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.

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.

 

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.

Translator’s note to Blood of the Dawn

Edited by Will Evans

EXTRACT

In an article in El País, Spanish writer Antonio Muñoz Molina noted contemporary Peruvian novelists’ aptitude for creating narratives infused with historical and political reality: novels that set out to capture the real. Blood of the Dawn’s allusions to events of the recent past—some oblique, others named, but all with real-world equivalents unmistakable for Peruvian readers—make it not out of place, I don’t think, to name those events here so readers of the translation are better equipped to find out more.

There is another reason to do so. Historian Cecilia Méndez G. has argued that, while the Shining Path insurrection has had an indelible effect on Peruvian society, it is a period that many Peruvians, especially those who live in the capital, do their utmost to forget. Dwelling on this “time of fear,”—or, for Quechua speakers, the “sasachakuy [difficult] time”—which claimed at least 70,000 lives, is too painful. The urgency of representation present in Blood of the Dawn is a courageous response to this amnesia, a demand to remember as much as an attempt to represent, a pointing toward the real as well as a transformation of that real by means of the imagination.

So, a list: the 1983 Lucanamarca massacre, the 1985 Accomarca massacre, the 1986 prison riots and massacres (including at the women’s prison in Santa Mónica), the 1991 Barrios Altos massacre and the 1992 Tarata bombing. Reference is also made to a 1989 video that features the Shining Path leader dancing to “Zorba the Greek” with the high command.

The Quechua words I decided not to gloss mostly represent complex ideas from the Andean cosmovision, where features of the landscape are invested with spirit. Some rough approximations: Apus are sacred mountains or powerful mountain spirits; Pachamama is something like Mother Earth; and Pachacuti is a space-time turnover, a chaotic time where everything is turned on its head after a thousand-year cycle of the earth ends and the next begins. Another Quechua term derives from Andean experiences of colonialism: the Pishtaco is a mythological bogeyman, often a white stranger, who kills Andean individuals to steal their body fat. Body fat is a sign of vitality and beauty in the Andes. Add to this the Andeans’ horror on observing the way Spanish conquistadores treated their wounds with the fat of their enemies’ corpses and you have the makings of a myth set to endure. Its modern incarnations include the belief that sugar-mill machinery uses human fat as grease—a critique of Western capitalism if ever there were one.

Blood of the Dawn manages to compress a great deal into very little space, which has made translating it an absorbing and sometimes daunting challenge. One remarkable feature is the way a single idea is expressed twofold through content and form. For example, the plot’s focus on women as drivers of history is reflected in how their stories are told: Salazar Jiménez reminds us that language is a means of articulating systems of domination, patriarchy among them, through her steadfast refusal to use the full sentences dictated by standard grammar. In another example, Blood of the Dawn wrestles with how we might begin to represent violence in light of the physical and psychic damage it wreaks. The fragmentary nature of the narrative—its rapid switching among scenes, perspectives, grammatical tenses and persons, and especially the sections that turn away from grammatical organization almost completely—articulates the near impossibility of relating trauma while at the same time offering up an ambitious attempt to do the same.

A key challenge in bringing across all this compressed complexity was trying to reflect the different voices of the protagonists. These voices are painted with Quechua-inflected Spanish (in sentence structure as much as vocabulary), Maoist ideology, echoes of Catholic catechism, the language of elitist prejudice and racism, and much more besides. Through the rhythm of Modesta’s voice, I hope I have conveyed something of the repetitions that call to mind predominantly oral cultures, where lodgment in the listener’s memory is often favored over economy of expression. With Marcela/Marta, I have tried to emphasize the sense of indoctrination into Shining Path ideology. For example, when the word “encarnado” (“in the flesh,” “embodied,” “personified”) is used to describe the way she exemplifies the revolution, I opted to include a biblical allusion by translating “revolución encarnada” as “the revolution made flesh” in an echo of both the 1611 and standard versions of the King James Bible, “the Word was made flesh” (John 1:14).

Read the rest by purchasing a copy of Blood of the Dawn in Australia or elsewhere in the world.

