Category Archives: Forthcoming Translations

Forthcoming: Radiant Terminus by Antoine Volodine

radiantterminusAntoine Volodine’s radioactive phantasmagoria, in which futuristic communism is intertwined with the magic of East Slavic oral traditions, is forthcoming from Open Letter Books in Jeffrey Zuckerman’s translation. You might remember that I mentioned this novel among the most notable releases of the Rentrée Literaire in 2014. Voilà, in a few months you will have the opportunity to decide for yourselves if there are any limits to the wild imagination of this particular heteronym of the French author, who also writes under the names of Elli Kronauer, Lutz Bassmann, and Manuela Draeger. If you’d like to get some idea about the person behind all these noms de plume, I recommend reading the interview he gave to The Paris Review in 2015 .

In the distant future, the city of Orbise, the last stronghold of communism in Siberia, falls into the hands of the invading hordes. The scale of the catastrophe is comparable to the capture of Constantinople by the Ottoman Turks. This is the final downfall of the Second Soviet Union. Two men and a woman fleeing the destroyed city venture into the vast expanse of the bleak and unwelcoming steppe, collecting lethal rays emitted by the ruined nuclear plants that used to provide collective farms with electricity. They are looking for a safe haven that would accept and take care of the proletarian fugitives like themselves. Perhaps kolkhoz Radiant Terminus is just the place?

The truly radiant heart of the kolkhoz is a huge warehouse built around a two-kilometer deep hole created by the sinking reactor in the wake of the melt-down of the farm’s nuclear station. Since that time, this luminous well has been serving as an omnivorous dumping shaft, swallowing with equal appetite radioactive debris and the hapless individuals who have fallen into disgrace with the local authorities. The chief of the kolkhoz is known simply as Solovyei. His name (the Russian for “nightingale”) is an obvious reference  to Solovei the Brigand, the notorious villain of Russian bylinas. The anarchistically-minded leader of this forgotten commune is impervious to radiation, possesses shamanistic abilities of entering other people’s dreams and expresses his creativity by composing hallucinatory texts which are as far from the dogmas of socialist realism as it gets. Equally immune to the deathly particles is his first wife Mémé Oudgoul, who is in the habit of talking to the sunken reactor when she is not busy feeding it.

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Nikolai Blokhin, Соловей-разбойник (Solovei the Brigand). Image source

Well, that’s what I call a promising start. If you fancy lingering a bit longer in the grotesque world sketched above as well as learning scores of names of different herbs encountered in the taiga region, you’re welcome to pay a visit to Radiant Terminus this February.

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Forthcoming: Antagony by Luis Goytisolo

antagonyrecounting

One of the next year’s most significant literary events is the publication of Brendan Riley’s translation of Book I of Luis Goytisolo’s massive tetralogy Antagony (Antagonía), which will be coming out in four volumes from Dalkey Archive Press. Here is what Mario Vargas Llosa writes about this epic novel that has taken its author twenty years to write:

Besides being an ambitious and complex book, difficult to read due to the protoplasmic configuration of the narrative matter, it is also an experiment intended to renew the content and the form of the traditional novel, following the example of those paradigms which revolutionalised the genre of the novel or at least tried to do so — above all Proust and Joyce, but, also James, Broch and Pavese –, without renouncing a certain moral and civic commitment to historical reality which, although very diluted, is always present, sometimes on the front stage, sometimes as the novel’s backdrop.

