Holy Mother of God! tells the warm, wise, and witty story of the politically incorrect life of Marie, a French housewife in search of happiness. Marie seems to have everything in her life she needs to be happy; a husband, Cornelius, who loves her, a newly purchased home, the news of her first pregnancy–and even though she is new to her small town, she has already become friends with a group of mothers. But Marie is naïve, and her perfect life becomes a little less than that. Astrid Éliard dares to shake the foundations of the maternity through a narrator who explains how this Marie–the French name for the Virgin Mary–struggles with her own life, “holy and full of grace.”
– Allison M. Charette
Likened to Carson McCullers, Flannery O’Connor, and Clarice Lispector, Hebe Uhart is an Argentine writer whose distinctive voice has made her beloved over the past 50 years by the Argentine public and fellow writers. Relatos Reunidos, her collected works, won the award for the Best Work of Literary Creation at the Buenos Aires Book Fair in 2011. Her newest story collection, Un día cualquiera, was released in 2013. An avid traveler with a piercing eye, Uhart has also published two travelogue collections, with a third forthcoming.
“The Fluffy Cake” is the title story from a collection originally published in 1976. Uhart says she wrote the story after a having experienced a moment of considerable disappointment during which she saw her world as flat and depressing, like this cake she had once made in childhood.
“Dear Mama” was included in the 1997 story collection Guiando la hiedra. Uhart wrote it as a tribute following the death of her mother. In 2009 it was adapted for the theater by Laura Yussem.
– Maureen Shaughnessy
Originally published in ViMagazino, the magazine supplement to one of Greece’s largest and most popular Sunday newspapers, “The Black Box” is a wry allegory about the economic crisis that has devastated Greek society. Like Asteriou’s fiction in general, the story makes use of biting humor, a playful pastiche of genres, and provocative references from popular culture to creatively defy the hopelessness and cynicism of prevailing political discussions. His work has been described as “terrifyingly topical,” as well as “multidimensional” and “masterfully crafted.” These attributes are evident in the story, which is narrated in the voice of a weary, ineffectual police detective, who is frustrated at every turn by the missing suspect. Drawing from crime procedurals, folktales, and the lurking uncanniness of the Gothic ghost story, Asteriou weaves together a neo-magical realist fable with precision, economy, and an enviably light touch. As in most magical realist fiction, his characters are theatricalized types: the traveling American magician Balthazar, also known as Shirkgood or Lawrence, after Lawrence of Arabia, is but the most blatant embodiment of this idea of identity as multilayered performance. And it is precisely this playfully performative aspect of the story that remains with us at the end. What happened to Akis Konstantellos? To Balthazar? We are left without answers to these questions. Yet our frustration is perhaps outweighed by our wonderment: there is certainly something satisfying in the fact that the steadily increasing number of missing persons in the story are, to the end, able to defy the institutional mandates of discipline, reason, confession, and resolution.
– Patricia Felisa Barbeito
André Chenier is universally acknowledged to be the most gifted poet of eighteenth-century France. His masterpiece is The Bucolics, impersonal but moving and dramatic treatments of classical themes. The best known poem of this collection is “The Tarentine Bride,” featured here. Like most of the Bucolics, it is composed in the Alexandrine couplets of rhyming hexameters perfected by Racine, but given a new flexibility by Chenier. I have translated them into their English equivalent, the pentameter heroic couplets that dominated English eighteenth-century verse. The French text can be found on line at Wikisource, le bibliothéque libre, Bucoliques, or Les grands poémes classiques.
– John Anson
Author Elias Schneitter masters quite supremely the dramatic art of portraying the overlooked and the apparently petty and trivial. This is particularly true of Schneitter’s anthology of short narratives entitled Karl: A Thousand Years of Austria. The story featured here is all about “Judge Georgie” who in a very revealing monologue points the accusatory finger at the world, complaining about everything in general and Austria (otherwise referred to in Austria as Karl), foreigners, the government, and the slugs in his garden. He is not a judge by profession but rather a notorious grumbler who never minces words and freely gives vent to his many blind prejudices. He always blames others for the unfortunate twists and turns his life has taken, never questioning his own decisions or views. The story of Judge Georgie is one of self-deception and self-justification. It is just one of several internal monologues that make up Schneitter’s anthology, which also features “Ernst,” who reflects on his former career on a cruise liner, and “Walter,” a hippie in military uniform. Schneitter is very much interested in the “man on the street” and the contradictions that define him. He describes his characters with laconic wit, but always treats them with respect and empathy.
Elias Schneitter was born and grew up in Zirl in Tyrol, Austria. After completing his schooling in Stams, he had a variety of jobs including office clerk, canoeing teacher in Sturgeon Lake, Minnesota, project manager for Ho-Ruck, and employee for the Austrian social security system. Today, he works as a freelance author. He is co-founder of the international literature festival Sprachsalz in Hall, Tyrol and head of the small publishing house Edition-baes.
Schneitter’s first publications started appearing in 1974, mainly in literary magazines (Fenster, Rampe, wespennest, protokolle, projektil) and as radio plays. His first book, Geflügelte worte, was published in 1979. In 2014, he will be presented with the Kathy Acker Award for his commitment to promoting international literature, above all between the USA and the German-speaking world.
– Isabelle Esser
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: Literature and Arts of the Americas, 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
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).