Interview in Adroit Journal

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A huge, huge pleasure to be interviewed by Manisha Anil Rita for Adroit Journal.

Writes Manisha,

“For me The Palimpsests is not only the story of an Eastern-European undergoing Bartlebian therapy in order to strip away his knowledge of all languages except Polish; it is also the story of an Australian-born writer coming into contact with a Polish-born writer on the streets of Barcelona through a book, written the old-fashioned way. … Over email, I interviewed Bryer, and we talked about navigating this increasingly globalised world as a speaker of multiple languages.”

For more, head to the Adroit site.

José Luis de Juan’s Napoleon’s Beekeeper

86266794_3324601737557108_1324539872244924416_nThis little beauty is now out in the world! Such an intricate delight to translate this one. Here is the blurb:

May 1814. On the island of Elba, the beekeeper Andrea Pasolini awaits the arrival of the exiled Emperor, Napoleon Bonaparte. Though an uneducated farmer, Pasolini’s first love is reading books on philosophy and apiculture – a secret, illicit activity he undertakes in his cellar at night. Napoleon is also fascinated, by the swarming of bees and the beauty of honey. From a distance, an obsessive interest develops between the two men, as anticipation builds around a visit by the Emperor to inspect Pasolini’s beehives.

In this novella, José Luis de Juan meticulously interweaves historical sources with an imagining of the lives of two very different men, one a humble apiarist on an island, the other – also born on an island – who aspires to be the ruler of the world. In an atmosphere of shifting identities, magical dreams, furtive plots and deferred uprisings, in favour of Napoleon and against him, each man is convinced that the behaviour of bees holds the key to how the future will unfold.

Available from all good bookstores.

The PEN Ten

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Photo by Mirna Pavlovic

PEN America has published an interview with Aleksandra Lun, translated by yours truly, in which she explains why writers are sometimes Godzillas, sometimes Donald Ducks. It begins:

I was born and raised in a totalitarian state, and my perspective on truth and fiction is one that I share with other writers from Eastern Europe—we regard reality with the same skepticism as a repeat divorcee regards marriage. Everything started out well enough: we fell in love with Truth and married her, but then we had the 20th century we had. Our beloved Truth left, abandoning us to the school of fiction that is every totalitarian system. Will we rekindle our relationship with her? I suspect we’re more likely to dine at a cross-border restaurant with Caricature, Surrealism or The Grotesque.

Read the rest at the PEN site.

TLB best reads of 2019

We at The Lifted Brow & Brow Books shared our favourite reads of 2019. Here’s mine:

imagesRita Indiana’s slender, ambitious Tentacle, translated from the Spanish by Achy Obejas, left me reeling. I’m still grieving the protagonist’s final decision. It’s a restless, explosive riot of a novel not for the fainthearted. In post-apocalyptic Santo Domingo, sex-worker-turned-maid Acilde must become the man she always was and travel back in time to save the ocean from ruin with the help of a sacred anemone. It’s a syncretic mashup of sexuality, gender, climate change, santería, destiny, class, race, technology and art (yes, all that!), delivered by way of a punk aesthetic and a demanding narrative style. I love what Indiana does with time and perspective. Switches between eras that happen in the same paragraph are signalled only subtly. It’s a dizzying experience at first, but as you start to comprehend who, exactly, is simultaneously living out another life in their mind, the reading becomes addictive, electric. The final two pages are stunning.

You can see the rest of the TLB team’s pics at the Lifted Brow site.

Aleksandra Lun’s The Palimpsests

Palimpsest_cover.inddis now out with Godine!

“I was in the Jewish cemetery of Bucharest and saw the look that the gravedigger’s dog gave its owner, and I knew I was in the presence of a love come late in life—” so goes the perspective on life by Czesław Przęśnicki, an imaginary hero/survivor from the mad, beautiful, unbearable, funny, tragic, hilarious, tender, suffocating, lovable, world of his exile and his mind. Aleksandra Lun has produced a virtuoso concerto in these pages, the kind of verbal music that is strangely relevant for our moment, and yet also for any moment. My gratitude to Elizabeth Bryer for her crisp, clear translation. This book is a wild ride that you won’t soon forget.”
Ilya Kaminsky, author of Deaf Republic

Godine interview on translation and writing

Ahead of Aleksandra Lun’s The Palimpsests‘ release in October, Godine intern Ethan Resek asked me some great questions about my translation practice; the intricacies of translating Aleksandra Lun’s playful, brilliant novel; the ethics and power dynamics of translation; and my own novel, From Here On, Monsters. He also interviewed Aleksandra Lun, who muses on, among other things, how Wagner would fare in the automotive industry.

