January 20, 2015 § Leave a comment
Title: The Mirror of Beauty
Author: Shamsur Rahman Faruqi
Translator: Translated by the author from Urdu
Publisher: Penguin, New York (2014)
ISBN: 978 0 143422 73 0
Publishers Description: It is the sunset of the Mughal Empire. The splendour of imperial Delhi flares one last time. The young daughter of a craftsman in the city elopes with an officer of the East India Company. And so we are drawn into the story of Wazir Khanam: a dazzlingly beautiful and fiercely independent woman who takes a series of lovers, including a Navab and a Mughal prince—and whom history remembers as the mother of the famous poet Dagh. But it is not just one life that this novel sets out to capture: it paints in rapturous detail an entire civilization.
Of the five books shortlisted for the DSC Prize I only managed to read four. The Mirror of Beauty, at 985 pages, was the one book I didn’t manage to get to. There just wasn’t enough time.
But when Stu, Lisa & I started discussing which book should win it quickly became a process of elimination. We all agreed one book was good, but not a prize winner. Another novel two of us did not like, one of us did. Noontide Toll by Romesh Gunesekera was a close runner up.
In the end both Stu’s & Lisa’s glowing recommendations of Shamsur Rahman Faruqi’s beautiful, epic novel made it the only possible choice.
Click on the links below to their reviews to see why:
The official winner will be announced this Thursday, January 22nd.
January 2, 2015 § 2 Comments
The DSC Prize for South Asian Literature announced their shortlist on November 27th.
- The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri (Bengali)
- The Mirror of Beauty by Shamsur Rahman Faruqi (Indian)
- The Scatter Here is Too Great by Bilal Tanweer (Pakistani)
- A God in Every Stone by Kamila Shamsie (Pakistani)
- Noontide Toll by Romesh Gunesekera (Sri Lankan born British writer)
The DSC Prize is not one I usually follow. At least not closely. Most of the books involved are written in English (as is the case with this year’s shortlist) and I’ve been focusing on translations to the exclusion of almost everything else these days. But Stu from Winstonsdad’s Blog & Lisa from the ANZ LitLovers LitBlog invited me to join their 2015 Shadow Jury and I accepted, of course. They’re two of my favorites and I was honored they thought of me. It was only afterwards that I realized that I had three weeks to read five books. Then, on the week of January 15th, we will meet in a three person MMA bare knuckle cage match to determine the winner. Three bloggers and five books will enter. Only one will leave.
(Well, one blogger and one book – so that’s technically two. Only two will leave. Not as dramatic. And I probably should mention the whole MMA cage fight aspect to Stu & Lisa. I’m not sure they read the official DSC rules and guidelines for setting up shadow juries).
I’m three books in and working on a review of A God in Every Stone by Kamila Shamsie for the weekend – and so far I am pleasantly surprised. As mentioned in the previous paragraph, it’s doubtful that I would have gotten to any of these novels without the Shadow Jury incentive. A God in Every Stone was lovely and became one of my best novels read in 2014. A gorgeous World War I tale set in England & Peshawar (now a city in Pakistan, but during the period the novel is set still a part of British India) that works on multiple levels. Beautiful writing, vivid character portraits, evocative of a sense of place and historical urgency – overall as close to flawless as it gets.
The Scatter Here Is Too Great by Bilal Tanweer was initially less satisfying because it felt disjointed, but became one of those books that brilliantly pulls itself together at the end. Described as a collection of short stories, the last fits in so neatly with the overall theme that it must have been intentional on Tanweer’s part. I just finished today and am still processing my relationship to it.
Jhumpa Lahiri’s The Lowland is next on deck. She’s an author I’ve been meaning to get to for years (like Zadie Smith) but never actually got to. I imagine her as someone whose work a reader either connects with or does not – without purchase between. We’ll soon see if that’s true.
The official winner of the 2015 DSC Prize for South Asian Literature will be announced on January 22nd.
May 28, 2014 § Leave a comment
Despite the infrequent updates over the last few months, the world of translation has been hopping over the past month. So here are some random bits and bobs from the month of May.
PEN Translation Festival
I was lucky enough to get tickets to two events for the Pen World Voices Literary Festival: The Re-Interviews of Martin Amis & Michael Stipe and Translating On the Edge, a panel sponsored by the PEN Translation Committee. Amis & Stipe were charming, fascinating, charismatic and everything you’d expect two celebrities to be. And the premise behind the their re-interviews, hosted by (who else?) Interview Magazine, was truly brilliant. Three people were on the stage at a time: the interviewer, an actor playing the interviewee and the man, himself. The actors read Amis’ & Stipe’s answers from past interviews (some dating, in Amis’ case, as far back as the 1970’s). Giving the interviewer a chance to address his/her questions to both Amis’ & Stipe’s younger and present selves. Amis & Stipe were then able to correct or confirm the record.
Amis was, as is to be expected, incredibly charming & erudite. Stipe was a bit less articulate – but wonderfully animated and remarkably candid. I attended with a friend and we both enjoyed ourselves immensely. We spent the next morning recounting the entire event – virtually word for word – to her husband’s amusement over breakfast. I can only hope it will become a regular feature of the Festival.
Thanks to an email from the translator, Margaret Carson, I bought a last minute ticket to the Translating On the Edge Panel (sponsored by the PEN Translation Committee) moderated by Heather Cleary. On the panel were three translators: Sara Khalili (Censoring of an Iranian Love Story by Shariar Mandanipour), Robyn Creswell (That Smell by Sonallah Ibrahim) and Bonnie Huie (Notes of a Crocodile by Qiu Miaojin). Cleary did a wonderful job – keeping just the right balance between readings and actual discussion.
