Below are selected essays, recent book reviews and interviews with writers and translators
A beautifully calibrated blend of memoir and essays, Gargoyles is meticulously structured work which looks at the female body in relation to pain, chronic illness, and loss. One of the first things that struck me was the sumptuous language: beautifully crafted sentences, luminous, poetic writing.
MEMORY BOXES, OLD AND NEW
In the days before my hospital procedure, I grow anxious and fearful. I refuse to let the news define my days, but the fear often crawls up at night, when I lose the reflex of self-control. I catch myself slipping into darker thoughts, the ‘what if’ thoughts that inevitably leave me trembling at the possibility of something going wrong. It would have been a straightforward procedure but during the pandemic, the chances of mortality for a Covid carrier increase to one in five, the letter from the Admissions team warns me. I self-isolate for days and weeks, stay away from delivery drivers, don’t kiss my kids goodnight to minimise the risk of losing my life.
On a frosty morning I drive across the city, before being tied up to machines, their beeping sounds overtaking my mind frozen in panic. The procedure goes (almost) to plan; the biopsy results would take some time, I’m told by the consultant. Her eyes (the only part of her face I can get a glimpse of) seem tired but calm, and that’s reassuring. I find myself trapped in the in-between time: after the procedure and before the results, the possibility of dying still lingering. A sinking feeling in my stomach has nested inches away from my body part that radiates pain, while my thoughts swing between the best and the worst case scenarios.
Kafka wrote that ‘the meaning of life is that it stops’. The line comes to mind with a clacking sound in my sleep in the middle of the night,
JENNIFER CROFT IN CONVERSATION WITH NATALIYA DELEVA
Jennifer Croft’s Homesick (Unnamed Press) is a coming-of-age story of a girl named Amy (based closely on Croft) growing up in Oklahoma, homeschooled, and whose childhood is branded by her sister’s diagnosis of systemic lupus erythematosus. Combining text and photographs, the book might also be described as a sort of photo album tracing the sisters’ childhoods. Each medium—language and photography—elucidates the other, carries meaning that is impossible to convey otherwise.
I caught up with Jennifer Croft the day after Olga Tokarczuk—whose book Flights had been translated by Croft—was awarded the Nobel Prize.
A Poignant Memoir by Naja Marie Aidt Grapples with the Trauma of a Tragic Death
I approached When Death Takes Something From You Give It Back: Carl’s Book by Naja Marie Aidt almost blindly, not knowing what to expect, not digging into book reviews; it was the text in its pellucid form that mattered to me. With the very first pages, I sensed it was something special—unsettling, intense, and beautiful at the same time. I was fascinated by the way trauma is exposed here, the way it’s narrated—through fragments, borrowed voices, and memories. This book itself creates a meta-text of grief, giving context to all these voices: other writers, poems written by Carl or by his brother after his death. Going through the pages was like pressing myself toward a sharp edge—painful and unbearable, though there was no going back.
Faces on the Tip of My Tongue by Emmanuelle Pagano: Nataliya Deleva interviews translators Sophie Lewis and Jennifer Higgins
I met Sophie Lewis and Jennifer Higgins at the launch event of Faces on the Tip of My Tongue (Peirene Press) in the cosy bookstore Ink@84.
The conversation unfolded in a relaxed and engaging way, reading excerpts from the book in French and in English, and discussing the translation process. Within the first minutes I was deeply intrigued by the text which I later read in a few short bursts (this is something engraved in Peirene’s philosophy of publishing short books which could be read over a journey or a single sitting). I felt the need to continue this conversation with Sophie and Jennifer and was happy they both agreed.
Emmanuelle Pagano’s book could be described as a collection of short stories or as a fragmented novella. There is a delicate, almost translucent thread entwined in the narrative which provides hints, takes the reader to the next story, like a children’s game, only to discover a new detail, invisible before. What holds these stories together are the re-appearing characters: people on the periphery, be they the loony standing by the road every day at 5pm, waiting for the return of his dead relatives, or the young girl imprisoned in therapy sessions due to killing a fox with her bare hands, or the woman who takes her own life. In all of the interconnected vignettes, different voices take the stage; each one telling the story of a character who might have been briefly sketched in the previous ones, and thus, changing the point of view with each text.
Translating Grief and Silence: Denise Newman on the Work of Naja Marie Aidt
Nataliya Deleva recently spoke with Newman about her approach to translating this deeply personal narrative across various cultural contexts, her proximity to the text and its author, and the role of rhythm in conveying silence on the page.
Nataliya Deleva (ND): Translating is often co-creating, as it is not only the words and sentences of a text being translated, but also their meaning in a different cultural context. How did you find this process, considering this book is so painfully personal? Is grief universal?
Denise Newman (DN): Yes, the translation process touches on the mystery of language. I’ve often marveled at how translations of Bashō’s haikus seem to connect me directly to the moment of his observation. It doesn’t matter that the poem has traveled centuries, oceans, and languages. Maybe this is mostly possible when something is experienced and communicated directly, without any interference—then the original energy, which is outside the conditions of ordinary time and space, stays vital. I think this is what makes translating compelling; you have to go so deeply into a text that you depart from linear time and space. Working on Aidt’s book was hard, though, because of my own interference. She’s my friend, and my sorrow and concern for her sometimes got in the way, particularly while working on the passages that describe the last hours of Carl’s life. Her writing in this part is so direct, I felt as though I were actually present in the nightmare, and often needed to take breaks to clear my head.