Author Archives: smilkova
Against Camouflage: Jozefina Komporaly on Translating from Hungarian Melinda Mátyus’ “MyLifeandMyLife”
Melinda Mátyus’ novel in verse “MyLifeandMyLife” is one of the most original pieces of experimental fiction published in Hungarian in recent years. We are grateful to Ugly Duckling Presse for allowing us to publish here Jozefina Komporaly’s translator’s note in which she discusses Mátyus’ unique sense of grammar and syntax, and her own approach to translating it.
Gini Alhadeff is a prize-winning translator, curator, and author, including of fiction, with the novel “Diary of a Djinn,” and of non-fiction, with a multitude of articles and her memoir “The Sun at Midday: Tales of a Mediterranean Family.” She grew up in Egypt, Sudan, Italy, and Japan. She studied fine art and photography at Harrow in England and at Pratt Institute in New York. She recently translated Natalia Ginzburg’s “The Road to the City” for the distinctive series, Storybook ND, that she curates for New Directions. This interview was conducted over zoom on October 6th, 2023 with Gini Alhadeff in New York City and Saskia Ziolkowski in Durham, NC.
A new translation of “The Road to the City” (New Directions, 2023) extends the book’s afterlife and illuminates Ginzburg’s distinctive style. The translator, Gini Alhadeff, gives in to Ginzburg’s spare and concise narration without ever losing sight of the novella’s subtle meaning making.
Breaking Taboos and Caregiving in Kettly Mars’s “I Am Alive,” translated from French by Nathan H. Dize
Haitian writer Kettly Mars confronts readers with the silence surrounding mental illness in her novel “I Am Alive,” translated by Nathan H. Dize. Set in the immediate aftermath of the 2010 earthquake and told from multiple viewpoints, the novel plunges us into the secluded world of the Berniers, a bourgeois family living in Fleur-de-Chêne.
Andrea Abreu’s writing hand is neither soft nor measured. It punches through the film of language and lands, hard, on concrete. Julia Sanches’ translation of Abreu’s novel “Dogs of Summer” (Panza de burro, in the original Spanish) does not stop or stifle the forcefulness of this punch. It responds to it with equal parts fervor and frenzy, preserving the cuts and bruises that Abreu takes care to point us toward with the book’s narrator, affectionately called Shit. How can one possibly reveal this punch in English, save for getting out of the way?
When narrative itself, literature itself, has been complicit in constructing oppression, how can it be escaped, resisted, unmade? Translation might be one answer. In the move from one language to another, the attempt to place a text or image or idea from the past in the present, or even (taking translation in a very broad sense) from one medium or genre to another, the act of translation opens little gaps that, with each word, phrase, sentence, chapter, even layout, cover, paratext, leave room for intervention.
The Poetics of Pain and Return: Zou Jingzhi’s “Ninth Building,” Translated from Chinese by Jeremy Tiang
The mesmerizing power of “Ninth Building” comes from the mixture of the quotidian, run-of-the-mill activities humans undertake and the violent, absurd practices promoted by political propaganda during the Revolution. Described from a passive, observant, sometimes sarcastic perspective, suicide, beatings, permanently damaging diseases, fatal accidents, and pangs of loss, guilt, and regret bleed into the mundane activities of a child playing, card games, pranks, harvest, lumber, brigade duties, and composing and performing music.
Toward a Speculative Poetics of Translation: Janine Beichman’s Translation from Japanese of Ishigaki Rin’s “This Overflowing Light: Selected Poems”
In the volume’s artful and engaging introduction, Beichman calls our attention to several correspondences with contemporary poetics: first, there is the speculative orientation of Ishigaki’s work, capable of uncanny leaps in spatial and temporal perspective. Then there is its under-explored connection to eco-critical thought. And finally there is its playful but intense awareness of the agentive role of fantasy and imagination in constructing ‘real life.’
While “translation fictions” are not exclusive to Latin American literature, I did find their publication to be very consistent and prominent in its contemporary production in Spanish, and I believe their portrayal of translation relates very much to this locus of enunciation. Fictional translators would tamper with meanings, deviate conversations, and produce miscommunication on purpose. Fictional translators would tamper with meanings, deviate conversations, and produce miscommunication on purpose. Translators are thought to be unbiased, faithful, a bridge between languages and cultures, right? But that’s not what I was finding in these books.
Hard-boiled Detective Fiction or Socialist Realism? Vladislav Todorov’s “Zift,” Translated from Bulgarian by Joseph Benatov
“Zift” evokes the hard-boiled characters and settings of American detective fiction of the 1930s and film noir of the 1940s. The novel follows the nocturnal adventures of Moth, the first-person narrator, just released from the Central Sofia Prison after doing time for twenty years for a heist gone wrong. Moth – in Todorov’s perverse twist of the noir genre – is a character steeped in communist ideology and traversing the map of a distinctly communist city.
The Provincial as Metaphor in Lorenza Pieri’s “Lesser Islands,” Translated from Italian by Peter DiGiovanni, William Greer, Donatella Melucci, Jenna Menta, Christopher Paniagua, and Kira Ross
Lorenza Pieri has created a world not quite our own and not quite foreign, and this is a testament to her talent as a writer. As readers we are all searching for something, whether it’s escape, enjoyment, information, or validation. “Lesser Islands” reminds us that even though we all suffer times of remoteness and provincialism, the opening of a book can be a magical way to connect without leaving the comfort of one’s chair.
Vivid, absorbing, and historically grounded without being pedantic, ‘Sangue Giusto’ raises questions such as these: How much can we know about how our parents lived before we were born? Can we square the mythologies about those we love with the reality of who they are? How far can we go to fill those gaps? And are we the inheritors of the violence committed by those with whom we share blood?
I was captivated by the story, the language, the setting of “Meeting in Positano.” Goliarda Sapienza is a superb narrator and the seaside town of Positano as the backdrop of her novel lends it a mythological, Mediterranean appeal. This appeal emerges and takes hold thanks to the book’s translator, Brian Robert Moore. Moore’s voice blends beautifully with the double voice of the book’s narrator who is telling her friend’s traumatic life story.
ECLIPSES LARGE AND SMALL: LYUDMYLA KHERSONSKA’S “TODAY IS A DIFFERENT WAR,” TRANSLATED FROM RUSSIAN BY OLGA LIVSHIN, ANDREW JANCO, MAYA CHHABRA, AND LEV FRIDMAN
Lyudmyla Khersonska’s collection “Today is a Different War” (Arrowsmith Press, 2023) focuses on the way domestic life has been affected and eclipsed by the full-scale invasion of Ukraine in 2022. Khersonska’s poems bring shimmering emotion to the brutality. Her style is easily accessible in a way that invites the reader to trust the poet. The reader becomes part of the poetic world as well as an occasional addressee.
A Mythographer of Modernity: Giovanni Pascoli’s “Convivial Poems,” Translated from Italian by James Ackhurst and Elena Borelli
Borelli and Ackhurst are faced with the daunting assignment of translating Pascoli’s somewhat paradoxical modernist classicism, written in a literary language that is both simple and sophisticated, archaicizing, and yet fresh and innovative. They succeed admirably in their task, adopting a thoughtful translation strategy that successfully delivers Pascoli’s poetic idiom in all its musical crispness and evocative force.