Wednesday, July 30, 2008

50 Best Translated Books from last 50 years

The Translation Association of the society of Authors is 50 years old this year, and to mark its anniversary, it has released a list of 50 best translated books from the last 50 years.
Some of these titles you must have read and liked so much that you never felt they were translated works. Yes, they were all master translators with love of literature in their DNA, who devoted their time and efforts to translating the real writings by real writers. We, as readers, could never be more grateful to them. Without them we would have never known these great authors the way we know them.

Two of my favourite translators from the list are Gregory Rabassa, who translated Hundred Years of Solitude by Garcia Marquez, and Michael Henry Heim, translator of Milan Kundera. On one occasion Kundera candidly admitted that his translated work is much better than his original work!

So, love the translators, and respect their efforts!

The list has been sent by my translator friend V.Ramaswamy


1. Raymond Queneau – Exercises in Style (Barbara Wright, 1958)

2. Primo Levi – If This is a Man (Stuart Woolf, 1959)

3. Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa – The Leopard (Archibald Colquhoun, 1961)

4. Günter Grass – The Tin Drum (Ralph Manheim, 1962)

5. Jorge Luis Borges – Labyrinths (Donald Yates, James Irby, 1962)

6. Leonardo Sciascia – Day of the Owl (Archibald Colquhoun, 1963)

7. Alexander Solzhenitsyn – One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich (Ralph Parker, 1963)

8. Yukio Mishima – Death in Midsummer (Seidensticker, Keene, Morris, Sargent, 1965)

9. Heinrich Böll – The Clown (Leila Vennewitz, 1965)

10. Octavio Paz – Labyrinth of Solitude (Lysander Kemp, 1967)

11. Mikhail Bulgakov – The Master and Margarita (Michael Glenny, 1969)

12. Gabriel Garcia Marquez – 100 Years of Solitude (Gregory Rabassa, 1970)

13. Walter Benjamin – Illuminations (Harry Zohn, 1970)

14. Paul Celan – Poems (Michael Hamburger and Christopher Middleton, 1972)

15. Bertolt Brecht – Poems (John Willett, Ralph Manheim, Erich Fried, et al 1976)

16. Michel Foucault – Discipline and Punish (Alan Sheridan, 1977)

17. Emmanuel Le Roy Ladurie - Montaillou (Barbara Bray, 1978)

18. Italo Calvino – If on a Winter’s Night a Traveller (William Weaver, 1981)

19. Roland Barthes – Camera Lucida (Richard Howard, 1981)

20. Christa Wolf – A Model Childhood (Ursule Molinaro, Hedwig Rappolt, 1982)

21. Umberto Eco – The Name of the Rose (William Weaver, 1983)

22. Mario Vargas Llosa – Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter (Helen R. Lane, 1983)

23. Milan Kundera – The Unbearable Lightness of Being (Michael Henry Heim, 1984)

24. Marguerite Duras – The Lover (Barbara Bray, 1985)

25. Josef Skvorecky – The Engineer of Human Souls (Paul Wilson, 1985)

26. Per Olov Enquist – The March of the Musicians (Joan Tate, 1985)

27. Patrick Süskind – Perfume (John E. Woods, 1986)

28. Isabel Allende – The House of the Spirits (Magda Bodin, 1986)

29. Georges Perec – Life A User’s Manual (David Bellos, 1987)

30. Thomas Bernhard – Cutting Timber (Ewald Osers, 1988)

31. Czeslaw Milosz – Poems (Czeslaw Milosz, Robert Hass, 1988)

32. José Saramago – Year of the Death of Ricardo Reis (Giovanni Pontiero, 1992)

33. Marcel Proust – In Search of Lost Time (Terence Kilmartin, 1992)

34. Roberto Calasso – The Marriage of Cadmus and Harmony (Tim Parks, 1993)

35. Naguib Mahfouz – Cairo Trilogy (Olive E. Kenny, Lorne M. Kenny, Angela Botros Samaan, 1991-3)

36. Laura Esquivel – Like Water for Chocolate (Carol Christensen and Thomas Christensen, 1993)

37. Bao Ninh – The Sorrow of War (Frank Palmos, Phan Thanh Hao, 1994)

38. Victor Klemperer – I Shall Bear Witness (Martin Chalmers, 1998)

39. Beowulf (Seamus Heaney, 1999)

40. Josef Brodsky – Collected Poems (Anthony Hecht et al, 2000)

41. Xingjian Gao – Soul Mountain (Mabel Lee, 2001)

42. Tahar Ben Jelloun – This Blinding Absence of Light (Linda Coverdale, 2002)

43. W.G. Sebald – Austerlitz (Anthea Bell, 2002)

44. Orhan Pamuk – Snow (Maureen Freely, 2004)

