Nader Naderpour (1929 -2000) was born in Tehran and received his early education in Europe. He returned to Iran to publish his first collection of poetry in the 1940s. In the later 1960’s, he helped found “The Association of Writers of Iran and directed the literature department of the Iranian National Radio and Television Department. He fled the Iranian Revolution in 1980, living in France until the late 1980’s, when he moved to the United States. Regarded as one of the leaders of the movement of “New Poetry” in Iran, he published ten collections of poems. Naderpour was nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature and was awarded the Human Rights Watch Hellman-Hammett Grant in 1993.
– Roger Sedarat and Rouhollah Zarei
Antonio Álvarez Gil is a novelist and short story writer. Born in Melena del Sur, Cuba, he has resided in Sweden since 1994. I discovered Naufragios (Algaida, 2002; in English translation, Shipwrecked) some years ago at a bookstore in Spain, where he has published several novels and won numerous awards. For years, the enigmatic beauty of one of that novel’s characters, a Russian-Cuban girl, lingered in my mind, and it took some time before I discovered that the vast universe occupied by his characters extended beyond Cuba and the Soviet Union, where Álvarez Gil himself had long ago studied chemical engineering. Knowing that literature was his vocation even when he was obliged to pursue a different career altogether, Álvarez Gil has written short stories and novels often brimming with the adventures of youth and universal literary and human quests–whether set in the present, as is the case with “Fascination”; the recent past of Cubans experiencing Soviet Perestroika up close, as in Callejones de Arbat (2012); or the more distant past of Las largas horas de la noche (2000, 2003), where, as Arístides Vega Chapú suggests in a recent review of the novel, the “most universal Cuban of all time,” José Martí, undergoes immense humanization within his ten-year foray in Guatemala City in the late 19th century. That is to say, literature, love, travel, persecution, exile, masculinity, the ocean, and vocation harbor an important place in Álvarez Gil’s writing. Mostly realist, it is also prone to twists and turns that take on an almost magical quality closely linked in his prose to the processes of writing, inspiration, and intertextuality. In “Fascination,” readers board a cruise ship in Stockholm only to find themselves amidst Cuban characters working out their relationships to their homeland, their compatriots, the vigilance of the state, their desire–and, last but not least, to a writer who seeks to find the best way to introduce himself to all of them, and to tell a good story while doing so.
– Jacqueline Loss
Gabriele Tinti is a writer fascinated by boxing. His micro-essays and dramatic reenactments probe our frayed tolerance for the cruelty of the sport in the modern era. With great compassion, Tinti sketches recent bouts and the stories of boxers that are at risk of perdition. Many of these boxers were badly used; their blood-sport struggle became passing entertainment. Tinti’s stories of heroic and often tragic perseverance push us to contemplate social issues that engulf us well beyond the ring. This selection is taken from Tinti’s All Over, published in 2013 by Mimesis Edizioni.
– Nicholas Benson
No city’s worth the name without barbers in it. And the citied societies of pre-nineteenth century Islamic civilization had them in plenty. But, as in pre-modern Europe, these barbers did more than cut hair. They also played medical roles. Islamic medical traditions were based on Arabic translations of the works of the ancient Greek physician Galen (d. 200 C.E.). They inherited from him their humoral physiology and an understanding of health as humoral balance. Cure lay in restoring lost humoral balance by draining the body of its excess humor. While learned philosophers and physicians composed medical treatises and qualified surgeons attended to the rich, people of more modest means typically resorted to barbers for everyday surgical operations like cupping, phlebotomy, circumcision, and cauterization.
They often did so at the hammāms or steam-baths that Islamic urban culture inherited in its earliest phases from Byzantium, baths that almost always featured barbers among their staff. Regarded as facilitating God’s will that everyone be clean, steam-baths were considered vital to bodily discipline, health and ethical culture. Their attendant barbers consequently took on a simultaneously aesthetic and ethical-political role as divinely mandated beautifiers and doctors of bodies. This is the context for the constellation of images and associations Ghanī Kashmīrī invokes in his “A Masnavī Satirizing a Barber.”*
The masnavī in rhymed couplets was the most prestigious pre-novelistic genre for narrative literature in the Persianate world. Ghanī gives the first 17 of his 28 couplets to a series of descriptions apparently extolling a certain barber for his simultaneously erotic, political, and medical powers. These 17 couplets ingeniously describe the barber’s implements of trade in terms associated with the ghazal beloved: for instance, couplet 8 declares he never wets hairs on heads because hairs themselves melt from shame at his erotically narrow waist, here described as finer than a hair by conventional hyperbole; and couplet 9 metaphorizes the holes and curves of his scissors, respectively, as the beloved’s eyes and brows.
Ghanī devotes the remaining 10 couplets to describing his relations with the barber. These couplets play on the barber’s dual role as hair-cutter and surgeon, ironically aestheticizing his grotesquely painful cupping and surgical operations as if they were the archetypal beloved’s cruelty towards the lover.
