Self-Portrait in Green Excerpted at A Public Space

marie_ndiaye-greenWe are publishing Marie NDiaye’s amazing “memoir” Self-Portrait in Green this November. It’s a really strange book, one that, I would say, tackles the memoir genre in a way that few have attempted before. At the least, NDiaye is drawing on her considerable skills as a novelist in creating something that feels a lot more like a surrealist novel than a memoir.

But anyway, A Public Space has excerpted part of this book in its Summer issue. You can read it by picking up a copy of that issue, or yo can have a look at their website, as they’ve also made it available online.


I never met this woman, whose presence in my personal legends eclipses, by its incandescence, some of her more irrefutably real neighbors. I’m not even sure she’s actual. In the end, it makes little difference. She remains a pure emblem. Everything I know of her comes to me from Jenny.

A time came when Jenny found herself at a dead end. She was a little less than fifty years old, and everything that had once been hers, everything at which she’d worked so hard to succeed, everything she’d devotedly loved had all flitted away in the space of a year. Her adopted son was wandering the world and refused to see her, her husband had left her, she’d just been laid off. Everything had vanished. She’s a passive and trusting person, and nothing she’d done was really to blame for this ruination. It had simply happened, beside her, without her realizing it, and when she woke up it was too late to hope she might recover what was lost.

When I met her she was tall and thin. She wore her hair in a loose bun, and that hair was artificially of the palest blonde. Is hair color a reflection of some moral quality, of goodness and innocence, of those virtues’ opposite? Obviously not. The pallor of Jenny’s hair in no way expressed what she was . . .

Baboon in the News

aidt-head-webNaja Marie Aidt’s novel Baboon comes out in October, but you can get an early look at it right here, as World Literature Today has published one of its stories, as well as an interview with translator Denise Newman.

The story in question is titled “The Woman in the Bar,” and it is a haunting, voyeuristic tale with a surprise ending. It starts:

I didn’t see her come in, but suddenly she’s there. She’s walking on the polished floor in her heavy boots. She’s long-legged. That’s the first thing I notice. It’s Saturday afternoon and I’m drinking a cup of coffee, watching people; I had an errand to do in the neighborhood, to pick up some dry cleaning, but then I also bought a bouquet of tulips, some tea cake, and a watermelon. My grandchild is visiting tomorrow. I’ve been walking around the city for a few hours and I’m cold and my legs are tired. It’s pleasant just to sit here as it grows darker outside. I’ve always liked this restaurant. It’s large with tall ceilings, white tablecloths, and terrible acoustics. An enormous dining room. People are lingering over late lunch, others are just drinking wine or cocktails, and behind me a couple of children are playing with a small train under the table. The atmosphere is pleasant. I lean back relaxed and enjoy the view of the young woman. Now she’s standing at the bar. She’s tall and erect; her neck is long and white. It’s the end of November. This morning I was thinking about how long it’s been since the wall fell. I thought about how quickly time passes. Even though so much has happened. Now the streetlights go on. It looks like it’s started to rain.

Here you can see Aidt’s trademark sentences, very terse and sharp, making for stories that generate a lot of momentum and carry you right through. If you like these sorts of sentences, you’ll find them all over Baboon, albeit used to a wide variety of narrative ends.

And here’s Denise talking a bit about this style and how she translated it.

MJ: Was it easy to retain this spare style in translation?

DN: Not always. Sometimes her short sentences sounded flat in English, and occasionally I had to combine sentences in order to keep the rhythm true to her style. I really admire Aidt’s economy of expression, and I found the need to use English just as succinctly to be both challenging and enormously engaging.

MJ: What was one of the thornier translation challenges in this project, and how did you resolve it?

DN: Naja and I went back and forth with certain epithets and obscenities (there are quite a few) trying to get the degree of emphasis and naturalness right. We got some help from her son who went to high school in Brooklyn. A more general challenge was finding the right voice for each narrator—for example, there’s a four-year-old girl, a depressed young man, a mother at the edge of her psychic strength—quite a range. I had to take time getting to know them, their situations and ways of seeing things, before I could find the correct tone.

MJ: Did you face any unique translation difficulties in “The Woman in the Bar”?

