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’

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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.

New gig & interview w Alison Whittaker

Exciting news: I’ve joined the Lifted Brow team as their translations editor!

And I got to interview the super smart and fabulous poet and self-translator Alison Whittaker.

The Lifted Brow: To start with the general picture: How, if at all, does translation or self-translation inform your creative practice?

Alison Whittaker: In a way, it’s all the creative practice I’ve got! I work mostly in the English language, so I’m always changing concepts and codes from this Gomeroi formulation I have of the world. Even when I’m working in my own language, Gamilaraay, my understanding and my expression is mediated through English as my first language. So, even though I’m working from a language frame that’s at the foundation of being Gomeroi, using Gamilaraay in my cultural practice is almost a double translation. That’ll change as my language knowledge grows, I hope, and I’ll be less bound by this colonial language frame. Translation’s at the core of what I do, wanted or unwanted!

TLB: ‘Wanted or unwanted’: This makes me wonder what the relationship is between language and oppression in your opinion. Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o’s decision to forsake English to write in Gikuyu springs to mind. He said in an interview,

It was a revelation for me, in a practical sense, that you could write in an African language and still reach an audience beyond that language through the art of translation. Through the act of translation we break out of linguistic confinement and reach many other communities.

This view might be putting a rosy filter on things, but do you think translation can be a tool to work through the relationship between language and oppression? If there are losses along the way, how do you think these can be mediated, challenged or counteracted?

Read the rest over at The Lifted Brow.

‘Journey to…’ companion essays

Edited by Gillian Terzis

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It’s the year 921 and Ibn Fadlān, a theologian in the court of Abbasid Caliphate al-Muqtadir, is making a 4000-kilometre journey from Baghdād to the encampment of the semi-nomadic Bulghār khan on the Volga River. He is serving as secretary to the caliph’s envoy.

Rare for his time and later—fabulator Marco Polo will come centuries afterwards—he doesn’t invent wonders in the account he jots down in spare moments.

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Illustration by Nancy Liang

The party comes across people with a language like the cries of starlings. The Amu River freezes, and horses and carts slide over the ice as if on roads. They reach a land so cold that beggars don’t wait at the door but step inside, a land where his beard turns into a block of ice. His face freezes to his pillow. The cold splits trees in two.

When the ice melts, they buy camels and boats made from camel skin, three months’ supply of millet, bread and salted meat. Each of them wears plain trousers, padded trousers, a tunic, a caftan, a cloak of sheepskin, a felt outer garment and head covering, and two pairs—one over the other—of horse-hair boots. They can hardly move because of all the clothing. The camels flounder in snow up to their knees.

Read the rest of the essays by purchasing a copy of The Brow #30 or viewing it online.