InTranslation is pleased to be collaborating for the fifth time with the New Literature from Europe (NLE) Festival, which took place November 6-9 in New York. Our November issues in 2010, 2011, 2012, and 2013 were likewise dedicated to the festival and its participating authors.
Our current issue features translations of fiction and nonfiction prose by this year’s authors from Albania, Austria, Bulgaria, Denmark, Germany, Poland, and Romania.
For more information about the festival, its events, and its partners, visit: http://newlitfromeurope.org.
Daddy Wants TV Saturday Night is a short story I wrote in Michigan when I was a graduate student. It is based on a personal memory of how Romania was when I was around 10 years old, growing up in a little town on the Danubian plain. The political context is subtly embedded in the text; it’s the year when the communist government in Romania embarked on a path of financial independence and started to save money to pay off the nation’s debt. They succeeded, after a decade of challenging cutbacks which included reducing household electricity. A few years after I wrote this text and my 2002 collection appeared in Romania, I thought about translating some of my short stories into English myself. I started with this text for reasons I find today more sentimental than literary. By translating a very personal piece of fiction I was searching for my own literary identity in an adopted language. To achieve a decent version, I consulted several friends and got a lot of help with conveying some idiomatic expressions. It was not easy for me to try this; it took me several years just to do a few pages. Besides my difficulties in translation, I understood that in Romanian I had a sense of personal identity permeating the text, something that came very naturally and was hard to acquire in another language. In every scene, I felt the narrative voice was legitimate and authentic. It was through this that I learned to truly appreciate the amazing translators working from Romanian into English today, such as Alistair Ian Blyth and Sean Cotter. I have seen them at work and I greatly respect both their knowledge and art.
– Bogdan Suceavă
Before the reading at the Lark, I was hoping that the audience would learn some interesting facts about my country, but at the same time I was hoping that both actors and audience would discover familiar things in the play, things that are universal.
I also was a little bit afraid–there are many things in the play that are so specifically Romanian that they cannot be translated 100%. Together with Ioana and the actors, I tried to bring these specific things as close as possible to the American audience. And I think we succeeded.
During the translation process, Ioana and I talked a lot about the situation in post-communist Romania, about all kind of people living together in blocks of flats, about young people over the age of 20 who are still living with their parents, about the factories that had to close leaving many people unemployed, about the importance of colored plastic bags.
The Life Expectancy of Washing Machines is not only about the problems of post-transition Romania, not only about a generation gap, a midlife crisis, loneliness, and a unusual love story. It’s also a play about the courage to follow your dreams. “The themes are universal,” and audience member wrote to me. “All this could have happened in a small village in the Appalachians, or the Adirondacks, or Rosedale, Queens.” “It’s a love story,” another wrote, “with each of the characters pining after an unrealistic love in order to distract themselves from their present reality.” Clearly the audience understood the message of the play, and even more. They discovered things I didn’t even think about while writing the play. And I think all this was due to the translation.
– Elise Wilk
Translating Elise’s play was a wonderful experience, in the format offered within the hotINK at the Lark project. To have the Romanian author, as well as the American stage director, assistants, and actors working together, discussing facts and characters, refining cue after cue, sounding layers of meaning, defining cultural differences, finding the right expression together where needed–that can well be considered the ideal way to finish a theatrical translation. It was indeed a time of warm cooperation and discovery. The members of the team brought to the table their professionalism and experience, their gifts and wholehearted involvement. The response of the audience in the end confirmed our work well done. A well-crafted foreign story from Romania came to be understood and considered relevant across the distance of a continent and an ocean, in the United States.
– Ioana Ieronim
Eclogue is the story of Lavinia, a widow who travels with her two young daughters from her port city on the Black Sea to the village of her husband’s kin: a small rural community in the Romanian Carpathians. Lavinia succeeds to raise her daughters through strength of character and hard work as the village seamstress; in the second half of the poem, the story of the younger daughter, Lena, becomes a focus as well. The featured excerpts, in fact, concern the grown-up Lena more than her mother Lavinia, although as the future continuation of Lavinia’s being and, in many ways, her attitudes and values, Lena’s story is of course an extension of the primary one.
