European studies blog

Exploring Europe at the British Library

155 posts categorized "Translation"

14 May 2024

European prose in transformation (Part 2) The European Writers’ Festival returns to the British Library

30 established and emerging authors from across Europe gather under one roof to delve into the theme of ‘Transformation’ at the second European Writers’ Festival taking place over the weekend of 18-19 May 2024 at the British Library. Two days of performances and panels will discuss how storytelling, its creators, its original language as well as its translation, are changing as the continent itself is transforming. While writing about personal experience embedded in history remains central to European literature, the Festival’s guests attempt to break literary traditions and established boundaries, setting off for transformative new journeys – and carrying us with them. This is the second of two blog posts examining some of the themes of the Festival. (You can read the first here.)

Cover of 'The Postcard' with a photograph of Noémie Rabinovitch, and author photograph of Anne Berest

Cover of The Postcard with a photograph of Noémie Rabinovitch, a budding writer who was murdered before she could fulfil her potential as her great-niece Anne (pictured right) has been able to do

Anne Berest, The Postcard - Sunday 19 May, Panel 1, ‘Transforming Historical Narratives’

Anne Berest is a French novelist and scriptwriter born in 1979. With her sister Claire, she is the author of Gabriële (Paris, 2017; YF. 2018.a.8864), a critically acclaimed biography of her great-grandmother, Gabriële Buffet-Picabia, wife of the painter Francis Picabia, highlighting her contribution to the French avant-garde. Gabriële and her daughter Jeanine, who both joined the French Resistance, feature in La carte postale (Paris, 2020; YF. 2022.a.8192) and Samuel Beckett makes an appearance too! Translated into English by Tina Kover as The Postcard, the book opens on a snowy morning in 2003 when Anne’s mother Lélia, receives an anonymous postcard inscribed with the names Ephraïm, Emma, Noémie and Jacques. The names are those of Anne’s great-grandparents and her great-aunt and uncle, the Rabinovitch family, all of whom died in Auschwitz. Anne’s grandmother, Myriam, escaped deportation and was her family’s sole survivor, but she never talked about the past. The book’s novelistic techniques (invented dialogue, omniscient narration) may initially seem questionable, but the book is based on Lélia’s meticulous research and Anne’s own investigations. Viewing the dreadful fate of European Jews deported from Vichy France under German occupation through the prism of named individuals that we get to know and care about makes for a compelling take on history and on what it is to be a Jew in France today as a third-generation survivor. And who wrote and sent that postcard? All is revealed on the last page.

Teresa Vernon, Lead Curator, Romance Collections

Cover of 'Niki' with a photograph of a woman in profile with four blue bars superimposed, and photograph of Christos Chomenidis leaning on a car

Cover of Niki and photograph of Christos Chomenidis (photograph by Kokkalias Nikos from the Other Press website)


Christos Chomenidis, Niki - Sunday 19 May, Panel 1, ‘Transforming Historical Narratives’

Through his 2014 novel Niki, author Christos Chomenidis narrates his real family adventures against the dramatic historical backdrop of 20th century Greece through the eyes of his mother, Niki. Daughter of the deputy secretary general of the Greek Communist Party Vassilis Nefeloudis (Antonis Armaos in the book), infant Niki will be swept up in turmoil when her parents are arrested: just 70 days old, she will join her mother in exile in the Cyclades; growing up, she will experience the Italian and German invasion, the Nazi occupation, and the civil war that came after, and will often be caught between her socialist values and those of the right-wing establishment, to which half her relatives belong; as a young woman, she will fall madly in love, giving the already divided family yet another reason to clash. “Niki’s life is the life of all children who come into the world with a heavy burden on their shoulders; they do not renounce it, but neither do they let it to bend them” says Chomenidis and continues: “The people of Niki are the History of 20th century Greece”.

Following his mother’s death in 2008, the author became the last of his line who knew all the protagonists’ stories and so, he decided to record them, initially in a letter for his own daughter (who was named Niki after her grandmother) and gradually into a novel, tackling complex events in a way that is simple and understandable even to readers who are not familiar with these aspects of Greek history.

Niki was awarded the Greek State Literature Prize in 2015 and the European Book Prize for Fiction in 2021. Its English translation by Patricia Felisa Barbeito is the featured book from Greece at the European Writers’ Festival 2.

Lydia Georgiadou, Curator, Modern Greek Collections

Cover of 'Journey to the South' with a picture of a lone figure silhouetted against a colourful abstract landscape of blocks, and photogtaph of Michal Ajvaz

Cover of Journey to the South and photograph of Michal Ajvaz (photograph by Rafał Komorowski from Wikimedia Commons CC BY-SA 4.0)

Michal Ajvaz, Journey to the South – Sunday 19 May 2020, Panel 2, ‘Breaking Boundaries’

Michal Ajvaz, who studied Czech and Aesthetics at the Faculty of Philosophy, Charles University, worked during the normalisation period as a janitor, nightwatchman, and petrol pump attendant among other jobs. Ajvaz debuted in 1989 with the poetry collection Vražda v hotelu Intercontinental, (‘Murder at the Hotel Intercontinental’, Brno, 2012; YF.2013.a.7148) and has since authored over 20 works blending imaginative prose with philosophical essays.

