This week we continue our celebration of the publication of Chitambo by Hagar Olsson, translated by Sarah Death, with the second extract in our series of lockdown reading – read taster two.
Looking for some reading to make lockdown life a little more bearable? We have just published Hagar Olsson’s Chitambo, translated by Sarah Death – and you can read taster one today!
From birth, Vega Maria Dreary is caught in a vice of conflicting parental expectations. Her father brings her up to admire history’s heroic male adventurers, while her mother channels her towards housework and conformity. But when puberty comes, paternal half-promises evaporate and Vega has to fight her own way out of the domestic cage. In a time of revolution and civil war in early twentieth-century Finland, she finds it hard to identify her own calling, alighting first on the cause of feminism but feeling her way towards a wider humanitarian mission.
The adult Vega looks back on her younger self with ironic humour, but is in despair about the end of a rocky relationship with her beloved Ta, now transformed by his wartime experiences. She recovers and opts to emulate her childhood hero Livingstone, beating new paths through her own psychological jungle.
A kaleidoscope of changing roles for Vega whirls us through this compelling modernist novel, multi-layered but eminently accessible, with a wonderful feel for language, and vibrant evocations of an era and a place. Considered by many to be Hagar Olsson’s best novel, Chitambo is now available in English for the first time.
Literary translation, not unlike Boye’s literary production, can be a personal, creative endeavor with political implications. Translating and publishing this novel marks a concerted attempt to broaden a canon of modernist literature still dominated by white, straight, male Anglophone writers. But as a translator working in the academy, I am equally excited about the ways that translating a book like Crisis might open up the possibility for new forms of literary scholarship that draw no significant distinction between emotion and intellect, or between translation and the scholarly practice of literary criticism. This is a decidedly political proposition. Crisis is a book that screams out for the personal to be acknowledged and attended to rather than ignored or subdued in the name of objectivity or equivalence, and I have tried to hear that.
This novel, with all of its elegance and awkward peculiarities, has compelled me for half of my life — unlike any other book I’ve encountered. I was an awkward nineteen-year-old when I first read it in a course on Swedish women’s literature at the University of Washington — an initial exposure that coincided with my first taste of Nietzsche, Freud, and Marx, all of whom Boye had engaged with to write it. Undaunted by the fact that Boye’s prose would stretch my undergraduate Swedish skills to their utmost limits, I set out (pencil to paper, with a heavy, bound dictionary) to bring it into English. It was an automatic reflex. I was self-aware enough to know that it was a naïve undertaking, but I was convinced that being so close in age to Malin would afford me insight into her experience that would compensate for my deficiencies. Thinking back, I would like to believe that my decision to translate Crisis went something like the moment when Malin first glimpses Siv sitting in front of her and is both struck and soothed by the beauty of her gently-sloping shoulders. As it did with Malin, the vision of Siv also offered me a reprieve of sorts after having made my way through a significant portion of a book that I still find largely perplexing (if wondrous). The scene sparked desire, and translation was the most appropriate way for me to express it. If undertaking the labor of translation began with a flush of infatuation, it eventually transformed into a project of admiration and even a kind of love. Crisis became the center of my own intellectual Bildungsroman. I returned to it as an MA student and wrote my thesis on the novel, comparing Malin to Diva, the protagonist in Monika Fagerholm’s postmodern novel by the same name. The two protagonists had too many compelling similarities, I argued, to allow us to draw a sharp distinction between modernism and postmodernism. During this period, I had the fortunate opportunity to workshop a section of my draft in a translation seminar with the amazing translator, Tiina Nunnally. I finished my thesis, but set the translation aside for more than a decade.
Malin Forst is a precocious, devout twenty-year-old woman attending a Stockholm teachers’ college in the 1930s. Confounded by a sudden crisis of faith, Malin plunges into a depression and a paralysis of will. Oscillating between poetic prose, social realism, fragments of correspondence, and imagined dialogues between the forces of nature, Crisis telescopes Malin’s distress out into metaphysical planes and back, as her mind stages struggles between black and white, Dionysian and Apollonian, and with an everyday existence that has become unbearably arduous.
And then an intense infatuation with a classmate reorients everything.
First published in Swedish as Kris in 1934, Boye’s meditation on a crisis of faith and queer desire is recognised as a modernist classic for its stylistic and literary experimentation. Now, in January 2020, the full text is available in English for the first time, translated by Amanda Doxtater. You can find it in all good bookstores, or via norvikpress.com.
For a taster of a key scene, download an extract here.
When are we alive? Which lives are worth living? What constitutes a real life? And how should we treat lives that are not human? I was left with a number of existential questions after reading A Living Soul. At first I thought a story about a brain in an aquarium would be quite a tedious affair, but I was very wrong.
