All Articles by Date

September, 2014

The Memory of Our Land: Writing in and From Exile

In late May I attended a writers’ conference in Sozopol, Bulgaria, sponsored by the admirable Elizabeth Kostova Foundation. Sozopol lies on the Black Sea, less than two hundred miles south of Constanța, Romania—better known as the ancient city of Tomis, where Ovid spent the last part of his life in exile. (As we sat on the lush hotel patio, looking out at ruins and the water beyond, I did have the uncharitable thought that—aesthetically, at least—Ovid didn’t have…...

The Witness

He rested in wildflower-whelmed cemeteries in the yards of wooden churches. —José Antonio Ramos Sucre, “El peregrino de la fe” When I chanced upon a weblog, whose text was also written out longhand in John Alejandro’s notebook, I discovered how the circumstances surrounding the strange case of María de los Ángeles could be reconstructed, or an idea put forward of what might have happened, by applying the speculative techniques of certain gothic circles…...

The Stone Guest

Suhrob Surataliyev’s friends used to tease him by calling him Zurab Tsereteli. Suhrob was a sculptor by trade, but he was somewhat less of a household name than the popular Tsereteli, whose oversized monuments loomed over so many Moscow squares. Our sculptor Suhrob, instead, was a serious artist, and quite well-respected among the elite of Moscow’s art community. It had been forty or more years since Suhrob had come to Moscow, so he often imagined he was a child of this metropolis, forgetting…...

Exile is Born at This Moment

Oh, my love, while you are in my breath, I am a statue of snow at the entrance to Damascus, with eyes closed, nose breathing anger, ears tuned to the noise of death, mouth speechless, trying to say: when blood is exiled, nothing binds it to the race. With you in my breath, my every moment is absurd. Uselessness rehearses images in my mind. On the screens I watch Metal snow falling. Ink is a dimming light. Eyes do not see yet fill with images. Oh, eyes, you are also covered by the snow of these times,…...

Exilium Ergo Sum

In Cuba, I was an exiled writer. First, because I wanted to isolate myself from that pair of collective hypnoses called the literary field and the national tradition. In Cuba, I didn't need to sail so much as to sink my way upstream. To think dangerously. To fight against the consensuses of the correct, the same in aesthetics as in politics. To be a freak. To practice the word till it was made unknown and, thereby, recognizable. Like someone who invents a new language and must imagine at the…...

The Poet Cannot Stand Aside: Arabic Literature and Exile

Fourteen hundred years ago and more, the poet-prince Imru’ al-Qais was banished by his father. The king exiled his son, or so the legend goes, in part because of the prince’s poetry. Thus it was that, when the king was killed by a group of his subjects, al-Qais was traveling with friends. Al-Qais returned to avenge his father’s death, but afterward spent the rest of his life in exile, fleeing from place to place, writing poetry and seeking support to regain his father’s throne.…...

Exiled in Europe: An Interview with Three Women Writers

Nobel laureate Wole Soyinka has often examined the question of exile in essays and articles. Exile is indeed a place, he has written, a desolate space where one must confront the question: “Is there a moment when you know intuitively and accept that you have now truly arrived in exile?” He also suggests that a writer’s temperament is that of “a creature in a permanent state of exile,” since his or her real vocation is the eradication of the barriers of reality. For writers,…...

The Curse of the South

“Two kinds of people live in this city: The ones who were born here, and those who came here, fleeing something. Me, I wasn’t born here!” When his fever peaked and he started to sweat, at night, the truck driver’s assistant brought him to the closest clinic along the road. The doctor received him and asked him his place of birth. He didn’t answer,but simply exposed his right shoulder to show him his tuberculosis vaccination scar. Mary, the tall Italian girl. And the…...

