Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Refreshing Translations

A few months ago we created a display to accompany the Best Translated Book Award prize for 2010. It has sold well and we receive many compliments on it. So, a makeover was clearly in order.

Just last week in New York City, PEN American Center held their week-long, sixth annual, World Voices Festival of International Literature featuring 150 writers from 40 countries. This celebration of connecting literature from around the world to readers of other languages is a reminder that with globalization comes the opportunity to embark upon new literary journeys.

So, with an aesthetic facelift and some new titles, the books-in-translation display is alert and refreshed, ready for another round of introducing Milwaukee readers to works from other countries.

The refreshed display includes a diverse range of languages from all over: Western Europe (Italian, French, German, Dutch, Spanish, Greek); the East (Russian, Chinese, Japanese); Scandinavia (Danish, Icelandic, Norwegian); the Middle East/Africa (Hebrew, Arabic); South America (Portugese); and some less familiar tongues (Catalan, Basque, Croatian, middle-Scots).

There's The Tsar's Dwarf by Peter Fogtdal (translated from the Danish by Tiina Nunnally), a darkly humorous exploration of religion and what it means to be human, told through the heart and mind of a Danish dwarf kept by Peter the Great in the early 18th century. I also recommend Fogtdal's riotous blog about books, U.S. life, and culture clashes.

We have Seamus Heaney's translation of Robert Henryson's epic poem The Testament of Cresseid and Seven Fables from the Middle-Scots, a version of English spoken in the 1400-1500s. You may scoff at my inclusion of an "English" book with works in translation, but Middle Scots is not exactly English as we understand it today. For example: "Ane sillie scheill under an erdfast stane / Off quhilk the entres wes not hie nor braid;"

The Accordionist's Son by Bernardo Atxaga (translated from the Basque by Margaret Jull Costa) deftly weaves the traditions and culture of the Basque people with the memories of a self-exiled man to explore the history of a little-known region as it grapples with war and keeping it's identity alive. Themes of class, family and politics blend together seamlessly in this superb, dark, yet celebratory tale.

Tatyana Tolstaya, of the literary family Tolstoy, echoes her familial legacy of brilliantly inventive writing with The Slynx - a post-apocalyptic, dystopian novel (set 200 years after the end of civilization as we know it) that begets a radioactively mutated new race, old humans clinging to the last scraps of the world's literature even though books and freethought are banned, and a mysterious creature that stalks this new landscape.

Or how about The Pets by Bragi Olafsson (translated from the Icelandic by Janice Balfour), which takes place entirely in one apartment as a man hides under a bed when an old friend comes to visit, but that friend comes inside anyway, makes himself at home and throws a huge party. All the while, the poor Emil is hiding away under his bed.

These magnificent works are here for our enjoyment thanks to the laborious, inglorious work of translators. Won't you pick one up today?

1 comment:

  1. I did readings in about forty book stores and universities on my US book tour, and my stop in Milwaukee was one of the most memorable.

    Thanks for the kind words about THE TSAR'S DWARF. There is a great world of literature out there, so on behalf of all foreign writers from small "insignificant" countries, thanks for what you're doing. You rock! And then some!