Words Without Borders January: Translations That Travel Well

In Feature Articles by Porter Anderson

In its year-opening issue, ‘Words Without Borders’ collects travel writing from nine authors, translated from German, Polish, Norwegian, Hungarian, and more.

David Thuku, ‘Untitled XI (Motion),’ paper cuts on paper, 2019. Courtesy of One Off Gallery, Nairobi, and the artist. Image: Provided by Words Without Borders

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

‘Road Stories’
As many professionals in world publishing begin gearing up for a new year of travel for conferences, trade shows, business meetings, and rights trading, Words Without Borders editorial director Susan Harris has unpacked a roadworthy kit of nine pieces of travel writing from the magazines’ archives. She focuses this month on authors writing about their own travel—real and imagined.

Harris is not only the editorial director of Words Without Borders but is also co-editor with Ilya Kaminsky of The Ecco Anthology of International Poetry (HarperCollins, 2010). And the mixture of far-flung locales here will remind many of the extraordinary range of languages and voices in that collection.

Her travelers work in seven languages and the destinations featured in their work “range from Corsican graveyards to Indian train terminals,” she writes in her introduction, “Road Stories: International Writing on Travel.”

“The methods of transit,” she writes, vary “from the mundane to the monstrous, but all nine writers map the response to dislocation and the changes it brings.”

Translated literature, Harris reminds us, creates an additional layer of creative transport to the normal journey any good storytelling provides. “Reading in translation offers enhanced vicarious travel, in that the translator has navigated not only a text but a language, reporting back in the form of a new rendition.”

Here at Publishing Perspectives, we can join Harris as she writes, “We hope that your new year will include much fruitful exploration of worlds and ways unknown, both on and off the page.” We may run into you on some of those off-the-page trips, of course. Be sure to say hello.

And we’ll list for you here the high points of this month’s collection of translations from German, Polish, Spanish, Norwegian, Hungarian, Bengali, and Italian.

Translations in the Travel Writing Edition

An excerpt from Buenos Aires artist Ricardo Siri—who works under the name Liniers—in his ‘Rabbit on the Road.’ Image: Words Without Borders

This month’s edition of Words Without Borders‘ lead travel writing feature comprises a graphic work, three works of fiction and five of nonfiction.

  • “Campo Santo” is nonfiction by W. G. Sebald (Germany), translated from German by Anthea Bell. Sebald (1944-2001) was the author of The Rings of SaturnThe Emigrants, Vertigo, and other works.
  • From “Peregrinations in Argentina” comes an excerpt from another work of nonfiction, and is by Witold Gombrowicz (Poland), translated from Polish by Danuta Borchardt. The Polish-born Gombrowicz (1904-1969) had made a trip to Argentina in 1939 when Germany invaded Poland. He lived in South America for more than 20 years.
  • “A Trip through Ayahuasca” is by Gabriela Wiener (Peru), and is nonfiction translated from Spanish by Lucas Aznar Miles. Weiner is the author of three collections of crônicas (chronicles) and a collection of poetry. She writes for news outlets including Spain’s El Pais and Peru’s La República, as well as for magazines in South America and Europe. Her Sexographies was published by Restless Books in 2018, translated from Spanish by Jennifer Adcock and Lucy Greaves.
  • “Fish Television” is another train trip, this one surreal. It’s by Peter Weber (Switzerland) and translated from German by Anne Posten. Weber is a Swiss novelist and musician who has  collaborated on literary-musical projects in styles ranging from improvised acoustic to electronic.
  • “The House of Wax” is fiction set aboard a West Bengal train by Subodh Ghosh (India) and is translated from Bengali by Somrita Urni Ganguly. Ghosh (1909–1980) was a popular Bengali novelist and short story writer, and some of his stories, among them “The House of Wax,” have been made into Bollywood films.
  • Laila Stien

    “Journey Toward the Island” is by Laila Stien (Norway), fiction translated from Norwegian by Kerri Pierce about Sami herders and reindeer in migration. Laila Stien has published several short story collections and a number of translations from Norwegian and Swedish into Sami.

  • “Haul” by György Dragomán (Hungary) is translated from Hungarian by Paul Olchváry. Dragomán is the author of The White King, which has been translated into 30 languages. He’s a translator, himself, of works into Hungarian by Samuel Beckett, James Joyce, Isaac Bashevis Singer, and others.
  • “The Neighborhood Phone” is by Gabriella Ghermandi (Ethiopia and Italy), translated from Italian by Giovanna Bellesia-Contuzzi and Victoria Offredi Poletto. Ghermandi was born in Addis Ababa and moved to Italy in 1979. She has published a number of stories in magazines and journals and is the coordinator of El Ghibli.
  • An excerpt from “Rabbit on the Road,” is this edition’s graphic work, from the Argentine cartoonist Liniers and translated from Spanish by Samantha Schnee. Liniers is the artist behind the popular comic Macanudo, which is syndicated in the States. Some of his work has been seen in The New Yorker, as well.

The artist Liniers (Ricardo Siri) with penguins. Image: Words Without Borders

More from Publishing Perspectives on ‘Words Without Borders’ is here, and more from us on translation is here

About the Author

Porter Anderson

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Porter Anderson has been named International Trade Press Journalist of the Year in London Book Fair's International Excellence Awards. He is Editor-in-Chief of Publishing Perspectives. He formerly was Associate Editor for The FutureBook at London's The Bookseller. Anderson was for more than a decade a senior producer and anchor with CNN.com, CNN International, and CNN USA. As an arts critic (Fellow, National Critics Institute), he was with The Village Voice, the Dallas Times Herald, and the Tampa Tribune, now the Tampa Bay Times. He co-founded The Hot Sheet, a newsletter for authors, which now is owned and operated by Jane Friedman.