Archive for the ‘world literature’ Category

Ersi Sotiropoulous on literature and the crisis in Greece

Wednesday, December 26th, 2012

At the PBS Newshour arts blog, Jeffrey Brown interviews Ersi Sotiropoulos, author of Zigzag through the Bitter-Orange Trees and Landscape with Dog and Other Stories. An excerpt:

ERSI SOTIROPOULOS: … What was astonishing for me was to see was a middle-aged woman like me, well dressed, with a certain dignity, with a small stick looking through the garbage. Also hiding, in a way. Feeling ashamed. Looking behind her back to make sure nobody was observing her.

JEFFREY BROWN: Because she was formerly well off, middle class?

ERSI SOTIROPOULOS: Yes, yes of course.

JEFFREY BROWN: How is what’s happening come into your writing?

ERSI SOTIROPOULOS: First, it comes into my life because I have to move from this apartment.

JEFFREY BROWN: Move because of economic reasons?

ERSI SOTIROPOULOS: Because we cannot afford the rent any more. To my writing, I think I am writing the way I was always writing throughout my life. But it’s more difficult to concentrate now.


ERSI SOTIROPOULOS: Because I have this feeling of almost physical oppression, sometimes suddenly during the day, like an earthquake is approaching. When you go out, you see people begging. Now beggars usually don’t ask for money. They usually ask “Please can you buy me something to eat?” After awhile, I’ve found I’ve stopped giving things. I’ve become selfish. Sometimes I pretend I’m talking on the phone. It’s not that I don’t have the money. It is opening up the purse and knowing there will be another, and then another and another who approaches me.

JEFFREY BROWN: Do you see it having an effect on society, the cohesion?

ERSI SOTIROPOULOS: Yeah, yeah, yeah. At the beginning I thought the crisis could be beneficial, in a way. That it would get rid of many silly things. The idiotic consumerism, the fast lifestyles. I thought it would be a chance to rediscover things like friendship. But I was wrong. It was an illusion. I mean the crisis empties the wallets as well as the souls.

Read in full here.

Thinner than Skin long-listed for the Man Asian Prize

Tuesday, December 4th, 2012

Just out this morning: the Man Asian Literary Prize’s long-list, and Uzma Aslam Khan’s newly released Thinner than Skin is on it! Congratulations to Uzma! and to all the writers listed. Press release below:

2012 Man Asian Literary Prize longlist displays the literary rise of Asia 

December 4, 2012

Novels showcasing the power of the writing emerging across the whole breadth of Asia were put on display today as the fifteen books longlisted for the 2012 Man Asian Literary Prize were unveiled.

Nine different Asian countries are represented, many of them seen afresh through the eyes of women, migrants and story-tellers on the margins. The list also includes an early intricate and stunning book by Nobel Prize winner Orhan Pamuk, now appearing in English for the first time.


Goat Days – Benyamin (India)

Between Clay and Dust – Musharraf Ali Farooqi (Pakistan)

Another Country – Anjali Joseph (India)

The Briefcase – Hiromi Kawakami (Japan)

Thinner Than Skin – Uzma Aslam Khan (Pakistan)

Ru – Kim Thúy (Vietnam / Canada*)

Black Flower – Young-Ha Kim (South Korea)

Island of a Thousand Mirrors – Nayomi Munaweera (Sri Lanka)

Silent House – Orhan Pamuk (Turkey)

Honour – Elif Shafak (Turkey)

Northern Girls – Sheng Keyi (China)

The Garden of Evening Mists – Tan Twan Eng (Malaysia)

The Road To Urbino – Roma Tearne (Sri Lanka / U.K.*)

Narcopolis – Jeet Thayil (India)

The Bathing Women – Tie Ning (China)

Plato in New York

Thursday, November 22nd, 2012

Vicki James Yiannias has written a wonderful piece in Greek News on Ersi Sotiropoulos and her “Plato in New York” and her recent doings.

“… [A]n unusual, riveting, and groundbreaking presentation in the Living Room at the Gershwin Hotel on October 11 was described by Sotiropoulos as a “hybrid of a novel that uses fictional narrative, dialogue, and visual poetry”.  “Plato in New York” was perhaps a “first” such hybrid by a Greek author.  But it was not the only “first” from this acclaimed Greek author.  Zigzag through the Bitter Orange Trees, one of her twelve books of fiction, was the first novel ever to receive Greece’s two most important literary awards, the Greek State Prize for Literature and Greece’s preeminent Book Critics Award (2000).  More professional tributes to Sotiropoulos’ work: her last novel, “Eva”, a young woman’s odyssey through the backstreets of Athens on Christmas Eve, won the Athens Academy prize for best novel in 2011, and her book of stories “Feel blue, dress in red” has just been short-listed for Greece’s National Book Award.

