Monthly Archives: July 2012
Crime Time, the print and online magazine edited by Barry Forshaw, are hosting an interview with Silvester Mazzarella, who translated Davide Longo’s The Last Man Standing. It’s perhaps more of an article than an interview, actually, focusing on a number of specific difficulties in rendering Longo’s text into English . . .
Early in the book the hero, Leonardo, calls at a local vineyard in the hope of selling his grape harvest. He finds the proprietor, Cesare Gallo, sitting on a sofa drinking his own wine: “What Leonardo had taken for a cardigan flung on the sofa moved and he realized that it was a [certosino]. Which of the possible meanings of this word would fit? Carthusian monk? Hermit? A kind of chocolate bread from Bologna? No; it could only be the kind of grey cat known in English as a Chartreux – not a familiar word to me; perhaps safer to put ‘grey short-haired cat’.
A little later Gallo is murdered and the locals have the killers shot against the high wall of the ‘sferisterio’. This refers to a special court for a game extremely popular in Italy until ousted by modern football a century ago. Similar to ‘pelota’ but in no way Spanish or Basque. Best just to put ‘handball court’.
Sometimes English words are used in Italian with a special meaning. For ‘writer’ may mean graffiti artist. And a ‘beauty’ is a vanity case, though not necessarily feminine. On the second page of the book, Leonardo ‘went into the bathroom, took his [beauty] from the shelf and put it into the holdall he was packing.’ I decided on ‘washbag’ as more appropriate.
Occasionally the original text may need to be changed where an inconsistency in the original manuscript has escaped the Italian publisher. Leonardo, temporarily imprisoned in a cage with an elephant, notices that the man slashing branches off trees with a ‘roncola’ (billhook) to feed the elephant has lost three fingers from his left hand. More than a hundred pages later Leonardo takes the same knife from the man, but by now it has become an ‘ascia’ (hatchet), which is what it must have been from the beginning, since its other function throughout the story is chopping off fingers against the flat surface of a table or desk: impossible with a curved instrument like a billhook.
Sometimes a footnote may be useful where something familiar to an Italian reader may be obscure in English. On p 113, Leonardo plans a Christmas present for a boy of twelve: ‘his first thought had been a book by Salgàri then, thinking [the boy] would not have much use for it, he had added a small box of tools’. The books of Emilio Salgàri (1862-1911) have never been much read in English, but Wikipedia tells us he was an immensely popular (if ultimately tragic) author of action-packed adventure stories, revered to this day “as the father of Italian adventure fiction and Italian pop culture and the ‘grandfather’ of the Spaghetti Western.” In this case no footnote was added to distract the reader as the Christmas present is not mentioned again.
On pp. 317-18 Leonardo quotes for his friend Clarisse an inspirational poem written by a woman ‘a century and a half ago’. Longo does not name the writer so a footnote to the text by the translator would be intrusive, but I have identified her as Anna de Noialles (1876-1933), a French poet of mixed Rumanian and Greek extraction, though I made my translation (‘When I see minds that have no pride’, etc) directly from Longo’s Italian.
Many thanks to Barry Forshaw and Silvester Mazzarella.
The Last Man Standing is available in Trade Paperback for £12.99. It will be available on Kindle for a limited period for £2.09.
I think it is not often that we will be able to say this about one of books, so we’d better enjoy it. SFX Magazine has given Davide Longo’s The Last Man Standing five stars and their coveted “SFX Recommends” badge. Which is nice . . .
Apocalypse novels hunt in packs across the wasted landscape of today’s publishing industry. But nuclear and zombie apocalypse have both had their day: the apocalypse du jour in these cash-strapped times is economic. Which is exactly the kind facing disgraced former writer and professor Leonardo, protagonist of The Last Man Standing.
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Longo is a superb writer and every sentence drips with intelligence and humanity. He creates a vision of the soft apocalypse as complex and meaningful as Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, but far more approachable for readers deterred by that book’s dense allusive style. The Last Man Standing is set to be one of best books of the year.
But don’t take their word for it. See for yourself. Until the end of August you can buy The Last Man Standing for Amazon Kindle for only £2.09. An absurd bargain!
