Author Archives: smilkova

Always Against: On Translating the Punk Rock Lyrics of Egor Letov

Although the prospect of analyzing Soviet punk rock in an academic context thrilled me, it also presented me with a daunting task, one into which I had made only a few brief forays: translating Letov’s work into English. At the same time as I hoped that my research would focus more on the political aspects of Letov’s song texts rather than their poetic devices or any intrinsic literary value, a large part of my work hinged on examining his lyrics. By translating them, I could lend credence to my argument to speakers of Russian and English alike.

Julia Kornberg’s “Atomizado Berlín”: Creating a New Reader Across Translation

In this essay, I investigate how Julia Kornberg writes a novel that challenges and subverts this ‘lazy’ reader with stylistic, formal, and thematic innovations, and think about how a translation of her text, though difficult or precisely because of that, has the ability to support and communicate across another language her careful mediation of the demands of the global literary market.

When the going gets tough, Aeneas is your hero. Andrea Marcolongo’s “Starting From Scratch,” Translated from Italian by Will Schutt

The “Aeneid,” unfinished at the time of Virgil’s death, was published posthumously against his wish that it be destroyed. Undercurrents of fear and anxiety run deep within the text of the “Aeneid,” while on the surface, Virgil’s stylistically masterful composure, and the terse, concise elegance of his verses befit a hero who is steadfast, patient and enduring; who battles with foes and with his own emotions, but keeps his eyes on the prize, though there will be no prize for him. As she read it during the pandemic Andrea Marcolongo found the “Aeneid” “a brutally honest poem.” Four months of war in Ukraine make it almost recommended reading.

Keeping the Presence of Absence: Concita de Gregorio’s “The Missing Word,” Translated from Italian by Clarissa Botsford

The kidnapping of Livia and Alessia Schepp crossed Swiss airwaves in early 2011, circulating throughout Europe. The six-year-old twins had been picked up on January 30 by their father, Mathias, in order to spend the weekend with him. The girls never returned to their home in Saint-Sulpice, and Mathias committed suicide by train five days later at a train station in southeast Italy. The girls were never found, and the case still continues—full of speculation, false trails, and theories that have sprouted like weeds to fill every gap in the story.

Love in the Time of Capitalism: Rage and Resentment in Ivana Sajko’s “Love Novel,” Translated from Croatian by Mima Simić

“Love Novel” focuses on an unnamed man and woman in a relationship that has grown toxic, who are kept together by the child they have brought into the world but whose resentment towards one another simmers and grows as the novel progresses. The title is ironic – or, more specifically, acerbic: this is no traditional “love story,” but rather a novel about love gone stale.

A Whirring Blender of Colors: Paulo Scott’s “Phenotypes,” Translated from Portuguese by Daniel Hahn

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.

Finding the Father: Marta Barone’s “Sunken City,” Translated from Italian by Julia MacGibbon

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.