Finally, a note on what is lost in translation: Ghanī excelled at īhām, the generation of poetic ambiguity. Couplet 10 that speaks of scissor-handles as “competition for the eyebrow” uses the word ham-chishmī, meaning “competition” but also containing the word chishm or “eye.” Such linguistic play is as much a delight to the reader of the Persian original as it is the despair of the translator. Nevertheless, to convey the jogging rhythm of the original I have translated Ghanī’s masnavī into rhymed English couplets, almost all in iambic pentameter.
* “Masnavī-i avval dar hajv-i hajjām,” in Mullā Muhammad Tāhir Ghanī Kashmīrī, Dīvān-i ghanī (Srinagar: Jammu and Kashmir Academy of Arts, Culture and Literature, 1984), 244-245.
– Prashant Keshavmurthy
Lana Abdel Rahman is a Lebanese writer, living in Cairo. In her novel The Snow of Cairo, published by Afaq Publishers in Cairo, Abdel Rahman not only explores Sufi ideas, but also reincarnation. Bushra, a young Syrian woman, moves to Cairo from Syria with her Egyptian mother. Bushra’s father has died, and her mother wants to return to her Egyptian roots. But soon after their arrival, Bushra’s mother dies and Bushra must cope with her grief and alienation, alone except for a few Egyptian relatives. Bushra feels the visceral presence of another woman, Nur Jihan, in her dreams and even in her body. Nur Jihan was a young Egyptian princess who was married off to a Turkish prince. She is a woman from the past with a tragic story; someone Bushra could not have possibly known in her life. Chapter One of the novel alternates between the voices of two narrators, Nur Jihan and Bushra. Nur Jihan also remembers her past life as a gypsy dancer called “Soleil.”
In The Snow of Cairo time is borderless: the narrators’ shift verb tense from present to past and back again. Consciousness is similarly fluid and dreamlike, evoking the fluidity and inscrutability of history and the dead. In Chapter One, Bushra learns many secrets of her mother’s life. The novel holds us in suspense as the lives of the two narrators, at first seemingly unrelated, crisscross and circle back to the secret of Nur Jihan’s death.
– Gretchen McCullough
Endlich Stille (“Silence at Last”) is the story told by an unnamed professor of philosophy who allows a man he meets accidentally while traveling to invade and disrupt his life to an ever-greater extent until only the most radical of solutions appears viable. In the excerpt at hand, Friedrich Grävenich, who first addressed the narrator in front of the Strasbourg railway station after the narrator had alighted there to spend a single night, has been living in the narrator’s apartment in Basel’s old town for several weeks; while the narrator wishes to have his apartment, and his existence, to himself again, he is unable to put his foot down and demand that Friedrich take his suitcases and go. The narrator, who was originally willing to give Friedrich the benefit of the doubt, no longer finds Friedrich’s claims about his past life or future plans to be necessarily credible. Far from indicating that he is about to depart, Friedrich is behaving in an increasingly, and presumably intentionally, provocative manner. Major themes in Endlich Stille are morality, power, and control in human relationships; the tension between the desire for intimacy and commitment on the one hand and the desire for solitude and independence on the other hand; and the instability of identity.
Ott’s text is characterized by sentences that tend to be very long and syntactically complex; the novel takes the form of a long reminiscence by the narrator during and, in terms of the novel’s structure, framed by his solitary journey home to Basel from Liechtenstein. It appeared important to me that these long sentences for the most part be maintained in translation because they reflect the narrator’s thought processes; specifically, he is–with one notable exception–indecisive and irresolute, and he tends to keep turning possible courses of action over in his mind rather than realizing any one of these possible courses of action. The narrator’s paralysis, his inability to produce a solution to the central dilemma of how to rid himself of his unofficial roommate, is reflected in the length of the sentences he uses in his recollection of his time with Friedrich. While these sentences constitute narration well after the fact–when the novel begins, Friedrich has already fallen, presumably to his death, from a mountain trail in the vicinity of Vaduz–their length and structure, not least their many parallel constructions, are generally indicative of the narrator’s personality and specifically reflect his mental state during the period of his enforced togetherness with Friedrich (a period during which the two men consumed large amounts of alcohol daily, mostly in the Crooked Tower, a smoke-filled bar in working-class Kleinbasel).
Like Hiroshi, Mr. Grandstetter, to whose encounter with the narrator and Friedrich the excerpt presented here makes reference, is a colleague of the narrator’s in the philosophy department at the University of Basel. Friedrich’s addressing the Grandstetters as “Mr. and Mrs. Pepe” is inspired by an anecdote related earlier by the narrator involving a small child who had once addressed Mr. Grandstetter as “Pepe,” a presumably embarrassing incident.