Mad Marathon

And my window flees Followed by my doors My chair is in a rush, too I’m left standing in the middle of a bare room The room can’t withstand the volume of the loneliness It starts shaking Badly Threateningly Urging me to leave, too But where to I can’t open my doors Can’t fly away from my windows The room leaves, too I utter these words: Mad marathon Mad marathon July, 2014

Ondjaki’s “Granma Nineteen and the Soviet’s Secret”

The most distinctive landmark in Luanda is, without question, a four-hundred-foot-tall obelisk that overlooks the bay. It is one of those outsize monuments to Soviet constructivism, a mausoleum erected in the early eighties for Angola’s first president, the Communist Antonio Agostinho Neto, who died in Moscow in 1979. The locals call it o foguete—the rocket—because that’s exactly what it looks like. Granma Nineteen and the Soviet’s Secret, a remarkable novel (his third…...

Nepal’s Many Voices

Formed in 1768, Nepal is South Asia’s oldest nation state, and yet it is extremely young in spirit. It joined the free world late, in 1990, when a democracy movement ended centuries of an absolute monarchy that had left the state impoverished. Censorship fell away only then. New scholarship, critical thinking, and open debate—as well as long-suppressed social conflict and an armed Maoist rebellion—have since challenged the old national myths, replacing them with new truths and also…...

Night

Elusive Night Knowledge was born from night’s womb, And from the same womb was light born This elusive night Stretching into a protracted darkness What, still, Will it bring to life? Possession Night— My inheritance, my birthright Should I cover myself in it or lie on it? Should I turn it into a mirror or a meadow? Should I safeguard it in my heart or scatter it? Should I lose myself in its embrace Or play with it till I’m sated? Night is my liberated land! I have no fear that anyone…...

The Latch

On the thirteenth night of his marriage, sixteen-year-old Mannuram Chidimar is sleeping with his back turned to his fifteen-year-old bride, Sunwati. Sleeping with Sunwati is proving more torturous than exciting, more painful than enjoyable. He doesn't know how Sunwati feels. He’s not at all sleepy. Overcome by embarrassment, he feels as though he’s being watched from the windows and the door. It feels as though he’s taking one of life’s difficult exams. From where he is…...

Candy

After leaving the Pajero at the district headquarters, the personal assistant and I headed out on foot. A village road. Dirt and dust. A horrid stench. Shit and dung. Why had the villages become so filthy? I was walking to my village. People always complain that we leaders forget our villages after winning the elections. I was returning to silence that complaint. This was the first time I was returning to the village after winning the elections and leaving for the capital. I felt as though I were…...

Chicago: Present-Day Paradise, Future Magic

The great Iraqi writer Mahmoud Saeed was imprisoned in Iraq six times between 1959 and 1980. He left Iraq in 1985 and has lived in Chicago since 1999. He wrote this essay on the eve of his departure to spend a semester as the first writer-in-residence at the American University of Iraq in Sulaimani.—The Editors Chicago awarded me its love, the way beauties do, because she is a playful, mercurial, liberated, enchanting maiden. From icy weather of twenty degrees below zero to heat over a hundred…...

On the Fourth Day

He arrived on a golden-yellow tricycle and offered to tow me. Frail sexagenarian, sickly thin frame, angular face, his craggy skin suggesting an old case of the chickenpox. A lightly broken-in cowboy hat made him look like a worn-out pistolero straight out of a Sixties Western. “Hop on board my taxi!” he said. I declined the offer, suggesting I walk beside him while he rode the tricycle. The man invited me to dine. Difficult to refuse such a priceless invitation given the relentless rain.…...

Bag of the Nation

I took the big bag that I had inherited from my grandfather down from the attic. It was brightly colored like a storm of rainbows. I hoisted it onto my back and went out into the street. I closed my eyes and began to choose samples at random from everything that was inside: humans and stones and dust and flowers and wind and the past and the present and the future. I carried the heavy bag on my back and set off on a far-ranging journey around the world, proudly carrying the overflowing wonders of…...

