You’re at your desk, another early start, stillness abounds. You type slowly listening to the silence of the dawn. You have miniature bonsais on your desk and a giant rubber plant looms in the corner. Your room is softly lit and smells of fresh pressed coffee.
There’s something about the art of translation that always makes me want to romanticize it in the cold light of morning. Even as a child there was something so intriguing to me about translated literature (a favourite of mine being Chinese Cinderella) and now? There are many. Haruki Murakami, Chekhov and Tolstoy to name a few, although Banana Yoshimoto will always be my dream girl. And recently I’ve loved such works as The Story of My Teeth, A General Theory of Oblivion and The Vegetarian.
“To the extent that I had come to understand that despair does not necessarily result in annihilation, that one can go on as usual in spite of it, I had become hardened. Was that what it means to be an adult, to live with ugly ambiguities? I didn’t like it, but it made it easier to go on.”
– Kitchen, Banana Yoshimoto
I read and write for feelings of connection. I read and write for ways to understand reality, to understand the difficult times and to find the beautiful in the ordinary every day. And I am no longer fulfilled with just the dominant narrative. I want to find myself, the familiar in the unfamiliar. I want to discover new ways of seeing. Basically, how can anyone not love something as wonderful as works of translated fiction?
“You drove it out of you many years ago,
closed the place, tried to forget it all.
You knew it wasn’t in the music and so you sang
you knew it wasn’t in silence and so you were quiet
you knew it wasn’t in solitude and so you were alone.
But what could have happened today
to scare you like one who in the night suddenly sees
a beam of light under the door of the next room
where no one has lived for years?”
– ‘Death’, Vladimir Holan, Tr. Jarmila and Ian Milner
One of my favourite poetry collections to date is The Poet’s Lamp: A Czech Anthology (ed. Alfred French) which I stumbled upon secondhand years ago. You get a kind of feeling from reading a work that has originated in an entirely different, sometimes unknown to you, culture and language. A whole different set of beliefs that may not even make sense to you and yet here in that moment, in that complete translation, another world becomes accessible to you. But it is more than that. It is those pieces of yourself in others; entirely different, yet entirely the same, that universal human experience no matter your ethnicity.
So it is with such zeal that I will be reading the 2017 Man Booker International Prize Longlist and, of course, reviewing each of the books both here and over on my Instagram.
What are some of your favourite works of translated fiction? Do let me know!
Stay tuned little chickens and happy reading!