After spending the last few months consciously trying to read translated books, I found the newest anthology by Center for the Art of Translation, Wherever I Lie Is Your Bed, the perfect introduction to translated literature from around the world. The anthology is a mixture of short stories, book excerpts and poems. The works are stellar; one after another capturing a haunting moment, the beauty of a life, the isolation of a life alone, with an immediacy that some people believe cannot be translated from one language to another. When I read a translated book, I often feel like the translator is a person in the corner watching me, knowing but silent. I poured over the translators introductions to each entry finally feeling like an essential person in my experience was finally given voice.
“Rain at the Construction Site,” a short story from a Greek writer, Ersi Sotiropoulos, translated by Karen Emmerich, contained a combination of the universal, the sadness of a life not lived, a life suddenly and seemingly inexplicitly stolen with elements that were definitely foreign to the American reader. In a snapshot of one afternoon, the reader feels the main characters isolation and kindness as he stops to keep a stranger company during her grief. Even if I didn’t know I was reading a translated story, the second paragraph would have screamed it:
- In his opinion the construction of the road wasn’t moving fast enough, not at the pace he would have liked. “What do you care?” the workmen would bark at him, annoyed. Sooner or later the road would get built, that was their philosophy. “Are you really in such a rush to be out of work?” the foreman would joke.
Clearly, not the overworked American philosophy we’re so used to reading about.