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Decide that you like college life. In your dorm you meet many nice people. Some are smarter than you. And some, you notice, are dumber than you. You will continue, unfortunately, to view the world in exactly these terms for the rest of your life.

Lorrie Moore


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Sunday, May third, 2009

El Papa vendrá, nos conseguirá relaciones

Relaciones, visitas y olanzapina para todas, por favor.
The highlight of this issue of Zoetrope: All-Story is certainly the last story, "Tuesday Meetings" by Slavko Zupcic. It's the story of Benedict's drive-by benediction of a mental institution, as told by the inmates of the institution; specifically by schizophrenic René, who publishes the Haloperidol Eye with minutes of their Tuesday meetings with Ismael, the resident psychiatrist. The story is complex, dense, subtle, and hilariously funny; I'm not going to write about it right now because I'm still a fair ways away from understanding the Spanish text, but hopefully will return to it later on. This story by itself is worth the price of the issue; I'm definitely thinking about seeking out some of Zupcic's other work. I see he has written a book billed as a "children's novel", Giuliana Labolita: el caso de Pepe Toledo -- who knows? that might be right at my reading level. This story does not seem to be available online (no, this is wrong: the story is readable in English only at Zoetrope's site); another story of his, "Réquiem" can be read at piedepágina.com.

posted afternoon of May third, 2009: Respond
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Reading as therapy

Apologies for a not-fully-coherent post, I'm just trying to get a bunch of stuff that's on my mind out here and not editing much.

¿Por qué no me importa parecer un irresponsable cuando tu saliva permanece aún fresca sobre mis labios? ¿Por qué detengo a los desconocidos en la calle y les hablo de ti? ¿Por qué se me caen las cosas de las manos cuando creo que te acercas?

The story I posted about below, "Asemblea los martes" by Slavko Zupcic, is just lovely to read aloud and listen, without the stream of language being fully comprehensible at reading-aloud speed. This is like the experiences I was having with recordings of spoken Spanish earlier this year -- or like reading e.g. Faulkner or Pynchon can be, where I slip in and out of understanding language as sentences containing meaning, and hearing language as melodic, rhythmic bits of sound.* So all this is keeping in mind Dave Barber's post from Thursday, "What We Lose in Growing Up" -- the way that post resonates for me is with my constant need to craft a narrative that justifies what I'm doing, that points out how I am productively enabling my development into a better person. I was thinking, the moment of joy in the reading aloud, the unreflective perceiving language as sound, is a moment where this narrative is absent; what I'm doing now is constructing the narrative around that moment, where what I'd really like to be able to do is to communicate the moment of rapture. Not quite sure where to go from that...

Porque sí. Porque ya hemos enviado las tarjetas. Porque las invitaciones quedaron bellísimas. Porque les pusimos los cruasanes míos y las tamaras de Ernesto. Porque las hicimos con cartulina rosada. Porque les dibujamos corazones por todas partes. ...

posted afternoon of May third, 2009: Respond
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Tuesday, June 15th, 2010

Borges the storyteller (part III of...)

The anniversary of Borges' death just passed -- got me thinking of a couple of things, principally that I should get back to my translation of Réquiem by Slavko Zupcic (in which Zupcic "accidentally" kills Borges); and also about which Borges fictions would be the best ones to start out with for a new reader. (This thanks to a Facebook post of Matt Dickerson's, in which he suggested "The Library of Babel" as a starting point.)

I was thinking there might be a good argument for starting off with any of:

  • "Tlön, Ukbar, Orbis Tertius" -- Donald Taylor mentioned in that thread that he had not yet read the story of "The Library of Babel" but he appreciated the puzzle of it -- I think Tlön and Babel and the other stories in Garden of Forking Paths (part I of Ficciones) are a great starting point if you are primarily interested (or even "strongly interested") in the intellectual-puzzles aspect of Borges' work.
  • "Funes, His Memory" -- this was the first thing I thought of, because I had read it quite recently and been really taken with the quality of Borges' voice and of his narrative. This is the first story in Artifices, which is part II of Ficciones and postdates part I by three years. Drawing of character is much stronger here than in any of his earlier stories.
  • "The Immortal" -- This is the first story in The Aleph, published 5 years after Ficciones. A wonderful, wonderful story and a good introduction to the role of time and of infinity in Borges' fictions.
In the end I would probably go with "Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius" just because having it be one's first taste of Borges seems like a sort of canonical experience among people I know who like his work. But probably would suggest that my interlocutor skip ahead to some later work next instead of reading straight through The Garden of Forking Paths. Certainly I would recommend either starting with the translations in Collected Fictions or with those in Labyrinths.

