliolo’s work in the English (and Spanish) language.

29 August 11 | Chad W. Post | Comments

Over at Publishing Perspectives, there’s a profile piece by Hernán Iglesias Illa on Edith Grossman, translator extraordinaire and author of Why Translation Matters. (Which I wrote about at length for Quarterly Conversation back when it came out.)

Let’s start with an interesting part about Grossman’s recent translation of Don Quixote:

Grossman fell in love with Spanish as a teenager, thanks to a Spanish teacher “who was very good.” She read Don Quixote for for the first time in Philadelphia, where she grew up, in Samuel Putnam’s classic 1949 translation.

The half-century gap between Putnam’s version and hers can be seen from the very first sentence of the book. Putnam translates the legendary beginning of Cervantes (“En un lugar de la Mancha, de cuyo nombre no quiero acordarme”) as: “In a village of La Mancha the name of which I have no desire to recall.” It’s an accurate translation, but somewhat clumsy, and that feels a bit dated. Grossman, less forced to follow the literality of the sentence and with an ear more attuned to capture Cervantes’ intention, writes: “Somewhere in La Mancha, in a place whose name I do not care to remember”.

This “I do not care,” disdainful and conversational, reflects much better the mocking spirit of Don Quixote’s narrator, who from the first sentence introduces himself as an unreliable guy.

Is all these subtlety worthwhile? For Grossman, there is no doubt. “The importance of translation is self-evident,” she writes in her book. Maybe that’s why she feels bad about her battered professional colleagues, “poorly paid and with no job security.” She describes most of them as people “who do not look for fame or fortune but do their work out of love for literature.“

She sure is direct . . . and honest. Which can result in some rather discouraging statements, such as this:

In her book, Grossman mentions the well-known fact that only three percent of the books published in the United States, Great Britain and Australia are translations, while in Europe and Latin America this percentage number fluctuates between 25% and 40%. “We English-speakers are not interested in translations,” says Grossman. (An interviewer infected with translators’ jargon would have commented that Grossman said this “with a sigh”, or “shaking her head.“) “I don’t believe that this will change soon, since almost all publishers are part of large corporations and make their decisions under enormous pressure to be profitable.”

I mention then that a few small and medium US publishers have recently published translations of books by César Aria, Alejandro Zambra and Juan José Saer. “I love these publishers, and they have good people working there,” she says. “But they are too small, they have a lot of trouble getting adequate distribution and good publicity or reviews in the media.”

Well, OK. I was going to complain here about how difficult it is getting books into bookstores where the buyers won’t even take a call because “that sort of stuff doesn’t sell here on Manhattan’s Upper East Side.” (Or in Nebraska, the Mountain & Plains states, or wherever.) And I was going to point out that Juan Jose Saer’s Sixty-Five Years of Washington sold out its first print run and was reviewed in the New York Times and The Nation among other places. But whatever. She’s right.1 Even at our best, the lousiest piece from crap from Corporate Publisher X will get more penetration into the marketplace, which is the slow sick sucking part of the business, and I’m not sure it will ever really change.

Obviously, Internet retailers have leveled the field a bit—all of our books are just as available through Amazon as anyone else’s—but in that case, when a reader is faced with an overwhelming number of choices (approx. 3 million new ones each year, including tons and tons of $.99 entertainments), it’s tricky for an unknown author from Peru to make it through. Ideally, when everything’s available, people would try new things and find some niche tastes, but in reality, we search for what we already know we want to find, and bust the Bieber while reading Twilight. But that’s a subject for another post and/or book . . .

Anyway, Edie definitely calls it like she sees it, and although I have to be more optimistic than she is (otherwise, this whole thing—getting up in the morning, working at a small press, writing this blog—seems pretty damn bleak), it’s true that our impact is at least partially handcuffed by economic realities.

All that said, I’ve been reading the new Saer book, Scars, and am BLOWN AWAY. Everyone needs to buy this—it’s absolutely incredible and the most compelling book I’ve read in a while. Not to overstate the point, but it reminds me why reading matters.

1 At least about Open Letter. I think the presses distributed by Norton—Dalkey Archive and New Directions—and the ones distributed by Random House and Penguin—Europa Editions, NYRB, Melville House—do get into almost all the locations they need to.

2 March 11 | Chad W. Post | Comments

As noted yesterday, I’m way behind with web stuff right now, but I wanted to take a minute out of my NEA grant (almost done . . . almost . . .) to point out the awesome new Bridge Series, “the first independent reading and discussion series in New York City devoted to literary translation.”

Bill Martin and Sal Robinson are both involved in this, which guarantees (to me and everyone who knows them) that the series will be of the highest quality.