Huie’s reading from Notes of a Crocodile, the only book of the three that I wasn’t familiar with, stood out. Notes of a Crocodile is scheduled to be published by New York Review of Books Classics. They also published the English translation of Miaojin’s Last Words from Montmarte. For those of you, like me, who never heard of this incredible author: Qui Miaojin was a Taiwanese author who committed suicide in 1995 at the tragic age of 26. She won the China Times Literature Award for Notes of a Crocodile. The novel is considered a cult classic – in part due to the GLBT subject matter (Miaojin was openly lesbian). I wasn’t able to find a release date online, but here’s an excerpt posted on the Asian American Writers’ Workshop website. And definitely check out the video. The entire panel was excellent – but if you’re limited for time take a moment to fast-forward to Bonnie Huie’s reading.
Women In Translation Month
If you haven’t heard – Biblibio is declaring August WOMEN IN TRANSLATION MONTH. There’s a badge for readers & bloggers who take part, a hashtag #WomenInTranslation or #WITMonth on Twitter, and a schedule of activities forthcoming. This all began in December when Biblibio crunched the numbers and realized that less than 30% of the books translated in 2013 were by women authors. She’s continued to explore the topic – looking at specific publishers, polling readers and bloggers, and putting up this incredible May 25th post featuring an embarrassing riches of charts and graphs. Whether or not you want to acknowledge the bias (I’ve had a hard time with it if only because it seems so ridiculous/unbelievable… and then I took the time to examine my own *blush* reading history) Biblibio makes a solid case. Her sampling is manageable because the number of books in translation published each year is relatively small, and thanks to the database put out by Three Percent she has all the data she needs. The numbers don’t lie. So support the cause, people – read a female author in translation! If you love to read, if you love reading translations, it’s an important one to bet behind.
Some Award News
I’m not sure why, but I’ve been suffering from a case of literary award fatigue. But in case you haven’t:
AND – the lesser known French-American Foundation’s Translation Prize went to Electrico W by Herve Le Tellier, translated by Adriana Hunter – beating out a shortlist that included both The Conductor and Other Tales by Jean Ferry (translated by Edward Gauvin), All My Friends by Marie NDiaye (translated by Gordan Stump).
- Château D’Argol by Julien Gracq, translated by Louies Varèse
- The Corpse Exhibition & Other Stories of Iraq by Hassan Blasim, translated by Jonathan Wright
- Ten Years In the Tub: A Decade Soaking in Great Books by Nick Hornby
March 11, 2014 § 5 Comments
The list is up! I’ll be talking about these books a lot over the next few weeks. But today- for your reading pleasure – the 2014 Best Translated Book Award Fiction Longlist.*
*Aren’t they pretty?
April 15, 2013 § 1 Comment
The two translation prize shortlists are out – and it’s exciting to see how many different languages (and countries) are represented. I’ve still only read three of the books on the BTBA list – and of those I’ll keep my money on Dowlatabadi for the win. There is something so visceral about The Colonel. It’s a book that encompasses all the senses – particularly in the opening chapters when the colonel is summoned to bury his daughter. The darkness, the rain, the smell of cigarettes – the density of the prose – they’re all still with me though it’s been months since I put it down. Not every book does that. Certainly not The Hunger Angel or The Planets – both good books by great authors. But they don’t even come close to The Colonel in scope, technique or plot.
The 2013 Best Translated Book Award Fiction
- The Planets by Sergio Chejfec/Heather Cleary, translator (Spanish)
- Prehistoric Times by Eric Chevillard/Alyson Waters, translator (French)
- The Colonel by Mahmoud Dowlatabadi/Tom Patterdale, translator (Persian)
- Satantango by László Krasznahorkai/George Szirtes, translator (Hungarian)
- Autoportrait by Edouard Levé/Lorin Stein, translator (French)
- A Breath of Life: Pulsations by Clarice Lispector/Johnny Lorenz, translator (Portuguese)
- The Hunger Angel by Herta Müller/Philip Boehm, translator (German)
- Maidenhair by Mikhail Shishkin/Marian Schwartz, translator (Russian)
- Transit by Abdourahman A. Waberi/David Ball & Nicole Ball, translators (French)
- My Father’s Book by Urs Widmer/Donal McLaughlin, translator (German)
As for the IFFP: neither of the two books I read on the long list – HHhH and Black Bazaar – made it to the short list. I’m not surprised, though I think the judges are undervaluing how hard it is to write like Alain Mabanckou writes and make it look easy. Even in translation. Regardless, as a result I don’t have anything to contribute to this particular short list other than that Ismail Kadare is one of my favorite authors.
The 2013 Independent Foreign Fiction Prize
- Bundu by Chris Barnard/Michiel Heyns, translator (Afrikaans)
- The Detour by Gerbrand Bakker/David Colmer, translator (Dutch)
- Dublinesque by Enrique Vila-Matas/Rosalind Harvey & Anne McLean, translators (Spanish)
- The Fall of the Stone City by Ismail Kadare/John Hodgson, translators (Albanian)
- Traveller of the Century by Andrés Neuman/Nick Caistor & Lorenza Garcia, translators (Spanish)
- Trieste by Daša Drndić/Ellen Elias-Bursać, translator (Croatian)