In The Fig Tree, deftly translated by Olivia Hellewell, Goran Vojnović portrays three generations of a family whose lives are marked by the disintegration of Yugoslavia and its brutal aftermath.
Jadran’s grandfather Aleksandar was born in Novi Sad in 1925. Long before the Nazis marched through, Aleksandar’s cautious single mother, Ester Aljehin, married a dentist for his name and abruptly left him to settle in Belgrade, where she worked as a nurse. When she “caught sight of the first Nazi uniforms in the city,” fear drove her to move again and she arrived in Ljubljana in February 1942: “Slovenes seemed less intimidating than Serbs,” although they still treated her with suspicion. Years later, her son Aleksandar Dordevic arrives in Buje, Croatia. Employed as a forest warden, he feels like “an outsider with a local-sounding name.” Aleksandar and his pregnant wife Jana settle in Momjan (which later become part of Croatia), in a house he builds with his own hands with its own fig tree. Continue reading Guest Review | The Fig Tree by Goran Vojnović | Istros Books
A Musical Offering is Argentinian author Luis Sagasti’s second novel to appear in English. His first, Fireflies (also published by Charco Press and reviewed for The BookBlast Diary) saw translator Fionn Petch nominated for a TA First Translation Prize in 2018, and this is another fine performance from Petch, convincingly reproducing the author’s erudite but effortless prose, with occasional poetic flourishes.
A Note-Perfect Ode to Wonder
The novel opens with an account of the origins of Johann Sebastian Bach’s Goldberg Variations. Suffering from insomnia, Bach’s patron, Count Keyserling, tasks the composer with devising a piece of music that will lull him to sleep. Once completed, the composition is to be played by virtuoso harpsichordist Johann Gottlieb Goldberg, who will deliver these “musical sleeping pills” until the Count finally dozes off. From here, Sagasti leads us into the twentieth century, introducing two famous recordings of the Goldberg Variations performed by Canadian piano prodigy Glenn Gould, one at the beginning and one near the end of his career. Continue reading Guest Review | Victor Meadowcroft | A Musical Offering, Luis Sagasti | Charco Press
The Moroccan poet, novelist, essayist, and journalist, Tahar Ben Jelloun, is one of France’s most celebrated writers. He has written extensively about Moroccan culture, the immigrant experience, human rights, and sexual identity. An author who intervenes in politics, On Terrorism: Conversations with My Daughter (translated from the French by Aneesa Abbas Higgins) is the third book in a series in which the previous titles are Racism and Islam explained. It takes the form of a semi-imagined dialogue between him and his daughter. Continue reading Review | On Terrorism: Conversations with My Daughter, Tahar Ben Jelloun | Small Axes/HopeRoad
Since the first seven episodes of our weekly series Bridging the Divide: Translation and the Art of Empathy went live in July, there are still eight episodes to look forward to. The hosts, Georgia de Chamberet and Lucy Popescu, interview independent publishers, their authors and highly creative translators filling a unique niche in showcasing myriad inner and outer worlds thereby enriching our literary culture.
When reading, do you “hear” the book as if it is being read to you by the author?
The voice tells us so much about a person. Where they come from, their personality and how they’re feeling. As important as the voices in writers’ heads are those that are heard by readers. Hearing authors and translators talk describe their vision and craft in our Bridging the Divide series will enhance your reading of their books.
Catch up, listen up!
Interview | J.S. Margot, author of the memoir Mazel Tov
What happens when a young Flemish woman at university in Antwerp teaches the four children of an Orthodox Jewish family to earn a bit of extra money? How does her first great love for an Iranian political refugee evolve? Read Henrietta Foster’s review HERE
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Continue reading Podcast LIVE | The latest on Bridging the Divide: Translation and the Art of Empathy
Any thought of escaping home and summer in London for sun, sea and al fresco lunches – paella, gelato, freshly grilled octopus – has been scuppered by the recent global lockdown. The world is at a standstill as we are besieged by Covid-19. Travel plans and holidays have been either postponed or cancelled. A trickle of pictures of lunches by turquoise seas and sun-kissed legs keeping cool under striped umbrellas have only very recently begun to sneak back onto my social media feeds from the lucky few who have managed to get away.
So reading Heaven, Manuel Vilas’s latest collection of poetry and short fiction published by Carcanet Press, translated from the Spanish by poet and Cambridge don, James Womack, abated my craving for the Hispanic sun, cool cobbled church squares and ocean swims. Complex, rich, melancholy, beautiful, biblical and profane, this is one of the finest and most powerful collections of contemporary poetry I’ve read in recent years. Violence, beauty, tenderness, sex and death coexist and have a momentum all of their own, at times even eclipsing the author. Continue reading Guest Review | Rachel Goldblatt | Heaven, Manuel Vilas | Carcanet Press