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PEN World Voices: 2005

April 2005

From April 16th through 23rd, one of the largest ever convocations of foreign writers in the US will be gathering around the hotel bars (not to mention the stages of venues both venerable and hip) of New York City, in a festival sponsored by PEN American Center and supported by donors as glamorous as Diane von Furstenburg. Can it be—translation is in vogue? Here at WWB, we’ve pulled together an extraordinary smorgasbord of newly translated work from eleven of these authors—from the crowd-pleasing comic absurdity of “Hair Tax” by Yoko Tawada and sly satire of “Hameed Nylon” by Fadhil Al-Azzawi to the sheer elegance of Antoine Audouard’s “Passage of Eden” to the linguistic ingenuity of Pedro Rosa Mendes’s “German Dolls” and the erotic haze of Oksana Zabuzhko’s “Girls.” Pure wit enables one woman to indulge a taste for freedom and sensuality in Hanan al-Shaykh’s “God, It’s as Though You’re Sewing a Dress for a Flea,” while a tense border-crossing keeps another trapped in political and romantic limbo in Anouar Benmalek’s “Feral Love.” For two sides of idealism, see Jakob Arjouni’s knowing take on philanthropic opportunism, “The Rudolf Family Does Good Works,” and Patrik Ouředník’s exploration of nineteenth-century utopian communities in “The Opportune Moment, 1855”; and for two views of Russia, see Svetlana Alexeivich’s Stalinist work camp survivor’s widow in “The Wondrous Deer of the Eternal Hunt” and Yuri Rytkheu’s Scottish sailor stranded in Siberia in “A Dream of Polar Fog.” Be sure to search our archives for PEN Festival authors previously published in WWB. We hope you’ll fall in love with many and travel to hear at least a few. If a visit to NYC is not an option, participate in one of our festival forums with renowned translators André Aciman, Esther Allen, and Lawrence Venuti, and come back to this space in May for streaming audio/video of some of the events.

Hair Tax
By Yoko Tawada
One day a group of tax agents announced that according to the new law, women would be required to pay tax on their legs if they had hair on them.
Translated from German by Susan Bernofsky
Hameed Nylon
By Fadhil al-Azzawi
He told her, “This amulet will set on fire any devil that dares approach you.”
Translated from Arabic by William Maynard Hutchins
Passage of Eden
By Antoine Audouard
He did not smile, nor did he shake my hand. He shuffled away without a sound into the darkness of the passage.
Translated from French by the author
German Dolls
By Pedro Rosa Mendes
He tried to kiss her. Maman resisted. He became furious. He called her “German doll.” I didn’t see the rest.
Translated from Portuguese by Clifford E. Landers
By Oksana Zabuzhko
By fourth grade, when Effie appeared in their class, Darka already had the rap sheet of either a budding criminal or a political leader…
Translated from Ukrainian by Askold Melnyczuk
“God, It’s as Though You’re Sewing a Dress For a Flea”
By Hanan al-Shaykh
She whispers in my ear that she wants to be a singer in Nadia El-Arees’s famous salon, and makes me promise to keep this desire of hers a secret.
Translated from Arabic by Randa Jarrar
From “Feral Love”
By Anouar Benmalek
Chaïbane began to chew. Taken aback, he mused: everything’s edible, even love.
Translated from French by Justin Goldberg
The Rudolf Family Does Good Works
By Jakob Arjouni
“Jutta, please!” Herr Rudolf raised his arms. “Our apartment is at stake! Our whole way of life!”
Translated from German by Anthea Bell
From “The Opportune Moment, 1855”
By Patrik Ouředník
Remake the world? Did we not learn anything from the French Revolution?
Translated from Czech by Alex Zucker
The Wondrous Deer of the Eternal Hunt
By Svetlana Alexievich
He was a wildly lonely person. I loved him.
Translated from Russian by Marian Schwartz
From “A Dream in Polar Fog”
By Yuri Rytkheu
She moved quickly and purposefully, as though she were handling walrus flippers or deer legs, not human hands.
Translated from Russian by Ilona Yazhbin Chavasse