"There are a lot of important features of Bolano's style that can be transferred from one language to another," Andrews says,
"The big syntactic patterns, the patterns of repetition, the long sentences, the bursts, the parenthetical remarks; that comes across."
Although he has held academic posts, Andrews has no theory of translation, just rules of thumb.
The program of the PEN World Voices Festival, running in New York 26 April to 2 May, has been unveiled -- and it looks pretty impressive.
As always, a lot worth seeing.
And, yes, yours truly will not only be in attendance at many of the events but also involved in one, as I will be in conversation with Eshkol Nevo, talking about his new-to-the-US Homesick (prepare by seeing the Dalkey Archive Press publicity page, and getting your copy from Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk).
Eurozine has an English translation of Gabriella Håkansson's profile of Laura Restrepo from Ord&Bild (4/2009), You're so cool! -- focussing: 'On hardboiled masculinity in Laura Restrepo's Leopardo al Sol'.
I reviewed Léonora Miano's Dark Heart of the Night a month ago, finding it flawed but very definitely worthwhile.
I was pleased to see that the University of Nebraska Press had brought it out -- continuing their tradition of bringing out significant contemporary Francophone African fiction -- but I recently heard from author Léonora Miano, who isn't quite so pleased with what happened to her book, specifically the title and especially the Foreword, by Terese Svoboda.
And she makes some valid -- and hence disturbing -- points, suggesting yet again that the way translations are handled by American publishers, even those committed to them, falls far short of what readers should hope for and expect.
Here Léonora Miano's comments to us:
Dear the Complete Review,
Thank you for giving me some space to express myself, and to say why the foreword added to my novel should be removed.
In sub-Saharan Africa, weíre used to be despised by the rest of the world and to be treated as mere animals.
I knew, when Líintérieur de la nuit (Dark Heart of the Night) was published, that some would use the novel in order to reinforce their views on Africa and its peoples.
Really, I didnít care and still donít care about that.
What Iím interested in, is the African point of view on the topics I work on.
I think weíve spent too much time hoping for understanding and recognition from people other than ourselves.
Itís time we focus on our problems and deal with them, no matter how painful it is.
Iím confident in our ability to do so.
Iím confident in our desire to no more take lessons in humanity from people who created and used the atomic bomb, and who still have death penalty in their country.
Things would be so cool if people could just clean their front door ...
When University of Nebraska Press bought the rights of the book, I was happy because itís important for me to be translated into English, and to make my work available for the many Africans (and people of African descent as well) who actually speak English.
I started to ask myself questions when I saw which title had been chosen for the American translation of Líintérieur de la nuit.
Dark Heart of the Night has nothing to do with the original title.
It resembles Conradís Heart of Darkness, and voluntarily sends wrong messages.
But all right.
The contract had been signed, and UN Press could use a title betraying my work without me having a say in this.
They could even create that ugly cover if they thought it would help them sell the book.
I know nothing about the American taste as far as covers are concerned.
But now, UN Press also felt entitled to add a foreword.
Why not, if the aim was to help the readers know the writer and understand the novel?
The problem is that the foreword is full of misleading information.
Letís say it frankly, itís full of lies:
1/ Cameroon does not have the worse human rights record in Africa.
We have a lot of issues to face, but our country is not more violent than the USA where people are killed on a daily basis for all kinds of reasons.
I donít understand why the author of that foreword, who never bothered to contact me, made up stories like that.
She is insulting a country and its people.
Cameroonians will certainly not allow it.
2/ Cameroon is not the setting of the novel which was, as Iíve said it many times, inspired by a documentary that I saw on children at war.
We donít have those in Cameroon nowadays, and if we ever had, I never heard about it.
3/ I discovered the so called "Hashish Massacre" in the foreword.
I had never heard of that, even if I knew about the armed conflicts we had in the country during the late fifties, when our people were fighting for their independence.
4/ I did not leave Cameroon to France to flee from a violent place.
I live in France because Iím both selfish and down to earth.
France is still the place where you need to be when youíre an African French speaking writer.
Itís what allows you to be published and correctly distributed.
My fellow Cameroonians donít know the many talented writers who live in the country and whose books are published there.
They know me. And Líintérieur de la nuit was awarded the Prize of Cameroonian Excellency in 2007.
5/ My novel is not a criticism of Negritude or Panafricanism.
Iím deeply attached to Negritude whose authors have nurtured and freed my mind.
If it was not for what they did, I would not be such a bold and fierce voice.
