When I first saw the words “Literary Genres in Translation” I resorted back to elementary school and thought about the words separately to figure out what the heck this class was going to be about. Obviously a literature class, but “genres in translation”? Oka,y so works from other places? I had honestly not read many works from authors that were translated into English, at least not consciously. I had read kids books like The Little Prince and The Thief Lord when I was younger without thinking about how they were originally written in other languages. I guess thats the privilege I have of having access to so much literature that the origins of it get lost. This class attempted to teach me the origins of translated literature and its importance in our society.
I enjoyed the books we read in class. Particularly Utopia by Ahmed Khaled Towfik and Signs Preceding the End of the World by Yuri Herrera. These books are proof that there is talent out there that is just waiting to be found. These books also showed that it is not only American writers that can get into the the Sci-Fi game or have fascinating mythology to be explored.
I think the biggest take away from this class is that it made me think more about what I read. I usually look at the top 10 list of a bookstore and see what sounds interesting. I have never thought about the small publishing companies that make it their mission to publish little known books from other countries. What if I’m missing out on a potential favorite book just because its not widely known? It’s not the author’s fault that this country thinks about ME ME ME all the time. I’m glad we read such great books in class because I now want to explore what else is out there other than the American perspective. How do people view us? What kind of teen experiences do other countries have? These are the questions I’m sure people have answered in their own language but I’ve been too busy thinking about my own view.
Thank you Professor Baker for introducing great readings and providing a good atmosphere in class. See you next semester!
Baho! by Roland Rugero is an interesting read from an African author. This story is almost like a hazy memory thrown into other snippets of a person’s life. Much like Tram 83 by Fiston Mujilla, this book jumps around from character to character and memory to memory, barely linear in nature. The story surrounds the unfortunate incident between a man who cannot speak and a young girl in a small village. A blunt gesture and social fear follows this situation and it begins to involve others. Essentially the man is mistaken as a would-be-rapist and quickly found guilty (mostly because he’s mute and can’t defend himself) with people of the village flogging to the victim and her family. This is where Rugero begins to give his seemingly unimportant background characters some life and the story becomes a bit interesting.
Rugero talks about the women who are “accompanying the survivor” (24) and gives the readers background information on otherwise flat characters. We hear about the woman who’s elbow was broken by her husband’s drunken tantrum, the old too-tall “spinster” (24) of an ungodly thirty-two years old, and the widow-maker who lived most of her life as a refugee. These women become front-and-center, if just for a page or two, in the story and give some context into the way women react to potential sexual violence.
Why does Rugero decide to give his female characters some background out of the blue without properly introducing them in the beginning of the story? I think Rugero makes a point of what women go through in that village to give power to them, power is normally given to the men. The men are off rumbling about their women are in danger of being ruined and “the ass on that woman” (45) while the women are the one’s enduring the pain of being “ruined” and being objectified. I think Rugero makes a slight U-turn to talk about the other women’s experiences to highlight the fact that they too have something to fight for. The struggles of one woman becomes the struggle of all the women because the outcome of this “trial” determines what the women mean to the village. It may seem like a lot to be put on a sad situation but clearly the villagers all have their own demons to bury and this incident gives them an outlet to take out their frustrations on. It definitely doesn’t fare well for the mute man who has to deal with being mistaken for such sinful monster and the women who project the men in their lives on him.
Reading a book like Tram 83 definitely takes time to get used to.
Author Fiston Mwanza Mujila of the Democratic Republic of Congo explores the darkness of living in a mysterious city-state (independent country) in his novel Tram 83. He does so by giving us a glimpse of the lives of drastically different people who live in the same tragic conditions. On one hand we have Lucien, a writer who is trying to get his work published and on the other hand we have his “friend” Requiem, who seems to want to do everything in his power to stop Lucien from achieving his dreams. They congregate at Tram 83, a place of nightlife and sin, not unlike every seedy casino in Las Vegas.
On the surface this story comes off as some post-apocalyptic tragedy that gives no hope to its readers about the future of the characters and written in a way to intentionally confuse you and question what the hell is going on. I think this is why at times it becomes hard to read and follow the story but might also be the whole point.
