Monthly Archives: September 2011
I have left my hometown of Amsterdam to come to Berlin for a few weeks to work on my translation of Cees Nooteboom’s book Berlijn, his account of his time spent in Germany from the years before the fall of the Wall until the present day. A native speaker of English, I have swapped my Dutch-speaking surroundings for a German-speaking environment. I am translating a Dutch book about Germany, sitting at a computer in Berlin, turning Dutch words about Germany into English words about Germany. Being in Berlin, as Nooteboom was, gives me the opportunity to visit the places he saw here, to see them not only through his writing, but with my own eyes.
One of the locations I knew I had to visit was the small village of Lübars, still part of Berlin, but as Nooteboom writes in his book, practically countryside. The writer sometimes used to go out to Lübars to escape from the city and the book describes his subsequent visits to the village and the changes that he sees as the political climate changes. Lübars was in the West, but only just. Although I was accustomed to the familiar photographs of the Wall dividing the urban landscape, Nooteboom’s account of the Wall in such rural surroundings somehow came as a surprise to me. He talks about the village pub, about girls riding horses, about fields and streams – and, cutting across the landscape, the incongruous Wall and its guardians. In his words, which are also, in a way, my words:
“I often visit Lübars, which is like a real village. It’s an illusion, as if there were lots of countryside stretching out all around. Two village pubs, a pump, a small church, a few graves. I walk out of the village along a path I’ve discovered. The first time, I came to a small river. I stood looking into the water, dark-coloured, fast-flowing, swaying water plants, the thought of fish. And that was when I noticed the sign. It said that the border ran down the middle of that river. The Wall might have been some distance away, but the other side, those dry reeds, that scattering of trees, that was the land of the Others. Now I saw the water differently. It was no more than a couple of metres wide, but the middle of that moving, transparent element was the border. That’s not something you should spend too much time thinking about, but I still did. East water, West water. Absolute nonsense, but still, that border is real. And it’s there. I carried on walking, up a hill. From there, I had a good view of the Wall. There were two of them. Between them was a kind of anti-tank ditch, loose sand, earth, soil. The strip of land rolled away into the distance. I walked on to where I would encounter the Wall; it was not made of bricks or concrete at that point, but of transparent steel mesh. A hundred metres beyond, in front of the other Wall, was a tower. A small car stood beside it. Then a window opened in the tower. I could see the silhouettes of two men. One of them directed his binoculars at me and took a good look. A one-way process. He could see me perfectly well, but I couldn’t see him. What did he think he was going to see when he looked at me? Why was he looking? I stood there for a while, experiencing the strange sensation of allowing myself to be looked at. I wanted to know what the man was thinking, but I never would. I didn’t want to know what he thought about me, but what he thought about himself. There was no way of knowing. Was he looking out of a sense of duty, conviction, boredom? Did he believe in what he was doing? There was, as far as I could tell, no human possibility that anything could ever occur between those two walls, not in that place, and certainly not starting from my side. So what was the point of watching? Did he spend hours of unutterable boredom in the tower? Or was it pure conviction? Did you go to that tower as you would to a job you enjoyed doing? What I really wanted was to go up into the tower and have a quick chat with him, but there was no chance of that happening.” (Nooteboom, Berlijn, p. 41)
My own visit to Lübars, all these years later, took me into the countryside. A quiet village, a somewhat gentrified village pub, fields, dogs, horses. No Wall. If you knew where to look, you could see where it had been. In fact, the cleared land of the death strip makes an excellent place to take horses out for a gallop. The stream, the river, where once a border ran down the middle, still flows along, turns into marsh, gets caught up in small pools. It divides the landscape and, at some points, makes it difficult for the casual walker to reach Lübars, but it’s no longer a political boundary, only a physical obstacle.
On one of his more recent visits to the village, Nooteboom spotted that the sign in the river indicating the border had gone, but the post it had been nailed to was still there. I didn’t see any post. It’s probably long rotted away, but perhaps I didn’t know where to look. That border, that solid Wall, the death strip, the guards, they have all vanished from the landscape, leaving behind the church and the pump and the pub, as they have existed for centuries.
