Translation Links: What Italy Reads, Translating Lorem Ipsum, A Review of the Dictonary of Untranslatables

Soviet children's books

Soviet children’s books

50 Watts has put up some photos of the exhibit, Illustrarium: Soviet Lithuanian Children’s Book Illustration (1945-1990), which demonstrates different phases of Soviet childhood.

What are the Italians reading these days? The longlist for the Premio Gregor von Rezzori, which awards “the best work of translated fiction published in Italy in the last year” offers a tantalizing glimpse, including Laszlo Krasznahorkai, Dave Eggers, and Tom McCarthy.

Limited-time Women in Translation Sale at Powell’s Books, including Lispector, Petrushevskaya, Stambolova, and more.

The Paris Review has published “The Virtuous Vault”, an excerpt from The Gray Notebook, by Joseph Pla, coming out in April. The journal entries, written during a critical time of Pla’s youth, are beautiful and sincere.

Two Lines Press’s Fata Morgana Books is reviewed at The American Reader.

Idra Novey on technology, gender, and the changing landscape of literary translation.

Join this French Translation Roundtable on contemporary poetry in the U.S. with poets Pierre Alferi, Anne Portugal, Charles Bernstein, Cole Swensen, Pierre Joris, Tracy Grinnell, and Avita Ronell on April 25th at the NYU French Department.

A collection of 4,500 miniature books.

A new perspective on translating Lorem Ipsum from the London Review of Books blog.

Nahoko Uehashi wins the 2014 Hans Christian Andersen Author Award. “I have always striven to portray people who do their best to live in a world into which they were born.”

Karean author Hwang Sok-Yong discusses how ancient Korean myths can be metaphors for globalization.

An Arabic novel prize for $650,000, in which the winning novel is translated into a drama.

William Blake’s illustrations for the Divine Comedy.

How translation brought Dina Nayeri to understand her native language in a new way.

Following up on the Dictionary of Untranslatables with a review by Tom Bunstead.

April 18: An Evening with Amanda Michalopoulou and Karen Emmerich [Event]

The talent.

The talent.

Lovers of Greece, Greek literature, great books in translation, free wine, or book-lined suites, many, many floors high in the air!!——All of you, please join us on April 18 for the amazing Greek author Amanda Michalopoulou and her equally amazing translator, Karen Emmerich!!!

Come see the author Gary Shteyngart described as exploring “the dangers and joys that come with BFFs. Or, as the narrator puts it, ‘odiodsamato,’ which translates roughly as ‘frienemies'”!

Two Lines Press hosts Greek sensation Amanda Michalopoulou and her talented translator Karen Emmerich for an intimate, alcohol-drenched reading from her latest novel, Why I Killed My Best Friend, at The Book Club of California. In the book, Maria, an African immigrant to Greece, becomes the unlikely friend of Anna, a refined transplant from Paris. Together they navigate grade school in the ’70s, post-dictatorship Greece—where friendship turns out to be just as challenging as establishing democracy after totalitarian rule.

This free event takes place at the chic, book-lined Book Club at 5:30 pm on Friday, April 18. Complementary wine and beer will be served, and Michalopoulou and Emmerich will be available to sign books. In addition, copies of Why I Killed My Best Friend will be available for sale.

Where: The Book Club of California, 312 Sutter St, San Francisco, CA 94108, (415) 781-7532

When: April 18, Doors 5:30 pm, event 6:00 to 7:00 pm

Cost: FREE

What: Acclaimed Greek author Amanda Michalopoulou will read from her latest novel, Why I Killed My Best Friend. The reading will be followed by a conversation between Michalopoulou and her translator, Karen Emmerich. Free drinks will be served, and copies of Why I Killed My Best Friend will be available for sale.

Who: One of Greece’s leading authors, Amanda Michalopoulou has published five novels, two short story collections, and a successful series of children’s books. She’s won her nation’s highest literary honors, including the Revmata Prize and the Diavazo Award. Her story collection, I’d Like, was longlisted for the Best Translated Book Award.

Karen Emmerich is an assistant professor in comparative literature at the University of Oregon, with a masters from the University of Thessaloniki, Greece, and a Ph.D. from Columbia University. Her translations include Rien ne va plus by Margarita Karapanou, Landscape with Dog and Other Stories by Ersi Sotiropoulos (longlisted for the Best Translated Book Award for fiction in 2009), I’d Like by Amanda Michalopoulou (longlisted for the Best Translated Book Award for fiction in 2008), Poems (1945–1971) by Miltos Sachtouris (nominated for a National Book Critics’ Circle Prize in Poetry in 2006), and The Few Things I Know About Glafkos Thrassakis by Vassilis Vassilikos. She is the recipient of translation grants and awards from the NEA, PEN, and the Modern Greek Studies Association.