Blood of the Dawn

…is now out in the world.

Such a thrill to think that a book I have lived with for the past 3 years can now make its way into the hands of readers. Claudia Salazar Jiménez has, I think, made something very special, and it has been supremely satisfying to get to grapple with some of the creative and intellectual challenges of bringing her powerful debut to life in English.

Here’s the blurb:

The fate of three women intertwine and are ripped apart during what’s known as the “time of fear” in Peruvian history when the Shining Path militant insurgency was at its peak. This powerful and poignant debut novel rewrites the armed conflict through the voice of women with a mixture of politics, desire, and pain told in lucid, brutal prose. Salazar stimulates the reader’s imagination through visual and narrative references that hit us by delving into the personal stories of these three quite different women. The social trauma of Peru is full of personal tragedies like these, and while Salazar’s characters may be fiction, the pain they all endure is completely real and universal.

Blood of the Dawn is a tremendously lyrical and ambitious debut, a highly accomplished, moving, beautiful novel that serves as an example of what art can do to help us not forget.

And the first words of the novel:

○●
blackout total darkness Where was it? all over Where did it come from? high tension towers fell to their knees bombs explode all raze blast burst Were you with the group? cooking at home while I waited for my husband blackout typing up the meeting’s minutes blackout developing some photos blackout get candles I don’t have enough six pages two towers the outskirts of the capital What did you say? you can’t sign comrade darkness excluded from history submit or blow up bomb Did you find out what they did? wow you cleaned your whole plate smile no candles eat three towers they say now more time more towers When will there be light again? candles turn on the radio I can’t find the matches three candles no matches make a spark with flint just kidding bomb we have a generator go to the epicenter where what we can’t see is happening bomb report what’s happening on the other side of the towers see Where were each of the three of them? blackout

○●
They brought me to this jail in the capital not long before our leadership fell. They almost always bring me to this room so Major Romero can interrogate me. Everything is white, whiter than a hospital. The three chairs. The table with the white melamine top. White walls, too. It’s already almost two weeks since I found out they’d caught them. I wonder what they’ve done to Comrade Leader. Fucking dogs. If they touch him, they’re all going to die; one by one we’ll take them down.

The only sound is the clock. Romero hasn’t shown up yet. It’s a bit chilly in this white room. Such a difference from that sandy place where I started my social work. I especially remember one day when the sun tested us. Unbearable, hellish. That’s what the heat felt like on that long stretch of sand settled by so many people. I was there with the engineer who coordinated the construction projects and with Fernanda, the social worker. I’d also taken along my four-year-old daughter. I thought it would be good for her to play with children who had little or nothing.

The sandy ground stretched on and on, a boiling yellow cloak. The heat was stifling. I felt the sweat of my girl’s tiny hand in mine. One of the people in charge of the housing committee handed me a glass of water to relieve her thirst. Water was sold at the price of gold, offloaded from trucks that came barely once a week. The glass that my daughter had just finished meant less water for one of these children.

She was more settled now so I left her with the other little ones and joined the community members to discuss the upcoming projects. They needed a network of potable water, drainage and public lighting to cover at least ten streets. They had also asked the municipality for a health post with basic services and for a school to be built. Education is fundamental to breaking free from the structural inequalities that social organization is founded on; without it, the potential for change Mami!!! is practically non-existent. My years of experience as an educator give me the authority to confirm Mamiiiiiiiiii!!!! that without the appropriate level of Señora Marcela, your daughter!

I ran to where the children were playing. My daughter was stock-still in the middle of the sandy area, her little legs trembling in fright, almost not breathing, hiccupping, her face soaked in tears. She had fallen over in a spot where sand had mixed with compacted earth and it was hard to stay upright. When she saw me, she stretched out her little arms and let fly a loud, distressed wail: Mami, there’s no ground here, carry me!

And, its first review is over at NPRover at NPR.

If you’re in Australia and would like a copy, you can support the good folk at independent bookstore Readings, who will deliver it to your door.

If you’re elsewhere in the world, you can purchase it over at publisher Deep Vellum’s site.