The Registan mosque in Samarkand, Uzbekistan
I’m excited to be able to offer a class on Central Asia at the University of Oregon from August 19 through September 6 (2-3:50 p.m., M-F). Yes, it’s short and intense, but those who enroll can anticipate stimulating daily discussions about an eventful period in history and the literature it produced.
In the last half of the 19th century, the Great Game contest for Central Asia was drawing to a close with Russia’s conquest of the present-day “-stans.” A new era was commencing for this region of ancient cultures and empires. Voices, both Russian and Central Asian, were calling for educational, social and religious reform. Continue reading
The Railway, by Uzbek author Hamid Ismailov, is one of the few contemporary Central Asian works translated into English. Alas, it is translated from Russian rather than Uzbek. Perhaps this is a hypocritical lamentation, coming as it does from a speaker of another colonial language. After all, the author is still Uzbek, writing in Russian, and, on one level, the story is presumably the same regardless of the source language. Furthermore, some might argue that Russian is equally the mother tongue of many Uzbeks these days. For that matter, Uzbek is only one of the languages of Uzbekistan. For speakers of minority languages, Uzbek could be a second language as much as Russian.
But it does seem that a book written in Uzbek would convey more of Uzbekistan’s ethos than one written in Russian. This raises the question, though, of whether this ethos can be carried over into an English translation. Perhaps, then, the original language doesn’t matter. Or perhaps writing in Russian about a primarily Uzbek setting already constitutes a translation; translating the Russian text into English introduces yet a further degree of removal from the source material. Some theorists maintain that any writing is an act of translation–translating events or ideas into words that will convey an image, idea, or feeling to other people. If this is the case, writing in Russian just magnifies this initial act of translation. Continue reading
It could be said that prior to Sadriddin Aini (1878-1954), the history of Tajik literature and the rich history of Persian literature, encompassing famous poets such as Firdawsi, Rumi, and Omar Khayyam, were one and the same. Mutually intelligible regional dialects of Persian existed alongside various minority languages throughout much of present-day Tajikistan, Iran, Afghanistan, and parts of Uzbekistan. But dramatic developments were about to give birth to a distinctive modern Tajik literature, of which Aini, a Tajik from a village in present-day Uzbekistan, is considered the father (Perry and Lehr 3). Continue reading
Rather than a novel about Central Asia, Soul seems, in reality, to be a mythic novel that happens to be set in Central Asia. Author Andrey Platonov (1899-1951) traveled to Turkmenistan in the 1930s; he was taken with the region and later set the action of this book there. Continue reading
Words without Borders has two new posts relating to news in the world of translation:
Click here for: 2007 Pen Translation Fund Awards
Click here for: Comments on 2007 Independent Foreign Fiction Awards
The site also has a number of forums on translation. The discussions took place some time ago, but they are still worthwhile, being intiated by notable writers and theorists such as Lawrence Venuti, and discussing topics such as “Translation as Americanization.” Click here: WWB Translation discussions
Our principal reading material is fiction, with some creative (or occasionally uncreative) nonfiction thrown in to keep us feeling responsible and informed. Everday Islam is more of a reference book than “literature,” but we read it (individually) because it concerns one of our other significant interests–Central Asia, and more specifically, Tajikistan.
Everyday Islam is of interest in part because it represents the very Soviet views of a Communist Party member writing just after the breakup of the Soviet Union. Most books that get translated into English seem to reinforce our own perspective; it is from the dissidents of, for example, China, the former USSR, or Iran that we hear most often in the English-speaking world. Continue reading
Stories from the Land of Springs (Dushanbe, 1996) is the memoir of one of Tajikistan’s most prominent 20th-century folklorists. Rajab Amonov (1923-2002) describes his boyhood in the northern Tajikistan city of Uro Teppa. The book’s attraction lies in its both cultural and historic value. As a folklorist, Amonov details cultural practices still observable in many parts of Tajikistan. Written in the late 20th century, the account also discloses Amonov’s perspective on the changes that took place during the early years of the Soviet Union. Furthermore, Amonov knew the value of story, so his descriptions are couched in engaging narratives.
Click here to read the rest on the Birds’ Words blog: Translation in Progress
My husband and I read The Turkish Gambit (by Boris Akunin, trans. Andrew Bromfield) either early last year or the year before–it’s a bit fuzzy in my memory. This is at least in part because I had difficulty following the plot, though it may have been unremarkable for other reasons, too. The translation style adopted by Bromfield, who has translated all the Akunin novels currently available in English, is quite smooth; it would be easy to read the books without realizing they are translated. Only a humorous reference to “American Roulette” in the beginning of The Winter Queen betrays the book’s Russian origins. Perhaps Bromfield’s aim was to present English-speaking readers with a good intrigue rather than a markedly Russian novel. This might be more appropriate with Akunin than with, say, The Master and Margarita, which Bromfield has also translated. (I have read the book, but not Akunin’s translation.) I would be interested in hearing from Russian readers of the original text of Akunin’s novels. Continue reading