A veteran photojournalist on the Toronto arts and entertainment scene, Julian Bynoe is a Toronto-based cartoonist, artist and arts blogger. From 1996 to 2014, he was the arts/entertainment editor for the street publication The Outreach Connection, and has had articles featured in Realms Magazine, among others.
Part 1 of 2-part series
Globalization+Literature: Breaking Down Barriers
Lakeside Terrace, Bill Boyle Artport, 235 Queen’s Quay West
Saturday, October 25; 11 a.m.
Left to right: Jonas T. Bengtsson (not shown), Martin Solotruk, Drago Jančar and Andrej Blatnik.
Shop talk means a lot in literary fests, perhaps more than ever in the changing format of print and digital and its delicate balance of those realms. The International Festival of Authors (IFOA) does its best to keep these conversations going as a good feel on what’s out there in regards to publishing, promotion, readership and audiences in order to advance the literary arts.
One particular department nowadays is the global market, just like foreign films, is becoming accessible to a wider crowd and translation is a booming business. In the roundtable discussion “Globalization+Literature: Breaking Down Barriers” featuring Slovak poet and moderator Martin Solotruk and authors Jonas T. Bengtsson of Denmark Slovenians Andrej Blatnik and Drago Jančar in IFOA’s continuing Found in Translation series opened up the topic on what it means to (hopefully) gain a new audience.
“It determinedly means a lot,” said Jančar. “We shouldn’t criticize such efforts when it brings us to great literary events such as this one (IFOA). But also we find the reader, which is more rewarding in finding millions of more readers. So whenever a book is published in another culture (language), which means you can find another readership. Of course it brings some problems, some cultural misunderstandings, especially when the writer is not capable of doing everything.”
“I think it’s more the question of the usage of the language that changes with the translation,” Bengtsson offered, “between the three (Scandinavian) countries and also, I think, because it sometimes gives you a chance to (whether) a Swede or Norwegian person reads me, I get the feeling that they’re actually reading the book and they’re less concerned in what is going on with the themes that might be contemporary and apply to a particular situation in Denmark at the time it was published. They tend to read it more as literature, but that’s also like criticism towards the way that Danes read since we have a tendency to almost always read literature as part of a debate, which I dislike.”
Geopolitics also plays a role here as well. With the semi-bloodless collapse of Eastern European Communism that followed in the Cold War’s wake and brought about the violent dissolution of Yugoslavia, opportunities there brought the publication of more experimental fiction and little-known writers to the West as much as the importance of English as a “bridge” language, it also brought about less quality work and the blowback of previously-unavailable classics, particularly bestsellers, competing with homegrown talents, plus a problem with generational interest of a younger crowd yearning to read the like of George Orwell, for example, than their literary heroes.
“Unfortunately we do live in the time of the bestseller,” Blatnik lamented. “And I think that one thing you can observe is, with smaller countries; you will find a very large appetite for the rest of Europe. Yes, you may pick up a French writer, if that writer sold a hundred thousand or two-hundred thousand copies in France. But I see fewer and fewer translations of quality prose, from my experience on what it used to be like. I remember picking up books at my grandma’s house and they came from all over Europe and I don’t see book’s on [other people’s] bookshelves anymore.”
Yet the prospects of having a translated work will help preserve them and keep the author gainfully employed. There’s always going to be the complaint of something that gets lost in translation, but as Jančar defends, “everything” in the translation does at one point or another and sometimes the latter version is much better in someone else’s language that what they originally wrote.
“I can read Swedish (books) as well, but it would take me longer and I’m a very patient person. I don’t even [do it] most of time,” admitted Bengtsson. “I don’t like to read Danish if it’s not good, so I prefer to read a translation. Some of this (behaviour) is laziness, some of it has to do with turning on the television like, some of what’s on, half of it is in the English language, the other half is going to be in Danish. I think the key challenge between translating and this is all about the rhythm and usage of the language [in question].”
So Long, Marianne
Lakeside Terrace, Bill Boyle Artport, 235 Queen’s Quay West
Saturday, October 25; 4 p.m.
Left to right: Marianne Ihlen, Richard Crouse, Kari Hesthamar and Helle V. Goldman.
