Above the lintel of a passageway in Dublin’s Kilmainham Gaol is a quote from Dante that reads: “Abandon all hope all ye who enter here . . .” The struggle for Irish independence mirrors this bleakness, but that struggle also corresponded to a pantheon of literature that no occupation could suppress. In this issue of The Stinging Fly, a literary journal based in Dublin, the Irish spirit is robust enough to signal outward. Not only did the editors cull a magnificent, relentlessly balanced collection of short narratives, they did so through translation. Voices from Brazil, Morocco, Belgium, Italy, China, Rwanda, Poland, Ukraine, Greece, The Netherlands, Spain, Austria and Finland come through translated from their native tongues into a worldwide map of disciplined craft.
Zou Jingzhi’s story “Eight Days,” translated by Jeremy Tiang and marvelously mapped out through a temporal framework, provides a sentence that could stand on its own: “A person inscribed with words became those words, and nothing more than those words.” It is that kind of expression that takes a story immersed in an unfamiliar cultural framework and makes it universal. And yet it fits with the narrative for the plot’s purposes and successfully evades the trap of editorializing. Rather, the story functions on many different and compelling levels, and the wisdom suits it elegantly.
Scholastique Mukasonga’s story of a Tutsi family in Rwanda, “Hunger-Iguifou,” is translated by Melanie Mauthner and portrays a desperate childhood battle with the demon of hunger that the speaker calls Iguifou. “I feel sorry that Death’s door didn’t open for me, sorry that someone came and rescued me from the threshold, for Death’s door is a beauty to behold, I’ve never seen stars so bright!” Her prose glitters on the page and forces an unnamable experience to be named. The story of starvation is almost holy in delivery, as the speaker ends the passionate and unforgettable missive with light once again: “It’s at that point when the memory of that light begins to burn me alive.”
Christos Ikonomou’s short story “People are Strange,” translated by Avgi Daferera, achieves resonance with an outstanding meter and pace to his narration. It begins:
Seven whole months without dreams. Seven whole months. It was the twenty-first of May when I had my last dream. I remember it well because it was the last time it rained at Perama and the surrounding area . . . Lena was celebrating her name-day and I said it was a good sign that it had rained on the same day and I had had a dream after so long. Since then nothing. No rain no dreams.
In reading it, you might find yourself pulled into the cognitive response of certain Lost Generation writers—I did, and was not disappointed by Mr. Ikonomou’s symmetrical ending: “. . . we look at the rain approaching from the west. We look at the black curtain closing slowly and soundlessly, slowly and soundlessly swallowing the shapes the colours the noise of the west.”
Naima El Bezaz’s short piece “Taboo,” as translated from the Dutch by Michael O’Loughlin, is funny and heartbreaking at once. We have lovely meditations on exile—“What kept them going was the dream of return”—along with a shocking plot twist that distinguished the effort as entirely masterful:
I stared at her, speechless. There was no stopping her. It all came out . . . she missed her mother. She missed the Moroccan soil from which she had sprung. She was afraid of the community which was always judging her. She wasn’t free and didn’t know how to protect her children. Her tears were louder than mine.
El Bezaz’s narrator navigates the unsightly tar of depression with an incredible ability to look beyond her own sadness and find healing for a parent who had initially sought emotional redemption through a folk spiritualist. El Bezaz’s voice is resilient and exceptional, looking out.
My mother, president of an expatriate Gaelic Arts society, taught me a lesson that applies to this volume in particular. She said that Ireland rising meant more than an ability to plaster the poetry of Yeats on your walls, which she did, or revel in a Celtic Tiger economic rebirth, which she could not afford to do. What those of her aging Arts society wanted most of all was to come home to an Ireland so phenomenally liberated that it could turn its gaze outward. This journal shows, in a way, its fulfillment of the dream of that Irish diaspora. This journal, which has conquered the four corners of the world in its scope, shows that the Ireland of today is not just kilts and Kells and Molly Malone in bronze. Each interview is magnificent, illuminating, instructive without sacrificing a strong pull towards intellectual engagement. This issue of The Stinging Fly is not just thirteen voices in translation; it is a thoughtful, international literary achievement.