They made me. Isnít it a pity to see that the author of the foreword cannot even write Aimé Césaireís name properly?
Iím a strong advocate of Panafricanism, which I view as the only way to solve some of our problems.
Líintérieur de la nuit deals with fascistic views of the African identity, and this has nothing to do with Negritude or Panafricanism.
6/ Iíve not just written another novel.
Three more have actually been published, in addition with one collection of short stories and a collection of creative non fiction.
The latter, entitled Soulfood Equatoriale, is my only book really talking about Cameroon.
And you know what?
Nobody dies in the book.
If the foreword was to be informative, it would have said all this.
It would also have said that Líintťrieur de la nuit is part of a trilogy.
Even if those novels were written so they could be read separately, they form an ensemble.
7/ There is only one child killed in Líintérieur de la nuit, and that child is an orphan (it doesnít make it good to kill him, but weíre talking about what is in the novel).
I donít understand why the author of the foreword talks about the women whose children are slaughtered.
Can the lady actually read?
Has she read?
I think she must have been given an oral summary of the novel, plus two or three sentences to place here and there.
This is not serious.
Complete Review, I could also say a few things on the way you read and understood the book.
Iím glad you read it and said something about it.
Weíve asked UN Press to withdraw the foreword.
If they cannot do it because the books are already out, theyíll have to send them with a letter explaining everything Iíve just told you.
I found Svoboda's Foreword rather ... odd, too, (beginning with the dubious claim about Cameroon's human rights record) but operated under the assumption that she knew what she was talking about, and that things like Forewords are discussed among author, publisher, and foreword-writer.
Apparently, they're not.
That said, not all of Svoboda's comments seemed entirely far-fetched -- and the connection to the 'Hashish Massacre', for example, seemed a perceptive one.
Apparently, again: not.
Obviously, interpretation is always subjective: the country of the novel still strikes me as a clear Cameroon stand-in (down to the linguistic divide), and a reading of the novel as critical of Négritude (or, I suppose, to be more precise: aspects of Négritude) still strikes me as plausible.
Still, it's not a good sign if the author of a book disagrees so vehemently with an introductory essay included in her book.
And it's troubling to see that a publisher would appear not to go through the trouble of consulting the author about such a significant part of the book.
What should count, of course, is Miano's fiction, and I hope this serves to bring attention 'round to it again (reviewers, where are you ?).
Like I said when I posted the review: "It certainly makes an interesting contrast to most of the contemporary African literature being taught at universities (much less widely read ...)", and is deserving of much more attention than it's gotten.
So check it out -- and do Miano the favor of looking past Svoboda's Foreword .....
(Updated - 19 March): See now also Richard Lea's discussion at The Guardian's books blog and Jared Keller's at The Atlantic Wire.
(Updated - 24 March): See now also Scott Esposito's comments at Conversational Reading.
Among the highlights of the fair will be the awarding of one of the two big German book- (as opposed to author-) prizes, the Preis der Leipziger Buchmesse, which is awarded in three categories: fiction, non, and translation.
The translation shortlist is particularly impressive, and includes translations of Infinite Jest, Annaz Karenina, and 2666.
At The Millions Fridolin Schley writes that The Edge, Too Has Its Edge: Reading Uwe Johnson in New York, about Johnson's classic New York novel, Anniversaries.
The piece led me to look back at the TLS reviews -- of volumes one and four, both of the original German versions (the English translation is an obscenely cut-beyond-down-to-size one).
Amazingly, G.P.Butler (14/10/1983) was convinced: "there is no likelihood Jahrestage will wear well" and actually believed:
If it is much respected and little read, embalmed in academic libraries as a remarkable but increasingly inaccessible relic, no one should be surprised.
I found it aged remarkably well and remains very accessible, and even for those not 'in the know' it is a stunning novel of late 1960s New York.
(Admittedly, I did read the (complete) German original; the truncated English version does look a bit more dubious.)
So Charles Rosen has a 'review' of the edited-by-J.D.McClatchy edition of The Whole Difference: Selected Writings of Hugo Von Hofmannsthal in the 8 April issue of The New York Review of Books
(not much available online at this time).
Rosen offers a good discussion of
Hofmannsthal -- and especially that (as he calls it) "fundamental document of modernism", 'A Letter', also known as The Lord Chandos Letter.
But Rosen does not offer much of a review of this particular volume (see the Princeton University Press publicity page, or get your copy at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk).