Breaking a half-century of silence, the woman behind the Leonard Cohen chestnut “So Long, Marianne” made her appearence alongside author Kari Hesthomar and English translator Helle V. Goldman in the titular biography of Marianne Ihlen, the one-time muse and lover of the iconic Canadian singer/poet in a chat with Metro entertainment columnist Richard Crouse in a lightly engaging conversation with the subject of their time together on the Greek Isle of Hydra’s artist colony in the late 1960s.
Starting off life as a 2005 radio documentary in her native Norway, Hesthomar expanded it into a book version in 2008 and now in it just-released English translation, she wondered who the enigmatic woman was in the haunting song so part of the Cohen lexicon. “So I Googled her,” the author humorously confessed, “and I found two of them and called up the wrong one first. And I found the right one [eventually], presented myself and she was a bit reluctant. So I said give it some thought and I gave her some of my (radio) documentaries, and then she phoned me back a few weeks later.”
And for his part, the characteristically unsentimental Cohen was very generous and open to add his side of their affair. “But he said ‘I suffer from amnesia,’” the author recalled with a little tongue in cheek, “‘so I would have a hard time in going back.’ But he does remember [what happened].”
“I liked her voice,” spoke Ihlen on her reasons to finally consent to doing the radio doc and later the book with Hesthomar. “[It was] very gentle. I’ve been hounded [in the past] by many, many journalists [on the subject] and it’s sort of in an aggressive tone.”
Asked whether she was nervous to open up about her and Cohen, Ihlen dismissed any doubts in going ahead with the project at hand. “The thing was that (Hesthomar) moved into my life. She didn’t live in my house, but she came there very often. And the thing was, she has this way of [making me] go back to the Sixties and that’s a long time back. And she said, ‘What about finding some of the poems, some of the pictures or some of the letters?’ And actually I had boxes that hadn’t been open for fifty years. So she brought me really in [that time], although I didn’t have to go to the therapist, but it was really tough, because there was so much I’d forgotten. So that every time she came over, there was new letters and new pictures. Because I thought I worked out all through that past, which was filled with so much [stuff], with things I haven’t even figured out yet.”
Ihlen recounts a terrifying event in the post-Hydra period when living in the gritty Lower East side of Manhattan in 1970s New York when she encountered two would-be muggers after arriving at her apartment building late at night with a visiting friend.
“It was the most scariest thing I’d ever experienced. There was this long tunnel going into the open courtyard to the entrance of the apartment and I was with a friend who had not been in New York for a long time.
“So we were pushed in through the door, they had come in from the back. There was a very tall man and a tiny little guy and they couldn’t hold the door, so they both came in and we were standing in one place. And the little guy, he was look around to see if anybody came and my friend was very frightened and I looked at the little guy and I pleaded with my ass [not to be mugged] and I said to him: ‘Why the fuck did you have to scare the shit outta me?! Couldn’t you just ask for the money?!’ And he looked at his friend and says: ‘This chick is cool, let’s split!’ and then we both fainted.”
The book also chronicles Ihlen’s encounters with other notables personalities on Hydra at the time from Alan Ginsberg to Bob Dylan, including Cohen’s comings and goings which to this day she still respects and admires (even paints pictures to his tunes and titles them by the same name). “I think really, he amazed me in so many ways. Because I came from Norway and I’d never been treated like (a lady) and he was a gentleman. I think that how we met, we were both slightly old-fashioned and since I was brought up by my grandmother [like he was].”
“It was fun while it lasted.”
Lakeside Terrace, Bill Boyle Artport, 235 Queen’s Quay West
Sunday, October 26; 1 p.m.
Left to right: Translator Suzanne Zhu; Zhanjun Shi, Yan Li, Jonathan Campbell, Yucheng Jin and Tashi Dawa.
It’s a given that not too many Chinese writers are well known outside their country and/or community, even with controversial writers like Mo Yan and Gao Xingjian who won the Nobel Prize for Literature back in 2012 and 2000 respectfully. For the forum China @IFOA, the exercise to remedy this wasn’t so much on gaining further recognition as trying to cover too much in a short time (we’ll get back to that a little later).
After some opening remarks from the Toronto Consulate cultural liaison Wang Zheng, music journalist, author and cultural worker Jonathan Campbell welcomed Tibetan-Chinese writer Tashi Dawa, authors Yucheng Jin and Yan Li and literary critic/editor of the English publication Pathway Magazine Zhanjun Shi, mainly discussing on outside translations, its context and essence and what is going on in its contemporary literature scene.
