...for every one Seferis or Nazım Hikmet out there, there are many more writers who are celebrated in their own language who never make it into English.
The recent anniversary of the coup attempt in Turkey on July 15, 2016, has reminded me that I’ve been back in the United States for almost a year. My friends and I from my “Istanbul years” now divide our lives into before and after the coup attempt, and while my constant comparisons of New York and Istanbul have faded, the indelible imprint of my life in “the City” has not left the way I view the US’s literary center.
Dr. Aron Aji is a highly accomplished translator with a range of work under his belt, from Turkish writers that include Elif Shafak, Murathan Mungan, Bilge Karasu, and Latife Tekin. His translations of Karasu’s works in particular have earned him the 2004 National Translation Award and an NEA Literature Fellowship. He was short-listed for the 2013 PEN Translation Prize, is the president of The American Literary Translators Association, and is the director of the University of Iowa MFA in Literary Translation.
I had the honor of speaking with Dr. Mutlu Konuk Blasing and Randy Blasing, the formidable translators of Nazım Hikmet. The Blasings have translated six books of Hikmet’s poetry together, and on their own they have a long record of contributions to scholarship and poetry. Dr. Blasing is also the author of the Hikmet biography, Nazım Hikmet: The Life and Times of Turkey’s World Poet. We chatted about the challenges of translating the leftist poet and contemporary American poetry’s turn away from realism.
In continuing to write about translating Turkish texts, I spoke with Dr. Erdağ Göknar, an award-winning scholar, poet, and translator best known for his work on Orhan Pamuk’s My Name Is Red, which propelled the author to win the Nobel Prize in 2006, and Ahmet Hamdi Tanpınar’s A Mind at Peace. Göknar, an associate professor at Duke University, recently released his first poetry collection, Nomadologies. We discussed how Göknar’s diaspora background contributes to his work, his approach to translation as a creative act, and the limiting factor of editorial expectations in publishing Turkish texts in translation.
Amy Spangler is the co-founder of the Turkish literary agency AnatoliaLit and a translator of several novels from Turkish to English. Amy’s latest translation, Noontime in Yenişehir, was published by Milet Publishing last year. We chatted about the challenges of translating that novel, her push to bring Turkish modern classics to English readers, and the difficulties she encountered selling writer Aslı Erdoğan’s work in English before she became known for her imprisonment following the July 15th coup attempt in Turkey.
I’ve known Derick since the fall of 2009. We would later come to co-found the Istanbul Writers’ Group before Derick became known for his translating. His poems and translations have appeared in places like Asymptote, Subtropics, Gulf Coast, Copper Nickel, and The Adroit Journal. Derick had a British Center for Literary Translation mentorship in 2013 and has an MFA in Poetry from the University of Wisconsin—Madison. He’s currently at the University of Iowa where he’s an MFA candidate in Literary Translation and an Iowa Arts Fellow. I caught up with him on his approach to translation, why he believes that all poets should translate, and how he wanted his time in Turkey to be very Turkish.
Since Chad Post, founding publisher of Open Letter Books, created The Three Percent blog in 2007, the term the “three percent” has become a household one to highlight the percentage of translated books published in the United States. A decade on, the blog has expanded to include a yearly database, an annual prize, and a book (The Three Percent Problem: Rants and Responses on Publishing, Translation, and the Future of Reading by Chad W. Post), and Post himself shows no sign of slowing down in his quest to expand the reach of literature in translation.
As I turn to look back on 2016, I see the events that have transpired that make me, as well as many, hope that 2017 is better, but I also see all the books I never managed to read. Despite having read and enjoyed works in translation like Christos Ikonomou’s Something Will Happen, You’ll See and Burhan Sönmez’s İstanbul, İstanbul, I know that the full range of works in translation this year alone is vast (580 books according to Three Percent’s 2016 database). With that in mind, the books below, organized by country, are all the books I wish I would have gotten to in 2016.
Lawrence Durrell’s life-long relationship with Greece began early. Like Patrick Leigh Fermor, he too was the product of British colonialism, having been born in Jalandar, a case that may be more common than is often realized in thinking about Britain’s involvement in India. Sent off to England at the age of 11 for school, he would eventually fail his university entrance exams.
On the flight back to Istanbul, I hold one of the first books put out by Istos Publishing in my hands. Out of the press’s slim, silver-colored bilingual Greek-Turkish edition of Nikos Kazantzakis’s The Ascetic (Ασκητική-Çileci), the publishing house’s logo pops out in gold, almost holographic. I turn the pages and the zen-like messages appear in Greek on one page and Turkish on the next, like halves of a whole, the meaning almost exactly alike. The languages on both sides of the page remind me that I’m about to reenter the space in which both of those languages, Greek and Turkish, are integral to my life.
The year was 1944. Special Operations Executive officer Patrick “Paddy” Leigh Fermor, having spent a year in Cairo, returned to the occupied island of Crete to kidnap a German general. The Kidnap, or Abduction, of General Kreipe, as the incident would become known, would highlight Leigh Fermor’s mix of charm and autodidactic knowledge. In the morning after the kidnapping, dawn lit up snow-capped Mount Ida. Leigh Fermor heard the general mutter, “Vides ut alta stet nive candidum Soracte . . . ”, To his captive’s amazement, Leigh Fermor continued the recitation. He had memorized the whole of Horace’s Odes more than 10 years before, while walking across Europe on a trip that would set the course of his life.
The aftermath of war and displacement is often a diaspora, the literal scattering of a group’s seeds far from the tree of origins. However to call that wrenching of branches, as was discussed in Part I of this series (Mirrored Crisis: What Jeffrey Eugenides’s Middlesex can show us about today’s refugee crisis) just a scattering is to deny the pain involved. The descendants of a group who have gone through such traumas often feel something missing in what was once their homelands, the tree of origins now like a phantom limb that aches so much that they are moved to try to discover the original tree.
Most of us who now call ourselves Americans were at one point something else, or else we owe our citizenship to family members who immigrated. In the brouhaha of fear following the Paris attacks however, this has almost entirely been forgotten, adding more steps to an already long process for any refugee to enter the United States, not to mention the process already in place for non-refugees who wish to reside in the country.
We’ve been told not to use the metro. We’ve lived through warnings during Nevruz, the Kurdish New Year, to not go out due to potential clashes on the streets. The German Consulate and German schools in Istanbul shut down for two days ahead of the weekend due to a threat, and so the streets were nearly empty on Saturday, March 19th, when a bomb exploded on Istiklal Caddesi, the largest shopping street in the whole city, a place where any number of us living in the center of the city are wont to pass through often. This was a whole six days after the bombing in Ankara that killed 37 people at a bus stop on a Sunday evening.