The Independent's Foreign Fiction Prize is one of the translation awards that's always worth watching. Last week they announced their shortlist. Here are the titles, and here's an article in The Independent with more info on all of them:
By Philippe Claudel trans. John Cullen
The Blind Side of the Heart
By Julia Franck trans. Anthea Bell
By Pietro Grossi trans. Howard Curtis
By Alain Mabanckou trans. Helen Stevenson
By Sankar trans. Arunava Sinha
The Dark Side of Love
By Rafik Schami trans. Anthea Bell
This event put on by the Goethe Institut in London looks to be good. Maybe they'll put audio or video up online for those of us who can't make it:
How can the media assess new trends in writing? Does plagiarism in the digital age mean the end of original thought? What role does literature play in the context of cultural globalisation? Moderated by Professor Rüdiger Görner, our two critics assess the literary agenda in their respective countries and the declining role of the critic.
Born 1967 in New York City, Erica Wagner moved to Britain in the 1980s and studied at Cambridge and the University of East Anglia and then moved to London. She is Literary Editor of The Times and an author in her own right. Her publications include Gravity (1997), Ariel's Gift (2000) and her first novel Seizure (2007). Erica Wagner sits on the executive committee of PEN and the advisory committee of the Man Booker Prize and is frequently on Radio 4's Today, Front Row and BBC 2's The Culture Show.
Dr. Christoph Bartmann, born 1955, is a literary critic and commentator for Süddeutsche Zeitung and Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. He studied in Düsseldorf and Vienna and holds a doctorate in German language and literature. Having worked for the Goethe-Institut in Santiago de Chile, Prague and Copenhagen, he now heads the Culture and Information department in Munich. His books include Prag. Das Insider-Lexikon (1994) and Copenhagen, City of Writers (2005). In 2008 he was a judge for the Deutscher Buchpreis (German Book Prize).
As we gear up for our next Lit&Lunch in exactly two weeks, here's an interesting article about how exactly the Angel Island poetry came to be written, and the difficult work of restoring it.
First, the difficulty:
Many of the poems are still visible on the walls; others are obscured by aging wood or layers of paint. Architecture Resources Group (ARG), a San Francisco architecture firm that specializes in historic preservation and is conducting the renovation of the site, has discovered that some of the carvings were filled in with wood putty, then covered over with paint. ARG will undertake the laborious process of undoing this mask, which, ironically, has served to preserve the carving
The poems were probably written by those who were detained for long periods or those awaiting deportation. The majority are unsigned and undated, but they were most likely written before 1930s. Many of the poems were very likely composed by several authors working in succession. There contain many references to famous literary or folk heroes, Confucius, and other figures in Chinese folklore known to have faced hard times. Such references reveal that the authors were highly literate and well educated.
(Today we offer an interview with Marlon Hom, professor and director of the California State University International Programs in China. He'll be doing our May Lit&Lunch event where we talk about poems Chinese detainees carved into the walls of the Angel Island Detention Facility while they waited to find out if they would be admitted to the U.S. or sent back to China. 2010 marks the 100th anniversary of the opening of the facility (closed in the 1940s). If you plan to attend, make sure to RSVP on Facebook, since we're expecting a crowd!)
Scott Esposito: At Lit&Lunch, you'll be talking about poetry that immigrants from China carved into the walls of the Angel Island Detention Center as they waited to hear whether or not they would be admitted into the United States as immigrants. Some 135 of the poems have been saved--roughly how many Chinese were detained on the island, and what fraction of them were eventually granted entry to the U.S.?
Marlon Hom: According to the late Him Mark Lai's research, between 1910-1940 practically everyone--returnees and newcomers--from Asia with SF as port of entry or in transit to other countries, was processed at the Angel Island Immigration Station. (The other port of entry would be Seattle.) Approximately 175,000 Chinese immigrants were processed through there. There is no research on the ratio of admission/rejection for the Chinese at Angel Island since most denials would appeal, some all the way to Washington, D.C. National Archives in San Bruno would have all the immigration files.
SE: Can you generalize a little bit about the substance of the poems? What do they tend to be about, and what was the level of education and literacy of the people who wrote them?
