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Nonfiction

Diary
Mahmoud Darwish has recently begun a diary: a daily record of reflections, observations, and intimate personal commentary on the ordinary life of Palestinians today. The following sections were among…
Translated from Arabic
The Indigenous Literature of the Americas
By Earl Shorris & Sylvia Sasson Shorris
In late August, Mexico City and Universidad Nacional Autónoma de Mexico signed an agreement to teach Náhuatl language and culture to Nahua (Aztec) students in Santa Ana Tlacotenco in the…
Is This Home?
In the days prior to my return I had decided to assume a cool demeanor and contemplate my country as a tourist might, and not as a rapturous and homesick returnee. I wanted to hold the moment in my hands,…
Translated from Arabic
Borges, Bolaño and the Return of the Epic
During their lifetimes, Jorge Luis Borges and Roberto Bolaño struggled against vanity and all things pretentious, aspirational, ordinary, and obliging. They are peculiar cases in literature, ones…
Translated from Spanish
Attempting to Live Inside Federico García Lorca’s “Poema del Cante Jondo” for a While
1 I'm convinced that some languages, languages we neither speak nor understand, are familiar to the ear. For myself, the romance and Semitic languages, the languages of the Mediterranean and the Middle…
Translated from Spanish
from “The Lost Cause: A Memoir of My Life with Gabriel García Marquez”
By Plinio Apuleyo Mendoza
Whenever he comes to Paris, he calls immediately.“My friend,'' his voice explodes, “Why don't you come have lunch with me?”Now he's the owner of a neat, tranquil apartment…
Translated from Spanish by Timothy Pratt
Preface to the Libya Issue of Words Without Borders, July 2006
When it comes to countries that have been locked away—or locked out of—the Western world, Westerners tend to believe that little happens there during the time that they are not paying attention.…
Wet Sleeves
They meet every Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday morning in front of the newspaper shop, where they discuss concerns of the day, most of them too old to remember their exact age, the years only evident by…
Translated from Arabic
The Locusts
The village follows a never-changing script: Things are today exactly as they were yesterday, which is the same as they were the day before, and a year before that. There is Omran, dutifully executing…
Translated from Arabic
With Borges
Nachtigall, Liebe, Herz, you can read Heine without the help of a dictionary,” he said. And he enjoyed the possibilities German allowed of making up words, as Goethe's Nebelglanz, “the…
from “Self-Portrait Abroad”
To my wife and children I dedicate these pages of Corsica (to my teammate go my thanks). TRANSLATOR'S NOTE: This slender collection consists of glimpses, less essays than reminiscences, of places…
Translated from French
On Literature
A writer friend of mine told me that a few weeks ago he had had to exclude the most gifted of his students, a young man from Swabia or Baden or Württemberg – neither he nor I can really tell…
Translated from Farsi
Editor’s Note
Invited to guest edit an anthology of Mexican fiction, initial enthusiasm soon gave way to ennui: twelve or so spots to fill, and twenty-five or so obligatory and obvious names comprised my first list.…
Escape from Disney World
After having spent his childhood doing comic strips and his youth doing animated cartoons, Mickey Mouse finally discovered his true vocation as a corporate insignia. In heraldic times, only mythological…
Translated from Spanish
Ameising
For years my grandfather treated his cataracts with Cineraria maritime, a therapy recommended by his friend Chiunti, el Licenciado. I don't know what cineraria is-most likely a plant. I admire, however,…
Translated from Spanish
My Madre, Pure as Cumulus Clouds
By Liza Bakewell
In this essay, Liza Bakewell tries to figure out what the word madre, or mother, really means in Mexican culture. She looks, in particular, at mentadas de madre, or insults about mothers.
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Egyptian Literature Today
As the largest Arabic-speaking country (at 70+ million inhabitants and counting), Egypt, with its teeming capital of Cairo, plays a disproportionately large role in the intellectual and cultural life…
Memories of Chernobyl
By Mohamed Makhzangi
The entire city began to wash itself ceaselessly . . .
