Posts Tagged ‘Pakistan’

Women & publishing, women & translation, publishing women in translation

Sunday, February 6th, 2011

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.


At Granta: Uzma Aslam Khan on literature in Urdu

Tuesday, October 19th, 2010

To further mark the publication of Granta‘s new issue on Pakistan, Ollie Brock interviews Uzma Aslam Khan and Aamer Hussein on Urdu literature (and, as Uzma adds, on literature in the many other languages of Pakistan). Here’s a little bit from Uzma, on one of her favorite Urdu writers:

[Saadat Hasan Manto‘s] short story “Toba Tek Singh” was my closest glimpse of the scars of Partition that my father never shared with us. His family came to Lahore in 1947 from a tiny village near Amritsar; his grandparents were beheaded before his mother’s eyes. I think he let his children see his past through reading “Toba Tek Singh,” a satirical account of the inmates of a mental asylum who have nowhere to go at Partition, but are forever left in limbo, between Pakistan and India.

The story made me deeply suspicious of easy categorization, particularly along ethnic and religious lines. It also made me understand that I come from a country that wasn’t shaped by those who migrated to it, like my parents, nor by the many indigenous tribes who’d lived there long before any one presumed to scratch lines across their land. Mine is the first generation of writers to be born in Pakistan, so, like my parents, I also carry the weight of beginning. The need to look in Pakistan’s looking-glass and know the slippery ghosts of my history has been imperative for me as a writer. I don’t think I’ve ever stopped hungering to know my place in these chaotic layers. It’s the hunger to make up for what was never said. It’s the terror of being left as voiceless as the inmates of the asylum.

Read in full here

Uzma Aslam Khan on the Pakistan floods

Tuesday, August 17th, 2010

The death toll has officially crossed 1,600. The unofficial number is 3,000. Over 12 million people’s lives have been affected. Around 80% of the country’s food reserves are gone. The scale of this calamity is mind-boggling; the UN is predicting that the aftermath will be even worse than the 2004 tsunami in the Indian Ocean, 2005 earthquake in northern Pakistan, and 2010 earthquake in Haiti combined.

What has hit Pakistan in this millennium? Or even in just this year alone? From the attacks on Ahmadis in Lahore to the plane crash in Islamabad to the floods in the north, to the riots in Karachi, the last three, in the space of just a few days last week? From the Taliban to the US drones. And now the floods are moving south, into Sindh. Terrifyingly, meteorologists are predicting that the rains will continue in the next 24-36 hours. So many crops have already been destroyed the price of tomatoes alone has tripled in two days. Are we looking at a nation-wide famine? In the past, Pakistanis could at least be proud of not needing food aid. Is even that dignity soon to be lost?

The particular case of Swat Valley is heartbreaking. Sawatis had to suffer the Taliban and then the Pakistan Army, and now most of the valley is completely cut off, so relief efforts are at a near standstill. Here’s a painful YouTube video on Mangora, Swat Valley.

And I just came across some more devastating photos.

What to do? If you are in a position to help, please donate to one of several relief agencies that are dependable and doing their best to access areas that the government alone does not seem able to help. (Don’t get me started on President Zardari’s grotesque visit to Europe this week, while his countrymen and countrywomen drown.)

Here are some suggestions for how to donate.

This link has a video and a way to donate through the Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC).

Another excellent way is through the Edhi Foundation, which has centers in the US, UK, Canada, Australia, Japan, Pakistan, and Bangladesh.

If you would rather go through other agencies (Red Cross, Oxfam, UNICEF etc.), here’s a complete list.

—Uzma Aslam Khan, in a re-post from her blog.

In Fragments: The Geometry of God with Uzma Aslam Khan

Friday, September 25th, 2009

uzmaweb1You’re probably really excited about the Clockroot release of The Geometry of God. You are probably sitting at your computer, checking this blog, waiting for the right moment to inquire about when the book will arrive safely, soundly to your waiting arms.  After all, books are important friends. They are valuable guests at your party.  You want to know if this book is right for you, if it will comfort you or prop your door or make you cry or act as a miniature end-table for your hot tea.   You want to know if Uzma Aslam Khan is going to be your new favorite author, or at least the new favorite author of the week. And in times of recession– in what the stern people on television call “this economic crisis”– you want to make sure you put your money where your heart is.

I was lucky. I got to read the book before you did, dear Clockroot blog readership, and I am pleased with the results.  For days afterwards I thought of the questions I’d ask Uzma.  I wanted the questions to be unbearably smart.  When approaching a book that has three smart narrators, three distinct voices constructing one smart story, it’s hard to ask a smart question.  Still, this must be a sign of a book worth its salt; the questions linger even after the answers become apparent.

Given the current political climate in Pakistan, do you see The Geometry of God playing a role in providing access to outsiders?  Meaning, do you see your novel as taking part in a larger political discussion?

In some ways, perhaps. The retrospect I mentioned above is also our own real, political present. The book is set during the 1980s Afghan War and its long, painful and comical fallout through the 1990s. We’re still living in the fallout, as well as that of an additional war. So it’s as if we’re looking at that debris from this debris, and finding patterns that keep repeating themselves. I wonder if non-Pakistanis will see these patterns, find reason to say, “Oh! I recognize it!” and find as much reason to say, “Oh! That isn’t what I expected at all!” I hope the book will elicit both kinds of responses, even concomitantly.

In writing this novel, what necessitated having three narrators? Was this more of an aesthetic choice or a practical choice?

When I started The Geometry of God, I set three mock challenges for myself: the first was to have only one central character, the second was to keep it short, and the third was to keep the structure linear, so there was a clear beginning, middle and an end. I failed on all three counts.

The main characters, Amal, Mehwish and Noman, each have their own distinct voice and their own distinct point of view – but why three? Well, what they taught me is that while many writers, when they sit down to write, ask the question “what happens?” for me, the question that drives the narrative is less “what happens?” and more “who’s looking at what happens, who isn’t, and what are the differences in their ways of seeing?”

I was propelled in part by the mystery of how individual perspective shapes collective perspective, how the same events seen from different eyes are interpreted differently, sometimes even, over time, by the same pair of eyes, because memory has a way of reshaping events. So, there is no one central character in the book. In fact, none of my books has ever had a central character. My books have no leaders. They only have influences.

Could you talk a little about the choice you made to disrupt the chronological narrative towards the latter part of the book?

Ah, so now we come to my third failure. Jokes aside, I really did want to tell a linear tale. I don’t know why, maybe because my last book, Trespassing, was so circular too, and as a reader I find it so neat and pleasing to go from point A to point B to point C. As a writer, I would like to give the same pleasing sensation to my readers, and yet I seem to lead them all over the place. I’ve come to realize that for me to set a book in Pakistan and tell it in straight lines would feel very false.

I come from a country in fragments.As in real life so in fiction: the challenge is to make the fragments work together as a whole. The challenge intensifies as the narrative progresses because it’s always at the apex of upheaval that everything visibly crumbles, and then we don’t have time to pick up the pieces and re-examine them, re-fit them, as it were.

The geometry only makes sense in retrospect. It’s the retrospect that becomes the new geometry.