12 September 14 | Kaija Straumanis |

The latest addition to our Reviews section is by Vincent Francone on Return to Killybegs by Sorj Chalandon, translated by Ursula Meany Scott and published by The Lilliput Press.

All I have to say before we get to Vince’s review is that “Killybegs” sounds like something one might yell after a pint too many at some local bar. There’s something about the word that just makes it sound a little manic, a little on the edge. Which, if you look at Google pictures of the sleepy-looking fishing town town, appears to be completely not accurate. But . . . KILLYBEGS!

On to Vince’s review:

The central concern of Sorj Chalandon’s novel Return to Killybegs appears to be explaining how a person of staunch political activism can be lead to betray his cause, his country, his people. Truth be told, the real theme of the book is the importance and artifice of myths and legends. In this sense, the novel’s plot, loosely based on the infamous case of IRA leader turned informer Dennis Donaldson, serves to do more than artfully convey the manner in which a zealot becomes a traitor; the book details the manner in which we construct ourselves and the ease in which such façades are eroded.

I won’t go into the (pardon the euphemism) complicated history of Northern Ireland, but a quick study will inform the neophyte reader about Sinn Féin and the Troubles, giving them proper (though not necessary) background to enjoy Chalandon’s book. But no reader should consider Return to Killybegs a thorough study of the conflict in Northern Ireland, though in a sense this may be the ideal book to see beyond the history. Often such novels are marketed as windows into a world most readers would fear to actually visit, and we can thank Chalandon for his time as a reporter in Belfast, time that lent the novel proper verisimilitude. While in Belfast, Chalandon befriended Dennis Donaldson, and this relationship has spawned a novel that compresses nearly a century of Irish history into a few hundred quick-moving pages. This accomplishment might be possible in a strict biography, though the result would inevitably swing toward objective distillation of events. But in the fictional account of Tyrone Meehan, the protagonist of Return to Killybegs, the reader is offered a more probing view of the much-maligned traitor. One wonders if the real-life Donaldson is as sympathetic a character as Meehan. And sympathetic he is, allowing the reader to shelve the conflict that often arises when reading history: how do we pity a loathed historical figure?

For the rest of the review, go here.

(KILLYBEEEEEEEEEGGGSSSS . . . !)

12 September 14 | Kaija Straumanis | Comments

The central concern of Sorj Chalandon’s novel Return to Killybegs appears to be explaining how a person of staunch political activism can be lead to betray his cause, his country, his people. Truth be told, the real theme of the book is the importance and artifice of myths and legends. In this sense, the novel’s plot, loosely based on the infamous case of IRA leader turned informer Dennis Donaldson, serves to do more than artfully convey the manner in which a zealot becomes a traitor; the book details the manner in which we construct ourselves and the ease in which such façades are eroded.

I won’t go into the (pardon the euphemism) complicated history of Northern Ireland, but a quick study will inform the neophyte reader about Sinn Féin and the Troubles, giving them proper (though not necessary) background to enjoy Chalandon’s book. But no reader should consider Return to Killybegs a thorough study of the conflict in Northern Ireland, though in a sense this may be the ideal book to see beyond the history. Often such novels are marketed as windows into a world most readers would fear to actually visit, and we can thank Chalandon for his time as a reporter in Belfast, time that lent the novel proper verisimilitude. While in Belfast, Chalandon befriended Dennis Donaldson, and this relationship has spawned a novel that compresses nearly a century of Irish history into a few hundred quick-moving pages. This accomplishment might be possible in a strict biography, though the result would inevitably swing toward objective distillation of events. But in the fictional account of Tyrone Meehan, the protagonist of Return to Killybegs, the reader is offered a more probing view of the much-maligned traitor. One wonders if the real-life Donaldson is as sympathetic a character as Meehan. And sympathetic he is, allowing the reader to shelve the conflict that often arises when reading history: how do we pity a loathed historical figure?