Translation Links: The 20 Most Stunning Libraries, the Great Chinese Novel, and Start Your Own Translation Press

The Admont Library in Admont, Austria, one of the longest monastic libraries in the world.

The Admont Library in Admont, Austria, one of the largest monastic libraries in the world.

We are holding a translation workshop at Two Lines Press’s offices in San Francisco with Denise Newman. Details here.

How can Japanese literature be marketed to Europe and the U.S.?

Don’t you wish you could travel to any of these libraries on Fodor’s list of the “World’s 20 Most Stunning Libraries“?

Tasja Dorkofikis discusses the element of research in her translations from the Korean.

A well-curated reading list of new Polish literature from the Polish Cultural Institute NYC.

Deep Vellum publisher and That Other Word guest Will Evans exhorts you—and shows you—how to start your own translation press.

How to sneak translation into a children’s classroom.

Are Chinese publishers putting too much focus on the “Great Chinese Novel”?

A discussion on the translation of Asian literature with Julia Lovell, Lucas Klein, Sophie Lewis and Arunava Sinha.

The Three Percent Podcast unloads one massive, 2-hour episode to run down all 25 Best Translated Book Award longlisted titles.

A review of Dorthe Nors’s Karate Chop, a new book of Danish literature published by Graywolf and A Public Space.

Amazon is starting a German-language publishing program and is hiring 70 more staffers.

On April 11, Asymptote magazine celebrates its third anniversary at Glee Books in Australia, part of many celebrations worldwide.

Peter Handke has been awarded the 2014 Ibsen Award, worth $450,000.

Have you checked out World Literature Today’s Goodreads bookshelf? Over 200 translations recommended for you to read!

The Zbigniew Herbert International Literary Award started in 2013, primarily endorses poets, and additionally gives awards in the categories of essay, translation and editing. The 2014 Award is given to Charles Simic.

The Excessive Focus on the “Great Chinese Novel”

This is seriously big and seriously American. (image)

This is seriously big and seriously American. (image)

If you’re denouncing the Great Chinese Novel, and if your name is Eric Abrahamsen, then you’re having a great week. Eric, who’s the Chinese lit genius and translator behind our May title Running through Beijing, has been tearing up the Internet with his distaste for gigantic novels that try to sum up the state of China.

Not that they’re necessarily a bad thing. We can all get behind a brick of paper (and for the record, I do love J R), but on Monday Eric was interviewed alongside translator Canaan Morse at the Wall Street Journal about Chinese literature, and when the subject of the GCN came up, he pointed out that since Mo Yan’s Nobel Prize, there’s been a serious case of elephantiasis among Chinese publishers:

Abrahamsen: One of the ironies about Mo Yan is that his style of writing is a kind of Chinese literature that international publishers are getting tired of and are deciding not to continue publishing—the very long, epic novels about China’s rural problems and recent history. There’s a real fatigue among publishers and among readers.

WSJ: How about translators?

Abrahamsen: The most fatigued of all. There’s a disease of the ‘great China novel’ that’s attacking Chinese writers. They feel they have to produce these enormous things that explain all of Chinese society and are filled with philosophy and ideas and thoughts. And they tend to believe that’s more important than story or character.

WSJ: Is there an editorial process that helps curb that?

Abrahamsen: That’s actually conspicuously lacking. Everyone feels good about a 300-page novel. The writer feels like they’ve done something, the publisher feels they’ve spent money on paper to good effect, and readers feel like they’ve got their money’s worth because it weighs a lot.

We here at Two Lines Press find these comments highly interesting because this is an exact thing that Eric has previously expressed to us. And, in fact, one thing that made us all fall in love with  Running through Beijing is that it’s resolutely not a GCN, at least not in the respect of a gigantic tract filled with philosophy and ideas. It’s short, sleek, and very character-driven, all things that flagged it to Eric and us as different from a lot of Chinese literature that gets translated, and thus most worthy of our attention.

And it looks like we’re not the only ones feeling this fatigue. Over at the Melville House Press blog, Dustin Kurtz expresses extreme impatience with Great ____ Novels, be they Chinese, American, or what-have-you.