Antagony consists of four parts: Recuento (Recounting); Los verdes de mayo hasta el mar (The Greens of May Until the Sea); La colera de Aquiles (The Wrath of Achilles); and Teoria de Conocimiento (Theory of Knowledge). It is a Künstlerroman telling the story of  middle-class Catalan Raúl Ferrer Gaminde over the period starting with the immediate aftermath of the Spanish Civil War and finishing with the final years of Francisco Franco’s dictatorship. The first three parts are dedicated to the the life of the protagonist bent on becoming a writer: we follow his social, artistic, and political development since childhood and up to maturity when he fulfills his ambition by writing a novel called Theory of Knowledge which makes up the final part of the tetralogy. However, this is not a microscopic exploration of an individual fate — Antagony is much more than that.  We get to know many other characters, we learn about the social and cultural ambiance of Barcelona during that period,  about all the major upheavals experienced by Catalonia and its people in the course of the dictatorship. There are detailed and exquisite descriptions of rural and urban landscapes (Barcelona is represented with an unforgettable flair and verve),  learned discussions on literature, politics, and sex, as well as set-in analytical pieces examining a wide variety of topics such as ancient philosophy, religion, art, mythology, architecture and, of course, the novel.  For the appreciators of long serpentine sentences this novel is a veritable eldorado: any Sebald fan will feel at home in the intricacies of Luis Goytisolo’s syntax. First and foremost, it is a novel for those who have already been spoilt by the virtuosity of some of the greatest stylists of the 20th century and are not willing to settle for anything short of the brilliance brought into being by the pen of Marcel Proust or Hermann Broch. It is exhilarating to the point of vertigo to realise that this tremendous gap will be finally filled: Antagony will find a grateful audience among English-language readers.

There is only one English-language review of the tetralogy that I know of, which is available at The Modern Novel, one of the largest resources on contemporary world literature on the web. If you haven’t done it yet, I encourage you to explore this site. You can also read a brief description of the novel along with the high praise by such acclaimed authors as Guillermo Cabrera Infante and Pere Gimferrer on the foreign rights page of  Antagony at the website of its Spanish publisher Anagrama.

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Forthcoming: Between Dog and Wolf by Sasha Sokolov

DogWolfI thought it would never happen. No, there was no way Sasha Sokolov’s most impenetrable novel would be translated. Reading  Between Dog and Wolf  back in the 1990s made me reconsider the presumptuous notion that I “knew” the Russian language. Even with the assistance of the four volumes of a facsimile edition of Vladimir Dal’s Explanatory Dictionary of the Living Great Russian Language I was not always able to make out what was going on in this maverick masterpiece. What I was positive about, however, was the fact that for the first time in my life I saw the Russian language perform impossible tricks right before my eyes. Sasha Sokolov wasn’t just a writer –  he was a magician, an alchemist creating his text by some secret crafts like a homunculus in a retort.

In my view, since the beginning of the twentieth century there have been four great Russian wordsmiths, and Sasha Sokolov is certainly one of them. The other three are Andrei Bely, Vladimir Nabokov and Alexander Goldstein. These writers have shown that they could do with the language whatever they pleased, creating works of breathtaking stylistic complexity and sheer brilliance at the sentence level. It is worth noting that Nabokov welcomed Sokolov’s debut novel  A School for Foolscalling it “an enchanting, tragic, and touching book”. We can regard Nabokov’s warm response as the symbolic gesture of an older grand stylist passing on the baton to a younger one. A School for Fools is an unconventional novel in many respects, but it doesn’t come even close to the runaway weirdness and verbal pyrotechnics of Between Dog and Wolf. Although this novel is obviously a parody of various styles and literary traditions, like all great works, it transcends the ludic element and breaks out into the sphere of the sublime.

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Hunters in the Snow, Pieter Bruegel the Elder

The protagonist of the novel is an itinerant knife-grinder with the name as uncertain as the proverbial position of an elementary particle. It keeps changing all the time. He wanders about the fictitious lands partly based on the the Volga region, and partly on the landscape in Pieter Bruegel’s The Hunters in the Snow which, by the way, inspired Sokolov to write the novel in the first place. Eight years prior to the publication of Between Dog and Wolf it had also been used to a stunning effect by another Russian master: Andrei Tarkovsky in his film adaptation of Solaris. There is no shortage of Breugelian grotesques in the book, the main character Ilya being the most prominent and the most eloquent of them. The story of his love, miseries, and existential horror is related in an eclectic torrent of verbiage flaunting a wide range of mimicked styles and genres, obscure archaisms and hilarious wordplay. From time to time the main narrative is interrupted by sequences of poems from the collection A Hunter’s Sketches  (titled after Ivan Turgenev’s famous short-story collection) although “interrupt” might not be the most appropriate word here, for the poems are as carnivalesque and off-the-wall as the prose. Sokolov’s next novel Palisandria, which came out in English as Astrophobia, was a longer work with a more convoluted plot, more copious literary allusions and a bigger cast of characters, but it couldn’t rival Between Dog and Wolf in its linguistic intensity. In terms of language, this short novel still remains the zenith of Sokolov’s writing career.

