All Articles by Date

October, 2014

Some Other Zoo

It was as though she knew exactly where she had to go, as though it was an agreed appointment. She raised her arm to take my hand, pulled gently—she did almost everything gently—and I followed her. She led me to her mother’s car (her mother was not around), and I helped her up into the child seat. “So, off to the zoo.” “Yes,” she said. “Eagle! Lion!” The zoo seemed to be empty. Alone, in the middle of the main path, a roadsweeper was pushing a…...

Amir

This one’s family, Amir would say with a hand on my shoulder, his fingers large and heavy but kind. The other person would look at me, then look at him, then smile slightly before putting out his hand and saying it was a real pleasure to meet any relative of Amir’s. Later, when they knew each other better, Amir would explain to the person that he was actually my stepfather, that’s why we didn’t look alike. But that’s how Amir was, not overly careful when it came to speaking—not…...

Paranoid City

“Did you hear that noise?” the woman whispered, leaning on one elbow in bed, and opening her eyes wide. “What noise?” her husband asked sleepily. “It sounds like it’s coming from the yard. There’s someone on the roof, or in the kitchen,” she said fearfully. “Get up. Go check on the kids, while I get my pistol,” he ordered in a hushed voice and woke up entirely. While the woman quickly tiptoed to the children’s room the man got the…...

“The Mastermind”: An Act of Translation

The Rodrigo Rosenberg case broke into public view over five years ago with an eighteen-minute video recording that was distributed to the Guatemalan press at Rosenberg's funeral two days after his April 10, 2009 death. The video--in which Rosenberg predicted his own murder—was uploaded immediately to YouTube where it went viral, receiving hundreds of thousands of hits from all over the globe in a matter of hours. The recording revealed a nervous Rosenberg lambasting a corrupt and immoral…...

from “With Absolute Passion”

Days drift away slowly and quietly deep inside Guatemala. No inner musings. No pondering or ideas. Just a numbing silence, which reminds me of Buddhists and their thoughts about beginners’ minds that are forever capable of wonder. There’s something here that eludes my grasp . . . But in the snapshot instant when the plunging frigidity of Lake Atitlán pitches me into the arms of another reality, I suddenly understand. Perhaps the Mayas really do suspend this land from a tenuous…...

The Ape

I used to think it an exaggeration that Latin American dictators were always depicted as apes in cartoons. Until one day . . . On the railway track, hundreds of soldiers appeared in their camouflage gear, several armored cars blocked the crossroads, and up in the sky hovered two of those birds. It was Sunday. A football match was being played out in the field, there were drunks in the cantinas, and a sweet marimba was playing at a party. All of a sudden, everything felt like a Monday. Those who could…...

Raspberries

Papá gave me this notebook. It’s so you can draw life, he told me from bed, and write, when you learn how to write, he said, his eyes sunken deep, as I played on the rug. He gave me the notebook because I told him about the bird that crossed the street at the crosswalk and about the red spider with little antennas. Spiders don’t have antennas, he said, smiling, and I said this one did, it was probably a different insect, he said, and I replied that it was not, that it was a spider,…...

Young Aurora and the Captive Child

Every time I go back to Guatemala City I make a stop at Avenida Bolívar, the capital's main thoroughfare, with all the reverence of a mourner at a cemetery. The ravenous traffic, and the blue, green, and red houses, whose doors swing open and shut as the busy, hot-blooded people come and go, are all nothing but shadows; other figures, more substantial, more alive, emerge within me. I feel the urge to cry out, but go along quietly, and if on occasion I have wept then it's been…...

The Liberated Voice: Three Writers from Syria

Clearly the most important duty for the outsider looking to read new Syrian literature at the moment is not to expect a consistent voice or search for a monolithic take on the current period of Syrian history—or on anything else, for that matter. As a translator of Arabic literature and a sometime resident of Damascus with many Syrian friends, perhaps the most depressing question one gets asked is “What do Syrians / Syrian women / Arabs / young Arabs / ordinary Arabs think about X?”…...

