‘Trail of Miracles’ on AmazonCrossing’s Anniversary: Gabriella Page-Fort

In Feature Articles by Porter Anderson

With the release this month of Smadar Herzfeld’s singular ‘Trail of Miracles’ in Aloma Halter’s translation from the Hebrew, the author, translator and editorial director talk shop.

Gabriella Page-Fort. Image: AmazonCrossing

By Porter Anderson, Editor-in-Chief | @Porter_Anderson

‘My Dream Job’

AmazonCrossingOn May 20, AmazonCrossing reached its seventh anniversary. “Seven years ago, I was the only employee of the imprint,” says Gabriella Page-Fort, editorial director of the translation imprint at Amazon Publishing.

“I made a big mistake,” Page-Fort says with a laugh. “I confessed that it was my dream job.” Now that the imprint has entered its eighth year and has surpassed all other translation houses in the US market for output, AmazonCrossing’s folks join their colleagues at BookExpo this week with an enviable track record.

Just Tuesday (May 30), Bonnier Rights announced the sale of English, French, German, Italian, and Spanish world rights to AmazonCrossing for Christina Rickardsson’s Never Stop Walking (Bokförlaget Forum, Stockholm).

Page-Fort says that this year alone, Crossing will release as many as 62 new titles in translation—some into other languages from English, and many into English. Part of the range of work the company has been able to source from many parts of the world has to do with the submissions portal the company opened in late 2015: both new work and translators have been finding their way to Crossing.

Languages from which AmazonCrossing published into English in 2016 alone included Danish, Hebrew, Norwegian, Polish, Portuguese, Russian, Turkish, Indonesian, Italian, Swedish, Finnish, French, Chinese, Spanish, and German.

In addition, submissions have come to Crossing at the portal over the years in languages including Afrikaans, Arabic, Bengali, Bulgarian, Croatian, Farsi, Greek, Hindi, Lithuanian, Malayalam, Romanian, Serbian, Slovak, Ukrainian, and Urdu.

Publishing June 1

And what Page-Fort is doing here may be one of the best things to happen to work in translation in decades: she’s demystifying it.

Romance lovers, known for their eager consumption of new stories, for example, can find exactly what they like in a continually deepening list of titles from many cultures. So can thriller readers and fans of police procedurals that feature a favorite detective in a series. For genre readers who were previously uncertain of what to try in a translation, this can be especially helpful, taking the guesswork out of those first choices and opening new ranges of work they might not have found alone.

If  you look into the section of international award winners, you’ll find an extraordinary book, just published May 2, Smader Herzfeld’s Trail of Miracles, translated from the Hebrew by Aloma Halter.

Translator Aloma Halter, left, and author Smadar Herzfeld at Amazon Publishing’s New York offices. Image: AmazonCrossing

‘The Real Gittel’

A short work of feminist resolve and occasionally Homeric lyricism in Halter’s translation, Smader’s book is a fiction based on the historic 18th-century figure of Gittel, a Ukranian woman connected in lore to founders of the Hasidic world. Her journey to the Ottomon Empire’s Jerusalem transforms and defines her, in relation to a life of service both to Jews and to Muslims.

“It was some kind of long effort to produce it,” Smader tells Publishing Perspectives during a recent visit to New York from her home in Jerusalem. “Seven years,” she says, the project was in a kind of stasis that followed a creative burst in which Smader felt the character reaching to her, she says, across time and space.

“The monologue is the voice I heard,” Smader says, as matter of factly as she might tell you about last night’s dinner.

“It’s the real Gittel. Something mystical happened to me.

“I found her Gittel in the scriptures of Hasidic stories. I was a student then, in the Hebrew University of Jewish Studies. I found her. And a woman. You know, it’s so rare to find a woman,” in such ancient tales, which generally are focused on stories about men. “She’s mentioned in the Hasidic stories. But, you know, mentioned is one thing.” Being fully rendered as male characters were is another.

“I was a mother. I was very busy then, raising my kids during the day and working. But in the nights? She came to me. And I fell in love with her.

“I heard the voice. It was like recording her. And quietly it continued like this for a while. And slowly, it came to an end. And then I shut the computer. It was my first computer. And she was there. Waiting patiently. For seven years. Until I reopened it. This was the second stage. Now I was the novelist and I had to turn the monologue I heard into the novel.”

“I was very busy then, raising my kids during the day and working. But in the nights? Gittel came to me. And I fell in love with her. I heard the voice.”Smadar Herzfeld

Smader is also a publisher, the founder of 62, a boutique publishing house that specializes in works about women and religion. She credits her work in publishing with some of the know-how that went into the refining of her original Gittel writings as Trail of Miracles came together. A decision that came easily to her was to stay close to the monologic form in which she’d first “heard” the work coming to her.

“I love the technique of monologues,” she says. “In my [four] other books, I use a lot of it. I especially love confessional monologue. I like it in religious literature like the confessions of Saint Augustin and I’m an admirer of the work of Marguerite Duras and Jamaica Kincaid–they both use monologue.”

What results here is something we have to hope that Page-Fort and her team are getting over to Anna Deavere Smith, whose work as a theatrical monologuist makes her a prime candidate to bring this work to life.

At many points, Smader’s text for Gittel aches with the incremental details of a life of hardship–”I have a small room here and a large sink in the yard, where I wash the clothes. I am only a woman, a widow of no standing.”