Following Nooteboom’s descriptions in his book, I located a spot where he must have walked or stood. I took my copy of Berlijn, with Simone Sassen’s photograph of the Wall at Lübars, and held it up against the landscape to compare that same location, then and now. Lübars with the Wall; Lübars without the Wall. Where once that impenetrable concrete structure stood, there is now a line of trees and hedgerow.
I’m writing this piece on 30 September, International Translation Day. Translating Dutch into English, translating a person’s experiences, translating myself from one country to another. I translate the words and the places become even more real to me; and the words are somehow a little more my own when I follow the author and see what he’s seen.
Yesterday, I followed him to Berlin’s Museumsinsel, the Museum Island, where most of the city’s top museums are located. I saw ‘Schinkel’s giant marble dish’ in front of Das Alte Museum; Nooteboom witnessed members of the press climbing into this dish for a better view of the demonstrations that preceded the fall of the Wall. I saw the Pergamon Altar and statues of Anubis. However, one small exhibit made a large impact on me, a tattered piece of papyrus in Das Neue Museum, written on 18 April, 134 BC, and described as a ‘receipt of wages from a translator of the Trogodytes’ tribe’. Somehow, this evidence of the more mundane side of the translation profession seemed so much more personal and close to home than any surviving translations of literary texts. Translation may not be the oldest profession in the world, but translators have certainly been around for a very long time indeed. And perhaps that’s something to think about on International Translation Day.
The 2nd International Translation Day Symposium organised by English PEN in partnership with Free Word and the Literary Translation Centre is happening tomorrow, 30th September 2011.
One year after the inaugural International Translation Day symposium at the Free Word Centre, professionals in the industry come together to celebrate new achievements and to look at future challenges.
The day kicks off with the launch of the final Global Translation Initiative Report, Taking Flight: New Thinking on World Writing, a series of eighteen vital and illuminating essays from distinguished translators, authors, publishers and journalists from around the globe.
Jonathan Heawood, Director of English PEN, chairs a panel showcasing some of the great translation initiatives that have developed since last year’s International Translation Day. Jane Aitken (publisher, Gallic Press) reveals some of the obstacles of publishing The Elegance of the Hedgehog; Ros Schwartz (translator) discusses mentoring programmes; Sarah Ardizzone (translator)updates us on progress of the schools programme Translation Nation; and Rachel Van Riel (Opening the Book) talks about reader development initiatives that really work.
The afternoon is devoted to a series of workshops with topics ranging from practical issues such as how to get started as a translator, education, funding and training for literary translation, to wider cultural concerns such as literary translation in review media, the role of literary festivals, the translation of minority languages and intercultural understanding.
The day culminates with a keynote speech from acclaimed conductor Charles Hazlewood who asks us what JS Bach and The Prodigy have in common. As he outlines the connectivity between the father of the High Baroque and this quartet of techno terrorists, Charles reveals the story behind his own success in building and connecting audiences for very different kinds of music.
Celebrated author Ahdaf Soueif also lends her support to International Translation Day, discussing her particular blend of the personal with the political, fiction and history with Amanda Hopkinson in the evening.
