Page 46


each in a somewhat familiar context. Each selection is accompanied by a short introduction to the work, the author, and a historical and literary context. Helpful translator’s notes are sensibly placed. Opening with the section titled “Children Crossing” was a wise move. Anyone who has spent a significant amount of time in a foreign country knows that children will teach you the most important aspects of a culture, and the vocabulary you need to understand them, very quickly. Children, after all, are maneuvering similar territory. My only regret is that most of the works here are excerpts, and no matter how well chosen \(and these are well chosen, be haunted by the idea that the story will continue in its original language without you. Jonathan Cole’s excerpted translation of Mario Benedetti’s “La borra del caf” with a perplexing problem: The adults are so engrossed in watching the flight of the Graf Zeppelin that the children feel as though they no longer exist. As the children disperse to play, they find the corpse of the local tramp, Dandy \(so named because, no matter how dirty or ragged, he never appeared without of Hans Christian Andersen’s “Mit livs reads exactly like a fairy tale, though it is a memoir. Instead of evil stepmothers or cruel siblings of another species, the greatest antagonist seems to be Andersen’s unbelievable innocence and navet in early 19th century Copenhagen. Upon finding the Danish translator of Shakespeare, Admiral Peter Wulff, at home, Andersen is said to have announced: “You have translated Shakespeare, and I like him so much; but I have also written a tragedy. Just listen!” E. Jay Tkachuk follows with a selection from a contemporary Ukrainian novel depicting the invasion of the Mongols and Christianity into Rus \(modern day chosen to focus on a father’s efforts to preserve the worship of native Slavic pagan gods. “War and Its Aftermath” includes two moving first-person accounts of political and personal helplessness and frustration in the face of military invasions. The first is Traci Andrighetti’s rendition of Ada Gobetti’s memoir of Italian resistance. Gobetti, who was at the center of secret activity against Mussolini, describes the moment of the Nazi invasion. The excerpt from Gobetti is complemented by the excerpt of Panamanian Mirie Mouynes’ novel ing the U.S. invasion of Panama in 1989. Like Gobetti, Mouynes’ two schoolboy narrators are frozen in the lull before anything has occurred. “My country: the bridge of the world, the heart of the universe. My country: small, alone, afraid,” thinks Miguel, one of the boys, after he realizes his parents have decided to do nothing about the pending invasion. “Through the Looking Glass” effectively pairs another Old World-New World duet, this time, as the section title might imply, with a surreal twistone that involves food, or rather, the shortage of it. Zoya Marincheva’s translation of three of Stefan Bonev’s post-socialist era stories from Bulgaria prompts me to confess that I adore this kind of literature, born as it is of a society that once tried to create pop culture heroes of scientists. I love the mock-sentimentalism, the brilliant self-effacement that gently and good-naturedly jabs the unsuspecting person overhearing the self-effacing utterances. Bonev plays on the stereotype of a fatalistic people passive before fate in “His Real Name”: This is not exactly a storyor at least not the story I would’ve like to write. This is the story I did write. It’s not even a story; it’s the truth, or the truth that came out, not the truth I wanted it to be. Yet, to some extent this is my truth, no matter how much I might dislike how it went. God grant this truth be your truth, too, even though you might not like it. And poking fun at the sacredness of truth, he adds, “No matter how I choose to do it, a grain of subjectivity would always color what is actually considered the truth.” “Feta Cheese,” my favorite, recounts the experience of waiting in a queue for the above-mentioned item, which is absolutely essential for the christening ceremony of the narrator’s daughter. Of course, the wait takes much longer than was expected. Bonev is paired with the Argentinian Fermando Sorrentino’s cleverly titled “Habits of the Artichoke.” While skillfully translated by Michele McKay Aynesworth, it seemed too predictable. y favorite section is corn -1\\4 prised of the Berber Mririda n’Ait Attik’s poetry. Jane H. Chamberlain works from a French translation, but it’s difficult to imagine that the French or the original Berber were much more evocative. The poetry plunges the reader into the gorgeous, sensual world of an ancient village in Morocco. Though the poems were written in the 1940s, they feel much older. They belong to a world inhabited by gods and saints, wool, stones, nature, and love. Woven through this rich tapestry are the golden threads of the poet’s singular voice. At times sarcastic \(berating an ungrateful lover other times reverent, \(praising the beauty of the world, relating village customs special frog known for its cry, is always fully present. I was skeptical when I first opened this book, but mostly because of the group’s emphasis on the process of putting together an anthology. About two pages into it, though, my misgivings fell completely away. The collaborative approach was sound, the imagination delightful. Though several of the texts could have been spun as “exotic,” coming as they do from rarely-heard-of places, the group resisted this temptation. The result is as much a “making the familiar strange” as it is “making the strange familiar.” The blending of the two yields a satisfying, fun, and edifying read. Marcela Sulak is a writer in Austin. For more information about the Austin Area Translators and Interpreters Association, check out their web site, . 12/19/03 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 23