– Peter Sean Woltemade
A young couple, adrift in life, roams the streets of Paris on a snowy winter night. They enter a café but are forced to leave after a dispute with the owner. They continue their stroll, joined, though, by a seedy gentleman of a certain age they had met at the café. He accompanies them and tells them the story of how he reached his current state. He was once a highly regarded figure, successful in private and professional life, and a candidate for office. Returning from an electoral rally one evening, he found his wife leaving the company of another man. He confronted her and killed her. Though never arrested for the crime, his life collapsed. The young couple continue their stroll, and the young man is arrested by passing police for murder. He tries to explain that he had intended to turn himself in for an unnamed crime, and is questioned about the murder of a shopkeeper. A witness to the murder recounts the event and, when confronted with the novel’s protagonist, says the young man is not the culprit. The young couple is released from custody and continues their walk, their lives as hopeless as at the beginning.
The excerpt featured here is the opening of the novel.
– Mitch Abidor
Write Nothing about Politics: The Life of Hans Bernd von Haeften is Barbara von Haeften’s account of the life of her husband, a lawyer, diplomat, and member of the Kreisau Circle resistance group in Nazi Germany. The Kreisau Circle–led by Peter Yorck von Wartenburg and Helmuth von Moltke–participated in the assassination attempt of Hitler on July 20, 1944, carried out by Claus von Stauffenberg and Werner von Haeften, the brother of Hans Bernd von Haeften. The Kreisau Circle had also developed extensive plans for a new government to be put into place after the removal of Hitler. Barbara von Haeften’s biography describes the life and political activity of her husband, who was executed after the failed assassination attempt. It furthermore sheds light on her own knowledge of and participation in the resistance movement.
The featured excerpt describes Hans Bernd von Haeften’s last days from the point of Helmuth von Moltke’s arrest until von Haeften was executed by the Nazis.
– Julie Winter
“Prometheus and the Primitive” was written while Alfred Döblin was working on the Amazonas Trilogy. Published in 1938 in a short-lived bimonthly journal of German exile literature founded by Thomas Mann, Maß und Wert, the essay offers a succinct and trenchant historico-philosophical overview of the concerns that permeate Amazonas: the will to power and death-wish of Europeans, culminating (at that point) in the rise of the Nazis; the floundering of the Christian Church in the face of colonial atrocities and the wars of religion; and the organic world of the native tribes, in which natural and supernatural are equally real.
The essay analyses Western history in terms of a sharp divide between the Promethean impulse, which sets Man above Nature and isolates him from it, and the mystical sense of connectedness with Nature that Döblin labels “the Primitive.” He notes the ambivalent account in Genesis, and sets the emergence of Christianity in the context of a highly Promethean Roman state offering no satisfactions to those dispossessed by Roman civilisation.
But over time the Church, with its own hostility towards Nature, succumbs to a Prometheanism of its own and accommodates to worldly power. Just as the mystical sense is fading, Europe embarks on its age of discovery (a.k.a. conquest and subjugation). Nature, and Man, are viewed as a machine. The scientific enterprise, bent on quantifying everything, drains the world of qualities. The rise of mass societies after the French Revolution sees mysticism incorporated into the Promethean state. Prometheanism benefits only small elites. The yearning for a human society, a connectedness of human to human, human to Nature, is perverted into state-sponsored suspicion, the policing of thought, and the pseudo-connectedness of social classes and mass rallies. The result is barbarism and the degenerate mysticism that is nationalism.
The only way out, says Döblin, is to “reset this power whose grasp is now awry, whose pivot is the domination of Nature by Man–and to accommodate to the mystical realm.” But he is not optimistic.
– Chris Godwin
“The Most Beautiful Girl” by Marek Hlasko contains all the hallmarks of this legendary writer’s prose–the ugliness found beneath sparkling surfaces, the brutalities of life, the human capacity for lying and cruelty, sharp dialogue, and a hardboiled pace–that made him so famous in his day. The mood is immediately set by a beautiful girl sitting on a bench next to a handsome boy in a picturesque park. Then, just as quickly, that mood is shattered. If there’s a theme that runs through all of Hlasko’s work, it’s that there is no place on this earth for lovers, and this story illustrates that idea quite brilliantly. Jealousy, pettiness, money, misperceptions–all these factors come in between what might have been a great romance. Indeed, with the perspectives of the passersby, we get the idea that everybody else takes the scene that’s unfolding on a park bench to be something out of a fairy tale. The two main characters in “The Most Beautiful Girl” are beautiful people who stir up feelings of regret, discontent, and in one case, creativity in others, just by being so damn beautiful. It is only the reader who has the privilege of knowing just how wrong the other visitors to the park are. Of course, the setting is Warsaw under communist rule, but the system of government is hardly the point. One of the reasons Hlasko remains so relevant today (and indeed, with three books published in the last six months, he is quite relevant) is that his stories could, and indeed do, take place anywhere and everywhere. That men and women are ugly to each other no matter who is president or dictator or shah is a difficult truth to stare in the face, but that only makes it a more worthwhile thing to do.
– Ross Ufberg
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).