Posts Tagged ‘Olga Tokarczuk’

What’s next for Man Booker winners Olga Tokarczuk and Jennifer Croft? A 900-page epic – in English next year.

Tuesday, June 19th, 2018
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Author Olga Tokarczuk and translator Jennifer Croft (Photo: Janie Airey/Man Booker Prize)

We posted about last month’s big win for Olga Tokarczuk and Jennifer Croft, winners of the Man Booker International Prize for the Polish author’s Flights (Fitzcarraldo Editions). Croft is the translator. She also translates from the Spanish and Ukrainian and is the founding editor of the Buenos Aires Review. In a new interview in Scroll, she discusses her craft. A few excerpts:

The original Polish title of Flights, which is Beiguni (or Wanderers), gestures to the Slavic sect who have rejected settled life. I also read elsewhere that an early title for the book was Runners. Tell us about your choice for the English title – and how this captures the book’s central themes.

Signing books in London.

The original title of the novel is Bieguni, which comes from a Slavic root that means “to run”. But the word in Polish is a strange one – not a word people use, though they would recognise the root. The word “runners” in English is much more prosaic, much less evocative. I chose a word I thought would accurately reflect Olga’s tendency throughout her work to create networks of associations, a tactic that is especially important in a book like this one, where fragments may appear at first glance to be disconnected from one another, yet in reality they’re linked conceptually as well as though subterranean formal bonds, including the resurgence in different sections of related words. “Flights” suggests plane travel, imagination (“flights of fancy”), fleeing (which is closer to the original Polish title), etc.

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It’s taken a decade for the English-language version to hit the bookshelves since the book was first published in Poland. And for this reason Tokarczuk has said that while she’s pleased it has gained renewed pertinence, she also feels “conversationally jet-lagged” talking about it now. With this distance in mind, what are your thoughts on translations as the after-lives or second-lives of a book?

This is a fascinating topic that also gets at the question of what a translation is, whether it constitutes its own artwork, how independent it can be from an original, how independent an original can be from it. I’m planning to write more about this in the future.

***

You’re also translating Tokarczuk’s magnum opus, the 900-page epic The Books of Jacob, which won the “Polish Booker” [That would be the Nike – ED.], and which is slated to be released in 2019. What can readers expect?

Olga Tokarczuk’s The Books of Jacob is a monumental novel that delves into the life and times of the controversial historical figure Jacob Frank, leader of a heretical Jewish splinter group that ranged the Habsburg and Ottoman Empires and the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, seeking basic safety as well as transcendence. Tokarczuk’s twelfth book, considered by many critics to be her masterpiece, The Books of Jacob is also a suspenseful and entertaining novel that remained a national bestseller for nearly a year after its November 2014 release.

Although set in the eighteenth century, The Books of Jacob invokes a decidedly twenty-first century zeitgeist. It encourages its readers to reexamine their histories and reconsider their perspectives on the shape Europe will take in coming years. It celebrates and problematises diversity in its plot and characters. It subtly participates in the debates dividing Europe – and the world – on how to protect tolerance, how to define intolerance, how to set and abide by the limits of contemporary sovereignty, and on specific issues such as how to handle an influx into Central Europe of refugees in both practical and moral terms.

Read the whole Q&A here.

Fitzcarraldo publisher Jacques Testard: “He is the best thing that has happened to the anglophone literary world in years.”

Thursday, May 31st, 2018
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Translator Jennifer Croft, author Olga Tokarczuk, publisher Jacques Testard at the Man Book International Prize.

A few days ago, we discussed a remarkable man, Jacques Testard, founding publisher of Fitzcarraldo Editions. The tony new house published this year’s winner of the Man Booker International Prize, Olga Tokarczuk‘s FlightsI quoted friend and editor extraordinaire Daniel Medin of the American University of Paris, who was in London for last week’s ceremony:

Author and translator at signing

But in the applause for the author (and in this case translator, too), many forget the role of the publisher. Not Daniel, who also had praise for Fitzcarraldo Editions and its founding publisher Jacques Testard, with whom he has worked closely at The White Review for many years. “He is the best thing that has happened to the anglophone literary world in years. Firstly, for co-founding The White Review, which helped launch the careers of so many compelling English-language writers in the UK and in translation. Then, for Fitzcarraldo, which has brought the work of intrepid writers like John Keene, Kate Briggs and Claire-Louise Bennett to a larger audience. These are the first three that came to mind but his list is strong across the board, and includes of course many works in translation.

“It’s extraordinary that his books have won the Nobel and Man Booker International within a few years of launching. The best part’s that this is only the beginning. Jacques is playing the long game: his first translated title was by Mathias Enard, a finalist last year who will be eligible with his forthcoming novel, Tell Them of Battles, Kings, and Elephants.

“Fitzcarraldo should be competitive next year with Esther Kinsky‘s remarkable novel, River. (Incidentally, Kinsky translated Flights into German and won a major prize for her rendering of Tokarczuk’s House of Day, House of Night.)”

I did a little digging, and found this: “Interview with a Gate-Keeper: Jacques Testard,” a Q&A from 2017 with Kerri Arsenault over at LitHub. How did the house get its name? I wondered, and apparently so did Arsenault. The answer: “The name of the press, which comes from the Werner Herzog film about the man who wants to build an opera house in the jungle, is a not very subtle metaphor on the stupidity of setting up a publishing house—it’s like dragging a 320-ton steamboat over a muddy hill in the Amazon jungle.” From the interview:

Publishing today…

JT: I suppose my original interest in editorial work specifically came from a misguided notion of the glamour involved in the job, the mythology around great publishers of yesteryear, and the intellectual nature of the job. I wouldn’t say I had an easy time becoming an editor—in the early days I never managed to get the jobs I was applying for and so I ended up doing it in this long, unusual and convoluted way, working my way in from the margins by starting up my own project with a friend in order to eventually get to do it for a living.