While this is fiction, and must be regarded as such, a factual account might offer problems that a piece of imagination can assail. I tend to doubt memoirs and biographies and have an easier time buying into stories that I know are largely invented. Relieved of the chore of deciphering between the real and imagined, I can better digest the ideas that stand behind the events. And Return to Killybegs is a book that offers ideas, conflicts, and questions, almost daring the reader to despise its hero while doing a damn perfect job of making us understand him. We know what will happen to Meehan; there is no surprise in his end, only suspense along the way. There is plot, but the story—from rural Donegal to segregated Belfast, the early indoctrination process of Sinn Féin to some of the most nauseating prison stories ever written—serves to convey an important statement on human fallibility.

A word regarding the translation: I read a lot of literature from Ireland and am especially interested in the history of the Troubles. That said, I am hardly an expert on the subject, just an avid reader and lover of all things Irish. While I cannot speak to Chalandon’s original text, the translation by Ursula Meany Scott reads as though it comes from the mouth of an Irishman. Translation being an imperfect art, surely there were challenges in bringing this from French to English, though Chalandon’s time among the Irish surely helped. Nevertheless, I often forgot I was reading a French novel as the story, slang, and syntax were not unlike what one might find in a Roddy Doyle or Patrick McCabe novel. And the prose moves fluidly, beautifully at times; even a prison rebellion saturated with excrement becomes an artfully narrated saga of defiance and will.

In the afterword to Return to Killybegs, Ed Moloney writes: “French journalist Sorj Chalandon has gone where too many Irish writers fear to tread.” For all the authenticity of the novel, it does appear that only an outsider could adequately address the inner workings of the informer. But Chalandon confronts the mechanics of betrayal, the ways in which we justify our worst actions and the illusions we collectively assemble, offering his character some much-deserved empathy. Few books are able to achieve as much.

4 January 11 | Chad W. Post | Comments

Now that the University of Rochester’s mail services is back from break, I’m swimming in a sea of books, catalogs, and mailed in donations from our annual campaign. (Well, OK, maybe not swimming in a sea of donations, but thanks to all of you who did donate. And if you haven’t donated, you can by clicking here.)

One of the more interesting catalogs that arrived over break was the new Spring/Summer 2011 catalog from Dalkey Archive. There are a $%^&load of translations in here, from a number of different languages and countries. With the total number of original translations plummeting in 2010 (more on that later this week when I finally finish updating the Translation Database), I’m sure that Dalkey will be one of the top producers of translated literature.

As alluded to in the earlier post about Hotel Europa, Dalkey has traditionally supported its authors by publishing (and reissuing) several of their works, rather than dumping them if sales for a particular title aren’t all that impressive. This is very admirable, and this catalog features books from a number of “classic” Dalkey authors. (Can’t find these titles on the Dalkey site, otherwise I’d link to them. And all quotes are from the catalog):

  • Patrik Ourednik’s The Opportune Moment, 1855, translated from the Czech by Alex Zucker;
  • Juan Goytisolo’s Exiled from Almost Everywhere, translated from the Spanish by Peter Bush;

In Exiled from Almost Everywhere, Juan Goytisolo’s perverse mutant protagonist—the Parisian “Monster of Le Sentier”—is blown up by an extremist bomber and finds himself in the cyberspace of the Thereafter with an infinite collection of computer monitors.

  • Julian Rios’s Procession of Shadows, translated from the Spanish by Nick Caistor;
  • Luisa Valenzuela’s Dark Desires and the Others, translated from the Spanish by Susan E. Clark;

Dark Desires is the author’s autobiographical fantasia on the ten years she spent living in New York City. Valenzuela has called this book her “apocryphal autobiography,” and in it she says very little about her work as a writer, about the city itself, or even about literature.

  • Viktor Shklovsky, Bowstring: On the Dissimilarity of the Similar, translated from the Russian by Shushan Avagyan;
  • Jacques Jouet’s Upstaged, translated from the French by Leland de la Durantaye;
  • Claude Ollier’s Wert and the Life without End, translated from the French by Ursula Meany Scott;
  • Goncalo M. Tavares’s Learning to Pray in the Age of Technology, translated from the Portuguese by Daniel Hahn

In a city not quite of any particular era, a distant and calculating man named Lenz Buchmann works as a surgeon, treating his patients as little more than equations to be solved: life and death no more than results to be worked through without the least compassion.