“One of my first books was first translated in French, not English,” said Dawa, through a translator. “So when I first received that book, it felt like such a foreign book and it wasn’t my work. It was so unfamiliar, like I was reading someone else’s book.”
“I’m a different kind of author who translates my own work,” said Li, who’s been a Canadian citizen since 1987. “My first book was written in English and I waited fifteen years before I translated it into Chinese. I don’t put my work in other people’s hands, okay? For I don’t know what other people will do with my work.”
The feeling seems mutual when it comes to other authors outside of China, as Jin can relate. “In my own personal experience when I read a foreign translated novel or articles, I also receive the meaning of the word because it’s being translated into Chinese format,” he said. “So, additionally it provides that kind of processional expression for me that I can relate to the story, which is very foreign. But because the two other languages that I receive is the Chinese language, so I can receive that kind of translation additionally, although it’s so foreign to me.”
“As an English editor in my magazine,” Shi commented, “I’m a professional trained to regroup all that work and translated through my pen. The process of translating Chinese into English has to go through six people as gatekeepers to go through the process. The novel (format) is just a storyline that is easy to follow the story. When it comes to poems, that’s another scenario and process. But for us, it’s much more interesting because the poem, even if it’s just a few words, it can create a scenery that is very different.”
Animated as time, in particular to discussing the accessibility of other countries’ writers, the roundtable tried to do too many things in such a short timeframe by taking in the Q&A from the audience over trying to overcome the visualness of written Chinese and capturing the depth behind those words for a bigger audience and Sinophiles and didn’t get around on regarding copyright laws, briefly touched on the themes of urbanization found in today’s lit due in part to China’s economic boom over the last few years. And maybe out of sheer politeness, taboo subjects such as freedom of expression and censorship – self or otherwise – barely came up.
Yet Chinese is a complex language and society at that, so it couldn’t be blamed too much on IFOA or the organizers on the talk that it could have used a 90-minute block to cover certain topics instead of the traditional hour-long format. Perhaps this could be remedied at future Found in Translation editions.
Reading: Around the World in 60 Minutes
Studio Theatre, Bill Boyle Artport, 235 Queen’s Quay West
Sunday, October 26; 4 p.m.
Left to right: Andrés Barba, Valarie Miles and Fuminori Nakamura.
Can one cram ten international authors to read five-minute blurbs from their novels in under an hour’s time? While it won’t get an entry in any category in the Guinness Book of World Records by any means, there was some viable choices made in the Studio Theatre readings by the writers themselves, with a couple of translators standing by in the wings.
Spain’s Andrés Barba read a childhood memory laced with self-shame and bittersweet humour about a TV casting call by chance from his four-novella collection Rain Over Madrid; Danish underground novelist Jonas T. Bengtsson’s A Fairy Tale set in 1986 between a father and son had some visually interesting ideas, yet didn’t carry enough weight to offer any recommendation.
Andrej Blatnik Blatnik goes on about “urban nomads” lost in his short story omnibus Law of Desire recalled in “Sunday Dinners” about pre-Yugoslav Wars Slovenia of a household preparing for war whilst preparing the usual Sunday feast had a touch of sentiment and impending horror within its lines; Antón Mallick Wants to Be Happy by Spaniard author Nicolás Casariego’s diary-like offering of a suicidal young man still trying to find hope out of his despair with life wasn’t captivating and a tad lengthy; American editor/writer Valerie Miles read the highly-acclaimed anthology A Thousand Forests in One Acorn on the musings of Spanish-speaking authors, picking one about the acceptance of a beloved one’s death and life’s meaning was the reading’s moving moment and returning back to the 1990s Balkans Conflict was Drago Jančar for The Tree with No Name of a scene with two strangers caught in the crossfire etching out a kind of generosity between them mixed dark humour and decency in a indecent time.