On the Wall Street Journal‘s China Real Time blog [ . . . ] Laura Fitch interviewed Eric Abrahamsen and Canaan Morse of the excellent new Chinese lit mag Pathlight. She spoke to them about the state of the nation’s book industry, with the understanding that much has changed since Mo wore a shirt printed with his own name for a meeting with Swedish royalty. The most dramatic changes pointed out by Abrahamsen and Morse, however, are a precise litany of the ills embodied by the Great American Novel school of publishing. . . .

Even if China is new to the trend, a central trope in English language publishing has always been that we reward girth and self seriousness with prizes or sales or cash, and then slap a bird on the front. Look at Donna Tartt‘s bestselling The Goldfich, or Garth Risk Hallberg‘s lucrative contract and movie option sale. That latter book doesn’t even have a jacket yet, but I’m assuming it’ll have six birds, one wearing Franzen glasses just to drive the point home. For these books value is undeniably pinned—at least in the estimation of the readership, and thus in the anticipated sales figures of publishers—to their literary elephantiasis.

I guess this means we’re doubly (or triply) going against the trends of mainstream literature: we’re publishing foreign authors, we’re doing slim books, and we’re not even putting Franzen iconography on the covers (Running through Beijing is fronted by an artful scattering of Chinese cigarette butts).

5/17: Translation Workshop with Denise Newman

DeniseNewmanBay Area translators: this is your chance to participate in a one-time-only translation workshop with a local poet and one of the best translators from Danish working today: Denise Newman.

You can apply for this workshop right here. The total number of participants will be capped at 12. Although Denise translates from Danish, this workshop is open to all translators, regardless of language.

Denise is the translator of possibly Denmark’s greatest writer, Inger Christensen, as well as Two Lines Press’s forthcoming book, Baboon, by award-winner Naja Marie Aidt. In addition to being an outstanding translator, Denise is 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.

Denise will lead a three-hour class, where students will have the chance to both work on a translation and workshop it with their fellow students. 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.

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

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

Submissions will be judged by the staff of Two Lines Press. Applicants will be notified of our decision within two weeks. Once notified, your spot in the workshop will be held for three days before another applicant may be invited to attend in your place.

Applicants who are accepted and pay their registration fee by April 28, 2014, are offered a discounted admission of $75. To be considered for discounted admission we must receive your application no later than April 21.

All attendees who pay on or after April 29 must pay the full price of $100.

The workshop will be capped at 12 participants. First come, first served. You are encouraged to apply early.

Please note: although Denise is a translator of Danish literature, this workshop is open to translators from all languages.

Any questions may be emailed to Scott Esposito at

All applications must be made via our Submittable page.

Translation Links: The Art of Publishing (with James Laughlin), Lydia Davis’ Translations, Translations for Children, Translating Murakami

He started New Directions 100 years ago.

He started New Directions 100 years ago.

After a brief hiatus (read: AWP), Translation Links is back!

This week we start off with two reviews of the newest translations of Georges Simenon novels

The Paris Review frees up its interview with legendary founder of New Directions, James Laughlin.

An essay on Lydia Davis’ translations from the Dutch.

The Independent Foreign Fiction Prize longlist was announced.

The Best Translated Book Award longlist was also announced this week.

And here are complete descriptions of each longlisted title + more from Typographical Era.

Speaking of prizes, the 2014 Holberg Prize, worth $790,000, has just been awarded to a leading scholar of Islam.

Loving parents give translations to their kids: why good translated literature isn’t just for grown-ups.

NYRB Classics is having a sale. Select books at 50% off.

Author Carola Saavedra is interviewed about how it felt to be translated by Daniel Hahn.

Korean poet Kim Kyung Ju discusses poetry’s role in contemporary Korean society at the Boston Review.

And another interview, this one with Philip Gabriel, delves into translating Haruki Murakami, including challenges in translating from Chinese and how to stay fit as a novelist.

And yet another insightful interview, accompanied by a video—it’s with Egyptian writer, Mohammed Abdelnaby.

Read through this list of Arabic literature that Maryam Monalisa Gharavi designed for her course on Saudi Arabia, which, as it happens, sounds fascinating. It includes three novels that have English translations forthcoming in 2014.

Read the culmination of translations that were posted during National Translation Month.

If you haven’t seen the What Languages Sound Like To Foreigners video, check it out.

Translation at AWP

Yep, this is what happens at AWP

Yep, this is what happens at AWP

This post comes to us from Two Lines Press intern Ali Bossy, who logged a number of hours at the TLP table during the AWP Conference, in between checking out panels, wandering the bookfair, and heading to offsite events. Here she talks about a really interesting translation panel, plus shouts out some of the cool, under-the-radar translation presses she discovered at the bookfair.

