This September we’re treated to the finest in new Urdu fiction from India. Curated by distinguished translator Muhammad Umar Memon, this stunning collection is the perfect primer on the fantastic and varied forms of contemporary Urdu writing. Naiyer Masud, master of the Urdu short story and Saraswati Samman award winner, follows the travails of a young runaway given refuge by a mysterious stranger. Celebrated fiction writer Qurratulain Hyder tracks the fortunes of a young woman who jettisons family and home on an intercontinental romp, with the past hot on her heels. Trailblazing feminist writer Ismat Chughtai gives an unsparing account of the goings-on in a maternity ward, while Anwar Khan’s protagonist discovers the comforting solitude of a shop window. Award-winning journalist Sajid Rashid sorts through a train explosion in a tale told by a severed head, and Siddiq Aalam listens in on two grumpy old men in a Kolkata park. Rounding out the issue, Sahitya Akademi Award winner Rajinder Singh Bedi gives a lesson in the art of erotic statuary, while Zakia Mashhadi recounts a troubled saga of marriage, love, and religion, and Salam Bin Razzack paints a picture of a Mumbai under siege.
Also this month, Askold Melnyczuk extols the virtues of speaking more than Amerikanisch, Avrom Sutzkever recites an ode to the dove, and Najem Wali describes a visit to the morgue.
Words Without Borders theme is teens and includes some fiction by the Mexican author Eve Gil and the Catalan Andres Barba. (Update: I have been informed he writes in Spainsh, and a simple internet search will prove that, so I wonder why Words Without Borders said Catalan?)
Words Without Borders has an interesting interview with the short story writer Etgar Keret about his process and what he thinks of creative writing programs and craft. I am a big fan of his stories and he has been one my most interesting finds in the world of short stories over the last year or two along with Amanda Michalopoulou and Hipólito Navarro. Because his works deviate from the more American tradition of epiphany and craft, I find his work quite refreshing. His take on craft, something I was taught in my earliest creative writing classes and still seems to haunt me like some tedious specter, was interesting.
DH: Do you think there is an essential difference between what people think a good story is in contemporary American literature and in other parts of the world? I mean, do you see a difference between what is considered a good story here and, say, in Israel?
EK: I can’t speak for the rest of the world, but what I can say about the US is that there are many readers and creative writing professors who are into the tradition of the “well written story,” which is something I completely dislike because it focuses on the craft machine. I tell my students that they should focus on writing “the badly written” good story. There is something paralyzing if you are thinking all the time about the form; it can stop you from focusing on the true passion and emotion. Here I can see that some people could characterize my stories as “shaggy dog stories” because they say, “OK, this is about a guy who went to a bar, etc., but this is not literature” because I don’t write the typical New Yorker story. I think this is very American because it goes with the Protestant work ethic: when you read a story you should see that someone worked very hard on it. But when I write something I want to hide my effort. I want people to feel that I am speaking to them. If it took me two months to write it I want it to look as if I didn’t make any effort. This is something that clashes with the American tradition. If you compare Bob Dylan singing a song with someone from American Idol, the latter sings better, he has a better voice. But the guy from American Idol is thinking about “singing well,” while Bob Dylan is thinking about the song. So the American kind of “well written” story is about creating an American Idol kind of story.
His discussion about rhythm and sound in translation was very interesting, too. In poetry you expect to loose elements like that, especially if the poetry use formal structures. Prose isn’t necessarily thought of in those terms, although I love writers who can pay attention to the musicality of prose.
DH: I believe in that, and it makes sense, given the fact that your stories are not premeditated, but they start based on sound or rhythm. Now, you are a writer that in this country we read in translation, so there is problem with that.
EK: The problem is that English is 30/% longer than Hebrew. In Hebrew you can really construct very short sentences. In know this because I work with two very, very creative translators. And many times I don’t want them to be loyal to the text, but to the meter. For example, I have a story that begins with a series of compliments about a guy; but when my translator translated the story, it didn’t work because she wanted to translate the word, but the rhythm didn’t work. So, I told her, “Forget about the word! It should be ta-ta-ta.”
Nonetheless, what they produced during this period were not simple translations. Some of their time was given to the collaborative composition of original versions of Borges’s stories in English. Borges’s grandmother was from the Midlands, and he was consequently fluent in English, albeit in a reportedly antiquated turn-of-the-century style. So di Giovanni earned equal writing credit for versions of stories including Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius, The Library of Babel and The Lottery in Babylon.
