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For those of you who are local, some wonderful events this week: On Thursday, March 29, Sunetra Gupta, author of So Good in Black, will read with poet Brenda Coultas as part of UMass Amherst’s Visiting Writers Series. Come join us at Memorial Hall at 8 pm.
On Friday, Sunetra will read at Booklink Booksellers in Thorne’s Market in Northampton at 7 pm.
Love to see you there!
Good news comes in pairs? Adania Shibli’s new novel We Are All Equally Far from Love is now out in the world, and today the Kenyon Review Online has published one of my favorite essays by Adania—or rather, one of my favorite essays altogether—”On East–West Dialogue,” translated by Suneela Mubayi. A taste:
I arrive at Lydd airport. At passport control, I present my passport through a small opening in the glass panel to the officer sitting behind it. We wait a little until first three security personnel arrive, then four others—two policemen and a policewoman, and an interrogator from the Israeli intelligence services accompanied by a young woman who remains with us during questioning, most likely for the same reason that male doctors summon a female nurse to remain in the room when a woman’s reproductive organs are examined. The intelligence services want to examine my private world, in an interview that will not take long, the interrogator assures me, if I “cooperate” with them. I have just arrived from Berlin. I stayed there approximately two months, participating in a project called the “West–Eastern Divan” that aims to foster dialogue between the East and the West. Why should the subject of East and West concern me? I let my thoughts flow like water over sand, spontaneously sneaking between the grains, so they may find an answer to the question.
…. In the end, I resort to science instead of nature. I recall what my nephew told me several years ago. In one of the medicine classes he was attending at university, the lecturer asked the students what they thought was the primary cause of lung cancer. Smoking, replied one of the students. The lecturer commented that that was the correct answer, then asked, what was the second most common cause of lung cancer? No one answered. “Smoking,” he responded. What was the third? Smoking. The fourth? Smoking. The fifth? Smoking. The sixth? Smoking. The seventh? Smoking. The eighth? Smoking. The ninth? Smoking. The top nine causes of lung cancer are smoking. It may be said that at least the top four causes of my participation in any activity whose subject is East–West dialogue are money. And if the amount were doubled, it could then be said that the top nine causes of my participation in activities of this kind are money.
But that’s just the beginning. Read the rest here!
But in the meantime there’s been lots of news! A quick recap: Sunetra Gupta’s So Good in Black has been reviewed in Publishers Weekly, the Washington Times (“Sunetra Gupta writes of ambiguities brilliantly”), and most recently and at length in the Common (Amherst College’s new literary magazine, and so an exciting new addition to our local scene).
Alex Epstein’s newest, Lunar Savings Time, translated by Becka Mara McKay, has also been lauded by Publishers Weekly (“Consistently provocative”… “Best read first in gulps, and then in savory sips”), and by Bill Marx over at Arts Fuse, as well as here at the Complete Review.
Also have a look at this interview I had a lot of fun doing with Alex at the Kenyon Review.
Since we’ve been a little slow here, I’d suggest you might like to “like” us on Facebook, which will keep you updated with all things Clockroot when we’re slow on the blog.
The language of the narrator follows its own, internally generated set of rules, which becomes clear with the mention of the game of “evol” in the opening chapter. Readers stumble over this reference, whether in Arabic or English. In Arabic, the game is called “bahla بحلا” a non-existent word, not the name of an actual children’s game. The intended meaning becomes clear much later in the novel when we discover this word is الحب al-hub (love) spelled backwards, a word the narrator has invented to keep the game a secret. In this way, Shibli constructs an idiosyncratic language system that functions outside society and social norms. When the meaning of بحلا “bahla,” which is mentioned a number of times, is finally revealed to the reader, that revelation is gratifying. For the translator, it was fortuitous to be able to cast this frustration-cum-gratification into English by introducing “evol” or “love” spelled backwards, especially since “evol” also does not spell a real word and yet resembles the word “evil,” adding an element of darkness and mystique…
Read all of Paula Haydar’s essay on translating Adania Shibli’s Touch here.
We’ve been hacked! And interestingly, the poetry about online gambling has now faded from the absurd prominence it took just minutes ago under the blog header, but can still be found buried in the code if you view source—now in French! It’s hacking in translation.
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What the hell?
VIDA has just released a much-discussed report on the ratios of male and female contributors in prominent publications, including, for book reviews, percentages of books by men and women reviewed. At Slate Meghan O’Rourke has a good summary discussion; see also Percival Everett’s thoughts here. I was particularly interested to find that the New York Review of Books, which I read almost cover to cover every issue, publishes male to female contributors at a distressing rate of 5.9 to 1, and only about 20% of the books they review are by women—all this distressing in itself & distressing because, despite my idea of myself as someone deeply attuned to these issues, I never noticed.
