1990

fullsizeoutput_4e7

PALACE WALK, the first volume of the Cairo Trilogy by the Egyptian author Naguib Mahfouz, was published in 1990 in a translation from the Arabic by William Maynard Hutchins and Olive E. Kenny. Mahfouz had won the Nobel Prize for Literature two years earlier; the first and, so far, the only Arab writer to have done so. Doubleday editor Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis immediately snapped up the rights to several of his books and oversaw the translation of PALACE WALK.

Originally written in the 1950s, the Cairo Trilogy is an engrossing saga that follows three generations of a well-off Muslim family in Cairo, from the start of the Egyptian revolution against the British in 1919 to the end of World War Two. The English editions were published in successive years: the second volume, PALACE OF DESIRE (translated by W.M. Hutchins, O.E. Kenny and Lorne M. Kenny), came out in 1991, SUGAR STREET (translated by W.M. Hutchins and Angele Botros Samaan) in 1992.

Mahfouz is regarded as one of the fathers of the modern Arabic novel. In the seven decades of his career, he published 34 novels and hundreds of short stories. The Nobel win was transformational – not so much for Mahfouz, who by all accounts continued to live a modest life, but for the sudden interest it sparked in Arabic literature. Shortly after winning the prize, Mahfouz commented:

“The Nobel Prize has given me, for the first time in my life, the feeling that my literature could be appreciated on an international level. The Arab world also won the Nobel with me. I believe that international doors have opened, and that from now on, literate people will consider Arab literature also. We deserve that recognition.”

*

Other major translations of 1990 include TOO LOUD A SOLITUDE by Bohumil Hrabal (#TA60 1989), in which a paper baler secretly salvages and reads the outlawed books he’s supposed to be pulping.

Michael Henry Heim, who translated Hrabal’s book from the Czech, was one of the finest and most admired translators of his generation. (See #TA60 1984 for his work with Milan Kundera.) After initially studying under Gregory Rabassa, he focussed on Slavic languages and literature, which he taught for forty years at the University of California. Heim was a true polyglot. He mastered twelve languages and translated from eight – Czech, Russian, Serbo-Croatian, French, Italian, German and Dutch.

After his death in 2012, it was revealed that he was the anonymous donor behind the PEN Translation Fund, established in 2003 to support translators and promote literature in translation. You can read more about the remarkable Michael Henry Heim in this obituary from UCLA. Do watch the lovely short video in which he relates personal anecdotes – in four languages – explaining his belief that motivation is the key to successful language learning.

Also published in English for the first time in 1990: Clarice Lispector’s NEAR TO THE WILD HEART, translated from the Brazilian Portuguese by Giovanni Pontiero (#TA60 1972). A new translation by Alison Entrekin was commissioned in 2012 as part of New Directions’ Lispector series, previously mentioned in #TA60 1989.

Palace Walk

https://www.penguin.co.uk/books/100/1004494/palace-walk/9780552995801.html

Too Loud a Solitude

https://www.littlebrown.co.uk/books/detail.page?isbn=9780349102627

Near to the Wild Heart

Entrekin translation: https://www.ndbooks.com/book/near-to-the-wild-heart1/

1989

norwegian wood

Haruki Murakami’s NORWEGIAN WOOD was published by the Tokyo publishing house Kōdansha in 1987. Set in the late Sixties, this novel of love, loss, nostalgia and sexual awakening was a phenomenal success, especially among young Japanese – so much so that the author moved abroad to escape his sudden fame.

Two years later, in 1989, Kōdansha also published the first English translation – by Alfred Birnbaum – for inclusion in its English Language Library. Aimed at Japanese students of English, the two pocket-sized volumes retained the red-green colour scheme of the original, and included an appendix listing English phrases alongside the corresponding text in Japanese.

Birnbaum’s translation was not made available outside Japan, and is now no longer in print. It was eleven years before a second translation, by the American academic Jay Rubin, was authorised for publication and distribution abroad. The tone and style of the two English translations of NORWEGIAN WOOD are quite different, as you can see in this link comparing them with the original Japanese; or this one, which provides a more thorough analysis of context and detail.