DN: The narrator of this story is an older woman who lived through the war, the creation of the GDR, and its dissolution. It helped to have visited Berlin before and after the wall came down to be able to appreciate how profound the changes would be in her life.[1] What was tricky about this narration was holding to the physical expression of what the protagonist is experiencing. The most dramatic piece of information is withheld from the reader, the protagonist knows, but it’s only revealed with one subtle sentence in the final paragraph.

You’ll be hearing lots more about Baboon soon. We’ve got a six-city tour planned for Aidt (details to come soon!), and there will be plenty of reviews.

Cover of Sinéad O'Connor, With Nonsense Lyrics, In Mandarin

So, ever since we published this book Running through Beijing, we’ve been attuned to all the crazy, Western knock-offs coming out of China these days.

But this right here really takes the cake. It’s not even a knock-off. It’s more like a knock-off that’s so original that it becomes its own thing.

So wow. There’s pirating Western goods, and then there’s building simulacra Apple stores in China, and then there’s this: Fatima Al Qadiri’s cover of Sinéad O’Connor’s “Nothing Compares 2 U” sung in Mandarin with nonsense lyrics. And it’s an eerie, freaky sound that’s sort of familiar to your Western ears but also very creepy and sinister at the same time.

As Adam Bychawski explains at The Quietus:

‘Shanzhai’, the opening track of Fatima Al Qadiri’s debut album Asiatisch, takes its title from a Chinese term used to describe counterfeit Western goods. Literally it translates to “mountain village”, evoking both the outlaw nature of the industry and the crudeness of its reproductions – copyright-evading spoonerisms of sportswear brands and fast food chains. While such knock-offs are commonplace, there is perhaps more craft and sophistication to some imitations than that definition grants. Electronic giants such as Apple, slow to meet Chinese demand, have had their official stores outnumbered by dozens of simulacra, painstakingly recreated down to the uniform of their employees – to all intents and purposes the real thing. The term has come refer not just to products but lookalikes and parodies more generally, such as the track itself, a cover of Sinéad O’Connor’s ‘Nothing Compares 2 U’ sung in Mandarin, only with nonsense lyrics – a joke at our expense. Much like the Apple stores, we might have never known the difference.

This seems to me like a really, really fantastic instance of translation. Cultural exchange, play with language, the creation of a hybrid that’s transcends any one place and is purely astonishing. This is what translation is all about.

Two Voices: Amanda Michalopoulou and Karen Emmerich, in Conversation with Scott Esposito [Audio]

michalopoulou-emmerichIn April we had the pleasure of hosting Amanda Michalopoulou and Karen Emmerich in conversation about Michalopoulou’s book Why I Killed My Best Friend, which Emmerich has just translated and published with Open Letter Books.

Why I Killed My Best Friend is a story about two Greek girls, Anna and Maria. They both live the first few years of their life abroad—Anna in Paris, Maria in Nigeria—and are brought back to Greece as young girls in the 1970s. In this conversation we talk about why Greeks were going abroad in that time, why they came back, and how Anna and Maria forge a friendship based around their differences as much as their similarities.

This is also a story very much about politics and theory—writers like Roland Barthes and Gilles Deleuze are name-checked, as well as the filmmaker Pier Paolo Palolini. Michalopoulou also weaves in events from Greece’s tumultuous 20th century, plus snapshots of wider world insurrection—for instance, a cameo from the 1999 World Trade Organization protests in Seattle.

We talk about the state of modern Greece, Michalopoulou’s and Emmerich’s own thoughts on the history covered in the book, and, of course, some of the interesting translation questions involved. Particularly interesting here is the word odiosamato, which has been translated as “frenemies.” This is probably not the best translation, however, as Emmerich discusses here.

Denise Newman Workshop on May 17

Baboon-294We still have a few slots open for our translation workshop with Denise Newman, translator of Baboon by Naja Marie Aidt.

The workshop will be a three-hour intensive held at Two Lines Press’s offices, designed to improve your translation skills and to let you work directly on a particular translation. This lively, hands-on workshop will include in-depth group discussion and direct practice with various strategies and craft considerations surrounding the art of translation.

In addition to working with the award-winning Aidt, Denise is the translator of possibly Denmark’s greatest writer, Inger Christensen. In addition to being an outstanding translator, She is also a widely published poet and a teacher at California College of Arts. She also received a 2013 NEA Translation Fellowship to complete her translation of Baboon.

