4000 Listens

I’ve been clocking the listens for Ba Ren Chi on Jamendo by the thousand, and it seems to hit a new threshold every couple of months, but I missed the four thousand mark a week or so ago. 4000 listens! Fantastic! Hello, listeners!

In the meantime, since I can’t release a single on Jamendo and then include it as part of an album (I don’t like this feature), I released a single through LANDR’s distribution system, which puts it out on Spotify, Deezer, iTunes/Apple Music, Tidal, and elsewhere. It is called “Fata Morgana,” and here it is on Spotify. I plan to include it in the album I’m working on, to be released through Jamendo, which will be number two for Ba Ren Chi. The title of the album is still in flux: Ba Ren Chi Ni is possible (ni means “two” in Japanese), but I also like “Attacca,” the term for when there is no break between movements in a multi-movement composition. We’ll see.

This particular tune, and this concept, has stuck with me, so there was an earlier version under a different name released in, I think, January of 2021, which feels like three years ago. Anyway, it has legs, and I might still be working on it, so the final version for the album might take a slightly different form. We’ll see about that too.

The LANDR distribution system tracks plays wherever they happen, unlike the Jamendo system, which just tells you how many there are, so I know that Peru continues to be the place where my music is finding the most listeners. Hola peruanos! I also have exactly one “monthly listener” on Spotify, and that person is in Montevideo, Uruguay. (Espero que estés leyendo esto, my friend.) This makes me so happy!

People Reading Kin

I’ve been very happy to see several positive reviews of Kin in the past few days since its official release.

Sarah McEachern’s piece in the LA Review of Books, “Entangled in Family: On Miljenko Jergović’s Kin and Semezdin Mehmedinović’s My Heart,” takes the title and the book’s biggest thematic thread as its main focus, with special emphasis on what it means to be from a place, especially one that no longer exists, and the limitations and possibilities of language. Her essay also takes a comparative approach by viewing Kin in relation to Celia Hawkesworth’s new translation of Mehmedinović’s 2017 novel.

The review just published at The Modern Novel relates a good deal of the book’s plot, including the relationships of the main characters and the core tragedy that links them together. It contains a couple of basic errors. A small one is a reference to the length in the final line, “The book is 800 pages long but I was not bored for a minute,” which makes its point twice over in a sense, since the book is actually 900 pages long (so they must be sailing by such that one doesn’t even notice the page count). A bigger one has to do with the book’s genre, which the reviewer refers to as “a family novel”; actually, the reviewer claims that the author calls the book “a family novel.” But this is the genre designation only for part two; the first part is called “a presentation,” part three “quartets,” part four “a report,” part five “inventories,” part six “fictions,” and the final part is “history, photographs.” These designations name the literary kind as a way of helping readers orient themselves. The book’s overall genre is always in question, which is why I was impressed by the focus in all three reviews on what sort of book this is and what sort of author Jergović is.

Duncan Stuart’s “Leskov Amongst the Tombstones: On Miljenko Jergović’s Kin,” published at Exit Only, takes on this topic directly:

One of the perplexities of Kin is how to classify it.  It has been referred to as an “epic”, a “saga”, a “family novel”, a “chronicle” and an “historical fiction.” Many of the sections in the chapter ‘Inventories’, however, read like essays.”

Stuart’s claim that in fact Jergović should be thought of first and foremost as a storyteller is a notion announced in the piece’s subtitle, “The Storyteller and the Legacy of Annihilation” and then made explicit:

[Walter] Benjamin says that Herodotus was “the first storyteller of the Greeks.” Herodotus’ task was, according to Hannah Arendt, to “save human deeds from the futility of oblivion.” This task of the storyteller, to at least save something temporarily from oblivion, to stave off forgetting a while longer, is how Jergović understands storytelling too.

This commitment to storytelling as an act of salvation, Stuart suggests, has a major consequence for reading:

This commitment to storytelling, to understanding Jergović as not a novelist but a storyteller, helps explain the repetitions and reintroductions of family members that pepper the book. For these repetitions invoke a sense that this is, more than anything, a collection of stories, to be read in any order.

This strikes me as a fine insight into Jergović’s writing, and I would add only two thoughts. First, the approach implies aspects of realism in an almost Tolstoyan sense: there are things that are true of life that literary conventions often omit or twist into other forms: you don’t introduce characters unless you’re going to do something with them; you don’t have two characters with the same name; you build to the set piece and give readers the set piece, etc. In other words, literature is neat but life is sloppy, so any commitment to realism requires that one toy with the conventions of literature. And second, in a somewhat different vein, the book performs its subject by telling stories in the manner that large families tell stories–with repetitions, variations, and a constant inventive impulse.

Kin’s Arrival, blogging, and podcasting

My copy of Kin came in the mail a few days ago, all 911 pages of it. It made the mailbox sag a bit. I didn’t have time to think much about it at the time, but since then I have scrolled back through the blog that I kept while translating the book beginning in May of 2015 with a post called “Big New Book.”

Some of them really take me back, and one that I re-read today actually gave me a shiver as I remembered the sense of discovery I was feeling almost daily at the time. I had gone to Zagreb to meet Miljenko Jergović and then travel on to Sarajevo, where so much of the book takes place. Actually, just the other day it occurred to me that much of the book is a leave taking of sorts, both with the city of his youth and with his mother, and the two are intertwined to the very end.

The September 2017 post, which is called “Description of a Description of a Place,” is now also available as a podcast, just like this post, as it’s a technology that has been tempting me for a few months, and I finally took the plunge. The blog, in the meantime, has acquired categories, one of which is “Reflections on Kin” (where there are some 45 posts over the past five years of working on the book) while another is “On Translation,” which features all of the Kin posts but also a number of others related to other aspects of translation. At this point, there are about a dozen episodes of the podcast, all available on RadioPublic, Spotify, Pocketcasts, Google Podcasts, and Breaker.

The hosting platform, which is called Anchor, and is linked to WordPress, makes all the linkages pretty easy to manage, and the production process for the podcasts itself is intuitive and even rather fun.

Three Rubaiyat

(Feel free to listen to this post as a podcast on Spotify if you’d like.)

Cleaning up my office, I found these three translated rubaiyat (in Russian rubai) by the Uzbek author Sabit Madaliev that I must have translated in about 2005 or so. They were published back then in an earlier incarnation of eXchanges magazine, which, being in an online format from those days, has not been preserved in an accessible form. So I’m guessing no one will be bothered if I put them up here along with Sabit’s originals. Plus, I don’t know what else to do with these old stray papers.

If you don’t know the format of the rubaiyat, you’ll figure it out, even through my slantedness.

Повернулась судьба пустотою экрана,

где по белому белым и всё без обмана.

Я в бессонных ночах без тебя заблудился,

как весло, унесённое в даль океана.

Fate turned with the emptiness of a screen

where white is white and all pristine.

I lost myself in sleepless nights without you,

like an oar carried far out to the sea.

У предела души моей, где преломляeтся свет,

на веранде, где ты всё сидишь ещё, кутаясь в плед,

там меня уже нет, но хранят твои вещи мой взгляд,

как деревья хранят неземное дыханье планет.

At my soul’s border, where light splinters,

on the balcony where you still sit, bundling in a blanket,

I am absent, though your things keep my gaze,

as trees keep the foreign breath of planets.

Здесь вновь я обездолен в час земной,

и вынужден колодец рыть иглой.

Но только здесь о родине заплакать

могу я неожиданно порой.

Here once more I’m burdened with earth time,

constrained to dig a well with a thimble.

But it’s only here that I can mourn my homeland,

unexpectedly, once in a while.

Now I just wish I could find the book that these came from.