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International Literary News

By David Varno

Mexican poet and historian Miguel León-Portilla was honored by the Teotihuacan Archaeological Zone on the 50th anniversary of his volume Viewpoint of the Defeated. Explaining his project of compiling ancient Nahuati (Aztec) texts, he stated: íThe conquest is a delicate theme for Mexicans, and I think we need to grow up parting from this material. We need to define ourselves, because anyway, Hernan Cortes is already dead.ë

Here is Miguel León-Portilla's version of the Nahuatl poem "O, Giver of Life," translated by Earl Shorris and Sylvia Sasson Shorris.


Denise Oswald, new Editorial Director for Soft Skull, reports in a recent interview with Scott Esposito for The Quarterly Conversation that she hopes to expand the publisher's translation list despite the odds, and cites a two-book deal with Serpent's Tail for Alain Mabanckou. She stressed the need to "cross pollinat[e]" our bookshelves, and cited Jean Genet, Milan Kundera, Michel Foucault, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, and Julia Kristeva as crucial to her.

See Mabanckou's "Blue, White, Red," translated from the French by Alison Dundy, published here at Words Without Borders.


Pilcrows & Palavers blogger has set a goal to read a mystery novel from each of the five Scandinavian countries, and on the way into the homestretch raises a provocative question on the market for English translations in Europe:

"If we just focus on translating everything into English, does there come a point when ílargerë languages become threatened? When the bilingual Dutch-English becomes English-Dutch and then English-Dutch?"

This follows the July 2 Freakonomics post from Daniel Hamermesh, "How the Market Influences What Language You Read In," in which Hamermesh identified the problem of mediocre translations into languages with a smaller market than English, such as Dutch, and testified, "My [Dutch] friends say they would rather read a good translation into a language they know well, but not perfectly, than a mediocre translation into their native language."

Pilcrows & Palavers is waiting for the paperback of Finnish mystery writer Matti Joensuu's To Steal Her Love (discussed in our news last month), and in considering the broad English translation market in Europe, is impatient for Joensuu's other titles. This leads us to reinforce the argument for more English translations in the United States. The key is cultural exchange, and as one of the comments on the Freakonomics piece reminds us, "since English is such a rich language... it allows for more accurate translations."

Published Jul 7, 2009   Copyright 2009 David Varno

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