At the Literary Saloon, Michael Orthofer has done a quick tally of translations published in 2010, according to Three Percent’s highly useful translation database (for which we should all thank Chad Post, yet again!). Orthofer notes that: “in 2010 slightly less than 20 per cent of the books listed there are by women: i.e. there’s a huge sex-imbalance in terms of what gets translated.” This is something I’ve wondered about, but unfortunately only idly. Belletrista—”a site promoting women-authored literature from around the world”— had once written Clockroot, after reviewing several of our titles, to inquire about the translation rates of women writers vs. men writers, and I was able to say nothing more informative than that I too would be interested to see some figures. A rough scan of the 2009 titles—not scientifically done, I’m sorry—comes out with about the same ratio as Orthofer’s for 2010, somewhere around 20%. This surprises me in that most translations are published by smaller presses—indies and university presses—whom I would have thought particularly attentive to such issues. Perhaps gender often gets relegated to more mainstream publishing discussions (?), and we as small, internationally focused presses can become more concerned about aesthetic and linguistic/cultural diversity, putting gender issues to the side? I’m not sure.
When Clockroot first got going, behind scenes we often joked about how without meaning to we seemed to be only publishing women writers: early on we had signed only works by Ersi Sotiropoulos, Margarita Karapanou, Adania Shibli, Uzma Aslam Khan. I suppose that, all things being equal, we seem to gravitate toward women writers (should I note for the record that both Pam and I are in fact women?). I believe that Interlink has done a fine job publishing women writers through its twenty years—though I don’t have any figures on hand, and it would take some time to gather them (but I think of the involvement of Salma Khadra Jayyusi, and Interlink’s devotion to prominent writers such as Sahar Khalifeh and Sefi Atta). As it is, of the thirteen books on Clockroot’s list, eight are by women, five by men (two of these were originally written in English, both by women). This includes of course multiple works by repeat authors. It’s a small sample, but it is nice to feel ahead of the game.
I’d be interested in hearing from translators and editors of presses that publish translations about this issue. I suspect—without any data—that most of the submissions we receive at Interlink & Clockroot are works by men. But how many more? What role do agencies, grants, and foreign cultural ministries play in promoting men vs. women writers? How do translators interact with this issue? I myself have often wondered if there may be more women translating men than men translating women—I have no basis for thinking this other than again, a vague impression. What have reviewers noticed, both at larger and smaller venues? What role do sales play, or perceptions of which books sell? Note, for instance, this Guardian article (which mentions Uzma Aslam Khan) on “Pakistan’s literary boy’s club,” which wonders why
the media portrayal of Pakistan’s “new crop of literary stars” has disturbingly begun to focus its attention on what western reviewers are calling “the top four”: Daniyal Mueenuddin, Mohsin Hamid, Nadeem Aslam and Mohammed Hanif. Pakistani women have been writing for just as long and just as much as the men, so why is the “new crop” being portrayed by the western media as a boys’ club?
Notes for a future discussion, then? Many thanks to all those who have done the good work of gathering the figures mentioned.
The latest issue of the Kenyon Review Online features seven stories from Alex Epstein’s new collection, Lunar Savings Time, which we’ll be publishing this spring, also in Becka McKay’s superb translation. Fans of Blue Has No South, take note. And everyone else—well, just read the stories:
On the Metamorphosis
Once upon a time there was a tree who, of all the trees in the forest, fell in love all the way to his roots with a woman who passed through the forest. The metamorphosis was his only escape: he had to turn into a man and go out into the world to find her. (He was stabbed during a fight in a port city in the east. When he started to bleed he could no longer feel his legs. He didn’t die. He boarded a ship that was lost in the Straits of Gibraltar. When he drowned he found a remedy in the intoxication of the depths. He didn’t die. In one of the versions of this legend, which ends after many years of wandering and hardship, the tree returns to the forest of his birth, where he hangs himself.) He could not forget her, even when the wind blew.
Read the rest here.
EP What particular difficulties did you encounter, translating Sleepwalker?
KE Well, in a book that’s in English it’s very difficult for me to mark what’s in English in the original. When it’s French, I leave it in French. When it’s German, I leave it in German. Usually I say, “He said in English,” or—well, there are a few different approaches, but because of the typographical difference between the Greek alphabet and the Roman, this is much more striking in the original text. You can’t really reproduce that.
There’s just so much English. And people are speaking bad Greek and bad English. And at times even when you know they’re speaking English in the book, it’s written in Greek. It speaks to what one of the characters, Placido, calls “the problem of languages,” which is central to the book. So, that’s one of the things that I wish there was a better solution for.
EP Are there other things that are in that category? Things you never figured out?
KE Sometimes it’s hard to know until you hear what someone else thinks. My brother and I read one another’s stuff all the time and often I’ll tell him, “Michael, that is not English.” And he’ll be like, “Wait, we don’t say that?” Because you know what it means, you have it in your head as something that makes sense.
Sometimes going too close to the literal can be really productive. But you have to know that you’re doing it. There’s this phrase, siga siga, that literally means, “slowly, slowly.” As in, take your time, don’t worry about it, one step at a time. And I have translated that in poetry as “slowly, slowly,” because I think it’s really lovely. And people who know Greek will be like, “Oh, that is a bad translation.”
Read in full here.
The site Babelmed has a new interview with Adania Shibli, author of Touch and 2011′s We Are All Equally Far From Love, on the “new generation” of Palestinian writers, activism & literature, exile & literature, and Darwish. (I can’t help but saying that I’d rather not have descriptions like “young, bright-eyed lady”—but check the interview out regardless!)