What I found most stunning -- indeed, what I don't think I've ever seen in a 'review' -- is that Rosen quotes extensively from 'A Letter', but, as he explains in a footnote:
I have altered the translation in a very few places.
He reviews a book (or doesn't, really ...) and then, instead of discussing, say, the translation on offer instead offers his own variations ......
What is going on here ?
I would have more faith in the editorial oversight at The New York Review of Books -- i.e. that there's method behind this madness -- if the same review did not also include a reference to James Joyce's "Finnegan's Wake" -- one of the most common (along with 'Edgar Allen Poe') 'literary' mistakes that simply is unacceptable in a publication that wants to be taken seriously.
Al-Mohaimeedís prose blends the style and technique of the traditional storyteller with those of modern fiction.
And more important, his narrative not only familiarizes with Saudi society but leads us also into the complex and hidden world of women.
The longlist for the Australian Miles Franklin Literary Award has been announced; see, for example, Jason Steger's Franklin long-list honour for debuts in The Age.
Among the longlisted authors are several who have won it several times before: Alex Miller (2x), Peter Carey (3x), and Thomas Keneally (2x).
Keneally actually took the prize two years in a row -- but that was back in 1967 (with Bring Larks and Heroes) and 1968 (with Three Cheers for the Paraclete) !
Not much of the spring issue of The Threepenny Review is available online, but Arthur Lubow's profile of Adam Zagajewski, The Last of His Kind, is worth a look.
(See also the reviews of Zagajewski's Another Beauty and Canvas at the complete review.)
The death of Venerable Beopjeong, one of the nation's respected spiritual leaders, has provoked an unusual response: Mourners are stampeding to bookstores, desperate to grab up the last copies of the monk's books before they go out of stock -- forever.
The monk and prolific author died of lung cancer at age 77 on Thursday, and when it was revealed that his will called upon his publishers to stop printing his books after his death, sales leapt dramatically.
His works now top the best-seller lists at major stores across the country, including Kyobo Book Centre and Youngpoong Bookstore.
Most branches have now set up special booths for the Venerable Beopjeong's books, with some already sold out.
(I'm afraid there's a bit of hyperbole here: stampeding ? really ?)
So what are the chances his literary estate will honor his wishes ?
Probably about the same that any literary estate honors a writers wishes (i.e. pretty much nil).
"Rather than solving this matter from a legal standpoint, aides of the Venerable Beopjeong who know the book contracts and his dying wishes well need to decide about the matter after discussing it with the publishing companies," Kim suggested.
What's there to decide ?
The man said: end of story -- that should be the end of the story.
When do you plan to start doing your job ?
When will you stop looking for yourselves in the books you read ?
A true reader deals with the book itself.
So when will you stop asking yourself, at the very outset, if the author is Peruvian, schismatic, a member of the communist party, or a relative of André Malraux ?
The exhibition "Con-Text" at the Nordic House brings together 24 artists from Finland, Sweden, Norway, Iceland and Denmark, who share a peculiar love of the book form, known as "artist books," where the sculptural and expressive possibilities of the book as a medium are explored to its limits, often without narration.
A few photos show some of the very cool pieces -- and see more at the official weblog.
At Booktrust's Translated Fiction they have their latest batch of recommended titles up -- very summary reviews, but they do showcase a lot of the new and forthcoming titles in translation to look out for.
The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Kanyasulkam: A Play from Colonial India by Gurajada Apparao, the Telugu classic Girls for Sale (as the unfortunate English title has it ...).
If you havenít been able to read all the great works of Gujarati literature because very few are available in print, there is some good news for you.
The state government has decided to make the 100 greatest works of Gujarati literature available online, to coincide with Gujaratís golden jubilee year.
I haven't found a URL yet, but it's good to see them do this sort of thing.
(Yes, Gujarati literature is not easy to find, and there's none under review at the complete review -- yet.)
I recently reviewed James Currey's book on The African Writers Series and the Launch of African Literature, Africa Writes Back, and among the few disappointing things about it was the lack of discussion (or even mention) of some of the AWS titles.
One, in particular, stood out -- largely because I happened to have picked up a copy (used, for $1.00) around the same time: Obotunde Ijimere's The Imprisonment of Obatala and other plays (AWS 18; get your copy at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk).
This collection of three plays, translated from the Yoruba by Ulli Beier, certainly seems mention-worthy -- and successful: my copy (from 1987) indicates it had been reprinted ten times after its initial publication in 1966.
