The end of August, already? Back to school on the brain? Summer may be winding down but The Journal and Catch & Release teams have one more set of beach reads to soak up the last of those literary rays.
After a very disappointed slog through The (endless) GoldFinch, and a far more rewarding sprint through American Innovations—short stories by our own Rivka Galchen—I am thoroughly engrossed in A Half a Yellow Sun, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, a look at the turbulent 60’s in what was, for a moment the nation known as Biafra. The novel examines the complicated politics and morality in a hyper-turbulent time. It is an interesting reflection of some of the issues that motivate the horror in Gaza, and it is a richly compelling read. I just completed Lynda Obst’s Sleepless in Hollywood, a dissection of the many layers of the film industry, and am currently discovering Calcutta in The Lowland, by Jhumpa Lahiri. Much of my summer reading has centered around research — Inter-war Vienna, Vienna in the 1920’s-early’30’s, Croatia and last days of the Hapsburg reign, Croatia in the second have of the 1930’s. But I have discovered (a delightful surprise) Stefan Zweig and Franz Werfel in the process, whose work I am pursuing in German and in translation, and I am working on my thesis translation of a play by Croatian absurdist Radovan Ivsic. Does that count as reading? It must…
Carla Stockton is the Nonfiction Editor of Columbia: A Journal of Literature and Art, Issue 53, and a regular contributor to Catch & Release, where you her semi-weekly column GET REAL.
Katrine Øgaard Jensen
Transfer Fat by Aase Berg (translated from the Swedish by Johannes Göransson)
Aase Berg was among the founding members of the Stockholm Surrealist Group, and this poetry collection is a wonderful introduction to her gorgeous, lush, absolutely insane work. Last year, Transfer Fat was shortlisted for the Best Translated Book Award, and Göransson’s translations absolutely deserve the honor. Just read this: “In the middlecirclehole / hard sucks the hare track / in the inwardcircle whirl / of the strung.” This collection is a maelstrom of mutated language and oddities in translation, and it’s fucking amazing.
Pencil of Rays and Spiked Mace by Niels Lyngsø (translated from the Danish by Gregory Pardlo)
As the first-ever Dane in Columbia University’s Creative Writing MFA Program, I naturally didn’t expect to meet a fellow translator from the Danish during my first year of school. However, I was fortunate enough to share a classroom with Gregory Pardlo in the spring, and he gave me a copy of Pencil of Rays and Spiked Mace. After reading his translations, I secretly built a Gregory Shrine at home, to which I make bi-weekly offerings. Here’s something golden from the very first page: “In the convex mirror of the sea, the sky is in pieces: / stars doze in the cradled waves, / constellations flow, get displaced, the / Milky Way simmers in lengthening swells.” Lyngsø’s poetry is not only conceptually and visually striking on the page; it also reads as though it was written in English originally.
Doppler by Erlend Loe (translated from the Norwegian by Don Bartlett and Don Shaw)
Because it’s one of the only books that’s made me laugh out loud without any intake of alcohol prior to reading.
Katrine Øgaard Jensen is the editor-in-chief for Columbia: A Journal of Literature and Art and an editor-at-large for Asymptote. She is currently pursuing an MFA in creative writing at Columbia University, majoring in fiction and literary translation. She is also a Dane, and a terrible human being.