[Audio] Two Voices Salon with Don Mee Choi on Kim Hyesoon


We were very honored to host poet and translator Don Mee Choi in the Two Lines Press offices to discuss her work with Korean poet Kim Hysoon in a conversation with Two Lines Press’s Scott Esposito. The conversation centered around Choi’s latest translation of Kim’s work, Sorrowtoothpaste Mirrorcream, which was published in 2014 by Action Books, although it spanned the length of Choi’s involvement with Kim, which goes back to the early 2000s and the many translations they have collaborated on. The conversation included discussions of Action Books’ ideas of translation (epitomized in publisher Johannes Göransson and Joyelle McSweeney’s Deformation Zone), the aesthetic of the “gurlesque,” Kim as a feminist writer, and Kim’s overall stance vis a vis K Pop, the history of Korean literature, and international culture. Below you will find audio of this event and a table of contents.


0:00 Introductions

2:25 Where did you first discover Kim Hyesoon’s poetry?

4:35 The chellenges of first finding a publisher for Kim Hyesoon’s writing

6:25 Why was Action Books so interested in Kim Hyesoon based off of just two poems in Circumference?

8:10 The translation philosophy of Action Books, as represented by Johannes Göransson and Joyelle McSweeney

11:05 Kim Hyesoon as a poet that crosses national and generic boundaries

13:30 Kim Hyesoon compared to the Korean traditions of poetry, especially compared to the masculine traditions, and how contemporary issues creep in to her work, with reference to “I’m OK, I’m Pig”

16:30 Poems of Kim Hyesoon’s that have personally affected Don Mee Choi

19:25 Kim Hyesoon’s influence on Don Mee Choi’s poetry

21:25 The complexity of Kim Hyesoon’s poetry and the difficulty of interpreting it

24:30 How does Don Mee Choi translate when she doesn’t understand exactly what Kim Hyesoon means?

27:00 Does the poetry mutate as you translate it? (With bilingual example)

35:45 The “gurlesque” as it applies to Kim Hyesoon’s poetry

39:20 Kim Hyesoon as a feminist writer

41:30 Kim Hyesoon as contrasted against Korean culture at large, and the sorts of Korean literature that gets promoted by the government

46:50 audience Q & A

Let’s Hear It for The Boys: Q and A with Toni Sala and Mara Faye Lethem


In this interview, Catalan writer Toni Sala and his translator Mara Faye Lethem discuss the latest book from Two Lines Press: The Boys. Among other things, they explore translation, death and sex, and the divide between generations in modern day Catalonia. If you weren’t able to attend our book release earlier this month, you can listen to the audio on the Two Lines website. This interview was conducted by the Center for the Art of Translation’s Sarah Coolidge.

Sarah Coolidge: Mara, how did you discover The Boys and the work of Toni Sala? What were your first impressions?

Mara Faye Lethem: I first remember being aware of Toni because of a book he wrote in the early naughts about Floquet de neu [Snowflake], the albino gorilla. I was also working on a photo essay about this somewhat tragic Barcelona figure. Later I was asked to translate some of his work, which you can see here.

The Catalan original of The Boys was the debut title of a new publishing house called L’Altra, run by a very talented, brave editor named Eugènia Broggi; we were at the party for the Herralde Prize when she told me—almost in a whisper—that she was leaving the big publishing group and starting her own house. I remember thinking what a bold move that was in the midst of Spain’s worst recession ever, and what good news for Catalan literature.

Both that book and his previous one, Provisionalitat, were chosen by the Institute Ramon Llull to feature in their New Catalan Fiction catalogue, which I write for them, so now that you ask it seems like I was hearing about Toni’s work from all sides.

What I’ve always found most striking about Toni’s prose is how his often turbid meditations—on situations that most likely don’t coincide with yours—still end up feeling like the voice inside your head.

SC: Toni, The Boys takes place within a very narrow timeframe. How long did it take you to write the book and what was going on during that time?

Toni Sala: The writing of The Boys was strange. I was stuck for about year in the first chapter, which was initially a short story, thinking that it was over. Then, in the summer of 2013, in three months I wrote the three other chapters. It was very intense. I don’t know if I would have endured many more months at that rhythm. I remember thinking about the book while underwater, while I snorkeled and watched the fishes.

SC: What was it like having your novel translated? Have you read the English translation?

TS: I have not read the whole translation because I get nervous, and I don’t know enough English to draw any conclusion. Just know that if the book works, if a competent reader finds it acceptable, it is thanks to the translation of Mara Faye Lethem. When a book is translated, its benefits are both to the author and the translator. I think it’s interesting that a translation can cross the bridge across languages: literature works like a universal language, a language as accessible to the human condition as music or mathematics.

SC: Mara, you’ve said that you’ve never been to some of the countries of books you’ve translated. You have, however, lived in Catalonia for the past twelve years. Do you think that a deep familiarity with the country of origin produces a better translation?

