One of Japan’s most revered mythological creatures, the tengu is believed to inhabit mountainous regions, where it exacts revenge for wrongdoings committed against community members. It is often blamed for abducting people and animals to later return them endowed with heightened senses and abilities, and for playing pranks on priests who have strayed from Buddhist precepts.
The reader is introduced to Keiichi Michihira—an investigative journalist on a journey to unearth the truth behind a series of murders that occurred a quarter-century earlier in Shikamata. Residents of this secluded hamlet are convinced that the culprit is the fabled tengu, and though Michihira is skeptical, their belief compels him to dig deeper, leading him on a wide-ranging investigation from the supernatural to the geopolitical.
The Kings (Los Reyes) was published in 1949. It was the first time Julio Cortázar published under his own name. Aside from this text, Cortázar wrote four other short plays that were collected and published in 1995 as Goodbye, Robinson, and other short pieces (Adios, Robinson, y otras piezas breves). One of the plays included in that volume Nothing Goes to Pehuajó (Nada a Pehuajó) had first been published as a single text in the year of his death. This adaptation/translation of The Kings was originally commissioned by The Art Party, Inc. in New York City, and developed with The Internationalists Around the World in the 24 Hours Festival.
Mohamed Metwalli was awarded a B.A. in English Literature from Cairo University, Faculty of Arts in 1992. The same year, he won the Yussef el-Khal prize by Riad el-Reyes Publishers in Lebanon for his poetry collection, Once Upon A Time. He co-founded an independent literary magazine, El-Garad, in which his second volume of poems appeared (The Story the People Tell in the Harbor, 1998). He was selected to represent Egypt in the International Writing Program at the University of Iowa in 1997. Later he was Poet-in-Residence at the University of Chicago in 1998. He compiled and co-edited an anthology of Modern Egyptian Poetry, Angry Voices, published by the University of Arkansas press in 2002.
It is the spring of 1897. Two ships set sail from the port of Gothenburg carrying Salomon Andre, Nils Strindberg, and Knut Fraenkel aboard. With them travels a team of skeptical meteorologists, suspicious journalists, overwrought engineers, and talented cartoonists. Their destination is the Arctic Sea. Soon the journey through the frozen North leads the three men to an enigmatic structure at the edge of the world, inside of which is a hot-air balloon. This is when the real journey begins. As the 20th century approaches and man’s domination over Earth nears completion, the three men seem determined to leave their mark on the new era through a bold undertaking; one which is entirely dependent on the mercy of the Northerly winds. Years later, through a succession of objects, impressions, and visits, the story continues…
The excerpt here is from his 2000 collection of “essays” On n’y voit rien: Descriptions. The chapters (on Velazquez, Titian, Bruegel, Tintoretto, Manet, Francesco da Cossa) are not essays in the usual sense. In what has been called his brilliant “narrative and pedagogical strategy,” Arasse’s analyses of the paintings in question are presented as fictional tales, dialogues between an “I” (Arasse) and a foil who questions his ideas, forcing him to clarify them for us. In the chapter presented here, the reader can see all the intelligence and humor Arasse brings to bear on his subject, in this case, the lovely snail in Francesco del Cossa’s Annunciation (1470).
Maurice G. Dantec was born in Grenoble, France, in 1959. After a period as an advertising copywriter in the early nineties, Dantec turned his attention to writing fiction. He has published seven novels, which might loosely be categorized as a blend of science fiction and crime fiction. One of them, Babylon Babies (semitotext(e), 2005), has been translated into English. He has also published three volumes of journals, Le Théâtre des opérations, the latest being American black box, which appeared in 2007. Dantec has also been involved in the music scene for a number of years and is the founder of the rock groups État d’urgence and Artefact. Since 1997, he has worked with musician Richard Pinhas as a member of Schizotrope. Since 1998, Dantec has been living in Montreal, Canada.
Clemens Meyer was born in Halle/Saale in 1977 and lives in Leipzig. He started his working life as a builder, furniture removal man, and security guard, before studying at the Deutsches Literaturinstitut Leipzig. Clemens Meyer won the MDR-Literaturwettbewerb in 2001 and the Rheingau-Literatur-Preis, the Märkisches Stipendium für Literatur, the Förderpreis zum Lessing-Preis and the Mara-Cassens-Preis for his first novel Als wir träumten, published in 2006. His short fiction collection Die Nacht, die Lichter was published by Fischer Verlage in February 2008 and contains the story “A Trip to the River.”
Malaparte witnessed first hand the consolidation of Mussolini’s dictatorship in the critical years 1922-1925. Highly intelligent, he was also a literary artist of distinction with a talent, typical of Tuscan writers since Dante, for barbed invective. These qualities led him to challenge Mussolini to make good on his promises of reform in the years when an open debate was still possible. “It was not Mussolini who carried the Fascists to the Prime Ministership, but the Fascists who had carried Mussolini to power,” Malaparte thundered in 1924 in his newspaper, La conquista dello Stato. And, in the wake of his realization that Mussolinismo had triumphed over the kind of idealistic left-wing fascism he advocated, it was these same qualities that led him to write what the critic Giuseppe Pardini has labeled “one of the few strictly original products of fascist culture”: Don Camalèo: A Novel About a Chameleon.