I was at the AWP Conference this year, helping with the Two Lines Press booth and attending some fantastic panels. You probably know that AWP is primarily about creative writing, but there’s also a very clear translation presence. That’s something that I appreciated, as an enthusiast of translation attending with a translation press.

One of the panels I attended was called “Poets on the Craft of Translation: A Conversation Between New and Established Translators,” and here translators possessed varying degrees of faith in the process of translating poetry. They debated some important questions: as translators, have we already surrendered an ideal for writing the perfect translation, despite how desperate we once were to obtain it? Can we even agree on what this ideal is, what its paradigm is, and whether this surrender is a risk that, in the end, either deems a work untranslatable or reinvents a work into a masterpiece? Ultimately, this surrender leaves us in an abyss between languages, where we must find ways to cope with the endless obstacles that we encounter during the process of translation.

The incisive translators sitting on this panel were Gloria Muñoz (who moderated), Kimberly Johnson, Jay Hopler, John Talbot, and Jennifer Kronovet.

Johnson jumpstarted the discussion with her three translation tenets: structure, syntax, and rhyme. When considering the translation of a line, “translating is imitating the sound.” One must consider “poem as bodily experience” and feel it. The translation must carry over the content, line, and wordplay from the original. And even though she labels her approach pedantic, she takes certain liberties, such as in the way a poem references its historical context, or an ethnic slur, but mostly, in prescribing to the idea of honorable cognate, not equivalent. Johnson concludes that in a translation, “the experience of reading the original is replicated as much as possible.”

On the opposite end of the translation spectrum was Hopler, Johnson’s husband, who claimed the non-existence of honorable equivalent, of synonym, even in English. Hopler explained the anguish he experienced after having translated the word snap from a German phrase, and having never reached a satisfying equivalent in English. He went so far as to claim that “language is untranslatable, therefore translation is impossible and not worthwhile.”

Our third panelist, Talbot, read aloud a letter he received in response to the submission of his book of poems, The Well-Tempered Tantrum, in which the editor joked that Talbot was stealing from Baudelaire—in reality, he was discovering Talbot’s use of embedded translations of lines from poems in his own work. In this method, the poet is no longer arguing over the accuracy, or faithfulness, or degree of interpretation of the translation but rather admitting to an inevitable unoriginality in his own work. If the translator embeds the translation in a new poem, then do we consider the translated lines to now be original lines in a new language, or do we consider the new poem false, since it contains “plagiarized” lines, since both genres are integrated in the same poem, side by side? Now it may be the poet who asks, how original is my poetry, or is it merely a mirror, that is influenced by, another poet’s work? It may be this method that assumes the most extreme stance in translation, verging on the border of original and new, by asserting ownership over the translated lines, and integrating them into your own work.

Lastly, Kronovet spoke, saying that her perspective on translation has transformed over years of practice: she initially valued the translation of the metaphor in a poem, abandoning a level of commitment to specific details. But later she came to perceive translation as “destroying the work.” But ultimately, after also training in the Kung Fu practice called “sticky hands,” Kronovent developed a new perspective that involves possessing sensitivity toward both the original poem and the creative process in the translation. Sticky hands taught her “not to fight the poem, but to move with the original.” This well-balanced approach wrapped up this excellent panel, which was one of my highlights of the conference.

Other great things we got to do at AWP: See two great translators, Erica Mena and Kaija Straumanis (who we’ve published in Two Lines) perform live at our event Journal Porn, which took place at the charming Black Coffee Co-op, with the company of fellow lit mags, Versal, Parcel and Big Fiction! We got to flip through the books of plenty of interesting presses, including Tavern Books, Brooklyn Arts Press, Wave Books, Third Man Books, Switchback Books, and Sensitive House. And we got to meet those of you who stopped by our booth! Until next time, AWP.

Jordan Stump a Finalist for The French-American Foundation Translation Prize


Jordan Stump, super-translator

We are all incredibly proud (though, admittedly, not surprised) to see that Jordan Stump’s translation of All My Friends by Marie NDiaye has been named a finalist for the The French-American Foundation’s 27th Annual Translation Prize. Jordan is in some outstanding company, including the very, very talented Edward Gauvin translating for the hugely interesting Wakefield Press, as well as two books by Other Press (quickly becoming one of my translation mainstays) and another title from the always-interesting Seagull Books.

