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November, 2014

Not Necessarily About Politics: Contemporary Czech Prose

The Czechs are cultural overachievers. In film, photography, theater, architecture, music, art, they punch above their weight, with an impact far beyond what you’d expect from a nation of ten million people. The same goes for literature. Authors writing in Czech have always had plenty to say, and plenty of ways to say it, but the best-known writers in English translation have historically been those whose work is viewed as political, or at least as having an underpinning of politics. This phenomenon…...

This Time Last Year

Several times that night I forgot her name and she had to repeat it to me. It wasn’t that I didn’t care. The reason her name kept slipping my mind was because I had to pay such close attention to what she was saying in order not to get tripped up by her string of rapid questions. She was excited, but not over-the-top. She didn’t linger on any one subject but just kept moving forward nonstop, hopscotching from one important topic to the next. The pub we were in was dark and smoky…...

from “Down, Beast!”

In 1952 Communist Czechoslovakia, a precocious thirteen-year-old from Brno is abducted by unknown assailants and brought to a secret location for what he believes is a special military training program for gifted youth. Instead his mission turns out to be tied to much darker ends, beginning with Stalinist show trials and ending with the day we now know as 9/11. It was essentially something like a cloister. Except the building wasn’t square or rectangular, but perfectly round. In the center…...

from “Disappear”

In this section, from the first of three interconnected novellas in Disappear, we listen in as the seven-year-old Jakub (nicknamed “Kuba” or “Kubík”) describes life just before and after the accident that leads to his family’s slow disintegration. Leg I didn’t grow more than three centimeters over the next year. My mom started crying one time when they measured me at the doctor’s. I tried not to see. It made me feel sorry. I’m just real little…...

from “Guardians of the Public Good”

The narrator of Guardians of the Public Good (2010), Petra Hůlová’s sixth novel, is a young girl who finds herself at odds with the rest of Czech society after the collapse of the East bloc in 1989, seeing it as a betrayal of the values of communism, which she wholeheartedly believes in. In this excerpt from the beginning of the novel, before the so-called Velvet Revolution, she describes how her family was chosen to live in a model worker’s town, named after the Polish city…...

Bow and Arrow

“Is there anything you want to say about it?” Petr breaks the ice. His sentence fogs the windshield a little. But has no other effect. The patch of condensation quickly shrinks until it’s gone. Gone, along with the meaning and purpose of his words. Silence. The soft, constant, sound of the engine, the hollow movement of the gears, the sigh of a passing car. Next to him, in his peripheral vision, his son. Leaning against the window, head flung back, twisted; lips pale, shut tight;…...

from “Kobold”

Radka Denemarková‘s Kobold is made up of two loosely connected stories, run head to tail. This extract, which opens the longer story, “Excesses of Tenderness,” describes the first encounter between the novel’s two central characters: Michael Kobold, a charismatic but violent creature, half-man and half-water goblin, and his future wife, Hella, a gifted young girl from a middle-class Jewish family in 1930s Prague. It is narrated by their daughter, who has just returned…...

from “Germans”

In the midst of World War II, Klara, from Germany, takes a job teaching schoolchildren in a small, mostly German-speaking town in Czechoslovakia; her duties include policing the children’s use of Czech. Language In March Klara overheard some children speaking Czech. It startled her. She was just going out for a walk when she suddenly overheard Czech; unsure what to do, she stepped back into the corridor and waited until the children had gone. A week later, she decided to visit their parents.…...

Joseph Roth’s “The Hundred Days”

“The sun emerged from the clouds, bloody-red, tiny, and irritable, but was quickly swallowed up again into the cold gray of the morning. A sullen day was breaking. It was March 20, a mere day before the start of spring. One could see no sign of this. It rained and stormed across the whole land, and the people shivered.” So begins Joseph Roth’s The Hundred Days, an achingly beautiful fictional account of the rise and fall of the Emperor Napoleon. Detailing the roughly one-hundred-day…...

Otfried Preussler’s “Krabat and the Sorcerer’s Mill”

Like many of the classic children’s books being reissued by New York Review Books, Krabat & the Sorcerer’s Mill by Otfried Preussler has the potential to appeal to readers of various ages: nostalgia-seekers who enjoyed Anthea Bell’s excellent translation when it was first published in the 1970s, and young aficionados of fantasy fiction who’ll be happy to discover, in teenage hero Krabat, a worthy progenitor to J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and Christopher Paolini’s…...

Building a New World

I don’t know if people remember how they learned to read and write—or swim, or do cartwheels. I know that one day I wasn’t able to do these things, and the next day I was, even though the difficult gray area in between perhaps extended for months, years even. And the day I did suddenly know how to read and write was so different from all the rest behind me, that it seems perhaps more reasonable now to believe that I never was that other person—that I never existed in a world…...

“The Fair-haired Princess” and Serious Literature

Father’s bookshelves were lined mostly with Marxist-Leninist books. I remember the titles on some of the spines. I can’t remember some others, because the words were too abstract. I loitered in front of Father’s bookcase every day. One day, out of the blue, Father brought home from the library several books of foreign fairy tales (by then, he had been sent to work under surveillance in the library—this was called “reeducation through labor”). Father borrowed these…...

The Prodigal Father

Tomáš Zmeškal’s father was a Congolese intellectual who traveled to the capital of Communist Czechoslovakia in 1959 to win support for the soon-to-be independent Republic of Congo, but never made Prague his home. In Socrates at the Equator: Family Reportages (2013), Zmeškal uses a mix of reportage, memoir, and journal entries to describe his search for his father and his encounters with his father’s family in Congo itself. A writer can rarely stop paying attention…...