Sotiropoulos, who lives in Athens and was Artist in Residence at the Gershwin Hotel from September 6- October 18 (and Director’s Guest there in 2010), explained to the GN that “Plato in New York” used fictional narrative, dialogue and visual poetry, was a way of exploring the identity of the city through analogies between two distinct and very different times and cultures, New York now and Plato’s Athens.  “The idea is to portray New York as Plato’s cave, a complex place where it is almost impossible to separate the real from the virtual”, she says, “Plato wrote, ‘How can you prove whether at this moment we are sleeping, and all our thoughts are a dream; or whether we are awake, and talking to one another in the waking state?’  It seems like the eruption of the past in the present, but it is not so simple.  With the virtual devouring big chunks of the real, apparent these days in the financial world and the media, Plato’s questions seem as relevant as ever.” Read more

Also, for a Greek perspective on the current European economic crisis, see these excerpts of Ersi’s piece for the BBC.


Uzma Aslam Khan: “Listen to silence, not to others”

Sunday, October 28th, 2012

A fantastic new interview with Uzma Aslam Khan is just out in Pakistan’s Friday Times. Uzma’s fourth novel, Thinner than Skin, has just been released (for those who haven’t gotten it yet!); she also discusses her 2009 novel The Geometry of God:

AA: In the years since you wrote The Geometry of God, the country has seen some of the most gruesome attacks on religious minorities, including inhumane abuses of the blasphemy law. What is your perspective on this?

UAK: When The Geometry of God was completed in 2007, there were many documented cases of blasphemy charges being leveled against innocent civilians, particularly Ahmadis and Christians. My character Nana was not based directly on any one person, but I read several case studies, including those involving ridiculous spelling errors, word shuffling, rumor, and revisionism – including of Jinnah’s famous speech in which he emphatically declares us all “equal citizens of one State” – all of which I draw on in the book. And then last year it happened again: a Christian eighth-grader was accused of blasphemy for a spelling error in a poem. For a Pakistani writer, life imitates art all the time. When in the book Nana is falsely accused of blasphemy, he is also called an Ahmadi, as though calling someone this is an insult. His response is to refuse to wear it as an insult by refusing to say what he is. He says instead, “My faith is what they bury when they force me to expose it.” And I think that the increasingly furious pace of hate crimes against our religious minorities – from the attack on an Ahmadi mosque in Lahore on May 28, 2010, which should be declared a national day of mourning, to the assassinations of Shahbaz Bhatti and Salmaan Taseer, to the present-day case of young Rimsha Masih – all of this, on top of terrorizing those already vulnerable in our society, makes us all guilty, for two reasons. First, for staying silent about what we know to be wrong. And second, because we are all forced to say what we are, all the time. We can’t even get our passport renewed without ‘confessing’ to not being Ahmadis. I’ve even been asked my religion while registering for a blood test. And to whom are we always in need of confessing? Not to God, but to a bunch of people who call themselves the state. If this were a civilized land, faith would be private and proof against those we know are playing God would be public. But in Pakistan, it’s the other way around: Faith is public and proof is private.

Read the rest here.

Thank you, Michael Henry Heim

Wednesday, October 3rd, 2012

I am in awe of this man’s talent (translations from half a dozen languages!) and his extraordinary commitment and vision. Contemplate the life story tucked into this press release from PEN today:

In 2003, to help translators pursue their art, Michael Henry Heim and his wife Priscilla did something extraordinary. They created the PEN Translation Fund to award competitive grants to translators each year. Mike and Priscilla Heim endowed the Translation Fund personally and anonymously with a gift of $734,000. Esther Allen, chair of the PEN Translation Committee when the Fund was created, describes Mike as “enormously embarrassed at the thought of being publicly associated with the donation, having as he did a visceral horror of money, which he associated with excess and waste and all of the things he most deplored.”

The money donated for the Fund grew from a death benefit that his mother received in 1945, when Mike’s father, a Hungarian composer and pastry chef serving in the U.S. military, was killed. Mike and Priscilla, through careful investment and the most frugal of lifestyles, slowly built up the money with the dream of supporting future generations of gifted translators and prodding publishers to share their art with the world. As Priscilla, who gave permission yesterday to reveal her husband as the Fund’s donor, explained, “We never went to restaurants or movies, and Mike wore his clothes for years on end, including his good blazer after moth holes appeared. Those things add up, and added to the fund.” Since 2003, the PEN Translation Fund has supported more than 100 translations.

