All Articles by Date

November, 2014

Brave New World of European literature, or Eurovision Story Contest?

On the eve of my departure to attend the EU Prize for Literature in Brussels as part of a group invited by the European Commission Representative in the UK, literary critic Nick Lezard Facebooks: "I have been sent a list of my fellow-attendees, and all I can think of is: this is the list of dramatis personae at the beginning of an Agatha Christie novel. At least one of us is going to get bumped off, maybe on the Eurostar, and one of us is going to be the murderer. I do hope I'm neither of them."…...

Stories from the Country of the Dead

Last year, I was invited to write a story for a Latin American crime fiction anthology.  The idea was to use elements borrowed from murder mysteries and noir to reflect on the reality in our countries.  I liked the sound of the project, accepted the invitation, and then spent the following months preoccupied by a problem I face every time I want to write about Mexican reality: how can you write about a reality that has gone so horrifically far beyond the limits of fiction? Inspired by an…...

Where Is My Home?

When I was looking for my aunt’s grave a couple of years back in the New Jewish Cemetery in Prague, I came across a section of maybe eight or nine recent burial mounds. I felt a sudden burst of gladness because, for all its oddness as a reaction, these recent deaths meant that there was still an active Jewish community. I’d visited the graveyard a few times; it’s where Kafka’s buried. What had struck me each time before was that the years of death on the tombstones all ended…...

The Week in Translation

SUBMIT what: Beltway Poetry Quarterly's Translation Issue submission deadline: November 30 more info: http://ow.ly/E4VYI what: Call for Papers: Translating the Literatures of Small European Nations (International Conference, University of Bristol, September 8th-10th, 2015) submission deadline: December 5, 2014 more info: http://ow.ly/ELlFs what: PEN/Heim Translation Fund Grants ($2,000-$4,000), open to applicants from any nationality or citizenship who are translating…...

Dispatch from ALTA: Politics and Translation: No Easy Answers

What are the links between literary translation and politics? Do literary translators have obligations in the political sphere? If you wanted more questions than answers, then this weekend’s annual conference of the American Literary Translators Association (ALTA) in Milwaukee, Wisconsin was the place for you. The conference offered, as the program booklet put it, an important start to conversations about "the many, often unnoticed ways that literary translation and politics broadly conceived…...

The Week in Translation

GO what: Jenny Erpenbeck in Conversation with Susan Bernofsky about Erpenbeck's new novel, The End of Days when: Monday. November 17, 7pm where: McNally Jackson Books more info: http://ow.ly/Ep8fV what: Ari Larissa Heinrich, the translator of Last Words from Montmartre by Qiu Miaojin, discuss the book, Qiu’s life and work, and the process of translating it from Chinese. when: Thursday, November 20, 7pm where: Bluestockings, 172 Allen Street, New York, NY 10002 more info: http://ow.ly/Ep79Y…...

Sérgio Rodrigues’s “Elza: The Girl” and Paulo Scott’s “Nowhere People”

Where are all the young Brazilian writers? Latin American literature appears to be bursting at the seams once again—as it did during the famed Boom era of the 1960s and ’70s—with a new generation of talented writers such as Colombian Juan Gabriel Vásquez, Chilean Alejandro Zambra, Mexican Valeria Luiselli, and Argentine Andrés Neuman, to name just a few. But from Brazil, that giant swath of South America, works in English translation are few and far between. Is it…...

The City and the Writer: In A Coruña with Marta López Luaces

If each city is like a game of chess, the day when I have learned the rules, I shall finally possess my empire, even if I shall never succeed in knowing all the cities it contains. —Italo Calvino, Invisible Cities Can you describe the mood of A Coruña as you feel/see it? It is a melancholic city but not sad. A Coruña is very tranquil, although its slow pace hides a vibrant mood underneath. It has about 250,000 inhabitants, so it is not small yet it is not a big city either. A…...

Ayotzinapa

On October 26, 2014, a national assembly of Morena (Movement for National Regeneration) was held at the Zócalo in Mexico City, marking one month of the disappearance of the forty-three students of the rural teachers’ college of Ayotzinapa. Amid the crowds chanting “Vivos se los llevaron, vivos los queremos” (“they were taken alive, we want them back alive”), award-winning writer and journalist Elena Poniatowska took the podium to denounce the lack of democracy…...

The Week in Translation

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Where the Sidewalk Bends: Translation History in the Capital of the Future

The Third Annual Seminar on the History of Translation, organized by University of Brasília professor Germana Pereira, took place from October 6-8 on the UnB campus, inside a moat-rimmed, mushroom-shaped silver building. The speakers included graduate students and professors from Brazil, the US, Canada, Germany, Belgium, Colombia, and England, translating into or out of Portuguese, English, Spanish, French, Japanese, and German. Flyers on campus warned of scorpion sightings. At times, the…...

The Week in Translation

APPLY what: Banff International Literary Translation Centre when: June 8, 2015 - June 27, 2015 where: Banff. Canada application deadline: February 18, 2015 more info: http://ow.ly/Dohfw

Not Necessarily About Politics: Contemporary Czech Prose

The Czechs are cultural overachievers. In film, photography, theater, architecture, music, art, they punch above their weight, with an impact far beyond what you’d expect from a nation of ten million people. The same goes for literature. Authors writing in Czech have always had plenty to say, and plenty of ways to say it, but the best-known writers in English translation have historically been those whose work is viewed as political, or at least as having an underpinning of politics. This phenomenon…...