MH: The Angel Island rhymes were voices of complaint on mistreatment; they were physical proofs that the Chinese immigrants were not all illiterate labor. In fact, with a careful reading, in conjunction with the local Chinatown Chinese language use, one would notice that on the reference to U.S. immigration practice (Chinese Exclusion Act). The Chinese language in these rhymes and the community media was used as a subversive expression of resistance against the U.S. immigration authority.
SE: Did these poems filter down into the Chinese-American community while the Angel Island Detention Center was still active? And what would you say is the poems' importance to both the Chinese-American community, and Chinese-American literature?
MH: Smiley Jann and Tet Yee, processed through Angel Island in 1931 and 1932, each copied similar rhymes from the dormitory walls. Of Jann's 92 and Yee's 96, 78 were similar. Jann wrote about these rhymes in an article published in Shanghai before WWII. Other than that, it was mostly silence on this open secret in the Chinese community until the 1970s that ushered in the new era of rediscovery. This silence is similar to how the Japanese Americans reacted to the relocation camps during WWII--community and individual silence until the Congressional Redress action began in the late 1970s . . . a sense of mental repression due to an internalized collective shame/guilt on the mistreatment.
SE: At Lit&Lunch we'll also be discussing some 220 songs from San Francisco's Chinese-American community written in the early 1900s. Could you tell us a little about when and how the songs collected in Songs of Gold Mountain were originally published?
MH: Actually there were three anthologies of approximately 2,000 vernacular rhymes published 1911, 1915, and 1917 in SF Chinatown. When I was working on the translation in the early 1980s, I only knew the first two anthologies, from which I chose 220 for the publication. Recently I learned and saw the third anthology (1917), and I am currently working on its contents.
The anthologies--where each individual rhyme's authorship is unknown--were products of community writing activities, as the prefaces so indicated. The songs' format was based on a particular folksong structure popular in the emigrant regions of the Pearl River Delta (counties of Sunwui/Xinhui, Toishan/Taishan, Hoiping/Kaiping, and Yanping/Enping) in southern China, from where 80 percent of the early Chinese immigrants originated.
Three publications of vernacular rhymes in the 1910s testified to the tremendous interest in reading in a working class community that was perceived by the outside world as literarily unsophisticated. In fact, these published rhymes from SF Chinatown redefined that genre of Cantonese folk rhymes.
SE: Were the songs frequently performed in San Francisco? What role did they play in the community?
MH: The anthologies were sold in Chinatown bookstores. I haven't found (through checking old newspapers) any public performance/readings activities on these rhymes. My speculation is that it was personal reading materials.
SE: Lastly, I wanted to ask about the impact of the Angel Island poems and the Chinese-American songs on China. I understand that some of these were actually published back in China at the time. What kinds of messages did these published works convey, and what did the Chinese make of them?
MH: A long narrative rhyme on Angel Island immigration detention was published in the Xinning Magzine (Toishan) in the early 1911. Other than that, nobody knew anything about these Chinese American creative writings at Angel Island until Him Mark Lai, et al. made the Island anthology available to the reading public in 1980. Same goes for the Gold Mountain Rhymes, until my translation appeared in 1987. It was through Him Mark Lai's frequent visits to southern China in 1980s and 1990s that this genre of Chinese American creative writings was recognized and circulated in Mainland China. Same goes for the Gold Mountain vernacular rhymes. It didn't gain any attention until I sent copies to friends and associates in Chinese universities in the early mid 1990s.
Many Chinese scholars were mostly brainwashed by Anglo-American historians who regarded early Chinese American immigrants as the illiterate working class. These writings actually opened their eyes, recognizing that literacy did exist and was in popular demand in the early Chinese-American community.
We'll be talking more about this in the upcoming couple weeks on Two Words, but I wanted to put out a save the date to everyone for our next Lit&Lunch event. We're going to be doing a great event for San Francisco locals, as SF State professor Marlon Hom talks about poems Chinese immigrants carved into the holding cells at Angel Island back at the turn of the century.
Hom will also be talking about his own translations of Chinatown songs that pervaded San Francisco's Chinese-American community in the early 1900s. As Hom will be explaining, these pieces of poetry are hugely important parts of understanding these immigrant communities, as well as building blocks of the rich Chinese-American literature that we have so much of in the Bay Area.