The first event is tonight at McNally Jackson at 7pm, and features Edith Grossman (Why Translation Matters, translator of Don Quixote and dozens of other books) and Steve Dolph (translator of The Sixty-Five Years of Washington).

Click here for all the details. And we’ll give better advance warning on all the future events . . . .

3 January 11 | Chad W. Post | Comments [4]

Over the break, while I was drinking mimosas and staying as far away from work-related email as possible, NPR did a story on literature in translation, namely, Edith Grossman’s translation of Don Quixote and Lydia Davis’s Madame Bovary. Before getting all screedy, here’s a bit of the piece that I liked:

Grossman says she had a lot of fear when she began translating Don Quixote. She spent two weeks on the first sentence alone, because she felt everything else would fall into place if she could only do justice to Cervantes’ opening line.

The key to unlocking what the author intended, says Grossman, can always be found in the text itself.

“The text brings you in,” she explains. “I think one of the things that happens when you read carefully is that you feel as if you are looking at the world through the eyes of someone else.”

Not sure that I completely agree with this, mainly because I don’t believe in “definitive” anything, but it is interesting:

After finishing her first draft, Davis takes a look at the work of other translators, and develops a kind of partnership with them as well. “I would begin to feel that we were a group sitting in the room together wrestling with the same problems,” she says.

Davis says reading many variations on a single phrase gives her an even better understanding of how complex the process of translation is.

“I sense how hard we’ve all worked,” she says. “It’s not easy. Even a not-so-good translation is not easy to produce. Somehow, I think we maybe should have been all together . . . doing it together, and somehow achieved the final definitive translation.”

OK, now on to the fun part . . .

Not to get all up in NPR’s grill, because, yes, any article on translation is better than no article on translation, but I have a few issues with this piece:

1) The Title. “When Done Right, Little Gets Lost in Translation” implies, to me, that the majority of translations are somehow flawed, and by extension, only the few, perfect ones, which only “lose a little” of the original are worth reading. I call bullshit on this. First off, I’d love for Lynn Neary to write out some specific examples of what was “lost” in a particular translation. Yes, I know this is a cliche made all the more popular by Bill Murray Scarlett Johansson, and I know she probably didn’t really mean to imply anything by this, but still. (How about nixing “lost in translation” from all article titles for all of 2011? That’s a resolution I can get behind.) As Michael Emmerich has pointed out, any translation is basically pure gain, since you go from not having anything, to being able to read, enjoy, discuss, dislike, argue about, a work that you otherwise wouldn’t have access to.

2) Neverending coverage of the classics. It’s great that people are talking about Don Quixote and Flaubert, but I’m personally totally over these pieces on retranslations of the classics. Just reinforces my prejudiced belief that the mainstream media only really wants to write about translations that they’ve read in previous versions. Which is sweet. But doesn’t necessarily encourage the growth of a culture that appreciates literary translation of contemporary authors. And because I’m irrational like this, I blame Oprah for choosing P&V’s retranslation of Anna Karenina for kickstarting this bias.

23 November 10 | Chad W. Post | Comments [5]

As we mentioned last Friday, we’re going to spend the next 21 days highlighting all of the authors selected for Granta’s _“Best of Young Spanish-Language Novelists” special issue. All past and future posts related to this issue can be found by clicking here.

Up today: Peruvian author Santiago Roncagliolo, whose new short story “Stars and Stripes” is included in this issue.



Last year, in the run-up to announcing the longlist for the Best Translation Book Award for Fiction, there was a bit of chatter about Santiago Roncagliolo’s Red April. This “chilling political thriller set at the end of Peru’s grim war between Shining Path terrorists and a morally bankrupt government counterinsurgency,” which was translated by Edith Grossman, centers around Associate District Prosecutor Felix Chacaltana Saldivar and his investigation of a gruesome, bizarre murder. It’s a very intriguing novel, one that Michael Orthofer of Complete Review gave a solid B, having this to say:

Red April is an intriguing if somewhat messy thriller, with no easy answers and culpability (of different sorts) all around. Chacaltana is, for the most part, an appealingly clueless figure in this world gone bad, though his own transformation seems a bit much by the end; his relationship with Edith also strains some credulity. Nevertheless, it’s a solid portrait of a place steeped almost hopelessly in the completely corrupted, with little sense of hope for change or a better future.

A somewhat uneasy mix of political and crime thriller, Roncagliolo does paint some very vivid and powerful scenes—but it is of a dark and desolate world.