Not only is A Living Soul philosophical and thought provoking, but it is also exciting, nerve- wracking and tragically romantic (how can a story with a brain as a protagonist be romantic? Well, hence the tragic bit). The disembodied brain Ypsilon is living in a world which is similar to our own but slightly more scientifically advanced. First of all, in this world we can keep a brain with no body alive in a water tank in a science lab. This brain is perfectly able to think and feel like any other human being, but it is of course not able to live a full life. The only other inhabitants of the lab are a dog and some rats. And like the dog and the rats, Ypsilon is a disposable part of a project; a guinea pig. But what happens when this guinea pig is perfectly able to understand what is going on, perfectly able to envision a life outside the prison walls of the water tank, and demands to know the truth of its existence?
P. C. Jersild is, to coin a phrase, the brain behind it all. He wrote his first novel at the age of fifteen, but he thought a writing career would be an insecure path to take and decided to study medicine to give him the prospect of a real job. Luckily, he continued writing, and after a while he realised he could live by his pen. However, the medical world proved to be very fruitful for his authorship, and nearly all his works have featured experiences from life as a doctor and a psychiatrist. This is especially apparent in A Living Soul. It was originally published in Swedish in 1980 and has become the quintessential Swedish sci-fi classic. Jersild has since said that it is one of his favourite works, and one of his more recent novels, Ypsilon, is named after the main character in A Living Soul.
The novel was first published in English by Norvik Press in 1988, translated by Rika Lesser, an award-winning American poet. It is one of those timeless stories that stick with us and keep us posing the important questions. To bring this memorable novel to new, English-reading audiences, we are now issuing a reprint with a stunning new cover.
By Kristin Lorentsen, production assistant
Norvik Press brought one of Denmark’s greatest writers, Dorrit Willumsen, author of the novel Bang, over the North Sea for a chat with her translator, Professor Marina Allemano, about their love of the nineteenth-century author Herman Bang, and walking over cracks in the ground. The event took place high above the ground on the tenth floor in the Arena Centre in Bloomsbury. With an amazing view of the London skyline, the city itself made a poetic backdrop to the literary conversation.
The idea of the book originated when Willumsen was asked to write about one of her heroes. She had two subjects in mind, one being her grandfather, and the other Herman Bang – her favourite Danish writer. Known for re-imagining historical figures using the first person, Willumsen used the same technique for the protagonist in Bang. The work was originally commissioned by her publisher as a biography. Willumsen, however, discovered this was problematic, as there were so many biographies about Bang already in print. She read them all, and as she progressed in her research, it became increasingly difficult for her to hold her creativeness at bay. Eventually, the book turned out to be a novel about the last days of the eccentric, flamboyant writer and inspiring actor. The story unfolds through a series of flashbacks as we follow Bang on his final book tour through America. He is ill, dependent on help from others and on his morphine to get to sleep. But the reader also gets to know the younger, livelier man through his reminiscing.
A household name in Denmark, Dorrit Willumsen started out as a writer in 1965, although sadly not much of her work is translated into English. This translation of Bang goes some way towards remedying that. And that task was undertaken by Allemano, who has always had a great admiration for Willumsen and published a biography about her in Danish in 2015. When asked where she positions herself as a translator, Allemano humbly defined herself as a servant to the original work, a technician; a problem solver. She described the translating process with an analogy: imagine walking on an Earth full of cracks. When you look down between the cracks, you can vaguely distinguish the real, more beautiful world underneath, but you can never fully get to it. However, this modest depiction of her own efforts was quickly modified by voices in the audience. Translation is also a rewriting of the script and demands a great deal of artistic imagination.
Throughout the evening Willumsen lapsed into several entertaining anecdotes of the writing process and how Bang lived his life. The audience learnt that he was a man with a love of spending money when he had it and reduced to borrowing when he did not. He even went so far as borrowing from his doctor and then from his doctor’s wife, with a plea that she would not tell her husband … Willumsen also described what it was like working on a project like Bang, saying it took her five years to write the book; when she had finally finished, her son was relieved that Bang had moved out after living in their home for so long.
Rounding off the evening, as the darkness had settled – creating the perfect storytelling ambience – Dorrit and Marina delighted the audience with the opening passage of Bang in both Danish and English. Herman Bang’s brusque meeting with the big city of New York made a stark contrast to the romantic twinkling of the skyline in the background.
This is a new translation of a Norwegian literary classic, Forraadt (Betrayed) by Amalie Skram. When Forraadt was first published in 1892, Skram was well-known in Scandinavia as the controversial author of novels that exposed marriage as an institution demeaning to women. She had broken social taboos with her frank discussions about sexuality and the double standard. In Constance Ring, Lucie and Fru Inés she had explored the demoralizing effect of a system which allowed men to pursue sexual pleasure freely while insisting women remain pure before marriage and then absolutely faithful to their husbands. In Betrayed she sharpens her focus and examines a marital relationship from its very beginning.
The novel opens on the night of Ory’s wedding. Family and friends are gathered in the home of Ory’s parents to celebrate the marriage; the party is breaking up and the groom, Captain Adolph Riber, is impatient to leave with his young bride and finally be alone with her. But Ory wants desperately to stay, not merely in her parents’ home, but in the nursery with her younger brothers and sisters—she has just been told she will be sleeping in the same room, even the same bed, as Captain Riber, and she is terrified.
