Happy Bastille Day, mes amis! It's been a sad July for French letters, as earlier this month, legendary poet Yves Bonnefoy died at the age of 93. Bonnefoy, who won the Goncourt prize for poetry in 1987, was part of a generation of writers that included the world-renowned writers Pierre Chappuis and Jacques Réda, both of whom you can read online in our Two Lines journal archives.
If you're looking for even more French literature to gorge yourself on, we've got you covered. Let poet Claire Malroux lead you down into the grottoes, or else float into the clouds with Vénus Khoury-Ghata in poems translated by the award-winning poet Marilyn Hacker. Then sneak off to Switzerland for a rendezvous with Swiss poet Vahé Godel and hop over to Quebec to read Chilean-born Marilú Mallet's story about refugees, translated by J.T. Townley.
If you're looking for something you can bring to the beach...
(Read the rest of this celebratory post on the Two Lines Press blog!)
The book marks the English-language debut of Brazilian author João Gilberto Noll, considered one of Brazil's literary legends and ranked alongside leading Latin American writers like Cesar Aira and Mario Bellatin.
In a translation by Adam Morris, an unemployed poet finds himself thrown in jail after inexplicably raping his neighbor, but his time in prison is mysteriously cut short when he’s abruptly taken to a new home—a countryside manor where his every need seen to. All that’s required of him is to write poetry.
Written during Brazil’s transition from military dictatorship to democracy in the late 1980s—and capturing the disjointed feel of that rapidly changing world—Quiet Creature on the Corner is mysterious and abrupt, pivoting on choices that feel both arbitrary and inevitable.
The book has received some fantastic reviews, some of which we've pulled together here:
Publisher's Weekly writes that "readers will be delighted that his 1991 mid-career work has now been translated into English."
The Chicago Review of Books called Quiet Creature "as urgently relevant as any contemporary novel...[it] augurs a notable English-language career for João Gilberto Noll." It's "oddly accessible yet encourages multiple readings."
3:AM magazine objects to comparisons to David Lynch and Franz Kafka: "There is something else going on in Quiet Creature, something that locates its existential terror not in the apprehension of dream—or at least not exclusively—but rather in the intensification of the mundane, the cruelty that lurks beneath banal reality."
Electric Literature compares the narrator's detachment to Albert Camus's The Stranger.
Numéro Cinq magazine calls the book "an absorbing introduction to this esteemed Brazilian author."
Reading in Translation says "Quiet Creature on the Corner confounds our expectations of what literature should be by denying us the opportunity to see ourselves more clearly through a character, but it is that refusal which enriches the experience all the more."
Guernica magazine featured an interview with translator Adam Morris last month which touched on Noll’s place in Latin American letters, his influences, and the relevance of the novel in light of the current political upheaval in Brazil.
Read an excerpt of the book, or buy it alone or as part of our "East European Beach Read" Set (owing to Noll's Eastern European spirit, if not nationality), along with a short story collection from East German author Wolfgang Hilbig and novel by Czech modernist Richard Weiner.
Make the beach a slightly darker, more insidiously frightening place, just don't forget the sunscreen!
We've had an eventful (and exhausting) start to summer already, so just in time for relaxation we've put together suggestions for translation titles to check out. No weighty political tomes on this list!
If you enjoyed Danish author Naja Marie Aidt's Baboon (translated by 2015 PEN Translation Award winner Denise Newman), you'll be excited to read fellow Dane Dorthe Nors's newest release, So Much For That Winter (translated by Misha Hoekstra). It's on the July IndieNext list and has gotten raves in multiple media outlets.
We hosted some amazing writers and translators at the Bay Area Book Festival at the beginning of June, and their books are great additions to any summer reading list.
French writer Jean-Philippe Blondel's The 6:41 to Paris (translated by Alison Anderson) is "a touching portrayal of how any of us might feel when unexpectedly confronted by the detritus of young love" (from a New York Times review).