Fellow BTBA judge, Monica Carter, also reviewed Red April and had this to say:

There are many disturbing things about this novel—the violence, the corruption and the religious overtones—which can all easily be filed under ‘amoral’ in the literary tricks rolodex of the thriller genre. But what makes this novel a little messier, a little more uncertain, is the narrator. Chalcatana is not necessarily unreliable, but for a reader, it’s difficult to overlook his peculiarities. It’s difficult to believe him. Chalcatana moves back into this childhood home where he lives alone except for the overwhelming eerie presence of his deceased mother. He keeps her room exactly the same, lays her clothes out as if she were still alive, talks to her pictures and even goes as far as behaving as if she were still alive by keeping appointments with her. Strange, yes. Criminal, no. Disturbing? Slightly . . .

Roncagliolo’s other books seem to fit a similar interest in crime, violence, terrorism. According to the Granta bio, Roncagliolo’s non-fiction novel La curata espada “delves into the mind of the most dangerous terrorist in the history of the Americas, Abimael Guzman of Sendero Luminoso.” His book Memorias de una dama is about the origins of the Mafia in Cuba and “its publication is prohibited throughout the entire world.” (Again, Roncagliolo is only 35 and already has a book banned everywhere. I’ve been wasting my life . . .) Expanding on the Mafia & terrorism theme, his latest novel, Tan cerca de la vida, is about Tokyo’s sex market.

“Stars and Stripes,” also translated by the amazing Edie Grossman, contains a few connection to underworld dealings, but these moments are reflected through the more innocent character of Carlitos. This excerpt encapsulates the seediness underlying the story, along with the sweet sort of awkward and hints of nostalgia that color “Stars and Stripes”:

bq Though Carlitos wasn’t to blame for anything, I was furious with him. Simply put, his company reminded me of my failure with Mily. I stopped seeing him. I didn’t want him to interfere with my difficult progress towards a first kiss. Apparently this served only to make Carlitos want to see me more than ever. He rang my bell six days in a row. He asked my parents about me. He telephoned me at midnight. I never responded. It wouldn’t take me long to regret that. Mily’s kiss never came, but at the end of the summer, I learned from other neighbours about the tragedy that had struck Carlitos’s family while I was ignoring him.

That year his parents had sent his older brother to study in the United States. Manuel – that was his brother’s name – had begun to travel back and forth very frequently, too frequently, but no one thought it strange. After all, Carlitos’s father had been promoted to the rank of admiral. His house was filled with armed bodyguards, and in all probability he earned a great deal of money. Sending the boy back and forth wouldn’t represent a huge expenditure for him.

What did surprise everyone was that the police arrested Manuel at the airport, when he was about to leave on one of his trips. This time Manuel had spent barely forty-eight hours in Lima, going out to discotheques at night and sleeping during the day. His family hardly saw him, and even though they were beginning to suspect what was going on, nobody felt like asking questions. They were probably confident an admiral’s son would not be arrested.

At first, no one believed that Manuel’s detention would last too long. It had to be a mistake. Or the admiral would make certain it was a mistake. But it seems Manuel was carrying too much cocaine for the matter to be ignored, or even for him to be given a light sentence. And apparently his father didn’t tolerate that kind of behaviour in his family. He used all his connections to get him a decent cell in a maximum-security prison, but he couldn’t or wouldn’t do more.

Another boy in the neighbourhood told me all this, and when I heard about it, I felt guilty for having ignored Carlitos’s phone calls. I went to see him right away. His mother received me with a sombre expression that I didn’t want to interpret as a reproach for my absence. His father didn’t even know who I was.

I found Carlitos with his GI Joes, which were beginning to seem anachronistic in a boy his age, and his American footballs, which he never used because nobody knew how to play the game. I didn’t know what to say and sat down on his bed. He didn’t say anything either. His room smelled strange, but it always smelled strange.

After a time spent in silence, the clock struck five, the time when Mily walked her dog, and it occurred to me that I could do something to make up for my bad behaviour. I took him to the park and tried to organize some lively talk between the three of us. When I thought everything was off to a good start, I pretended I had to go to the dentist and left them alone. I never found out more, and Carlitos never talked about it.

Some six or seven years later, I ran into Mily at a discotheque. We danced, laughed and recalled the old days. In the end we spent the night together. It was fun, and a little nostalgic. Before I fell asleep, I remembered the episode in the park and asked: ‘Listen, do you remember the afternoon when I left you with Carlitos? Did you do anything? Even just a kiss?’

‘Nothing,’ she said. ‘I tried, that afternoon and many other afternoons, but he only wanted to show me his baseball cards.’

Not nearly as gruesome and disturbed as Red April . . . Hopefully more of Roncagliolo will make its way into English. (Especially that banned book . . . What’s freedom of speech good for if we can’t read books whose publication is prohibited “throughout the entire world”? Just that line along would help sell ten thousand copies . . . And add in Cuba . . . This has the makings of a best-seller.)