Rubin’s version, published by both Vintage and Harvill in 2000, is the one most anglophone readers will know. In a 2011 interview, he was asked how closely Murakami was involved in the translation of his own work:

“I ask him questions by e-mail now and then, and he responds in a timely fashion; 75% of the time he answers, ‘Do whatever works in English.’ He wants the book to succeed as literature in the target language rather than slavishly adhering to his grammar or sentence structure. He’s a very experienced translator, after all.”

Murakami is an admirer of classic American novels, and has translated several into Japanese. These include F. Scott Fitzgerald’s THE GREAT GATSBY, J.D. Salinger’s THE CATCHER IN THE RYE, and books by Raymond Carver, Raymond Chandler, Truman Capote and John Irving.

*

I SERVED THE KING OF ENGLAND by Bohumil Hrabal was published in English in 1989, just before Czechoslovakia’s Velvet Revolution. It was translated from the Czech by Paul Wilson. Wilson taught English in Prague for ten years, where he was also the vocalist of the famous ‘underground’ rock band The Plastic People of the Universe. He was expelled from Czechoslovakia in 1977 and, on returning to Canada, became a translator and champion of dissident Czech writers, notably Bohumil Hrabal and the future Czech president Václav Havel.

Written in 1971 and set in Prague during the Nazi occupation and the early days of communist rule, I SERVED THE KING OF ENGLAND follows the picaresque adventures of a Czech waiter and hotelier named Dítě. It was made into a successful film by the director Jiři Menzel in 2008. The novel circulated in unofficial form for years, until in 1983 the Jazz Section of the Czech Musicians Union published a private edition of 5,000 copies – for members only. The Jazz Section was legally constituted as an organisation for jazz fans, so was permitted to produce an uncensored newsletter for its members. However, this ‘newsletter’ reported not only on jazz, but on art and literature from all over world: it became the most widely read uncensored source of cultural information in communist Czechoslovakia.

Finally, 1989 also saw the publication of the first English translation from the Portuguese, by Elizabeth Lowe & Earl Fitz, of THE STREAM OF LIFE by the great Brazilian writer Clarice Lispector. This lyrical monologue, a stream of consciousness that many consider her masterpiece, was retranslated in 2012 by Stefan Tobler under the original title, ÀGUA VIVA. It is part of the collection of Lispector’s works in English translation published by New Directions and Penguin Classics.

Norwegian Wood
https://www.waterstones.com/book/norwegian-wood/haruki-murakami/9780099448822

I Served the King of England
https://www.waterstones.com/book/i-served-the-king-of-england/bohumil-hrabal/adam-thirlwell/9780099540939

The Stream of Life
Lowe/Fitz translation: https://www.upress.umn.edu/book-division/books/the-stream-of-life
Tobler translation: https://www.penguin.co.uk/books/181/181805/agua-viva/9780141197364.html

1988

war's unwomanly face

Soviet women who fought in World War II were given a voice by the Belarusian Nobel laureate Svetlana Alexievich in her non-fiction book WAR’S UNWOMANLY FACE. It was first published in English in 1988, by Progress Publishers in Moscow, in a translation by Keith Hammond & Lyudmilla Lezhneva. The original Russian text – published three years earlier – had, however, been heavily censored. Alexievich spent seven years patiently interviewing hundreds of women who had served on the front line or were part of the supporting infrastructure, weaving their stories into a remarkable, unvarnished oral history.

By the time Alexievich was awarded the Nobel Prize in 2015, the Moscow edition was out of print. The book was retranslated by the husband-and-wife team of Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky, famous for their translations of Russian classics by Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, Bulgakov and others. This new, unexpurgated version was published by Penguin in 2017 as THE UNWOMANLY FACE OF WAR: AN ORAL HISTORY OF WOMEN IN WORLD WAR II.

Important works by two other Nobel laureates also appeared in English for the first time in 1988. THE PIANO TEACHER, by the Austrian novelist and playwright Elfriede Jelinek, was translated from the German by Joachim Neugroschel (cf. #TA60 1979). It depicts a sadomasochistic relationship between a piano teacher and her student, and was the first of Jelinek’s many works to be published in English. Elfriede Jelinek has herself translated from French and English into German, mostly plays, including several Feydeau farces, Wilde’s THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST, Marlowe’s THE JEW OF MALTA, and GRAVITY’S RAINBOW by Thomas Pynchon.

