I started this translator diary almost a year ago. A year later, and the bookstore bar I opened with my then-fiancé, now-husband Tom is about to celebrate its one-year anniversary. I imagined that by this time, I would be working at Riffraff half-time and translating half-time. This is not the case. A year later, Tom and I are still working enough hours to feel worn thin. A year later and I am still unable to find the time to prepare healthy meals, to have anything resembling a work-life balance. A year later and I’ve grown to fear the under-eye circles staring back at me in the mirror are permanent.
I first came to Cornwall searching for Daphne Du Maurier in August 2013, the first of many family trips to the coast. I imagined the high, thrashing waves of the sea, the ruined mansions, the wild landscape untamed, overrunning every bend in the road. Instead, I found Cornwall to be a place of solitude. It was a disappointment to the unquiet mind of a teenager—it was always going to be. I was seeking adventure and excitement where Du Maurier had gone seeking refuge and escape.
Literary culture—the lives of books—doesn’t truly begin without criticism. Despite the anxiety over canons, it’s refreshing to see two new series giving the book-length treatment to recent classics: Ig Publishing’s Bookmarked commentaries, and …AFTERWORDS, launched by Fiction Advocate. Presented as casual meditations for avid readers, these books guide discussions toward an ideal public forum that is rarely given time to grow after an initial rapid-fire book release, or is abandoned altogether by scholarly specialization. Because these books are books, they sympathize with the many roundabout ways that a book can meander toward sustained public attention, while justifying the attention drawn to a notable book with necessary assistance from critical insight.
“A Selection of Sixteen Texts: Textos, 1970-1979,” Plate 13. A balanced composition of connected and disconnected lines, wedges, dots. This almost cursive may be all that’s left of a letter long carried in a pocket, or dried out after a flood, a raid, a migration of so many continents and centuries that the descendants of the travelers don’t recognize a single letter of the alphabet of their ancestors. Murmurs of the half-awake. The words of your mother in your next life: you’ve been reborn without any knowledge of speech.
The most basic element for the author’s creation is memory. If we look at the construction of a human being, it is not possible to function without memory. There is shallow memory and deep memory. The writer is the one who reaches for the deep memory. It can be his personal memory, the memory of his family, the memory of culture, national and social memory. I am a Polish writer, I was born in Poland, but my memory is of the war; not that I want to write about war, because I don’t deal with this but I will give you a very specific example: we are now in a flat in which German people used to live until until 1945. And in the flat which used to be the home of my Grandfather and Grandmother, now Ukrainian people live there. And this is just the memory of the Mitteleuropa, as it were. It is also the memory of lost cultures.
Anyone coming to Llansol with any kind of “normal” expectations at all will likely be disappointed. Plot, logical structure, continuity, a sense of linear time and/or space— you won’t find any of that here. At least not in any form that is readily apparent. Instead, Llansol immerses her readers in a shared hallucinatory vision, seemingly fueled by religious hysteria and open to multiple interpretations. The key into Llansol is provided by Benjamin Moser in an extremely helpful afterword, which I recommend reading before delving into The Geography of Rebels. In it Moser explains that, while in exile with her husband in Belgium, Llansol “discovered an institution peculiar to the Low Countries: the beguinage, medieval hostels that offered a refuge to spiritually inclined laypeople.” These hostels were built for women who did not wish or intend to take holy orders, but wanted to live a life of religious contemplation and celibacy. They still exist today.
Early in this roughly 1,000-letter collection, Hugh Kenner (1923-2003) makes a flat declaration to his new friend, Guy Davenport (1927-2005), about why Kenner would be unacceptable to specific academic institutions: “And one of the Facts of Life is that Hahyud & Yale wouldn’t, I imagine, touch me with an 11-foot pole. I have been too impolitic for too long. One doesn’t pan [Richard] Ellmann and boycott the MLA and quarrel with [Allen] Tate and write for National Review and express public doubts about [John Crowe] Ransom and [Robert Penn] Warren and praise Wyndham Lewis and get away with it; one or two of them, yes, but not all of them.” These two sentences set out, at the beginning of a long correspondence (1958-2002), what will be one of the major characteristics of their friendship: the waywardness of each writer from received taste and from what’s expected.