Let me remind you that everything written above refers to the original Russian text. I have no conceivable idea how this philosopher’s stone may be re-transmuted in the English language. Alexander Boguslwaski, who has also translated A School for Fools, must be exceptionally brave to have undertaken this challenging task. Sasha Sokolov has created a new kind of Russian for his novel that makes a short shrift of the impatient reader and sends the patient one on an arduous journey of rediscovering his own mother tongue. In order to convey that in translation, a new kind of English has to be created. Whether the translator has succeeded in pulling off this feat we’ll see pretty soon.

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Forthcoming: Complete Translation of The Last Days of Mankind

LastDaysIf there is one thing that I passionately hate it is abridged translation. In my book, a work which is not fully translated is the same as untranslated. Colour me idealist, perfectionist,  utopist or whatever you please. If we are not talking about some enormous Eastern epics whose complete translation would require a lifetime of hard work and dedication, there is no reason to offend the reader with a truncated version of the original.

Up to now the English reading audience have been gravely shortchanged with regard to Austrian writer Karl Kraus’ sprawling apocalyptic play The Last Days of Mankind (Die letzten Tage der Menschheit). Clocking in at 800 pages in the original typed manuscript, this work was not actually intended for theatrical production, although some of its parts were adapted for the stage later. The five-act play is a genre-bending irreverent collage in which extracts from real documents, satirical dialogues and elements of science fiction are amalgamated to represent the cosmic drama of the Great War.

The 1974 abridged translation of Kraus’ mega-play, which was more than twice as short as  the original, could hardly satisfy any serious reader who wanted to experience the breadth and profundity of The Last Days. The French-speaking public has fared much better in this respect, as the complete translation of the play into French has been available for a decade. But, finally, thanks to the work of Fred Bridgham and Edward Timms, English language readers will be able to fill an important gap in their knowledge about early twentieth century Austrian literature as well as extract some valuable lessons regarding the collective madness capable of putting the whole civilisation at risk.

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Forthcoming: A Room by Youval Shimoni

RoombyShimoniWhile I’m trying to write a review of perhaps the most ambitious and insane untranslated novel of the last century, let me introduce to you another spectacular novel, which luckily for many, has been translated into English and is due to be published by the marvelous Dalkey Archive. If you have read and enjoyed William Gaddis’ The Recognitions, you might as well start looking forward to the publication of  A Room, a big novel of ideas written by Israeli writer Youval Shimoni. Composed as a triptych, it is a complex meditation on art, faith, and human condition. The first part of the novel is set in Israel and tells us about a police investigation in one of the military camps following a tragic death by fire. In the second part we get to know an art student at the Beaux-Art in Paris who wants to create a modern version of Andrea Mantegna’s painting The Lamentation of Christ by setting the Biblical scene in a morgue and using three homeless people as his models. The third part takes us to a mythical dimension in which a whole nation is forced by its ruler to erect a statue to their god: a tremendous enterprise which is doomed to failure. If you happen to read French, and do not want to wait for 2016, you might as well check out the French translation. The novel was hailed in Israel as an instant classic. For instance, Amos Oz praised it as a “searing statement about the dangerous and comical insanity of artistic pretensions and of the unavoidable shattering of these pretensions… A book that is both terrible and terrific.” Discovering a new name in literature has always been an exciting event, so the news of this upcoming translation has definitely made my day, and, I hope, yours too.

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