The American reading public was first introduced to Malaparte in the aftermath of the Second World War when Kaputt appeared in English in 1946. At the time, interest in Malaparte in the States was such that his portrait appeared on the cover of The Saturday Review of Literature on November 14, 1946. Two other books by Malaparte would make their way into English in later years. But Kaputt, that long, rich and macabre mediation on the horrors of war, remains the single book for which Malaparte is chiefly remembered today.
Don Camalèo, written in 1926-27, like Kaputt, has a strange publishing history that Malaparte describes in the preface he wrote to the first integral edition of the work, which appeared in Italy in 1946 and which I have included here. At the time of the book’s publication, Malaparte was basking in the international success of Kaputt, but his reputation in Italy remained suspect. Publishing Don Camalèo thus served two purposes: it enabled Malaparte to offer his recently acquired immense readership yet another “new” novel at the same time as it bolstered his claim to have been part of a fronde within Fascism. Don Camalèo is also like Kaputt in that Malaparte relies upon a first person narrator modeled closely on himself, sharing his name and many of his biographical details, to shepherd the reader along the twists and turns of the story’s path. But there the similarities end. In lieu of a series of darkly surrealistic encounters with death, we find a spirited, fast-paced comedy in the form of an eighteenth-century roman philosophique by Voltaire or Diderot.
Malaparte wrote Don Camalèo to deny validity of the equation that fascism equaled Mussolini. At its most basic level, the novel is an anti-Mussolinian satire characterized from start to finish by the knowledge that the kind of revolutionary fascism that Malaparte and others had urged upon the regime since 1922 was dead and that Mussolini would do little more than mouth revolutionary platitudes as he maintained power by appeasing the reactionary elements that had always counted in Italian life. But the novel has a deeper side. Malaparte would later write: “It is not possible to draw a portrait of Mussolini, without drawing one, too, of the Italian people. His qualities and his defects are not his own. Rather they are the qualities and the defects of all Italians.” Accordingly, as it pokes fun at Mussolini, the reader also finds Don Camalèo cutting deeper to mock many of the centuries-old vices besetting the Italian people as embodied in a series of broadly drawn characters.
The initial chapter (of twenty-three), presented here in translation, with its semi-serious use of classical erudition concerning the nature of salamanders, basilisks, and chameleons, sets the tone for the peculiar kind of jocular satire that will characterize the novel as a whole.
In the second chapter, current events then heave into view as Malaparte describes what it was like to have observed the March on Rome in 1922. He then recalls how one day he was outdoors horseback-riding with Mussolini when a chameleon appeared out of nowhere. This animal ex machina is what launches the tale since before Malaparte can object, Mussolini has assigned him the task of raising the beast, certain in the knowledge that the chameleon will be able to adapt to Roman political society.
Malaparte entrusts the chameleon to a Panglossian tutor by the name of Sebastiano, whose methods and mentality symbolize the hidebound nature of traditional Italian culture. Following this initial education, Malaparte introduces the chameleon, who has learned to speak, into political society, where he learns the finely-honed Italian art of trasformismo—what today’s spin doctors would call “triangulation”: finding out what you need to say you will change in order to win support, and then maintaining the status quo. But by dint of spending time with Malaparte, the chameleon comes to believe in the Fascist Revolution. He takes to the street to protest the slow pace of reform and his popularity soars with the common people. Seeing this, Mussolini decides he has no choice but to invite the chameleon into his inner circle of advisors.
Malaparte cautions the chameleon: “Everyone knows that the Head of the October Revolution, like any good Italian, doesn’t love revolutionaries; in fact, it’s likely that he despises them.” And he adds: “It’s true that you’re a chameleon, but if you join Mussolini in power, you’ll change colors so furiously that you’ll die from all the effort.” But the chameleon accepts the invitation in the belief that he will make the Revolution live up to its promises. Sadly, the lizard’s proximity to Mussolini, day in and day out, in Parliament gradually causes his political positions to mutate yet again. When, in January 1925, Mussolini institutes his personal dictatorship and calls upon all good fascists to embrace order over the Revolution, the chameleon does likewise. The novel predates the Lateran Pact of 1929, but it is prophetic in that it depicts Mussolini introducing the chameleon to a certain Dr. Libero, a Jesuit, who inadvertently causes the animal to believe he is the Son of God by goading him into reading The Imitation of Christ. Things do not end well for the poor lizard at the book’s conclusion, which takes place in Saint Peter’s Cathedral.
In sum, then, there remain three compelling reasons for Don Camalèo to appear in English: to add to our historical knowledge of the period; to add to our knowledge of Malaparte’s literary career and strengths as a writer; and, for the sheer enjoyment to be had from this minor literary gem, once believed to have been lost.