Finally for 1988, LOVE IN THE TIME OF CHOLERA by the great Colombian writer Gabriel García Márquez (cf. #TA60 1970) describes a romantic love that lasts a lifetime, reuniting the lovers in their old age. It was translated from the Spanish by Edith Grossman.

The Unwomanly Face of War
https://www.penguin.co.uk/books/295/295606/the-unwomanly-face-of-war/9780141983530.html

The Piano Teacher
https://serpentstail.com/the-piano-teacher.html

Love in the Time of Cholera
https://www.penguin.co.uk/books/55503/love-in-the-time-of-cholera/9780141189208.html

1987

9780002714648-us

Georges Perec’s remarkable, complex masterpiece LIFE A USER’S MANUAL was published in David Bellos’ translation from the French in 1987. The lives of the inhabitants of a Paris apartment block are pieced together like a jigsaw – one of the novel’s key motifs – in this intricate yet playful logistical puzzle.

Perec belonged to the OuLiPo group of writers and mathematicians, who applied algorithms and formal constraints to their work. The content of LIFE A USER’S MANUAL was partly generated by forty-two lists in the form of bi-squares (similar to sudoku). These determine which elements have to appear in each chapter. Translator David Bellos described it as ‘a universal novel that just happened to be written in French’, and ‘the most exhilarating hard work I have ever done’.

David Bellos is also the preferred English translator of the great Albanian writer Ismail Kadare. As explained in #TA60 1971, Bellos – like Derek Coltman, the translator of THE GENERAL OF THE DEAD ARMY – worked from the French versions of Kadare’s novels, which the author perfected with translator Isuf Vrioni.

However, CHRONICLE IN STONE, first published in English in 1987, was translated directly from the Albanian. The translator, Arshi Pipa, was an Albanian intellectual who lived in the US. He spent ten years in prison under the Hoxha regime for reciting a verse from Goethe’s FAUST, and fled the country upon his release in 1956. Pipa objected strongly to the way his translation of CHRONICLE IN STONE was edited by the British publisher, Serpent’s Tail, and to the cutting of his long introduction; he eventually demanded that his name be removed from the book. Pipa subsequently published an essay in which he argued that Kadare’s depiction of sexual deviance in Gjirokastër – the hometown of both the author and the dictator Enver Hoxha – was a way of casting aspersions on the leader’s sexuality. It was known that Hoxha had had homosexual encounters in his youth, but to say so openly could, at the time, have got Kadare killed. Kadare was horrified, and a long-drawn-out argument with Pipa ensued, which became known as the ‘Pipi-Kaka affair’.

A revised version of the novel was issued by Canongate in 2007. Arshi Pipa’s translator credit was restored, while David Bellos edited the translation to correspond to Kadare’s definitive French version.

Life A User’s Manual
https://www.penguin.co.uk/books/102/1028585/life/9780099449256.html

Chronicle in Stone
https://canongate.co.uk/books/483-chronicle-in-stone/

1986

fullsizeoutput_44f.jpeg

In Patrick Süskind’s sensual, disturbing novel PERFUME: THE STORY OF A MURDERER, set in eighteenth-century France, a young man is born with a remarkable sense of smell. He becomes a perfumer, and kills young women to preserve their intoxicating scent. The book was translated from German by John E. Woods and published in 1986.

PERFUME is one of the most successful German novels of the post-war period. It was originally published in serial form by the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, then revised and reissued as a book. It has been translated into forty-five languages, was a SPIEGEL bestseller for nine years, and has sold more than 15 million copies.

Patrick Süskind lives as a recluse, but has collaborated with the director Helmut Dietl on a number of projects, including the script for Dietl’s hit film ROSSINI. The characters in this satire on the late 80s/early 90s Munich jet-set include a well-known director and producer who try to persuade a shy and reluctant author to sell the movie rights to his bestselling novel. The film of Süskind’s PERFUME was finally made by Tom Tykwer and released more than twenty years after the book was published.

The translator, John E. Woods, was awarded the PEN Translation Prize for PERFUME in 1987 – his second win, after EVENING EDGED IN GOLD by Arno Schmidt in 1981. Woods has also translated all the major novels of Thomas Mann, a feat comparable to retranslating Proust. In 1996, he won the Helen and Kurt Wolff Translator’s Prize, for not one book but two – Mann’s THE MAGIC MOUNTAIN and Schmidt’s NOBODADDY’S CHILDREN. He has also been awarded the prestigious Goethe Medal.