And don’t forget, Granta has a special offer for all readers of Three Percent: if you subscribe now you’ll receive this special issue featuring the “Best of Young Spanish-Language Novelists” for free.

Tomorrow: An interview with Federico Falco.

16 November 10 | Chad W. Post | Comments [1]

As any and all long-time (or probably even short-time) readers of Three Percent know, we pick on publisher websites quite a bit. (See for instance, any and every post about Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.)

Most often they deserve it for many of the same reasons that we like to make fun of book ads. I’m totally ripping off Richard Nash here, but if every company advertised its products the way book publishers do—a picture of the product with three quotes saying how great it is—capitalism would’ve crumbled long ago.

And just look at this mess. All the “You Might Also Like . . .” crap is annoying at best, especially since it’s followed at the bottom by “New Books Similar to This One.” And where’s the info about the book (ISBN, price, page count)? Near the bottom of the listing in all italics. You’d never know it, but if you click on the image of the book cover, you get to read an excerpt! And what’s up with all the ads and “Hot@Harper” shit? My six-year-old daughter has better aesthetic sense than the people who designed this.

BUT, occasionally a corporate press gets it right. Like with FSG’s Work in Progress monthly newsletter/website. (Granted, this is apples to oranges in comparing to Harper’s trainwreck, but I’m willing to bet Harper’s monthly promo emails are as aesthetically confused.) Not only is this site elegant, it looks like something you’d want to read, and the marketing aspects of it are subdued and enhanced with interesting content. Such as this conversation between Marion Duvert and Richard Howard on Roland Barthes (Barthes? Can’t imagine another “big” publisher referencing him—AND Samuel Beckett—in their monthly promo-newsletter):

So he called me just to say hello, and say that he would like to come to New York, and could I show him around a little bit because he had never been here.

I said certainly, and that I looked forward to it very much. He arrived. He had the first copy of, I think, Mythologies in print. The first day was very proper and careful. But we got along very well. It was apparent that he had made the right choice, and that we were going to be friends. I suppose that means I met the man first. But he came carrying a book, and I think he knew that I was a translator; and he wanted me to see it. I did translate right away three or four of those pieces that were published in various periodicals here. That was the beginning.

I don’t think he ever again read any of my translations [of him]. I don’t think he had any . . . it isn’t that he didn’t have interest. He would say that he didn’t know English well enough to have it make any difference; it was just his satisfaction that they were in English. At the beginning I think there was some interest in that fact, but I never heard from him again on that subject.

I would ask him questions. I remember calling him up once and saying that he had referred to somebody inadequately or incorrectly, as I just knew. Did he want me to silently correct the mistake? He said, “Oh, of course. Do whatever you want. I have no idea.” And then there was some question of some king or even Egyptian pharaoh, and he said, “Well, make it up. Make it up. I don’t remember the case myself. If it’s not correct in the French text, just make up something.” He had decided that I was trustworthy, and he could rely on me to take care of such things, and there was no further discussion about it. He was not an anxious author about his translations.

This month’s issue also includes interviews with Edith Grossman and Natasha Wimmer on Mario Vargas Llosa, both of which are pretty interesting:

Chapman: You’ve translated a number of García Márquez’s novels—another Latin American Nobel laureate—who is lionized as much for his influence as for his writing. Do you also see the Vargas Llosa imprimatur in younger writers?

Grossman: I can’t really answer that question except in the broadest terms. Vargas Llosa’s influence may lie in the intertwining of the personal and the political. García Márquez’s influence is more stylistic, I think: the intertwining of fantasy and reality, perhaps. They both owe a great debt to William Faulkner and, most of all, to Miguel de Cervantes. On the other hand, the impact of the Latin American Boom on young writers everywhere was enormous, and I don’t think Toni Morrison or Salman Rushdie, for example, would write the same way without that older generation of Latin American writers.

Chapman: Speaking of the next generation, what was your reaction to Granta‘s “Best of Young Spanish-Language Novelists” list?

Grossman: I was very happy that Granta devoted an issue to young Spanish-language writers. In fact, I translated one of the stories, by a Peruvian, Santiago Roncagliolo. He’s a wonderful writer—I did a novel of his, Red April, a couple of years ago.

Kudos to you, FSG, for figuring out this interwebs thing and how 21st-century digital marketing can work. If you’re interested, you can subscribe here.

13 July 10 | Chad W. Post | Comments

I missed this when it was on yesterday, but yesterday’s The Leonard Lopate Show was all about “Translation and Collaboration.” Edith Grossman (author of Why Translation Matters and translator of so, so many brilliant books, including Don Quixote), Idra Novey (executive director of Columbia University’s Center for Literary Translation, poet, translator, and member of the Best Translated Book Award poetry committee), and Laurence Senelick (translator of a number of Chekhov books) were all on there discussing various translation issues.

