The OF Blog

Friday, April 18, 2014

R.I.P. Gabriel García Márquez

Yesterday brought the sad news of the passing of Gabriel García Márquez at the age of 87.  It was not unexpected, as his brother said in 2012 that Gabo had senile dementia, but it is still a loss tinged when memories, far from all of which were melancholic, of the wonderful stories he had created over a span of nearly sixty years.

As is often the case when a famous writer dies, readers of his/her work try to summarize the impact that the author's writings have had on them.  For myself, it was the desire to read Cien años de soledad (One Hundred Years of Solitude) in its original idiom that led me to learn how to read Spanish fluently ten years ago.  A week ago, I had started re-reading Cien años de soledad for a review here in the coming week or two.  I would read maybe a chapter or two a night, often after my tasks at my night job were complete and I was awaiting the arrival of the late-night shift, and think on the vivid imagery, recalling the laborious yet fruitful effort of writing down unfamiliar words and looking them up ten years ago, learning dozens of words a week, reading perhaps a scant five pages a day, until I finished reading it in April 2004, around the time of my Confirmation.

It is odd, ten years later, to learn of the author's death before another Easter celebration.  I had just finished reading two nights before the death of José Arcadio Buendía about midway through OHYS and I remembered this passage after learning of Gabo's death:

Cuando estaba solo, José Arcadio Buendía se consolaba con el sueño de los cuartos infinitos.  Soñaba que se levantaba de la cama, abría la puerta y pasaba a otro cuarto igual, con la misma cama de cabecera de hierro forjado, el mismo sillón de mimbre y el mismo cuadrito de la Virgen de los Remedios en la pared del fondo.  De ese cuarto pasaba a otro exactamente igual, cuya puerta abría para pasar a otro exactamente igual, y luego a otro exactamente igual, hasta el infinito.  Le gustaba irse de cuarto en cuarto, como en una galería de espejos paralelos, hasta que Prudencio Aguilar le tocaba el hombro.  Entonces regresaba de cuarto en cuarto, despertando hacia atrás, recorriendo el camino inverso, y encontraba a Prudencio Aguilar en el cuarto de la realidad.  Pero una noche, dos semanas después de que lo llevaron a la cama, Prudencio Aguilar le tocó el hombro en un cuarto intermedio, y él se quedó allí para siempre, creyendo que era el cuarto real.  A la mañana siguiente Úrsula le llevaba el desayuno cuando vio acercarse un hombre por el corredor.  Era pequeño y macizo, con un traje de paño negro y un sombrero también negro, enorme, hundido hasta los ojos taciturnos.  «Dios mío», pensó Úrsula.  «Hubiera jurado que era Melquíades.»  Era Cataure, el hermano de Visitación, que había abandonado la casa huyendo de la peste del insomnio, y de quien nunca se volvió a tener noticia.  Visitación le preguntó por qué había vuelto, y él le contestó en su lengua solemne:

– He venido al sepelio del rey.

Entonces entraron al cuarto de José Arcadio Buendía, lo sacudieron con todas sus fuerzas, le gritaron al oído, le pusieron un espejo frente a las fosas nasales, pero no pudieron despertarlo.  Poco después, cuando el carpintero le tomaba las medidas para el ataúd, vieron a través de la ventana que estaba cayendo una llovizna de minúsculas flores amarillas.  Cayeron toda la noche sobre el pueblo en una tormenta silenciosa, y cubrieron los techos y atascaron las puertas, y sofocaron a los animales que durmieron a la intemperie.  Tantas flores cayeron del cielo, que las calles amanecieron tapizadas de una colcha compacta, y tuvieron que despejarlas con palas y rastrillos para que pudiera pasar el entierro. (pp. 241-242, Catedra edition)

On this Holy Friday, as many of us, like the wandering Cataure, come in spirit to the funeral of the King, it is fitting that we make note of the passing of a lesser, literary king, one whose recasting of Colombian (and by extension, Latin American) history in the form of a flyspeck village whose miracles, such as the rain of yellow flowers narrated above, served to heighten both the realness and irreality of the 20th century.  The world is now not so recent, not so new, that we lack names for everything, but sometimes we still just have to point to those rare things that defy our poor attempts to describe them.  Gabriel García Márquez is one of those and all these words above try to do is to provide a reason for me to just point to his works and signal, "read these, for there is much of us in them."  If that is not enough to persuade, then perhaps nothing will be fitting enough.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

2014 IMPAC Dublin Literary Prize shortlist announced

This was announced a few days ago, but here are the finalists for the 2014 IMPAC Dublin Literary Prize, selected by voters from libraries from across the globe for works originally released in English in 2012 (bolded titles are ones that I have read, in two cases in the original Spanish):