MacLehose Publicity Guru Nicci Praca’s favourite book for this year is doing rather well in the reviews department this week. So far Good Offices, by the Independent Foreign Fiction award winner Evelio Rosero, has been reviewed in The Sunday Times by Lucy Scholes:
“… translated into English (eloquently rendered by Anne McLean and Anna Milsom) is a small but commanding piece of fiction so neatly devised that it reads more like a short story … Rosero’s sharply satirical attack on the Catholic Church features a host of carnivalesque characters … This is a fable of vice and desire as comic as it is disturbing”
And in the Skinny (Time Out-esque mag in Scotland) which gives it 4 stars and predicts that it is a contender for future literary prizes:
“Good Offices exposes the negativity that can prevail in the Church and a human desire for fulfillment in life. It shows that those who are condemned to grow old in the service of God may want a different life after all, yet struggle to find a way out” Tina Koenig
Two MacLehose Press titles have been reviewed in the Journal for the Law Society in Scotland:
The Upright Piano Player:
“This stunning debut novel beautifully observes Henry Cage as he retires early from the successful business he built, faces up to the breakdown of his marriage, and encounters unexpected but tragic reconciliation with his wife and son. The description of the charmed (but soon to be shattered) London life contrasted with Norfolk is delightful. Readers of McEwan and Cartwright will not be disappointed”
& Until Thy Wrath Be Past:
“With the eclipse of Stieg Larsson and Wallander, the Nordic detective genre has enabled new openings. District Prosecutor Rebecka Martinsson is unknown to UK readers, but deserves to become well known. This complex, compelling and satisfying story of hidden truths and fear of disclosure and the consequences is set against the background of north Sweden”
One that should have been mentioned in last week’s round-up managed to evade inclusion by hiding in amongst all my other reviews until filing time. I’m glad I manage to find it though, because it is yet another wonderful review for the paperback of School Blues. This time in the Mail:
“Charming, insightful and funny, this is a book to be read by teachers, parents and – if only it could be arranged – by every child who thinks that books are not for them”
Boyd Tonkin has once again picked up the fabulously dark crime series set in Wroclaw and reviewed the paperback of Phantoms of Breslau by Marek Krajewski in the Independent – which has also been repeated in the I (mini version on the Indy):
“A Polish city only since 1945 – Krajewski has in his splendid series of crime novels resurrected the lost world of prewar, German Breslau – as it was. He disinters this buried metropolis like a fictional archaeologist, framing his tantalising mysteries and gamey characters against a hallucinatory sense of place …”
And Stuart Allen has also reviewed Phantoms of Breslau, but decided to go with the hardback edition instead of the pb on his blog Winston’s Dad:
“Now anyone who follows me on twitter or have read comments I’ve placed around blogosphere knows I’ve been singing the praises of this book … Krajewski’s main talent is his eye for detail, from cigarette smoke in a pipe, to the food they eat, he makes 1919 Breslau come to life. We get drawn into a dark and dangerous place as the people there come to terms with the post war world of 1919 … I feel this is the perfect autumn read – as the nights draw in you can get drawn into the dark side of Breslau”
The paperback of The Last Brother has been reviewed in the Good Book Guide:
“A Beautifully written tale of a little-known historical episode that illustrates to perfection the ripples and effects that war had on the most innocent and remote lives”
On a happy note, both STIEG LARSSON and CHRISTOPHER MACLEHOSE have made the Guardian’s Top 100 most influential people in publishing list, with STIEG LARSSON AT NO. 18 and CHRISTOPHER AT NO. 70.
Another wonderful blog review for Evelio Rosero’s Good Offices, this time from the Milo’s Rambles blog.
One thing became clear to me early on – while reading Good Offices by Evelio Rosero – was its fluidity. Reading such a beautiful and energetic translation – by Anne McLean and Anna Milson – I lost myself in its simplicity and free flowing narrative. I felt as if Rosero was conducting a small orchestra, a solo violin performance, or perhaps I was sitting at the theatre where one solitary voice spoke to me, just like an actor on stage reciting a monologue. Whatever the performance, be it classical or acting, I was spellbound and couldn’t put the book down finishing it in one sitting.
To me I imagined Rosero sitting down in his favourite writing chair, a glass of his favourite tipple in close proximity and writing the first thing that came to his head with a prose that simply flowed and flowed until the finality of its conclusion.
Good Offices oozes quality from the magnificent print, sumptuous prose and a high quality paper. Such a tactile book, even though it may be a little short on stature weighing in at just 142 pages, this is an elegant book – something you come to expect from MacLehose Press.
Read the rest of the review at www.milorambles.com
Evelio Rosero’s second novel in English translation, Good Offices, was published this month. His first novel in translation, The Armies, won the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize in 2009.
Here are some of the first reviews for Good Offices, all at this stage for the (identical in terms of text) American edition, which is being published by New Directions. Anne McLean, who translated The Armies, worked with a co-translator for Good Offices, Anna Milsom, who is interviewed here. Click here to read an extract from the novel.
