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Posts Tagged ‘translation’

We Must Protect the Children, and Other News

March 28, 2014 | by

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  • Presented without further comment: John Updike’s shorts.
  • What if The Road, The Corrections, and Wonder Boys were children’s books? (The illustration of Alfred Lambert falling from the cruise ship is especially well done.)
  • Speaking of satirical children’s books: in the UK, Penguin has proven its humorlessness by suing the author of We Go to the Gallery, a brilliant parody of the Peter and Jane series. One panel is seen above. The lawsuit avows that We Go to the Gallery “pollutes the idyllic brand of Ladybird books … their argument is now fundamentally moral, not legal, and as such is an act of senseless and repressive censorship.”
  • And speaking of questionable litigation: here’s the history of late-night TV ads for unscrupulous lawyers. “There was an era before ads like these were allowed—and a big bang after which they couldn’t be contained. And now, the legal world is in a subtle, possibly endless civil war over how attorneys should advertise their services (and whether they should advertise at all).”
  • Today in interspecies communication: scientists can now translate dolphin whistles in real time.

 

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Translating Pushkin Hills: An Interview with Katherine Dovlatov

March 26, 2014 | by

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Photo: Nina Alovert

Sergei Dovlatov, one of the great writers of the Soviet samizdat period, immigrated to New York City in 1978 and published his bone-dry, deeply thoughtful stories in The New Yorker all through the 1980s, until his tragic early death in 1990. Even in translation, Dovlatov’s work is a gateway drug to Russian humor: twenty percent booze, fifty percent understatement, and thirty percent bureaucratic despair. The writer is a household name in Russia, and the publication of Pushkin Hills—the first English translation of his 1983 novel Zapavednik, translated by his daughter, Katherine—has been greeted with celebration in the émigré literary scene. 

The autobiographical novel is narrated by an unpublished writer, Boris Alikhanov, who takes a job as a tour guide at Pushkin Hills, a group of estates affiliated with Alexander Pushkin. Alikhanov’s wife and daughter are leaving him for the West, and he is thus forced to weigh the merits of abandoning his country, his mother tongue, and even Pushkin, his literary heritage. The alternative is to remain in Soviet Russia, where almost everything external is false, and where the absurdities of the Pushkin estate function as a microcosm for the society. As the narrator observes: “Christ, I thought, everyone here is insane. Even those who find everyone else insane.”

Using language to subvert the regime was one of Dovlatov’s specialties, and his novel is rich with characters who speak in tongues—the more insane you are, the more sane, perhaps, in a mad society. Dovlatov writes with a deceptive minimalism—in fact, his humor and linguistic dexterity have made him one of the most difficult Russian writers to translate. His daughter Katherine, who also represents his estate, was happy to discuss her technique with me.

Pushkin Hills was originally published in 1983, after your father had emigrated to New York. But he wrote it in Russian. Can you talk about that?

Father was “nudged” to leave Russia in August 1978. Like many émigrés of the Third Wave, he spent a bit of time in Vienna before coming to New York in the early months of 1979. He knew a lot of words in English, and he could get by on the street or supermarket, but I wouldn’t go as far as to say that he was fluent. He wrote everything in Russian. His writing is language driven, and so of course he wrote in the only language he knew well. Read More »

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What We’re Doing: Talkin’ Translation

January 21, 2014 | by

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Tonight at seven, brave the snow, the cold, and any other inclemencies the sky may belch on us and come to Housing Works Bookstore Cafe, where our poetry editor, Robyn Creswell, is discussing translation with Eliot Weinberger (acclaimed translator of Octavio Paz, Jorge Luis Borges, and Bei Dao), Idra Novey (translator of Clarice Lispector), Daniella Gitlin (translator of Rodolfo Walsh), and Jeffrey Yang (poet, editor, and translator of Liu Xiaobo). It’s all to celebrate the third anniversary of Asymptote, the international literary journal.

 

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Selections from Graveyard of Bitter Oranges: The Dead of Carinthia

January 3, 2014 | by

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Art credit Anthony Cudahy.

This week, we will be running a series of excerpts from Josef Winkler’s Graveyard of Bitter Oranges. Inspired by the author’s stay in Italy after leaving his native Carinthia, the novel was first published in 1990 by Suhrkamp Verlag and its English translation will be published by Contra Mundum Press in 2015.

