Tag Archives: translation

Strong Words

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A short discussion with co-translator Jamie Richards on the unavoidable words in Gabriella Kuruvilla’s ‘That’s Life, Honey‘.

Gabriella Kuruvilla’s story, “That’s Life, Honey,” presents an array of narrative elements that are unprecedented in their native Italian context and certainly unusual in English. We have a teenage speaker, named Natasha, who we indirectly learn—based on the sex workers lining her street—lives in a degraded area of a city; we also find out that Natasha is not ethnically Italian, but Indian, at least on her paternal side, and that she is haunted by a lost native language that causes her to speak the only language she really can, Italian, imperfectly. Her story is punctuated by her mother’s darkly humorous expletive, “negro di merda!”, used to express her dissatisfaction with everyone and everything.

The Italian word negro migrates onto the main character as negra and becomes pivotal to the story. The translation of racial terms is always a difficult issue, as they singularly embody national and cultural ideologies and histories, which rarely overlap neatly. In translating this piece, a primary subject of the back-and-forth between Jamie and Alex—both white translators—revolved around the glaring issues associated with translating this particular word. As a slur, would the English cognate “Negro” be appropriate, or is it not strong enough? Would there be any point in italicizing?

Read the full post on the MassReview blog!

That’s Life, Honey

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Out in the Spring 2020 edition of the Massachusetts Review (Volume 61.1), you will find my first published co-translation – with Jamie Richards – of a short story by Gabriella Kuruvilla: That’s Life, Honey.

Image may contain: 1 person, standing and text

The original text can be found in the short story collection by the same title È la vita, dolcezza, by Morellini Editore.

How Contagion Works

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Out on Monday 23rd as an eBook – from Weidenfeld&Nicholson UK – my latest translation from the Italian: Paolo Giordano’s How Contagion Works.

Image may contain: possible text that says 'HOW CONTAGION WORKS Science, Awareness and Community in Times of Global Crisis PAOLO GIORDANO'

The Covid-19 pandemic is the most significant health emergency of our time.
Writing from Italy in lockdown, physicist and novelist Paolo Giordano explains how disease spreads in our interconnected world: why it matters,how it impacts us,how we must react.

By expanding his focus to include other forms of contagion – from the environmental crisis to fake news and xenophobia – Giordano shows us not just how we got here but also how we can work together to move forward.


Paolo Giordano is a physicist and the author of four bestselling novels. His article ‘The Mathematics of Contagion’ – published in Italy at the beginning of the Covid-19 emergency – was shared more than 4 million times and helped shift public opinion in the early stages of the epidemic. The author is donating his royalties to medical research charities and to those who are working to cure those infected.


Translated from the Italian by Alex Valente

How to be a Fascist

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My latest translation from the Italian – published by Pushkin Press – is out on Thursday 16th January: Michela Murgia’s How to be a Fascist.

How to be a fascist michela murgia book cover

Democracy is difficult, flawed and unstable. It involves barely distinguishable political parties taking part in lengthy, overcomplicated and expensive decision-making processes. Trying to engage so many people with political issues seems to lead only to complexity and disagreement. So why bother? Doesn’t fascism guarantee a more effective and efficient management of the state?

In this short, bitingly ironic book, Michela Murgia explores the logic that is attracting increasing numbers of voters to right-wing populism. Ending with a ‘fascistometer’ to measure the reader’s own authoritarian inclinations, How to be a Fascist is a refreshingly direct, polemical book that asks us to confront the fascist in our governments, in our societies and in our own minds.

A Reader’s Decade

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No one asked for it, no one needs it but me. Someone might find it, someone might appreciate it other than me.

I had initially considered writing a top ten for books in the past 2009-2019 period, but realised that books are not the only reading I do, or that anyone should do. In no real order, then, other than their timing, the top 10 reads from the past decade that have, in some way, stuck with me: fiction, non fiction, comics, short, illustrated, poetry, and bits in between.

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Pianto in Poesia con Optimus Prime

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Sei una cosa infelice, condannata ad aver gambe,
con ogni passo porti il peso di amori perduti, amori lasciati,
lavori persi, la montagna di carenze, l’ammontare di mancanze.
Ma le tue gambe si stancano di tenerlo, e te lo muovi sopra
alla testa. Poi la tua testa si stanca, e te lo sposti
sulle spalle. Poi sono stanche & te sei stanco
& non sai cosa fare se non ripiantartelo nelle gambe,
nei piedi, & trascinartelo nel supermercato.
Provi a vendere il tuo dolore al polipo
i cui tentacoli giacciono a fettine. Ma non vuole.
Provi a congelare il tuo buio ma il freezer
lo risputa. Metti un cappello rosa al tuo grigiore
& lo marci verso il negozio di giocattoli dove provi a darlo via,
restituirlo all’ultima versione dell’irraggiungibile
robot della tua infanzia, il camion che si trasforma, un paio
di braccia che reggono pistole, potrebbe reggere il tuo dolore, te.
Ma il pianto è retto dal tuo cuore ora, la tua squisita
macchina personale che sembra finalmente riuscire a contenerlo.
Poi anche il muscolo più testardo si stanca, & lo spedisce
lungo il sistema circolatorio & il sangue lo porta
in ogni parte del tuo corpo allo stesso tempo, e non c’è più movimento.
E allora rimani, seduto nel negozio di giocattoli, come la fine
di una valanga, ogni roccia, albero & desiderio che sia tuo
ora schiacciato, ammassato. & l’urlo della tua sconfitta
è il richiamo che abbatte la montagna.

