New In Translation: January 2015


Happy New Year! For 2015 I figured why not try something new, something different, something, well, something that’s not as labor intensive as posting regurgitated descriptions of what’s new in translation on a weekly (!) basis.

Yup, the move to monthly is purely to make things easier on myself. It’s one of my New Year’s resolutions. Actually the only one. Make shit easier to get done. I figure that way stuff might actually have a fair chance of, you know, getting done. Larry the Cable Guy I ain’t, but we shall see. Maybe I’ll make some more resolutions along the way. Someone pass the Prilosec please.

19881988: I Want to Talk With The World
by Han Han
Translated from the Chinese by Howard Goldblatt

I don’t usually pick up AmazonCrossing titles as a rule, but 1.) Howard Goldblatt, 2.) Han Han is one of China’s most outspoken writers, and 3.) 1988 gets it’s title from from the name protagonist Lu Ziye has given his car, a old beat up 1988 station wagon that’s been patched together with replacement parts from the vehicle of a family that got killed in a tragic wreck. I still drive around the town in a 1993 Buick Roadmaster wagon so I can relate.

1988 follows Ziye as he embarks on a road trip across China with a pregnant prostitute named Nana. That part, not so much on a relating side. Along the way, the pair swap stories about their lives which are used to reveal Han’s thoughts on contemporary Chinese life, including a biting bit on the government’s role in censoring the media. Overall 1988 offers up an amusing journey, but is also surprisingly sad in places. You could do a lot worse when it comes to finding new things to read in January. You probably will.

Resolutions 2 & 3: Get a new(er) car. Start a band called Han Han Solo Solo.

A_Useless_ManA Useless Man: Selected Stories
by Sait Faik Abasiyanik
Translated from the Turkish by Ureen Freely and Alexander Dawe
Archipelago Books

I wrote a bit about this one in my mega Typographical Translation Preview last June, so rather than doing any additional research, reading and/or writing for this piece, I’ll save myself some time and nick that bit:

Often compared to Anton Chekhov, Sait Faik Abasiyanik (1906-1954) has a literary prize named after him and is considered to be one the greatest Turkish short story writers of all time. I’m not exactly sure what pieces are included in this collection, but as to what they should be about, the always reliable Wikipedia says that Abasiyanik “…created a brand new language and brought new life to Turkish short story writing with his harsh but humanistic portrayals of labourers, fishermen, children, the unemployed, the poor.” To get a feel for his work you can read a translation of his story Hisht, Hisht! in Orion magazine (not translated by Freely and Dawe).

Resolutions 4 & 5: Read more short stories. Reuse, recycle. 

Bred_To_KillBred to Kill
by Franck Thilliez
Translated from the French by Mark Polizzotti

A thriller about monkeys and murder. I didn’t read Thilliez’s Syndrome E, but supposedly this is a sequel. Back from the first book, a pair of quirky detectives tackle science head on when they investigate the murder of a woman at a primate research facility near Paris. Their investigation will of course take them around the world in a desperate race against time, nature, and biology. It all sounds a bit too much like a mash-up of 28 Days Later meets an ancient Dan Brown-esque secret meets that one movie where a character portrayed by Kate Winslet actually died. Seriously, her characters (almost) never die.

I read plenty of translated literature, but not so many translated thrillers. Is this a good place to start? Probably as good as any, though jumping in with book 2 in a series might prove sticky.

Resolutions 6 & 7: Make better comparisons. Watch more Kate Winslet movies. 

The_Rabbit_Back_Literature_SocietyThe Rabbit Back Literature Society
by Pasi Ilmari Jääskeläinen
Translated from the Finnish by Lola M. Rogers
Pushkin Press

Welcome to the small, strange town of Rabbit Back, a place where classic works of literature have all been slightly altered, garden gnomes are up to no good, and librarians take the stinkiest of shits.

It’s here that The Rabbit Back Literature Society, an exclusive nine person group of writers banded together by local author Laura White, call home. Thirty years have passed since they’ve welcomed a new member, but when teacher Ella Milana catches their eye, she’ll push the group count into double-digit territory, revealing both their disturbing ways and the truth about their lost member.

