Luisa Valenzuela, one of Argentina’s most prominent and inventive fiction writers, was born in Buenos Aires in 1938. The home in which she grew up was a gathering place for writers, artists, and publishers. Borges (whom she described in her Paris Review interview as “a walking system of thought”) came at least once a week, being a close friend of her mother, Luisa Mercedes Levinson (herself a well-known writer). The Luisa in question here wrote her first poem at six, and published her first story at twenty. The author of over twenty books–novels, short stories, and micro-fictions–Valenzuela has lived in France, Spain, Mexico, and New York, and taught at numerous universities, including Columbia and NYU. She has won a host of major prizes and awards (including a Fulbright, a Guggenheim, the Cervantes Prize, and at least one honorary doctorate). Her work has been widely translated. She left Argentina in the wake of the 1976 military coup, when one of her books was censored; in 1989 she returned to Buenos Aires and re-settled in her native neighborhood of Belgrano. Although fluent in French and English, she always held on to “the Argentine language [as] a home I don’t want to lose” [The Paris Review interview, No. 170]. Her writing has rightly been called “hallucinatory” (although in matters of craft, it is absolutely lucid), arising as it has from her country’s surreal and violent politics. Valenzuela’s sentences have force and momentum, though her phrases may shift into unexpectedly delicate cadences and textures. Terror, exile, and alienation continue to be major themes, yet there is also a new, entirely unsentimental, tenderness between her characters.
“The Wanderer” (original title: “La errante”) is from Tres por cinco, a collection published in Spain in 2008 and Argentina in 2010.
Valenzuela’s most recent visits to New York took place in May 2014 for the launch of REVIEW 88: Latin American Literature & Arts, where she did a reading of “Conyecturas” (a witty philosophical story called “Conjectures on the Great Beyond” in English), and in 2013 for several events at McNally Jackson centering on her latest novel, La máscara sarda (The Sardinian Mask), which delves into the Sardinian roots of Juan Domingo Perón.
- Marguerite Feitlowitz
Paol Keineg is a Breton poet and playwright. Though he lived in America for many years, he has now returned to Brittany, where he is recognized for both his earlier political work and for the lyric beauty of his poems. One reviewer wrote of his 2005 book Là, et pas là: “A world rich with diverse identities, feats and defeats, from savagery to civilization and back, a poetry of secrets as much as cries. And if the whole point is to stay in the world without getting angry? The strength of his work doesn’t ask us to obey” (Claude Lalande, Le Nouveau Recueil, translation my own). The title of his 2012 book Abalamour is a microcosm of these qualities–abalamour in the Breton language means “because,” the beginning of a reasoned argument, but in French abalamour sounds like “à bas l’amour”–down with love.
Like Pessoa, he uses heteronyms to create, in his words, “a liberating effect under certain circumstances.” Poems in Abalamour are written under the names “Chann Lagatu” and “Yves Dennielou,” suggesting lineages and family histories in addition to the author’s own.
In the title poem, Keineg draws on Breton, French, and American allusions. Instead of footnoting, I have included a few glosses here. Part of this poem takes place in North Carolina (where Keineg was a professor at Duke for many years). The poem refers to a Breton story about the figure of Death who drives from town to town at night in his carriage. The wheels of the carriage make a squeaking noise (”wik-ha-wak”) as he passes through to collect the dead. The other Breton reference in the poem is to al leur nevez–a party where neighbors dance on a new threshing floor to tamp down the dirt and make a good surface for the grain. Kiez ar bed means “bitch of the world” in Breton.
- Laura Marris
The poems in Smugglers, including those featured here, move through rapid historical shifts and meditations on personal experience, exploring the depths and limits of comprehension through the people and geography of the Balkans. Ultimately, Debeljak’s urban imagination creates a mosaic–intimate and historical–of a vanished people and their country. Every poem in Smugglers is 16 lines long (four quatrains, a common form for Debeljak). This structural regularity is reinforced by a commitment to visual balance, with each poem working as a kind of grid into which the poet pours memories and associative riffs.
Other translations from Smugglers have appeared in Asymptote, Barrow Street, Guernica, The Iowa Review, The Literary Review, and other journals.
