It’s been a while…

It’s been a good few months now since I last posted anything here, and I’m sorry for the long silence. Since I started this blog in 2018, I think the longest gap between posts up until now has been a couple of weeks, even during the madness of the Covid lockdown almost three years ago. So I wanted to try to return to some kind of rhythm, starting by explaining why things have gone quiet (and ending with a round-up of recent reads!)

This time last year, I felt that I had reached a stage where I was just churning out reviews, in a way that was great in the sense of talking about lots of great books, but not as mindful as I have always tried to make this project. It was also taking its toll on me – every week I was reading one book while writing about another I’d read a few weeks previously, and I was starting to lose both the enjoyment that has always fuelled what I do here and the sense that I was making any real kind of difference. I took some time to think about what I wanted Translating Women to be/ do going forward, and wrote about my misgivings that in not slowing down to reflect and recalibrate on an ongoing basis I was becoming part of a problem instead of part of a solution.

I thought that after that I’d have so much to write about, to share thoughts on, and to review. And I do… but I haven’t been able to do the regular writing. The main reason for this is what I think is usually described as “burnout” – three years on from the moment when a global pandemic changed our lives, it doesn’t feel that things have slowed down or become more manageable. The demands and pressures alter, but don’t reduce. I don’t want to start listing those pressures here – I feel very aware that I am privileged just to be able to write this, that I am not living in a warzone, that my home has not been razed by an earthquake, that I still have employment in a time of recession. And so my struggles to write regular blog posts while all that is going on in the world seems like a relatively insignificant problem, even if it’s one I didn’t want to ignore.

I have a half-written post on my favourite books of 2022 that I still hope to finish and share with you (yes, I know 2022 is rapidly fading to a distant memory, but there were still some great books!) – one way or another, I’ll write about those books here. And maybe “slow writing” is the way forward, because it gets away from the focus on new releases – don’t get me wrong, I love new releases (and there are some 2023 releases I’m very excited about, which ideally would have been another blog post!), but that doesn’t mean that if I haven’t already read or written about something that was published last year, it should fall off the end of my list. I also want to talk to you about my translation of Darina Al Joundi’s Marseillaise My Way, the sequel to The Day Nina Simone Stopped Singing, about my new (well, no longer that new, but I refer you to the previous paragraph!) book on activism in translation and publishing, and about English PEN’s brilliant digital publishing initiative PEN Presents, which I am immensely honoured to be involved with.

So I hope to get back to some kind of rhythm here – perhaps not as regular as in previous years, but without the long silence of the past months. In the meantime, here are some of the things I’ve been reading and doing:

I went to see the theatrical adaptation of Olga Tokarczuk’s Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead (based on Antonia Lloyd-Jones’s translation for Fitzcarraldo Editions) and it was excellent. I always loved the narrator, Mrs Duszejko, and she is brilliantly brought to life onstage – the production captured all of the injustice and intrigue, but also all of the humour. (I have to thank Katie Brown for organising our trip – without her I likely wouldn’t even have realised that Drive Your Plow was coming to Bristol!)

Ave Barrera’s The Forgery (translated by Ellen Jones and Robin Myers for Charco Press and published last year) was a magnificent start to my year’s reading – I was completely swept away by the story of a down-on-his-luck painter brought into a shady underworld of obscene privilege and finding himself trapped both physically and psychologically. The translation was so lexically rich and peppered with understated irony – I would love to know more about how Jones and Myers navigated the co-translation.

I finally read (in French) Nina Bouraoui’s Tous les hommes désirent naturellement savoir: I’ve been reading Bouraoui’s work for 20 years now, and this one felt like a powerful and near-flawless culmination of everything I read of hers in the early 2000s. It’s available in translation by Aneesa Abbas Higgins (Penguin, 2021) and well worth a read whether or not you already know Bouraoui’s work. I also did an online event in November with Nina and Aneesa to launch Nina’s latest novel Satisfaction in Aneesa’s translation for Héloïse Press – I’m hoping a recording will be available on YouTube soon, and will share it here if so!

A book I abandoned: Dorthe Nors’s Wild Swims, translated by Misha Hoekstra (Pushkin Press, 2020). I just couldn’t get into any of these short stories, and about half-way through decided to stop. I’ve tried reading Nors before (Mirror, Shoulder, Signal, same translator and publisher, from 2017 I think) and struggled with it then too. All the reviews I’ve seen of her work are very positive though, so I guess I’m just missing something!

Thank you as always for reading – I hope to be back with more translation talk soon.

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