The Literary Tourist is a column of conversations between literary translators about newly released books in translation. This month Andrea Gregovich interviews poet, editor, and Chinese translator Canaan Morse. Canaan co-founded the literary journal Pathlight: New Chinese Writing as its first poetry editor, won the Susan Sontag Prize for Translation in 2014, and has published translations and book reviews in several international journals, both print and online. The Invisibility Cloak, a captivating experimental novel by Ge Fei, is Canaan’s first translated book.
Andrea Gregovich: The Invisibility Cloak feels unique to me—a Beijing-based freelance designer of custom sound systems for wealthy people takes a sketchy job that goes awry, and trouble ensues. Its narrative is a patchwork of classical music discussion, shop talk about audio components, and the political and philosophical opinions of various characters. Did you detect any literary influences when you were working on this book? Does it fit into any literary trends in China?
Canaan Morse: I’m so glad you asked this question, because my answer is a resounding “No.” While much of the earlier, experimental fiction upon which Ge Fei built his reputation is deeply (and clearly) influenced by American Modernism, his later fiction speaks with a much more individualized voice. This book in particular leaves an aesthetic impression unlike any other; its terse yet suddenly mellifluous narrative style and its embrace of suspense distinguish it clearly from all the English and Chinese literature I’ve read. Continue reading
The Literary Tourist is a column of conversations between literary translators about books newly released in translation. This month, Andrea Gregovich interviews Christina MacSweeney. MacSweeney is an acclaimed translator of Latin American literature, best known for her translations of three novels by Valeria Luiselli, including The Story of My Teeth (Coffee House Press, 2015), which was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle and Best Translated Book Awards, and won the Los Angeles Times Prize for Best Fiction and the Azul Prize in Canada. Her most recent translation is A Zero Sum Game, an insightful political dystopia that is the debut novel from Mexican writer, editor, and translator Eduardo Rabasa.
Andrea Gregovich: I was immediately intrigued by this novel when I discovered an epigraph of Radiohead lyrics at the beginning of Part One. It was a hook for me, an indicator that this writer is my contemporary, and an invitation for me to relate more personally to what goes on in the book. Did the prominent Radiohead reference give you any hints as to how to approach the book? And did you make sense of why Rabasa chose these particular lyrics from “A Wolf at the Door”?
Christina MacSweeney: I had the same sensation when I first read the epigraph; as a Radiohead fan, it was like an invitation to go on reading. When I asked Eduardo about the song, he told me it had in some way been an inspiration for Villa Miserias, the residential estate in which the novel is set. I seem to remember that one of the characters—the artist, Bramsos—was based on Thom Yorke. The song also expresses the atmosphere of Villa Miserias, and I listened to it often while writing certain sections of the translation. So, yes, it did influence my approach to the novel. Continue reading
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Buy the paperback edition of USSR: Diary of a Perestroika Kid by Vladimir Kozlov (trans. Andrea Gregovich) directly from us at PayPal, and you can have it for only $8.
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When I tell you which writer from Belarus SHOULD have won the Nobel Prize this year, as I’m about to do, it’s not because I have anything against Svetlana Alexievich, the official winner, whose work I don’t know very well, having only encountered it in the magazine n+1, where I skimmed over it because I still can’t shake the feeling that her translator, Keith Gessen, is somehow a douchebag.
Instead, when I tell you which writer from Belarus SHOULD have won the Nobel Prize this year, what I’m saying is that, despite the fact that I’m an American and Americans supposedly don’t read much fiction in translation, and despite the fact that Belarus is a relatively small and unacknowledged contributor to world literature, it just so happens that I can name a writer from Belarus who is TOTALLY FUCKING AWESOME and who deserves all the praise in the world, including (if I had my way) the Nobel Prize.
“Russian novelist” is a weighty phrase.
When I hear it, I brace for war, love, history, the high church, and earth-shaking politics; for an epic story that feels intimate. The names of the great Russian writers are like monuments: Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, Chekhov, Nabokov.
But literature is not a dead man’s game; it’s a living conversation. And I prefer today’s Russian writers to the old masters. Have you heard of Victor Pelevin, who writes trippy satirical novels about werewolves in Siberia and little old ladies in Moscow? I have read every English translation of Victor Pelevin that I have gotten my hands on. And Ludmilla Petrushevskaya, who writes “scary fairy tales” with titles like There Once Lived a Woman who Tried to Kill Her Neighbor’s Baby? She’s an international treasure. Not to mention Masha Gessen, whose fiercely independent journalism about civil rights in Russia has made her one of the most admirable public figures in the world.
All I’m saying is, today’s Russian writers are crushing it.
That’s why I was excited to get an email, a few months ago, from Andrea Gregovich. She’s a translator in Alaska, and she had recently completed an English translation of USSR: Diary of a Perestroika Kid by Vladimir Kozlov. Andrea was looking for a small press like Fiction Advocate to help her publish USSR as an e-book. I didn’t know Andrea, and I had never heard of Vladimir. But I printed the manuscript and started to read it on a plane. Before the flight attendants came down the aisle with beverages, I already knew that we were going to publish USSR as more than just an e-book. Continue reading