Every year, the Dodge Poetry Festival in Newark, New Jersey, brings together poets from a variety of backgrounds to share their work as it was originally intended to be shared—out loud, in front of an audience. Dodge would be remarkable if only for this. But it is notable, as well, for honoring the artistic legacy of its host city—home of Amiri Baraka, among other great writers—by offering a stage and a microphone to some of its most exciting young authors. Prominent among these presentations was a panel by a talented assembly of local writers called Brick City Voices, presented by Newark-based poet Marina Carreira. As a founder of the laudable Newark reading series Brick City Speaks, she was sharing her work in that city, as well as celebrating the publication of her debut full-length collection.
Mixed Korean: Our Stories, published by Truepeny Press, is an anthology featuring forty mixed Korean authors, and while not limited to Korean adoptees, adoptee voices feature prominently in the collection. In “Half Korean: My Story”, author Tanneke Beudeker writes about growing up half-Korean and half-African American in an adoptive Dutch family in the Netherlands, her childhood joy destroyed when white kids at her Christian school ostracize her for her race. “My parents tried to support me by talking to the teacher, and they did what most parents would do: they kept telling me sticks and stones may break by bones but words will never harm me. But they did, words broke my heart.” Though Beudeker eventually finds a meaningful career working with mentally challenged children, she still finds as an adult, “Even the slightest thing can trigger that old, familiar feeling of not being part of the herd.”
The themes you see threaded through Andrić’s life—the great, wasting, forces of history, the ruin wreaked by the passage of time, the devastation wrought under both Ottoman and Austro-Hungarian occupation, and the precious ideal of a unified Yugoslavia—are also prominent in his work, particularly in his last, unfinished novel. Omer Pasha Latas is set for the most part in Sarajevo in 1850. It concerns a historical figure, though how closely Andrić hewed to the record I can’t say. In any case, Omer Pasha—the historical and the fictional man alike—was an Orthodox Serb from Lika who made a brilliant career for himself in the Turkish military after he converted to Islam. As the novel begins, Omer Pasha has been sent to Bosnia and Herzegovina to enact various “reforms.”
Very recently I was able to hear the author an activist Eli Clare give a talk titled “Notes on Cure, Disability, and Natural Worlds” at the George Washington University in Washington D.C. Clare delivered a lucid and clear argument, seamlessly entwining his own personal narrative with seemingly dense theory and critique. At the time, I did not realize that this was simply an extension of his style of writing. Laced with beautiful moments of personal narrative and reflection, his most recent publication, Brilliant Imperfection: Grappling with Cure, ultimately argues that the only way to disband “the ideology of cure” is to create and deploy broad-based disability access.
Two-Step begins as two plays displayed en face in separate columns on the same page: one set in revolutionary France, the other set in modern times. Both have two principle characters (the Marquis and the Countess in the historical drama; Kevin and Julie in the contemporary one). The plots—of a countess avowing revenge on a former lover; and of a young woman searching the countryside for her husband who happens to be an actor in a historical film—intersect in delightful ways, especially with the introduction in Scene Two of Armand, a third character whose lines are printed in between the two columns, in the middle of the page. Armand’s words function in both stories: in the historical drama he is the Marquis’s brother, in the other Julie’s husband. The consequences of what he says act as hinge words, sending each scenario in different directions.
María Sonia Cristoff has often recounted one of her formative reading experiences. Hired to translate the diaries of Thomas Bridges—a nineteenth-century Anglican missionary in Argentina—she traveled from Buenos Aires to his family’s farm outside of Ushaia, which sits at the southern edge of Patagonia in the Tierra del Fuego province. There she was given a room with a window overlooking the Beagle Channel and a stack of papers with a pencil mark indicating where she should begin. She lacked any access to the rest of the diary since Bridges’ heirs, insisting on a neutral voice for the new rendering of his work, replaced translators every two months, assigning each one a single section of the work. After working on the translation during the day, Cristoff occupied herself on this far-flung farm by reading through the collection of travel writings its small library contained. As she consumed the accounts of Francis Drake, Charles Darwin, Ernest Shackleton, and others who had passed through those lands and the nearby waters, Cristoff was struck by the similarities between traveler and translator.