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Andrea Bajani on Brad Listi’s OTHERPPL

Brad Listi hosted Andrea Bajani on his podcast Otherppl! Their conversation is available now.

On the program, they discuss Bajani’s novel If You Kept a Record of Sins, recently published by Archipelago Books, in a striking translation by Elizabeth Harris. Bajani and Listi talk about Bajani’s inspirations for the novel, the writing process, and more. You can listen to the interview on Otherppl’s website, here, or on LitHub Radio, here.

Andrea Bajani (Rome, 1975) is the author of four novels and two collections of poems. His novel, If You Kept a Record of Sins, has brought him a great deal of attention. In just a few months, the book won the Super Mondello Prize, the Brancati Prize, the Recanati Prize and the Lo Straniero Prize. He lives in Houston and teaches at Rice University.

Otherppl is a podcast hosted by Brad Listi, author of the novel Attention. Deficit. Disorder. and founder of The Nervous Breakdown, an online culture magazine and literary community.

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Jennifer Shyue on navigating identities and mother tongues in The Common


Jennifer Shyue, translator of Julia Wong Kcomt’s forthcoming Bi-rey-nato, reflects on the different layers of her identity as a Taiwanese-American translator of Spanish. She writes about belonging and/or not belonging in many different cultures, about trying to explain her “hyphenation” to her mother, and about the double-edged sword that is the concept of “a mother tongue.” Read her poignant essay on The Common


Jennifer Shyue is a translator focusing on contemporary Cuban and Asian-Peruvian writers. Her work has been supported by grants from Fulbright, Princeton University, and the University of Iowa and has appeared in 91st Meridian, The Offing, Hyperallergic, and elsewhere. Her translation of Julia Wong Kcomt’s Bi-rey-nato is forthcoming from Ugly Duckling Presse’s Señal chapbook series. She can be found on the web at

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Katherine Silver interviewed in the Believer

Katherine Silver’s translation of Juan Carlos Onetti’s short stories came out in November of this year.

“An elusive puppeteer, a wizard behind a curtain, someone heard but not seen.” Katherine Silver thus describes her work as a translator in a recent interview with The Believer. Silver translated Juan Carlos Onetti’s A Dream Come True which Archipelago published this fall.

“Language-based artistic activity is not self-expression, even if it does start with that as a spark, an initial impulse, but…it then must dive deeply into the only true commons we have, language, and from there craft something beyond the self.” Read more at the link below!

An Interview with Katherine Silver

Alyson Waters and Donald Nicholson-Smith at Albertine

Join our childrens’ book translators Alyson Waters and Donald Nicholson-Smith for a morning of fun and discovery around Claude Ponti’s My Valley and Philippe Fix’s Seraphin.

In My Valley, Ponti leads us on a journey through the enchanted world of the Twims (tiny, extremely lovable, monkey-like creatures), a universe where uprooted buildings soar through the sky, trees keep the secrets you whisper to them, magic seeds grow into huge ships, and singing stones make children’s wishes come true.
In Seraphin, a ticket seller in a metro station underground dreams of gardens full of birdsong, sunny avenues, and flowers. One day, he learns that he has inherited an old, dilapidated house: he and his friend Plume set about building the house of their dreams, and much more besides!

Alyson Waters translated My Valley. She is also a translator of modern and contemporary literary fiction, criticism, and theory, as well as art history. She currently teaches literary translation at NYU and Columbia University.

Donald NicholsonSmith translated Seraphin. He was also nominated for a PEN Award for Poetry in Translation. His translations range from psychoanalysis and social criticism to crime fiction.

This event is in English, for kids ages 5 and up. Free and no RSVP necessary!
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Translating Knausgaard: An Interview with Don Bartlett

Meet Karl Ove Knausgaard’s translator Don Bartlett, interviewed by Scott Esposito for The Paris Review.

When did you first encounter My Struggle?

I went to a panel discussion in London with three Norwegian writers, led by someone I knew was clued up on Norwegian literature. Afterward, I talked to Karl Ove and asked him what he was working on. He said he had just written five—I think it was five—novels. I asked him what about. He said, with a laugh, Myself.

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Generosity: David Ferry on Good Translations



In his commentary to Dialogos: Paired Poems in Translation by George Kalogeris, David Ferry offers some keen words of translation wisdom:

The human quality that a good translation gives evidence of is generosity: the generosity of imagination that can hear and respond to the voice of somebody else which speaks or spoke in another language and place and sometimes time; the generosity that tries to reproduce, in so far as it can, the qualities of that voice, not only the data of what is said, but the feelings, the attitudes, the nuances, the shifts, the hesitations, the intensities, and the degrees of intensities, that he or she hears in that voice of somebody else.

He advances this idea of generosity, exploring the visibility of the translator’s own voice:

What we hear in a good translation is not purely that voice of somebody else but also the voice of the translator registering that effort and its delight. It’s an activity which is at the same time selfless and not selfless. And when that voice of somebody else is the voice of someone great the delight in the effort is exalting, and the delight in that is one of the ways the voice of the translator himself enters in and is heard.

That last line, in its philosophical positioning of two voices that are both unified and distinct, seems to echo the first sentence of John Ashbery’s “The Skaters”:

These decibels
Are a kind of flagellation, an entity of sound
Into which being enters, and is apart.

Check out all of David Ferry’s commentary and the entire, remarkable book of paired poems in translation here.

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Translating the Internet: A Collaboration

Luis von Ahn, inventor of the security feature CAPTCHA and the project Duolingo, proposes a mass translation of the internet, via outsourcing:

Okay, so there’s a lot of things to say about this question. First of all, translating the Web. So right now the Web is partitioned into multiple languages. A large fraction of it is in English.If you don’t know any English, you can’t access it. But there’s large fractions in other different languages, and if you don’t know those languages, you can’t access it. So I would like to translate all of the Web, or at least most of the Web, into every major language. So that’s what I would like to do.