If you think you know where this story is headed, you may be surprised. You would expect Skram’s sympathy to be squarely with Ory, the child bride whose mother failed to prepare her for married life. The mother’s parting admonition to her daughter is to honour and obey her husband, strive to please him in every way. But the Captain, though gruff and short tempered, is not a demanding and unfeeling husband. He is troubled by his wife’s unhappiness, struggles to understand what is causing it, asks himself what he might have done or said to offend her. Riber is well-intentioned, but not very perceptive; and Ory is not always as sweet-tempered and innocent as she first appeared. The reader finds her sympathy shifting as the story unfolds.
Skram is a wonderfully descriptive writer and one of the pleasures of reading Betrayed is taking in the sights and sounds and smells of life in London and aboard a merchant ship in the 1860s. The day after their wedding the newlyweds sail from Bergen to London where Captain Riber’s ship is being loaded with cargo. There are vivid depictions of London’s street life, restaurants and dance halls, and the wharf on the Thames where the Orion is docked. The last half of the novel takes place at sea and the ship and its crew are portrayed in authentic detail—as a young woman Skram had herself sailed as a captain’s wife on Norwegian merchant ships. As the Orion passes through storms, then good weather, and is finally becalmed in the doldrums, the onboard tensions build to a horrifying conclusion.
By Katherine Hanson and Judith Messick, translators of Amalie Skram’s Betrayed.
A reading and panel discussion with author Dorrit Willumsen and translator Marina Allemano
Tuesday 16 October 2018, 6.00-7.30pm
UCL Arena Centre
10th Floor, 1-19 Torrington Place, London, WC1E 7HB
Tickets are free, but pre-registration is essential. To book your place, please email firstname.lastname@example.org by 9 October
Join us over a glass of wine with Danish author Dorrit Willumsen and translator Marina Allemano, as they discuss the process of bringing Herman Bang to the English-speaking world. Bang will be available for sale at a special discounted price for one night only.
In Bang, winner of the 1997 Nordic Council Literature Prize, Dorrit Willumsen re-works the life story of Danish author, journalist and dramaturge Herman Bang (1857-1912). In a series of compelling flashbacks that unfold during his last fateful train ride across the USA, we are transported to fin-de-siècle St Petersburg, Prague, Copenhagen, and a Norwegian mountainside. A key figure in Scandinavia’s Modern Breakthrough, Herman Bang’s major works include Haabløse Slægter (Hopeless Generations, 1880), Stuk (Stucco, 1887) and Tine (Tina, 1889).
Browse and buy Bang and other books in all good bookshops and at norvikpress.com
Women in Translation Month is almost over, but we couldn’t let it pass without celebrating the woman whose shadow looms large over our catalogue, and the women and men who have translated her work: Selma Lagerlöf.
For a limited time only, we’re offering ten Lagerlöf masterpieces for £100. Read on for more details…
To date, Norvik Press has published ten of Lagerlöf’s works in English translation [click here to download the series leaflet]:
A Manor House Tale: a psychological novella and a folk tale in which two young and damaged people redeem each other.
The Emperor of Portugallia: A compelling exploration of father-daughter relationships and of madness.
The Phantom Carriage: an atmospheric ghost story and a cautionary tale of the effects of tuberculosis and alcoholism, famously adapted to film by the great Swedish director Victor Sjöström.
Lord Arne’s Silver: from a 16th-century killing unfolds a tale of retribution, love and betrayal.
The Löwensköld Trilogy: Lagerlöf’s last work of fiction, the trilogy follows several generations of a cursed family and explores destiny, evil, motherhood, and many other themes along the way. The trilogy consists of three volumes: The Löwensköld Ring, Charlotte Löwensköld, and Anna Svärd.
The internationally beloved tale of a boy and his goose, Nils Holgersson’s Wonderful Journey through Sweden, Volume 1 and Volume 2 (Nils Holgersson is also available in a single-volume hardback collector’s edition).
Purchased individually, all eleven paperbacks (including the two paperback volumes of Nils Holgersson) cost a total of £135 (plus P&P). Until 14 September 2018, we are offering a limited number of complete sets of eleven paperbacks at the discounted price of £100 (plus P&P). This special price is only available on orders placed directly with Norvik Press, not through book stores or online. Please email email@example.com to place your order. First come, first served – available only while stocks last!
In August we celebrate Women in Translation Month. In addition to publishing many female authors over half of Norvik publications are translated by women. Some recently published examples of both excellent writing and translation by women include Suzanne Brøgger’s essay collection A Fighting Pig’s Too Tough to Eat translated by Marina Allemano, Selma Lagerlöf’s Banished translated by Linda Schenck and Vigdis Hjorth’s A House in Norway translated by Charlotte Barslund.
To celebrate the work of women in translation Norvik is offering blog readers a 10% discount on works by female authors published by Norvik on orders submitted by the end of August 2018. Browse our catalogue here and email your order directly to firstname.lastname@example.org, quoting the discount code WOMEN IN TRANSLATION. Please note that this offer only applies to orders emailed directly to Norvik, and cannot be used for purchases in bookshops or online.