Foreword Reviews

The Marvel and Mastery of Translation


There is a strange sort of alchemy, a seemingly magical process of transformation that occurs in literary translation. Imagine this: the translated story must succeed in conveying the intent, the flow, the character, the very soul of the original to the reader, yet none of the words or syllables that make up that original story will be the same in the translation. To succeed, a translator must have a keen sensitivity to the nuances of both languages and be so at home in the author’s language—indeed, in the author’s very mind—that he or she can feel why a particular word was chosen out of all other options, and what word in the target language will offer the same experience.

The magic of translation actually takes place not on the page, but within the translator, who must dive deep into the work to be touched by it in that subconscious realm where self-discovery and transformation take place, and surface having birthed a new creation that carries the very soul of the original.

The books you’ll find here succeed on all levels. All will bring enjoyment that lingers long after you turn the last page; some will soften hidden, brittle places in the heart, allowing a new way of being in the world. Rather than a shared theme or style, what these books have in common is their excellence—each one is a gem to be treasured, a treat to be savored in quiet moments.

The Glory of Life

Book Cover
Michael Kumpfmuller
Anthea Bell, translator
Haus Publishing
Softcover $22.95 (240pp)
Buy: Local Bookstore (IndieBound), Amazon

In July of 1923, Franz Kafka, forty years old, is ill with tuberculosis and convalescing near the Baltic Sea, when he meets twenty-five-year-old Dora Diamant, a remarkable woman fifteen years his junior who seems to him the essence of all that is young, alive, and wonderful. The Glory of Life is Michael Kumpfmüller’s fictional recounting of the brief but intense love affair that, during the last year of Kafka’s life, shielded him from the tumult of a post-World War I Germany wracked by political unrest, economic devastation, anti-Semitism, and the rise of Nazism. Their love might also have proved to be a boon for literature, for Diamant did not honor the author’s request to destroy his work after his death. But sadly, the twenty notebooks and thirty-five letters from him that she took with her to Berlin after his passing were confiscated by the Gestapo in 1933 and have never been found.

This beautifully written, meticulously researched, and sensitively translated work reveals love’s ability to carve out a small, simple paradise—a shelter from mounting chaos and a respite, however temporary it might be, from the unrelenting approach of death.

Berlin-based Michael Kumpfmüller is an acclaimed novelist and journalist. Anthea Bell’s translations of German classic and modern fiction include works by Franz Kafka, E. T. A. Hoffmann, and Stefan Zweig.

KRISTINE MORRIS (May 27, 2015)

The Physics of Sorrow

Book Cover
Georgi Gospodinov
Angela Rodel, translator
Open Letter
Softcover $14.95 (282pp)
Buy: Local Bookstore (IndieBound), Amazon

The mythical Minotaur, a half-man, half-bull creature condemned to wander a labyrinth until killed, serves as an organizing image for Georgi Gospodinov’s time-traveling, labyrinthine stories about himself and his family—tales of abandonment, sorrow, ennui, discontent with the world, and the relentless passage of time.

Gospodinov meshes his own story with those of his father and grandfather, whose memories he says he can inhabit. Especially moving is the story of his grandfather, also named Georgi, who, when he was a small child, had been abandoned at a mill. World War I was raging and the family was starving; when advised that little Georgi was missing, his mother had hesitated, calculating the number of mouths she had to feed. Gospodinov dwells on the child’s terror as he saw the family wagon driving away without him, a terror relieved only hours later when his sister ran back to collect him.

Having grown up in communist and post-communist Bulgaria (“life under communism was a long chain of secrets,” Gospodinov writes), under the threat of an atomic mushroom cloud, Gospodinov is all too attuned to his own mortality. A time-traveling empath, he uses story to call us to look beyond ourselves to what can root us and give our lives meaning in a world that can seem crushingly cold and cruel.

Georgi Gospodinov is an acclaimed poet, writer and playwright. The Physics of Sorrow is his second book and a finalist for four International European prizes.

Award-winning translator Angela Rodel holds a PhD in linguistics from UCLA.

