National Translation Month 2021! A Celebration of Diverse Voices

By Olivia Treynor

Welcome to National Translation Month 2021! Founded eight years ago, National Translation Month is an annual celebration of global literature. This September, we are excited to present an eclectic mix of books. Ranging from a beloved Persian epic to a queer Taiwanese cyberpunk novel to a nonfiction account of Paris before the First World War, our selection this year reflects the amazing diversity of voices in translated literature.

Week 1: A Companion to “The Story of the Stone”: A Chapter-by-Chapter Guide

We’re starting off this translation month with an accessible and succinct guide to one of the most beloved and complex pieces of Chinese literature. A Companion to “The Story of the Stone” provides curious readers all the tools and context they need to enjoy a Sinophone classic.

In his piece, Pai Hsien-yung explores Chinese mythology surrounding the afterlife. Contextualizing the notion of the body, po, and hun, Pai unpacks the divine and mythic thread within The Story of the Stone. Ghosts, fairies, and Buddhism are all explored in his post, coming September 7.

Susan Chan Egan offers a different perspective on the classic, diving into the queer dimensions of this Chinese literary masterpiece. In her post, Egan argues that one of the reasons The Story of the Stone has not yet successfully resonated with Western audiences is the protagonist’s effeminate nature. Egan suggests our contemporary culture’s openness to historically taboo identities and attributes offers a chance to reconnect with this influential eighteenth-century novel. Read her full essay September 9.

Week 2: The Membranes: A Novel and Faraway: A Novel

Next on the roster is a groundbreaking science fiction novel from Taiwan. First published in 1995, The Membranes is an astonishing and sensitive portrait of a queer person’s navigation of their dystopian future world. Provocative, prophetic, and profound, this work of speculative fiction is one not to miss.

In their Q&A, the author, Chi Ta-wei, and translator, Ari Larissa Heinrich, offer an intriguing conversation about symbolism, how present-day technology could influence a future novel, and whether The Membranes has a gender. Read their post on September 14.

A nuanced portrait of family intricacies and international complexities, Faraway introduces Anglophone readers to one of Taiwan’s most remarkable contemporary authors. Lo Yi-Chin’s novel deftly balances the personal and the political to craft an immersive and deeply human narrative. At once funny and sad, huge and intimate in scope, this thoroughly urgent piece of fiction is elegantly translated by Jeremy Tiang for English readers.

Tiang’s guest post places Faraway in dialogue with Minae Mizumura’s I-Novels and the “fake” I-Novels by Kenzaburō Ōe. He considers the “blurring” of truth, the appropriation of other’s stories and experiences, and building on existing literature in creating new works. Read his fascinating essay on September 16.

Week 3: The Death of Vazir-Mukhtar and The Symphonies

An engrossing read for fans of Russian history and literature, The Death of Vazir-Mukhtar is a nearly century-old novel by one of Russia’s leading formalist authors and now finally available in an English translation. Yury Tynyanov imagines the last year of life for the author of Woe from Wit in this captivating meditation on the literary imagination, historical context, and personal consciousness.

In her blog post, Anna Kurkina Rush chronicles the literary life of Tynyanov, from the first work that established him as the father of Soviet historical fiction to his striking and continuously relevant Death of Vazir-Mukhtar. Rush casts a historical gaze on the author, who was preoccupied with the past in her blog post, live September 21.

Resisting classification or characterization, Andrei Bely’s The Symphonies is a masterful collection of experimental prose. Jonathan Stone’s translation exposes new audiences to a premier voice of modernist Russian literature in four risk-taking, symbolism-influenced stories imbued with cosmic wonder and daring style.

Stone’s blog post is a unicorn- and centaur-studded walk through Bely’s life, noting the influence of Russian symbolist writing and belief in magic on the author’s work. Stone unpacks the historical context for Bely’s contemporaries’ looking toward the mystical and mythological, allowing the reader to further appreciate all of the fantastical elements Bely weaves into his Symphonies. Read his post September 23.

Week 4: Samak the Ayyar: A Tale of Ancient Persia and The Belle Époque: A Cultural History, Paris and Beyond

The creator of the wildly successful Prince of Persia franchise, Jordan Mechner adapts a millennium-old epic from the Persian oral storytelling tradition and brings it to Anglophone audiences in its entirety for the first time, with a translation by Freydoon Rassouli. A truly majestic masterwork of world literature, Samak the Ayyar is a thrilling ride and a must-read.

In his post, Mechner’s reveals how a research project for a Prince of Persia video game led to the adapted version of Samak the Ayyar. He also offers world builders advice on how to research projects in order to prevent clichés and develop original work. Read his post on September 28.

The Belle Époque rounds out our National Translation Month offerings with a look at a time regarded as the pinnacle of the French way of life. Dominique Kalifa’s work, translated by Susan Emanuel, probes into the mythmaking that manufactured this romantic conception. This work doubles as a specific “excavation” of history and a reflection on the process of writing history.

In her piece, Emanuel provides insight into French cultural history, discusses the nuances of French terminology, and considers which concepts are most accessible to a foreign readership. Read the final installment to National Translation Month on September 30.

Can’t get enough about translated titles? We are giving away one of these books to a lucky reader, so be sure to enter our drawing for your chance to win a free copy! Double your chances of winning a free book by entering last month’s drawing of our featured works by women in translation. Both drawings close at midnight on September 30, 2021.

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