KA: You mean editing isn’t glamorous?

JT: Publishing is a fairly low-adrenaline job, particularly when you work for a small independent press. I spend a lot of time on my own, editing, but also doing everything else you need to do to keep a small press ticking. I’ve had a few glamorous moments—the pinnacle was the Nobel Prize dinner for Svetlana Alexievich in Stockholm—but I spend a lot more time carrying big bags of books to the post office than drinking martinis with famous authors. In fact, carrying books around is quite a big part of the job.

The publishing house got an early boost when it published little-known Svetlana Alexievich’s Second-hand Time, “which we managed to pick up before she won the Nobel Prize, thus rendering any future prize successes utterly meaningless by comparison.” It was nominated nonetheless:

KA: I see Second-hand Time was longlisted for the Baillie Gifford Prize, the UK’s most prestigious award for nonfiction. What has publishing Alexievich meant for Fitzcarraldo?

The Nobel helped.

JT: A lot. It gave the company financial stability in our second year of operations—thanks to the rights sales we were able to slowly grow the company, going up initially to eight books a year, and now ten. It also gave Fitzcarraldo Editions a platform, a visibility which it might have taken a bit more time to achieve—that book was reviewed absolutely everywhere and critics and literary editors pay attention to what we publish as a result. It also gave us our first significant publishing success, from having to manage successive reprints to making contingency plans in the event of a prize-win, to organizing a ten-day tour for a Nobel Prize laureate. In that respect it’s given me the opportunity to learn more about my job as a publisher.

So is publishing still a madman’s dream?  “Kind of. I guess the suggestion is that publishing is so difficult and financially precarious that to set out to publish the kinds of books that we do is akin to dragging a 320-tonne steamboat up a hill. It’s possible, but it’s going to be extremely difficult.”

It’s looking better with last week’s Man Booker International Prize. Can’t wait to read Flights. Read the interview here.

Man Booker International Prize: a big night for Olga Tokarczuk, Jennifer Croft, and one phenomenal publisher, Jacques Testard

Saturday, May 26th, 2018
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Winners past and present: László Krasznahorkai and Olga Tokarczuk   (Photo: New Directions)

Now the whole world knows: Olga Tokarczuk has become the first Polish writer to win the Man Booker International Prize, for her novel Flights. The Man Booker press release called it “a novel of linked fragments from the 17th century to the present day, connected by themes of travel and human anatomy.” The prize was announced this week during a ceremony in London.

Croft ,Tokarczuk, Testard (Photo: Boris Dralyuk)

“Tokarczuk is a writer of wonderful wit, imagination and literary panache,” Lisa Appignanesi, who led the panel of judges, said in a statement.  She added that the novel “flies us through a galaxy of departures and arrivals, stories and digressions, all the while exploring matters close to the contemporary and human predicament — where only plastic escapes mortality.”

The £50,000 prize for best translated fiction from around the world will be shared with translator Jennifer Croft.

I heard the news from an unusual source: the boyfriend of Jennifer Croft is my colleague and editor at the Los Angeles Review of Books, Boris Dralyuk. We’ve written about him here and here. He’s over the moon, obviously and almost literally, as he’d just flown from Los Angeles when we exchanged messages, and 30,000 feet is as close as any of us will get to that chilly orb.

Wise words from Daniel

It was cheering news to others who attended the ceremony as well. Daniel Medin of the American University in Paris wrote me: “I’m delighted by the result. Flights is an original and formally adventurous novel. Great translation, too.” Daniel is associate director of the AUP’s Center for Writers and Translators and one of the editors of its Cahiers Series. He is also co-editor of Music & Literature magazine and a contributing editor to The White Review. He also tells me he’s now on the jury for the Berlin-based Haus der Kulturen der Welt  Internationaler Literaturpreis. (We’ve written about him here and here.)

He continued, “I’ve taught an earlier novel by Tokarczuk – also in a wonderful translation, in this case by Antonia Lloyd-Jones – in my course on Central European literature and history. Her fiction clearly belongs in that tradition.”

Boris at Pushkin House

But in the applause for the author (and in this case translator, too), many forget the role of the publisher. Not Daniel, who also had praise for Fitzcarraldo Editions and its founding publisher Jacques Testard, with whom he has worked closely at The White Review for many years. “He is the best thing that has happened to the anglophone literary world in years. Firstly, for co-founding The White Review, which helped launch the careers of so many compelling English-language writers in the UK and in translation. Then, for Fitzcarraldo, which has brought the work of intrepid writers like John Keene, Kate Briggs and Claire-Louise Bennett to a larger audience. These are the first three that came to mind but his list is strong across the board, and includes of course many works in translation.

“It’s extraordinary that his books have won the Nobel and Man Booker International within a few years of launching. The best part’s that this is only the beginning. Jacques is playing the long game: his first translated title was by Mathias Enard, a finalist last year who will be eligible with his forthcoming novel, Tell Them of Battles, Kings, and Elephants.

“Fitzcarraldo should be competitive next year with Esther Kinsky‘s remarkable novel, River. (Incidentally, Kinsky translated Flights into German and won a major prize for her rendering of Tokarczuk’s House of Day, House of Night.)”

And Boris was doing double-time, too: during his week in London, he celebrated his new Ten Poems from Russia (Candlestick Press) with a reading at the Pushkin House.

Author and translator (Photo: Janie Airey/Man Booker Prize)