For more, check out Susan Bernofsky’s post at her blog, Translationista.

Experiments in publishing: On Ugly Duckling

Friday, March 18th, 2011

Over at the Brooklyn Rail, Jon Curley interviews Matvei Yankelevich of Ugly Duckling Presse, and a fascinating & inspiring conversation ensues. (I’ve just gotten the first stack of UDP books from my 2011 subscription & really it’s hard to know how to deal with such wealth—you kind of try to read everything all at once, and also to show everything to all your friends, then see what you’ve managed to keep them from borrowing, or rather what you managed to keep yourself from joyfully giving out, then start there, knowing the clock’s ticking and shipment number two will show up any day…)

Jon Curley (Rail): The UDP editorial board and its various production personnel operate as a collective. Can you detail the dynamics of this operation? What possibilities recommend themselves to this process? What are some of the difficulties of such an arrangement? This kind of cooperative seems a very Soviet-stylized ordering of function, in a positive sense. Given your personal background and some of your literary interests, is this intentional?

MatveiYankelevich: Okay, that’s a lot of questions. Let me start backwards: There’s nothing really intentional about it and there’s certainly nothing like a collective farm about it. Basically, it’s not like any communist or commune-like collective. Different people have different feelings of responsibility to the whole press or certain projects. I’ll back up: We started up with seven or eight people who wanted to start an exchange and decided to make books and the collective was a byproduct of that. So, the collective does not delegate anything—when people want to take things on, they take things on. There are 13 or 14 collective members now, some of whom are of the original collective, and there are also interns and everything happens independently. Different editors come up with different ideas and then, other people, whatever they think about the project, will help out. “I’ll help you with this or that, I’ll help bind that book.” It’s like people sharing a photography darkroom, which I guess is an outmoded example, but as with that, people share resources and everything becomes more streamlined in a shared-resource model. We don’t all agree on one aesthetic. It has been somewhat confrontational in the past in terms of choosing this or that, and it can get anarchic, but we all are guided by the principle that we’re not here to do commercial books or make money or profit. So there are certain things we agree on. I guess there’s a sort of de facto range of aesthetics and it’s very eclectic.

Read in full here!

Tahrir Square, continued

Sunday, January 30th, 2011

Have been transfixed by the scenes on the streets of Cairo, Suez, and Alexandria, watching the live coverage on Al Jazeera English on my laptop at the kitchen table. I keep thinking about the image of the crowd of people just slowly pushing back the line of police in riot gear: The people are simply too many to stop. But it becomes more frightening by the hour, as well.

More, from Radwa Ashour’s Specters, on a bit of the history of the places we keep seeing on the screen:

The incident at Abbas Bridge, when Cairo University students were blocked from behind by police officers and in front by the opening of the bridge, is a blank space in my childhood mind. The incident occurred on February 9, 1946, three months and seventeen days before I was born. At the age of 10 I would have the impression, even after my family moved to another house, that I had complete and total knowledge of the bridge, and that I saw from it more than others did. It would seem to me that I knew the buildings of the medical college, and its hospitals known as Kasr al-Aini, which occupied the northern end of the island and which I passed every day on my way to school from our home at Abbas Bridge and subsequently from our new house in Moustafa Reda Street. I didn’t know that in 1935 students of the college had hidden the body of their colleague, Abdel Hakam al-Jarrahi, in the university hospital so that they would be able to escort it in a public funeral procession. And when the Sudanese student Mohammed Ali Ahmad fell, the students of the college hid his body as well, and when the police had no luck in determining its whereabouts matters escalated into a battle between the students and the police, who tried to prevent them from staging a huge funeral for their martyred comrade. In my childhood the Kasr al-Aini building was a familiar presence. Later I would discover that a child knows things, and yet does not know them.

In Tahrir Square, Cairo

Friday, January 28th, 2011

As tens of thousands of protesters take to the streets in Egypt and authorities respond with violence and by attempting to excise Egypt from the digital world, I offer this excerpt from the Egyptian novelist Radwa Ashour’s most recent novel to be translated into English, Specters. As we’ve been hearing the recent reports of protests and their repression in Tahrir Square in downtown Cairo (among many other places), I thought of Ashour’s work, which gives a sense of the history of popular protest in the same square.

On the morning of January 24, 1972 I will go to Cairo University and find it surrounded by security forces, and I won’t be able to go in to where a student sit-in has been staged in the large university hall. I will learn that the students were arrested at dawn and led off to prison.