Translated from Arabic by Samah Selim
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Women Writers, Islam, and the Ghost of Zulaikha
By Elif Shafak
In the history of Islam, perhaps no woman has been as widely (mis)interpreted as Zulaikha—the beautiful and perfidious wife of Potiphar in the story of Joseph. It was she who tried to seduce Joseph…
Translated from Turkish by Elif Shafak
To the Longbills at Mangyeong River
From time to time, climbers ascending Mt. Everest or Nanga Parbat stumble upon migrating birds, frozen on snow-capped peaks at 8,000-meter altitudes. The cross-continental flight formation these birds…
Translated from Korean
Alux
Note: The work was written originally in Yucatecan Maya, the most widely spoken indigenous language in Mexico. Miguel Angel May May, the writer and cultural leader, has been responsible for the formation…
Translated from Spanish
A Letter to Ernesto Sábato
Author's note Ernesto Sábato's novel Abaddón el exterminador (1974) includes a dense epistolary chapter addressed to a virtual fellow writer, which begins “Dear, distant young…
Translated from Romanian
Should Americans Read More Literature in Translation?
Should Americans read more world literature to rip away the blinders we so often wear when it comes to those who are “not like us”? “Yes” is the quick answer, the answer that salves…
The City, the Spirit, and the Letter: On Translating Cavafy
By André Aciman
No poem by Cavafy is as simple or as complicated as The City.
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
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Doors, Windows, and the Office of Foreign Assets Control
By Esther Allen
Lex and I came to the strange realization that we, and Alejo Carpentier, had effectively been censored by the United States government.
Among the Targi at Timbuktu
In 1999 and 2000 Birgit Biehl journeyed alone through Africa's Sahel from Senegal to the Sudan, and then through Yemen, Oman, and a half dozen other Middle Eastern countries. During the fourteen months…
Translated from German
Me and My Circumstance
Ortega y Gasset famously defined the individual by saying "Yo soy yo y mi circunstancia" (I am I and what's around me). Although I may have said that I sort of backed into translation without…
Translated from Spanish
from “Peregrinations in Argentina”
By Witold Gombrowicz
At first we feel hatred toward other tourists—but eventually we begin to hate the tourist in us.
Translated from Polish by Danuta Borchardt
Campo Santo
By W. G. Sebald
The dead were thought of as extremely touchy, envious, vengeful, quarrelsome, and cunning.
Translated from German by Anthea Bell
Polish Literature Embraces the Emptiness of It All, Still
Dorota Masłowska is coping with literary fame in an especially literary country. Her first novel, Snow White and Russian Red, was published in 2002 to immediate critical praise and commercial success.…
Translated from Polish
from In Other Words
These are among the words discussed by Christopher Moore in In Other Words: Arabic taarradhin Many commentators have pointed out that Arabic has no word for "compromise," in the sense of reaching…
In Other Words: A Foreword
I rather suspect that when Sofia Coppola made her movie Lost in Translation, she prayed that it might turn out to be, if nothing else, a succès d'estime. Had that turned out to be true, her…
Translated from English
from Portrait of M
By Matei Călinescu
Author's Note: This biographical portrait of my son, who was born on August 24, 1977, in Bloomington, Indiana, USA, and who died on March 1, 2003, in his native town, not yet twenty-six, was written…
Translated from Romanian by Angela Jianu
Sunset over Barren Mountains
Ha Jin has this to say about Gao Ertai's work: “Among numerous memoirs by Chinese authors, In Search of My Homeland stands out as an eloquent testimony to the violation and destruction of humanity.…
Translated from Chinese
Epistle on Cosmic Unification
In the name of God, the Merciful, the Compassionate. Blessings upon our master, Muhammad, and upon his family and companions. . . . From my insufficiency to my perfection, and from my deviation to my…
Translated from Arabic
Of the Tree and its Four Birds
It is He who is revealed in every face, sought in every sign, gazed upon by every eye, worshipped in every object of worship, and pursued in the unseen and the visible. Not a single one of His creatures…
Translated from Arabic
What Is a Translator’s True Calling?
