A bird unbound


Credit: M. Jakubowski

A translator reached out to me last week after my short story, “New Names for the Dead,” appeared online asking if I’d allow him to publish a translation in Tamil. I gladly said yes. It’s the first time my work has been translated and it feels kind of miraculous to have a story of mine exist now in a language as gorgeous as Tamil.

The translator, who prefers to retain some anonymity (his Twitter handle is @thackli), also gave me permission to post some of his notes on the translation.

For reference, here is my story “New Names for the Dead” as it originally appeared at (b)OINKzine. (The story is summarized in the notes that follow in case you’d rather not leave this page.) And here is இறந்தவர்களுக்கான புதிய பெயர்கள், the Tamil translation.

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Three Percent announced the poetry and fiction longlists for the 2016 Best Translated Book Awards last week and while I know that two of my last four posts on this blog have been about Mercè Rodoreda, I still have to say it–hooray, Rodoreda made the longlist! It’s her novel, War, So Much War (Quanta, quanta guerra) translated by Martha Tennent and Maruxa Relaño. (My experimental review). If you haven’t already seen the full list of books, click on over to see who else made it (fiction longlist | poetry longlist) and be sure to follow the BTBA blog for guest posts by a fine array of people arguing why their favorite books should win.

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Does reading translated novels put a twist on #readwomen2014?

I’m only reading books by women this year, and today I was wondering: How is this resolution affected by my other focus, reading translated novels?

Is it okay, that is, does it “count” as a book by a woman if the original author is a woman, but the translator is a man? And if I were to read a book translated by a woman, but the original author was a man, would that mean I’ve broken my resolution?

The answer to that for me is yes in both cases. Thus far, I’ve just been focused on the original author’s gender when choosing books by women to read. And I’m not really worried in any way, or looking for an “out” to try and read a book by a male author.

The question of this twist on my #readwomen2014 resolution is for me partly about the build-up to the reading experience. How a book is recommended: the channels it goes through to reach me, my interpretation of a book’s possibilities during the selection process, all the things I hear on Twitter, or from a publicist–these things all affect the experience before I begin to read.

Considering the translator’s gender could be another factor in the thinking that comes before we start reading a book. It’s also a way to read critically and look for bias. Though I’ve yet to concentrate on this while reading, wondering if the translator’s gender alone affects the overall quality of a translation. Though it must, in a way, when we really get down to matters of word choice and interpretations. Translators who work closely with the author can of course make sure they’re getting it as right as possible (as “right” as any translation can be), but author and translator can’t confer on every choice (or any choice, if the author is dead).

It’s interesting to consider what these things might mean to me as a reader. And there must be people out there who have fine-tuned their #readowomen2014 resolution to include, where translations are concerned, only books where both the author and the translator are women.

Asymptote in Philadelphia

On March 29, I hosted the first-ever Asymptote event in Philadelphia. It was part of the journal’s worldwide celebration for its third anniversary and a large and enthusiastic crowd braved the rain on a Saturday night, making for a wonderful time at the Asian Arts Initiative.

Thanks to everyone who attended, and the four readers and musical guest who donated their time! Special thanks to Ann Tetreault of The Spiral Bookcase who did a superb job organizing books sales at the event.


Author Hilary Plum (They Dragged Them Through the Streets) read a poem by Kym Hyesoon, “My Free Market” (trans. Don Mee Choi), and a new piece of her own fiction, “Cage.”


Author Ken Kalfus (Equilateral, Pu-239 and Other Russian Fantasies) read in Russian and English a poem by Aleksey Porvin, “A Dark House is Quietly Collapsing” (trans. J. Kates), and from his short story, “Coup de Foudre,” which appears in the April issue of Harper’s.

Seven members of The Philadelphia Women’s Slavic Ensemble sang three songs from Bulgaria and one from Croatia. It was stunning!


Author Katherine Hill read an excerpt from Clarice Lispector’s Agua Viva (trans. Stefan Tobler), and from her novel, The Violet Hour.

Translator Vincent Kling read a series of excerpts from his 2013 Schlegel-Tieck Prize-winning translation of the late Swiss author Aglaja Veteranyi’s novel, Why the Child is Cooking in the Polenta. (Kling’s translation of Heimito von Doderer’s Die Strudlhofstiege is forthcoming from New York Review Books.)

Ann Tetreault, right, of The Spiral Bookcase provided books by all four authors who appeared at the event.