KRISTINE MORRIS (May 27, 2015)

Fear of Paradise

Book Cover
Vincent Engel
Richard Kutner, translator
Owl Canyon Press
Softcover $24.95 (355pp)
Buy: Local Bookstore (IndieBound), Amazon

Tiny San Nidro, nestled between forest and sea in southern Italy’s Puglia region, is a forgotten place, locked in the past and graced with wild beauty. Many of its young people have left to seek their fortunes elsewhere; the few remaining inhabitants subsist on fishing and what they can grow on their land. Simple, rustic, and superstitious, the villagers live under the control of their parish priest. One day, Lucia, a “translucent girl with blue eyes,” is brought to San Nidro by Filippo, an odd old man who lives in the forest. Lucia is lovely, strange, and foreign, which is to say suspect, and when she and young Basilio fall in love, village social conventions are rocked.

Italy in the 1920s is in tumult; Mussolini’s rise to power is causing the tentacles of fascism to reach into its remotest regions, tempting young men with visions of their country’s return to glory and making widows of its women. The young lovers have promised to remain together in San Nidro, but other promises, and the acts done to keep them, intervene to separate the two. As the story unfolds, each is forced to wander a labyrinth of lies, lust, evil, and the devastation of war that holds them, and their promise, captive.

Award-winning Belgian author Vincent Engel is a professor of literature and history at the University of Louvain and the author of fourteen novels as well as novellas, essays, and plays.

Richard Kutner is an award-winning translator who holds a BA in French literature from Yale and an MA in education from New York University.

KRISTINE MORRIS (May 27, 2015)

Alexandrian Summer

Book Cover
Yitzhak Gormezano Goren
Yardenne Greenspan, translator
New Vessel Press
Softcover $15.99 (171pp)
Buy: Local Bookstore (IndieBound), Amazon

Sultry, seductive Alexandria is filled with secrets, seething resentments, and hidden tensions, and the Egyptian Jews who live there, though enamored of the city’s charms, are coming to see that their lives are precariously balanced over a precipice. Alexandrian Summer is the story of two Jewish families clinging to their dreams of bourgeois luxury as they struggle to come to grips with a changing world in which they are no longer safe.

Joseph Hamdi-Ali converted to Judaism to marry his wife; he’s a typical Middle Eastern patriarch and a jockey whose racing days are behind him. His eldest son, whom he has trained to take up the family profession, is struggling with the conflict between his father’s need for him to be victorious on the racecourse and his own lust for women and fine food that is putting his career in peril. Meanwhile, as Victor, the youngest Hamdi-ali, takes his pleasure with other young boys, Alexandria’s matriarchs while away their time gossiping and playing cards, serving as a type of Greek chorus that keeps the story moving as tensions threaten to spark into flame at any moment. Hypocrisy permeates all levels of society in this sensitive, sometimes shocking novel set along Alexandria’s seaside promenades, nightclubs, racecourses, and overheated salons.

Alexandria-born Yitzhak Gormezano Goren is an award-winning playwright and novelist. He lives in Israel and, in 2001, won the Israeli Prime Minister’s Prize for Literature.

Yardenne Greenspan is a recipient of the American Literary Translators Association Fellowship.

KRISTINE MORRIS (May 27, 2015)

The Travels of Daniel Ascher

Book Cover
Déborah Lévy-Bertherat
Adriana Hunter, translator
Other Press
Hardcover $22.95 (192pp)
Buy: Local Bookstore (IndieBound), Amazon

When Hélène Chambon, great-niece of author Daniel Roche, pen name H. R. Sanders, moves to Paris to study archeology, she encounters a mystery much more engrossing than her studies—one that not only involves her enigmatic, eccentric, world-traveling relative, but that threatens to shake all she believes about herself as well.

Hélène has always been embarrassed by her great-uncle’s wildly elaborate descriptions of his adventures. Although she has never read his Black Insignia adventure series, the devotion with which her friend Guillaume, a fellow archeology student, regards the books and their reclusive author arouses her curiosity. Following clues that include fake postmarks and a hidden room, Hélène learns of Paris’s dark underworld during the time of the Occupation, family secrets, and the power of stories to make us whole.

Lévy-Bertherat’s first novel is the haunting, powerful story of a mysterious man and the identities he assumes to deal with the losses and trauma of war, but it is equally about a girl who grows from a self-absorbed teen into a young woman whose inner world expands to include compassion for the pain and suffering of others.

Déborah Lévy-Bertherat teaches comparative literature at the École Normale Supérieur in Paris and has translated works by Lermontov and Gogol.

Adriana Hunter is the award-winning British translator of more than fifty French novels and a contributor to the international magazine Words Without Borders.

