But they know the crooked smile and also have been milkboys
before they got their wrinkles
and I’ll walk on from West Bridge
I’ll go in over the Central Station
I’ll pass it in grey light and it will be lightly veiled
it will as always resemble an old tear-streaked film
and it will stab my heart as it always does
the usual alkies will there waiting for nothing
the young hitchhikers will stand there with the backpacks and their cartons of milk
hurried and harried people will wait for their connections
families will come with suitcases and baby carriages to take a weekend with the family in the country
and I’ll stand in a corner and be overwhelmed
and not be able to do anything about it and not want it either
just be overwhelmed by all that life and the swarm
wet eyes without clear reason
These are the urban scenes we know and Turell captures the melancholy with the details he chooses. The poem’s poignancy lets us enjoy our ‘city’ wherever it may be, and makes us want to immediately go for a walk in the city you love the most.
If the poetry isn’t enough, issue 12 heralds a few writers who fit nicely with our Eastern European theme. Three pieces, an essay by Vasyl Makhno (Ukranian) entitled “Passport”, a play by Danilo Kis (Serbian) entitled “NIght and Fog”, and an excerpt by Dan Sociu (Romanian) from his novel entitled Urbancholia, provide a realistic portrait of changing borders of Eastern Europe, attempts to understand the concept of national identity and a snapshot of life under Communism. The essay by Makhno seemed very similiar in tone to an essay written by the Croatian writer, Dubravka Ugresic. I will be covering Ugresic’s book of essays in an upcoming post, but the concept of national identity plays significantly in the works of writers from Eastern Europe.
There are many histories to remember and identities to adhere to when thinking of where you are from and what you’re expected to be as more and more of Eastern Europe enters the European Union and borders and nationalism become blurrier. And this is why this essay slides nicely into Kis’ play about memory. A soldier returns after the war to visit his school teacher and her husband whom he hasn’t seen in twenty years. His memory and their memory are different and it leads to tension and a denial of the young man’s reality. The young man becomes a victim of Communism, even after it ends, because history is erased, rewritten, denied and gutted of all culpability. I hope to review one more Kis work before we move on from the current theme, but this play was an added bonus that seems just as powerful as his narrative work. Lastly, Sociu’s chapter from his novel, Urbancholia, is rife with a gritty nostalgia that pierces right through the word Communism and makes it a heavy and sorrowful, bleak reality. I hope the book becomes available in English (hint, hint, I think the rights are available) because it seems like a powerful piece of work about life after Communism in Romania.
And this brings us to the Best Translated Book Award 2010 longlist and oh, what a list it is. If you are tired with all the same titles showing up on the end of year best of lists then this should be a refreshing change of pace. From the slim and disturbing to sweeping epics, this list contains the best literary works translated into English in 2009 that the world has to offer. We all know about Philip Roth and Barbara Kingsolver, but what of Cesar Aira, one of the best writers working in Argentina today or the eminent Egyptian writer Gamal al-Ghitani? Even if you only chose a couple of books to read from this list, you will be impressed with the quality of craftsmanship, imagination and innovation that is apparent in all of these works. From Belgium to Chile, from Israel to China, this list gives a glimpse of what other writers around the world are contributing to the global literary landscape that only continues to broaden its scope. I can assure as one of the nine judges for this prize, it was painful to narrow it down to twenty-five. I can only imagine the pain we will all have to endure when we cut it to ten titles…
2010 Best Translated Book Award: Fiction Longlist
The Weather Fifteen Years Ago by Wolf Haas.
Translated from the German by Stephanie Gilardi and Thomas S. Hansen. (Austria)
There’s Nothing I Can Do When I Think of You Late at Night by Cao Naiqian.
Translated from the Chinese by John Balcom. (China)
(Columbia University Press)