Translation of Yushimito’s Rhizome for Paradoxa

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The folks behind Paradoxa have a brand-new chock-full issue dedicated to speculative fiction, edited by Debra Ann Castillo and Liliana Colanzi. I was lucky enough to get to translate Carlos Yushimito’s stellar “Rhizome”: a biting, satirical, high camp slash deadly serious chthonic revenge tale, where the earth rises up against its exploiters after Peru’s gastronomical explosion gives rise to zombies. Somehow, in Yushimito’s hands, it all works beautifully. Here’s a taste:

“Of course, this beautiful, hospitable country,” Mollà hastened to add, “has a remarkable gastronomy. Techno-cuisine doesn’t spell an end to this gastronomy’s standing as one of the richest raw materials on the continent, even the entire world. All that’s needed is the machinery to extract it. Think about that rich and brilliant untapped resource lying dormant in the quarries! Look at it, and make it blossom! Turn it into that gold ring that you wear on your finger!”

 

(Applause)

(((Applause)))

((((((Applause))))))

 

It was like being inside a plane that had just landed (Chef Mollà just said our cuisine is a rich raw material!). Now Mollà smoothed his moustache; came down to earth as well; gauged his stage presence; and read the room by sensing the smells, the textures, and the flavors that every single word-and-gesture combination evoked. A young woman was taking notes; dressed in a short skirt and a blouse with shoulder pads, she moved her nose from one place to another, as if sniffing out something. It was imminent. The news! The news! The other assistants, all men, were leaving the note-taking to her, seated in the first row, and every so often they craned to steal a glimmer of her décolletage. (The news!) I looked around. Arms were going up slowly, like trees growing. And one after the other those movements fruited questions that were polite, tentative, ingratiating. Circumstantial. Severí Mollà responded as if following a recipe capable of combining all those inane ingredients to produce a plat du jour of thoughtful responses.

Finally, I raised my hand. The frail-boned man pointed his frail finger at me, and I waited until the microphone was passed over.

“Molecular gastronomy, Señor Mollà,” I said, flipping through my notes. “The trend that began in the 1990s with French chemist-chef Hervé This. It pre-empted this and other similar approaches. Nevertheless, proponents of techno-emotional cuisine, you among them, have declared that molecular gastronomy is not an influence, and have even rejected it. Could you speak to the reasons behind this?”

Slice mag multilingual translation

The folks behind Slice Literary have published the fourth instalment of their International Corpse series  – a kind of mutilingual fiction relay – in their latest flight-themed issue. Writers Claudia Salazar Jiménez, Pema Bhum, Krys Lee and Kanako Nishi wrote and translators Kang Daehoon, Tenzine Dickie, Allison Markin Powell and I got to translate the story sections from Tibetan, Japanese, Korean and Spanish.

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María Jose Ferrada’s Kramp extracted at Nashville Review

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***Update 23/10/2018: Kramp receives Chile’s highest literary accolade as the Ministry of Culture’s Best Novel of 2018***

D began his career selling hardware items: nails, saws, hammers, handles and magic eye door viewers, brand name Kramp.

The first time he left the guesthouse where he lived with a sample case in hand, he couldn’t work up the courage to step inside the leading hardware store in the city, which back then was just a town, until he’d walked past it thirty-eight times.

His first sales attempt happened the same day man took a step on the moon. The townspeople assembled in the square to watch the moon landing thanks to a projector that the mayor had wheeled out to his office balcony, which cast the moving image onto a white sheet. As it played no sound, the fire brigade band provided the backing track.

When D saw Neil Armstrong take his first step on the moon, he thought that anything was possible—all it took was the right attitude and the right outfit.

So the next day, after approaching the hardware store for the thirty-ninth time, he stepped inside it in the most polished shoes the city had ever seen and offered his Kramp products to the person in charge. Nails, saws, hammers, handles and magic eye door viewers. He didn’t close a sale, but he was told to come back the following week.

D treated himself to a coffee and jotted down on the serviette: Every life has its own moon landing.

Later, when D told his father that man had reached the moon, his father said it was an out-and-out hoax, that God created man with his feet on the ground and with no wings to speak of, and everything else was lies spouted by the president of the United States.

Either way, the following week D made his own small step for mankind: he sold a half-dozen saws and a dozen magic eye door viewers. When he left the hardware store with the order inside his suitcase, he felt that all moments of happiness, large and small, deserved to be projected in a town square.

Read the rest at The Nashville Review.

A multilingual stitched-together story

So much fun to participate in PEN America’s Lit Crawl Brooklyn 2017, even if from afar! Words without Borders and Slice Literary teamed up to make a pretty special collaboration happen.