Chilean-Norwegian writer Pedro Carmona-Alvarez has just released The Weather Changed, Summer Came and So On, "a haunting novel about love, loss, and identity" translated from the Norwegian by Diane Oatley.
Swedish actor and author Jonas Karlsson's, The Room (translated by Neil Smith), is the Kafka-esque tale of a government clerk who discovers a secret room that no one else will acknowledge. Read an interview with the author about his writing process.
Algerian-Italian Amara Lakhous's newest book, The Prank of the Good Little Virgin of Via Ormea (translated by Antony Shugaar) is a "fun and farcical" examination of identity in today's multicultural society. And check out his earlier titles, including award-winning Clash of Civilizations Over an Elevator in Piazza Vittorio (translated by Ann Goldstein, who also translated Elena Ferrante's Neopolitan Novels--another excellent summer read).
Deborah Smith, translator and recent Man Booker International Prize winner for her translation of Han Kang's The Vegetarian, includes some choice summer reading options in her Five Book Plan on the Verso Books website. She highlights Marie NDiaye's Ladivine as her top choice. (If you like that book, be sure to read her titles from Two Lines Press, All My Friends and Self-Portrait in Green--all translated by Jordan Stump).
Also on Smith's list: Vaseline Buddha by Jung Young Moon (translated from Korean by Jung Yewon), Second-Hand Time by Nobel Prize winner Svetlana Alexievich (translated from Russian by Bela Shayevich), Load Poems Like Guns: Women's Poetry From Herat, Afghanistan (translated from Persian Dari by Farzana Marie), and Fever by Samaresh Basu (translated from Bengali by Arunava Sinha). You can find more Verso summer reading choices on their website.
For those for whom summer is not complete with at least one good detective novel, Melville House Press has an entire International Crime imprint.
As we hurtle full speed into summer, we're taking a look back on what happened this month in the world of translation.
Legendary translator Gregory Rabassa died this month at the age of 94 (photo left). Rabassa was a key figure in bringing the writers of the Latin American "Boom" movement to English readers. He translated such iconic works as Gabriel García Márquez's 100 Years of Solitude and Julio Cortázar's Hopscotch. Readers of world literature have been honoring his life and translators—Ezra E. Fitz and Christina MacSweeney among them—have been talking about the profound impact Rabassa had on their careers and lives.
Here's a great interview with Rabassa from 2013.
Are you putting together your summer reading list? Author Daniel Saldaña París assembled a list of 10 Essential Spanish-Language Books. And they're not necessarily the one's you'd expect! Get reading!
Deborah Smith, the translator of The Vegetarian and winner of this year's Man Booker International Prize alongside its Korean author Han Kang, shared her thoughts on translation and fidelity at the Seoul International Book Fair.
The Bay Area Book Festival returns to downtown Berkeley for a second year this Saturday and Sunday, June 4 and 5!
Even bigger than the debut festival last year, it will feature more than 250 authors and speakers (including writers from 13 countries), 120 events, and expanded children and teen programs.
The festival has also launched a literary film series in cooperation with the Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive: “Author, Auteur” will show 10 films directly related to writers and writing, including a documentary about Polish poet Czeslaw Milosz.
Executive Director Michael Holtmann will moderate two panels:
On Saturday, June 4 at 11:30 am, the topic is “Confronting the Past: Time and Memory in Contemporary Fiction” with French novelist Jean-Philippe Blondel, Chilean-Norwegian poet Pedro Carmona-Alvarez, Swedish actor and author Jonas Karlsson, and Norwegian writer Kjersti Annesdatter-Skomsvold.
And on Sunday, June 5 at 11:45 am, he’ll lead a discussion on “The Art of Translation” with translator Katrina Dodson, Algerian-Italian writer Amara Lakhous, South Korean author Jung Young-Moon, and novelist, poet and translator Idra Novey.
Other festival highlights include a special event on Thursday, June 2 at Freight & Salvage with spoken word poet and musician Saul Williams, and “Literary Erotic Fanfiction Based on the Adventures of Sherlock Holmes” at the Marsh Theater Saturday, June 5.