(Of course I am hoping the person I am recommending these stories to will feel moved to read much more of his work -- these three stories seem sort of like good vehicles for figuring out if you are interested in reading more, I don't by any means think that these three stories in isolation would be particularly enlightening.)

posted evening of June 15th, 2010: 4 responses
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Thursday, June 17th, 2010

Réquiem

I've gotten a little bogged down in the translation process for Réquiem -- I thought I would try writing out some summary data as a way of helping myself get a handle on the story:

Slavko (to be precise, his narrator Felipe; having no information to the contrary I am identifying the author pretty closely with the narrator) discovers on June 14, 1986 (he is 16 years old, like I was that year) a strange power: by stealing a book from the shop of his family's friend Fernández and reading the book, he can cause the book's author to perish. The first to go is Borges (as you can see from the date) -- you have to be able to forgive this as an accident, after all he could not have known beforehand what his theft would entail -- and a few days later a local author, a young dentist whose name is never given named Benjamín Castro; Felipe stole his book of poetry seeking to confirm whether Borges' death had been his fault. Then in awe of his power, he does not exercise it for several years. But one thing leads to another...

Slavko kills Bioy Casares, by stealing a copy of Morel's Invention on March 8th, 1999. This precipitates the end of his relationship with Susana M (who he believes was already interested in the faculty dean anyways).

The next to go is José Ángel Valente, on July 18th, 2000, after Felipe steals a collection of his poetry. Here we see Felipe going off the deep end -- he embarks on a career of murdering authors just before he publishes an essay about the author -- Juan José Arreola dies on December 3, 2001; Arturo Úslar Pietri (February 26, 2001), Camilo José Cela (January 17, 2002), "and the majority of the authors whom we've seen disappear in the last few years" (not clear on the precise date of the story -- it was published in Piedepágina in 2008 but may well have been written, and set, a few years before that) -- people begin to notice the sequence of coincidences, the head of his department eventually calls him out. The ending is a nice twist that I don't want to give away...

This story interests me a bit by the way it draws on and amplifies the theme of the recent Latin American issue of Zoetrope (which is where I found out about Zupcic), the passing of an older generation of Latin American authors and the coming into their own of new authors with new voices and styles.

posted afternoon of June 17th, 2010: 2 responses
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Thursday, September 23rd, 2010

Publication!

(Well not until next summer, but still...) I got word today from Words Without Borders that they love my translation of Réquiem and are going to publish it in their "Homages" issue next July. I'm tremendously excited about this! I remember a line of Edith Grossman's to the effect that the way to be a translator is to assert that you are a translator, to just go ahead and do it; and now I feel like I am a translator, like I am going ahead and doing it. I also heard from John Carvill of the brand-new site oomska that he wants to publish my translation of Pablo Antonio Cuadra's "Black Boat". This is great... I think I will look around for a new story to start working on, maybe something by Soledad Puértolas.

posted evening of September 23rd, 2010: 8 responses
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Tuesday, March 22nd, 2011

The book thief

The New York Review of Books publishes Bolaño's story of stealing books in México DF and in Santiago after the coup, in Natasha Wimmer's translation -- Between Parentheses is coming out next month! (Jeremy Garber reviews it for 3%.) And of course this story makes me think about Slavko Zupcic's story "Réquiem", which will be published in (my) translation this summer...

Bolaño names Camus' The Fall as the book "that saved me from hell and plummeted me straight back down again... After Camus, everything changed." He stole his copy of The Fall from the Librería Cristal by "carrying it out in plain sight of all the clerks, which is one of the best ways to steal and which I had learned from an Edgar Allan Poe story" -- only to have it confiscated later by security guards at another bookstore.

Very nice bit in this story about meeting Mexican authors on the Calle del Niño Perdido, the Street of the Lost Boy, "a teeming street that my maps of Mexico City hide from me today, as if Niño Perdido could only have existed in my imagination, or as if the street, with its underground stores and street performers had really been lost, just as I got lost at the age of sixteen." It is not on modern maps because the street has been renamed the Eje Central Lázaro Cárdenas; but the street's old name has a romantic story behind it, per Ritos y Retos del Centro Historico.

posted evening of March 22nd, 2011: Respond
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Thursday, September first, 2011

Homage

The September issue of Words Without Borders is online today; the featured story is my translation of Requiem, by Slavko Zupcic.

posted morning of September first, 2011: 2 responses
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Sunday, September 4th, 2011

Immigrant Father

The epigraph to Zupcic's collection Dragi Sol* is from Vicente Gerbasi's poem My Father the Immigrant:

¿Qué fuego de tiniebla, qué círculo de trueno,
cayó sobre tu frente cuando viste esta tierra?


