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The Literary Review - Fall 2006

The Literary Review’s editors chose to begin their fiftieth anniversary year with a translation issue. They also chose Robert Pinsky to write an introduction to translation. And what an introduction it is. I have been a fan of Pinsky since I first read his poem “Shirt” for a workshop. That the former poet laureate has also translated Dante’s Inferno and Czeslaw Milosz’s The Separate Notebooks enables him to speak like the sage that budding translators need. “Translation is also the highest, most intense form of reading,” says he, in “On Translation.” For Pinsky, it is “also the only art that is like writing. All of writing’s difficulties, obsessions, challenges, thrills, impulses and second thoughts apply – everything but what to say next.” Each sentence strews together pearly epithets that, by themselves appear epigrams, and together coalesce to illuminate the artistry of translation. Translations are original too, is the message. After this essay, every piece, every translation in the issue of TLR takes flight from the page. Connotations are lost and new ones are made, like friends. Takashi Hiraide’s For the Fighting Spirit of the Walnut is excerpted, and the translator Sawako Nakayasu notes that in English “fighting spirit” loses a connotation of “fiber,” and “walnut” sheds the other meaning, “wrapping,” which is only the beginning of Hiraide’s puns. In “24,” one of the numbered pieces, he calls the crow his “antagonistic friend.” The meaning is clear, but perhaps more etched in Japanese. In “Jaagup,” a love triangle by the Estonian man of letters Anton Hansen Tammsaare, the spurned woman Leena says to Jaagup, “If I had a boyfriend like you I wouldn’t let anyone else come in… I would rather be alone,” to which Jaagup replies, “Well, you’re not as pretty as Roosi…” Perhaps it is in translation alone that direct address does not make a reader cringe. There is also the effect of clipped sentences that only translations can and nearly always carry. TLR’s done a commendable job of representing a wide range of translators and writers, bringing together texts by Lithuania’s Venclova, the Czech Republic’s Peter Zelenka, Algerian-born French writer Assia Djebar, and others. Savory book reviews appear at the back, including one of Greg Herrige’s JD: A Memoir of a Time and a Journey, which is about the author’s attempt to locate the reclusive J.D. Salinger…the less said about the book and the review the better. This one’s worth reading in print. []
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Review Posted on July 30, 2014

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