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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.

 

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Reading the World: ‘Madonna in a Fur Coat’ by Sabahattin Ali ***

Originally published in Turkey in 1943, Sabahattin Ali’s Madonna in a Fur Coat is still a national bestseller.  Ali was ‘one of the most influential Turkish authors of the twentieth century’, and his most famous novel, Madonna in a Fur Coat, which is a ‘classic of love and longing in a changing world’, is now available for the first time in English. 9780241293850

Madonna in a Fur Coat takes as its focus a young Turkish man, who moves to Berlin in the 1920s in order to learn a trade.  A chance meeting with a woman in the city ‘will haunt him for the rest of his life’.  Its blurb calls it ’emotionally powerful, intensely atmospheric and touchingly profound’.  Madonna in a Fur Coat opens in a manner which both coolly beguiles and intrigues: ‘Of all the people I have chanced upon in life, there is no one who has left a greater impression.  Months have passed but still Raif Efendi haunts my thoughts.  As I sit here alone, I can see his honest face, gazing off into the distance, but ready, nonetheless, to greet all who cross his path with a smile.  Yet he was hardly an extraordinary man’.  The narrator then recounts Raif’s story, which is given to him in the form of a rather sensual diary beginning in 1933, when Raif lays upon his deathbed.

Raif is the German translator who is employed by the same company as the narrator in Ankara; the pair share an office.  He soon becomes fascinated by Raif and his disinterest; he keeps himself to himself, and evades questions about his personal life.  This very mystery acts as something akin to a magnet.  The narrator goes to visit him when he is absent from work due to illness, and finds that his home life, spent in an overcrowded and cramped house, is far from pleasant and desirable: ‘Though it was Raif Efendi who bore the cost of all this, it made no difference to him if he was present or absent.  Everyone in the family, from the oldest to the youngest, regarded him as irrelevant.  They spoke to him about their daily needs and money problems, and nothing else.’  The familial relationship, as well as the tentative friendship which unfolds between both men, are both built well, and are thus rendered believable in consequence.

The translation, which has been carried out in tandem by Maureen Freely and Alexander Dawe, is effective.   Ali’s prose is more often than not beautifully wrought, and is sometimes quite profound: ‘It is, perhaps, easier to dismiss a man whose face gives no indication of an inner life.  And what a pity that is: a dash of curiosity is all it takes to stumble upon treasures we never expected.’  The narrative voice has such a clarity, and certainly a lot of realism, to it.

One of the most important elements of this novella is the way in which Ali displays both Turkish and German history, politics, and culture, particularly with regard to the ways in which both countries altered following the First World War.  The mystery at the heart of the novel certainly kept me interested.  Madonna in a Fur Coat is really rather touching, and reminded me a little of Stefan Zweig.  There is something about it, however, which makes it entirely its own.

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