In Poetics, that ancient didact Aristotle informs us that admirable drama adheres to unities of action, place, and time. There must be no extraneous subplots, just one central action confined to a specific and defined place and time—no more than 24 hours, in fact.
I was reminded of these (oft-broken) rules when reading Evelio Rosero’s Good Offices, a sharp, gleaming novel that illustrates just how effective these classical unities might be in the hands of a gifted author. Rosero’s tale snakes out over the course of only a few hours and takes place entirely in a Catholic church in Bogotá, Colombia. The action—more on that in a moment—is indivisible from the time and place.
Good Offices centers on Tancredo, a hunchback afflicted with “a terrible fear of being an animal.” Tancredo is basically an indentured servant of the church, strung along by Father Almida’s promises of a college education that never seems to surface. His great “cross to bear” is the program of Community Meals that Father Almida mandates (yet never helps execute) each night—charity meals for children, old people, blind people, whores, and families (all segregated by day of the week, naturally). In particular, Tancredo hates the nights for the old people, indigents who complain about the free food and then pretend to be dead so they don’t have to go back to the dark streets of Bogotá. Sometimes they do die though, and it’s Tancredo who must discover their abject corpses.
Read the full review at Biblioklept.org
Three Per Cent Review
Evelio Rosero’s first novel to be translated into English since his award-winning The Armies takes place on a much smaller scale than that hallucinatory story about the damaging effects of civil war in Colombia. Good Offices, lighter in tone and slighter than The Armies, documents the events of a single day in a single location: a Catholic church in Bogotá. The tale is told through the eyes of Tancredo, a young man with a hunchback, who assists the priest of the church, Father Almida, as an occasional acolyte but mainly by running the daily free lunches the church offers to the city’s neediest residents: “Tuesdays for the blind, Mondays for the whores, Fridays for families, Wednesdays for the street kids, Saturdays and Sundays for God, or so says the priest.”
Tancredo and Father Almida not only work at the church but live in its presbytery, along with Machado, the sacristan; Sabina, Machado’s goddaughter; and “the three Lilias,” a clutch of women who run the household and who have come to resemble one another so closely that they go by the same name. The novel opens on a Thursday afternoon, “when it’s the old people’s turn” to be served lunch, and Tancredo has just finished kicking out the last of the diners. The anger he feels at their insistence on remaining in the church hall long past the end of the meal stirs in him “a terrible fear of being an animal,” although he is for the most part a mild-mannered, studious, and obedient servant of the church.
Read the full review at Three Percent
BOMB Magazine ran an interview with Evelio Rosero by Antonio Ungar last year, which is well worth a look:
Antonio Ungar You spent part of your childhood in the upper Andes, in the south of Colombia. Tell me whether your literature has been affected by the city of Pasto and the geography of the region of Nariño.
Evelio Rosero Yes, of course. Childhood is the most formative stage in a writer’s life, or anyone’s. Especially the villages I’ve depicted in my novels, I’ve noticed—after the writing—correspond to the memory of those villages in the Andes that my family used to visit. So, in my fiction, their description is linked to an ancestral memory: their rural spaces and atmospheres, their indigenous faces, their geographical and human abysses, is unconscious.
AU Many of your books are for a young readership and yet, in some of your novels—in En el lejero (In the distance) and in some scenes of The Armies—groups of children are threatening creatures; they chase the protagonists, throw stones at them, make fun of them. In The Armies, a group of kids plays with a grenade and threatens to physically annihilate one of the main characters. Why? Are these just coincidences that aren’t worth spending too much time on?
ER Children are also threatening in some of my “children’s books.” Cruelty in children is a reality, just like their innocence. I am aware of all these passions, as elemental as they might be, when writing—whether a children’s story, or a full-length novel. When I write for children, or when I used to write, because I seem to have lost the joy in doing this, I don’t think I’m addressing marvelous, winged creatures. As a boy I suffered, as children suffer in this life, as intensely or more so than grown-ups. The coincidence that you point out to me seems, for this reason, very important. It had puzzled me that no one else seemed to have noticed.
Read the full interview at BOMB Magazine