Participants will also receive a FREE, ONE-YEAR SUBSCRIPTION to Two Lines Press’s 2014 titles, a value of over $50.

WHERE: the offices of the Center for the Art of Translation, 582 Market St., Suite 700

WHEN: Saturday, May 17, 10:00 am to 1:00 pm

COST: $100

Entrance into the workshop will be granted on an application basis. To apply, submit a two-page translation sample via our Submittable page.

A DVD Playlist for Running through Beijing by Xu Zechen

running-through-beijing-294-webSo you may have heard that we’ve got a new book flying out into the world in just one week. It’s called Running through Beijing and it’s our very first title from China. It’s all about the life of a young migrant who makes his living by selling pirated DVDs on the streets of Beijing. As it turns out, this sort of work gets you into a lot of things, some legal, some not, but most existing somewhere in between.

As you might expect, there’s a lot of cinema in this book. And, interestingly, there’s a lot of Chinese cinema that deals with similar subject-matter to Running through Beijing—young man immigrates from the provinces to the capital, does what he has to in order to survive, meets all sorts of other outsiders along the way.

So what we decided to do was to make a sort of DVD playlist to accompany Running through Beijing. Some of these films are actually in the book, and some of them are great material to watch alongside a reading of the book. Here they are, along with our pithy summaries, and some clips to give you an idea of the action.

Together by Chen Kaige

A young violin prodigy makes a journey common to the migrants featured in Running through Beijing—from the provinces to China’s capital—finding shockingly different
values and lifestyles. Fascinatingly, though this film was made just six years before Xu wrote Running through Beijing, the two Beijings in each are remarkably different.

Spring in a Small Town by Fei Mu

Running through Beijing’s protagonist (and pirated-DVD entrepreneur extraordinaire) Dunhuang supplies some students with both the original and the remake of this venerated classic of Chinese cinema. Released in 1948—just one year before Mao changed China forever—this family saga makes a fascinating counterpoint to Xu’s frenetic, urban world.

The Bicycle Thief by Vittorio De Sica

This canonical Italian neo-realist film is routinely ranked among the greatest movies ever made. It plays a several small but important roles in Running through Beijing: first when Dunhuang buys it as a pirated DVD (impressing his eventual girlfriend), then later when he sells it to film students, and then when—surprise, surprise—he gets his bicycle stolen.

Beijing Bicycle by Wang Xiaoshuai

Frequently known as “the Chinese Bicycle Thief,” Wang’s breakout film is almost too on the nose when it comes to similarities to Running through Beijing. The kid who comes to Beijing; the stolen bicycle; the desperate search for work . . . The film is slower than Xu’s book and not as funny, but what can you expect? It’s Chinese independent cinema.

Run Lola Run by Tom Tykwer

Beloved by film students for its time-twisting plot (Dunhuang makes a grip of money supplying a class with just this movie), and starring the flame-haired Franka Potente, Lola became both a popcorn cinema legend and a critical darling, racking up 26 international awards. Dunhuang himself starts resembling Lola as he takes to scrambling through Beijing.

The World by Jia Zhangke

As does Running through Beijing, Jia Zhangke’s first hit nails Beijing as a place, plus it gets China’s larger yearning to be part of the world. It’s set in the trippy Beijing World Park, which includes replicas of the World Trade Center, Eiffel Tower, and Taj Mahal. Be sure to also check out Jia’s Still Life, Taste of Sin, and 24 City.

Manufactured Landscapes by Jennifer Baichwal

This documentary showcases China’s amazing, immense factories and the mammoth infrastructure that serves them. Like no other film on China, this one reveals the truly gigantic proportions of the economy that provides the world with much of its consumer goods—it puts the pirated-DVD “factory” that Duahuang visits into perspective.

Lost in Beijing by Li Yu

Another nice take on the underbelly of migrant worker life in Beijing, this one with plenty of sex in it. Two couples of very different social status become entangled, first sexually, then criminally. As with a lot of great art, this film was eventually banned in China—make sure you find the version that screened in Germany!

Cell Phone by Feng Xiaogang

Two relationships go awry when two wives make shocking discoveries on their men’s cell phones. As with Running through Beijing, the film dissects the role consumer technology continues to play in revamping China—the commercial and critical success of both speak volumes about just how hard this hits home for many Chinese.