Party fantasy, part science-fiction, part W.T.F., Jääskeläinen’s first novel to be translated to English weaves classic fairy-tales with secrets and mystery to create a magical, unpredictable world that’ll keep you amused while it keeps you guessing.  A story about writers and stories that is anything and everything but boring.

Resolutions 8 & 9: Rewatch Twin Peaks. Try flatulence filtering underwear.

The_Alphabet_Of_BirdsThe Alphabet of Birds
by SJ Naudé
Translated from the Afrikaans by SJ Naudé
And Other Stories

I’ve often wondered what drives an author to want to translate their own text. Are they a master of multiple languages? Could they not find someone they deemed skilled enough to appropriately interpret their precious words? Were they just up for a new and difficult challenge?  It can’t be because they need the Rands…

Whatever the case may be, I’m excited to get a peek at Naudé’s award winning story collection. Cancer, AIDS, sex, death, love, family. It’s all supposedly on display here, and though the work is most assuredly South African, it’s protagonists, and their struggles, span the world over.

We’re all more alike than you think? It’s not what you are, it’s what you could be? It’s a small world after all?

Resolutions 10 & 11: Stop asking so many damn questions whenever I write anything. Vertaal al my resensies in die Afrikaanse taal al deur ek met die hulp niemand van die wêreld.

Happy_Are_The_HappyHappy are the Happy
by Yasmina Reza
Translated from the French by John Cullen
Other Press

20 short chapters. 18 characters. Borges’s poem. Reza’s sleek “novel” finds characters connecting and reconnecting throughout as they muse on life, love, and death. I’m not quite done with this one yet, but so far the character of Ernest Blot is the one that has really stuck with me. He spends roughly 7 pages wondering what should become of his body when he’s dead and gone before he realizes that ultimately it doesn’t matter.

All the pieces aren’t a big ol’ bummer though. Far from it. In fact the opener Robert Toscano hilariously begins with a couple arguing over fat children and cheese in a supermarket, while in the brilliant Pascaline Hunter, the strangest of family secrets is begrudgingly revealed, one that involves a son and his maddening fascination/obsession with Celine Dion. My heart will go on indeed.

Resolutions 12 & 13: Get my will done. Stop watching Kate Winslet movies.

by Mikheil Javakhishvili
Translated from the Georgian by Donald Rayfield
Dalkey Archive Press

Born in 1880 and executed during Stalin’s Great Purge in 1937, Mikheil Javakhishvili is widely considered one of the most influential Georgian writers, and Kvachi his masterpiece.

Judging by the introduction, this translation is clearly a labor of love for Rayfield, who goes back to the original 1924 text, but also incorporates changes and author improvements from the heavily censored 1934 Soviet version. As a result, what we hopefully get here is a super master version of Javakhishvili’s greatest work.

I haven’t dived and started reading this one yet, but according to the publisher the protagonist is “Kvachi Kvachantiradze: womanizer, cheat, perpetrator of insurance fraud, bank-robber, associate of Rasputin, filmmaker, revolutionary, and pimp.” Niiiiice.

Resolutions 14 & 15: Read more novels published by Dalkey Archive Press. Make my pimp hand even stronger.

A_Small_CircusA Small Circus
by Hans Fallada
Translated from the German by Michael Hofmann
Arcade Publishing

I’m pretty sure that this one doesn’t technically fit in the “new” category since Penguin published it for the first time a few years back, but since Fallada (1893-1947) was a morphine addict, an alcoholic, attempted to murder his wife, and has a literary prize named after him I’ll let it slide.

Originally published in 1931 A Small Circus was Fallada’s first novel. It’s heavy on dialog and conversation to advance the plot and keeps the descriptions to a minimum. The story itself centers around the events occurring in a small German town called Altholm and gets it’s name from a traveling circus that comes to visit. However, provincial tensions take center stage as farmers, businessmen, and the media squabble with and backstab one another.

Resolutions 16 & 17: Be more conversational. Rename the Typographical Translation Award after myself.

