Translation Database: Day One

Day one of my showcase of the wonderful Translation Database (view it here) is upon us.  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.


32967771. Summer’s End by Adalet Agaoglu (translated from the Turkish by Figen Bingul; Talisman House Publishers)
Narrated by an author on vacation among the classical ruils of the ancient city of Side on the Mediterannean coast in Turkey, Summer’s End provides an intricate picture of a large cross-section of modern Turkish society. The novel offers a complex multi-dimensional and multi-leveled view of cultural values, politics, sexuality, and personal dilemmas. Summer’s End is one of the most celebrated works by Adalet Angaoglu, widely considered to be one of the principal novelists of our time. Summer’s End, says critic Sibel Erol in her introduction, “is an elegaic novel of attempted reconciliation and consolation set in a lush and delectable setting that intensifies the heartbreaking contrast between life and death and society’s fragmentation and nature’s organic unity.” Adalet Agaoglu is the author of eight novels as well as plays, memoirs, four collections of short stories, and six collections of essays. Her books have been widely translated. Summer’s End is the second to appear in English.


2. Five Fingers by Mara Zalite (translated from the Latvian by Margita Gailitis; Dalkey five-fingers-fcArchive)
‘Five-year-old Laura was born in one of Joseph Stalin’s prison camps in Siberia. When the book opens, she and her parents are on their long journey back to Latvia, a country Laura knows only from the exuberant descriptions that whirled about the Gulag. Upon her arrival, however, she must come to terms with the conflicting images of the life she sees around her and the fairytale Latvia she grew up hearing about and imagining. Based on the author’s life, and written in lush language that defies the narrative’s many hardships, Five Fingers tells the story of a girl who moves between worlds in the hopes of finding a Latvia that she can call home.’


178470593. Time on my Hands by Giorgio Vasta (translated from the Italian by Jonathan Hunt; Faber & Faber)
Palermo, Sicily, 1978. The Christian Democrat leader Aldo Moro has just been kidnapped in Rome by members of the notorious Red Brigades. Two months after his disappearance on 9th May, Moro is found dead in the boot of a car.  A trio of eleven-year-old schoolboys, Nimbo, Raggio, and Volo, avidly follow the news of the abduction as their admiration for the brigatisti grows. When the boys themselves resolve to abduct a classmate and incarcerate him in a makeshift ‘people’s prison’, the darkness within their world, and the world of the novel, becomes all-pervasive.  A vivid and hellish description of Sicily in the late seventies, Time on my Hands is an unforgettable novel from a significant new voice in Italian fiction.


4. The Hedgehog by Zakaria Tamer (translated from the Arabic by Brian O’Rourke; 6131951American University at Cairo Press)
“My mother went to visit our neighbor, Umm Bahaa, but refused to take me with her, on the pretext that women visit women and men visit men. So she left me alone, promising not to be gone more than a few minutes. I told my cat I was going to strangle her, but she paid no attention and continued grooming herself with her tongue.” Thus we meet the five-year-old narrator of The Hedgehog, who introduces us to his world: his house (with the djinn girl who lives in his bedroom), his garden (where he wishes to be a tree), and his best friend the black stone wall. This tightly told novella confirms that Zakaria Tamer remains at the height of his powers. The short stories that follow were first published in the collection Tigers on the Tenth Day. Economical and controlled, they deal with man’s inhumanity to man (and to woman) and showcase the author’s typical sharply satirical style.


131813325. The Sorrow Gondola by Tomas Transtromer (translated from the Swedish by Michael McGriff; Green Integer)
The Sorrow Gondola was the great Swedish poet Tomas Tranströmer’s first collection of poems after his stroke in 1990. Translated by Michael McGriff, Tranströmer’s great work is available in its first single-volume English edition.  Tomas Tranströmer was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2011.



Saturday Poem: ‘The Indoors is Endless’ by Tomas Transtromer

It’s spring in 1827, Beethoven
hoists his death-mask and sails off.
The grindstones are turning in Europe’s windmills.
The wild geese are flying northwards.
Here is the north, here is Stockholm
swimming palaces and hovels.
The logs in the royal fireplace
collapse from Attention to At Ease.
Peace prevails, vaccine and potatoes,
but the city wells breathe heavily.
Privy barrels in sedan chairs like paschas
are carried by night over the North Bridge.
The cobblestones make them stagger
mamselles loafers gentlemen.
Implacably still, the sign-board
with the smoking blackamoor.
So many islands, so much rowing
with invisible oars against the current!
The channels open up, April May
and sweet honey dribbling June.
The heat reaches islands far out.
The village doors are open, except one.
The snake-clock’s pointer licks the silence.
The rock slopes glow with geology’s patience.
It happened like this, or almost.
It is an obscure family tale
about Erik, done down by a curse
disabled by a bullet through the soul.
He went to town, met an enemy
and sailed home sick and grey.
Keeps to his bed all that summer.
The tools on the wall are in mourning.
He lies awake, hears the woolly flutter
of night moths, his moonlight comrades.
His strength ebbs out, he pushes in vain
against the iron-bound tomorrow.
And the God of the depths cries out of the depths
‘Deliver me! Deliver yourself!’
All the surface action turns inwards.
He’s taken apart, put together.
The wind rises and the wild rose bushes
catch on the fleeing light.
The future opens, he looks into
the self-rotating kaleidoscope
sees indistinct fluttering faces
family faces not yet born.
By mistake his gaze strikes me
as I walk around here in Washington
among grandiose houses where only
every second column bears weight.
White buildings in crematorium style
where the dream of the poor turns to ash.
The gentle downward slope gets steeper
and imperceptibly becomes an abyss.