To begin answering one riddle, you first have to consider another. In this case, the riddling starts with me, a translator, and a story I have translated into English from a story Indian author Vijay…
Karbala as Court Case
Karbala is a medium-sized city in central Iraq, recently the scene of violent clashes between U.S. troops and Iraqi militants loyal to the young Shi'a cleric Moqtada al-Sadr. But for Shi'a Muslims…
Translated from Urdu
How to Read a Translation
By Lawrence Venuti
Among the many pronouncements that have shaped our understanding of literary translation, perhaps none is more often echoed than John Dryden’s preface to his version of the Aeneid. “I have…
Scots: The Auld an Nobill Tung
What is Scots? Is it Gaelic? A dialect of English? English with a Gaelic brogue? A hodgepodge of English and Gaelic? In fact, none of the above. Scots is “ane o the wee leids o Europe, ane o the…
from Conversations about Soldiers of Salamis
The following is an extract from Diálogos de Salamina: un paseo por el cine y la literatura (Tusquets, 2003), a book of conversations between Javier Cercas, author of Soldiers of Salamis, and David…
Translated from Spanish
from “Mew” instead of “Moo”
I should declare in a steady and powerful voice that the world itself is just a prolonged “mew,” which has been fried and served to us instead of a noble “moo.” -V. Khlebnikov…
Translated from Russian
On the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize
"It's a scandal." My companion, a distinguished translator of British literature into Greek, sighed and shook his head as we walked one night last summer through the tangle of streets that…
Basra Stories
I was born in Basra many times, in all of the stories that I heard about it-in the stories which were told around me when I was a child, in the images I formed of it during my first trips there with my…
Translated from Arabic
Witold Gombrowicz, and to Hell with Culture
Witold Gombrowicz is probably the most important twentieth-century novelist most Western readers have never heard of, which is to say that he is the kind of writer whose following consists largely of…
Climbing with Huberath
I was surprised to hear that Marek Huberath was a mountain climber in his spare time. I thought, “Maybe not a real mountain climber.” People do like to boast. He was achiever enough, not only…
from To the Person Leaving
I have emigrated three times in my life. In 1978, I emigrated from Argentina to come to France, because a military dictatorship had taken hold in my country. In 1999, I emigrated from France, where I'd…
Translated from Spanish
Co ecos Astri: Xul Solar of Buenos Aires
Xul said of himself: "I am maestro of a writing no one reads yet" and "I am world champion of a game no one knows." But Jorge Luis Borges, who was influenced by him, said: "Xul…
Translated from Spanish
from Before the End
1 I walk along the Avenida Costanera Sur,1 contemplating the portentous river, traversed just over a century ago by thousands of Spaniards, Italians, Jews, Poles, Albanians, Russians, and Germans, driven…
Translated from Spanish
from The Boundless River
By Juan José Saer
“Literary fanaticism, in any of its forms, whether from the point of view of master or disciple, has always been incompatible with the intelligence and free spirit of Saer.”—José Saramago
Translated from Spanish by Marina Harss
from Silence Has Its Sound: Travels through Bosnia
By Juli Zeh
Crossing the Serbian Republic's BorderMost of the Republika Srpska border is made of garbage—it seems the whole town of Stolac brings its trash here. I meet three oncoming cars in fifty kilometers.…
Translated from German by Gerald Chapple
The Culture of Translation
Throughout medieval Europe Arabic had a far more powerful impact on the transformation and shaping of culture than most narratives of our history reveal. This was true not only in Spain, where Arabic…
Playing Manto
I first encountered Saadat Hasan Manto by playing one of his characters. In 1994, I was doing fieldwork for an ethnographic thesis on social life in the Pakistani city of Lahore, where Manto lived, worked,…
How the Other Half Lives
After spending seven years in the U.S., I recently moved back to Seoul, the capitalist capital in the southern half of my divided country. When I arrived, both sides were preparing for the fiftieth anniversary…
Encountering North Korean Fiction: The Origins of the Future
By Stephen Epstein
The new year is dawning. The thought that we are entering the last year of the current century arouses a different feeling within me than usual. My heart is overwhelmed with emotion and my thoughts come…
Iran in Theater
Last summer in New York, two Iranian theatre events cracked open a small window on a dramatically alien world. Each made its impact without benefit of a text that could be comprehended by the audience;…
Translated from English
from Borderlines–The Return
In the summer of 1947 the flight to Athens, Greece, from New York's Idlewild Airport-my first flight anywhere-involved many hours of idleness both in the air and on sometimes remote runways along…
Iran as Cinema
By Salar Abdoh
The movie theater I found myself in was called Freedom; it stood on the corner of two main boulevards that, like the majority of streets in Tehran, are named after martyrs of the revolution: Martyr Beheshti,…
Translated from Farsi by Zara Houshmand