The Cherry Tree

Leoš was convinced nothing else could happen, that the worst was behind him, that it had died along with his past life and now he was all right. It was important to be all right, not to be afraid of the next day and the next night. Just go out and buy a nice bottle of Hungarian wine, Egri Bikavér maybe, drink it alone or with a girl he would usher out of his all right with a smile the morning after. A smile, that’s all I’ve got, but what I gave you is plenty. Three times…...

from “Talespinner”

Holy shit, hear that roar? Yeah, that’s the bora. Who wants to go out for groceries in weather like this? And we don’t even know the forecast since the freaking radio doesn’t work. Not a crackle. We’ll have to go to the market either way, though, at least get some tomatoes, cucumbers, hunk of cheese, we’re all out again, some toilet paper would also come in handy, what with the old hag holding out on us. Might as well get some salami and a melon while you’re at…...

October, 2014

The City and the Writer: In Kyoto with Brian Turner

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 Kyoto as you feel/see it? I was surprised to learn, in such a major city, that the pace of life in Kyoto moves much like the Kamagawa (the Kama River)—slow and steady, languid in the summer heat, with an occasional rush or hard current when…...

Celebrating WWB and Carol Brown Janeway: Our 2014 Gala and First Annual Globe Trot

Tuesday night WWB staff, board, contributors, supporters, and readers gathered at Tribeca 360, where the panoramic view mirrored the sweep of our content, to celebrate our eleventh anniversary and present the second James H. Ottaway Jr. Award for the Promotion of International Literature to Knopf editor and translator Carol Brown Janeway. After a convivial cocktail hour, host Saïd Sayrafiezadeh  welcomed guests, then introduced writers Valzhyna Mort, Yiyun Li, and Ru Freeman,…...

Interview with Liana Finck

I first encountered Liana Finck’s transportive artwork on the stylized covers of New Vessel Press’s translated books. Soon thereafter, Finck, a graduate of Cooper Union and recipient of a Fulbright Fellowship and a Six Points Fellowship for Emerging Jewish Artists, released her own first book: A Bintel Brief.  Her work has also been featured in The New Yorker, The Forward, Lilith, Tablet, and Slate. I caught up with the up-and-coming artist and writer via Skype, New York City-Rio…...

The Week in Translation

GO what: The Bridge Series: Gregory Rabassa, Samantha Schnee, and Carmen Boullosa on translation and Latin American literature when: Wednesday, October 29, 8pm where: McNally Jackson, 52 Prince Street, NYC 10012 more info: http://ow.ly/CGaLH APPLY what: Banff International Literary Translation Centre when: June 8, 2015 - June 27, 2015 where: Banff. Canada application deadline: February 18, 2015 more info: http://ow.ly/Dohfw SUBMIT what: Goodmorning Menagerie's Inaugural Chapbook-in-Translation…...

WWB Celebrates Its 2014 Gala and the First Annual Globe Trot

The 2014 Words without Borders Gala  Join us for the 2014 Words without Borders Gala on October 28, 2014 at Tribeca Three Sixty. We will honor Carol Brown Janeway with the 2014 Ottaway Award for the Promotion of International Literature, presented by Luiz Schwarcz. We'll also launch our new online education initiative, WWB Campus. Special guests include Saïd Sayrafiezadeh, Yiyun Li, Valzhyna Mort, and many more. Cocktails: 6:30 pm Dinner: 7:00 pm After-party: 9:00 pm Cocktail attire.…...

The City and the Writer: In Taos with Melissa Studdard

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 Taos as you feel/see it? Taos is not a place. It’s the river talking to the sky, the scent of piñon on a desert wind, coyotes spinning around and around and howling to each other across the night. There, you can speak to the…...

Glimpses of Octavio Paz: A Centennial Celebration

This year marks one hundred years since the birth of Octavio Paz, renowned Mexican poet, essayist, diplomat, and Nobel Laureate. On October 6th, as part of a weeklong centennial celebration, the Americas Society, the Mexican Cultural Institute of New York, Poets House, and Instituto Cervantes New York hosted a film screening and discussion with acclaimed writer and translator Eliot Weinberger, and award-winning Mexican poets María Baranda and Coral Bracho. The event took place at the Americas…...

Help Yourself: An Interview with Alona Kimhi

I met with Alona Kimhi at a Czech café in New York’s West Village on a furiously rainy day this past spring. She was still shaking the rain off her trenchcoat as we sat down to talk about her latest book, Lily La Tigresse, translated by Dalya Bilu, which follows Lily, the book’s dental hygienist heroine, as she navigates the perilous waters of her various relationships—with her close female friends, with the men in her life, and ultimately, with a tiger cub she’s forced…...

The Week in Translation

GO what: The Bridge Series: Gregory Rabassa, Samantha Schnee, and Carmen Boullosa on translation and Latin American literature when: Wednesday, October 29, 8pm where: McNally Jackson, 52 Prince Street, NYC 10012 more info: http://ow.ly/CGaLH 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

Translator Relay: Karen Emmerich

Our "Translator Relay" series features a new interview each month. This month's translator will choose the next interviewee, adding a different, sixth question. For October's installment, Bill Johnston passed the baton to Karen Emmerich, a prolific translator of Modern Greek poetry and prose. Her recent and forthcoming translations include Something Will Happen, You’ll See by Christos Ikonomou, The Scapegoat by Sophia Nikolaidou, and Why I Killed My Best Friend by Amanda Michalopoulou.…...

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