Alarmingly elegant translations: The White Review

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If Paris calls London “alarmingly elegant”, it’s worth taking another look.

Especially if it’s in translation from all around the globe.

This month’s online issue of The White Review is a box of delights. I like to claim my favourites first, even if they aren’t on the top layer, before trying something new. Here is a bite out of some of the best.

 
First, a story by the Swedish Finn Tove Jansson (tr. Thomas Teal):

“I ran to Uncle Einar again and shouted, ‘So what did you do? What did you do the first time you had your own money?’

He said, ‘It was burning a hole in my pocket. I had to get rid of it, as quickly as possible. I had to buy the most important thing I could think of.’

And he went out and bought a dreadfully tiny bottle of attar of roses.

I think he did exactly the right thing.”

 
Second, a review by the German-Romanian Nobel winner Herta Müller (tr. Philip Boehm):

“Reading the book we get the impression that Blecher’s words don’t merely describe the objects – they dig their talons into the things and hoist them high, straight into the sentences.”

 
Third, an interview with the Pole Magdalena Tulli (tr. Bill Johnston):

“I believe that the word builds the image. That’s what it’s for. All words, with the exception of the words: yes, yes, no, no. As you know, the Bible says that everything beyond those words is from the Evil One. And so any games involving literature are dangerous. We’re taking a risk, but we want to play the game. You think there are innocent words beyond those two? There are none. Even the word ‘or’ is poised to construct an image, though it may be an abstract one. And if we take the word ‘because…’ There, you see. Let alone the whole rest of the dictionary.”

 
And finally, one that was new to me, an Argentine poet in Paris, Alejandra Pizarnik (tr. Yvette Siegert):

“you have built your house
you have feathered your birds
you have beaten against the wind
with your own bones
you have finished on your own
what no one ever started”

 
Don’t eat the whole box at once – but enjoy them all, whatever way you like.

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Posted in literature, poetry, translation

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