What fire of darkness, what circle of thunder,
Fell over your visage when you beheld this land?
(making no claims for the quality of that translation/transliteration; I have not read the rest of the poem yet so I don't have any context) -- Gerbasi, a key figure of Venezuelan poetry in the 20th Century, was a son of Italian immigrants; Zupcic's father is an immigrant from Croatia. Several of the stories in this collection are told from the point of view of a Venezuelan named Vinko Spolovtiva, concerning his (absent) Croatian father.

* Dragi is Croatian for "Dear", the salutation at the top of a letter. The story "Letters toward writing a novel" consists in part of letters written by Zlatica Didic to his siblings, and his son, narrating, comments, "There is a word which opens most of the letters: Dragi. According to Bozidar, who translated them, this means something like "dearest". I decided not to translate it: it has a sweet sound, a nice sound. Nigmar thinks it looks like a sunstone -- that seems right to me."

posted afternoon of September 4th, 2011: Respond
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Tuesday, September 13th, 2011

Cerulean

A lovely passage from "The Return", the first story in Zupcic's Dragi Sol.

He walked down to the beach. He carried in his eyes the blue of his childhood seas. There would be no point in trying to compare it to this other blue, the blue of America: even if all the world's seas flowed into one sea and all the earth were a single mountain, the blue which was dampening his feet would never be the same as that of his eyes, as that whose gleam he had sought out from the bell tower of the cathedral in Rikeja, from the tall houses of Sibenik, forty years ago.
An interesting translation puzzle -- the narrator in this story (and throughout Dragi Sol) refers to Croatian boys as "niños cerulei", an Italian adjective modifying a Spanish noun. My impulse would be to translate this as "cerulean boys" but I don't think that's quite right, I've never heard "cerulean" used to mean "blue-eyed"...

posted evening of September 13th, 2011: Respond

Friday, October 28th, 2011

Dragi Sol

The story "Cartas para escribir una novela" is the central piece in Zupcic's book Dragi Sol -- all the stories are meditations on the narrator's relationship with his absent immigrant father, this story is likely the most successful. I think it is the heart of the work. Read the opening to get an idea of the voice he is developing and the complexity of narrative style he is achieving.

Postcards: towards a novel.

by Slavko Zupcic

The personal journal of Vojislav Didic
(Notes on the life of my father, Zlatica Didic;
his postcards and photos. His memory.)
for Leticia Z

"Huyo de mi semejante;
en todo semejante hay un doble."
-- Georges Braque
Yes -- I know what Anton said on his recent visit, I know all he said; but this will not be the day I regret having translated, having copied out fresh, written out on good white paper my father's old postcards. Quite the contrary: there is something to having saved these cards from oblivion, something enchanting, something heartening -- the marvel of seeing a new world, a new universe, just an ocean away from my own. Some -- the majority -- were written in Serbo-Croatian; others in a mix of English and French, a jargon my father picked up as he made his way through Europe during the Second World War; and a few letters, two or three, written in Spanish, a Spanish peppered liberally with Serbian idiom. Almost all were sent from my father to his brother Vinko Didic (Hrastovica, zp: Petrinja), and to his best friend in Yugoslavia, Stevo Valec (L.R. 168, Karlovac); also to Ankika Car in the United States (R.R.I. Box 118A, Hobart, Ind.), who was his first girlfriend, and Van Hecke Zimmerman (Junín 1689D, 1233 Buenos Aires), a German engineer my father had met on board the Fontainbleau -- not the legendary ship, one built in imitation of it which sailed the Atlantic Ocean for many years under an Argentine flag. The others are replies to his letters, from Vinko, Stevo, Ankiko and others my father wrote to occasionally.

Of his siblings, my uncles and aunt, Vinko was the only one he wrote to very frequently, and the only one he received letters from. He wrote a few times to Marko and to Nikolas. Never to Anna, or if he did those letters were among those that we destroyed, my sister and I, ten years ago. We know her name and where she lived (Leigh Creek, S.A., Australia), because these points are mentioned frequently in the letters, as are the corresponding data for Zlatko -- how he sings, how he pisses. And Zlatko, he never could have written to my father: dead men*, as dead as he has been for the past 40 years, do not write.

*Information in my father's letters suggests that Zlatko Didic died in 1944, fighting with partisan troops against a German convoy, drilled through by a bullet from the Nazi front.

Anton B., an old Yugoslavian diplomat in the service of the Italian government and lately a friend of our family, had no trouble confirming the date and locale of my uncle Zlatko Didic's demise. Where his skepticism lay was with the circumstances under which it took place. Indeed he appears to be taken with a complex theory which suggests that not even the address we have for my aunt Anna is accurate.

(I think "Correspondence" would actually be a better word to use in the title and header.)

posted evening of October 28th, 2011: Respond

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