Listening to it now, and it’s really interesting . . .

(UPDATE: Thanks Idra for name-checking us re: Merce Rodoreda and Death in Spring. Much, much appreciated. And to add some information, Graywolf did Time of the Doves, My Cristina, and Camellia Street. University of Nebraska Press did Rodoreda’s A Broken Mirror.)

29 June 10 | Chad W. Post | Comments [2]

Really interesting article called “America First?” in the new issues of the New York Review of Books. In this piece, Tim Parks looks at four recent books: Best European Fiction 2010 edited by Aleksandar Hemon, Why Translation Matters by Edith Grossman, The Novel: An Alternative History, Beginnings to 1600 by Steven Moore, and Reality Hunger: A Manifesto by David Shields.

Thanks primarily to the first two books listed (although obviously Steve Moore’s book also includes heaps of translation references), there’s a lot in here about literature in translation, which Parks approaches in rather interesting ways.

He starts by taking a few slight jabs at the Best European Fiction anthology, not necessarily at the stories themselves (which he seems to have enjoyed), but at some of the claims of representation and uniqueness:

All the contributions are interesting and some impressive. That is enough for me. But it does make one wonder whether we are learning much about other cultures from this venture, whether it is true, as Hemon claims, that “ceaseless” and “immediate” translation of literature from abroad is a “profound, non- negotiable need.” Similarly, as if in response to Grossman’s concerns about eventual conflicts brought on by cultural isolation, frequent references here to the recent wars in the Balkans remind us that familiarity with each other’s literatures has never prevented Europeans from slaughtering one another. Remarking, in her short preface, on this reluctance of the anthology’s contributors to be identified with their national cultures, Zadie Smith nevertheless feels that

“if the title of this book were to be removed and switched with that of an anthology of the American short story, isn’t it true that only a fool would be confused as to which was truly which?”

Truly, truly, aside from superficial markers like names and places, or the fact that it is fairly easy to distinguish translated texts from those in their original tongue, I am not sure that Smith is altogether right. It seems to me rather that as we tackle intriguing stories from Latvia and Lithuania, Bosnia and Macedonia, we are struck by how familiar these voices are, how reassuringly similar in outlook to one another and ourselves.

And on more of a stylistic point:

The many different narrative forms used in the collection, though frequently “experimental,” are, again, hardly unfamiliar; stories are fragmented, seen from different angles, in ways that make it interestingly difficult for us to decide how much reality to attach to them or how much emotion to invest. Again this is in line with an eclectic renunciation of any absolute version of events. In personal statements included at the back of the book, writers mention such models as Kafka, Borges, and Barthelme, suggesting that narrative experimentalism (which invariably undercuts certainties, rather than reinforcing them) has become a literary lingua franca, an international convention.

I hate to overquote this article, but it really is fascinating on a number of fronts . . . When discussing Grossman’s and Hemon’s admiration for the translation cultures of France and Germany, he makes a couple of interesting points:

Is this, then, American isolationism, or imperialism, or a new kind of internationalism? Grossman says she is at a loss to understand the American reluctance to translate; the fact is that in Europe there is enormous public interest in America as the world’s first power and the perceived motor of changing mores. American authors take up considerable space in the literary pages of Europe’s newspapers not, or not only, because they are good, but because they are American, they talk about America. This gives them a celebrity value; readers want to read them. An equally good Polish author talking about Poland is simply not considered interesting and will very likely not be translated. Indeed many of the authors who appear in Best European Fiction 2010 are not widely published in other European countries. [. . .]

It is ironic here to find Grossman quoting a Nobel Prize judge claiming that Europe is still the center of the literary world; this is wishful thinking on the Swede’s part. European writers may be unconcerned whether or not they are published in this or that other European country, or indeed in Chinese or Japanese, but they are all extremely anxious to be published in America, precisely because, as Grossman points out, this gives access to world recognition. If Americans translate little it is partly because all eyes are turned in their direction. That said, a University of Rochester research program lists 349 works of translated fiction and poetry published in the US in 2009, more than anyone could read in a single year and not, for the most part, made up of the kind of genre fiction that European countries import so avidly. Does the unceasing translation of the second-rate matter?

Most interesting though—maybe because this was a subtopic at the Wolff Symposium last week—is his extended bit about the proper way to review translations. Grossman talks about this in her book, using James Wood’s review of the Pevear and Volokhonsky translation of War and Peace as a positive example of how to review a book. Parks takes this down a bit, instead focusing on Grossman’s definition of how the translator’s task is one of deep reading followed by recreation “within the alien system of a second language, all the characteristics, vagaries, quirks, and stylistic peculiarities of the work.”