MFL: I’m of two minds about this question, which is a very interesting one because it addresses both the linguistic and the cultural aspects of working in translation. On one hand, the answer to both aspects is: of course. It certainly can save you a lot of research, and give you a confidence in your interpretation, and more speed, which can help the rhythm of your prose. However, literary language and everyday language do not always have that direct of a relationship. You can be a good translator without having speaking fluency; those are two different skillsets.

I also feel that it is important not to conflate reading literature in translation with some sort of anthropological journey of cultural discovery. A Catalan writer has every right to set his or her book on Jupiter in the 12th century or on Guam in the 25th, thus virtually negating any possible benefits of one’s own personal life experience. Translation always involves research.

SC: In the book, Iona, the fiancée of one of the deceased, is the only main character that knew the dead boys well. Toni, why did you choose to tell this story focusing on those characters on the periphery of the tragedy?

TS: Because the novel is not about the boys, but the traces left by their death. Dying, they shape the personalities of those who remain.

SC: The novel begins with a beautiful image of the highway to Vidreres, where the book is set, littered by prostitutes awaiting customers. What role does sex have in the novel and what is its relationship to death?

MFL: I see sex in The Boys as being closely tied to power, as a means of exchange of capital. This is evident in the case of the prostitutes and also in the ideas of marriage and inheritance that are so central to the book.

TS: Sex can be understood as the culmination of life—reproduction—but clearly, without life death would not exist . . . I’m more interested in the moral side of sex, in what affects the relationship between two people. This is what interested me about the story between the banker and the truck driver with prostitutes, and also about the pursuit of the girlfriend of one of the dead boys by the last character of the book. Sex turns a relationship into something physical. It’s a converter of the soul, a translator. It allows us to see things that otherwise we could not even suspect.

SC: Some of the characters suggest a division between the older and younger generations. For example, Miqui, the truck driver, is annoyed by the old man who recounts his memories of the war. What does history mean to the various characters? Have the traumas of World War II and the Spanish Civil War been, as Miqui suggests, replaced by the trauma of the recession?

TS: Each generation has its traumas. Even the happiest childhood contains traumas. Sometimes I think there is a quota of suffering that everyone must pay, with or without war. This, from someone who has not experienced a war, may be a frivolous opinion. But how can you know, honestly, if you have never experienced a war? One idea that’s very strong in my country in recent years—I do not know if in America, too—is that today’s young generation will be the first generation in many decades that will live worse than their parents—and without a war between the generations.

MFL: The Boys is so evocative of our particular moment in history: overpopulation, poor management of resources, alienation, all of those long overdue bills we’ve been bequeathed by our parents and grandparents. Frankly, I think Spain is better equipped to confront the trauma of the recession than the trauma of their Civil War, but I feel the same way about America.

SC: What’s next for both of you? What are you working on now?

MFL: I’m revising a translation of Eduard Marquez’s La decisió de Brandes (to be published in 2016 by Hispabooks as Brandes’s Decision), translating an Argentine children’s book for Enchanted Lion, and a non-fiction book about the science of sex.

TS: I’m writing a love story, right now.

Toni Sala is the author of over a dozen novels and words of nonfiction. In 2005 he was awarded the National Literature Prize by the Catalan government, and in 2014 he received the Premis de la Crítica, Catalonia’s most prestigious literary award, for The Boys.

Mara Faye Lethem’s translations have appeared in The Best American Non-Required Reading, Granta, The Paris Review, Words Without Borders, and McSweeney’s. She is the translator of Papers in the Wind by Eduardo Sacheri, Wonderful World by Javier Calvo, and others.

[AUDIO] Launch of The Boys with Toni Sala, Mara Faye Lethem, and CJ Evans


We were very pleased to host Catalan author Toni Sala and his translator Mara Faye Lethem for the launch of his novel The Boys from Two Lines Press, the first of Sala’s books to ever appear in English. Winer of Catalonia’s most prestigious literary award in 2014, and called “altogether brilliant” by Kirkus, The Boys is the dark tale of a small Catalonian village reeling frmo the sudden deaths of two young men. The conversation between Toni and mara was moderated by Two Lines Press Editorial Director CJ Evans.


0:00 Introductions

4:25 Bilingual reading from The Boys

15:40 Why did Toni Sala structure the book as a series of four perspectives

17:35 How are the different characters attached to the book’s central deaths?

20:15 Mara Faye Lethem’s approach to translating the book

24:40 Themes related to death in The Boys, and economic issues in Spain and Catalonia today

30:20 The economic collapse driving a breakdown in morals in Spain

34:00 How Toni chose the town that The Boys takes place in

43:05 Feelings in Catalonia about the independence movement

48:15 How the history and politics of Catalonia emerges in The Boys

52:05 Social media and the Internet in The Boys

56:10 Mara’s process of working with Toni

1:01:07 The philosophical digressions in The Boys

1:04:09 Audience Q & A

Two Lines + Music and Literature SUBSCRIPTION OFFER


It goes without saying that we at Two Lines are huge fans of our peer journal Music & Literature. Not only is Music & Literature extremely international in its focus (covering authors like László Krasznahorkai, Dubravka Ugrešić, Alejandra Pizarnik, and Clarice Lispector, just to name a few), it also offers hugely in-depth critical writing on these authors, as well as original texts from them and interviews with them that cannot be found anywhere else.