- Brian Henry
Forschungsbericht, at less than 40,000 words, is perhaps the most immediately accessible of Fichte’s ethnographic novels: set in the coastal Belizean city of Dangriga over the course of a two-week visit in February 1980, it depicts the attempts of Fichte’s alter ego, the writer Jäcki, and his companion Irma, the alter ego of Fichte’s long-time companion, the photographer Leonore Mau, to investigate the religious practices of the Black Carib (or Garifuna) community in Belize. The centerpiece of the novel is Fichte’s unsuccessful attempt to observe the dugu, the Garifuna feast for dead ancestors, which is presided over by the local buyei, or shaman, to placate the departed.
Forschungsbericht serves as an excellent point of entry into Fichte’s ethnographic writing, as meditation on both the consciousness of the writer and the creative process, and as illustration of the epistemological problem of knowing anything outside oneself, especially the foreign. Fichte, who originally meant his life’s work to be regarded as a history of tourism in the latter half of the twentieth century (and who might best be thought of as a French writer who wrote in German, a cross between Proust and Lévi-Strauss), is a crucial figure in that century’s literature, and deserves to be more widely known outside the German-speaking world.
- Adam Siegel
Sébastien Smirou’s eight-part poem “Le chamois” comprises Chapter 3 of his eight-chapter volume Beau voir (Paris: P.O.L., 2008). Subtitled “bestiaire,” with a pencil sketch by François Matton of an unfinished beast on its cover, Beau voir features chapters that each address a different animal: lion, giraffe, chamois, cow, cat, turtle, glowworm, dodo. One may hear the title as an echo of mirabile visu, “wonderful to behold,” with the reading experience figured like a day spent wandering an unusual zoo: the animals are hardly in captivity, few zoos feature glowworms (or, for that matter, cats), and the dodo is extinct. On the other hand, “beau voir” is also a set expression, indicating doubt: “Oh yeah? I’d like to see that,” or, more cynically, “Uh-huh, we’ll see about that.” Poised between exhibition and exhibitionism, between inventory and invention, Beau voir is a kids’ book for grownups, those featherless bipeds who live behind figurative bars but are sometimes freed by rhyme, or nonsense, a run-on sentence, a pun or sing-along. One might keep in mind that bête is not only a noun for “creature”; it’s also an adjective meaning “silly,” even “stupid.” Similarly, “La vache,” the book’s fourth chapter, refers to cows–but “vache,” the adjective, means “nasty,” while “La vache!” is an exclamation of surprise: Holy cow! Like its predecessor Mon Laurent, Smirou’s Beau voir is divided into eight chapters, each containing as many poems, with each poem comprising an octave of lines. Moreover, the last line, or a portion of it, is repeated in every poem within a section, verbatim or with variegated reiterations. All eight octets of “The giraffe,” for instance, conclude, “si tu vois ce que je veux dire” (”if you see what I mean”), a phrase that highlights Smirou’s impish wish to marry seeing and saying. That the title Beau voir contains eight letters is no contingent detail–I am calling the translation See About. Previous translated excerpts from the book have appeared in Asymptote, Aufgabe, and Paperbag.
- Andrew Zawacki
Ferréz (b. 1975, São Paulo) is a figure of considerable cultural importance in his native Brazil, acting as the focal point of a literary movement, “literatura marginal,” which promotes the culture of marginalized sectors of Brazilian society. He began writing at the age of 12, accumulating poetry, short stories, and chronicles. Ferréz also takes part in the hip-hop movement and is the founder of a clothing brand manufactured in his neighborhood, as well as a composer with a number of CDs on the market. In his books, Ferréz lends his voice to the residents of the suburbs of the Brazilian megalopolis, drawing from his own experiences of living in one of the biggest favelas of São Paulo.
Emira Larson is a Bosnian-American who was born in Sarajevo, where she stayed during its four-year siege. An architect by training, she recently published her first book of short fiction, Šeherzada u Sarajevu (in English translation: Scheherazade in Sarajevo). She writes food and travel stories as a correspondent for Gracija magazine. Her short fiction and essays have been published in numerous literary magazines. In the last ten years, she has changed many addresses, from Kinshasa to Vienna to Podgorica.