Ajvaz’s literary influences trace back to his early readings of Edgar Allan Poe and E.T.A. Hoffmann. His exploration of magical realism began with Druhé město (Prague, 1993; YA.1995.a.26185. English translation by Gerald Turner: The Other City, Champaign, Dallas, 2009; YK.2010.a.31674), which stirred discussions on its role within Czech literature. Ajvaz’s works are filled with mirrored landscapes and parallel worlds, adventures and quests that span the world.

The Magnesia Litera award-winning novel Lucemburská zahrada (Brno 2011; YF.2012.a.2551), delves into linguistics with a newly invented language and takes the reader on a journey through Paris, Nice, Nantes, in the state of New York, Moscow, Santa Lucia, Sicilian Taormina and the invented city of Lara. The writer-philosopher's love of linguistics reached its peak in this work, resulting in an appendix offering a key to deciphering some of the novel's content.

The magic permeating Ajvaz’s literary worlds stems from his philosophy and writing process. This is how he describes it in an interview published on the literární.cz website

Usually, it's just a feeling, often associated with a specific place... These feelings remind me of a white fog in which dozens of indistinct figures with their own stories flicker, and these characters and stories beckon me to free them from the fog, to give them some form. It's true that some ideas eventually make their way into my fiction books, but that's because from the initial feeling a certain world gradually unfolds with everything that belongs to it—and to the world belong not only characters, spaces, and plots but also ideas. However, ideas should not dominate the novel; they must not be privileged over the other inhabitants of the novel. 

Now the British public has an opportunity to become immersed in Ajvaz’s world and walk alongside the characters of Journey to the South, translated to English last year by Andrew Oakland (Dallas, 2023). Pack your imagination and join the fellow travellers!

Olga Topol, Curator, Slavonic and East European Curator

 

Cover of 'Home' with a photograph of a barn in a field of yellow flowers, and photograph of Andrea Tompa

Cover of Home and photograph of Andrea Tompa (Photograph by Petőfi Literary Fund via Hungarian Literature Online)

Andrea Tompa, Home – Sunday 19 May 2024, Panel 3, ‘Europe on the Move’

Thirty years after relocating from Cluj-Napoca to Budapest in 1990, Hungarian writer and theatre critic Andrea Tompa felt the time was finally ripe to share what leave-taking and homecoming truly mean for her. With her latest novel now translated into English by Jozefina Komporaly under the title Home (London, 2024), Andrea is bringing her contemplations to this year’s European Writers’ Festival.

Many of us left our homeland behind, prompted by circumstances, driven by various forces. Although the book narrates a journey back to an unnamed home country for a school reunion, with several classmates also returning after long absences, its essence is not so much a story of a trip. The focus is on different kinds of travel: past journeys, journeys into the past - and into ourselves.

A reunion inevitably induces reflection, it can serve as a reality check relative to our own youth and also to our peers while we reacquaint as adults. How much do we leavers share as to the nature of our connections to the place we came from? Some decide to cut all ties, others will always be longing after the homeland. But the homeland has transformed since we left and we ourselves changed in many ways, so all points of reference have shifted.
Identity, personal relationships, culture, patriotism, belonging – just a few of the complex emotional questions to delve into, with language as a vital theme in its own right, weaving through the book.

The Hungarian original Haza (Budapest, 2020; YF.2022.a.16166) is already in our collection, hopefully the translation will arrive soon as well.

Andrea is a guest on the ‘Europe on the Move’ panel at 3 pm on 19 May. She also offers some insight into her journeys in an English-language interview by Hungarian Literature Online .

Ildi Wollner, Curator, East and SE European Collections

Cover of 'The moon in foil' with a photograph of a woman seen from behind looking over a river, and photograph of Zuska Kepplova standing in fromt of bookshelves

Cover of The Moon in Foil  and photograph of Zuska Kepplova (photogtaph by Juraj Starovecký from Slovak Literature in English Translation website)

Zuska Kepplova, The Moon in Foil – Sunday 19 May 2024, Panel 3, ‘Europe on the Move’

In an interview for the Chicago Review of Books Zuska Kepplova – a writer, editor and political commentator – makes a statement that resonates with many Eastern European world nomads, as those ‘who were born in late socialist societies and grew up after the revolutions, [this label] is a novelty. They were not used to thinking about themselves as “Eastern Europeans” and dealing with prejudices, their own or of others. Entering the free world thus also means entering a hierarchy or a web of relations of power.’