Each issue of Music & Literature is dedicated to three artists, each artist getting a critical portfolio of well over 100 pages. It’s like getting three monographs in each issue.

Since Two Lines is also all about international writing, and since we focus more on the source texts than on commentary, it seemed like the most natural thing in the world to collaborate with Music & Literature on a subscriber offer. For a limited time you can now subscribe to both Two Lines and Music & Literature at one discounted price. Get one for yourself, or give it to a friend as a fantastic gift!

United States residents can get a full year of Two Lines and Music & Literature for only $40.00. That’s four issues amounting to over 600 pages of international writing you will not get anywhere else. And if you pick up a two-year dual subscription for $65.00, the savings are even more.

Subscribe 1-year for $40
Subscribe 2-year for $65

International customers can also get in on this deal. Due to the costs of shipping worldwide, your prices will be $80.00 for the combined one-year subscription and $155.00 for the two-year.

Subscribe 1-year international for $80
Subscribe 2-year international for $155

At checkout, please be sure to specify if you’d like your subscription of M&L to start with Issue 6 (latest) or 7 (upcoming), and of Two Lines with Issue 23 (latest) or 24 (upcoming).

Music & Literature is truly a remarkable publication that we are very pleased to be working with. Have a look at all of the amazing things to be found in the Alejandra Pizarnik portfolio, just one of three portfolios from Issue 6:

A Few Essential Words / Alberto Manguel

An Introduction to Alejandra Pizarnik’s Diaries / Ana Becciú, trans. Cecilia Rossi

A Selection from Diaries / Alejandra Pizarnik, trans. Cecilia Rossi

A Selection of Prose / Alejandra Pizarnik, trans. Cecilia Rossi

An Introduction to “The Lady Buccaneer of Pernambuco or Hilda the Polygraph” / Ana Becciú, trans. Cecilia Rossi

The Lady Buccaneer of Pernambuco or Hilda the Polygraph / Alejandra Pizarnik, trans. Suzanne Jill Levine

Correspondence with León Ostrov / Alejandra Pizarnik, trans. Emily Cooke

Some Keys to Alejandra Pizarnik: An Interview / Martha Isabel Moia, trans. Emily Cooke

Come Here Alejandra / Julio Cortázar, trans. Stephen Kessler

Pavane for a Dead Princess / Olga Orozco, trans. Stephen Kessler

An Overdose of Seconal / Enrique Vila-Matas, trans. Rosalind Harvey

Alejandra Pizarnik / César Aira, trans. Katherine Silver

Demystifying Pizarnik: On Editing the Complete Works / Isabella Checcaglini, trans. Jeffrey Zuckerman

“The Shadow of the Typist”: The Perturbed among Lilacs / Étienne Dobenesque, trans. Jeffrey Zuckerman

The Woman in Red / Jacques Ancet, trans. Jeffrey Zuckerman

11/20: Two Lines Press at Pegasus Books On Solano


Executive Director Michael Holtmann, Production Editor Jessica Sevey, and Associate Editor Marthine Satris will talk about publishing literature from around the world as a small press, and will read selections from recent Two Lines Press publications.

Join us at Pegasus Books Solano Avenue location in Berkeley!

  • November 20, 2015
  • Pegasus Books
  • 1855 Solano Ave., Berkeley
  • 7:30 pm
  • FREE

11/12: Two Voices Salon with Don Mee Choi


Join us on Thursday, November 12, as we welcome poet and translator Don Mee Choi to the Two Lines Press offices to discuss her PEN Translation Award shortlisted translation of Sorrowtoothpaste Mirrorcream by Korean poet Kim Hyesoon.

Although South Korean pop culture has come to dominate the world, deeper understandings of its art, music, and literature are harder to come by. Kim has been recognized as a poet who cuts deeply to the heart of Korean poetics and literature today. She is also a poet who has been recognized as one-of-a-kind, a true original, even among the literary movements that she has been associated with.

Choi will discuss juat what Kim is up to, and how she both reltaes to and transcends Korean literature. In addition to translating Sorrowtoothpaste Mirrorcream, she has also authored Hardly War (Wave Books, 2016) and The Morning News Is Exciting (Action Books, 2010). And she is the recipient of a Whiting Writers’ Award and the 2012 Lucien Stryk Translation Prize.

  • Thursday, November 12
  • Two Lines Press offices
  • Doors 5:30, event 6:00
  • 582 Market St., Suite 700, San Francisco, CA 94104
  • Don Mee Choi in conversation with Scott Esposito on Korean poetry
  • FREE
  • alcoholic beverages and snacks