And then, just as easily, Gittel speaks in a voice of thunder with a nobility right out of King James versions of biblical texts, overtaken in the heat of spiritual ambition:

“Master of the Universe, help me to be good and wholehearted as I stand before You. Banish the devils from me and drive away my nightmares. I have nothing, nothing apart from the heavy sack of my memories. Like the prophet Jonah, I fled from the land in which I grew up and here I sit at a table, here in the Holy City of Jerusalem, and I write of the things that took place in my life.

“Everything that I do now is undertaken in the spirit of prayer. Even scrubbing the laundry and beating it on the washboard is a way of speaking to You. I lower my head before You as I rub the soap up and down. Foam covers my hands, and a slight soughing sound bursts from my throat to the rhythm of my movements. From the day that my husband Avraham the Angel died, I have craved only one thing: to see You, O God…

I, Gittel, the daughter of the rabbinical genius Meshulum Feivish Horowitz, the daughter-in-law of the great Maggid of Mezeritch, the wife of Avraham the Angel, I remove my outer trappings and stand naked before You.”

– From Trail of Miracles by Smader Herzfeld, translated by Aloma Halter

‘Ancient Prose’
“When you translate a book, you know it’s special if you find images lingering in your mind.”Aloma Halter

“Every translation can go in so many different directions,” says London-born Aloma Halter, who lives in Jerusalem, as Herzfeld does, but didn’t meet her until they began work on Trail of Miracles. “You constantly have choices, and you constantly are coming up with different phrases or different words.”

A part of Halter’s job in translating Herzfeld’s work was to capture the tenderness of the feminine energy that informs it but also the heroic wealth of such poetic prose.

“I had to keep choosing between modern words or kind of neutral old-fashioned words.” To her interviewer, she says, “You mentioned King James. I kept aiming for that kind of ancient prose.”

Halter’s next project, she says, is another of Herzfeld’s books, You Are My Life, a love story between a young Israeli woman and a  young Palestinian man, set in the days of the first intifada.”

And when Halter talks of Trail of Miracles, Halter the linguist becomes very visual. “When you translate a book, you know it’s special if you find images lingering in your mind. There are images from this book that I take with me.

“Like Gittel looking out of the window at the landscape as she tries to quell her forebodings about her future when she’s going away to be married. Or the loneliness of living with her husband who doesn’t talk to her. And saying goodbye to her mother for the last time.

“Or the boat in the harbor in Turkey, the white sails on blue.”

“One day, a small boat dropped anchor at one of the quays. It was blue, with white sails. The sunlight made its white sails look golden and its blue hull bobbed on the water’s surface like a large fish.”

– From Trail of Miracles by Smader Herzfeld, translated by Aloma Halter

‘Infrastructure and Networking’ for Diversity

Publishing November 1

“We’ve learned a lot about translation” in AmazonCrossing’s seven years, says Gabriella Page-Fort. “And we’ve learned a lot about publishing. And we’ve learned a lot about the ways we can work with the community we have. And the ways we can broaden our community to bring more diversity to our list.

“One of the biggest changes we hope to bring forward is in new languages we’re translating. This year, for example, we have our first translation from Greek.” That’s The House by the River, by Lena Manta, translated by Gail Holst-Warhaft, publishing November 1.

“Part of the purpose of the portal is to encourage people we don’t know to reach out to us,” she says. “And that seems so simple. But you think about our publishing industry and the agents and publishers we meet with regularly at book fairs. And it’s a defined group. What we’re hoping to do in time is focus in on diversity. It takes a lot of infrastructure and networking to get to those books that we’ll publish later on.”

Publishing September 12

In terms of major acquisitions now nearing publication, Page-Fort mentions Shion Miura’s The Great Passage, translated from the Japanese by Juliet Winters Carpenter for publication Thursday (June 1). “It was adapted into a live action film an into an animated film in Japan and was a huge bestseller there as a novel.”

She also mentions Happy Dreams, by the Chinese writer Jia Pingwa, translated by Nicky Harman, for publication October 1. “It’s an imaginative and gritty, human story,” Page-Fort says.

And there’s Russian author Polina Dashkova’s thriller Madness Treads Lightly, translated by Marian Schwartz, set for September 12, as well as French author’s Marc Levy’s All Those Things We Never Said, translated by Chris Murray, for publication November 14.

Crossing, in fact, may well be the one element of the Amazonian combine that you won’t hear a negative word about at BEA. If there’s anything the international publishing industry is united on, it’s the need to encourage and cultivate as much trans-market movement of content and rights transactions as possible.

Publishing October 1

By leading readers to translation through popularly understood selections—and by working the giant retailer’s apparatus in so many countries to source and elevate good work across linguistic boundaries–Page-Fort’s AmazonCrossing is a special element of the company’s reach and presence.

Trail of Miracles is a good example.

“Smadar’s writing,” says Herzfeld’s translator Aloma Halter, “is very economical. Very poetic. Very memorable. Very special.”

“I like special books,” Herzfeld says.

About the Author

Porter Anderson

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Porter Anderson is Editor-in-Chief of Publishing Perspectives. Prior to that he was Associate Editor for The FutureBook, a channel at The Bookseller focused on digital publishing. Anderson has also worked with CNN International, CNN.com, CNN USA, the Village Voice, the Dallas Times Herald, and other media.