Kepplova’s book Buchty švabachom (Bratislava 2017; YF.2019.a.10137), recently translated into English by Magdalena Mullek as The Moon in Foil (Chicago, 2023), traces people’s relationships with each other and their place of migration. The short story form is a perfect fit for Kepplova’s storytelling. The deliberately scattered narrative is thoughtful, gives glimpses into the chaotic lives of young Slovaks tempted by newly opened world enticing them with a vision of success, but leading to a life of mundanity and struggle for social advancement, often devoid of self-fulfilment. Many a reader will relate to the characters' commonplace existence and reflect on their own longing for buchty  or pierogi left behind at home far away. Those who want to see what happens when the migratory birds return should read Kepplova’s Reflux. Niekto cudzí je v dome (‘Reflux. There is a stranger in the house’; Levice, 2015; YF.2017.a.24619).  

Olga Topol, Curator, Slavonic and EE Curator

10 May 2024

European prose in transformation (Part 1). The European Writers’ Festival returns to the British Library

30 established and emerging authors from across Europe gather under one roof to delve into the theme of ‘Transformation’ at the second European Writers’ Festival taking place over the weekend of 18-19 May 2024 at the British Library. Two days of performances and panels will discuss how storytelling, its creators, its original language as well as its translation, are changing as the continent itself is transforming. While writing about personal experience embedded in history remains central to European literature, the Festival’s guests attempt to break literary traditions and established boundaries, setting off for transformative new journeys – and carrying us with them. In this and a second blog post, our curators and one guest contributor highlight some of the themes of the festival.

Photograph of Laurent de Sutter and the cover of his book 'After Law' with the book title in a red stop sign design

Laurent de Sutter and the cover of his book After Law (Cambridge, 2020) (Author photograph from the website of the Law Art Politics podcast)

Laurent de Sutter, After Law – Saturday 18 May, Panel 2, ‘Changing Gears’

On Saturday 19 May 2024, Belgian philosopher Laurent de Sutter will take part in the panel ‘Changing Gears’, alongside other authors who switch jobs and genres.

A real 21st century polymath, Laurent de Sutter wrote his law thesis on the politics of representation while working as a freelance writer for pop-rock magazine Rif-Raf. He then wrote about pornography and porn-stars, pop-culture, aesthetics, drugs and capitalism, and cinema, while becoming an editor directing a collection for the Presses Universitaires de France.

Laurent de Sutter is today Professor of Legal Theory at Vrije Universiteit Brussel, the author of more than 20 works translated into a dozen languages, and an essential thinker on the concept of law and of the ways we categorise and describe reality. Unexpectedly, his recent philosophical essay on modernity and anti-modernity, Superfaible! Penser au XXIe siècle (Paris, 2023) was also the recipient of the Grand prix de Poésie de l’Académie royale de langue et de littérature françaises de Belgique, 2023. Maybe this is not that surprising for a provocative and limitless writer who is also a self-confessed ‘pop-philosopher’ (a term invented by the French philosopher Gilles Deleuze in the 1970s, for a genre that explores the intersections between philosophy and pop culture).

You can find his books, in French, on the life and death of superheroes (Vies et morts des super-héros; Paris, 2016; YF.2020.a.6105) or his history of law through the architecture of one contemporary building (Post-tribunal: Renzo Piano Building Workshop et l'île de la Cité judiciaire; Paris, 2018; YF.2018.a.15252) in our collections. Recent titles in English include Narcocapitalism: Life in the Age of Anaesthesia (Cambridge, 2018; YC.2018.a.13255) and After Law. The latter won the French Voices Award and the Leopold Rosy Prize of the Belgian Royal Academy and is the featured book at this year’s European Writers’ Festival.

Sophie Defrance, Curator, Romance Collections

Photograph of Ioana Pârvulescu reading a book, and the cover of 'Jonah and his Daughter' with an illustration of Jonah and the whale

Cover of Jonah and his Daughter and photograph of Ioana Pârvulescu (pictures from the Romanian Cultural Institute)

Ioana Pârvulescu, Jonah and his Daughter – Saturday 18 May 2024, Panel 3, ‘Transformation through Translation’

While I was preparing Ioana Pârvulescu’s rather mystical new novel for print, I made a trip to Rome, and more specifically to the ancient Christian burial grounds of that city, known to us as the catacombs. To my surprise, I came upon an array of depictions of the prophet Jonah – being thrown overboard on this sea journey undertaken in an attempt to outrun the will of God; languishing inside the whale or being regurgitated from the sea monster. My guide explained that the early Christians saw Jonah as a precursor to Jesus, with his internment in the belly of the great fish for three days pre-echoing those three days in the tomb before resurrection; his rebirth thereafter being the new life in faith.

