WAAT #58: A Literary Translation Links Roundup


A links roundup of ten recent essays and interviews exploring literary translation works from around the world and across the publishing ecosystem.

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It’s been a while since I did a links roundup but I’ve been saving these recent interesting online pieces and mulling over them. Also, importantly, waiting a bit before sharing them has helped me see some connecting threads and larger themes. This is the kind of thing we can’t do on social media when we share individual works right away with our initial reactions. So I hope you’ll enjoy this terrific assortment below. Take your time with them as I have done. It’s so much better that way, I promise you. I’m still thinking through each one of these and will, no doubt, revisit them in future newsletters.

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Separately: you might notice that the website is looking just a bit different. We’re not just moving the furniture around. I’m working to get all the newsletter archives and related conversations organized so they’re easily searchable. This means having a fun time with website design, data taxonomies, plugins, widgets, CSS, HTML, PHP, indexing, and all such things that I thought I’d never have to worry about after leaving the tech world. But it will, hopefully, all be for the better. Take a look around and let me know if you spot anything that needs fixing. Thanks. By the way, this also means that the reading experience will be better on the website than in email.

literary translation links roundup

About the Booker-winning Tomb of Sand (and more)

ESSAY: In the New York Times, Alexandra Alter writes about how the Booker-winning novel, Tomb of Sand, written in Hindi by Geetanjali Shree and translated into English by Daisy Rockwell, is ‘An Elegy to a Pluralistic, Polyglot India Wins Readers and Critics in the West‘ (paywalled, but you can read at the link as my gift to you.) Alter had reached out a short while ago to get my thoughts too. One of those made its way into this terrific essay. And I might collect the rest into a separate newsletter in the coming weeks. As I’ve written before, although I’m conflicted about the Booker International in general, the win was a first for a South Asian translation. And, for Shree and Rockwell, who have been at their craft for decades, this was long overdue.

“Her insistence on holding on to her Hindi and taking it to the next level, it shows a path to other Indian writers who feel like they have to write in English because of the hegemony of English,” Jenny Bhatt, a writer and translator of Gujarati literature, said of Shree.

Alter, Alexandra. “An Elegy to a Pluralistic, Polyglot India Wins Readers and Critics in the West.” The New York Times, February 11, 2023. https://www.nytimes.com/2023/02/11/books/geetanjali-shree-tomb-sand.html.

Yet another discourse in the Hindi-Twitterverse

NEWS: Speaking of the Hindi language, this BBC story by Geeta Pandey and Meryl Sebastian is about how a young Indian woman sparked a Twitter discourse on pronouns. I’ve also written before about how “you” is actually one of the most difficult words to translate in any language. Don’t even get me started on my love for Bambaiyya Hindi (which I grew up with and still love and speak, much to the annoyance of my proper Punjabi husband who agrees with the tweeter.)

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More on literary translation awards

INTERVIEW: And speaking of literary translation awards, the unstoppable duo of Jennifer Croft and Boris Dralyuk has been nominated for the same one this year. At Literary Hub, Jonny Diamond interviewed them together about how they manage to raise infant twins while translating award-winning works. And this, by Croft, resonates for me:

One of my favorite things about literary translation has always been that unlike writing, you’re never really alone because you’re always working in tandem with an original and, by extension, with a writer you admire.

Croft, Jennifer, and Boris Dralyuk. “Two of the Best Translators in the Business Are Married (to Each Other) and Up For the Same Literary Award.” Interview by Jonny Diamond. Literary Hub, February 8, 2023. https://lithub.com/two-of-the-best-translators-in-the-business-are-married-to-each-other-and-up-for-the-same-literary-award.

Literary translation as a cultural choice

INTERVIEW: I also had an interview published at Words Without Borders last week as part of the ongoing Gujarati literature in translation collection I’ve been guest-editing. I talked with Dr. Tridip Suhrud, who is certainly the greatest living scholar and translator of Gujarati literature. He is also a bilingual writer and a Gandhi scholar. Gandhi, as I mention in the interview, is probably the most translated Gujarati writer to date. What isn’t widely known is that Gandhi was also, as Dr. Suhrud tells us, quite the literary translator himself. There are other gems here too like:

Translation is a cultural choice. Let me give a non-G. M. T., non-Gandhi example. We have had a fascinating relationship with Rabindranath Tagore; we have translated almost everything that he wrote, including letters. And yet we “forgot” to translate his very fundamental work Nationalism. Is this amnesia not a reflection of a cultural choice?

Suhrud, Dr. Tridip. “On Gandhi, Translation, and the Gujarati Intellectual Tradition.” Interview by Jenny Bhatt. Words Without Borders, February 6, 2023. https://wordswithoutborders.org/read/article/2023-02/on-gandhi-translation-and-the-gujarati-intellectual-tradition/.

Bilingualism as a political stance

INTERVIEW: Bilingual writers are not necessarily rare but they are rarely published in a bilingual format like José Olivarez’s recent poetry collection. Aviya Kushner talked with Olivarez at the Chicago Review of Books. I love that Kushner tells us right at the start to not miss the translator’s note. These are my favorite essay sub-genre, as I’ve written a few times now. This bit quoted by Kushner from one of Olivarez’s poems means I’m going to have to get the collection. Such a great interview overall.

 there’s two ways to be a Mexican writer. you can translate
from Spanish. or you can translate to Spanish.
or you can refuse to translate altogether.

