Editing and Self-editing

I think about the importance of editing often as I’m working. Partly this is because I am also editing other people’s writing as I write and translate. It is easier to separate these activities when the writing is of very different kinds, but sometimes they cross paths, and then I have to be careful that the voice of one first-person narration does not slip into another first-person narration. That, I think, is happening with this post. It sounds to me a bit like the narrator in Vassilis Alexakis’s Mother Tongue (La langue maternelle), the English translation of which (by Harlon Patton) I am editing for Autumn Hill as I work on Kin. Alexakis has a lovely first-person narrator’s voice, but it is quite different from Jergovic’s. How they are different would take me too long to figure out–I need to get back to both!–but here is a very brief example of the kind of editing that seems to be absolutely essential in both the self-performed and the other-performed kinds.

Re-reading a recently translated passage, I came across this phrase, which ends a section in which the narrator has commented on the disappearance of an entire line of relatives from the past: “Mi smo u rodu s fantomima i duhovima.” I am somewhat embarrassed to admit that my draft version had “We are the relatives of phantoms and spirits,” which is basically what the phrase means but misses an obvious connection to the very title of the book, which is explicit in the expression, “u rodu s…” (in relation to…). The slight change to “We are kin to phantoms and spirits” raises the register ever so slightly and strikes for the whole line a more effective, more moving tone.

I find myself looking at every sentence this way, which is of course no way to finish on time but gives me so much more pleasure than just rushing forward to get through the pages (and pages). It will be a better book, I hope, as a result of these little things.

Prehistoric Times

Alyson Waters has a fantastic translation of Eric Chevillard’s Prehistoric Times, which was published a couple of years back by Archipelago Books. I liked it so much that I reviewed it. Here is the first paragraph:

“Under the influence of having just completed this book—and let me note at the outset that the influence is hard to resist—I feel like I could starprehistorictimes2t just about anywhere in reviewing it, so why not a footnote. There is just one in the book, but what a footnote, extending over two pages, explicative, digressive, apt, entertaining, and, best of all, delivered in the voice of the translator, Alyson Waters. We can say more (since, too impatient to wait for the French book to arrive in the mail, I wrote to the translator to ask): what in the world could the author have written in French that would translate so well into such a translator’s note? Answer: nothing at all! Or next to nothing. The author merely opens a window in his text (here in Waters’s translation): ‘Professor Glatt gave me the clef that opens the gate, for I am not a man to write clé when it is possible to write clef, even if in so doing I compel the translators of my tale to slow down—and I trust they see no malevolence where none intended; I would gladly let them have a full page to express this slight difference in leisurely, creative circumambages that will even further delay me taking up my post….’ His sentence goes on, as do many in this exquisitely prolix little book, but this is where the footnote marker is placed, so let’s stop where Waters’ footnote begins in order to consider its context and what she accomplishes in writing it.”

Okay, that’s enough. If I quote more, I could be infringing on copyright, which makes me very afraid. You can read the rest here! if you’re interested.ForeignWords

I should note that this is not the first time that Waters has taken my breath away by her work. Her translation of Vassilis Alexakis’s Foreign Words was just the second book that Autumn Hill Books published. I think it is still one of the very best.

This book again

We’ve launched a new magazine, Em Dash. Here’s the pithy content description:

In its first issue, there is poetry by Taejoon Moon, translated by Christopher Merrill and Won-Chung Kim, a Q&A with AHB’s senior editor (me), and an excerpted essay from Children of the Monsoon, by David Jimenez, translated by Andrea Rosenberg. Jimenez is the Asia Bureau Chief for the Spanish newspaper El Mundo and has been reporting from Asia for nearly twenty years. His book is a compilation of essays on young people from Afghanistan, Mongolia, the Philippines, North Korea, China, Indonesia, and more. It is a terribly good book.

The piece Sarah has chosen for Em Dash‘s first issue is called “Vothy,” which is the name of a delightful little Cambodian girl with AIDS. Her mother is with her in the hospital. She is sick, too. Here is an excerpt:

VothyPic“Sokgan has never understood how that scrawny, feeble man who promised her a new life in the city could have the strength after an arduous workday to pedal another eleven kilometers to the brothels of Svay Pak, on the outskirts of the city, to spend his day’s earnings there. But it’s too late now for regrets. She is lying naked, too weak to feign modesty about the body she no longer recognizes as her own, in a room on the third floor of the Russian hospital in Phnom Penh.”

The essay and the whole first issue of Em Dash is available here: (scroll down to “from the magazine”). The book comes out next month.

This book

Children of the Monsoon Cover 150 dpiIt’s a different one. Not one I’ve written but one I’ve edited, on its way out, translated by Andrea Rosenberg from the Spanish original by David Jimenez. The title is Children of the Monsoon. It’s a difficult book, not something you pick up in an airport, unless you’re of a serious bent, not traveling for pleasure. If you pick it up like that, you might not only not like the book, you might cut your trip short. If there is something that is the opposite of travel literature, this would probably qualify. Travel lit often makes one feel like traveling. Not this. At least not for me. My response in reading the book was to feel guilty about all the traveling I’ve done.

Why? Because these are clear-eyed portraits, not the sorts of things one sees in one’s dreams of traveling to far away places. Here you see people up close, especially young, vulnerable people. This is why I find it hard to read. But sometimes hard things are important. I felt these hard stories were important and worth reading. Jimenez has a sincere voice, a careful eye. He seems to have a good heart. Rosenburg has done a fantastic job in making the voice sing in English. It’s a really good book, and it has taught me things about the world that I didn’t know before. I am grateful that we got the chance to publish it, and I hope many people will find it compelling and beautiful. I think it is both.