Literary roundup: Looking for Czech translators and the devil’s many roles

Translator Alex Zucker was in Prague to speak about his translation of Jáchym Topol’s novel The Devil’s Workshop (Chladnou Zemí), which will be published in June 2013 as well as his previous Topol translation City Sister Silver. To give an idea of the difficulties presented in translating Vladislav Vančura’s 1931 modernist masterpiece Markéta Lazarová, which he is currently working on, he also read through about 19 variations of the novel’s short opening sentence as well as a handful of variants of the opening page.

It’s hard to convey how singular Vančura’s language is, but from my own experience I can confess that the first time I picked up this novel in Czech and browsed through it I assumed I had made a mistake and pulled it off the wrong shelf. The words looked so unfamiliar that I thought I must have accidentally picked up a Slovak translation.




Radio Prague has an interview with Zucker where he discusses these translations among others (including an extract from The Devil’s Workshop) as well as the situation (not good – are you surprised?) of translation for contemporary Czech literature.

According to the recently released Translation Database there were only three novels translated from Czech in 2012 (a fourth was a Czech novel translated from a Catalan translation). Of the three, only Julia Sherwood’s translation of Petra Procházková’s Freshta is by a living author. Wow, that sucks! Considering the biggest problem appears to be a lack of English speakers who know Czech, I suppose I should start translating. The only problem is that I just sent in my CV applying for the vacant post to head the CIA, so I probably won’t have time.




Stravinsky’s ‘L’Histoire du soldat’

Wouldn’t it be great to get a book that predicts the future and will bring untold wealth? And where would you think to look for it – Amazon? A book store? No, of course not. You would play the violin and make a deal with the devil because who else could possibly have a book like that? That’s the basis of Igor Stravinsky’s timely 1918 work of musical theater L’Histoire du soldat (The Soldier’s Tale) being performed by the Berg Orchestra in an old forgotten theater in Prague on November 12 and 13.

Eva Zeisel: dangerous designer

“I mean, I was a designer of china; I was not in the business of killing Stalin.”

On November 13, PEN American Center and A Public Space magazine will commemorate what would have been the 106th birthday of Eva Zeisel, who died in December 2011 after having lived and worked through some of the darkest chapters of the 20th century (the prison experiences she recounted to her childhood friend Arthur Koestler were made use of in Darkness at Noon).

A Public Space printed Zeisel’s memoirs of her experience in a Soviet concentration camp in issue #14.

Photo – courtesy of Berg Orchestra

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