Olivarez, José. “Ode to Tortillas.” Promises of Gold. Trans. David Ruano. Henry Holt & Company. February 2023.

Language like an arrow that always misses its target

INTERVIEW: Another conversation that makes me want to get the book is this one where Deborah Treisman talks with Kang about Kang’s story recently published in the New Yorker. A woman loses her faculty of speech and signs up to learn a dead language like ancient Greek. A fascinating story and interview. Kang says:

I started my writing career as a poet, and have since harbored mixed emotions about language, an impossible tool. Language is like an arrow that always misses its target by a narrow margin, and is also something that delivers emotions and sensations that are capable of inflicting pain.

Kang, Han. “Han Kang on How Language Misses Its Mark.” Interview by Deborah Treisman. The New Yorker, January 30, 2023. https://www.newyorker.com/books/this-week-in-fiction/han-kang-02-06-23.

Translating the language of silence

ESSAY: Let’s go from the loss of speech to intentional silence. Saskia Vogel writes in a Words Without Borders essay about the silences in language. As an Anglophone writer, I’m trained (and teach others) to be specific, to make even subtext resonate. But so much of what is communicated in our everyday lives happens within these kinds of untranslatable silences.

As a translator of Swedish, I find myself translating silence often. The Swedish language has a stunning capacity for silence. There seems to be a trust or an understanding between writer (plus the publisher) and reader about a certain freedom in the text. Pauses, inferences, and space left in between the lines for the reader to draw their own conclusion, to decide what something means for themselves. Moments that in my experience, will sometimes get flagged by English language editors asking for clarity or specificity. Sometimes I could have chosen better phrasing of course, other times, I make a case for ambiguity, silence, and openness, even if it is more ambiguous, silent, or open than an English-speaking reader might be used to, might tolerate. If I do my work well, it should hold.

Vogel, Saskia. “The Same River Twice: Notes on Reading, Time, and Translation.” Words Without Borders, January 23, 2023. https://wordswithoutborders.org/read/article/2023-01/the-same-river-twice-notes-on-reading-time-and-translation-saskia-vogel.

The beauty and complexity of the untranslatable

ESSAY: Jude Stewart wrote about another European language: German. Like her, I love Berlin. Unlike her, I haven’t been back in at least two decades. But I love this German word Stewart writes about at Literary Hub. Actually, she’s got a small glossary of unique German words that took me back to the German classes I took at university in the UK. I’ve written a bit about my misadventures with German. And my favorite non-English words that carry entire histories and ways of being within them.

Nachträglichkeit is a deliciously untranslatable German word and a foundational idea in Freudian psychoanalysis. It means that decisions or experiences initially taken lightly can acquire different significance with later events. The meaning “clicks” or activates afterwards.

Stewart, Jude. “Reveling in the Untranslatable: On the Beauty and Complexity of the German Language.” Literary Hub, February 9, 2023. https://lithub.com/reveling-in-the-untranslatable-on-the-beauty-and-complexity-of-the-german-language/.

A new resource for feminist translation approaches

ESSAY: D. P. Snyder’s terrific review of the new Routledge Handbook of Translation, Feminism and Gender edited by Louise von Flotow and Hala Kamal has added another book to my to-read list. Consider this:

In these pages, I found resources for many of the theoretical and practical concerns that I have been working out for myself in relative solitude. Indeed, as a self-declared feminist translator, I would have been hard-pressed to enunciate what “feminist translation” actually was prior to reading the Handbook: now I can. Flotow and Kamal have achieved their goal, at least with me.

Snyder, D. P. “Global Feminist Translators Unite!” Reading in Translation, February 6, 2023. https://readingintranslation.com/2023/02/06/the-routledge-handbook-of-translation-feminism-and-gender/.

A call to action for literary translators everywhere

ESSAY: Someone who’s been working for decades now on the above and many other similar concerns is the publisher of Seagull Books, Naveen Kishore. A champion of literary translation and world literature, his acceptance speech for the Cesare De Michelis Prize was just published at Scroll.in. It’s a resounding call to action.

Smash the frames that rule the act of translating from one language into another. Translation as action. As activism. Craft made passion. What matters is to subvert the status quo. Translation as subversion. Translation as a literary act. Translation as a political act. Translation as cinema. Translation as theater.

Kishore, Naveen. “‘Smash Frames That Rule Translations from One Language into Another’: Publisher Naveen Kishore.” Scroll.in, February 12, 2023. https://scroll.in/article/1043151/smash-frames-that-rule-translations-from-one-language-into-another-publisher-naveen-kishore.

Although I’m not done with my list, let’s stop at ten. And, well, the above call to action is a good one to close with, no?

Always happy to engage in conversations about any of these works above. Scroll on below to share your thoughts. Or drop links to other reads you’d like to share with the community. Also, here are some earlier literary translation links roundups for your reading pleasure.

(PS Some of you have emailed or messaged me some links. If they’re not above, that’s because I’m drafting individual newsletters on them. Thank you.)

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Jenny Bhatt is an author, a literary translator, and a book critic. Currently, she is a Ph.D. student of literature at the University of Texas at Dallas. She has taught creative writing at Writing Workshops Dallas and the PEN America Emerging Voices Fellowship Program. Sign up for her free newsletters, We Are All Translators and/or Historical Fiction Craft Notes. Jenny lives in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex, Texas.

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