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review 2017-03-15 17:17
Vickie Gendreau's Testament (Trans. Aimee Wall)
Testament - Vickie Gendreau

Originally written after the author had been diagnosed with a brain tumour, Testament is a response to the news that Vickie Gendreau would have little time left to live: about a year.

 

The novel's translator, Aimee Wall, writes about the work, a few months after its author died, in Lemon Hound.

She explains: "I have spent a lot of time trying to find a way into writing about this book. I wanted to talk about it, but then wasn't sure I knew how. I went looking."

 

She goes looking "for other novels written from similar places of suddenly-limited time" and writes about the novel in numbered paragraphs, assembling fragments of information and observation and reflection.

 

I find myself wondering where, in the sequence, it occurred to her that she could translate Vickie Gendreau's work. When she realised that it could work, could connect with English audiences despite the linguistic challenges.

 

In the translator's note, Aimee Wall observes that Testament "moves between the present and the near-future, between poetry and prose, between French and English" in a “textured, hybrid language” which makes translation particularly challenging.

 

And, then, there is a subject matter.

 

Debilitating illness is one thing.

 

"I never left the hospital. I will never fully leave the hospital. I come back every day for my radiation treatments. I have this little coloured scarf and a ton of hats to hide the hair I’m losing."

 

Fatal illness is yet another.

 

"You don’t want people talking about miracles when they’re discussing your recovery."

Testament chronicles present-day events ("My mother accumulates old visitor badges and cards for my appointments in her huge purse.").

 

But the bulk of the work is preoccupied with future events, imagined encounters with the author's friends after her death and imagined encounters with these imagined encounters.

 

So, Raphaêlle observes: "I’m wearing a black dress. Vickie too. We’re wearing balck. I think black is charming. It’s slimming." And Maman notes: "I didn’t understand any of Vickie’s book. Her friend Mathieu is going to help me make some sense of this document."

 

When she speaks to readers directly, Vickie Gendreau sometimes speaks of ordinary things. "There will always be a collection agency to wake me up in the morning. There will always be a pot of something rotten in my fridge. There will always be someone to hate me. Someone to make a fool of me on athe telephone at three in the morning. Someone to treat me like a slut in front of my family. Someone to steal my drink, someone to steal my purse."

 

And she is aware of the concept of readership, of the ways in which readers might interact with words on a page. Specifically her words. And difficulties with endings. "I won’t bore you with that too much. My stories never work. That’s why I like poetry, it’s always infinite. I’m suspicious of people who end their poems with a period."

 

But, more often it's as Aimee Wall describes. "Testament pulls the reader in close and then sometimes doesn’t let her in on the joke." As though we are "occasionally eavesdropping on snippets of conversation for which we have little context, smiling at inside jokes we don’t really understand".

 

Anyway, is that the point with a book like this: understanding? I wonder if one could adapt the translator's statement to imagine the author being interviewed about her work, after her death, after some time has passed: "I spent a lot of time trying to find a way into writing my book. I wanted to talk about everything, but then wasn't sure I knew how. I went looking."

 

Perhaps, in the end (for how can we not think of endings now), it is less about the reading, less about the writing, and more about the looking.

 

About leaving something behind which does not end with a period --

Source: www.buriedinprint.com/?p=17318
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review 2017-02-21 23:41
Lifting the veil
Cry, Heart, But Never Break - Glenn Ringtved,Charlotte Pardi,Robert Moulthrop

I can't remember how I came to find out about today's book but I am certainly glad that I did. The book is Cry, Heart, But Never Break by Glenn Ringtved with illustrations by Charlotte Pardi. (It's translated from Dutch to English by Robert Moulthrop.) The premise is a simple one: Teaching children how to handle the grief of a loved one who passes away. (Coincidentally, it might help adults as well.) The illustrations themselves are quite unique and beautiful but when linked with the words are perfect and stunning. The story follows 4 siblings who wait with Death who is there to take their grandmother. It's a poignant depiction of the tension that one feels when sitting at the bedside of someone near and dear to your heart. It's a lifting of the veil so that if a child were to experience death they would see that without it there can be no fervor or joy in life. It's a two-sided coin. It's an extremely touching story and I think it is a really lovely way to introduce a difficult topic to children (you can't shield them from it forever and you really shouldn't try). 10/10 and highly recommend to all ages.

Source: readingfortheheckofit.blogspot.com
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review 2017-02-01 11:00
Saint Augustine and His Abandoned Concubine: Vita Brevis by Jostein Gaarder
Vita Brevis: A Letter to St Augustine - Jostein Gaarder
Das Leben ist kurz = Vita brevis - Jostein Gaarder

During much of European history men shaped the world of things and thought as they believed right and passed over women in silence, if they didn’t hold them in contempt. Highly revered Fathers of the Christian Church like Saint Augustine of Hippo Regius further institutionalised this contempt of women… and of earthly pleasures altogether as shows his autobiography titled Confessiones. In this theological key text he admits that before his conversion to Christianity in 385 he was a man who tasted life to the full. For over ten years he lived with a concubine (probably law forbade a formal marriage) and had a son with her, but in retrospect he regrets this sinful and immoral relationship because it kept him from true love of God. In Vita Brevis. A Letter to Saint Augustine (also translated into English as The Same Flower) the Norwegian writer, philosopher and theologian Jostein Gaarder gave this abandoned woman a voice.

