PEN is mightier than S.W.O.R.D.*

The 2012 PEN Translation Fund Grants have been announced, with the work of two Central European writers among the final 12.

A Hóhér Háza (The Hangman’s House) by Andrea Tompa, translated by Bernard Adams tells the story of a Hungarian-Romanian family living through the final two decades of Ceauşescu’s Romania. Tompa is president of the Hungarian Theatre Critics’ Association and has been active in discussing the frightening political swing in the country and its effect on art and culture.

The repressive media laws and the replacement of the director of Budapest’s Új Színház (New Theater) with a politically acceptable candidate (who happens to be the Hungarian dubbed voice of Bruce Willis) are two of the higher profile cases. Hungarian Watch describes the prerequisites for advancement in the country’s theater sector very bluntly:

“If you hate liberals and write proposals filled with anti-Semitic vitriol, the government will reward you with your own theater.  Additionally, the Hungarian government would very much like to make sure that the world knows Hungary had no involvement in the Holocaust.”

Read an interview with Tompa done during a US trip of “Solidarity Events.”

Bernard Adams most recently translated Kornél Esti by Dezső Kosztolányi, for which he also received a PEN translation grant in 2008. The novel was on the fiction shortlist for this year’s Best Translated Book Award.

The other translation grant in the region went to Deborah Garfinkle’s translation of Pavel Šrut’s 1969 book of poetry Worm-Eaten Light (Červotočivé světlo). Read more about Šrut and Garfinkle on the Czech Literature Portal site.

PEN World Voices online

Following the recent PEN World Voices Festival there is an excellent selection of writing by festival participants available online – including three stories from Best European Fiction 2012 (Róbert Gál’s “Agnomia,” Noëlle Revaz’s “The Children” and Patrick Boltshauser’s “Tomorrow It’s Deggendorf”). There are also extracts from the novels Daniel Stein, Interpreter by Ludmila Ulitskaya and Provisional by Gabriela Adameşteanu.

There is also a fascinating timeline of PEN activities in the “low, dishonest decade” of the 1930s (though the current and previous decade seem to have been aiming for LDD (low, dishonest decade) status. With seven and a half years to go in this decade, there is still hope.

* S.W.O.R.D. – there really is an organization called S.W.O.R.D.. Okay, not really as in reality, but in the fictional sense of really – i.e. I didn’t make it up. It stands for Sentient World Observation and Response Department and is a counterterrorism unit devoted to threats from outer space that first appeared in an X-Men comic.

Photo – Sword Tyrnung by Jake Powning, including a scabbard that contains two stanzas of the Runatal in Old Norse, making it something of a combo of pen and sword

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