The Center for Fiction was delighted to welcome YZ Chin, Madhu Kaza, Emma Ramadan, and David Unger to join our panel discussion on the politics of translation. The art of translation is just that—an art, one that requires degrees of reverence, patience, and introspection. The role of the translator is also an advocate, tasked with defending the text as it is introduced to other cultures while preserving its truth and conveying the author’s message. Topics covered by the panel include navigating the dangers of literary translation, finding genuine, respectful ways of engaging with other cultures, negotiating the desires of the translator, and bringing new life to ‘lost’ books through the resurrecting craft of translation.
The Age of Goodbyes
By Li Zi Shu
Published by The Feminist Press at CUNY
Translated by YZ Chin
In 1969, in the wake of Malaysia’s deadliest race riots, a woman named Du Li An secures her place in society by marrying a gangster. In a parallel narrative, a critic known only as The Fourth Person explores the work of a writer also named Du Li An. And a third storyline is in the second person: “you” are reading a novel titled The Age of Goodbyes. Floundering in the wake of your mother’s death, you are trying to unpack the secrets surrounding your lineage. The winner of multiple awards, and a Taiwanese best seller, this dazzling novel is a profound exploration of what happens to personal memory when official accounts of history distort and render it taboo.
YZ Chin is the author of Edge Case, a New York Times Editors’ Choice, and Though I Get Home, winner of the Louise Meriwether First Book Prize. She is also the translator of The Age of Goodbyes by Li Zi Shu. Her writing has appeared in the New York Times Book Review, Guernica, Gulf Coast, Electric Literature, and elsewhere.
Photo Credit: Drew Stevens
Born in Andhra Pradesh, India, Madhu H. Kaza is a writer, translator, artist, and educator based in New York City. She is a translator of contemporary Telugu women writers including Volga and Vimala. She guest edited a folio of writing from less translated languages as a special feature for the Summer/Fall 2022 issue of Gulf Coast, and she served as a 2021 juror for the National Book Awards in Translated Literature. She is the editor of Kitchen Table Translation, a volume that explores connections between translation and migration, and her work has appeared in the Yale Review, Gulf Coast, the Los Angeles Review of Books, Guernica, Two Lines, Waxwing, Chimurenga, and more. She works as Assistant Dean of the Bard Microcolleges at the Bard Prison Initiative and also teaches in the MFA Writing program at Columbia University.
Emma Ramadan is an educator and literary translator from French. She is the recipient of the PEN Translation Prize, the Albertine Prize, an NEA Fellowship, and a Fulbright. Her translations include Abdellah Taïa’s A Country for Dying, Virginie Despentes’s Pretty Things, and Barbara Molinard’s Panics.
Photo Credit: Katya Potkin
Guatemalan-born David Unger received his country’s Miguel Angel Asturias National Literature Prize for lifetime achievement in 2014 though he writes exclusively in English and lives in the U.S. The Mastermind, his latest novel, has been translated into nine languages including Spanish, Arabic, Italian, Turkish and Polish. In 2011 he published The Price of Escape (New York: Akashic Books) and Para Mi, Eres Divina (Random House Mondadori, Mexico). Other books include Ni chicha, ni limonada (F y G Editores, 2019, 2009) and Life in the Damn Tropics (Wisconsin University Press, 2004). His short stories and essays have appeared in the Paris Review, Delta de las arenas: cuentos árabes, cuentos judíos (Literal Publishers, 2013), Puertos Abiertos (FCE, 2011), Guernica magazine (February 2016, April 2011, November 2007 and August 2006 and Playboy Mexico (October 2005). He has translated 16 titles. In 2022, Penguin Classics published his re-translation of Guatemalan Literature Nobelist Miguel Angel Asturias’ Mr. President, with an introduction by Mario Vargas Llosa to glowing reviews. He is presently translating Chilean Carlos Franz’s If You Saw Yourself with My Eyes on speculation and is writing a short children’s book on World Kitchen chef José Andrés.
Photo Credit: Miriam Berkley