1966

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For almost 300 years Norway and Denmark were united kingdoms, and Danish was the sole official language. When the two countries separated in 1814 a linguistic struggle ensued in Norway with different versions of written and spoken Norwegian competing for official recognition. The heavily Danish-influenced Norwegian of the 19th century urban and educated classes evolved into what became known and sanctioned as Bokmål, or ‘book language’, while Nynorsk, or ‘new Norwegian’, predominated in the rural west. Nynorsk is based on the ‘people’s language’ (Folkespråk) proposed by the 19th century linguist Ivar Aasen, assembled using Norwegian dialects that had retained their regional character. The Norwegian language conflict is still a politically contentious issue today; variant spellings are allowed, people are encouraged to speak their local dialect, and there is no officially sanctioned spoken language.

The great Norwegian author Tarje Vesaas wrote in Nynorsk, contributing to its acceptance as a medium of world-class literature. Vesaas’ works are characterised by their rural settings, spare, evocative prose, and the sensitive depiction of characters’ psychological trauma. His masterpiece THE ICE PALACE, which takes its name from the caves of a frozen waterfall, tells of an intense friendship between two young girls, one of whom carries a dreadful secret. Doris Lessing described it as ‘unique… unforgettable… extraordinary’. THE ICE PALACE was translated into English by Elizabeth Rokkan in 1966.

Another Nordic novel first published in English in 1966 is THE FISH CAN SING by the Nobel Prize-winning Icelandic author Halldór Laxness. It was translated by Magnus Magnusson. Best known in the UK as the presenter of the long-running television quiz show Mastermind, Magnusson was also a journalist and author, and a prolific translator of Icelandic and Old Norse literature, including other works by Halldór Laxness and several classic Norse sagas.

Julio Cortázar’s ground-breaking novel HOPSCOTCH can be read in different ways. It is divided into 155 chapters and employs a variety of different perspectives and non-linear narrative techniques. The author invited his readers to read the episodes consecutively, or to ‘hopscotch’ through them according to his ‘table of instructions’, which shows the events in a different light. Alternatively, readers may choose their own paths through the book, playing on the idea of the reader as the author’s ‘co-conspirator’. Like Carlos Fuentes (cf. #TA60 1964), the Argentine novelist was part of the huge international success of modernist writers from his region in the 1960s and ‘70s known as the Latin American Boom. HOPSCOTCH is often regarded as the first ‘Boom’ novel. It first became accessible to English readers in 1966 in a translation by the great Gregory Rabassa.

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1962

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Jorge Luis Borges, whose surreal prose is often considered to have opened the door to magical realism, was largely unknown in the English-speaking world until 1962. The influential Argentine writer was awarded the prestigious Prix International jointly with Samuel Beckett, after which his stories, essays and poems were translated and collected in two major anthologies: LABYRINTHS and FICCIONES. LABYRINTHS was edited and translated by Donald A. Yates and James E. Irby, with contributions by Harriet de Onis, Andrew Kerrigan, John M. Fein, Julian Palley, Dudley Fitts and L. A. Murillo.

Borges went blind at the age of 55: by the time his work found international fame he was no longer able to read. He was fluent in several languages, including English and French, and his Spanish translation of Oscar Wilde’s “The Happy Prince” was published when he was only nine. In his early years as a literary critic he would sometimes publish original works and pass them off as his translations of imaginary authors.

In LABYRINTHS, his essay “The Mirror of Enigmas” examines different translations and interpretations of I Corinthians 13:12 and their implications. Videmus nunc per speculum in aenigmate… Are we looking through a mirror as through a glass skylight, or staring into it at a reflection? Is what we see a glimpse of divinity, or the infinite abyss of our own souls?

Staying in the realm of the enigmatic and surreal: a close collaboration between director Alain Resnais and the author Alain Robbe-Grillet resulted in the classic French Left Bank film LAST YEAR AT MARIENBAD. The screenplay was later turned into a “cine-novel”, which was translated into English by Richard Howard and published in 1962.

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