Five Book Plan: Literature in Translation by Deborah Smith
For our latest Five Book Plan, Deborah Smith, award-winning translator and founder and publisher of Tilted Axis Press, shares her top 5 books of literature in translation as part of Verso's Summer Reads 2016 recommendations.
Her translations from the Korean include two novels by Han Kang, The Vegetarian (winner of the 2016 Man Booker International Prize) and Human Acts (Portobello, 2016), and two by Bae Suah, A Greater Music (forthcoming in October 2016 from Open Letter Press) and Recitation (Deep Vellum, 2017). In 2015 Deborah completed a PhD at SOAS on contemporary Korean literature and founded Tilted Axis Press, a not-for-profit press focusing on contemporary fiction in translation. In 2016 she won the Arts Foundation Award for Literary Translation. She tweets as @londonkoreanist.
Ladivine by Marie Ndiaye, translated from the French by Jordan Stump (MacLehose)
Longlisted for the Man Booker International Prize, this was the book I thought might snatch the win. For entirely selfish reasons, I'm glad it didn't, but I'll be extremely surprised if Ndiaye and Stump aren't contenders in the future – she's already taken home both the Prix Goncourt and Prix Femina in her native France, and for my mind makes up a triptych of contemporary female writers whose consistently outstanding quality and power to both enchant and disturb – a mix of extraordinary emotive force and dark, unsettling imagery – puts them at the top of their game. Lavidine, an account of four generations of women, the first of whom immigrates to France from an unspecified 'tropical' country, ought to make Marie Ndiaye as much of a household name as Elena Ferrante and Han Kang. And long may her partnership with Stump continue – as a translator, I read those glorious gems of sentences with a mix of envy and admiration.
Vaseline Buddha by Jung Young Moon, translated from the Korean by Jung Yewon (Deep Vellum, 2016)
One of South Korea's more eccentric contemporary writers, Jung could almost be described as a cross between Beckett and Brautigan – his earlier writing was often extremely dark, but recently the balance has tipped towards lightness, of touch as much as of mood. It's all part of an aesthetic which prizes vagueness, randomness, digression rather than progression. Often, his narrators' only concrete characteristic will be that they are writers, but writers who are attempting to avoid writing, or at least in the traditional sense – to do away with the established trappings of meaning-making. Jung Yewon, who has wrestled his multi-clausal sentences into elegant, amusing English, has also translated TAP's next book, One Hundred Shadows by Hwang Jungeun.
Second-Hand Time by Svetlana Alexievich, translated from the Russian by Bela Shayevich (Fitzcarraldo Editions, 2016)
Winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature, and writing on such weighty and important topics as the Chernobyl disaster and the collapse of the Soviet Union, I'd assumed Alexievich's work would be more 'worthy' than page-turner. I could not have been more wrong. One of the most stunning, vital, moving, engrossing books of our time, and one which can make an equally deep impression on literary critics and people who 'don't really read'. Shayevich's translation does a great job of capturing the conversational flow of real-life interviews without tipping over into the kind of colloquialism that sees labourers using British regional accents.
Load Poems Like Guns: Women's Poetry from Herat, Afghanistan, translated from the Persian Dari by Farzana Marie (Holy Cow Press, 2015)
A groundbreaking collection of poetry by eight contemporary women poets who either live or have lived in Herat, the city that has, since ancient times, been Afghanistan's epicentre for literature and the arts. But there's even more that unites these women; their closely-knit literary circle, an underground movement set up in response to the Taliban's ban on girls' education, is mourning the death from domestic violence of its former leading light, Nadia Anjuman, while finding both her life and poetry a continued source of inspiration. Equally inspiring is the collection's translator; Farzana Marie's time in Afghanistan has been spent volunteering in orphanages, on active duty in the US Air Force, and as a scholar of Persian literature. Crucially, she is also a poet in her own right, lending these poems great musicality and depth.
Fever by Samaresh Basu, translated from the Bengali by Arunava Sinha (Seagull, 2016)
Written in 1977, Fever is the classic novel of the Naxalite movement, the far-left radical Communist guerillas who were initially moved to action by inequalities in land distribution, and whose bombings and abductions continue to today. This novel, in which a prisoner looks back on his revolutionary ideals and comrades, is in service to no ideology, but rather attempts to understand the way ideology intersects with individual lives. It's translated by Arunava Sinha, the man almost solely responsible for getting Bengali literature into English – TAP publishing Panty as its debut came about through friends recommending him to me. He's also worked as an editor across the series of which this book is a part, a wonderful and much-needed collection of translations from English languages, with stunning cover design as always by Seagull's resident art director Sunandini Banerjee.
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>>> Read 'Factory Girl', an extract from Human Acts by Han Kang, translated by Deborah Smith