Jacques Bonnet’s marvellous ode to the book collector’s art was published in the UK in 2010, but has only just been published in America, by Overlook Press. The novelist James Salter contributed an introduction to the volume, and he has written an article in the New Yorker in praise of Bonnet’s book . . .
As Anthony Burgess once commented, there is no better reason for not reading a book than having it, but an exception should be made for Jacques Bonnet’s “Phantoms on the Bookshelves,” just out this month. It appears at a time when books and literature as we have known them are undergoing a great and perhaps catastrophic change. A tide is coming in and the kingdom of books, with their white pages and endpapers, their promise of solitude and discovery, is in danger, after an existence of five hundred years, of being washed away. The physical possession of a book may become of little significance. Access to it will be what matters, and when the book is closed, so to speak, it will disappear into the cyber. It will be like the genie—summonable but unreal. Bonnet’s private library, however, comprised of more than forty thousand volumes, is utterly real. Assembled according to his own interests, idiosyncratic, it came into being more or less incidentally over some four decades through a love of reading and a disinclination to part with a book after it was acquired. Among other things, he might need it some day.
Under the pretense of writing about this library—its origins, contents, and organization—he has written instead this often witty tribute to and perhaps requiem for a life built around reading that summons up all the magical and seductive power of books. You recognize, with a kind of terrible joy, all that you haven’t read and that you would like to read. Titles and names strike what can only be called chords of desire. In these pages, as at a fabulous party, you are introduced to writers who have not been translated into English, or barely.
Read the full article in the New Yorker
Phantoms on the Bookshelves is available in hardback.
Well, it’s not exactly news, since the contracts were fully executed even before the London Book Fair, but now that Geoffrey Strachan has delivered his customarily flawless translation, we can be even more delighted to announce that we will be publishing Andreï Makine’s Brief Loves that Lives Forever in June of next year.
Makine should be very well known to English readers already, as he and Mr Strachan have collaborated on a dozen or so previous books, including Le Testament Francais, which was a Goncourt-winner in French, and A Life’s Music, which is the best selling of his novels in English, according to BookScan at least. This Telegraph profile from 2004, tells the story of Makine’s arrival in France from Russia and his initial struggles to be published in his adopted language and country.
Brief Loves that Live Forever is set in the Soviet Union from the dreary Brezhnev era through to the collapse of Communism. Through a series of lucid, illuminating episodes, it explores love in all its forms — platonic, furtive, enduring, unrequited and misguided — and illuminates the difficulties of loving another under the watchful eye of Soviet Communism. And at its heart is one tantalising question: did sex bring down the Soviet Union?
Following yesterday’s highlighting of the extract from Mesmerized on the BookOxygen site, here is a review of Alissa Walser’s beguiling novel from the IrisonBooks blog. This seems to be one of the more interesting lit blogs out there at the moment: the reviews are always thorough, well-written and fair, with a fair amount of interaction below the line. And best of all, there seems to be a strong penchant for fiction in translation.
A few years ago, I took a course called “Psychology of Religion”. During that course we discussed several psychological theories on religion or religious phenomena. We discussed early developers of psychology, including Freud, and one of his predecessors: Franz Anton Mesmer. Even though I am not a particular fan of Freud, I found the introductory information about Mesmer fascinating. Here a few of my interests came together: the mysterious power of “animal magnetism” (often understood in terms of charisma and hysteria later on, though Mesmer would call it decidedly scientific), the history of science, and gender.
Can you imagine my joy when I received a review copy of this historical fiction novel on this very topic? Mesmerized tells the story of Mesmer’s quest to be recognised by his medical colleagues. It does so by tracing his treatment of the blind musical prodigy Maria Parradis, the daughter of the Imperial Court Official. A successful treatment may give Mesmer the chance to enter the higher circles, while it might enable Maria to become an internationally famed pianist. Shifting between the perspectives of Mesmer and Maria, Mesmerized allows us to learn about the struggles of both to be recognised as people in their own right, about the appeal and rejection of animal magnetism as a valuable treatment for disorders, and the scandal that soon starts to circulate about Maria and Mesmer’s presumed relationship.
You are cordially invited to continue to the full review . . .