The festival will also be the site of Lacuna, an art installation made out of 50,000 books.
With more than 20 events focused on international literature and ranging from Nordic noir to literary Taiwan, translation, and crossing borders, there’ll be plenty to enjoy for fans of world literature and translation.
The complete festival lineup is online.
Two Lines Press will have a table on Literary Lane (Addison St. between Shattuck Ave. and Milvia St., see map), so be sure to stop by to chat and peruse our books! We’ll have all the latest titles available for sale.
May was a busy month for literature in translation, and we’ve rounded up some of the biggest news in case you missed it!
Author Han Kang and translator Deborah Smith were awarded the Man Booker International Prize for Kang’s novel The Vegetarian. The prize celebrates "the finest global fiction in translation", and will be jointly shared between the author and translator—each will receive £25,000.
The prize may help South Korea’s efforts to win the Nobel Prize in Literature, outlined in a recent "On the Media" story.
Two Lines Press has a great interview with Deborah Smith about her love of Korean literature.
Our very own Executive Director Michael Holtmann was interviewed not once but twice by the BBC World Service after the prizewinners were announced. He praised the art of translation and also declared that multiple statues should be erected in their honor. Listen to the short clip here (start at 35:15), or a longer interview here (start at 17:30).
Han Kang has posted a reading list of books by contemporary Korean authors available now or forthcoming in English.
The Best Translated Book Award went to Yuri Herrera’s Signs of Life Preceding the End of the World (translated by Lisa Dillman), and Rilke Shake, by Angelica Freitas and translated by Hilary Kaplan. We hosted an event with Herrera in conversation with Daniel Alarcón last year.
Recent research commissioned by the Man Booker International Prize shows that UK sales of literature in translation grew 96% from 2001. They also found that “translated fiction books sell better than books originally written in English, particularly in literary fiction.”
The Community of Literary Magazines and Presses (CLMP) Firecracker award winners were officially announced May 19—you can read about the winning books here. (Wolfgang Hilbig’s The Sleep of the Righteous made the shortlist, and you can get a copy at the Two Lines Press website)
The New Republic reviewed Marie NDiaye’s Ladivine and also called All My Friends and Self-Portrait in Green (from Two Lines Press) “perfect introductions to NDiaye.” Order the books and experience this "unique voice among other contemporary French writers".
If you haven’t yet gotten your copy of João Gilberto Noll’s Quiet Creature on the Corner, we’re still offering the book for just $6.95.
Hideo Furukawa has built a name for himself as one of the titans of contemporary Japanese literature. His book Horses, Horses, in the End the Light Remains Pure is a groundbreaking work of creative nonfiction that deeply entwines his own life and the disaster in Fukushima, Japan, as it was devastated by an earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear meltdown.
Slaymaker and Takenaka discussed these historical events as well as Furukawa’s unique evocation of his experiences in Fukushima after the meltdown, the challenges of translating his Japanese prose, his other literary works, and what Japanese literature they are looking forward to experiencing.
Below we present an in-depth interview between PEN Translation Award–winning translator of Clarice Lispector's complete stories Katrina Dodson and Quiet Creature translator Adam Morris.
Quiet Creature is a slim book that sinks its claws into you, gently at first, then implacably. Like a film by David Lynch, Michael Haneke, or David Cronenberg, its hypnotic momentum pulls you along, even when the disturbing events make you cringe and want to turn away. The 1991 novel opens with a nineteen-year-old poet who’s just lost his factory job. He is one of countless Brazilians out of work in the late 1980s, when the novel is set, after the end of Brazil’s twenty-year military regime, a period marked simultaneously by hope for a new democratic order and uncertainty in the face of raging inflation and economic stagnation. The young narrator and his mother live as squatters in a semi-abandoned apartment complex in a rough neighborhood of Porto Alegre, capital of the southern state of Rio Grande do Sul, where Noll is from.