  1. The Detour by Gerbrand Bakker, (Dutch) translated by David Colmer. Published by Harvill Secker. 
  2. Questions of Travel by Michelle De Kretser (Sri Lankan / Australian) Published by Allen & Unwin.
  3. Absolution by Patrick Flanery (American) (First novel) Published by Atlantic Books.
  4. A Death in the Family by Karl Ove Knausgaard (Norwegian) Translated by Don Bartlett. Published by Harvill Secker.
  5. Three Strong Women by Marie NDiaye (French) Translated by John Fletcher. Published by MacLehose / Quercus and by Alfred A. Knopf.
  6. Traveller of the Century by Andrés Neuman (Argentinian) Translated from the original Spanish by Nick Caistor and Lorenza Garcia. Published by Pushkin Press and by Farrar, Straus & Giroux. (2009 Premio Alfaguara winner)
  7. The Light of Amsterdam by David Park (Northern Irish) Published by Bloomsbury.
  8. The Spinning Heart  by Donal Ryan (Irish) (First novel) Published by Doubleday Ireland / Lilliput Press.
  9. The Garden of Evening Mists by Tan Twan Eng (Malaysian) Published by Myrmidon. (2012 Man Asian Prize winner; 2012 Man Booker Prize finalist)
  10. The Sound of Things Falling by Juan Gabriel Vásquez (Colombian) Translated from the original Spanish by Anne McLean. Published by Bloomsbury. (2011 Premio Alfaguara winner)
While I am uncertain whether or not I'll read/review the other seven finalists before the winner is announced in June, I almost certainly will have written reviews of the Neuman and Vásquez by that time, as each are previous Premio Alfaguara winners that I have yet to review.  I can say that the three that I've read to date are very strong books, so this bodes very well for the other seven on the list.

I'm going to make one more awards shortlist post this week, then hopefully the majority of my daily posts will be reviews, translation pieces, or commentaries on particular subjects.  Lots more time in the evenings for these after Friday.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

2014 Best Translated Book Awards for Fiction finalists announced

Yesterday, the Best Translated Book Awards finalists for fiction were announced.  There were ten finalists this year.  Bolded titles represent works that I've read:

Horses of God by Mahi Binebine, translated from the French by Lulu Norman (Morocco; Tin House)

Blinding by Mircea Cărtărescu, translated from the Romanian by Sean Cotter (Romania; Archipelago Books)

The Story of a New Name by Elena Ferrante, translated from the Italian by Ann Goldstein (Italy; Europa Editions)

Tirza by Arnon Grunberg, translated from the Dutch by Sam Garrett (Netherlands; Open Letter Books)

My Struggle: Book Two by Karl Ove Knausgaard, translated from the Norwegian by Don Bartlett (Norway; Archipelago Books)

Seiobo There Below by László Krasznahorkai, translated from the Hungarian by Ottilie Mulzet (Hungary; New Directions)

A True Novel by Minae Mizumura, translated from the Japanese by Juliet Winters (Japan; Other Press)

The African Shore by Rodrigo Rey Rosa, translated from the Spanish by Jeffrey Gray (Guatemala; Yale University Press)

Leg Over Leg Vol. 1 by Ahmad Faris al-Shidyaq, translated from the Arabic by Humphrey Davies (Lebanon; New York University Press)

The Forbidden Kingdom by Jan Jacob Slauerhoff, translated from the Dutch by Paul Vincent (Netherlands; Pushkin Press)

Winner will be announced April 28.  Seems I have a lot to explore here.  Will post the poetry finalists tomorrow, as I'm a bit tired now and need some rest.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Donna Tartt wins 2014 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction

The 2014 Pulitzer Prizes were announced Monday.  Below are the winners in the Fiction, Drama, and Poetry categories, followed by the Fiction finalists:

FICTION - "The Goldfinch" by Donna Tartt (Little, Brown)
DRAMA - "The Flick" by Annie Baker
HISTORY - "The Internal Enemy: Slavery and War in Virginia, 1772-1832" by Alan Taylor (W.W. Norton)
BIOGRAPHY - "Margaret Fuller: A New American Life" by Megan Marshall (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)
POETRY - "3 Sections" by Vijay Seshadri (Graywolf Press)
GENERAL NONFICTION - "Toms River: A Story of Science and Salvation" by Dan Fagin (Bantam Books)
MUSIC - "Become Ocean" by John Luther Adams (Taiga Press/Theodore Front Musical Literature)

Here are the Fiction finalists:

Philipp Meyer, The Son

Bob Shacochis, The Woman Who Lost Her Soul

I've read both the Tartt and Meyer and each were high on my list of Top 25 2013 releases.  Both are well-deserving of this honor and perhaps in the near future I'll get around to reviewing The Goldfinch (it is also a finalist for the Bailey's Women's Prize for Fiction).

Monday, April 14, 2014

Rough translation of the Aeneid, Book II, lines 13-30

Now to tackle a bit more of the opening to Book II, picking up with the introduction of the infamous Trojan horse.  Again, this is a first draft and not an editing of old translation notes, as was the case for Book I:

Fracti bello fatisque repulsi
ductores Danaum tot iam labentibus annis
instar montis equum divina Palladis arte
aedificant, sectaque intexunt abiete costas;
votum pro reditu simulant; ea fama vagatur.
huc delecta virum sortiti corpora furtim
includunt caeco lateri penitusque cavernas
ingentis uterumque armato milite complent. 