The flyer is below. And if you can come, make sure to RSVP with us on Facebook.
What makes a title tricky? Anything where sound and sense must be compressed is tricky, where the balance between sense and letter falls away from the latter. Titles are tighter than most epigrams; less matter-of-fact than subtitles but often just as haiku, with quibbles down to the syllable count; and sometimes just this side of idiom, which often forces one expression to stand in for another only figuratively related. One wants for them the stringency of individual lines of poetry, the same power to beguile and arrest. In return they demand, from the translator, a playful wit and ear.
Forming a mental image is, anyway, something a translator does. Something an author does. One works from the inchoate and the other from that person's idiolect. As Borges says (and Suzanne Jill Levine reminds us), the only difference between an original and a translation is that a translation can be measured against a visible text.
PEN sent out a press release today about the persecution of a PEN member who is also a member of the Uighur ethnic group in China. As PEN notes, the Chinese government has long engaged in an effort to contravene Uyghurs' right to free expression:
For the second time this spring, the Chinese government has prevented a member of PEN, the worldwide association of writers, from participating in a public program in Europe, a move PEN American Center today denounced as an unfortunate attempt to control critical speech inside and outside of China.
(Here we finish up our overviews of the translation titles considered for the Northern California Books Reviewers Awards. You can see previous coverage here, here, here, and here.)
Cities Without Palms by Tarek Eltayeb
Translated by Kareem James Palmer-Zeid
(American University in Cairo Press)
This novel by an acclaimed Sudanese author and poet follows the story of Hamza, a young Sudanese man who emigrates from Sudan to Egypt, and then eventually becomes an illegal immigrant in Europe. Hamza is forced to leave his village when famine and disease threaten to take the life of his mother and sisters, and his odyssey through distant lands becomes a quest to find himself and save his family. Eltayeb uses a spare style to evoke young Hamza's innocence, yet he builds Hamza into a complex, industrious character who must quickly learn to live by his wits. Hamza's travel becomes an exposure to new things (for instance, he never actually sleeps in a bed until he reaches Europe), and though there is much that's dark in Cities without Palms, ultimately the story is one of accomplishment and uplift.
Congrats to John Balcom and Chana Bloch and Chana Kronfeld, who are our winners in the translation category for the Northern California Book Awards. Balcom won the translated fiction award for his translation of There's Nothing I Can Do When I Think of You Late at Night by Cao Naiqian, and Bloch and Kronfeld won for their seven-year translation major Israeli poet Dahlia Ravikovitch's lifetime works, Hovering at a Low Altitude. You can see some photos of the poetry award winners right here.
And make sure to check out our audio from last week's Lit&Lunch, where Bloch and Kronfeld spent about an hour discussing Ravikovitch and the translation of her poetry. Lots of good stuff in there, including, this, about Ravikovitch's first book of poetry:
Her very first book of poems, The Love of an Orange, published in 1959, created a literary sensation. The poems expressed an utterly contemporary sensibility, but it was the very rare diction and archaic cadences distilled from the most ancient layers of biblical and liturgical Hebrew that made readers marvel that such stylistic mastery was the work of a 23-year-old poet . . . and a woman at that! These were books that women were traditionally not let near in Judaism. . . . That book immediately established her as one of the leading poetic voices of her generation.
PEN World Voices is always bittersweet for me . . . so many great events, but they're all in New York.
Well, not all of them this year. I caught this review of Purge by Sofi Oksansen at Words Without Borders, and it reminded me that Bay Area residents can see Oksansen along with two other international authors and Oscar Villalon next week for a special PEN World Voices event in Berkeley, co-sponsored by the Center.
I can't wait to finally see a PEN event on this side of the nation. It happens in downtown Berkeley on Wednesday, April 21, 7:30 pm. Tickets are available here.
Here's a bit from the review, which describes this book as an epic story?which meshes a psychologically complex case of fatal attraction with the echoing, brutal impact of the Soviet occupation of the Baltic states, and ranges kaleidoscopically and enthrallingly across different eras and back again.