Originale in inglese di Chen Chen, ‘Sorrow Song with Optimus Prime

Jessica Jacobs, ‘Sulla prima caduta del nostro matrimonio’

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Nonostante io voglia darti
solo gentilezza, c’è spesso un’era tra quello che voglio
e quello che sono.
Ma quante volte ancora puoi piangermi sul petto prima che qualcosa
ci cresca di buono?
Le sequoie prosperano su terreni acidi; evoca
quel peso, quelle radici a dita indurite
per infilzarmi le costole e far partire la pompa arrugginita
nel mio petto. In quell’era, fammi
crescere: un anello per ogni anno, che segna
prosperità e secca e alluvione. Fammi ancorare di più, nelle
tue radici; rendimi parte di qualcosa di più
grande. Fammi crescere forte abbastanza
così che anche dopo la caduta
io possa esserti d’uso –
legname grezzo per travi e travicelli, un tetto
per il tamburellare incessante della pioggia stanotte. Uno spaccato
del mio tronco messo sul giradischi – registrazione
di una cosa passata, musica di una cosa
a venire. Una canzone per ogni anno
in cui imparerò ad amarti meglio.

per ConPao, un anno dopo

original English here

Oche Selvatiche, di Mary Oliver

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Non devi essere buona.
Non devi camminare sulle ginocchia
penitente per miglia nel deserto.
Devi solo lasciare l’animale dolce del tuo corpo
amare ciò che ama.
Parlami di disperazione, della tua, e ti dirò la mia.
Mentre il mondo va avanti.
Mentre il sole e i limpidi ciottoli di pioggia
si muovono attraverso paesaggi,
sopra le praterie e gli alberi profondi,
le montagne e i fiumi.
Mentre le oche selvatiche, in alto nell’azzurro pulito
si muovono di nuovo verso casa.
Non importa chi sei, non importa quanto sola,
il mondo si offre alla tua immaginazione,
ti chiama come chiama le oche, con brusca emozione –
annuncia ancora ed ancora il tuo posto
nella famiglia delle cose.

originale in inglese Wild Geese

My butcher, by Elisabetta Destasio Vettori

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My butcher had eyes of sky
the scent of linden,
white and clean petals
to cover my breasts.
My butcher
had the warm red colour of flamboyants and the strong scent
of the miraculous khat, an echo of far away Yemen.
My butcher,
lit up
candles and wrote on my back
words of honey, of myrrh. There were no nights and I had skin of moonlight;
so he said, as he carved up my life.
My butcher
had eyes of ice, sharpened word blades as if threading pearls.
He had the scent of emptiness and trodden, ruined linden flowers.
Ruins.
My butcher
had the red colour of wounds, of lies, of blows.
One piece at a time he fed
on my nudity, down to my soul,
to my last cent, to the last shred.
To my last.
I have been flesh, I have been goods, I have been water, I have been air,
I have been nothing.
I had no voice to cry. Vocal chords strangled.
I have been goods, I have been water, I have been air, I have been nothing.
But I am alive also in death and I fall from the sky in the shape of a thousand other women
and my wounds are gilded gold, between the word courage and the word love.
And I cry, cry with the voice of a thousand women:
courage
love

original Italian by Elisabetta Destasio Vettori, ‘il mio carnefice’ via Gioianet

媽媽, di Marlene Min-ling Liao

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Metronomo di coltello su tagliere
un coro di rumori

gli occhi mi si riempiono
mentre lei continua senza una lacrima

in fondo al corridoio, odori pungenti
ci sorpassano

lei ronza e borbotta
muovendosi al ritmo suo

un gorgoglio ci scappa dallo stomaco

accogliamo al suo posto dolcezza
ci abbuffiamo col naso
mentre la ammiriamo

oggi
ne copio i suoni
cercando di ricreare gli odori

gli occhi mi si riempiono
e mi fermo

il frigo ronza
e fa eco nella stanza
toccando ogni pezzo di estraneità

non c’è spettacolo qui
il calore portato via
da distanze e tempo

[tradotto con permesso dall’originale inglese di Marlene Min-ling Liao, su Ricepaper]