Translation Database: Day Two

We have reached the second day of my picks from the wonderful Translation Database (view it here).  I have chosen all of these books at random, but have tried to ensure that there is a real diversity between picks, both in terms of subject matter, and the original written languages the books were published in.  However, I could not help but include both Serbian books, which sound wonderful.


74040421. Assembly by Novica Tadic (translated from the Serbian by Steven Teref and Maja Teref; Host Publications)
A dynamic artist at the height of his poetic powers, Tadic presents to the reader a world that is at once surreal and hauntingly familiar, a world of outlandish encounters and uncanny creatures. His poetry addresses the challenges of surviving as an artist in a Communist society, and themes of victimization, oppression and spiritual pollution permeate much of his work.  Assembly is a gently subversive and mischievous collection, a harrowing yet humanizing work that is a stunning testimony to Tadic’s outstanding abilities as an artist.’


2. Microfictions by Ana Maria Shua (translated from the Spanish by Steven Stewart; 6319086University of Nebraska)
Cinderella’s sisters surgically modify their feet to win the prince’s love. A werewolf gathers up enough courage to visit a dentist. A medium trying to reach the afterworld gets a recorded message. A fox and a badger compete to out-fool each other. Whether writing of insomnia from a mosquito’s point of view or showing us what happens after the princess kisses the frog, Ana María Shua, in these fleet and incandescent stories, is nothing if not pithy—except, of course, wildly entertaining. Some as short as a sentence, these microfictions have been selected and translated from four different books. Flashes of insight, cracks of wit, twists of logic, and quirks of language: these are fictions in the distinguished Argentinean tradition of Borges and Cortázar and Denevi, as powerful as they are brief. One of Argentina’s most prolific and distinguished writers, and acclaimed worldwide, Shua displays in these microfictions the epitome of her humor, riddling logic, and mastery over our imagination. Now, for the first time in English, the fox transforms itself into a fable, and “the reader is invited to find the tail.


86984833. The Calligrapher’s Secret by Rafik Schami (translated from the German by Anthea Bell; Interlink)
A new international bestseller from the award-winning author of The Dark Side of Love. Even as a young man, Hamid Farsi is acclaimed as a master of the art of calligraphy. But as time goes by, he sees that weaknesses in the Arabic language and its script limit its uses in the modern world. In a secret society, he works out schemes for radical reform, never guessing what risks he is running. His beautiful wife, Nura, is ignorant of her husband’s ambitions, knowing only his cold, avaricious side. So its no wonder she feels flattered by the attentions of his young apprentice. And so begins a passionate love story, the love of a Muslim woman and a Christian man.


4. Autopsy of a Father by Pascal Kramer (translated from the French by Tamsin Black; 31945214Bellevue Literary Press)
When a young woman returns to her childhood home after her estranged father’s death, she begins to piece together the final years of his life. What changed him from a prominent left-wing journalist to a bitter racist who defended the murder of a defenseless African immigrant? Kramer exposes a country gripped by intolerance and violence to unearth the source of a family’s fall from grace.  Set in Paris and its suburbs, and inspired by the real-life scandal of a French author and intellectual, Autopsy of a Father blends sharp observations about familial dynamics with resonant political and philosophical questions, taking a scalpel to the racism and anti-immigrant sentiment spreading just beneath the skin of modern society.


223442105. Learning Cyrillic: Selected Stories by David Albahari (translated from the Serbian by Ellen Elias-Bursac; Dalkey Archive Press)
Learning Cyrillic presents a selection of fiction by Serbian master David Albahari written since his departure from Europe. In these twenty short stories, written and published in their original language over the past twenty years, Albahari addresses immigrant life–the need to fit into one’s adopted homeland–as well as the joys and terrors of refusing to give up one’s essential “strangeness” in the face of an alien culture.


Reading the World: ‘Eva Luna’ by Isabel Allende **

The only book of Isabel Allende’s which I had read prior to Eva Luna was The House of the Spirits.  I liked it well enough, but I must admit that I did find it a little disappointing, particularly considering the wealth of great reviews which I made sure to read before making my selection.  Regardless, several years have elapsed, and I felt that it was time to pick up another of her books.  I plumped for Eva Luna as the storyline appealed to me the most, and I felt that it would be an interesting inclusion for my Reading the World project, too.

Allende is rather a prolific author, who was born in Peru and now resides in California; many of her books have been widely translated into ‘more than twenty-seven languages’, and have consequently become bestsellers over four continents.  This particular translation of Eva Luna, which was published originally in 1987, has been worked on by Margaret Sayers Peden. 9780241951651

In the novel, Allende ‘tells the sweet and sinister story of an orphan who beguiles the world with her astonishing visions, triumphing over the worst of adversity and bringing light to a dark place’.  The novel’s opening sentences certainly captured my attention: ‘My name is Eva, which means “life,” according to a book of names my mother consulted.  I was born in the back room of a shadowy house, and grew up amidst ancient furniture, books in Latin, and human mummies, but none of these things made me melancholy, because I came into the world with a breath of the jungle in my memory’.