45. Amos Oz – A Tale of Love and Darkness (Nicholas de Lange, 2004)

46. Per Petterson – Out Stealing Horses (Ann Born, 2005)

47. Irène Némirovsky – Suite Française (Sandra Smith, 2006)

48. Vassily Grossman – Life and Fate (Robert Chandler, 2006)

49. Alaa Al Aswany – The Yacoubian Building (Humphrey Davies, 2007)

50. Leo Tolstoy – War and Peace (Richard Pevear, Larissa Volokhonsky, 2007)

Compiled by Shaun Whiteside (Chair, TA) and the Committee of the TA (Don Bartlett, Alexandra Büchler, Martin Chalmers, Nicholas de Lange, Sarah Death, Marueen Freely, Daniel Hahn and Christine Shuttleworth).

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Arundhati Roy's New Fiction

Arundhati Roy has not written any fiction since the publication of her Booker-winning novel The God of Small Things in 1997. She was busy, besides her activist’s work, penning brilliant and phenomenal essays about nuclear testings, dams, globalization, Indian judiciary and about things most writers would not dare to touch. So her returning to fiction after this long sabbatical– eleven years to be exact – is itself an exciting news for literary folks. But this is a short story for now, she would follow up with her second novel soon.

Arundhati’s “Briefing” is about a fort in the hills, a real invincible fort, built with stones from surrounding hills, a result of massive investment of labour and money. It is not so much a story as a narrative. No story-line (a real writer is never bothered about it), no human characters except the narrator, and no twists. And it has a lot of subversive material (in a recent interview, Arundhati describes fiction as “more subversive…more mysterious”).

As we have seen in her other writings, she lets her imagination in full play here in this story also. The fort’s location in the hills leads us to snow. Snow is not naturally found these days atop hills. So comes warming of planet, and hot natural snow. In the final part of it, you see the narrator wishing the fort razed so the ecology returns to the land and snow falls again.

Arundhati is the kind of writer who gets evolved as a writer everyday. Don’t expect her handle the same things the same way from her every time. In every new piece she reinvents herself, and reveals something new. The subject of this story is another proof that she is trying to take herself to a loftier level.

But the story has some flaws. First, despite a fresh subject, you hear Arundhati’s too familiar angry non-fiction voice here in this story also. Initially, it’s hard to believe that you’re reading a work of fiction. She incorporates details of snow-manufacturing business in a non-fiction way. And then her swipe at capitalism is also blunt. The end too is simplistic. Where is the subtlety and mystery of fiction?

It seems that Arundhati has not yet been able to unplug herself fully from her non-fiction mode. After all, she has been into it way too long.

Arundhati needs to put her fiction-writer’s cap tightly.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Hey, how many books did you sign?

Of course, it is one of those trivia. I should not have written about it. But it involves one of our real writers, and I kind of reacted. So I can’t help write it.

On one occasion during his recent promotional tour for his latest novel, Salman Rushdie signed as many as 1000 books in 57 minutes. All very well for someone who looms bigger with his new writing success. But the galling thing is, Rushdie has begun bragging about it. He went so far as to write a letter to The Guardian that he has made a signing record with this, beating Malcolm Gluck, the wine writer, who signed 1,001 copies in 59 minutes in 1998.

Gluck questioned about the veracity of this claim. Did Rushdie put in his intials, he queried. Rushdie quickly added: Let me be clear. I didn’t initial the books, but signed my full name.

So, here’s the controversy, and please join in!

I tried to do a little math, but soon gave up on it realizing it was a waste of time. Does it really matter if somebody signs his name in just about 3.42 seconds or less? It’s absolute rubbish. We did such competitions in our school days.

