Author Archives: smilkova
The book in English translation reads as tormented and complex as it does in Portuguese. So much so that the experience of feeling breathless while reading was the same in both versions.
From “La Straniera” to “Strangers I know”: Claudia Durastanti’s Journey through Languages, Cultures, Genres, and Genders
The ambivalence of Durastanti’s approach to memory acquires a further shade of ambiguity in the English title, which prompts us to question how much it is possible to know about strangers, but also to investigate the limits of our knowledge of the people we think we know and to what extent they remain foreign to us.
Confronted with the absence of her father, Marta Barone does not give up her quest but interrogates, with determination and resilience, objects, places, streets, pictures that once crossed L.B.’s path. Aware of knowing a “poorer version,” simplified and bare, of her father’s story, the narrator wanders around the cities of Milan and Turin, lets the places speak to her and recomposes, trace after trace, the identity of her parent as it emerges also from photographs, accounts of friends and enemies, militants of Prima Linea, Servire il Popolo, and other extreme left-wing organizations.
Pains, Pens, and Poets: Elena Ferrante’s “In the Margins: On the Pleasures of Reading and Writing,” translated from Italian by Ann Goldstein
Part of what makes Ferrante’s work daring is her pursuit of a “female language,” nourished and emboldened by a female literary tradition, and capable of describing women’s experiences with truth and authenticity.
LITERARY REVOLT VS. IDEOLOGICAL FANATICISM: MOHAMED MBOUGAR SARR’S “BROTHERHOOD,” TRANSLATED BY ALEXIA TRIGO
In his debut novel “Brotherhood,” Mohamed Mbougar Sarr asks what happens when pervasive religious ideology is pitted against clandestine authorship. When society comes under the control of violent extremists, and the very act of composition becomes grounds for execution, how can one reconcile personal moral convictions against the drive to survive?
From Deportation to the Laocoön, an Archival Fiction: Hans von Trotha’s “Pollak’s Arm,” Translated from German by Elisabeth Lauffer
The book is about Austrian art dealer, museum director, and archaeologist Ludwig Pollak (Prague 1868-Auschwitz 1943), who found the arm of Laocoön in 1906, four-hundred years after the discovery of the famous sculpture grouping itself, and was deported
Memory and the Search of Stories Past: Emmelie Prophète’s “Blue,” Translated from French by Tina Kover
While “Blue” is set in a terminal of the Miami airport, to say that the novel is set in any one place in time would be misleading, when the novel is actually set in numerous locations, Miami, the shadow of New York City, a mountainous Haitian village named Suzanne, and the Haitian cities of Les Cayes and Port-au-Prince and many moments in time.
It’s All Relative: The Multifold Self in Sergio Pitol’s “The Love Parade,” Translated from Spanish by G.B. Henson
“The Love Parade” is like a Japanese fan that slowly opens, revealing a beautifully painted landscape while still concealing the face behind it. What we learn about Miguel del Solar is divulged by the huge cast of characters he interviews for his book, each of whom embodies a fragment of his past. He is investigating a murder (or murders) that took place at the Minerva building where he lived as a child, a European-style mini-castle built in 1908 to house the representatives of foreign governments in Mexico City.
Gerda Taro’s Elusive Afterlives: Helena Janeczek’s “The Girl with the Leica,” Translated from Italian by Ann Goldstein
Pohorylle’s story is the inspiration for Helena Janeczek’s “The Girl with the Leica,” a complex, multivocal historical novel that is less a portrait of Gerda Taro than of her entire milieu: young, antifascist, bohemian, refugee, free-thinking, emancipated, and rife with short-lived romantic entanglements.
Dreams of a Pan-European Fantasy Literature: Andrei Bely’s “The Symphonies,” Translated from Russian by Jonathan Stone
Collectively, The Symphonies offer a glimpse into the cradle of Bely’s art: less fully achieved than his mature novels, but closer to a common source in the author’s twisted and escapist imagination. Marrying naïve cliché and bold innovation, always diversely energetic but always grinding the same gears, these experimental works are a storehouse of raw material that draws on the early poems and feeds into the more masterful accomplishments to come.
On Mothers and Madhouses: Tatjana Gromača’s “The Divine Child,” Translated from Croatian by Will Firth
The Divine Child—or Božanska dječica in its 2012 publication by Fraktura—tells the story of a woman diagnosed with bipolar disorder as Croatian politicians violently endorse nationalism in the 1990s. It asks how a community reestablishes what passes for “normal” when every social agreement previously made has crumbled.
Translators on Books That Should Be Translated: Soma Morgenstern’s “Der Sohn des verlorenen Sohnes” (1935)
Thanks to the work of editor Ingolf Schulte, Morgenstern’s works appeared in a complete German edition in the 1990s, two decades after his death in New York. All the novels are now available in paperback in German. We can be grateful that Morgenstern saw the publication of the entire trilogy in English between 1946 and 1950, and at the same time recognize the need for an updated translation for modern readers. Given the recent upswell of interest in the lost world of Jewish Galicia, the time is ripe for this.
To mark the occasion of the 700th anniversary of Dante’s death, Stanford Professor Robert Pogue Harrison and graduate student Donatella D’Aguanno orchestrated a panel that brought poet and translator Mary Jo Bang together in conversation with Emeritus Professor Marjorie Perloff. I saw the occasion as an opportunity to ask this most creative and skilled wordsmith a few questions about her process, her relationship to Dante, and her place in a long line of Dante translators.
In Sandro Veronesi’s second Strega Prize-winning work of fiction, we follow the protagonist, Dr Marco Carrera, a Florentine ophthalmologist, as he stumbles through a life strewn with miscommunications, misjudgements, and misfortunes.
It is impossible to read The Plague now without thinking of COVID-19 and its globally catastrophic and ongoing wreckage. With Laura Marris’ new translation, we have a text for the twenty-first century. I hesitate to write “for a new generation,” as accurate as that may be, because even those of us who’ve read Stuart Gilbert’s translation can find new meaning, new life, in Marris’ extraordinary translation.