I try to link things, Oksanen has said, on a metaphorical or symbolic level, or just by intuition. She succeeds remarkably: Purge, whose smooth translation by Lola Rogers seems to capture every nuance and subtlety in the text, is particularly striking in its rich use of metaphor, imagery both subliminal and grotesque, and scenarios paralleled across time and space, all cohering to create a read both emotionally harrowing and as riveting as a thriller. Now an international bestseller, Purge?the 33-year-old Finnish-Estonian author's third novel and the first to be translated into English?is the recipient of multiple awards including, most recently, the Nordic Council Literature Prize. In a gratifying testament to the book's authority and cogency, when the Estonian translation was launched in the capital Tallinn, police were on alert for fear of reprisals from present-day Communists.
But Purge is not simply a condemnation of the pernicious effects of Soviet Communism's fallen empire; like a great 19th century novel it is concerned with how political and economic systems compete with and come to bear upon individual human frailties and contingencies.
(We continue our overviews of the translation titles considered for the Northern California Books Reviewers Awards. You can see previous coverage here, here, and here, and remember to try and attend the awards themselves, this Sunday. If you can make it, RSVP on our Facebook site!
The She-Devil ... [more]
This is fairly exciting. In the introduction to its Spring 2010 issue, the longstanding and widely respected literary journal Massachusetts Review reveals its choice to hire a translation editor and to begin its second half century by dramatically increasing the amount we publish in translation.
(We continue our overviews of the translation titles considered for the Northern California Books Reviewers Awards. You can see previous coverage here and here, and remember to try and attend the awards themselves, this Sunday. If you can make it, RSVP on our Facebook site!
Desolation of the Chi... [more]
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April 8, 2010—The Northern California Book Reviewers announce the finalists in their annual awards for translated fiction and poetr... [more]
(We continue our overviews of the translation titles considered for the Northern California Books Reviewers Awards. You can see yesterday's coverage here, and remember to try and attend the awards themselves, this Sunday. If you can make it, RSVP on our Facebook site!
Songs for Tomorrow: A Colle... [more]
A copy of this podcast can be downloaded here. You can also subscribe to all of the Center's audio on iTunes, or in RSS. Dahlia Ravikovitch was more than Israel's leading female poet: she was also an outspoken activist who challenged Israel to forge its identity and once aided Palestinian poet Ma... [more]Posted on April 12, 2010, 11:52:40 PM
(As we look forward to the Northern California Books Reviewers Awards this Sunday, we're overviewing all of the considered titles for the translation award. We can vouch for the fact that all of these titles are great--we've read them after all!--and everyone should check out at least one. Our first... [more]Posted on April 12, 2010, 06:00:42 PM
The web magazine Open Letters Monthly has a fantastic essay that anyone who cares about translation must go read now, and I don't say that simply because the Center's own latest anthology--Wherever I Lie Is Your Bed--is allocated about 2,000 words and high praise.
The piece is actually a dual re... [more]
A copy of this podcast can be downloaded here. You can also subscribe to all of the Center's audio on iTunes, or in RSS. What came before Don Quixote? Give yourself five points if you said La Celestina. A Spanish Romeo and Juliet, Celestina was published in 1499 and became Spain's first-ever best... [more]Posted on April 6, 2010, 05:00:49 PM
(We're hosting Chana Bloch and Chana Kroenfeld next Tuesday for Lit&Lunch, discussing Israeli poet Dahlia Ravikovitch. RSVP with Facebook if you plan on attending! Here we offer an overview of some of the review coverage of their co-translation of Ravikovitch's collected verse, Hovering at a Low Alt... [more]Posted on April 5, 2010, 05:00:36 PM
The Center will be representing at AWP later this week in Denver. We're going to be at table D3, which is conveniently located on the way to the restrooms, so please drop by and say hello!
As an added incentive to find out all about the goings-on surrounding our programs in world literature, on ... [more]
(Today we offer a reprint of an interview with Chana Bloch and Chana Kroenfeld gave to Modern Hebrew Literature. They'll be appearing at Lit&Lunch on Tuesday, April 13 to discuss Israeli poet Dahlia Ravikovitch. RSVP with Facebook if you plan on attending!)
Q: Would you say something about yours... [more]