Allende then moves to the story of Eva’s mother, Consuelo, who is raised in a convent after being abandoned by her parents.  Consuelo fashions stories about herself in order to craft the solid history which has been taken from her.  The political detail and customs which have been included is rich and interesting, and whilst the country in which the action as such takes place is unnamed, many similarities can be drawn between different dictatorships around the world, not just in South America.  I was reminded in this of Gabriel Garcia Marquez.  It should be mentioned too that the retrospective positioning of Eva is effective in telling her story.

After her mother’s death, when she is just six years old, Eva is moved to a convent and is expected to work: ‘I never hurried to obey, because I soon discovered that if I was careful I could dawdle and get through the day without doing much of anything’.  Despite the plot enticing me, I do not feel as though it was detailed enough to fill a novel of this length; it also tended to become rather convoluted and predictable.  My interest was not held as much as I had expected it to be; indeed, I have come away from the novel feeling a touch disappointed.

Allende’s writing is certainly intelligent, and her descriptions detailed.  At times, however, the novel did feel a little pretentious in its prose. This is strongest at the beginning of the book, as we are getting to know about Eva and her background.  Afterwards, some of the prose is quite lovely: ‘She manufactured the substance of her own dreams, and from those materials she constructed a world for me.  Words are free, she used to say, and she appropriated them; they were all hers.  She saved in my mind the idea that reality is not only what we see on the surface; it has a magical dimension as well and, if we so desire, it is legitimate to enhance it and color it to make our journey through life less trying’.  Despite any qualms which I had about the writing, Eva Luna has been well translated, and there is a definite fluidity to it.  It has made me a little reluctant to pick up more of Allende’s work in future, however.

Purchase from The Book Depository


‘In Diamond Square’ by Merce Rodoreda ****

Spanish author Merce Rodoreda’s In Diamond Square has been heralded ‘one of the masterpieces of modern European literature’ by the Independent, and novelist Gabriel Garcia Marquez believed it to be ‘the most beautiful novel published in Spain since the Civil War’. In Diamond Square was published in its original Catalan in 1962, and appeared in English for the first time last year.  It has been translated into over twenty languages in the last four decades.

In this new Virago reprint, Rodoreda herself has written her own prologue to the volume, in which she speaks about the unprecedented success of her book.  Throughout, she is rather reluctant to detail her writing and life: ‘I have never been very enthusiastic about writing prologues, or speaking about myself (or my work, which amounts to the same thing)’.  She goes on to say that her intention for In Diamond Square was for it to be ‘Kafkaesque, very Kafkaesque – with lots of pigeons.  I wanted the pigeons to overwhelm the protagonist from start to finish.’

At the outset of the novel, our protagonist, Natalia, is living alone: ‘My mother died years ago and wasn’t there to give me advice, and my father had remarried.  He found a second wife and I’d lost a mother who only lived to look after me’.  Her adulthood story begins in the early 1930s, as soon as she is asked to dance by a stranger on Diamond Square.  The relationship built between Natalia and Joe, the stranger, borders on the psychological at all times, and Rodoreda builds foreboding for the couple almost from the very beginning of their first meeting.

Joe immediately proposes the idea of marriage and a flattered Natalia agrees, despite the fact that she is already engaged to a nice boy.  Natalia’s breathless stream of consciousness style within the prose is stunning, and it works so well with the story, particularly during those episodes of cruelty which can be found throughout – for example, ‘He tapped my knee with the side of his hand and he hit me so sharply my leg shot into the air and he said if I wanted to be his wife I’d have to start liking every single thing he liked’.  Her naivety contrasts well with his possessiveness.  She grows accordingly as the novel continues, and the dawning of the Spanish Civil War begins to alter everything which she has come to know.

Rodoreda’s descriptions are vivid: ‘I was eyeball to eyeball with his sparkling monkey eyes and little medal-like ears’, Natalia writes of Joe, for example.  One gets the impression that Natalia is a very honest protagonist, and there seems to be nothing which she is willing to relate.  The way in which Rodoreda has not baldly stated anything, but has instead left many details up to her readers, is admirable.  The repeated details throughout Natalia’s monologue make the whole more and more heartfelt.  In Diamond Square presents such a vivid evocation of rather an unusual life, and it is sure to be remembered for months after the final page has been read.

Purchase from The Book Depository