In the evening, Mourid and I will go down to Tahrir Square: the students will be milling around the stone monument in the middle of the square, while other groups conduct discussions with passersby about economic and political conditions in the country, and explain the reasons for the sit-in. We head for the Izavich Café. There we find a number of our fellow writers and we hear talk of a national committee of writers and artists being formed. We sign our names on a petition sponsored by the committee that pledges solidarity with the students and their demands and condemns the arrests that took place that morning. We copy the petition, as do others of our colleagues. We divide up into small groups, each of which takes a copy of the petition, to gather the signatures of writers and artists. We carry out our mission and return to the square. The security forces, from a distance, are watching the students who are sitting and standing around the commemorative statue, shouting and chanting. We move on to the journalists’ guild, where a number of writers, artists, and journalists are assembling. We count the signatures: between nine o’clock and midnight, our activity has yielded 105 signatures. What are we going to do with the petition? Opinion favors sending it to the president of the republic, the prime minister, and the head of the parliament. Three delegates are chosen, and I am one of them. We leave the guild hall on foot and head toward the telegraph office in Adli Street. The employee on duty asks us the sender’s name, and we say, “This list—we want all 105 names to show.” He says it’s not possible, so we say, “The three of us, then—our names.” He refuses. I show him my card and the employee records the pertinent information on it, then takes the text of the telegram and the signatures that accompany it.We go back to the guild hall, and I leave with Mourid. On our way home we watch the students and the security forces. Before dawn, the forces advance on the students and clash with them; they arrest many of them, and pursue those who flee into the surrounding streets. In the morning, new students come to reinforce those who fled the night before; they demonstrate, and there are new confrontations with the police detachments.

There is more to the story, concerning my part in it and concerning the incident itself, but for now I move away from Tahrir Square, mere footsteps away from which I lived nine years without knowing the story of ’46. The story of ’72, though—that one I witnessed, and participated in, too. The workers’ protests in ’75 took place in the square, as well as the violent demonstrations of ’77, and in the middle of all these events, also in ’75, the funeral of Umm Kulthoum. A few meters from the heart of the square is the Mosque of Omar Makram. From the mosque, I will walk with the mourners time after time to say goodbye to friends and colleagues, and most likely my friends and colleagues will see me off from this very same place. The mourners will bid farewell to Umm Kulthoum from the Mosque of OmarMakram; I will hear about it and see it on the television screen while I am in the United States working on my doctorate. And from this mosque I will say goodbye to my lifelong friend, Latifa al-Zayyat. I take part in the ritual ablutions in the oppressive crypt of the Misr International Hospital. I go out with the body, and then we part company: she borne away in her coffin in the hearse, I in a car whose color I no longer remember.

Tomorrow:  the story of ’46.

Thanks to the blog, the POMED Wire, of the Project for Middle East Democracy for the image of protesters in Tahrir Square this week.

Best Translated Book Award: fiction longlist

Thursday, January 27th, 2011

Over at the excellent blog Three Percent, the first announcement about this year’s Best Translated Book award includes our own Touch, by Adania Shibli and translated by Paula Haydar. Congratulations to them both, and to those responsible for the rest of the amazing round-up of books.

Come find us in DC

Wednesday, January 26th, 2011

Clockroot is ramping up for the AWP conference next week at the Marriott Wardman Park — Omni Shoreham Hotels in DC. Come find us at the bookfair at table H5 with panels, translators, and books! And please join us for these Clockroot-strong events:

Clockroot’s own Pam Thompson will be moderating the panel “The Experimental and the International” on Friday, February 4 at 10:30 in the Nathan Hale room of the Marriott.  This panel will feature Karen Emmerich, Scott Esposito, Steve Dolph, Anna Moschovakis, and Jill Schoolman, and will consider  why literature in translation is often described as experimental, touching on such questions as: What issues arise as foreign literary traditions enter the U.S. milieu? What can happen when highly language-focused (thus experimental?) work moves between languages?

Afterwards, back at our booth, Karen Emmerich will be signing books from 1:30–2pm.

Later that evening, Kenyon Review Online, Monsters of Poetry and Rescue Press sponsor readings by Clockroot’s Becka Mara McKay, along with Julia Story, Christie Ann Reynolds, Zach Savich, Shane McCrae, Jess Lacher, Hannah Sanghee Park, Daniel Khalastchi, Kevin Gonzalez, and Adam Fell. 7:30 at the Asylum Bar, 2471 18th Street.

On Saturday at 1:30, back at our booth, Becka will be signing books.

We look forward to seeing you there!