Before he wrote his renowned fairy tales, Hans Christian Andersen wrote the play Mulatten (Horatio in English), which premiered at the Royal Danish Theater in Copenhagen in 1840 and was a great success. It takes place on Martinique, and deals with slavery and the plantation system in a unique way: two white women (Eleonore, the plantation owner’s wife, and Cecilie, a countess living with them as a ward) fall in love with Horatio, a man of mixed race who is free. When the plantation owner discovers the two white women’s–and particularly his wife’s–affections for Horatio, he attempts to sell Horatio as a slave at an auction and later to kill him. In a surprise ending, Horatio is saved by Cecilie when she proposes marriage to him, in which she refers to an old law that guarantees the liberation of a slave if he is married to a white person (known as “code noire”).
The play was written at a time when the Danes owned plantations and slaves in the Danish West Indies. Not only does the play grapple with race and gender issues, but it is also clear that Andersen himself is speaking through Horatio, a poet, who is considering the role of the artist in a society that does not appreciate him as such. Andersen himself was at an early stage in his artistic career and was not established yet. The intellectuals of his day refused to take him seriously, not only because of his impoverished background, but also because of his highly creative and innovative ideas and usage of the Danish language. His contributions, particularly his fairy tales, would later transform Danish literature forever and put Denmark on the international literary map.
The translation of Andersen’s play is one in a series of books I’m seeking to publish in 2016 to commemorate the purchase of the Danish West Indies by the U.S. Another book which will be translated in connection with the series–this one, from English to Danish–is the celebrated Harlem Renaissance writer Nella Larsen’s Quicksand, which tells the story of a half-Danish, half-African-American woman’s plight to find her Scandinavian and African American identity in the 1920s.
- Nina Sokol
Using her background in psychotherapy, Glafira Rocha blends genres and fractures forms to introduce us to texts devoid of spatial, temporal, and character delineations, thus fully delving into the psyche of each voice. Like Dan Chaon’s Stay Awake and Robin Black’s If I Loved You, I Would Tell You This, Rocha’s Such Tales is a work of fiction intended to disturb and unsettle. Spanning nearly nineteen thousand words in length, the volume centers on human conflict, inviting its audience to examine the catalyst for evil that resides in the relationships among the people Rocha depicts.
The situations explored in Such Tales include, among others: a killer struggling to find his keys after murdering a mother and her two children; a psychopath pondering mass homicides; a dying woman experiencing her final thoughts, visions, and hallucinations; two highly driven women competing for power within the same career and the same mind; private letters describing a father’s absence, a wife’s loneliness, and the incestuous sexual abuse of their child; people wandering around a town vivid with remnants of the revolution for freedom; the loss of a child testing an elderly woman’s faith; a paralytic discussing his shoe fetish; a woman living with depression and struggling to move through her day; the brutal death of a relative affecting everyone and no one equally.
- Gustavo Adolfo Aybar
Apotheosis of the Dance is a six-part surrealist verse cycle, originally composed in 1973, which attacks totalitarianism and government-sanctioned violence through absurd humor. This can be best seen in the second poem, “Stalin at the Crossroads,” where the tyrant is declawed through his absurd presentation as a sentimental poet, and later as a prima ballerina. The absurdly comical situations imagined by Wirpsza in his cycle highlight the tragic absurdities of the systems of totalitarian repression, the unnaturalness of which is underscored in verse five, “Dante Apprenticed.” There, the man who was able to imagine the torments of Hell turns out to be a bad fit for a torturer’s academy, as “what was to be painless [...] was torture at his hands, and what was to be painful / [...] was, on the contrary, / ineffective.” Like the “idiot” in verse three, “Knights at an Assumption,” Dante escapes the organs of the state, who pursue him in a vain attempt to remake the human individual into a cog in the machine of judicial murder. The cycle comes to an end in poem six, “Can-can,” in which the bloody, yet bewilderingly comical, world resolves in an apokatastasis, which may be unsatisfying–although it cannot be said that the guilty get off totally scot-free in Wirpsza’s agnostic Comedy.
The Brooklyn Rail welcomes you to our web-exclusive section InTranslation, where we feature unpublished translations of fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and dramatic writing. Launched in April 2007, InTranslation is a venue for outstanding work in translation and a resource for translators, authors, editors, and publishers seeking to collaborate.
We seek exceptional unpublished English translations from all languages.
Fiction, Nonfiction, and Poetry: Manuscripts of no longer than 20 pages (double-spaced)
Plays: Manuscripts of no longer than 30 pages (in left-justified format)