Mujila writes in a style that when reading aloud sounds like conversations being overheard left and right. As Professor Baker, has mentioned, he is a “jazz writer.”He is not following the status quo of what most readers are used to. This change in pace is what makes this story stand out.
Throughout the novel we hear variations of the phrase “Do you have the time?” randomly thrown in in the middle of characters conversations. Again, this gives it the feel of literally being on a train and having people interrupt a story. At first it is a little unsettling and definitely needs time to get used to. However, the further you get along in the story the more you understand.
The characters in the story go through many difficult situations and its almost poetic how Mujila writes the dialogue that accompanies these dire situations. He lets his characters get sidetracked and explain different aspects of the city-state life that they live. At times it feels like someone is talking you and not really knowing where they are going with their words but want to give you all this information about their lives.
I think Mujila intentionally wrote the novel in this way to keep his readers on their toes. Throwing in phrases like “Long live Russian porn!” (37) and bible psalms (128) between dialogue can totally wake up a reader and question everything. Its fascinating trying to find the connections between words and the meaning behind them.
If you’re looking for a weird but informative read I would definitely hop on this crazy train.
Yuri Herrera is an author that is not afraid to unmask the hardships of “illegal” people in his novel, “Signs Preceding the End if the World.” The Mexican writer explicitly reveals the feelings of Makina, a “smart and schooled” (76) young woman from a Little Town (12) trying to get to the “Other” side to find her brother.
Makina is not your average girl next door or migrator. This girl is a trusted “messenger” who can speak three different languages and take care of herself, whether it be by wit or violence. She is a kind of reluctant hero who has a clear mission and stands by it. She isn’t going to the other side to fool around or get attached. Makina will find her “lost” brother and return home rather than get seduced by “a little land” (38).
Herrera points out the truth that many, including myself, have ignored for so long. This country is the “land of the free” and it’s where everyone comes to make their dreams come true because they want to, right?
In the case of Makina, and so many others, it seems like it’s less of a choice to resettle or crossover into the unknown abyss and more of a necessity. Makina isn’t leaving her home, family, lover, and people to become some great American hero. She has no choice but to go into an unknown and strange land if she ever wants to see her brother again. She isn’t excited to see this shiny new city with “an edgy arrangement of cement particles and yellow paint” (56). She sees past this glossy exterior to determine that “her compatriots, her homegrown” are “just there to take orders” (57).
That makes total sense to me, because in a way, that is how we live when we don’t have much of a say. As an “illegal” human being in America there are many things you can’t do. You can’t vote, you can’t get financial help, you can’t go to school sometimes, you can’t you can’t you can’t. The voice of an “illegal” is mute in this country by orders of the supreme ruler, the villain of the story. It’s no wonder that for Makina, this “Other” side does not have much of an appeal, even in comparison to her poor and torn Little Town. At least there she has her family, lover, loyal people. She is someone there.
I guess Biggie was right, the more money we come across, the more problems we see.
I think author Ahmed Khaled Towfik is portraying just that in his novel, Utopia. Towfik designs a world in which the ultra rich are secluded in their own private oasis, Utopia, while the poor, or “Others,” fester in the outside lands. Our narrator, a nameless young punk from Utopia, describes his life as “boring,” and having “nothing left in life that interests” him at all (17). This guy has the whole world at his fingertips, and yet he is no longer interested in anything at all. How is it possible to have everything and nothing at the same time?
The narrator may have money, but it clearly does not bring him happiness. In fact, it sounds like it brings him more trouble than anything else. His attitude towards life is completely dead. He seems to have a sick desire for death, continuously making statements like “Death should be elegant and theatrical” (20).
Utopians essentially live in another world. This other world is filled with money. This money allows Utopians to do anything and everything they desire. The root of the problem here isn’t money per se, but the power that comes along with it. Utopia relies on money to keep order and balance to their perfectly structured world while causing chaos for the Others. They see money as US while poverty as THEM. The thing about a divorce, whether it be between a couple or a classes of the economy, is that its never clean cut. This division between classes and the power behind one destroys any sort of proper balance.
Towfik so far has done a great job at portraying the reality of money. What it does to people when they have too much of it and what it causes people to do when they need it.