Yordan Yovkov’s short stories blend polished descriptions of people and places with the modest speech of Bulgarian peasants. “Seraphim’s Overcoat,” like many Yovkov works, depicts senseless suffering met with benevolence. Much like a biblical parable, the tragedy’s cause is unimportant, but the human response is. For Yovkov, loving compassion is the most remarkable human trait, and it is not embodied in urban life or among the rich but only in the sophisticated simplicity of ordinary moments and people. Very little occurs in “Seraphim’s Overcoat” other than an unassuming man’s act of extraordinary empathy. Thus when translating Yovkov, one must carefully fluctuate between creating common speech and uncommon descriptions to make the ordinary, momentous.
– David M. Jones
As a lifelong Indian civil servant, Shrilal Shukla was intimately familiar with every aspect of government in his native state of Uttar Pradesh in North India. This story showcases not only his often very subtle satire—he was not the sort to look for belly laughs, inspiring something more along the lines of wry smiles—but also his detailed knowledge of the daily life of the Chief Minister of a state (the equivalent of an American governor). Here he leads us into the mind of an extremely powerful man surrounded by sycophants, who is really no better than the members of his entourage. The title of the story ‘A Few News Items’ suggests that each incident that occurs in the story might be something one would read the next day in the morning paper. One of these, the inspection of an enormous natural disaster, leads the Chief Minister to a moment of true humanity, as he remembers a similar flood in his own childhood. As he becomes overwhelmed by what he sees, he suddenly loses his ability to think like a politician, an ability that he is sure to recover soon enough.
Many thanks to Aftab Ahmad for his help on this translation, and to Sadhna Shukla for granting permission to publish it.
– Daisy Rockwell
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
Hassouna Mosbahi’s fiction often sounds somewhat autobiographical, and this is certainly true for these two short stories. Each of them illuminates the character of the same type of contemporary Tunisian intellectual, who is a person torn between the cool comforts of Europe and the frustrating warmth of Tunisia.
– William Hutchins
My translation retains the original story’s street names (Frederiksborggade, Gothersgade, and Rosenvængets Sideallé) as well as the name of the bridge crossed by the narrator and Cora, Dronning Louises Bro (“Queen Louise’s Bridge”). Readers who are unfamiliar with Copenhagen and are interested in the spatial relationships referenced in the story would be well served by consulting a map; it is easy thus to recreate the approximate routes of the various short walks taken by the narrator and Cora to the lake Sortedams Sø, the parks, and the Church of Our Lady. We learn that during the lengthy stay with her grandparents that the bulk of the story describes, the narrator, then a schoolgirl, saw her mother only about once a week (and there is no indication that she saw her father at all); it is particularly worth noting that the location of the narrator’s (parents’) home on Rosenvængets Sideallé is in fact, as the description of the excursion to the lake suggests, within easy walking distance of the narrator’s grandparents’ home on Fiolstræde. The locations reflect typical generational differences: the grandparents’ apartment, which the grandparents have clearly occupied for many years already when the narrator is a child, is located in the medieval core of the city, while the narrator’s parents reside in a historically peripheral area that, while it was certainly considered quite attractive by the 1970s, when the story’s central events transpire, had not been heavily urbanized before the late nineteenth century.
The original story uses the very commonly-used Danish terms of address for “paternal grandmother” and “paternal grandfather,” Farmor and Farfar respectively. While I have generally used the formal English terms of address “Grandmother” and “Grandfather” respectively, I have rendered the original’s “Farmor og Farfars gæsteværelse,” which contains the first instance of the nouns in question, as “my paternal grandparents’ guest room.” While this constitutes a slight departure from the narrator’s usual tone, the translation would otherwise never definitively establish that the grandparents and Cora are the narrator’s relatives on her father’s side, a circumstance that suggests particular tensions and interpretive possibilities (it is of course striking that as far as we know neither the grandparents nor the narrator receive a telephone call from the narrator’s father during the narrator’s stay on Fiolstræde, much less a visit). The story is very much written in a Hemingway iceberg theory mode; it hints at but does not specify the exact nature of the problems in the relationship between the narrator’s parents on the one hand and between the narrator and her parents on the other hand, and it appears not unlikely that these problems have been a causative factor in the narrator’s undescribed breakup with the unnamed, undescribed father of her own children, about whom we know nothing except how old they are at the time of Cora’s death. All of these problems may ultimately be intimately intertwined with and have been determined by the narrator’s father’s early relations with his parents and sister or his genetic inheritance, or both.
– Peter Sean Woltemade
I never thought about translating my own work into a foreign language, yet with this story I decided to try for the first time. The reason, it seems to me, lies in the story itself (and not just in the fact that my native country is under the spell of an evil man and is descending into madness). The story plays out in a Southern California beach town. Everyone in it is an English speaker, so when I was writing the story in Russian I tried to echo the intonations of English. Translating the story was almost like re-translating it into the language that was original to its plot; but translating is always, in some way, a rewriting. This is a story of death-in-life, of alienation. Nothing spells alienation more clearly than a story told in a language alien to its teller. When I reread my translation, a chill goes down my spine because the form and the content coincide perfectly, and I can barely recognize myself either as the author or as the character of the story–similar to how the heroine can barely recognize her existence in the beach town as the life she was supposed to live.