Last Train Home by Lixin Fan

This documentary follows the lives of two of the 100+ million migrant workers who head home every year for Chinese New Year. Estimated as the world’s largest human migration, it’s a spectacle made up of people like Running through Beijing’s Dunhuang: they’ve left their families—and much of their identity—back home.

A Guide to California Bookstore Day

In honor of California Bookstore Day, which will be happening this Saturday, May 3, we put together a little guide to some of our favorite local indie bookstores. You can download a handy, printable version of the guide right here, so just see below for the goods.


Green Apple Books
506 Clement St, San Francisco, CA 94118 (415) 387-2272

  • 826 Valencia will lead a storytelling workshop for kids (6-10 years old). $5 donation to 826 requested.
  • Beth Lisick and Jan Richman will lead a local author scavenger hunt in the afternoon.
  • Artists with the Cartoon Art Musuem will draw caricatures in the noir style.
  • A panel of McSweeney’s writers and editors will discuss their Bookstore Day projects.
  • From 12 to 1:30 Dave Eggers will ap- pear in the store to sign books and give relationship advice.
  • From 1:30 to 3:00 Wendy MacNaugh- ton will help shoppers create custom bookmarks



The Booksmith
1644 Haight St, San Francisco, CA 94117 (415) 863-8688

  • From 3:30 to 4:30 artists Christian Robinson (Josephine)and Jane Mount (My Ideal Bookshelf) will sketch a 30-second doodle for customers at Sparrow Bar next door.
  • Buy one (or more) of 11 CBD items at The Booksmith and get free admission to the Sparrow Bar event, plus a glass of wine on The Booksmith.


Pegasus Books-Shattuck
2349 Shattuck Ave, Berkeley, CA 94704 (510) 649-1320

  • At 7:30, Dave Eggers appears in conversation with Malcolm Margolin, founder of Heyday Books), moderated by Amy Thomas (“President for Life” of Pegasus Books). The conversation will center around books, publishing, and how to operate businesses that are deeply committed to community.



Diesel Bookstore- Oakland
5433 College Ave, Oakland, CA 94618 (510) 653-9965

  • In the morning Diesel will host Little & Big Kid Juice Stand (juice & mimosa, while supplies last) + Crafts for Kids
  • Around lunchtime, Emma Christensen (author of True Brews) will be serving some of her homemade libations, with macaroni + cheese from the folks at
  • Home Room restaurant
  • Local ragtime/rootsby band, Dodge’s Sundodgers, will be playing music during the afternoon.
  • Literary Karaoke in the evening. Details at: literary-karaoke-night
  • All day Diesel will be partnering with Smitten Ice Cream in Rockridge— each purchase from Diesel gets you
  • a password for a complimentary, homemade pairing/topping



Folio Books
3957 24th St, San Francisco, CA 94114 (415) 821-3477

  • Folio Books will be turning one of their windows into a costume- filled photo booth for the week leading up to California Book- store Day. All participants in the photo booth will be rewarded with a 10% discount redeemable ONLY on May 3rd. One lucky participant will also win a $20 Gift Certificate.
  • How to participate: Take a selfie (or have a friend help) in our window photo booth and then post it to Face- book, Pinterest, Instagram, or Twitter, and be sure to mention @foliosf and California Book- store Day in the description! And what if you don’t do the whole social media thing? That’s! You can just email your photo to!



Books Inc.
(various locations)

  • Laurel Village: breakfast storytime with cereal and milk
  • Market Street: adult storytime with local drag queen Mutha Chucka, who will be reading from adult books such as Fifty Shades of Grey and other saucy favorites
  • Opera: book trivia games, snacks and bever- ages
  • Burlingame: children’s haiku contest
  • Mountain View: “Guess the first line contest”
  • Palo Alto: happy hour with cocktails and local authors
  • Berkeley: local author Annie Barrows (writer of the kid’s series Ivy & Bean) will be hanging out at the store
  • Alameda: Nick, store manager and mixologist when he’s not slinging books, is creating a cocktail for CBD night

Translation Links: New Murakami, Clarice Lispector, Micro-Libraries, and García Márquez’s Last Manuscript

One of many amazing micro-libraries.

One of many amazing micro-libraries.

These micro-libraries are A-M-A-Z-I-N-G.