Writers Na Zhong, Lucrecia Zappi, Georgi Gospodinov and Claudia Salazar Jiménez were given the final line, translated into English, of the preceding author’s 200-word story segment, and were asked to continue the story in Chinese, Portuguese, Bulgarian and Spanish, respectively.  The segments were translated by Na Zhong, Eric M. B. Becker, Angela Rodel and yours truly. These were stitched together to form the short story “World Going to Fall Apart?”

And then we all got to read it!

 

Huff Post interview

Honoured to be interviewed by the wonderful Loren Kleinman over at Huff Post. She asked me about translating Claudia Salazar Jiménez’s Blood of the Dawn for National Translation Month. Always fun to get to reflect on that mysterious thing that happens when it’s just you, sitting before the computer, caught up in the words and sentences and world of the text you’re translating.

Extract of The Palimpsests at PEN America

I fell hard for this erudite, madcap, astonishingly inventive book. A bookseller in Barcelona pressed it into my hands in February 2016, a few months after it was released by Editorial Minúscula. “If you want to read something that says this much”—he opened his arms wide—“then this is the book for you.” He couldn’t have put it better: Los palimpsestos’s slight dimensions belie how exceptional and ambitious it is.

Polish writer Aleksandra Lun wrote this novella, her debut, in Spanish after living 10 years in Spain. It tells the story of Przęśnicki, an Eastern-European immigrant writer who, having neglected to write his first novel in his mother tongue, is committed to a psychiatric hospital to undergo “Bartlebian linguistic reintegration therapy.” Within the walls of the asylum, he meets other patients likewise afflicted with foreign writer syndrome, including Samuel Beckett, Emil Cioran, and Joseph Conrad.

Los palimpsestos is first and foremost a book about literature: Via a daisy-chain of literary references, it offers backstage access to the phenomena of foreign writers and their decision to switch languages. It portrays Europe as a linguistic playground while offering sly commentary on the politics and privileges of artistic creation and reception, especially when shadowed by nativism.

And it more than lives up to its title: Przęśnicki and his roommate are Polish; they are in francophone Belgium; Przęśnicki wrote his first novel in Antarctic and is writing his second one on the pages of a Dutch-language newspaper; and the book itself is written in Spanish. Yet, while multiple languages are mentioned or presumed throughout, there is no trace of them on the page, with two exceptions: Wampir and Kaskader, the titles of Przęśnicki’s books. He says they are in Antarctic, though readers with a knowledge of Polish will have a head start comprehending this fantastical language. So Lun’s novella exists in a context of polyglossia while almost never providing linguistic evidence of it. In other words, in Los palimpsestos, everything is perfectly translated.

Read the rest at PEN America.

 

Carlos Yushimito’s ‘Which Treats of Lázaro’s Account of the Friendship He Shared with a Blind Trafficker in Stories and the Misfortunes that Befell Them’

Weedon_TLB33_LORES-5316_square_largeEXTRACT

There was a time when I often gazed at the factory chimneys. Each morning they were the same height and their colour resembled zinzolin, a kind of purple that, lacklustre as it is, blended with the red of daybreak. Those details were important to me: they let me know that between night and day nothing had changed. The rain, for example, had not made one chimney grow taller than the other or effaced or discoloured the enamel. It soothed me to note that the black clouds that rose from the chimneys, though unrelenting, would never darken the rest of the sky; the smoke billowed and it seemed to me that I was watching a giant’s fingers as he twirled his hair.

On those occasions I spent hours waiting for the blind man to wake. Between the white eyes of sleep and the white eyes of waking I learned to distinguish a rift: the sun hastened the contours of the chimneys and shortly after his hands began to shake as if they were drowning in the light; after this, now with his whole body shaking and his eyes rolled back, he groped his way towards where I was watching him and, with a couple of blows to my head, cried:

“Open your eyes, Lázaro! With no energy there’s no voice, and with no voice there’s no appetite…”

You can read a longer extract online at The Lifted Brow.

You can also get a copy of the print quarterly over here. It’s our tenth birthday issue, hooray!

And here is the translator’s note:

Peruvian writer Carlos Yushimito (1977) burst onto the literary scene in 2006 with the collection Las islas [The Islands]. This story is from his third collection, Los bosques tienen sus propias puertas [Forests Have Their Own Doors], published in 2013. His atmospheric narratives, told by means of subtle and imagistic language, often inhabit dreamlike or foreign spaces and in this way hinge on displacement. The worlds they evoke are as concrete as they are strange and our view of them is almost always slightly unsure, our footing unstable.

