Monday, March 22, 2010

Words Without Borders, translated literature collection

The World Through the Eyes of Writers

This anthology is an unusual collection of writing that contains poetry as well as excerpts of literary fiction. What makes it different from other anthologies is that each section is introduced by another author/writer who explains why they selected it for inclusion and how they were affected by it. All 28 of the sections have never before been published in English, and the contributors are diverse and eclectic. Produced by Words Without Borders, it continues their mission of shining light on translated works of literature.

For example, Ariel Dorfman introduces a section by Argentina's noted author Juan Forn, “Swimming at Night”. It’s a subtle expression of regret and knowledge combining to make a moving portrait of a man learning to embrace fatherhood. Of the appearance of his dead father in the living room, he asks “If you knew how many things I did these past years for your benefit, thinking that you were watching.”

Another is a short story by Johan Harstad of Norway, entitled “Vietnam. Thursday.” It is introduced by Heidi Julavits, who describes the impact as “an achingly lonely story [that] artfully deepens a flatscreen modern world into a 3-D portrait of the empathy one stranger experiences on behalf of another stranger, which becomes, in true transitive fashion, empathy flung back upon oneself.” The ironic image of the psychologist going home to ask questions of an anonymous online psychology robot is not one easily forgotten.

A poem by Etel Adnan is introduced by Diana Abu Jaber, and within it this stanza “those who cannot travel discover the geography of the body, there are also airports and harbors at the surface of our souls”.

This is a fascinating collection and one that may take some time to get used to, as the cultural differences and allusions are left in place for you to contemplate. It is available at and other bookstores. See also the website for more literary translations, an online magazine and a reading blog with updates.


  1. not only did every single one of those quotes and examples give me chilly bumps but I am ordering the book right now AND I am going to read this along with you SLOWLY! and savor it! because this sounds like one of those books you have to savor. I know I'm going to sleep with the image in my head of how many times did I think my father was many times do my children think I am looking....
    Only this past year did I really, truly discover how much I liked authors from other countries and believe it or not it was after schlepping through One Hundred Years of Solitude. My love of foreign writers just grew exponentially. Thanks for sharing this book. Thank you for the perfect quotes, not the easiest of quotes, but perfect.
    Awesome review!