Parks admires this definition (for good reason! Grossman’s spot on in a beautiful way), but where does that lead in terms of reviewing?

What can I say then, if I wish to comment on the thirty-one translations in Best European Fiction 2010, twenty-two of them from languages I do not know? That on the whole the reader gets a strong impression of a cohesion of style and content that can only be the result of extremely attentive reading, followed by respectful and imaginative rewriting. This cohesion is the hallmark of good translation and the only thing a reviewer with no knowledge of the original can sensibly comment on and elucidate. In each case it would be futile to seek to establish how much we should be praising the author and how much the translator: the author wrote a fine story, which inspired the translator to make a fine translation. Of my own translations, I should say that I was always happy when the author got the praise and I escaped mention; it’s self-evident that only a good translation makes it possible for the reviewer to praise the author.

Reviewing translations is a really knotty topic, and one that is rather fascinating and worth talking about in much greater detail. Although I am of the belief—also stated last week at the Wolff Symposium—that it’s not necessary for every review in every publication to address the quality of the translation. I believe that all reviews should at least reference the translator and acknowledge the book’s origins, but if the goal of a review is to interest the readers of that particular publication (be it a blog or a weekly magazine) in the books being featured, the very fact that different people read different review sources for different reasons leads to different emphases in different reviews. It would be great (or utopic) to imagine a book culture in which a Scandinavian noir book is reviewed in one place for it’s noirish elements, another for its representation of Scandinavian culture, another for the wonderful job that the particular translator did, etc., etc.

But anyway. This article is definitely worth reading—not just for these parts, but for the section on Moore’s book (which still sounds interesting to me) and on the fascinating Reality Hunger.

11 March 10 | Chad W. Post | Comments

So now that the Best Translated Book Awards are over, I can fully concentrate on the next event—one for Macedonio Fernandez’s The Museum of Eterna’s Novel (The First Good Novel) that is taking place tonight at the Americas Society tonight at 7pm.

Our cheeky title for this event comes from Macedonio himself, who, within one of the fifty-some odd prologues to Museum, refers to the book as “The Best Novel since both It and the World Began.” Which is plan brilliant. Because it is one of the best novels ever written. It’s amazingly playful, innovative, and thought-provoking, but it’s also one of the most heartfelt love letters ever.

I’ll be moderating tonight’s event, which will feature superstar translator Edith Grossman (who is also the author Why Translation Matters), Margaret Schwartz (who translated Museum), and Todd Garth (author of The Self of the City: Macedonio Fernandez, the Argentine Avant-Garde, and Modernity in Buenos Aires). With such great panelists, and such an amazing subject (Macedonio may well be the quirkiest of all quirky writers), this is sure to be a spectacular event.

If you’re in the area and want to come out, the Americas Society is at 680 Park Avenue (68th St.). Here’s info on how to RSVP for the event:

Americas Society Members: membersres@americas-society.org or (212) 277-8359, ext. 4

Non-Members: Visit www.americas-society.org

Hope to see you there!

25 February 10 | Chad W. Post | Comments

This is still a few weeks away, but seeing that I’ll be off in Abu Dhabi for a while (see tomorrow’s post), I thought I should mention this now.

On Thursday, March 11th at 7:00pm at the Americas Society (680 Park Ave, NYC) there will be a special event in honor of the first English publication of Macedonio Fernandez’s The Museum of Eterna’s Novel (The First Good Novel), which the author referred to as “The best novel since both it and the world began.” Hence our witty event title . . .

But seriously, this is going to be an amazing event. Todd Garth (author of The Self of the City) will read a bit from Spanish and English and will talk about Macedonio and his influence on Latin American literature. Margaret Schwartz will talk about the intense process of translating this novel. And Edith Grossman—whose first translation was of a short story by Macedonio—will be there as well.

I’ll post another reminder in a few weeks, but for now, posted below is a description of Museum from the Open Letter website. And this has actually gotten a few stunning reviews: Bookforum‘s was probably the most enthusiastic (but isn’t available online), Complete Review gave it a B+ (solid!), and Luis Alberto Ambroggio wrote a nice piece for First Person Plural. And here’s the jacket copy:

The Museum of Eterna’s Novel (The First Good Novel) is the very definition of a novel written ahead of its time. Macedonio (known to everyone by his unusual first name) worked on this novel in the 1930s and early ’40s, during the heyday of Argentine literary culture, and around the same time that At Swim-Two-Birds was published, a novel that has quite a bit in common with Macedonio’s masterpiece.