Readers of the translation will note the echoes that play out suggestively in this dystopian story—the twirling hair, the piano playing—and a brief outline of some of its literary genealogy will add others. Foremost among its textual forebears is The Life of Lazarillo de Tormes and of His Fortunes and Adversities, an anonymous, subversive Spanish Golden Age novella published in 1554, which tells the story of Lázaro, who, after his stepfather is accused of thievery, is taken in by a blind beggar.

It is also an homage to Uruguayan writer’s writer Felisberto Hernández (1902–1964), who published sparsely and died penniless. He was a pianist as well as a writer and his third wife, Africa Las Heras, was a Soviet spy. He made memory his subject and his stories resonated with unknown things. Here, her deception and his obscurity is avenged through a talking frog, and through the characters’ reverence for his work, in contrast to Yushimito’s sly lampooning of the poetry of Mario Benedetti (1920–2009), a gentle joke at the expense of the immensely popular fellow Uruguayan.

Yushimito’s beautiful sentences are the greatest pleasure to translate. I’ve made sure to maintain vocabulary that hints at an archaic world—zinzolin, an old literary colour that usually describes vestments; pallet, a crude bed—and especially the parlance of apothecaries: ampoules, vials, alembics. This last one, which describes a certain type of alchemical still, came into Middle English in the fourteenth century from Old French, via Old Spanish, from the Arabic al-inbīq, via Persian, from the Greek ἄμβιξ, which was in turn a word of possibly Semitic origin: its etymology is a striking reflection of the age-old, and cyclical, exchange of ideas between East and West. I think of the first syllable of the word we have today in English, that little ‘al-’ (the Arabic definitive article, the equivalent of ‘the’), as a modest intervention, smuggled and secreted into the English language along with the concept and the technology; a reminder that what I’m doing has been going on for as long as we’ve been talking to each other.

Extract from Aleksandra Lun’s The Palimpsests in Asymptote

…is featured in the latest issue of Asymptote. It starts like this:

Illustration by Naï Zakharia

 

My name is Czesław Przęśnicki, I’m a miserable Eastern-European immigrant and a failed writer, I haven’t engaged in sexual relations for some time and I’ve been committed to an asylum in Belgium, a country that has had no government for the past year. The reasons I find myself hemmed in by the cold walls of a psychiatric hospital in the north of Europe are as mysterious to me as the failure of my sex life, which for years has had me languishing in apathy and frustration. No one could have predicted that one day I would end up in a Belgian asylum when I was born thirty-five years ago behind the Iron Curtain in the confusing geopolitical space marked by Adolf Hitler’s hyperactivity. To be precise, the state that issues my passport is Poland, country of globe-trotting popes, frigid temperatures, and muscular war heroes among whom, hypocrisy aside, I don’t count myself. I have a submissive nature, a flaccid body, and am thinning on top, and my faint-hearted self falls a long way short of exuding sex appeal for healthful fellow specimens of the male sex, whether under totalitarian regimes or democracy. Before I was committed to the psychiatric hospital of Liège, a city located in francophone Belgium, I lived in Vinson, the capital of Antarctica, where I shared the sad destiny of other miserable Eastern-European immigrants who set foot on that white continent clutching their newly acquired passports. That was how I learnt Antarctic, a language I now speak confidently though with a strong foreign accent, and in which I wrote my first novel, Wampir, a critical and commercial failure.

You can read the rest, the translator’s note, and listen to an audio clip of the author reading the original aloud, here.

You can find the rest of the pieces in the issue here.

The same tree, the same iceberg

Edited by Catriona Menzies-Pike

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EXTRACT

[…] While the number of people fluent in both Zapotec and English who also possess the literary skills to translate poetry into English is no doubt tiny, there are of course many talented Japanese–English literary translators. New Directions has published Tawada titles translated from both Japanese and German, so the availability of translators from either language is not an issue here. For Memoirs of a Polar Bear, Tawada requested the translation be made from her self-translation into German. Unlike for Black Flower, the choice to translate into English from the self-translation is therefore not a necessary compromise but an authorial choice. The reason Tawada gave for this preference was that she had already done the work of translating her novel from Japanese into a Western language.

This justification draws on interesting ideas around the perceived lexical and cultural propinquity of languages—how much overlap they share. In choosing the self-translation—in requesting that the translator ‘fix’ it rather than the original—Tawada does not cast the original Japanese version as inchoate but as remote, or at least remoter-than; this postulates a hierarchy of translatability in which less cultural and lexical overlap corresponds to more translational complexity. Tawada’s request is also an aesthetic decision that foregrounds the self-translation because, I would argue, it best expresses the work. If form is meaning, then, unlike Toledo’s self-translation, Tawada’s self-translation is more meaningful than her original because its translation of the self puts into practice the thematic that her novel explores.

Read the rest at Sydney Review of Books.