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Translation Database: Day Three

We have reached the third 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.

 

1. The Sea by Blai Bonet (translated from the Catalan by Cathy Sweeney; Dalkey Archive 16284823Press)
A profoundly touching contribution to the tradition of the metaphysical novel as exemplified by Dostoyevsky and Bernanos, and likewise a worthy counterpart to the vibrant and polyphonic work of fellow Iberians Camilo Jose Cela and Juan Goytisolo, The Sea is a cornerstone of postwar Catalan literature. Set in a tubercular sanatorium in Mallorca after the Spanish Civil War, it tells the story of three children sharing a gruesome secret who are brought together again by chance and illness–two patients and one nurse. A love triangle, a story of retribution, and an exploration of evil, The Sea is “a profound and radical descent into the depths of the human soul.” (Gerard de Cortanze).

 

363344402. Tomas Jonsson, Bestseller by Gudberger Bergsson (translated from the Icelandic by Lytton Smith; Open Letter)
‘A retired, senile bank clerk confined to his basement apartment, Tómas Jónsson decides that, since memoirs are all the rage, he’s going to write his own—a sure bestseller—that will also right the wrongs of contemporary Icelandic society. Egoistic, cranky, and digressive, Tómas blasts away while relating pick-up techniques, meditations on chamber pot use, ways to assign monetary value to noise pollution, and much more. His rants parody and subvert the idea of the memoir—something that’s as relevant today in our memoir-obsessed society as it was when the novel was first published.  Considered by many to be the ‘Icelandic Ulysses‘ for its wordplay, neologisms, structural upheaval, and reinvention of what’s possible in Icelandic writing, Tómas Jónsson, Bestseller was a bestseller, heralding a new age of Icelandic literature.’

 

3. Zoo in Winter by Polina Barskova  (translated from the Russian by Boris Dralyuk; 10051654Melville House)
Opulent, playful, and sensual, Polina Barskova’s poems have earned her a reputation as the finest Russian poet under forty. While steeped in Russian and classical culture, Barskova’s work remains unmistakably contemporary, at once classic and edgy–always fresh, new and even startling. A major English-language event, The Zoo in Winter collects poems from seven earlier books as well as from her more recent work. It is a remarkable menagerie of poems, of a strange and intoxicating beauty.

 

271808124. I Stared at the Night of the City by Bakhtiyar Ali (translated from the Kurdish by Kareem Abdulrahman; Garnet Publishing)
Iraqi Kurdistan at the turn of the twenty-first century is a territory ruled by strongmen, revolutionaries, fixers, bureaucrats, and the “Barons” who control everything from livestock and land to Kurdish cultural life.  Defying the absolute power wielded by the Barons, a band of friends led by an enigmatic poet embark on an odyssey to find the bodies of two lovers killed unjustly by the authorities. The Barons respond by attempting to crush these would-be avengers—but their real war is waged against the imagination itself, a prized, elusive commodity to which intellectuals, merchants, political elites, and humble workers all seek access in one way or another.  I Stared at the Night of the City is a tale of extraordinary people travelling great distances, in their minds or with their feet. It is a lyrical interpretation of contemporary Kurdistan, so much in the news, but so little understood. Told by several unreliable narrators in a kaleidoscope of fragments that all eventually cohere, the novel immerses readers in the fantastic just long enough, before wrenching them back to hard, cold “real life.”

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5. Martha, Jack & Shanco by Caryl Lewis (translated from the Welsh by Gwen Davies; Parthian Books)
Bound together by blood ties, Martha, Jack, and Shanco live on a farm in Wales, where their lives unfold in the eerie half-presence of their dead parents.

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Reading the World: ‘The Life of Rebecca Jones’ by Angharad Price ****

I spotted Angharad Price’s The Life of Rebecca Jones when browsing the library.  It is an entry upon my 2017 reading list, and when easing it out from the shelves where it was sandwiched between two rather enormous tomes, I was surprised to see how slim it was.  Its ‘powerful meditation on one family’s passage through the 20th century’, and the modern world which serves to threaten their traditional rural life in Wales, sounded absolutely lovely.  I adore quiet novels which take me to a different time and place, and The Life of Rebecca Jones certainly ticks all of those boxes.

The Life of Rebecca Jones has been translated from its original Welsh by Lloyd Jones.  In its native Wales, the book was heralded a ‘modern classic’ upon its publication, and it has been highly regarded in literary avenues since it was transcribed into English.  Jan Morris describes it as ‘the most fascinating and wonderful book’, and Kate Saunders in The Times writes: ‘The ending will make you want to turn right back to the beginning.’ 9780857387127

From the outset, there is a definite brooding power to the narrative, and an ever-present thoughtfulness embedded into every single sentence: ‘This was a reversal of creation.  The perfection of an absence. / Tranquility can belong to one place, yet it ranges the world.  It is tied to every passing hour, yet everlasting.  It encompasses the exceptional and the commonplace.  It connects interior with exterior.’

An ageing Rebecca narrates the whole; her voice is measured and incredibly human: ‘I too have sought peace throughout my life.  I’ve encountered it, many times on a more lasting silence; and I will find it before I die.  My eyesight dwindles and my hearing fails.  What else should I expect, at my age?  But neither blindness nor deafness can perfect the quietness which is about to fall on this valley.’  There is a ruminative quality to her voice, and the use of retrospective positioning only adds to this effect.

Rebecca has lived within Cwm Maesglasau for all of her life; she adores it, but the sadness which she feels at the changes within her community and landscape are prevalent.  Of her home, she writes: ‘Cwm Maesglasau is my world.  Its boundaries are my boundaries.  To leave it will be unbearably painful.’  The landscape is as important a character within the novel as Rebecca herself; this is obvious from the very beginning.  Price shows just how deeply person and place are connected, and the affects and effects of the two.  She describes the scenes which Rebecca and her ancestors saw so vividly, bringing them to life for the reader: ‘There is a crimson tunnel of foxgloves and a sparkling dome of elderflower: the same intricate design, Evan notes, of the lace on his wife’s bodice.  Sunshine streaming through the canopy spangles her hair with stars’.

Despite The Life of Rebecca Jones identifying as a work of fiction, photographs have been used throughout, giving it the quality of autofiction.  Its words and their accompanying images are filled with traditions.  It adds to the reading experience that some of the original Welsh vocabulary has been included, sometimes alongside their English translations, and otherwise understandable within their context.

Rebecca Jones is the name of the narrator, as well as of her mother and grandmother.  In this manner, Price effectively tells three stories, which are similar but have discernible differences in their way.  The novel is an incredibly contemplative one; it almost makes one yearn for times gone by.  The structure which Price makes use of is one of fragmented memories; the only links between them are often that they have been lived by the narrator, or by members of her immediate family.  The reading experience which has been created is a sensual one; in interruptions to Rebecca’s voice, a stream has been personified, and its journey shown with beautiful, lyrical prose.  The Life of Rebecca Jones is quietly beautiful; it demonstrates a life filled with sadnesses, but one which is still cherished nonetheless.

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