Ulli Beier offers an Introduction to the plays, describing the playwright as having (briefly) been a member of Duro Ladipo's theater company (which Beier also worked with) -- and noting that one of these plays is:
an adaptation of Hugo von Hofmanthal's Everyman.
The basic theme has been retained, but the play has been rethought entirely in Yoruba.
(He also notes that it has been: "performed by Ladipo with great success, not only in Nigeria but also in Germany, Austria, Switzerland and Belgium.")
Beier also notes:
While the language is largely based on traditional Yoruba imagery, as is Ladipo's, Ijimere explores new ground in his themes and ideas.
The plays are quite good, and the language sounds convincingly 'traditional' -- just what one might expect in a translation from the Yoruba.
The only problem: there was no Obotunde Ijimere.
The plays are all apparently entirely Ulli Beier's handiwork (see, for example, Charles R. Larson's Ulli Beier: African Playwright? [only first page freely accessible] in Books Abroad (Summer, 1973)).
Surprisingly, this does not seem to be particularly widely known -- and was not noted in the later reprints of The Imprisonment of Obatala.
Indeed, some commentators -- including Wole Soyinka (see, for example, this piece) -- have continued to treat it as an 'authentic' Yoruba work.
I have to admit I've been completely stymied in how to approach these plays.
While they are obviously not what they are advertised as being, it's hard to consider them completely inauthentic either.
The remarkable Beier was certainly immersed in this culture, and his knowledge of it is impressive; while dishonest in not presenting it under his own name, what he does is, on some level, not that different from when a writer comes to the UK or US from some 'foreign' culture and writes in the domestic mode.
Yet I still find it harder to approach the material with any objectivity (hence no review, just this weblog-mention).
What is it about Beier's cultural appropriation that makes it seem so much more disturbing ?
(One of the things that unsettles me in particular is that it really is quite convincing -- the choice of Everyman, for example, is odd material to rework, but if there were a 'real' Yoruba Everyman ... well, it might well look exactly like this.)
So now I'm really disappointed that Currey didn't mention this book's peculiar history in his AWS-survey -- a fascinating story that I'd really like to know more about.
The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Jean-Christophe Valtat's 03.
Will this be the (American) summer of Valtat ?
After previously not being available in translation, this novella will quickly be followed by the publication of Aurorarama (Melville House; see their publicity page), a very different-sounding work.
Oranges would not be in print across the world, much less read and taught, 25 years later if it were just about me.
I never wanted me to be just about me, and maybe that's the point.
I wanted, through language and through storytelling, to reach something wider and more important than my own circumstances
After asking around and thinking about the bigger picture, I thanked my stars that I don't have the immediacy of a blog, and admitted that I cannot begin to know the exigencies and challenges of running a major international prize.
One can only imagine how involved it must be to read through hundreds of unedited manuscripts from across Asia.
It seems pretty easy to imagine to me.
As to "exigencies and challenges" ...yeah, well, why don't they share more about that.
How many manuscripts did they really have to consider ?
Relatively few in translation, for one: they only read English versions, so any manuscript already had to go through being translated -- which explains why books by the likes of Jiang Rong and Su Tong, which had already been picked up by one or another English-language publisher, were also previous winners.
As to the originally-written-in English stuff: surely the real crap (i.e. the vast majority of writer-submitted manuscripts) was easy to sift out.
Note that not only are submissions now only permitted by publishers themselves, but each publisher is limited to two submissions -- an incredible limitation, especially given how few English-language publishers there are in the Asian (and how concentrated they are in a few countries -- India, Malaysia, Singapore).
The MALP previously invigorated us Asian writers, and pulled the attention of Western publishers eastward.
With the MALP now accepting only published novels, it stands to invigorate Asian writers, Asian and Western publishers, and readers all over the world.
How exactly is it to do that ?
How will it invigorate (and enrich) any but those that are already getting the published-in-the-West seal of approval ?
(Oh, sure, some novel only published by one of the Indian publishers might win, but you have to figure this prize will be dominated by those books published by major US and UK publishers.)
Syjuco also thinks:
Publishers in Asia now have the opportunity to back the writers and novels they've developed; an effort that fosters the participation, and growth, of writers, editors, book designers, copyeditors, and all the many people involved in the publishing industry.
It is hoped that Asian writers can increasingly work with those evolving publishers in their home country, rather than, as I did, circumvent them in favor of the established ones in the West.