Now some of you may say, why can’t we use computers to translate? Why can’t we use machine translation? Machine translation nowadays is starting to translate some sentences here and there.Why can’t we use it to translate the whole Web? Well the problem with that is that it’s not yet good enough and it probably won’t be for the next 15 to 20 years. It makes a lot of mistakes.Even when it doesn’t make a mistake, since it makes so many mistakes, you don’t know whether to trust it or not.


His solution not only translates the Internet, but also teaches a foreign language to users. The service works both ways!


Check out the TED talk here, with his Duolingo discussion starting around 9:00.


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Benjamin’s “The Task of the Translator” – Part III



A final look at Walter Benjamin’s “The Task of the Translator.” If you haven’t already, check out Part I & Part II.

For the great motif of integrating many tongues into one true language is at work. This language is one in which the independent sentences, works of literature, critical judgments, will never communicate–for they remain dependent on translation; but in it the languages themselves, supplemented and reconciled in their mode of signification, harmonize. If there is such a thing as a language of truth, the tensionless and even silent depository of the ultimate truth which all thought strives for, then this language of truth is–the true language. And this very language, whose divination and description is the only perfection a philosopher can hope for, is concealed in concentrated fashion in translation.

The original text — Benjamin seems to be saying — is itself an approximation of Truth. And so, each translation is a further triangulation around an epicenter of true meaning. Of course, this may call into question the authority of the author, but Benjamin separates the two tasks by designating translation as a “mode.”


He clarifies this difference further, comparing a translator to a philosopher like himself:

There is no muse of philosophy, nor is there one of translation. But despite the claims of sentimental artists, these two are not banausic. For there is a philosophical genius that is characterized by a yearning for that language which manifests itself in translations…[T]ranslation…is midway between poetry and doctrine. Its products are less sharply defined, but it leaves no less of a mark on history.


We should hope that translation — especially the translation of literature — should strike somewhere boldly between poetry and philosophy.


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Comparing Cavafy’s "The City"

my-cavafy-21_display[  from Stahis Orphanos’s MY CAVAFY which pairs Cavafy’s poems with contemporary portraits ]

I just came across this article about comparing translations of Constantin Cavafy’s “The City”, and thought I would throw a few more ideas and translations of the last stanza into the mix.

First, a translation from our own Edmund Keeley and Philip Sherrard (C.P. Cavafy, Collected Poems. Translated by Edmund Keeley and Philip Sherrard. Edited by George Savidis. Princeton University Press, 1992).

You won’t find a new country, won’t find another shore.
This city will always pursue you. You will walk
the same streets, grow old in the same neighborhoods,
will turn gray in these same houses.
You will always end up in this city. Don’t hope for things elsewhere:
there is no ship for you, there is no road.
As you’ve wasted your life here, in this small corner,
you’ve destroyed it everywhere else in the world.

The directness, here, electrifies the voice of Cavafy. The tone feels cavernous and cold, which lets the idea of an inescapable reputation ring and echo throughout. They chose to include contractions. The poem seems to beg to be spoken, something which I tend to  like, and the intimacy helps the drive till the end.

Next, Rae Delven’s 1948 translation lauded by, among others, W.H. Auden:

You will find no new lands, you will find no other seas.
The city will follow you. You will roam the same
streets. And you will age in the same neighborhoods;
and you will grow gray in these same houses.
Always you will arrive in this city. Do not hope for any other–
There is no ship for you, there is no road.
As you have destroyed your life here
in this little corner, you have ruined it in the entire world.

I love the inversion of “Always you will arrive in this city.” The emphasis of “always,” rather than feeling archaic, seems to hammer home the point. Interesting how the next line — “There is no ship for you, there is no road” is exactly the same as Keeley/Sherrard’s. “Destroyed” certainly adds a much different texture than “wasted.”

And, finally, Daniel Mendelsohn’s recent 2009 translation:

You’ll find no new places, you won’t find other shores.
The city will follow you. The streets in which you pace
will be the same, you’ll haunt the same familiar places,
and inside those same houses you’ll grow old.
You’ll always end up in this city. Don’t bother to hope
for a ship, a route, to take you somewhere else; they don’t exist.
Just as you’ve destroyed your life, here in this
small corner, so you’ve wasted it through all the world.

The most colloquial of the three, Mendelsohn’s translation hits the point in a different way, like the hurtful rant of a drunken uncle you admire. For some reason — maybe it’s the relentless commas instead of periods — this translation feels more disparaging. The speaker not only advises against hope, but says “Don’t bother to hope…” Things seem already to have been decided. A life is already “wasted…through all the world.”

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Benjamin’s “The Task of the Translator” – Part II

Continuing our series on Walter Benjamin, Eric selects certain passages from “The Task of the Translator” and relates them to our work at Archipelago:

Translation is so far removed from being the sterile equation of two dead languages that of all literary forms it is the one charged with the special mission of watching over the maturing process of the original language and the birth pangs of its own.


Here, Benjamin emphasizes the dynamic quality of translation. Whereas the original text remains static over centuries, new translations continue to appear with generations, reviving the text, such as Scott Montcrieff’s original English translation (and subsequent revisions/edits) of Proust and Lydia Davis’s recent English translation.


Just as the manifestations of life are intimately connected with the phenomenon of life without being of importance to it, a translation issues from the original—not so much form its life as from its afterlife. For a translation comes later than the original, and since the important works of world literature never find their chosen translators at the time of their origin, their translation marks their stage of continued life.