I would like to express my sincere gratitude to Ha Nguyen for her corrections and suggestions.
– Maria Rybakova
In Melanie Taylor Herrera’s short story “Journey,” a girl is abandoned, reclaimed, and again reclaimed. Mothering occurs as a plurality, the matriarchs, like the view from the streetcar, automobile, bus, horse, hip, whisking past, blurring countryside and city, nostalgic past and modernist present, refocusing even as eyesight worsens. Who is abandoned in the making of a nation, and for whom is it truly a nation? Which traces now recognized? Which lines can be transversed, by whom, and for how long? Or is the sound that is made collectively or the images that are combined the only true celebrations? A voice from the depths of the sofa. A call and need for a different mothering in the midst of. A woman like a country ages exponentially even as “progression” occurs at its pace. At which point the intersection?
The reader is in each place asked to exist and accommodate, as in grow comfortable, though in each place the female body is faced with danger, betrayal, quieting. How does this act as a metaphor for the country, Panama, now, as it celebrates anniversaries of construction, canal, nation; for conflicted memories of invasion; for a woman’s relation to power; and for globalization? Who has been considered a citizen? Who now is so easily adapted? Before whom does the law bend or turn its back? What knowledge in the wrinkled eye lost?
And as for home in instability and the contrast of enclosure and open air. The females who advocate for open windows, walks outside. Threats to security. Who should have been saved? Is not getting saved? Is saving? Is it a postcard? A ghostly trace of tracks stepped over. There are numerous hauntings, possessions. To be a devil or a ghost because memory remains and is desired to be shared. In the very center of the city hidden away or very far in the countryside open to the air. What is aging us prematurely?
Melanie Taylor Herrera included this story in her book Camino a Mariato. Each story offers a route into an interior slice. In “Journey,” our protagonist has been taken into the core of a nation and there enclosed. Female territory and mythmaking and agency. The book and the story offer up new possibility.
– Christina Vega-Westhoff
In Jean Lorrain’s small book, Contes pour lire à la chandelle (1897), the stories about Madame Gorgibus appear under the subheading “Tales for sick children.” But these grotesque narratives about an eccentric loner also amuse us as adults—until our laughter is stifled by a cruel prank. Madame Gorgibus is a marginal character, a victim of public condemnation for her odd life and gaudy fashions, much as Lorrain himself had been. We are chided for our preconceptions when, despite accusations of misogyny, Lorrain sympathizes with the sad closed lives of old women who have suffered reversals of fortune.
The stories charm a reader with their rhythm and rhyme as well as the visual appeal of Madame Gorgibus’s outdated fashions and furnishings, and her raven’s behavior as both threatener and victim. Online image libraries were invaluable while translating; it was easy to find photos of the Dresden china statuettes popular in the mid-eighteenth century, or to learn that Madame Gorgibus’s preference for puce began with a trend set by Marie Antoinette. Images of ramparts and ravens, quincunxes, capes and capuches helped me translate the past in which Madame Gorgibus was still living.
– Patricia Worth
The famous opening line of “Under the Cherry Blossoms” is certain to cross a few minds every spring in Japan.
Widely considered one of Kajii’s major works, the story was first published in December 1928. It appeared in the journal Poetry and Poetics (Shi to Shiron), which set out to introduce readers to contemporary modernist writings from the West through translations and critical discourse. The debut issue had carried an essay by Louis Aragon, and the magazine later went on to publish the work of Paul Valéry and André Gide. The second issue, which featured “Under the Cherry Blossoms,” sought to explore the notion of a poetics beyond verse.
The early work “Lemon” (1925) illustrated a surrealist ethos arisen from the dingy back alleys of Kyoto, and it was in this internationalist context that “Under the Cherry Blossoms” was also conceived. Kajii, who began but never completed a degree in English literature at the top-ranked Tokyo Imperial University (what is today the University of Tokyo), is known to have read Baudelaire’s Paris Spleen in an English translation. A portion of the text was found transcribed in his notebooks around the time when the story was written.
Among such literary coteries Kajii himself founded a journal called Blue Skies (Aozora) while the editors of Poetry and Poetics included at least one bookseller-cum-tastemaker with knowledge of the latest foreign titles. Paris Spleen served as the exemplar of a kind of urbanite experience, the work that many a fledgling author aspired to write when prose poems were the form and decadence the theme of the day.
“Under the Cherry Blossoms” is a stylistically mature work that depicts a coming to terms with mortality and its accompanying dualisms through an exposition of the sub rosa, a revelation that starts with the creeping notion that beneath such beautiful flowers, something lies hidden.
– Bonnie Huie
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).