In many ways, Museum is an “anti-novel.” It opens with more than fifty prologues—including ones addressed “To My Authorial Persona,” “To the Critics,” and “To Readers Who Will Perish If They Don’t Know What the Novel Is About”—that are by turns philosophical, outrageous, ponderous, and cryptic. These pieces cover a range of topics from how the upcoming novel will be received to how to thwart “skip-around readers” (by writing a book that’s defies linearity!).

The second half of the book is the novel itself, a novel about a group of characters (some borrowed from other texts) who live on an estancia called “la novella” . . .

A hilarious and often quite moving book, The Museum of Eterna’s Novel redefined the limits of the genre, and has had a lasting impact on Latin American literature. Authors such as Jorge Luis Borges, Julio Cortázar, and Ricardo Piglia have all fallen under its charm and high-concepts, and, at long last, English-speaking readers can experience the book that helped build the reputation of Borges’s mentor.

25 January 10 | Chad W. Post | Comments

I know E.J. posted Jennifer Howard’s article on translation in the academy last Monday, but because it’s such an interesting—and charged—topic, and because it’s just one of a few cool translation-related articles that came out in the past week.

The recent MLA convention—where the focus was translation—is the starting point for Jen’s article, with the main thrust being about how translation is shunned in the academy. For people outside of academia, it seems to come as a surprise that translation doesn’t play well at tenure meetings. But seriously, I’ve heard some awful stories, especially from young professors.

One of the most famously shocking tenure denials is that of Susan Bernofsky. Granted, I don’t know all the details, and everyone knows how fraught university politics are, but for Susan not to be tenured somewhere? That’s effing unthinkable. Just for her translations of Walser . . . A university would gain so much in terms of expertise, knowledge, and nationwide attention. (Can’t find it now, but I believe there was even a feature on Susan in the New Yorker some time back.)

But there are other stories, such as this one:

Mark Anderson, who is on leave from the Germanic-languages department at Columbia University, has experienced the vicissitudes that beset academic translators. In graduate school, he did a translation of poetry by the Austrian writer Ingeborg Bachmann. Princeton University Press published the book, which won a prize from the American Academy of Poets.

After Mr. Anderson, a Kafka scholar, got a job as an assistant professor at Columbia, he recalls in an e-mail message, “I was offered the chance to translate Kafka’s The Trial and was about to submit a sample when my chair got word of it and advised me, rightly, I think, not to do this until I finished my book and got tenure. Which I did.” He published a translation of Thomas Bernhard’s novel The Loser­ while still untenured—but under a pseudonym (“Jack Dawson,” which according to Mr. Anderson is a pun on Kafka’s Czech name and means “son of Kafka”). “We had a celebratory lunch after I got tenure at Columbia, and I told the story and got a good laugh,” Mr. Anderson says. “But it’s a real issue, and I think my chair gave me excellent advice.”

So, just to get this straight, universities—which exist to educate and enlighten the world—are indirectly (or occasionally directly) for preventing certain great works of literature (Kafka! Bernhard!) from being accessible to the monolingual, English reader? That’s brilliant.

It seems that the main problem is in getting people to accept the idea of translation as scholarship. Which is weird to anyone actually involved in the production or promotion of literature in translation. (And by “weird” I mean “fucking incomprehensible.”) But I’ve heard from a number of people about how hard it is to justify this activity in a system that favors the production of slender monographs that are read by a couple hundred scholars. Not that readers of this blog need any justification, but here’s Catherine Porter’s explanation of the scholarly activity inherent in translation:

Ms. Porter talked on the subject of “Translation as Scholarship” at a seminar organized at Brown University last summer by the Association of Departments of English and the Association of Departments of Foreign Languages. In the talk, which will be published as an essay in a forthcoming ADFL Bulletin, she discussed the complex analyses and decisions that a serious translator must go through to bring a text from its native language into the target language. It sounds at least as rigorous as much of the critical work recognized as scholarship.

For instance, Ms. Porter notes, a translator must ask, “In what contexts—literary, rhetorical, social, historical, political, economic, religious, cultural—was the source text embedded, and what adjustments will have to be made to transmit those contexts or produce comparable ones in the translation?” Complicated questions of genre, literary tradition, and target audience must be dealt with. “Once these initial determinations are made—subject to revision and refinement as the translation progresses—the translator can begin to engage with the text itself: word by word, phrase by phrase, sentence by sentence.”

Or, as translation superstar Edith Grossman puts it:

In a forthcoming book, Why Translation Matters (Yale University Press, to be released this March), Edith Grossman describes the process this way: “What we do is not an act of magic, like altering base metals into precious ones, but the result of a series of creative decisions and imaginative acts of criticism.” The celebrated translator of Cervantes and many Latin American authors, she calls translation “a kind of reading as deep as any encounter with a literary text can be.”