Throughout Eclogue, however, it is Lavinia who is the protagonist, bearing her own life, but she also serves as a shrewdly perceptive witness who knows everybody and lets us hear her muted voice as we hear the villagers’ voices. To them, she is paradoxically an outsider, the other, in turn respected and distrusted, and likewise an insider who gradually became part of this mountain locale with its pastoral heritage. The events take place at a margin of space on the still-remembered border between the former Austrian and Ottoman empires. And they fill a thin, transitional margin of time: the Soviet takeover of Romania following World War II.
With its ironic title, Ioana Ieronim’s Eclogue is, to the author, a kind of novel in verse, a book intended to preserve and understand one small place, subject to traumatic change, as a lens for much more than itself.
A love affair between the main character/narrator and Milena/Mailena, a Slovak writer, comes into being in the virtual world, thanks to an assiduous exchange of emails that intersect with the narrator’s messages to his wife, Marianne, who is in New York to treat a mysterious illness. In parallel, the narrator invents Tsvetan, a macho Bulgarian truck driver who is making his way across Europe, and Beatrice, an inscrutable dancer and lover of hedgehogs. Dumitru Tsepeneag weaves together the lives of these two characters invented by his narrator in a way that is strange and wholly unique. But behind the sound of the book, there is a more solemn story, one of emotions and lost illusions. For, ultimately, The Bulgarian Truck is a story of old age, and of preparing oneself to meet death.
Critic Eugen Simion wrote: “From the outset, Dumitru Tspeneag opted for experimental prose, and almost all his narratives are narratives of a text, rather than texts of a narrative, if we accept the distinction made by the theorists of the Nouveau Roman. In The Bulgarian Truck he goes further: he places all his cards on the table, he depicts the conventions of the experimental novel, he reveals the tricks of narrative, he converses with his characters about the construction and deconstruction of the novel he is trying to write. Finally, he turns his hesitations into an epic and rather than offering a unitary and coherent work, he presents its building site. In this new textual adventure, the writer wagers on the reader’s curiosity to discover the secrets of an atypical novelist. It must be said that he succeeds.”
Kill me! is a captivating story about the perverse power of storytelling and the way fiction can become more “real” than reality. The novel tells of the relationship between two women whose friendship begins well–an older woman makes an offer to host a younger one in her apartment. Their shared life ends three years later with a crime. What seems to be the beginning of a love story–the encounter between Vali and Ramona–imperceptibly transforms into a terrifying policier: the main character proves to be Veronica Manea, the sixty-year-old woman who behaves like a vampire and relives the passion of her youth. The web that Veronica Manea weaves around the younger Ramona surrounds both of them. Old ghostly and disquieting love interests are projected against the background of exotic sites. Ramona enters Veronica Manea’s dangerous game, and the only way out is a crime; which is, of course, no way out.
Gellu Naum (1915-2001) remains one of the major European poets of the twentieth century. He started as an orthodox Surrealist, together with Andre Breton and Victor Brauner in the Paris of the 1930s (where he pursued a PhD in philosophy from the Sorbonne). After returning home to Romania, in the early 1940s, he embarked on a solitary and prolific career that kept his verse inexpugnable to the Communist regime’s political agenda while continuously reshaping surrealism into a chameleonic complex oeuvre that absorbed popular culture and managed to fuse a wide range of styles and dictions. His highly influential work both encompassed and veiled political critique, Eastern and Western spirituality, occultism, literary tradition, and mordant oneiric ironies.
At the center of Wasted Morning is Vica Delcă, a simple, poor woman in her 70s who has endured the endless series of trials and tribulations that was Romanian history from WWI to the end of the twentieth century. She’s a born storyteller, chatting and gossiping tirelessly. But she also listens, and it is through her that the author is able to show us a panoramic portrait of Romanian society as the fortunes of its various strata shift violently. Rich or poor, honest (more or less) or deceitful, all of the characters in this polyphonic novel come vividly to life. From Bucharest’s aspirations to be the Paris of Eastern Europe to the darkest days of dictatorship, the novel presents a sweeping vision of the personal and collective costs of a turbulent century.
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).