2020 Grateful 30: Found in Translation

Ever since the local librarian Mrs Byrne turned a blind eye to me signing up my parents as members of the village library and then choosing books for them, mar dhea,* I’ve been an avid reader. I wonder if she knows what a huge influence our collaboration has had on my life.

When I’m not wallowing amid the criminal masses (I’m a fan of Raymond Chandler and his genre), I favour translated fiction. In Belgrade many years ago, I heard of a government-sponsored programme that translates contemporary fiction from Serbian to English but for the life of me, I can’t find any details on it right now. I did find this site, though, with a list of its top ten Serbian books but mistakenly says that Komo hasn’t been translated. It has – and it’s one of my all-time favourites. When I travel somewhere new, I’ve made it a habit to visit a local bookshop and see what authors have been translated. Hungary is disappointing in this regard. It doesn’t seem to give the same weight to English-language translations. I’ve worked with a number of Hungarian authors whose publishers, for whatever reason, are reluctant to pursue English translations of anything but the classics. And while it’s great to read the classics, and I have done, thanks to translations by Bernard Adams and his ilk, I like to get a feel for contemporary society. I was happy to hear that the Centre for Information on Literature is launching a website about Slovak literature in English called Books from Slovakia.

When the world started to lock down and the prospect of uninterrupted free time loomed large, some thought that 2021 would see a huge upsurge in the number of births and in the number of self-published books. Everyone who fancied they’d a book in them would now have the time to let it out. Speaking from personal experience, free time is still an elusive concept. That said, I’m curious to see what authors around the world might have to say on this global period of isolation.  And rather than have to search country by country (who has the time?), my wish has been bound in a cover and will be delivered virtually in the form of an ebook when it publishes on 23 June.**

And We Came Outside and Saw the Stars Again (the title is taken from the last line of Dante’s Inferno when the poet and his guide emerge from hell to once again behold the beauty of the heavens) is an anthology of work by authors from 34 countries from Argentina to Uzbekistan with notables such as Cuba, Kazakhstan, and Palestine stringing out the alphabet. Both Ireland and Hungary are featured. It’s billed as

…a truly global portrait of a pandemic that has affected all corners of the Earth [that] serves as a record of global experience and what connects us across borders.

It features Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Jhumpa Lahiri, Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist poet Forrest Gander, and Uzbek Hamid Ismailov whose books are banned in Uzbekistan. Also featured is a piece by Naivo, whose book, Beyond the Rice Fields, is on my list of to-be-read. It’s the first novel in Malagasy to be translated into English. Another on my list is Limassol by contributor Yishai Sarid. Oftentimes we think of novelists as living in worlds of their own creation with lives that might, very occasionally, glance the edge of our reality. Yet when Giacomo Sartori (Italy) isn’t’ writing, he works as a soil specialist. When Maxim Osipov (Russia) puts down his pen, he picks up his day job as a cardiologist.  Others are more traditionally employed as journalists, professors, and translators. A cursory look at their bios confirms some fascinating lives. 

Ireland’s contribution to the anthology comes from the late Eavan Boland, who died in April this year. This could well be the last piece she published. Hungary is represented by György Spiró, whose book Captivity (trans. Tim Wilkinson) is also on my list.

Captivity is a complex and fast-paced tale of Jewish life in the early first century, a sort of sword-and-sandals saga as reimagined by Henry Roth. The narrative follows Uri from Rome to Jerusalem and back, from prospectless dreamer to political operative to pogrom survivor—who along the way also happens to dine with Herod Antipas and Pontius Pilate and get thrown into a cell with a certain Galilean rabble-rouser.

This time around, his piece is translated by Bernard Adams. Gábor T. Szántó is the second Hungarian to feature. His novel Kafka’s Cats introduces us to a world where Kafka doesn’t die but he does stop writing. If you’re a film buff, you might remember Ferenc Török’s 2017 film 1945 that won so many festival awards.  Well, the film was based on Szántó’s short story, Homecoming.

The result of this global collaboration is a collection of

essays, stories, poems, artwork, journalism, polemics, and parables about how life changed during the COVID-19 pandemic.

I’ve pre-ordered my copy and look forward to it arriving over the ether next week.

And if you’re still not convinced, there’s this note from the publishers:

Our literary culture depends on bookstores—and those irreplaceable sources of conversation and community, of inspiration and solace, have been decimated by the lockdown. Net proceeds from And We Came Outside and Saw the Stars Again will go to the Book Industry Charitable Foundation, which helps the passionate booksellers we readers depend upon.

To translators everywhere – you have my sincere gratitude for extending my world beyond the limits of my language.

*As if. Yeah, right. A Gaelic language term often used in English to denote disbelief or implausibility of the preceding statement. Mar dhea renders the previous statement dubious, highly unlikely or untrue.

**Paperback ISBN: 9781632063021 • $22 • Aug 11, 2020 • eBook ISBN: 9781632063014 • $5.99 • eBook: Jun 23, 2020 • 400 pages • General Trade • Anthology—Personal Essays / Fiction / Poetry / Journalism / Graphic Memoir / Cultural Criticism • Rights: World, Audio, Film / TV




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