But the prize only truly encourages English-language publishers -- and because they're only allowed to select two titles they will only select those that most fit the international paradigm -- presumably of what's expected of an 'Asian' novel -- rather than the cream of the local (and, often, local-language) crop.
Syjuco also wonders:
So, what about that untranslated writer in Tagalog?
Now the onus is on the individual countries and their publishing industries, but they also have more incentive to partake in this broadening discussion.
First of all, the untranslated writer was never in the running any way: even in its previous incarnation, the M'A'LP only considered English manuscripts (in the original or translation).
But more importantly: does Syjuco believe that this is anywhere near enough incentive ?
Surely he's familiar first-hand with the hidebound Filpino publishing industry -- and that's a relative bright spot compared to many of the other countries in the mix.
Finally, Syjuco claims -- apparently with a straight face:
The strength of the Man Asian Literary Prize has always been its ability to ask important questions and engender lively debate.
How do we define Asia?
What is Asian writing?
Why aren't Asian writers read enough?
What are the criteria for quality?
What role can the Prize itself play?
'How do we define Asia ?'
The M'A'LP folk -- to my great disgust -- have never (publicly) debated the issue, and have, to date, refused to consider Iran or the Central Asian states (or Syria or Turkey, etc. etc.) Asian, so that hasn't been much of debate.
(Let's see if the new rules are finally more inclusive -- given that there are only a handful of works of fiction published in English originally written in Farsi, or in English by Iranians (and, as far as I can tell, barely ever any titles that could be eligible by authors from the Central Asian states) it wouldn't be much of a risk for them.)
The M'A'LP had the opportunity to be a prize to foster Asian talents; now it will find it difficult to present itself as anything but an official endorser of Western publishers' ideas of what 'Asian' means (because it is the books published by the UK and US houses that will completely dominate this prize).
Unless the final 'restructured' eligibility requirements are far more open (at the very least, anything published in English over the designated time-span must be eligible -- i.e. publishers should not be limited to two submissions (and preferably publishers should have nothing whatsoever to do with the submission process).)
The requirement the original prize had, that all manuscripts had to be submitted in English, was already onerous enough; if they want to limit it to published books the least they can do is actually consider any that qualify (there really aren't that many, even with the entire Indian-English output).
And 'Asian' should finally truly mean Asian .....
An interesting report at Arabic Literature (in English) on the third in a series of AUC translator presentations, as:
Journalist and translator Jonathan Wright spoke yesterday at the universityís downtown campus, addressing issues of translation alongside the first author heíd translated, Khaled al-Khamissi.
Wright addressed translation in a very different manner from Humphrey Davies, who spoke in the AUC series last month.
And I should get to a handful of others from this list -- quite a contrast to the BTBA long- and shortlists.
Interestingly (and disappointingly) Tonkin notes that: "Entries for this year's Independent Foreign Fiction Prize shrank by more than a quarter"; unfortunately, he does not explain how an 'entry' occurs (does a publisher have to submit it ? or is it like the BTBA: anything that's out there is considered ?).
The National Book Critics Circle Award winners have been announced -- though not at the official site, last I checked (sigh).
See, instead, for example, Motoko Rich's report.
The only title covered at the complete review is the fiction winner, Hilary Mantel's Wolf Hall.
They've apparently announced the regional winners of the Commonwealth Writers' Prize -- though not yet at the official site, last I checked.
(And I just have to ask: why even bother with a website if you can't get the information up there as soon as it is available ?
That goes for the NBCC -- see the previous story -- too.)
The Toronto Star seems to have most of the winners covered .....
The Best Translated Book Awards were announced yesterday.
Genya Turovskaya and Stephanie Sandler's translation of Elena Fanailova's The Russian Version won the poetry category; see the Ugly Duckling Presse publicity page, or get your copy at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk.
The fiction winner was Dalya Bilu's translation of Gail Hareven's The Confessions of Noa Weber; see my review.
See also my interview with Jeff VanderMeer about the BTBAs and translation at Omnivoracious.
In the wake of the worst recession since World War II, the German Foreign Ministry has decided to cut funding to international literary projects.
Advocates say it imperils the already threadbare livelihood of translators across the country.
The ministryís cultural budget for 2010 -- which mainly goes to large programmes such as the Goethe Institute and the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) -- has been reduced by a modest €3 million to €723 million.
But a large chunk of these cuts affect the relatively sparse funding for literature projects, a Foreign Ministry spokeswoman told The Local this week.