I’m often overly optimistic when it comes to the possibility of world change, but I do get the sense that things are evolving . . . Just look at the number of translation and translation studies programs that are starting up (like, well, the one here at the University of Rochester) or becoming more and more prominent. Attitudes are changing . . . I hope. Nevertheless, I like Michael Henry Heim’s idea:

“It’s not only the deans that need to have their consciousness raised,” Mr. Heim says, remembering a call from a fellow professor who had to do a bit of translation and was surprised to discover how hard it was. “It is something that we’re still battling with, not only on the administrative level but also on the level of our own colleagues.”

He describes himself as a “silent partner” in a plan to put the official weight of the MLA behind translation as scholarship. He’s working to help draft an MLA-approved letter, to be signed by Ms. Porter, Ms. Perloff, and Mr. Holquist, that could be sent to administrators and evaluators. “It’s not a matter of a few translators speaking in their own interest, it’s a matter of the MLA, a national organization, coming up with a position paper,” Mr. Heim explains. “What we hope is that people—like deans who may be microbiologists, say, and have really little idea of what translation is—will accept what the MLA says.”

And although ALTA isn’t necessarily focused on the academic side of a life in translation, they could should probably help with this as well. If we’re going to have a vibrant book culture that incorporates works and voices from other cultures, we’re going to need a system by which all players—publishers and translators—can exist. And teaching at a university (or, yeah, having a press located at a university) is one fantastic option . . . Especially considering the normal terms of translation contracts and the general sales level of books in translation . . .

24 November 09 | Chad W. Post | Comments

Thanks to Jeff Waxman for alerting me to Edith Grossman’s Why Translation Matters, which Yale University Press is bringing out next March.

Why Translation Matters argues for the cultural importance of translation, and for a more encompassing and nuanced appreciation of the translator’s role. As the acclaimed translator Edith Grossman writes in her introduction, “My intention is to stimulate a new consideration of an area of literature that is too often ignored, misunderstood, or misrepresented.”

For Grossman, translation has a transcendent importance: “Translation not only plays its important traditional role as the means that allows us access to literature originally written in one of the countless languages we cannot read, but it also represents a concrete literary presence with the crucial capacity to ease and make more meaningful our relationships to those with whom we may not have had a connection before. Translation always helps us to know, to see from a different angle, to attribute new value to what once may have been unfamiliar. As nations and as individuals, we have a critical need for that kind of understanding and insight. The alternative is unthinkable.”

Throughout the four chapters of this bracing volume, Grossman’s belief in the crucial significance of the translator’s work, as well as her rare ability to explain the intellectual sphere that she inhabits as interpreter of the original text, inspires and provokes the reader to engage with translation in an entirely new way.

As if I wasn’t totally sold simply by the title and author (not to mention above description), this Harold Bloom quote is over-the-top:

“Edith Grossman, the Glenn Gould of translators, has written a superb book on the art of the literary translation. Even Walter Benjamin is surpassed by her insights into her task, which she rightly sees as imaginatively independent. This should become a classic text.”—Harold Bloom

March seems so far away . . .

4 February 09 | Chad W. Post | Comments

A couple weeks ago, the Philoctetes Center for the Multidisciplinary Study of the Imagination (one of the best names I’ve ever come across), hosted an interesting event on translation:

Borges once noted that nothing was more central to the “modest mystery” of literature than translation. Across centuries and language barriers, culture survives through translation, and it’s an essential consideration in the art of reading. This panel will explore translation’s role in literary culture, as well as the figure of the translator. Topics for discussion include the nature of the relationship between translation and original writing; the influence of editors and publishers; translators’ aesthetic, political, and psychological concerns; and the role of translation in contemporary global culture.

And what a lineup or panelists! Peter Cole, Peter Constantine, Jonathan Galassi, Edith Grossman, Suzanne Jill Levine, and Qiu Xiaolong . . . And you don’t have to just read about this event—a video of the full 2-hour event is available on the website. (I wish more venues would do this. Sure, this video is really well cut, edited, and produced, but even a down-and-dirty single-shot recording would be interesting to a lot of people.)

The format of this event is really interesting as well. A true roundtable, the guests all sit facing each other, with the audience outside of the circle. Seems much more conducive to interaction than your typical all-in-a-straight-line panel . . .

[Addendum: I’ll second Edie Grossman’s assertion that Macedonio Fernandez was “the most eccentric man who ever lived in the northern or southern hemispheres.” And it’s really cool that one of our authors—Macedonio’s The Museum of Eterna’s Novel comes out next January—was the first thing Edie ever translated.]

....
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