Saturday, September 17, 2011

ATBTM on WBUR's "Here & Now"

Jim Kates of Zephyr Press spoke very generously of All This Belongs to Me in a January appearance on WBUR's "Here & Now," hosted by Robin Young. Listen to the interview here.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

More on the NTA for ATBTM

The news that All This Belongs to Me is the winner of this year's National Translation Award was officially announced by ALTA yesterday, with repeats of the news at the Literary Saloon, a three-liner at Words Without Borders, and of course the notice from our steadfast supporter Stephan Delbos at the Prague Post.

(Delbos, who did an interview with me in September, also notes that Petra will be appearing in Prague Nov. 17 at Veletržní palác as part of a discussion on the state of literature in the digital age.)

And the ever-growing, bilingual Portál české literatury/Czech Literature Portal, ably (inside joke) managed by Jaroslav Balvín and Viktor Debnár, has posted the magnificent news in Czech and English alike.

The ALTA press release quotes from the lovely comments in the reader's report that jury member Sidney Wade read out loud to the audience at the award ceremony last Thursday night, describing All This Belong to Me as a:
“beautifully fluent translation that portrays each character in convincingly idiomatic English, and yet still manages to distinguish the five closely related main characters according to their individual temperaments. The story is compelling on personal and broader, political levels, the characters are deeply human, and their difficult choices are portrayed with great dignity. All in all, this is a book to be savored and treasured.”
As Borat would say, very nice!

Monday, October 25, 2010

ATBTM takes home National Translation Award

October 21, at the Downtown Marriott in Philadelphia, the American Literary Translators Association (ALTA) presented the 2010 National Translation Award to Alex Zucker for his translation of Petra Hůlová's debut novel, All This Belongs to Me (Northwestern University Press, 2009).

Criteria for granting the award, which this year came with a prize of $5,000, are "(1) the significance of the literary contribution of the original as well as of the translation; and (2) the success of the translation in recreating the artistry of the original."

Sidney Wade, a member of the jury, in her remarks said that 109 books were nominated for the award and 15 of them made it through to the final round—more finalists than in any year before. For information on past NTA winners, click here (and scroll down).

First to report the news was Zdeněk Fučík of the Czech News Agency ČTK, whose dispatch rapidly made its way into the Czech press, first on aktuálně.cz, then on, a service of Hospodářské noviny.

Asked to comment on receiving the award, Zucker told ČTK:
"First and foremost, for me personally it is an enormous honor. Second, it means that ALTA recognizes the importance of small presses (in this case, Northwestern University Press) in keeping literary translation alive. Third, it is a recognition of the forward thinking Northwestern showed in choosing to publish what may be the first Czech novel ever translated that is not about Czechs or the Czech lands. This is a major landmark."

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Friday, January 29, 2010

ATBTM makes the grade for Kansan librarian

A shout-out to the librarian at the Johnson County Library in Overland Park, Kansas, who chose All This Belongs to Me as her or his staff pick this month.

The anonymous bibliognost, who goes by the handle "bornm," is apparently a native Czech, as s/he states that s/he actually read the book twice: "Once in my native language Czech to keep up with the contemporary Czech authors and also my native language, and the second time in English to compare the precision and style of the translation."

Inquiring minds would love to know bornm's thoughts on the translation's precision and style, but alas, we are left unsated.

Florida prof first to make ATBTM required reading

I'm proud to announce that Dr. Eva Wampuszyc, of the University of Florida, in Gainesville, has become the first university professor to place All This Belongs to Me on her required reading list! It's for a spring 2010 course titled "Women from the 'Other' Europe: Femininity and Fiction in Central and Eastern Europe."

Looks like a great course, by the way, and I've written Dr. Wampuszyc an e-mail to thank her. The other required books are How We Survived Communism and Even Laughed (Slavenka Drakulić), Snow White and Russian Red (Dorota Masłowska), and The Appointment (recent Nobel Prize winner Herta Müller).