 

In 1995 in a second-hand bookshop in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Jostein Gaarder comes across an old manuscript in a red box titled Codex Floriae. Its first sentence shows that it’s the letter of a certain Floria Aemilia to Augustinus Aurelius, the Bishop of Hippo Regius in Northern Africa (today: Algeria) who was later to become Saint Augustine. When he translates another sentence, it occurs to him that Floria Aemilia might be the saint’s long-time concubine whom he mentioned in his Confessiones without ever revealing her name. Of course, the author doesn’t know if the seventeenth-century copy is of an authentic letter, but it intrigues him that it might be and he buys it. Back home he makes a copy of the entire letter and sends the original to the Vatican Library for inspection. The Codex Floriae gets lost and the author decides to translate the Latin text from his copy and to publish it as Vita Brevis. A Letter to Saint Augustine. So far in brief what Jostein Gaarder says in his introduction about the actual letter of Floria Aemilia that makes up the major part of the book.

 

As it soon turns out, the author was right to assume that Floria Aemilia is the concubine of Saint Augustine. The exceptionally intelligent and self-assured woman from Carthage read the Confessiones of her former lover and obviously felt the urgent need to comment on them, notably on the passages dealing with their life together in Northern Africa, Rome and eventually Milan and with the emotional bonds between them that he tries to reduce to sexual desire. But she doesn’t only give her point of view of events (sometimes drifting into bitterness or mockery seeing how religious frenzy distorted his memories and opinions). Thanks to thorough studies of philosophy, theology as well as rhetoric during the years since Augustine sent her back to Carthage, she is able to challenge his notions of (original) sin and morality with great dialectical skill. Above all, she can’t agree with his attitude towards women who are for him the seducers leading men astray from the way to God and Eternal Life. Augustine postulates that all pleasures on Earth are sinful and should be avoided in preparation of life after death, while Floria Aemilia is convinced that pleasures are God-given and that denying them means to deny God’s creation. She supports her arguments with many quotations from classical Greek and Roman sources that Jostein Gaarder points out and explains in footnotes if necessary for understanding.

 

All things considered, Vita Brevis. A Letter to Saint Augustine isn’t so much a book about Floria Aemilia than it’s about Saint Augustine, his biographical background and above all his philosophy that helped to marginalise women not only in the Christian Church, but in Christian society altogether for more than one and a half millennium. Alone for the critical examination of the Confessiones from a female point of view, it’s a worthwhile read. In addition, it’s well written and easy to follow despite the complex philosophical argument.

 

Many have wondered, if the Codex Floriae really exists or if the “feminist manifesto” of Floria Aemilia is an invention of Jostein Gaarder. As it seems, the author always refused to clearly answer the question. I think that the book is a gorgeous work of fiction.

 

Vita Brevis: A Letter to St Augustine - Jostein Gaarder 

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review 2017-01-24 15:40
Moles in the city
Moletown - Torben Kuhlmann

I never knew that moles were adorable until I read Moletown by Torben Kuhlmann. (You may remember him from such posts as this one or this one.) I also had no idea that they would work as a perfect stand-in for humans. Kuhlmann once again knocks it right out of the park with this story of urbanization and industrialization. It's a sobering look at the way humanity has taken a seed of an idea which seemed perfectly innocent (or inevitable) and turned it into something suffocating and terrible. Yes, the advent of the modern age has done much to improve the lives of humans but it has also destroyed landscapes and wiped out entire species. Once again, this is a great way to open up a discussion with kids about a topic which they most likely only cover in relation to the atrocities inflicted upon Native Americans (if they even go into detail about that). It's so much more than that and I think it's important that kids start to think beyond their own small worlds. Of course, you have to decide if you think this is age appropriate but I think it would be good for second graders at the very least. 10/10 for awesome illustrations and a really awesome storyline that is sure to get little people (and the adults in their lives) thinking.

Source: readingfortheheckofit.blogspot.com
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review 2017-01-17 16:19
A Flight of Fancy
Lindbergh: The Tale of a Flying Mouse - Torben Kuhlmann

I mentioned before that I went a little crazy over Torben Kuhlmann's books (go here for my review of Armstrong). So it should come as no surprise that I gobbled up Lindbergh: The Tale of a Flying Mouse which as the title suggests is the story of the first solo flight across the Atlantic...by a mouse. This is kind of an alternate (and obviously fictional) historical account of aircraft engineering and one mouse's determination to be the forerunner in the field. Once again, the illustrations are sensational and evoke a sense of wonderment and delight. It's the end of Kuhlmann's books which I think are my favorite because he ties in the truth (Charles Lindbergh) to the fictional tale. He gives a brief history of flight which is a great way to get kids excited about an historical topic which might seem a bit 'old school' to them. The mouse must continue to persevere against all odds (there are dangers inherent to being a mouse on a mission) to achieve his dreams. This is a great message for all ages! Torben, you've reached the top 5 of my favorite graphic novelists. Congrats to you, sir. 10/10

 

 

Source: readingfortheheckofit.blogspot.com
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