KRISTINE MORRIS (May 27, 2015)

The Red Notebook

Book Cover
Antoine Laurain
Emily Boyce, translator
Jane Aitken, translator
Gallic Books
Softcover $14.95 (159pp)
Buy: Local Bookstore (IndieBound), Amazon

Parisian bookseller Laurent Letellier, on his way to enjoy a double espresso and study his notes for an upcoming book signing, discovers a mauve leather handbag, in excellent condition and obviously not empty, sitting upon a waste bin that had been left out for pick-up. This strikes him as very strange—no woman he had ever known would have tossed such a bag into the trash; most likely she had been robbed, he thinks. There is nothing in the bag to identify its owner, only some personal effects and a small red moleskine notebook filled with the intimate writings of a woman Laurent begins to feel he would really like to know. Meanwhile, the handbag’s owner, Laure Valadier, is lying in the hospital in a coma after having been mugged at the door of her apartment. An intriguing chain of events, fueled by his fascination with the mysterious woman, leads Laurent to become ever more entangled in her life.

This tender and charming romance, written with characteristic Gallic flair, is part mystery and part love story. Flawlessly written, it does everything just right and, at the end, leaves a smile of satisfaction.

Paris-born Antoine Laurain is a journalist, antiques collector, and the author of five novels.

Emily Boyce, from London, is in-house translator at Gallic Books; Jane Aitken, of Oxford, studied history at St. Anne’s College.

KRISTINE MORRIS (May 27, 2015)

Life Embitters

Book Cover
Josep Pla
Peter Bush, translator
Archipelago Books
Softcover $16.00 (600pp)
Buy: Local Bookstore (IndieBound), Amazon

Josep Pla (1897-1981), one of the most influential and controversial Catalan authors of the twentieth century, has a sensibility he declared to have been “notoriously influenced” by his admiration for the Dutch genre painters. In Life Embitters, Pla details the foibles, frailties, and eccentricities of his characters in vibrant, earthy prose tempered by a biting sense of humor.

A great “noticer” of people and places, Pla appears to have been blessed with the heightened sensitivity and multisensory processing abilities of those with synesthesia, and his abundant literary gifts allowed him to record in his narratives what he saw, heard, touched, tasted, and smelled with startling clarity and sharpness. His description of the Portuguese language as “darkly hued … a velvety, shadowy language with damp, mossy vowels” that are “dark green, deep and gentle on the ear, with sensuous, unctuous, sinuous inflections” is delicious.

He spent time with local fishermen, farmers, and villagers, coming to know just how they engaged their world, but he was also a friend of painter Salvador Dalí, as well as a trickster who once obliged the prince and princess of Spain, now King Juan Carlos I and Queen Sofía, to drink the sour local homemade wine that was more like vinegar.

Josep Pla was a political and cultural journalist, biographer, travel writer, memoirist, essayist, novelist, and “foodie” whose collected works include thirty-eight volumes.

Peter Bush studied Spanish literature at Cambridge and Oxford Universities and directs the MA program in the theory and practice of translation at Middlesex University.

KRISTINE MORRIS (May 27, 2015)

The Ravens

Book Cover
Vidar Sundstøl
Tiina Nunnally, translator
University of Minnesota Press
Hardcover $24.95 (272pp)
Buy: Local Bookstore (IndieBound), Amazon

Lake Superior in winter is a vast sheet of ice, white and implacable; its rocky shores, tall pines, and moody silences are the perfect backdrop for award-winning Norwegian mystery writer Vidal Sundstøl’s Minnesota Trilogy. The third volume in the series, The Ravens, traces US Forest Ranger Lance Hansen’s investigation into a grisly murder—a crime that seems to be drawing its net ever more tightly around his own family.

Caught up in the web of his own past, Hansen struggles to unravel the brutal murder of a gay Norwegian tourist, whose mangled body he had discovered and whose shocked lover, covered in blood, could only speak one word: “Love.”

Haunted by visions of an Ojibwe medicine man who had been murdered in the same place a century earlier, Hansen investigates the crime and is deeply troubled as evidence seems to be pointing at his own brother, Andy.

Hansen must plunge the depths of his own soul and the meaning of family ties before he can encounter the medicine man in a dream that reveals the secret at the heart of the mystery.

Vidar Sundstøl is the author of seven novels, including the internationally best-selling Minnesota Trilogy.

Tiina Nunnally has translated more than sixty works of Nordic fiction, including all three volumes of the Minnesota Trilogy.

KRISTINE MORRIS (May 27, 2015)

Kristine Morris

Load Next Feature