As a child, I often heard it said that the inhabitants of the village of my birth who had died away from Carinthia had been repatriated and their bodies committed to the soil of their birth. Siegfried Naschenweng, who died in an automobile accident on Golan Heights, was brought first to Vienna in an airplane, and from there repatriated to Kamering in a hearse from the funeral home in Feistritz. One of my mother’s brothers, who fell in the war in Yugoslavia, was repatriated to Feistritz by train. My uncle picked up his mortal remains with a hay cart drawn by two horses and brought them to Kamering, where they lay exposed one more day in his parents’ farmhouse. Apart from all the deceased enumerated and described in this book, the arms, legs, and skulls nailed to the tall stakes that Wilhelm Müller, author of the text to Franz Schubert’s Winterreise, saw in passing from his carriage, while a young priest made the sign of the cross over every piece of the cadaver, are also repatriated to the graveyard of bitter oranges and coated with the ashes from the statue of Saint Florian, patron saint of fire, that the landholders of Kamering burned when the saint allowed the village, which had been built in the form of a cross at the end of the century before, to be reduced to ashes by two children playing with fire, so that it had to be rebuilt, once more in the form of a cross. The corpses of the then five-year-old children who were forced to live with a skull in their chambers in a Trappist monastery, to dine for years on nothing but bread and potatoes that they themselves planted, who were forced to wear a horse’s bit whenever they spoke a word without permission and had to sleep in coffins when they accidentally slept late in the mornings, once again open their eyes in grave number 24 of the graveyard of bitter oranges.Read More »

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Selections from Graveyard of Bitter Oranges: The Bloody Boar

January 2, 2014 | by

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Art credit Anthony Cudahy.

This week, we will be running a series of excerpts from Josef Winkler’s Graveyard of Bitter Oranges. Inspired by the author’s stay in Italy after leaving his native Carinthia, the novel was first published in 1990 by Suhrkamp Verlag and its English translation will be published by Contra Mundum Press in 2015.

The first night after we had moved into a sublet room in Rome, I dreamed of a girl who had a swatch of blood resembling a Hitler moustache on her upper lip. As she approached me, and I kicked my legs at her frantically, blood ran from down over her mouth and chin. I sprang awake, and tried to awaken Andrea, but I seemed to be paralyzed, and it was only minutes later that I could once more move around the bed. I said nothing, and waited more than an hour for sleep to return. After that dream followed a second. Bishops and cardinals in their vestments were dying in a hail of bullets; though they stayed dead in their seats, I could not distinguish a single wound on their bodies. I approached a cardinal and looked long at his body. Then I was jarred awake once more by the clangorous bell of the Convent in the Via Tolmino, which tolls every quarter of an hour and which had only allowed me, my first few nights there, to sleep in fifteen-minute increments.

You no longer show any sign of life? But I write about death, my friend!

I like to be among the dead, they do me no harm, and they are people, too. Read More »

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Selections from Graveyard of Bitter Oranges: The Torch

January 1, 2014 | by

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Art credit Anthony Cudahy.

This week, we will be running a series of excerpts from Josef Winkler’s Graveyard of Bitter Oranges. Inspired by the author’s stay in Italy after leaving his native Carinthia, the novel was first published in 1990 by Suhrkamp Verlag and its English translation will be published by Contra Mundum Press in 2015.

The monk from Assisi, who had removed his upper and lower dentures on Holy Saturday so that his cheeks would look as sunken as the tomb of Jesus after the resurrection, said repeatedly: Don’t give the dogs the gnawed leg bones of the Easter lamb, bury them in the cemetery, do not even think of giving them to the dogs!

At six-thirty in the morning in a café in Stazione Termini in Rome, when I was about to catch the train to Austria, I espied a dwarf who stood as tall as my knees and carried with him a gilded stool, to be able to sit down whenever he wished, and one of the bar patrons ordered him a cappucio. He leaned down to hand it to him, and I turned back and stayed in Rome. I believe the dwarf will be particularly beautiful in heaven, the painter said.

Once again I surprised myself as I thought how much I should have liked it had the boy, whom a passing car had grazed, been run over instead, so that I could lift up his body, still warm and bleeding—the boy’s body and mine, a pietà—and together, already adorned with cross-shaped funeral bouquets, we could have waited for the hearse to arrive.

I opened my chest with a scalpel, extracted my slippery heart, sliced it into shreds so that, with this red rag, as I called it in my dream, I could wipe off my ink-stained fountain pen, which lay atop a poem by Robert Musil: The sister sweetly separates / The sleeper’s sex and swallows it / Leaving in exchange her heart / in the same spot, soft and red. Read More »

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