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Tim Parks on Why Translation Matters in The New York Review of Books

jasperjohns-flagsJasper Johns, Three Flags, 1958

In 2010, renowned author and Archipelago translator Tim Parks offered an exceptional insight into the practice of translation, its thanklessness when done well, and why it matters for fiction writing all over the world, not just in America.

…it would be futile to seek to establish how much we should be praising the author and how much the translator: the author wrote a fine story, which inspired the translator to make a fine translation. Of my own translations, I should say that I was always happy when the author got the praise and I escaped mention; it’s self-evident that only a good translation makes it possible for the reviewer to praise the author.

(“America First?”, NYRB July 15, 2010)

Coming off of the American Independence Day, Parks’s article is a thought-provoking and compelling article about the cross-cultural literary conversations that translation makes possible among some of today’s greatest writers, and how American’s are isolating themselves, intellectually.


The whole article, “America First?” is available for New York Review of Books subscribers, here.


[See also: Tim Parks’s translations of Antonio Tabucchi, The Flying Creatures of Fra Angelico & The Woman of Porto Pim]


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BOOK CURRENTS: Tanpinar & the Istanbul protests

Image Courtesy of Thanassis Stavrakis/Associated Press 

To launch BOOK CURRENTS, a series of posts that looks at current events through international literature, we asked one of our interns, Scott Beauchamp, to use one of our books to briefly reflect on some of the political unrest that’s happening in the world. He chose Ahmet Hamdi Tanpinar’s A Mind at Peace:


The connection between literature and current events isn’t always obvious. Sometimes, like in the case of The Great Gatsby, we only realize the social importance of a work in retrospect – with time and circumstance giving us enough perspective to understand what a book might mean politically or socially. In other cases, works are so very personal (or sometimes, in the opposite direction, mythical) that they seem to come from a world where newspapers don’t even exist.


Usually though, great works simultaneously comment on both our shared experiences as well as those of the individual, enriching and deepening our understanding of each. A Mind At Peace, by Ahmet Hamdi Tanpinar, for instance, is a wonderful example of a work that does just that. It’s a love story, a lyrical ode to Istanbul, and a novel of ideas – and it expresses itself in a voice both intimate and social. It shows us, not only what it was like to live in Turkey during the turbulent years of radical Kamalist political and social change – but also how people existed in the aftermath of those changes.


One is reminded of those radical historical changes as the protests that began in Taksim square continue to strengthen and spread through Istanbul and other Turkish cities. It originally began as a protest to keep public green space from being turned into a mall, but has since grown diffuse. Changing from a bid by citizens to assert local control over their community, it has become a nebulous and multifaceted articulation of a much larger concern – how Turkey will remain both modern and itself at the same time. This is the very issue, in fact, that Tanpinar writes about.


It’s something that’s worth remembering, as we read headlines of protests in Turkey and elsewhere around the world – how important literature is to our understanding of what’s happening now. It’s much more than just “News that stays news”, as the famous saying goes. It’s about connecting emotional depth with cultural knowledge in such a way that we’ll be able to acknowledge the limitations of our understanding, and at the same time desire to understand more.


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New Website!


It’s here!

Welcome to our brand-new, snazzy website. For months, we’ve been quietly updating, and today, we finally launch!

Check out some of the new features:

To celebrate our website launch on this auspicious summer day, we’re giving away 20 copies of My Struggle: Book One, each in a lovely, minimalist Archipelago tote bag! 


To get a copy, comment on this blog post and tell us what you’re reading this summer. The first 20 comments on this post will get a free copy of My Struggle and a tote!


Make sure to check out our Twitter feed for similar opportunities!

We’ll be updating the blog daily, so check back frequently.


Happy reading, everyone.


The Archipelago Team