Perfume
https://www.penguin.co.uk/books/122/12263/perfume/9780241973615.html

1985

fullsizeoutput_44b

The Chilean writer Isabel Allende took the literary world by storm with her first novel, translated into English from the Spanish by Magda Bogin and published in 1985 as THE HOUSE OF THE SPIRITS. The lush, magical-realist family saga, which spans three generations of the Trueba family and a century of turbulence in an unnamed Latin American country, has been translated into more than 37 languages, and Allende is one of the most widely-read Spanish-language authors in the world.

Born in Peru in 1942, Allende lived in Chile from the age of three, but fled to Venezuela shortly after the 1973 military coup. She later said that without this caesura she would not have become a writer. She started out as a journalist and TV personality, and also translated English romantic fiction, notably Barbara Cartland. That job didn’t last long: she was fired for altering Cartland’s dialogue and endings to make her heroines appear intelligent and independent. Allende’s own novels feature memorable female characters, and she was one of the first female Latin American writers to rival the international success of the men of the Latin American Boom. She discusses various aspects of her writing here.

Another very popular novel first published in English in 1985 was Marguerite Duras’ THE LOVER, translated from the French by Barbara Bray. It tells of a passionate, clandestine, transgressive affair between a 15-year-old French girl and her older Chinese-Vietnamese lover, based on Duras’ own experience as a young girl in colonial Indochina. She later wrote a second version entitled THE NORTH CHINA LOVER (translated into English by Leigh Hafrey). A hybrid of novel and screenplay, it started out as notes for a film script, but Duras used it to ‘reclaim’ the story after quarrelling with the director of the 1992 film, Jean-Jacques Annaud.

Duras was good friends with her translator, Barbara Bray, who lived in Paris and was, for almost thirty years, the lover, translator, and collaborator of Samuel Beckett. Bray’s twin sister, Olive Classe, also translated from the French, and is the editor of the ENCYCLOPAEDIA OF LITERARY TRANSLATION INTO ENGLISH.

The House of the Spirits
https://www.penguin.co.uk/books/1036700/the-house-of-the-spirits/9780099528562.html

The Lover
https://www.harpercollins.co.uk/9780007205004/the-lover/

1984

fullsizeoutput_44a

Milan Kundera’s novels were banned in his native country of Czechoslovakia, so for many years he was read almost exclusively in translation. His best-known work is probably THE UNBEARABLE LIGHTNESS OF BEING, a tale of love, infidelity and ‘improbable fortuities’ against the backdrop of the Prague Spring. It was written after Kundera went into self-imposed exile in Paris in 1975, and first appeared in 1984 in the French translation by François Kérel. Michael Henry Heim’s English translation followed soon afterwards, but it wasn’t until the following year that it was published in the original Czech – by a Toronto-based publishing house, Sixty-Eight Publishers. This was run by two other émigré writers, Josef Škvorecký and Zdena Salivarová. The book was finally published, and became easily available, in the Czech Republic in 2006; until then most people only knew it from the film starring Daniel Day-Lewis and Juliette Binoche. This new edition, which was substantially reworked by the author, became an instant bestseller.

Kundera became a French citizen in 1981. Around this time he began to write in French. On discovering that relay translators were working from the French translations of his earlier books, he proceeded to revise them and eventually declared these his new ‘originals’.

Kundera is famously mistrustful of translators. ‘Alas,’ he has said, ‘our translators betray us… You have no idea how much time and energy I have lost correcting the translations of my books.’ He demands full editorial control, insists on close collaboration with the translator wherever possible – particularly in English and French – and has often changed his mind about whose work he does or does not approve. The vexed history of his relationship with his translators, translations, and translation is detailed in a fascinating study by Michelle Woods, TRANSLATING MILAN KUNDERA – well worth a read.

Also in 1984, Primo Levi’s haunting memoir of life as a Jew in Mussolini’s Italy, THE PERIODIC TABLE, was translated into English by Raymond Rosenthal. A collection of twenty-one autobiographical stories themed by chemical elements, the Royal Institution declared it the best science book ever written, ahead of works by Charles Darwin and James Watson. (For more Primo Levi, see #TA60 1959.)