I wish Rushdie had not bragged about it at all. Not only was it in bad taste, it also spoke unfavorably about his persona.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Midnight's Children Revisited

The occasion of the Best of the Booker award prodded me to revisit the Midnight’s Children after one long decade, if I remember it right. For constraint of time, I read it randomly, beginning in the middle, skipping pages, and finally ending with the first page.

Saleem Sinai –variously called Snotnose, Stainface, Baldy, Sniffer and Buddha –is still fantastic. The episode of his being baldy at the age of ten – the outcome of an angry school-teacher’s assault –shocked me again but what hurt me more was the cruelty of his classmates his age who made him a permanent object of ridicule for his baldness. His losing a finger in the fight with friends is equally painful for me. Fortunately for me, Rushdie made Saleem a rich man’s son, and that indeed had a check on my overactive lacrimal glands.

I had forgotten about Saleem’s Hanif uncle and Pia aunty, who were associated with Bollywood, one as a failed script writer, and another as a failed actress. They were still an interesting read, and I enjoyed Saleem’s interaction with them.

Midnight’s Children, I feel this time, has a strong storyline, or rather a string of compelling episodes. They alone can carry you along with their own force, even if you ignore the sub-text.

And it’s an overwhelmingly Indian story. Hindu gods, myths, Indian foods (chutney specially), Muhammad, Pakistan, Indian democracy, election, you name anything. It left me wondering how foreign readers got to crack all these. Then Rushdie’s humour is not always as good as his wits, and he can bore you to death with his endless babble with Padma, the perennial woman in his life. But he’s marvelous in his observations on India’s politics, people, culture and other sundry things.

What’s so special about Midnight’s Children? You get bits of tragedy in almost every episode. An undercurrent of pathos flows throughout the entire text, and finally seeps into your consciousness to form a huge grey.

In its content and style, Midnight’s Children brings about a huge paradigm shift in English writing. It was a great risk-ridden experiment for a writer whose first book simply vanished without a trace. I cannot but appreciate Rushdie’s courage and confidence. But at the same time I’m surprised that even after so many years and so many good and bad novels down the line, Rushdie has the same mindset, and his writing style remains the same – with all its components intact, only a bit jaded by time.

Now, from the first page:

I was born in the city of Bombay…once upon a time. No, that won’t do, there’s no getting away from the date; I was born in Doctor Narlikar’s Nursing Home on August 15th,1947. And the time? The time matters too. Well than; at night. No, it’s important to be more…On the stroke of midnight, as a matter of fact. Clock-hands joined palms in respectful greeting as I came. Oh, spell it out, spell it out; at the precise instant of India’s arrival at Independence.

Saleem Sinai's sojourn begins.

Friday, July 11, 2008

What You should Expect in Kafka Papers

What do you expect in the newly discovered Kafka papers? Any new stories or novels? Little chance. Max Brod scanned it all and published every worthy stuff. Notebooks or letters? Probably yes. According to one of his biographers, Franz Kafka used to maintain notebooks, and had filled twenty notebooks with his writing. Some of Kafka’s letters might be in the papers.

As we all know, Kafka gave away all his manuscripts to his close friend Max Brod. Prior to his death at age 41, he instructed his friend to burn all of his writings. Brod in his good sense ignored his friend’s order, and kept them with him. In the wake of the Nazis invading Prague, Brod had to flee, but he took utmost care to carry along with his valuables the two suitcases stuffed with Kafka writings. Later, he oversaw the publication of most of his works in his possession.

The newly discovered papers are part of Brod’s possession, which he didn’t publish for whatever reasons. May be Brod did not consider them publishable, or those contained material not suitable for readers at that time. But they are still important, and can shed light on the great writer.

Kafka has always been a literary puzzle. With just a few stories published during his lifetime, he got noticed only posthumously. Then he never finished any of his novels except The Metamorphoses.
Yet he was an iconic writer and influnenced the world litearture in a big way.

I have always seen Kafka as an author who foresaw the horrors of capitalism, and used them exclusively in 'The trial' and his other writings.

The world Kafka had lived and written about has changed hugely since. Capitalism has now come a full circle with all of its horrible attendants. The Kafka papers, at this juncture, may prove to be an interesting read.

Search This Blog

My Blog List