The February Words Without Borders has been posted. This month it is featuring excerpts of graphic novels. Zeina Abirached’s panels are quite interesting and make this issue worth looking at. There are also excerpts from Israeli, French, Dutch, and Chinese writers.
This month we present eyewitness accounts from around the world. In the spirit of the great Ryszard Kapuściński, our contributors record far more than just the facts, blending genres and filing dispatches from both political and literary frontlines. From the killing fields of Cambodia to the swarming streets of Tehran, on the ground and in the trenches, the writers here chronicle the news of the world with artful urgency. See how Nanni Balestrini, Karl-Markus Gauss, Gébé, Elham Gheytanchi, Peter Fröberg Idling, Wojciech Jagielski, Erwin Koch, François Vallejo, and Abdourahman Waberi deliver news that stays news
Geoff Wisner has an interesting post at Words Without borders about Leila Abouzeid’s new book. He quotes her reasons for while autobiography isn’t as common in Arabic. What she talks about is interesting in how culture is reflected in the use of language.
In addition, autobiography has the pejorative connotation in Arabic of madihu nafsihi wa muzakkiha (he or she who praises and recommends him- or herself). This phrase denotes all sorts of defects in a person or a writer: selfishness versus altruism, individualism versus the spirit of the group, arrogance versus modesty. That is why Arabs usually refer to themselves in formal speech in the third person plural, to avoid the use of the embarrassing “I.” In autobiography, of course, one uses “I” frequently.
Hanan al-Shaykh has a new story available in English. I’m a big fan of hers and it is nice to see something new available. I think the last book available was Only in London. You can read a little about her newest endeavor at the Saudi Gazette. (via Words Without Borders)
Yani Mentzas makes some interesting points about how one should view the work of Manga pioneer Osamu Tezuka, and how in general the graphic novel should be approached when trying to make it more serious.
Narrative comics can mature in two diverging ways: either by jettisoning the juvenile framework in favor of standards borrowed from realism, or by staying within the framework to analyze and foreground its themes, especially the controlling one, “that which exceeds man.” My personal preference is against the former path, which leads to comics that give an impression of wanting to be art, cinema, or literature rather than comics and that indeed seem only the more shame-faced the better they are. I believe the latter is the royal road of intelligent comics in that it sees the merits of cartooning’s openness to caricature, acceptance of absurdity, and unflagging curiosity about that which exceeds man.
I’m not sure I agree completely but he does have a point. However, I think there is a mistake in equating the medium, pictures and words, with the genre, superhero or fantastic stories. Having tried to read Charles Burns’ Black Hole, a richly drawn work, I couldn’t stand the fantasy element. On the other hand, Shortcomings a fine graphic novel is so chatty perhaps it would have been better as a play.
He does make an interesting point about the transition to or the search for more serious work. A market does need to develop for everything:
What’s more striking in fact is the comparable paucity of these elements in the early oeuvre of the master who’d eventually come to employ them so deftly. We could attribute this difference to the fact that aging tends to inculcate a greater interest in spirituality, but Tezuka’s mature phase began when he was in his forties, which is hardly old. The better answer has to do with intended readership; to simplify a little but not much, in his early period before 1970 Tezuka wrote for children, while he had grownups in mind after the seventies due to an immense demographic shift in manga buying.
Words Without Borders has a short section from the Manga master Yoshihiro Tatsumi’s new book From A Drifting Life, which is forthcoming from Drawn and Quarterly. As usual, Tatsumi mixes a bit of manga history with everyday life in Japan after the war. Even if you don’t read graphic novels, it is interesting.
Words Without borders is featuring graphic novels this month and included in collection are several pages from the graphic novel of Waltz With Bashir. The pages capture the same fearfulness as the film and are a good taste if you haven’t seen the movie yet.
They also include an interview with David Polonsky, the artist behind the film. Of particular interest to me were so of his stylisic choices.
“The script said there were flares over the camp,” said Polonsky. “I remembered the flares from Haifa, where I grew up. The navy would always hold maneuvers, and they would shoot up these flares into the sky that painted the whole town dark orange. So this was my starting point, this memory. I later developed it into a motif, with the same orange flame appearing in the eyes of the mad dogs and in the sky. Then, in the end, when the flares burst out and take over everything in Sabra and Shatila, it’s like a repressed memory of violence erupting and burning everything underneath the sky.”
There is a short story by Castellanos Moya in Words Without Borders (via, Conversational Reading). It is a funy story about a three way trist in Madrid with a good twist ending, and usually I don’t like twists too much. The more I read of Castellanos Moya, the more I appreciate his humor.