Weekend Reading

By The Editors

"Witness to war: Evelio Rosero on fiction that fights for the truth" on Rosero's win of the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize for The Armies, translated from the Spanish by Anne McLean:

As many as 100,000 people - mostly civilians - have been killed or "disappeared" in the past 20 years in a conflict involving the army, narco-traffickers, guerrillas and paramilitaries, according to an Amnesty International report last October. The strong-arm "democratic security" policy of Colombia's President Alvaro Uribe, in power since 2002, has improved safety in cities. The streets outside the hotel where we met are safer, and kidnap rates are down. Yet in swathes of the countryside, war goes on. Colombia has the world's worst landmines toll.

The novel's rural setting of San José, surrounded by coca fields and landmines, is not a real place, Rosero says, but a composite that "can stand for any village in Colombia. I took everyday life, idyllic as it seemed, and sabotaged it as violence came in."

As the retired teacher Ismael searches for his missing wife, and the town empties as people flee gun battles and kidnappings, the novel descends from gentle comedy into brutal violence – with random blasts and shootings, girls abducted by guerrillas, a man decapitated as a collaborator. One soldier is "almost a uniformed child". An unexploded grenade nestles like a "grey flower" in the grass.

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From the Words Without Borders magazine, Michael Emmerich on translation in "Beyond Between: Translation, Ghosts, Metaphors:"

In order for "translation" to have any meaning at all, it must be translatable into other languages; but the moment it is translated, it is swept up in a system of differentiations different from the one in which it is enmeshed in English—indeed, it doesn't even have to be translated, because the word itself implies its own connectedness to these other systems of differentiation. Translation must be viewed as a node within which all the ideas of translation in all the languages there ever have been or could ever be might potentially congregate, intersect, mingle.

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This isn't new, but I ran across "Bernardo Atxaga's Literary Universe" at his Website after seeing him on a PEN World Voices Festival panel and reading his "A Surprising Tale in the Form of an Alphabet" in our April issue:

Obaba is an indeterminate place, a virtual infinity into which Atxaga has channeled a mix of memories and fantastic stories3 that have succeeded in persuading readers in all languages. It is much more than a mere transposition of the village of Asteasu in which the author grew up, because as we enter that emotional landscape, the universality of human feelings becomes more and more evident. As with Faulkner's Yoknapatawta or Juan Rulfo's Comala, the descriptions of Obaba suggest an "experienced" geography. As we shall see later, when we read Obabakoak in depth, these descriptions not only refer to places in the author's childhood, but also serve as a narrative excuse to invoke an older world in which magic, rather than logic, reigns. The opposition between nature and culture determines the outcome of events in Obaba, and this imaginary geography corresponds with a pre-modern world in which words like "depression" or "schizophrenia" do not exist, and animals can explain the unexplainable. For this reason, in the land of Obaba, it is possible to accept a child's metamorphoses into a wild boar, or to believe that a lizard can make you crazy by squiggling into your ear.

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And one more just posted piece from Words Without Borders, Russell Scott Valentino's "Translation and Proficiency Language Teaching:"

Attributing people's discomfort about translation (that look on their faces) to their relative ignorance of foreign languages—an interpretive move many of my foreign-language colleagues tend to make—is, I believe, a mistake. People who have studied foreign languages can be ethnocentric and intolerant readers of translations, too. Indeed, a little bit of foreign-language study can fuel some of the worst forms of translational blindness, as when, for instance, editors or authors insist on being the sole evaluators of a translation's quality when, in fact, they should be sharing that responsibility with—or leaving it altogether to—translators. Nor is it necessarily true that a mostly monolingual culture is guaranteed to be resistant to translation: the case of Japan, where translations are highly prized and widely read from childhood on, makes this clear.

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Thanks and have a great weekend!


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