David Albahari’s “Globetrotter”

“I have always wrestled with what is missing, and my paintings depict absence rather than scenes of presence,” says Globetrotter’s nameless narrator early in the novel. This is both a statement of the book’s primary thematic concern and something of a warning: David Albahari’s Globetrotter is the sort of book where the reader constantly worries that she is missing something very important. This makes concretely describing the book’s contents a bit of a challenge.…...

A Bedtime Story for Eid

Translator’s note: Zaher Omareen’s tale takes us on a journey back to 1980s Hama, zooming in on some of the individual victims of the massacres and disappearances committed by the regime there, as told by a mother to her son. Between 10,000 and 40,000 people perished at the hands of Hafez al-Assad’s forces in a 27-day massacre in 1982: such was the climate of fear that it has only ever been referred to—if at all—as The Events. As this story is told in the imagined voice…...

I Am a Refugee

My apologies, Sir, That I come to you As a refugee. Accept me as a human being and not As a slave. Do not look down on me; Do not look me up and down. I am a poet; My testimonies plaster the walls, And people far and wide recite my poems. Will you accept me among you As a refugee? They destroyed my poems, along with the walls they hung upon; When they torched the verses, I burned with them. They broke my mind; They robbed my thoughts; They stripped our insides. Will you accept me among you As a refugee?…...

The Art of Expressing One’s Agony: An Interview with M. Raouf Bachir

Mohamed Raouf Bachir was a successful and celebrated writer of short stories in Syria in the sixties and seventies, becoming a member of the state-sponsored Arab Writers Union, on the Story and Novel Committee in 1974, and later honored as the “Sheikh of Aleppo’s Authors.” Now in his eighties, he has gone into exile in Turkey, having lost his home in Aleppo along with its contents, including his entire literary archive, and endured a traumatic exit from his homeland, like so many…...

Falling Down Politely, or How to Use Up All Six Bullets Instead of Playing Russian Roulette

But where’s the skill in loading a gun with just one round of ammunition and pointing it at your head, trying your luck at deliverance? The ingenious thing would be to fill all six chambers and let every bullet kill you, one after the other. Bullet 1 Even though the voice ringing out from the stereo in your bedroom belongs to a singer who didn’t die at twenty-seven like those other musical geniuses—Kurt Cobain, Jimi Hendrix, that bunch—you still listen to him every morning.…...

Ernst Meister’s “Wallless Space”

"In contrast to the poets, the philosophers look incredibly elegant. In fact, they are naked, piteously naked when one considers the meager imagery with which they have to make do most of the time." —Durs Grünbein, Das erste Jahr, 2001 *** What happens when a “piteously naked” philosopher-turned-poet decides to pursue philosophy in the form of verse? This is the task of Ernst Meister in Wallless Space, a jarring book of poems in which Meister explores death, decay, and existence…...

September, 2014

Sculpting in Uzbek

Translators sometimes try to refrain from passing judgment, but I feel compelled to say that Uzbek is a strange and mysterious language. It is built on a solid Turkic framework fleshed out with some Persian and Arabic vocabulary, then gilded over with Soviet-flavored Russian. It’s the language of a country that only became a country by accident, and only recently, with the breakup of the Soviet Union. The language went through three alphabets in the space of the twentieth century. Rumor has…...

The Week in Translation

GO what:TRANSLATABLE: A Multilingual Open Mic In Honor of International Translation Day when: Tuesday, September 30, 6:30pm where: Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library 901 G St NW / Washington, DC 20001 (Gallery Place-Chinatown Metro Station) more info: http://ow.ly/BvRTK what: Bread Loaf Translators’ Conference when: June 1-7, 2015 where: Bread Loaf Campus of Middlebury College, Ripton, VT more info: http://ow.ly/ArhUv SUBMIT what: Call for papers for a special translation section…...