Broken by war and repelled by the fates after many seasons slipped by, the Danaan leaders through the artifice of divine Pallas constructed a horse as big as a mountain, cutting pines to weave its ribs; they feigned a votive offering for a return home; this rumor was spread around.  They chose by lot men to furtively inclose in the dark flank and within the vast hollow belly they filled with armed soldiers.
A bit rough toward the end; likely needs to have the repetitions broken somewhat to make it smoother in English.
Est in conspectu Tenedos, notissima fama
insula, dives opum Priami dum regna manebant,
nunc tantum sinus et statio male fida carinis:
huc se provecti deserto in litore condunt. 

Nos abiisse rati et vento petiisse Mycenas.
Ergo omnis longo soluit se Teucria luctu;
panduntur portae, iuvat ire et Dorica castra
desertosque videre locos litusque relictum:
hic Dolopum manus, hic saevus tendebat Achilles;
classibus hic locus, hic acie certare solebant.

 There is within view Tenedos, a well-known island, rich in power while Priam remained in power, now so great a bay and anchorage is treacherous:  here the Greeks establish themselves on the deserted shore.  We thought they had departed and were before the wind sailing to Mycenae.  Therefore the Teucerian city was freed of her long sorrow:  the gates are opened, we delight in going from the city to the deserted Doric camp and to see the abandoned shore:  here the Thessalians stayed, here fierce Achilles; here the ships were drawn up, here the accustomed battle lines were drawn.
Although a bit too literal in places, I believe the substance of the passage is transferred adequately here.  Vergil uses triple replication of certain phrases (here, it is hīc) frequently to achieve a certain effect and while in a later edit, especially if it were to cast this into a English-style poem, such phrasings would be altered or lost, here it stands as a marker for the effect achieved by reading this passage in Latin.

More on the Trojans' reactions to seeing the Trojan Horse in the coming days or weeks.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

A partial glance at my book cart/wishlist

At the end of this week, Lent ends and my Lenten sacrifice of buying or trading no books ends.  This didn't mean that I didn't add titles to my Amazon cart for purchase in the weeks following Easter, so for those few who are curious about which works have struck my fancy, here are the book-related contents of my Amazon cart, plus a few others that I likely will order/buy elsewhere:

Danilo Kiš, Basta, pepeo; Rani jadi : za decu i osetljive 

Claudia Rankine, Don't Let Me Be Lonely:  An American Lyric 

Frederic Morton, Thunder at Twilight:  Vienna 1913/1914 

Milorad Pavić, Hazarski Rečnik 

Max Brooks, The Harlem Hellfighters 

Daša Drndić, Sonnenschein/Trieste 

José de Almada Negreiros, Nombre de Guerra 

Karen Russell, Sleep Donation (e-book)

Brandon Sanderson, Words of Radiance 
Teju Cole, Every Day is for the Thief

David James Poissant, The Heaven of Animals

Dinaw Mengestu, All Our Names

David Grossman, Falling out of Time
Ann and Jeff VanderMeer (eds.), The Time Traveler's Almanac

Emma Donoghue, Frog Music

Hilda Hilst, With My Dog Eyes 

It'll probably be a couple of months before I buy them all (having to be more careful with my money this summer, when I'm earning only one paycheck while I take a college course in order to renew my teaching license for another five years), but these should be high priorities for both reading and reviewing in the next few months.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

And here is a lovely poem by Jaroslav Seifert that I enjoyed reading today

This is from the collection The Poetry of Jaroslav Seifert and is taken from the publisher's website.  This is a fragment of the poem "Transformations," with the translation by Edward Osers:

A lad changed to a shrub in spring,
the shrub into a shepherd boy,
A fine hair to a lyre string,
snow into snow on hair piled high.

And words turn into question signs,
wisdom and fame to old-age lines,
and strings revert to finest hair,
the boy's transformed into a poet
the poet is transformed once more,
becomes the shrub my which he slept
when he loved beauty till he wept.

Whoever falls in love with beauty
will love it to his dying day,
stagger toward it aimlessly,
beauty has feet of charm and grace
in sandals delicate as lace.

 Here Seifert utilizes the metaphor of the shrub in spring (and later an old stick) to discuss the changes from callow youth to something perhaps a bit more mature but certainly not in a pejorative fashion.  As I'm turning 40 later this year, I found myself particularly drawn to the third stanza (the final two are not quoted here and can be read by clicking on the link above) and the discussion of beauty within this concept of the aging boy/poet.

Having finished The Poetry of Jaroslav Seifert this afternoon, I cannot help but think he is one of the best 20th century poets, even in translation, and that his 1984 Nobel was well-deserved.
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