Wednesday, 4:00 pm EST February 7, 2024
The Center for Fiction
With their innovative new novels, Linnea Axelsson and Alexis Wright explore the legacy of colonialism across the globe. Axelsson’s Ædnan, translated by Saskia Vogel, is a multigenerational novel-in-verse about two Sámi families and their quest to stay together across a century of migration, violence, and colonial trauma. Weaving together the voices of half a dozen characters, Ædnan is a powerful reminder of how durable language can be, even when it is borrowed, especially when it has to hold what no longer remains. Wright’s Praiseworthy is a phantasmagorical epic following one family contending with interconnected crises amidst a mysterious cloud encroaching on their Northern Australian town, heralding both an ecological catastrophe and a gathering of the ancestors.
A cry of outrage against oppression and disadvantage and a fable for the end of days, Praiseworthy pushes allegory and language to its limit. Pulitzer finalist Tommy Orange (There There) will moderate a conversation between Axelsson, Wright, and Vogel about their novels; the past, present, and future of indigeneity and colonialism; and writing across time, place, and form.
This is a livestreamed event with an in-person audience at The Center for Fiction. Axelsson, Vogel, and Orange will be hosted by the Center for the Art of Translation at The Center for Architecture + Design, 140 Sutter St., San Francisco (1pm PT) with Wright joining remotely.
About The International Library
This event is part of The International Library, a series launched in collaboration with the American Library in Paris, the Center for the Art of Translation, and The London Library, which offers conversations across time, place, and language. The International Library celebrates the live diffusion of in-person conversations in the hope of connecting new audiences across land and sea for a collective, intercultural experience. These conversations will broach deeper questions about writing and translation as we learn to think critically about how stories are told, investigating the points of view, the timing of the translations, and the intended or assumed audiences as well as inspiration, philosophy, and craft.
Linnea Axelsson is a Sámi-Swedish writer, born in the province of North Bothnia in Sweden. In 2018, she was awarded the August Prize for this book. She lives in Stockholm, Sweden. Linnea’s US tour is being implemented with the assistance of a grant from the Swedish Arts Council.
Photo Credit: Daniel Pedersen
Saskia Vogel is an author and translator from Los Angeles, now living in Berlin. She was awarded the Berlin Senate grant for non-German literature and two English PEN Translates Awards and was a PEN America Translation Prize finalist. She is Princeton University’s Fall 2022 Translator in Residence.
Photo Credit: Fette Sans
Alexis Wright is a member of the Waanyi nation of the southern highlands of the Gulf of Carpentaria. The author of the prize-winning novels Carpentaria, The Swan Book, and Praiseworthy. Wright has published three works of nonfiction: Take Power, an oral history of the Central Land Council; Grog War, a study of alcohol abuse in the Northern Territory; and Tracker, an award-winning collective memoir of Aboriginal leader Tracker Tilmouth. Her work has been translated into Chinese, Polish, French, and Italian. She held the position of Boisbouvier Chair in Australian Literature at the University of Melbourne between 2017–2022. Wright is the only author to win both the Miles Franklin Award (in 2007 for Carpentaria) and the Stella Prize (in 2018 for Tracker).
Photo Credit: Darren James
Tommy Orange is a graduate of the MFA program at the Institute of American Indian Arts. An enrolled member of the Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes of Oklahoma, he was born and raised in Oakland, California. His first book, There There, was a finalist for the 2019 Pulitzer Prize and received the 2019 American Book Award. He lives in Oakland, CA.
Photo Credit: Elena Seibert
Ædnan: An Epic
By Linnea Axelsson
Published by Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Translated by Saskia Vogel
In Northern Sámi, the word Ædnan means the land, the earth, and my mother. These are all crucial forces within the lives of the Indigenous families that animate this groundbreaking book: an astonishing verse novel that chronicles a hundred years of change: a book that will one day stand alongside Halldór Laxness’s Independent People and Sigrid Undset’s Kristin Lavransdatter as an essential Scandinavian epic.
The tale begins in the 1910s, as Ristin and her family migrate their herd of reindeer to summer grounds. Along the way, forced to separate due to the newly formed border between Sweden and Norway, Ristin loses one of her sons in the aftermath of an accident, a grief that will ripple across the rest of the book. In the wake of this tragedy, Ristin struggles to manage what’s left of her family and her community.
In the 1970s, Lise, as part of a new generation of Sámi grappling with questions of identity and inheritance, reflects on her traumatic childhood, when she was forced to leave her parents and was placed in a Nomad School to be stripped of the language of her ancestors. Finally, in the 2010s we meet Lise’s daughter, Sandra, an embodiment of Indigenous resilience, an activist fighting for reparations in a highly publicized land rights trial, in a time when the Sámi language is all but lost.
Weaving together the voices of half a dozen characters, from elders to young people unsure of their heritage, Axelsson has created a moving family saga around the consequences of colonial settlement. Ædnan is a powerful reminder of how durable language can be, even when it is borrowed, especially when it has to hold what no longer remains. “I was the weight / in the stone you brought / back from the coast // to place on / my grave,” one character says to another from beyond the grave. “And I flew above / the boat calling / to you all: // There will be rain / there will be rain.”
By Alexis Wright
Published by New Directions Publishing
In a small town in the north of Australia, a mysterious cloud heralds both an ecological catastrophe and a gathering of the ancestors. A crazed visionary looks to donkeys to solve the global climate crisis and the economic dependency of the Aboriginal people. His wife, seeking solace from his madness, follows the dance of butterflies and scours the internet to find out how her Aboriginal/Chinese family could be repatriated to China. One of their sons, named Aboriginal Sovereignty, is determined to commit suicide. The other, Tommyhawk, wishes his brother dead so that he can pursue his dream of becoming white and powerful. Praiseworthy is an epic which pushes allegory and language to its limit; a unique masterpiece that bends time and reality, opening new literary vistas; a cry of outrage against oppression and disadvantage; and a fable for the end of days..
About this series
The International Library
Join the American Library in Paris, the Center for the Art of Translation, and The Center for Fiction for conversations across time, place, culture, and literary tradition, with live audiences in San Francisco, Brooklyn, and Paris.
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