Early on, the boy recounts his rape of a neighbor girl in the same flat tone and bare language in which he describes washing his hands. The events that follow—his arrest, transfer to a mental health clinic, and surreal transition to a rural property where he becomes the charge of a German-Brazilian couple of mystifying motives—veer between the mundane, grotesque, and ominous. An undercurrent of social and political unrest occasionally pierces the narrator’s disorienting stream of consciousness, with allusions to the country’s first direct presidential election after the dictatorship (and Lula’s first run for president). As we drift through this novel without chapter breaks to arrive at its final image, the young man bobbing in a lake, we are left unsure whether he deserves pity or disgust.
The publication of Quiet Creature on the Corner this May by Two Lines Press, in a translation by Adam Morris, will make it João Gilberto Noll’s only novel currently available in English. Noll is one of Brazil’s most esteemed living authors; of his sixteen novels and short story collections since 1980, five have won the Brazilian equivalent of the National Book Award (Prêmio Jabuti). Yet the only prior book-length English translation of his work is an out-of-print 1997 UK volume of his novellas Harmada (1993) and Hotel Atlântico (1986). Next spring, Two Lines will also publish Morris’s translation of Hotel Atlântico as Atlantic Hotel. In a written conversation over the course of two days, I spoke with Morris about his translations, how to understand the more inflammatory scenes of sex and violence in Quiet Creature, and what Noll’s work means for the present cultural and political moment in Brazil and beyond. We discussed Dilma, Lula, the Brazilian landless workers’ movement (MST), as well as the perverse pleasures of Hilda Hilst, Clarice Lispector’s Nietzschean morality, and when to ignore English grammar and just let those Brazilian run-on sentences ride.
– Katrina Dodson
(Now read the interview on the Two Lines Press blog.)
A recent article from The New Yorker begins with the Burundi saying, “Where there are people, there is conflict.” As the article continues, it's easy to see how this saying rings true. A small country nestled beneath Rwanda in the heart of Africa, Burundi has a tumultuous history. Formerly a Belgian colony, it was the setting of two genocides, first in 1972 and then in 1993, as its two principle ethnic groups, the Hutus and the Tutsis, continued their fight for political power. As the article goes on to discuss, Burundi's struggles are far from over, though its division is no longer down strictly ethnic lines. It seems that after decades of fighting, the violence has left a lasting trauma on the people and things left in its wake.
It's astonishing how little we Anglophones know about Burundi. Although it's easy to see why. Until this year, no single Burundian novel had been translated into English. Not a single one. Lucky for us, this year Phoneme Media published Baho! by 28-year-old Roland Rugero, translated beautifully from the French by Christopher Schaefer.
The novel tells the story of a mute young man named Nyamugari, who becomes the scapegoat for a town suffering from drought, violence, and debauchery in the Burundian countryside...
(Read the rest on the Two Lines Press blog.)
When translator Adam Morris sent me a short excerpt from João Gilberto Noll’s Quiet Creature on the Corner (O quieto animal da esquina), and later when I read the full translation, I couldn’t help think about Jorge Luis Borges’s slim collection, A Universal History of Iniquity. In particular, the obvious echo in the title led me to re-read the story “Man on Pink Corner” ("Hombre de la esquina rosada"), which recounts a scene in which a knife fighter is killed, without real motive, by the narrator, who only offers this:
I stood there looking at the things I’d been seeing all my life—a sky that went on forever, the creek flowing angry-like down below there, a sleeping horse, the dirt street, the kilns—and I was struck by the thought that I was just another weed growing along those banks, coming up between the soapworts and the bone piles of the tanneries. What was supposed to grow out of trash heaps if it wasn’t us?
The narrator of Noll’s book, an unemployed poet who, until recently, lived in a squat with his mother, has a lack of hope in common with the knife fighters of Borges's story. These are all men born into a time and place—depression-era Buenos Aires for Borges, Porto Alegre of the 1980s Brazilian recession for Noll—that provides no semblance of a future for them, and thus there are no such things as consequences...
(Read the rest on the Two Lines Press blog)