Birth of a Bridge’s bold experiment of a mythical California on technique, landscape and blue-collar labour as crafted by France’s Maylis de Kerangal in the construct of said bridge may have shown the cosmopolitan spirit of the American Melting Pot in her pages, but came out dry; Yan Li and her depiction of early 1980s China under Deng Xiaoping's so-called Cracked Door Policy was funny in the shattering of stereotypes between East and West about an American English teacher and his young Chinese charges in Lily in the Snow; Last Winter We Parted delved in deep on the violence of aesthetics and the horrors of identity summed up finely by Japan’s Fuminori Nakamura and closing out was Slovakian poet Martin Solotruk in his collection Lovestring: Agens and Patient, mainly about relationships with two selections: “Tailbone against Tailbone” on the connection of two hearts in the aftermath of a lovers’ quarrel and in viewing his young son’s childhood with tenderness, playfulness and tension for “All the Wild Posts of Love Games.”
Snaps Around IFOA 2014: Part 1
Some photos around the Bill Boyle Artport on the opening weekend of IFOA 2014. All photos: ©2014 Julian Bynoe.
A IV (International Visitors) Programme book showcase in the Bill Boyle Artport.
“Remembering the Story” mural in the Marilyn Brewer Community Space as part of IFOA 2014’s programme focus in marking the beginning of World War I centenary.
Browsing around the makeshift IFOA Bookstore in the Marilyn Brewer Community Space...
A PEN Canada petition display on jailed Saudi blogger Raif Badawi in the Marilyn Brewer Community Space, the recipient of the One Humanity Award and currently jailed for ten years for operating a “liberal thought” website Free Saudi Liberals and “insulting Islam.”
IFOA 2014 continues through to Sunday (November 2). For tickets/information, call 416-973-4000 or ifoa.org/festival.
by Jules Feiffer
148 pp., Liveright/Penguin Books Canada
Graphic Novel/Crime Noir
Ever miss those pulp fiction page-turners involving tough-talking gumshoes and sultry femme fatales with hidden agendas? Veteran cartoonist Jules Feiffer does too and he’s remedied that with his own take on the crime noirs in Kill My Mother as a perplexing and intriguing homage to the kind they made in the comic strips and films of his upbringing, including a few twists along the dark avenues.
Spanning a decade between five women and mid-20th century history, it starts with a Annie Hannigan as a rebellious teenager in Depression-era Bay City who orders about her weak-willed boyfriend of sorts Artie Folsom into all sorts of trouble, with an intense hatred for her mother Elsie, a part-time receptionist for booze-soaked private investigator Neil Hammond whom she once hired to find out who murdered her policeman husband; feeling abandoned by her and wishes that her mother was dead.
Then a mystery client Normandie Drake enters into Hammond’s office looking for a friend who disappeared two years ago, to do a part in a non-existent Boris Karloff film, that he reluctantly takes on. Meanwhile during a shoplifting spree involving a store detective chase, Annie and Artie get unexpectedly rescued by a mute homeless woman that takes up temporary shelter at the Hannigan’s apartment building, only to vanish when things with Hammond and the case involving Drake turn bizarrely awry.
Fast forward to 1943 Hollywood: Annie is a successful radio comedy writer/talent agent and a single mother, when she finds her homeless saviour by chance at a Reno dive as the jazz chanteuse, Lady Veil. Hiring her to look after her son while she organizes a USO tour along with her mother somewhere in the South Pacific war theatre, involving her movie star clients Hugh Patton and Eddie Longo, who the latter is managed by Normandie, now known as his wife Ana.
Ana also gets another slewfoot named Gaffney from the old days to help boost Eddie’s sagging career through dubious means upon arrival when they entertain the troops in still-infested tropical jungles, as Annie is uneasily reunited with her old flame Artie, now a Marine Captain and decorated war hero whilst a new set of related circumstances and shocking revelations going back to Bay City years earlier come out to play.
Establishing himself as part of the 1960s counterculture comics scene in the Village Voice for 42 years – and finally winning a Pulitzer Prize for it through his editorial cartooning in 1986 – Feiffer throws a lot of emotion and character through his penmanship, ink washes and oft-colour bases is just as arresting as the plot churns crafted in a complex storyline carved in a Raymond Chandler fashion that would make his idol and mentor Wil Eisner smile and envious all at once.
The story weaves in on the aspects of relationships, ambition and regret as it does over murder and payback that will keep readers glued and guessing, not to mention rereading it fully simply for the pure pleasure in it and Feiffer’s artwork. Gritty and gutsy, Kill My Mother is an exceptional standout of this year’s graphic novels.
©2014-2017 Julian Bynoe/Snow Leopard ArtsEntertainment. All rights reserved.