If you’ve been following Two Lines Press, it’s no secret that Jordan is one of the best French translators out there, and that this book really gave him ample room to showcase his talents. Here’s an exchange from an interview I conducted with Jordan, where he delves into his translation practice:

Another thing you touch on in your previous answer is that these stories all have interesting lacunae. For instance, in “The Boys,” a story about a young boy named Rene who dreams of selling himself to some shadowy people, just as his older brother did. In this story you never quite find out what Rene wants to sell himself into. Of course one would imagine it’s something terrible like child prostitution, but NDiaye never makes it clear. In a way, these lacunae are the most important things about the story—they hold so much of the characters’ fascination and hopes—but in another way it’s not really important that you don’t find out exactly what they are. The stories function just fine, or are arguably improved, but withholding. Did you find it challenging to maintain these spaces in the translation?

Yes, because in a sense you have to go against your readerly reflexes. As a reader, you spot those lacunae and you fill them in (you come up with your own explanation for what “being bought” signifies for René, or for what exactly has happened or is happening to Brulard in “Brulard’s Day”). Readers do that spontaneously, coming up with a provisional explanation for anything that the story leaves unspoken. I have my own idea of what awaits René, and of what has happened to Brulard, and that’s simply because I’m doing my job as a reader; the vitally important thing as a translator is not to let your own understanding of the story taint, however discreetly, your rendering of it. (And one can easily commit that misdeed, by one’s word choices, by the tone one adopts…) For me, translation is a process of continual rethinking. You have to revise your translation again and again, without looking at the original, so that it will work as a text to be read in English; but at the same time, you’ve got to be continually going back to the original, making sure that in all your revisions you’re not drifting away from the text, making it too vague or too clear, too limpid or too crabbed, and so on. Many of the challenges of translation, I think, can be gotten around by that process of continual rethinking and revision. It takes a lot of work and concentration. That’s why I only choose to translate books that, like this one, thoroughly fascinate or trouble me. I can’t imagine doing all that work for a book that doesn’t give me anything back. And, in my experience at least, NDiaye’s writing always repays that kind of careful attention.

I very much agree with that. When I was preparing for this interview, I simply began reading these stories again straight through, and it was an incredibly rewarding experience. The sentences are so strange that they feel as fresh as the first time you read them, and you can begin to savor new things about them. For instance, this sentence, from the beginning of “The Death of Claude Francois”: “And the woman who looked like Marlene Vador, and who was Marlene Vador, since she’d said so, added, teasing and vaguely put out.” That simple notion of Marlene Vador confirming her own identity, which NDiaye elongates over two clauses, drives home just how strange it is that her friend Zaka has seen her again after all these years. We’ve all done this: “yes, that must be so-and-so because he’s said so, but it’s hard to believe.” I also like how the sentence moves from outside to inside Marlene Vador. We begin it looking at her and we and end it inside her head, and that middle clause, “since she said so” is where we pivot from one to the other. I can only image the work of translating these sorts of sentences. Do you feel that there’s something about the French language that lends itself to these kinds of sentences?

Yes, absolutely. French looks much more kindly on wandering, complex sentences than English does, and NDiaye takes full advantage of that every opportunity. The difficulty of the translator, of course, is that this aspect of the author’s style has to be preserved, while at the same time not being too off-putting for an American reader. The answer to that, as with so much of translation, is endless revision and rethinking. Sometimes the differences between languages can’t be overcome. In the first story, for instance, the French reader learns very early on (in the sixth paragraph) that the narrator is a man, thanks to the presence of two adjectives in their masculine form; in the translation, the gender of the narrator isn’t made explicit until he sees himself in the mirror in the post office. Does that make any difference? That’s the kind of question translators have to be asking themselves at every moment, and generally the answer is extremely unclear.

You can also read a fine interview at Words Without Borders where Jordan talks more about his craft.

I think that the hardest part for me was translating the very last story, “Revelation.” NDiaye works on a broad scale—her stories unfold slowly. A very short story like that is an oddity in her writing. I found it a little daunting because everything has to fit together in a way it doesn’t necessarily have to in a larger story. So with that story I simply found it difficult to make it convincing in my own mind.

Apart from that, the perennial difficulty with translating writers like NDiaye or Eric Chevillard, who I also translate, is that they tend to write in a style that is pretty accessible to French people, with very long, complex, even run-on, sentences. Something at the end of the sentence can refer back to something earlier in the sentence because you know that the feminine singular pronoun has to be referring back to a feminine singular noun, etc. You can’t really get away with that in English. So the difficulty is respecting the author’s individual style while still respecting the differences between what is considered acceptable or only-slightly-excessive in English, and what is considered acceptable or only-slightly-excessive in French. That’s hard—reconciling what the author does with what the reader can tolerate.

And if you’d like to see for yourself, we have an excerpt from All My Friends up on our website. Just click here to give it a spin.