Interviews with 10 Korean authors at the London Book Fair.

Hot on the heels of the latest Murakami translation (coming in August), Haruki Murakami publishes another new book in Japanese. This time it’s a volume of short stories.

Gabriel García Márquez, who died last week at 87, left behind an unpublished manuscript.

“Coleman Barks, the translator whose work sparked an American Rumi renaissance and made Rumi the best-selling poet in the U.S., ticks off the reasons Rumi endures: ‘His startling imaginative freshness. The deep longing that we feel coming through. His sense of humour. There’s always a playfulness [mixed] in with the wisdom.’”

Audio from the Clarice Lispector panel we convened last year for Litquake has been published by our friends at Music & Literature.

An impassioned plea for you to help fund a Kickstarter for a new collection of Palestinian poetry.

Mahkzin is a new Arab magazine that’s trilingual and publishes experimental writing. An interview with the editor, Mirene Arsanios and ArabLit.

If you’re in London, The British Museum is hosting a lecture on Icelandic Sagas on may 30th.

Don Bartlett (aka, the guy translating all 3,000+ pages of My Struggle) talks to World Literature Today about Norwegian literature.

A practical discussion on various aspects involved in the marketing of translated literature.

Germany frets over what to do when Mein Kampf enters the public domain in 2015

Korean poet, Lee Si-Young, and his translator, Brother Anthony of Taize, are featured in this podcast from the Scottish Poetry Library.

If you’re in London and interested in working as a translator or interpreter, the Institute of Translation & Interpreting is hosting a one-day free event on May 31st.

The Award that Puts Translators’ Names at the Top

It made our day to see Marie NDiaye’s All My Friends in the current issue of The New York Review of Books. This is our first-ever appearance in that hallowed space, and it comes as part of the French-American Foundation’s advertisement for its translation prize.

The cool thing about this award is that it’s specifically for the translators, so have a look at the ad—the translators’ names are on top and they’re in bold. Wow!

Congrats to all the finalists. And this is a great time to say that we’ll be doing another Stump/NDiaye collaboration in the fall. Called Self-Portrait in Green, it’s our second book by NDiaye, and if you liked All My Friends, you’ll definitely want to be in on this one.


Translation Links: Translating Rap with Wiz Khalifa, Prize Season, Translation Grants, & More

Translating Wiz Khalifa into sign language.

Translating Wiz Khalifa into sign language.

Congrats to super-translator (and Landmarks co-editor) Susan Bernofsky for being awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship!

The Harvill Secker Young Translator’s Prize is from German to English this year and open to translators between ages 18-34.

The IMPAC-Dublin Award’s shortlist includes five novels in translation this year.

McSweeney’s Issue 46 consists of 13 crime stories from Latin America.

An essay on Sergei Dovlatov’s life and work by James Wood.

You can win a copy of Why I Killed My Best Friend by Amanda Michalopoulou, publishing from Open Letter Books in Karen Emmerich’s stunning translation.

Association for the Study of Literature & Environment is providing grants to translate ecocritical books into English.

A podcast on Korean Literature and an accompanying reading list.

Congrats to Zephyr Press! They published the one book of translation to hit the Griffin Poetry Prize shortlist this year.

An interesting comparison: a student’s translation of “The Way to Shu Is Hard” by Li Bai (an assignment given as punishment in class), and Lucas Klein’s translation.

Yet another rave for Two Lines Press’s The Fata Morgana Books.

A trailer for Ida Doe’s documentary “Poetry is an Island,” which provides an intimate observation of Derek Walcott and his work.

Don’t miss Music & Literature’s expansive roundtable on Brazilian writer Hilda Hilst.

The Independent Foreign Fiction Prize longlist has been announced, and for the first time, two Japanese women writers make the list.

Check out Eric Abrahamsen, translator of Two Lines Press’s forthcoming title Running through Beijing, discuss over 20 essential Chinese authors.

Making the translator visible: see your favorite translator’s faces on World Literature Today’s Pinterest.

Have a look at the 39 different authors from 20 different countries that make up the Africa 39.

It’s hard translating Laszlo Krasznahorkai into any language: the Filter Translation Prize has been awarded to Mari Alföldy for her translation of Satantango into Dutch.

Three interpreters translate rap into sign language on Jimmy Kimmel.