Seamlessly balancing juxtapositions is Shibli’s great gift. We Are All Equally Far From Love is hypnotically visceral in its accrual of mundane details—the color of the sky, the fluttering of flags in the breeze, the endless routines of cooking, eating, breathing, sleeping, sweating—and grippingly cerebral in its meditations on despair, the emotional dimensions of which are shifted, echoed and mirrored through each section. In the hands of a lesser writer, the discontinuous structure, where we spend only a short time immersed in an individual’s internal world before another voice takes over, might lead to a disjointed, unengaging reading experience. But the discipline of Shibli’s aesthetic vision and her tight thematic focus produces, against the odds, a work of stunning coherence that feels cinematic, as though colored by Jim Jarmusch or Wong Kar-wai.
Posts Tagged ‘Words Without Borders’
I was hired in 2009 to teach translation in Florida Atlantic University’s MFA program—something that had never been offered in the MFA curriculum. To encourage as many students as possible to register for the translation workshop, I decided that I would not require that they know a second language. Working from the premise that proficiency and flexibility in English were the most important requirements for students in this particular workshop—and that together we would find resources to assist their understanding the various source languages—the translation workshop has, over the last three years, produced some remarkable projects. These include:
- A translation/stage adaptation of The Tale of Genji set in a postapocalyptic Japan
- A hybrid form that I am still searching for a way to name that consists of a translation of a Strindberg short story woven together with a lyric essay about the translator’s process
- Translations of Hawaiian petroglyphs
- A plan for a scratch-and-sniff, pop-up book translation of the Song of Songs
- A graphic version of Don Quixote
- An adaptation of a feminist Senegalese novel as a series of blog entries written by an African-American woman from Alabama
“Originally published in 1985 after her harrowing fictional debut Kassandra and the Wolf, Karapanou’s second novel The Sleepwalker confirmed her reputation as one of Greece’s most talented postmodern writers and one of her most imaginative chroniclers of human alienation. Part dystopia part satire, this surreal tale of lost souls, and a dethroned deity, is not so much a murder mystery as it is a murderer’s mystery: the reader knows who is killing the islanders, but is left to wonder about the killer’s motives and real identity.”
And just up at the Quarterly Conversation: an online roundtable discussing Karapanou and her work. Writers, translators, and scholars Nick Germanacos, Karen Emmerich, Amanda Michalopoulou, Karen Van Dyck, and Angela Dimitrakaki talk about Karapanou’s ouevre in Greek and in English translation, her critical reception and place in Greek literature, her biography, and more, in a fascinating, wide-ranging, profoundly thought-provoking conversation. Some excerpts:
Amanda Michalopoulou: There are writers who make you want to go back into writing. Karapanou makes you want to go back into living your life. She also belongs to this rare community of writers who work beyond influence; they are on their own. When I was in my twenties I tried to imitate my favorite writers, but with Karapanou it never worked. Her voice was so unique and what I wished for was just to listen to her voice. Her atmosphere influenced some of my stories but at that young age I always felt that I failed to create an atmosphere as extraordinary and magical as hers. As she doesn’t belong to a group of writers, her influence within Greek literature is difficult to be measured. I am afraid Greek literature looks always for ethnic characteristics, for more “Greekness” and Karapanou goes beyond Greekness. She is not at all interested in that stuff. Her Hydra is primarily a psychological landscape.*Karen Van Dyck: I first understood the depth of Karapanou’s knowledge of English when I spent a week in Hydra with both her and her mother going over my translation of her mother’s novel The Straw Hats (which eventually came out under the English title Three Summers in 1995). Karapanou by this point was suffering much more obviously from the manic depression that had plagued her all her life. The drugs she was taking made her bloated and listless. I remember she would lie on the couch reading murder mysteries in the breezy open room overlooking the port while Liberaki and I argued over the meaning of words. But what repeatedly saved my translation were not so much these discussions, but the trenchant one-liners that Karapanou would interject every once and awhile with just the right American translation for the word we were hunting for. I emphasize American because if Karapanou wrote in English she would be an American writer not an English writer. Her short staccato sentences and the visual fireworks they set off are post Hemingway, pre Kurt Cobain.
Read in full here—
Up at the Mantle (thanks to Three Percent for the link), notes on the “Reading the World” international literature panel at the Brooklyn Book Festival this past weekend, which included Karen Emmerich (representing Archipelago), as well as folks from Ugly Duckling, Zephyr, and New Directions. Looks just fantastic—I’ll include the bit on Karen here as a lead-in, with a note to say I’m lucky enough to have read the Vakalo translation she mentions, and indeed it’s wonderful:
Great stuff all around, an excellently curated panel. Every single one of the works presented is worth purchasing (skip the library and give these people some money!). … Karen Emmerich (representing Team Archipelago) read the poetry and prose from the Greek writer Miltos Sachtouris, skipping us across Aegean waters from Greek isles to ancient Greece. And then… Ms. Emmerich read an outstanding piece of poetry on the life of plant, by the poet/author Helenē Vakalo. The Mantle audience pleads for an answer—what is this poem and where can we find it? This vegetative poetic genius!?!?
[Keep reading here—]
Karen also read at Words Without Borders’ “Down and Dirty Round the World” event on Saturday, an evening of “of hard-boiled, pulpy, and erotic international literature” read by a great lineup of translators. Karen reports she read from our soon-to-be-released The Sleepwalker—which has been one of those books that as you finish sending it to press you think, how did we get so lucky, that this strange and singular creature just came when we called? Come to think of it, I think The Sleepwalker encompasses, all of the above—the hard-boiled, the pulpy, the erotic—in one formidable, terrifying, beautiful hybrid.
All of which is to say—what a feast of a weekend! Even if we weren’t there, how nice to catch something of the energy of it all even up here in this corner of Massachusetts…
In another moment in which I’m left to panic about finding time to read all the riches on offer: This month’s issue of Words Without Borders features Urdu fiction from India, edited by Muhammad Umar Memon. Memon is the translator of Naiyer Masud’s Snake Catcher, and includes in the issue a newly translated story by Masud—which Memon introduces thus:
Naiyer Masud, the finest Urdu writer in India and Pakistan today, says it all without saying it, using miraculously suggestive language, shorn of the slightest trace of embellishment or rhetoric, so stark, so cropped, and yet so powerful.
Snake Catcher has been for Interlink/Clockroot one of the books that breaks a publisher’s heart—captivating, distinctive, singular, yet, it seems, barely noticed in the culture. For instance—pardon this bit of publicity—this is what World Literature Today said of it:
Masud’s highly evocative, sensuous stories, often told as remembrances of a long-ago childhood, are unique in contemporary Urdu short story writing. Exhibiting an open-ended quality and a seeming lack of the resolution found in more conventional fiction, they occupy a singular niche in the rapidly evolving, diverse artistic landscape of modern Urdu letters, which has experienced the development of surrealism, Marxism, experimentalism, postmodernism, and postcolonialism in its annals.
But I shouldn’t be pessimistic: it’s never too late. Read Masud’s “Destitutes Compound” here, and then of course the whole issue. Enormous thanks as always to the invaluable Words Without Borders.
The latest issue of Words Without Borders reviews Blue Has No South:
One nameless character—one of many in these miniature stories—marvels midway through Alex Epstein’s recent collection, Blue Has No South, over “how suddenly” a “narrow space revealed its high ceiling.” His wonderment is telling. Epstein’s collection is something of a spatial triumph—microscopic stories (some are only single sentences long) with manifold compartments and a capaciousness belied by their slight appearance.
Read in full—