Not to mention, Wampuszyc's students will get to watch Daisies, by Věra Chytilová, and Andrzej Wajda's Man of Marble and Man of Iron. Good times! This is the kind of course that I ate up when I was in grad school!

Saturday, January 16, 2010

All This Belongs to Me reviewed in TLS!

Here it is — from the most prestigious literary review in the English language, published in the edition of January 8, 2010, on page 21, under the title "What belongs," by Madeline Clements:

Petra Hůlová's first novel, which tells the imaginary life stories of three generations of twentieth-century Mongolian women, caused a sensation when it was first published in the Czech Republic in 2002. The author, then a twenty-three-year-old student of Mongolian Studies, attributed the book's popularity partly to her youth and good looks, but also, more interestingly, to its unusual setting within a Euro-Asian culture, poised between Russia and the East.

The novel's appeal does not lie in Hůlová's provision of colourful snapshots of a remote foreign landscape. Her bleak depictions of life spent on Mongolia's rural steppe in the longed-for capital, Ulan Bator, are far from picturesque. Even the moments when the book briefly lightens are grounded in a gritty realism: the yielding of a love-starved kitchen girl in a cheap city guanz to the touch of a greasy maternal hand in her hair; an ostracized old lady's proud self-enthroning "like a khan princess" outside her yurt, where she may finally find rest. These five bitter narratives of female abuse, exploitation and loss — often enacted by women on women — are, like the lives of the novel's protagonists, monotonous, and at times hard to endure.

Alex Zucker's English title draws attention to the Mongolian characters' need to belong to — and be able to claim ownership of — a home place, powerfully symbolized here by the family yurt or ger. It also highlights one of the novel's central ironies: that while the story may take the reader into the heart of the traditional Mongolian home, the tale that is told is one of estrangement from that sheltering centre. Hůlová's main narrator, Zaya, and her younger sister, Nara, are the illegitimate products of their mother's sexual encounters with Chinese and Russian men, and are rejected as erliz or half-breeds by their clan. Sent to the city by their mother, the two girls are recruited as prostitutes in their aunt's brothel, thus losing ownership of their bodies. Both bear illegitimate children. Zaya keeps her baby and becomes a single mother; Nara gives hers up, and remains childless. As a result they are further isolated from their pure-blooded Mongol sister and excluded by their xenophobic tribe.

The poetic passages which frame the novel's start and close, lyrically translated by Zucker, offer a poignant illustration of Zaya's status as "other" in her society. We are aware of this throughout the narrative, but she and her sister barely acknowledge it, either to themselves or to one another. We first meet Zaya as a stolid little girl, seated "at home" in front of her parents' ger in a dust storm, childishly confident in spite of growing doubts about her Khalkha purity. At the end of the novel, having returned to her home town of Bashkgan somon, she takes up her stance as an old woman before the dilapidated ger she has on temporary loan from her sister. When her fantasies of ownership and citizenship are stripped away, what "belongs" to Zaya is immaterial: her knowledge of the harsh landscape she surveys, and the colour and scent of old memories.

The novel may leave the reader with a feeling of emptiness, but All This Belongs to Me is an acutely observed account — compelling despite its grimness — of the lives of its semi-nomadic subjects. Yet, while this European author's novel may seem to reinforce Western assumptions about the oppressed lives of women in developing countries, the representations here are not straightforward. Hůlová has said that her characters and the realities they face were modelled on Czech subjects, transported in fiction to a distant setting, where their emotions and relationships might be pursued in a purer form uncluttered by European ephemera. The seemingly authentic Mongolian characters, European projections onto an Asian landscape, are in fact ambiguous cultural hybrids. Their experiences of racism and sexism reflect not only on the Mongolian society Hůlová appears to scrutinize, but also on the Czech one that informs her subject matter. While the original Czech title, Paměť mojí babičce or "Memory for My Grandmother," hints at an intimate relationship between the author and the women of the novel, the connection is severed in the English version. One hopes that the complex dual perspectives such contemporary "writings from an unbound Europe" can offer are not overlooked as a result.