The professional premiere of this adaptation will take place May 9-31, 2008 at Miracle Theatre Group in Portland, Oregon under the direction of Devon Allen.
It was originally commissioned and produced (November 17-25, 2006) by the UCSD Department of Theatre and Dance, La Jolla, California under the direction of Gerardo Ruiz, and developed at New Dramatists in New York City under the direction of Jean Randich.
Special thanks to Leo Cabranes-Grant, Jorge Huerta, Ursula Meyer, Chris Parry, Gregary Racz, Darko Tresnjak, Phyllis Zatlin and all the actors and designers who have been part of this play’s development.
A Writer’s Labyrinth by Caridad Svich
“To enter that rhythm where the self is lost,
Where breathing: heartbeat: and the subtle music
Of their relation make our dance, and hasten
Us to the moment when all things become
Magic, another possibility.”
– Muriel Rukeyser (1962)
The Labyrinth of Desire is a play about transformation and the motor of human desire. Originally written by Lope de Vega in the 1600s under the title La Prueba de Los Ingenios (literally “A Test of Wits”), it falls under the category of a capa y espada/cloak and dagger play. It is a piece that true to its genre revels in the comedy of love and intrigue, and does so with Lope de Vega’s characteristic warmth, wit, and poetry. What raises this play above its genre is its great understanding of the essential mutability and fluidity of human desire. Pre-queer theory, pre-feminism and pre-Sex and the City, this play challenges the boundaries of prescribed sexual roles, and advocates for the delightful and essential mystery of love. The performance of self, gender identity, and sexual identity is at the core of this comedy, yet it also manages to address issues of class and the heteroglossic play of language.
In freely adapting this play for the American stage (and this is the first American English adaptation of this piece), I have taken many liberties with the original text: cutting minor scenes and characters, re-assigning some roles and lines, borrowing a very short comedic sequence from Shakespeare’s Troilus and Cressida, re-shaping and expanding scenes, and adding text of my own to clarify and deepen emotional moments as well as comedic ones. The ending in particular has a new twist that speaks to what I feel were Lope’s wholistic intentions with this play. In the use of language I have emphasized the colloquial and direct over the baroque. This choice is actually a mirror of the original’s taut and sharp energy. However, the meter and rhythms have necessarily changed. Nevertheless, my intention throughout my conversation with Lope de Vega across the centuries has always been to illuminate his vision for a new audience, one that most likely only knows, if at all, his classic historical play Fuenteovejuna. It is an audience, though, that is perhaps familiar with Marivaux’s The Triumph of Love and surely with Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night—plays that are clear cousins to this one in spirit, if not in form, and I’ve taken this into account when re-considering this play. Obviously, this is a free adaptation. It is faithful to Lope’s architecture, but it is very much suffused with my own artistic sensibility as a playwright, which also centers on the crossing of normative social and sexual boundaries, women in society, the carnival-esque play with language and genre, and interculturalism. In addition, my history (in my parallel career) as a translator of Federico Garcia Lorca’s work, and other dramatists including Calderon de la Barca, has inevitably played a role in my approach to Lope de Vega. Any writer meets a text through their own experience with the page and with the dramatic form. So, call this a hybrid text, a fusion, if you will, of Lope de Vega and Svich. The process has been not unlike the lead character of Florela in this play: I have entered, as Muriel Rukeyser expresses in her poem so eloquently, “the rhythm where the self is lost,” and in so doing, have found an exultant vision of transformation.
You’re going to read a Swedish play. Heavy. You’re thinking Ingmar Bergman, deep symbolism, whispers and cries, anguish, suicide, maybe some blonde sex in the sauna. Think again. The world of Sofia Fredén is more closely related to Larry David’s. Bergman’s characters are silent and closed. Sofia’s are open and naïve. They wear their psychology on the outside. They say what they feel. They are refreshingly selfish when you consider their context: a chilly, grey, and silent country where the motto, until quite recently, was “Duty above all else.” White Baby is a political comedy about a group of people who can’t seem to make place in their lives for a child. Most of it you’ll understand. But you probably won’t recognize similarities between the character Eva and Mona Sahlin, the present leader of Sweden’s social democratic party. You’ll listen to the scene in the postal service centre unaware that Post Offices have been completely phased out in Sweden and you’ll think it more absurd than we would when a character at the social service office asks to have his welfare check forwarded to Africa. Sweden and the U.S. are a bit different. We can’t help that. I am a great fan of Ms. Fredén and her work. White Baby is the fourth play of hers that I’ve translated. The earliest of rough drafts was workshopped at a theatre I ran about eight years ago. Three years ago Sofia and I took a version to a playwright’s colony in a nunnery in Winnipeg where she worked on it some more. Sofia has written about a dozen other plays while White Baby was in progress, so it had to wait until less than a year ago to get finished. It opened February 2007 at Göteborg Stadsteater.
(Edward Buffalo Bromberg)
The Brooklyn Rail welcomes you to our web-exclusive section InTranslation, where we feature unpublished translations of fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and dramatic writing. Published since 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).