More Updates From A BookSexy World…

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 2014Women 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:

Best Translate Book Award went to 2x winner László Krasznahorkai with his novel Seiobo Down Below, translated by Ottilie Mulzet

Independent Foreign Fiction Prize went to Hassin Blasim for his novel The Iraqi Christ, translated by Jonathan Wright – the first Arabic novel to win the Prize

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).

Reading Update

And here’s what I’m currently reading (as I type this, I’m embarrassed to realize that there are no women on the list):
  • 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

 

 

 

Papers In The Wind by Eduardo Sacheri (translated from Spanish by Maya Faye Letham)

Sacheri_PapersintheWindThe 2014 World Cup is almost upon us. Making it the perfect time to pick up a book about soccer - but nothing too technical. Something that taps into the passion of the fans, but doesn’t require that the reader be a fan herself. And, of course, it can’t be all about soccer.  That would be a bit much for someone who has never watched an entire game in her life.

I think I’ve found just the thing.

Eduardo Sacheri’s first novel to be translated into English, The Secret In Their Eyes, was a taut and suspense-filled thriller. His second novel is something completely different.  In Papers In The Wind Sacheri again returns to Buenos Aires, this time to tell the story of four childhood friends. When the youngest of their group, Alejandro “Mono” Raguzzi, dies of cancer his elder brother Fernando and best friends Daniel “Ruso” and Mauricio are devastated but determined to honor his memory.

A few years earlier Mono had used his entire life savings, $300,000.00, to buy a promising young soccer player.  The player never lived up to that initial promise.  And so after Mono’s death the normally level-headed Fernando hatches a scheme  to sell the player and use the money to secure his niece’s, Mono’s daughter’s, financial future. What ensues is a picaresque-style comedy as the three men attempt – through all kinds of harebrained shenanigans – to make a star out of a Striker who is too big and too slow to score a goal.

And hilarity ensues, as they say.  Papers In The Wind is very funny, but it’s also a book with immense heart. That strikes a nice balance, since the overall premise can  seem a bit far-fetched at times.  Eduardo Sacheri is an extremely talented writer whose characters are both perfectly, and imperfectly, drawn.  Their flaws make them real.  And as the story unfolds – both in the present and in flashbacks to Mono’s illness – you find yourself believing in these men. And in their friendship. And, subsequently, in their crusade.

The interactions between the friends, along with a huge cast of supporting characters (at one point a transvestite  wanders into the story, bonds with Fernando and wanders back out again purely for the fun of it), provides a nuanced portrait of friendships between men. Women, with the exception of Mono’s daughter Guadalupe, exist only on the periphery of this masculine microcosm.   The action bounces between present day – with Fernando, Ruso & Mauricio desperately trying to sell the Striker while still grieving the loss of their friend & brother – and flashbacks to Mono’s illness.  In the flashbacks the men bicker and laugh and support each other in ways we’ve been conditioned to expect only from female characters. It’s still a novelty to see this kind of tenderness depicted in men.

Admittedly, where some of that tenderness is directed may seem a little strange to the uninitiated.  Mono has a tendency to wax philosophic on life and fútbol, and his love for the fútbol club Independiente (a.k.a.the Red)*  borders on religious fervor. In one scene Fernando promises his brother that he will make sure that little Guadalupe grows up an Independiente fan, despite the fact that the club’s glory days have long been a thing of the past.

“You don’t have to worry, Mono.”

“About what?”

“She’s going to be an Independiente fan.  The rest of it I don’t know. I mean, about the cups and the mystique, I can’t say for sure. Maybe it comes back, maybe it doesn’t. But we’ll  get her to root for the Red.”

The romance attached to a favorite team or sport might be difficult for non-fans to understand.  Except, caught up in the world of Sacheri’s characters, it isn’t difficult at all.  Moments like the one aboveare incredibly touching.  Fútbol and Independiente become metaphors for something else.  What that something else is: faith, friendship, life, loyalty, tradition… I don’t think it really matters.  The power lies in the attachment. And different readers will take away different things.

Papers in the Wind, and Sacheri, are at their finest in the moments when the main characters are together – the dialogue is a joy to read and the timing is impeccable.  Sometimes Sacheri takes two or three chapters, interspersed between other chapters, to get to the punchline of some joke. Leaving readers giggling along with Mono, Ruso, Fernando & Mauricio like little kids.  And he provides enough twists and surprises throughout to remind his readers that his last book was a thriller. Papers in the Wind, like The Secret In Their Eyes before it, is an extraordinarily well-crafted novel.  Disarmingly entertaining; wonderfully nuanced – it’s clever without showing off. Like a great soccer player, Eduardo Sacheri manages to make what he does on the field appear easy for the fans.

 

Publisher:  Other Press, New York (2014)
ISBN:  978 1 59051 642 3

 

*A little background: Independiente was one of the great Argentine fútbol clubs until the 1980’s when a began its slow but steady decline.  Prior to that period Independiente won a number of international titles, had the first fútbol stadium in Latin America and was considered one of Argentina’s premier fútbol clubs. In the 2013-2014 season, after 101 consecutive years as a Division One team, it dropped into second division for the first time in the club’s history.