There are also a number of interesting sounding “new voices”:

  • Jean Rolin’s The Explosion of the Radiator Hose, translated from the French by Louise Rogers Lalaurie;
  • Edouard Leve’s Suicide, translated from the French by Jan Steyn;
  • Abdelwahab Meddeb’s Talismano, translated from the French by Jane Kuntz;

Talismano is a novelistic exploration of writing seen as a hallucinatory journey through half-remembered, half-imagined cities—in particularly, the city of Tunis, both as it is now, and as it once was.

  • Asaf Schurr’s Motti, translated from the Hebrew by Todd Hasak-Lowy;

An unassuming, unambitious man named Motti, who owns a dog named Laika, has a good friend named Menachem. Motti and Menachem drink beer together every week, and Motti spends the rest of his time daydreaming an imaginary love story for himself and his neighbor, Ariella. Motti is the very picture of inertia, until, one night, a drunk Menachem, driving home from a bar with Motti, runs over a woman and kills her.

They’re also doing a couple Japanese Literature Publishing Project titles (Plainsong by Kazushi Hosaka and The Shadow of a Blue Cat by Naoyuki Li), and, what may the be the most exciting announcement, they’re brining out Mark Polizzotti’s new translation of Raymond Roussel’s Impressions of Africa.

I’m sure we’ll end up covering a number of these on the site, and as I peruse more catalogs, I’ll post other “Spring/Summer 2011 Preview” posts . . .

....
The Odyssey
The Odyssey by Homer
Reviewed by Peter Constantine

Now goddess, child of Zeus,
tell the old story for our modern times.

–(The Odyssey, Book I, line 10. Emily Wilson)

In literary translation of works from other eras, there are always two basic tasks that a translator needs. . .

Read More >

I Remember Nightfall
I Remember Nightfall by Marosa di Giorgio
Reviewed by Talia Franks

I Remember Nightfall by Marosa di Giorgio (trans. From the Spanish by Jeannine Marie Pitas) is a bilingual poetry volume in four parts, consisting of the poems “The History of Violets,” “Magnolia,” “The War of the Orchards,” and “The Native. . .

Read More >

Joyce y las gallinas
Joyce y las gallinas by Anna Ballbona
Reviewed by Brendan Riley

This review was originally published as a report on the book at New Spanish Books, and has been reprinted here with permission of the reviewer. The book was originally published in the Catalan by Anagrama as Joyce i les. . .

Read More >

Lost in Translation: An Illustrated Compendium of Untranslatable Words from Around the World
Lost in Translation: An Illustrated Compendium of Untranslatable Words from Around the World by Ella Frances Sanders
Reviewed by Kaija Straumanis

Hello and greetings in the 2017 holiday season!

For those of you still looking for something to gift a friend or family member this winter season, or if you’re on the lookout for something to gift in the. . .

Read More >

The Size of the World
The Size of the World by Branko Anđić
Reviewed by Jaimie Lau

Three generations of men—a storyteller, his father and his son—encompass this book’s world. . . . it is a world of historical confusion, illusion, and hope of three generations of Belgraders.

The first and last sentences of the first. . .

Read More >

Island of Point Nemo
Island of Point Nemo by Jean-Marie Blas de Roblès
Reviewed by Katherine Rucker

The Island of Point Nemo is a novel tour by plane, train, automobile, blimp, horse, and submarine through a world that I can only hope is what Jean-Marie Blas de Roblès’s psyche looks like, giant squids and all.

What. . .

Read More >

The Truce
The Truce by Mario Benedetti
Reviewed by Adrianne Aron

Mario Benedetti (1920-2009), Uruguay’s most beloved writer, was a man who loved to bend the rules. He gave his haikus as many syllables as fit his mood, and wrote a play divided into sections instead of acts. In his country,. . .

Read More >