August, 2014

The City and the Writer: In Norman with Daniel Simon

Special Series / Oklahoma 2014 If each city is like a game of chess, the day when I have learned the rules, I shall finally possess my empire, even if I shall never succeed in knowing all the cities it contains. —Italo Calvino, Invisible Cities Can you describe the mood of Norman as you feel/see it? After an exceptionally harsh winter—we experienced freezing rain, sleet, snow, thunder, and lightning all in one day—the mood was one of exuberance over the arrival of spring, then summer,…...

“The White Room” and My Translation Experience

When I was fifteen, living in Solihull, England, the 1968 Eurovision Song Contest added a new language to those spoken at home (English and Dutch) and those taught at grammar school (French, German, and Latin). Rather implausibly, this lightweight song contest generated my interest in Finnish. I was enthralled by the sound of the lyrics of the Finnish entry: so many diphthongs. I went to the local branch library to find a Finnish primer. Finnish proved to be more difficult than my school languages.…...

New in Chinese: “The Chilli Bean Paste Clan” by YAN Ge

You might imagine that I thought long and hard in choosing my best untranslated book, because China has so many writers and so little of their work reaches the West, at least in English. But I plumped without any hesitation for Yan Ge’s The Chilli Bean Paste Clan. (The title in Chinese is 《我们家》Our Family.) This is a family drama that manages to be both warm and funny, and barbed and irreverent. The novel is set in a (fictional) small Sichuan town in twenty-first…...

The Week in Translation

GO what: Bread Loaf Translators' Conference when: June 1-7, 2015 where: Bread Loaf Campus of Middlebury College, Ripton, VT more info: http://ow.ly/ArhUv what: 2014 ALTA Conference: Translation & Politics when: November 12-14, 2014 where: Milwaukee, WI more info: http://ow.ly/zVhXF SUBMIT what: 2015 Austrian Cultural Forum New York Translation Prize submissions accepted: July 1-September 1, 2014 more info: http://ow.ly/xwHPP what: Inaugural Gulf Coast Translation Prize…...

Englishing Vladimir Vertlib

Vladimir Vertlib (b. 1966 in Leningrad) is a contemporary Austrian writer. Reviewers in the German press have had trouble putting a label on him, referring to him alternately as a “Russian writer,” an “Austrian Russian,” a “Russian living in Austria,” a “Jewish-German writer of Russian origin,” a “German Jew,” an “Israeli living in Germany,” and even, dismayingly, as a “Hebrew author.” He himself makes no secret of…...

Alessandro Baricco’s “Mr. Gwyn

In the cerebral mystery that is Alessandro Baricco’s Mr. Gwyn, a collection of two interconnected novellas, Baricco intentionally neglects seemingly important details in order to construct a puzzle for the reader. The first of the two novellas, also entitled Mr. Gwyn, follows the life of Jasper Gwyn, a despondent author underwhelmed with his own success, who publicly renounces his career as an acclaimed writer. In an attempt to combat an approaching aimlessness after his sudden retirement,…...

Between Love and Justice: Teaching Literary Translation at Boston University

Early in Sonallah Ibrahim’s novel Al-Jalid (Ice), set in Moscow, the Egyptian narrator is taking the metro home from a concert with his beautiful Russian dorm mate Zoya. The train is loud and his Russian is not great, but he gathers that things are not going well with Hans, her handsome East German boyfriend. Zoya makes several remarks that cry out for affection: she always thought she was ugly; her friends used to call her Skeleton; and so forth. His (non)response is أوشكت…...

Where the Sidewalk Bends: Interview with Sylvio Fraga

Sylvio Fraga was born in Rio de Janeiro in 1986, moved back and forth between the US and Brazil until the age of thirteen, spent his teen years in Rio, earned a BA in Economics at the Pontifical Catholic University of Rio de Janeiro (PUC-Rio), directed the Antônia Parreiras Museum in Niterói, then went to NYC for his MFA in Poetry at NYU, and now lives in Rio again, where he mainly writes music and poetry. So far he has published a collection of poems, Among Trees (Bem-Te-Vi, 2011)…...

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