This Time Last Year

Several times that night I forgot her name and she had to repeat it to me. It wasn’t that I didn’t care. The reason her name kept slipping my mind was because I had to pay such close attention to what she was saying in order not to get tripped up by her string of rapid questions. She was excited, but not over-the-top. She didn’t linger on any one subject but just kept moving forward nonstop, hopscotching from one important topic to the next. The pub we were in was dark and smoky…...

from “Down, Beast!”

In 1952 Communist Czechoslovakia, a precocious thirteen-year-old from Brno is abducted by unknown assailants and brought to a secret location for what he believes is a special military training program for gifted youth. Instead his mission turns out to be tied to much darker ends, beginning with Stalinist show trials and ending with the day we now know as 9/11. It was essentially something like a cloister. Except the building wasn’t square or rectangular, but perfectly round. In the center…...

from “Disappear”

In this section, from the first of three interconnected novellas in Disappear, we listen in as the seven-year-old Jakub (nicknamed “Kuba” or “Kubík”) describes life just before and after the accident that leads to his family’s slow disintegration. Leg I didn’t grow more than three centimeters over the next year. My mom started crying one time when they measured me at the doctor’s. I tried not to see. It made me feel sorry. I’m just real little…...

from “Guardians of the Public Good”

The narrator of Guardians of the Public Good (2010), Petra Hůlová’s sixth novel, is a young girl who finds herself at odds with the rest of Czech society after the collapse of the East bloc in 1989, seeing it as a betrayal of the values of communism, which she wholeheartedly believes in. In this excerpt from the beginning of the novel, before the so-called Velvet Revolution, she describes how her family was chosen to live in a model worker’s town, named after the Polish city…...

Bow and Arrow

“Is there anything you want to say about it?” Petr breaks the ice. His sentence fogs the windshield a little. But has no other effect. The patch of condensation quickly shrinks until it’s gone. Gone, along with the meaning and purpose of his words. Silence. The soft, constant, sound of the engine, the hollow movement of the gears, the sigh of a passing car. Next to him, in his peripheral vision, his son. Leaning against the window, head flung back, twisted; lips pale, shut tight;…...

from “Kobold”

Radka Denemarková‘s Kobold is made up of two loosely connected stories, run head to tail. This extract, which opens the longer story, “Excesses of Tenderness,” describes the first encounter between the novel’s two central characters: Michael Kobold, a charismatic but violent creature, half-man and half-water goblin, and his future wife, Hella, a gifted young girl from a middle-class Jewish family in 1930s Prague. It is narrated by their daughter, who has just returned…...

from “Germans”

In the midst of World War II, Klara, from Germany, takes a job teaching schoolchildren in a small, mostly German-speaking town in Czechoslovakia; her duties include policing the children’s use of Czech. Language In March Klara overheard some children speaking Czech. It startled her. She was just going out for a walk when she suddenly overheard Czech; unsure what to do, she stepped back into the corridor and waited until the children had gone. A week later, she decided to visit their parents.…...

Walt Whitman and Me: Notes on a Poetic Education

To the poets of the Lebanese Journal Shi‘r   I know I’m about to write myself into another maze and I’m going to get lost in it. In my infancy there was my father, there was my mother, there was also the shaykh of the nearby mosque, there was the shaykh of the Qur’ân school.  In my childhood there was my father, there was my mother, and there was our president, Gamal Abdel Nasser.  In my adolescence there were the Egyptian romantic poets, there…...

Joseph Roth’s “The Hundred Days”

“The sun emerged from the clouds, bloody-red, tiny, and irritable, but was quickly swallowed up again into the cold gray of the morning. A sullen day was breaking. It was March 20, a mere day before the start of spring. One could see no sign of this. It rained and stormed across the whole land, and the people shivered.” So begins Joseph Roth’s The Hundred Days, an achingly beautiful fictional account of the rise and fall of the Emperor Napoleon. Detailing the roughly one-hundred-day…...

Otfried Preussler’s “Krabat and the Sorcerer’s Mill”

Like many of the classic children’s books being reissued by New York Review Books, Krabat & the Sorcerer’s Mill by Otfried Preussler has the potential to appeal to readers of various ages: nostalgia-seekers who enjoyed Anthea Bell’s excellent translation when it was first published in the 1970s, and young aficionados of fantasy fiction who’ll be happy to discover, in teenage hero Krabat, a worthy progenitor to J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and Christopher Paolini’s…...

Building a New World

I don’t know if people remember how they learned to read and write—or swim, or do cartwheels. I know that one day I wasn’t able to do these things, and the next day I was, even though the difficult gray area in between perhaps extended for months, years even. And the day I did suddenly know how to read and write was so different from all the rest behind me, that it seems perhaps more reasonable now to believe that I never was that other person—that I never existed in a world…...

“The Fair-haired Princess” and Serious Literature

Father’s bookshelves were lined mostly with Marxist-Leninist books. I remember the titles on some of the spines. I can’t remember some others, because the words were too abstract. I loitered in front of Father’s bookcase every day. One day, out of the blue, Father brought home from the library several books of foreign fairy tales (by then, he had been sent to work under surveillance in the library—this was called “reeducation through labor”). Father borrowed these…...

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