The_Seventh_DayThe Seventh Day
by Yu Hua
Translated from the Chinese by Allan H. Barr

After dying in a restaurant explosion, Yang Fei spends seven days chatting up other dead people, recounting painful moments from life, and leading a young Haley Joel Osment on a quest to avenge his murder. Fine. I made that last part up. He actually communicates with the world through a black medium named Oda Mae Brown and a mustachioed plumber who’s searching for his missing brother.

Fellow writer Han Han (‘member him?) called Hua out in a blog post for being too heavy-handed with his political views in this one and overall the reviews seem pretty mixed. Still, Hua has had more hits than misses in his career thus far so it might be worth giving this one a go.

Resolutions 18 & 19: Take better care of myself. Finally finish Luigi’s Mansion.

Bonita_AvenueBonita Avenue
by Peter Buwalda
Translated from the Dutch by Jonathan Reeder

Chad Post of Open Letter Books doesn’t want to publish the Estonian Jonathan Frazen, but apparently Hogarth has no qualms about putting out the debut novel by the man The Times UK are calling his Dutch equivalent (Jon’s, not Chad’s).

This one sounds like a gripping 544 page family epic that comes complete with secrets, blackmail, fireworks, kung-fu, photography, porn, and math. I gotta say I’m intrigued by all the hype surrounding it, but I’m not necessarily loving the comparison that’s being made. Will I read it anyway? Methinks that I’ll at least begrudgingly peek at it.

Resolutions 20 & 21: Ignore my unread copy of The Corrections for yet another year. Seek out and destroy the Dutch equivalent of Typographical Era.

Blood-Drenched_BeardBlood-Drenched Beard
by Daniel Galera
Translated from the Portuguese by Alison Entreki

My one sentence pitch: A nameless young dood with face blindness who loves to swim strikes out for the seaside as he tries to unravel the truth surrounding his grandfather’s death.

It should be much better than I’m making it sound. After all, Galera was named one of Granta’s Best Young Brazilian novelists back in 2011. That fact alone makes it exciting to finally see one of his four novels translated into English. But still, what’s up with that crazy title and the way too happy lifesavers-esque cover? Taste the rainbow.

Resolutions 22 & 23: Stop trying to re-describe books that have only been described to me in passing. Judge more books by their covers. 

The_Brughel_MoonThe Brueghel Moon
by Tamaz Chiladze
Translated from the Georgian by Maya Kiasashvili
Dalkey Archive Press

I’ve only had time to peek at the author Q&A and first chapter in my galley copy of this one, but so far I like what I see.

Chiladze’s short novel opens with a man returning home from a tennis match to find his brother-in-law helping his wife and daughter move out. Turns out he’s  rather blind to people for a shrink, and for her part she seems like a pretty unfaithful mate. Where it all leads from there I do not know, but my curiosity is piqued to the point that I feel like dropping everything and reading more right now.

Resolutions 24 & 25: Figure out the appropriate thing to do with all of these galley copies cluttering my house.  Write shorter posts so I have more time to read.

by Mo Yan
Translated from the Chinese by Howard Goldblatt

It’s only fitting that I end this thing like I began it, with a Howard Goldblatt translation.

Frog sounds downright sick, and not in a good way. In his latest novel Yan tackles the early days of China’s recently defunct one-child policy, the results of which left parents desperate and scrambling to have a boy and midwives grossly terminating pregnancies into their eighth month.

Resolutions 26 & 27: Make this the year I finally read Mo Yan. Make a note to ease myself in with something other than Frog first… 

That’s January! I’m sure I missed something significant that’s being published this month as well as something major I should change about my life. Do be sure to clue me in on both counts.

About Aaron Westerman

Aaron Westerman is the Manager of Web Architecture for a national human services organization. When he's not busy tearing sites apart and rebuilding them, he spends his ever shrinking free time trying to keep up with his twins, reading works of translated literature, and watching far too many Oscar nominated movies.

  • jeff

    The only one I’ve read is Blood Drenched Beard and it was in my top three of the year, looking forward to some more of Galera’s work soon hooefully.