New in Spanish: Miquel de Palol’s “The Garden of the Seven Twilights”

Miquel de Palol (Barcelona, 1953) is one of the signal voices of contemporary Catalan letters. An architect by trade, he began to publish poetry at nineteen, and averaged a book of verse per year before bringing out El jardí dels set crepuscles (The Garden of the Seven Twilights), the novel many consider to be his masterpiece, in 1989. The author claims he considers this first work of narrative fiction a continuation of themes pursued in his earlier poetry. Remarkably prolific, Palol…...

The 2014 Nobel Prize in Literature: Our Office Pool

Between the World Cup and the World Series comes high season for world literature: time to place your bets on this year's candidates for the Nobel Prize in Literature. You can read two of the usual suspects, Adonis and Ko Un, right here, as well as laureates Herta Müller, J. M. G. Le Clézio, Naguib Mahfouz, and, of course, any number of contenders. The Nobels will start rolling out with Physiology/Medicine on October 6 through Economics on the 13th; as always, Literature brings…...

Russia is Restless: A Brooklyn Book Festival Event

On September 19, almost sixty people gathered at Karloff Restaurant in Brooklyn for dinner and conversation with exiled Uzbek writer and BBC reporter Hamid Ismailov and Russian-American novelist Boris Fishman. The Brooklyn Book Festival event was hosted by Restless Books, a Brooklyn-based, digital-first publisher devoted to a wide range of international literature. Only a year old, Restless Books is off to an impressive start, with twenty-two titles by writers from countries such as Cuba, Chile,…...

The Week in Translation

GO what: Multilingualism in the US: Do Americans need more than one language?| when:Thursday, September 25, 5:30pm Roundtable Discussion, 7:30pm Reception with European specialists where: The Graduate Center, CUNY/365 5th Ave, New York, NY 10016 more info: http://ow.ly/BvU0v what:TRANSLATABLE: A Multilingual Open Mic In Honor of International Translation Day when: Tuesday, September 30, 6:30pm where: Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library 901 G St NW / Washington, DC 20001 (Gallery Place-Chinatown…...

Where the Sidewalk Bends: In Search of Manoel de Barros’s Pantanal

It’s an odd sensation to arrive in a place that you’ve never been before, but that you’ve already experienced through someone else’s eyes. Especially when that other person is a poet. I first learned about the Pantanal—vast wetlands in central Brazil that seep over the border into Bolivia and Paraguay—through the poetry of Manoel de Barros. Barros was born in Cuiabá, the capital of Mato Grosso state, in 1916. A lawyer and ranch owner by profession, he published…...

The City and the Writer: In Tulsa with Rilla Askew

Special Series / Oklahoma 2014 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 Tulsa as you feel/see it? In a word: regeneration. Conceived on Muscogee/Creek Indian land, born half-wild in the throes of an early twentieth-century oil boom, Tulsa has cycled through multiple booms and busts. A devastating…...

The Week in Translation

GO   what: Book Signing for Evelyn Trouillot’s novel The Infamous Rosalie when: Wednesday, September 17, 5 PM where: La Caye Restaurant, 35, Lafayette Avenue, Brooklyn, NY   what: Imaginary Gardens With Real Robots in Them: On Translating Science Fiction (Ross Benjamin, Terry Gallagher, Michael Kandel) presented by The Bridge Series and the PEN Translation Committee when: Thursday, September 18, 7 PM where: Singularity & Co. Bookshop (18 Bridge St., Apt. 1G, Brooklyn, NY 11201) more…...

Edgard Telles Ribeiro’s “His Own Man”

It was L.P. Hartley who first described the past as a foreign country. The phrase comes from the opening of his magnificent novel, The Go-Between: “The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there.” These words could well have served as an epigraph for Edgard Telles Ribeiro’s new novel, His Own Man. Ribeiro’s book, like Hartley’s, investigates the extent of two of our most durable qualities as human beings, our facility for adaptation and selective amnesia.…...

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