Roman wall-paintings showing the prophet Jonah being thrown from a ship and being vomited out by a dragon-like whale

Paintings of the biblical story of Jonah from the Catacomb of Saints Marcellinus and Peter in Rome

While Pârvulescu’s novel is far more subtle and complicated than a mythologised story of prophecy from the Old Testament, her writing is never finer than when describing that extraordinary scene of ingestion and eventual discharge :

...Jonah grew very dizzy and felt he was falling back-ward into emptiness, looking through eyes in which there was no wide-eyed seeing. And all of a sudden, the seeing returned to his eyes and his sight filled with stars, some so close that you could catch them in your hand, stars that were in motion, others so high above that they were but specks of silver dust...

Yet this is not a novel of obscure stories and characters far removed from us in time and mentality: Jonah is a living, breathing man with a speech impediment and a prodigious sexual appetite, who befriends waifs and strays with characters that steal our hearts and make us want to sit down with these people, around a campfire perhaps, and learn their ways. Just as in her previous novel, Life Begins on Friday, the author draws us into historical periods through the quirks of her characters, their insecurities and their passions, and the empathy she evokes for them through her expert storytelling. As in all the best dramatisations of the past – be it in films, theatre plays or novels – historical figures are given height and depth because we have sat with them for a while and heard their voices.

We learn in the introduction to the book that Ioana felt compelled to write it because the vagaries of spellcheck often rendered her name to that of the ‘minor prophet’ in Romanian and that from this whimsical coincidence she was led to re-evaluate and become enamoured of a narrative different from the one she expected:

The reason his story is so beautiful and so human is because it is about deadly monsters that play a double part and which in the end are life savers, about the need for darkness, about fear and running away, about passion, about getting involved or standing aloof, about being human or separate from humanity...

Jonah’s daughter learns the story of her father, and passes it on her to her daughter, and so on down through the ages. In this way our author becomes a daughter of Jonah too, bringing the story of the recalcitrant prophet up to date with our times. In the end all the very best stories reveal aspects of our human - and mystical - experience in this realm, and I for one have been greatly enriched by this one.

Susan Curtis, Editor, Istros Books

03 May 2024

In a whirlwind of change. The European Writers’ Festival returns to the British Library 

Please note this post includes an offensive racial term in the title of a book quoted. We have spelt this out in full because that was the book author's own conscious and deliberate choice in the context of his writing.
 
The second European Writers’ Festival, taking place on May 18 and 19 at the British Library, brings together renowned and emerging authors from 30 countries for an unmissable weekend filled with thought-provoking panels and the promise of fascinating discussions. The British Library, with its unparalleled holdings from continental Europe, offers a perfect setting for debating European literature and delving into the disquieting undercurrents shaping our societies today. This year, the event centres around the theme of Transformation and zooms in on the violent shifts in politics, climate, language, and human rights, to name a few. As poetry has long been regarded as a vehicle for change, our curators of European collections invite you to get (re)acquainted with some of the poets taking part in the festival and to join them on a transformative journey of becoming the new Europeans of the future. 
 
Katya Rogatchevskaia, Lead Curator of East European Collections, offers a fascinating glimpse into the poetry of one of the most distinct voices in contemporary Ukrainian poetry, Iryna Shuvalova. 
 
Cover of 'Pray to the Empty Wells' and photograph of Irina Shuvalova
Irina Shuvalova and her poetry collection Pray to the Empty Wells (Pullman, Washington, 2019) Awaiting shelfmark  (Author photograph from https://www.irynashuvalova.com/en
 
Iryna Shuvalova, a Ukrainian poet, scholar, and translator, is not a stranger to the readers of the European Studies blog. Her book of poetry featured at this year’s festival, Pray to the Empty Wells, draws heavily on Ukrainian folklore. Shuvalova expertly blends its spirituality with eroticism for a heady cocktail of tender love and inconsolable sorrow.  
 
the love fish  
lives in the large body of the river
it swims in it like a pendulum    
back and forth and in a circle    
fastened to the heart’s axis   
‘Love fish’ from Pray to the Empty Wells (Pullman, Washington, 2019) Awaiting shelfmark  
 
As Kate Kellaway puts it in her review of the book for The Guardian, “translated poetry seldom finds a home in this column, and this book is one of the few rare cases.” In one of her interviews, Shuvalova asserted: “Let’s say that I’m building my own personal mythology out of space and voice.” No critic could have been more accurate in describing Shuvalova’s remarkable poetic world woven with words that let readers see, hear, and feel.  
  
But this serene world is now in danger and, like so many other Ukrainian artists, Shuvalova will have preferred that some of her poems had not been written, such as this one:
    
because the other side of the front line is like another galaxy    
how dare these outsiders, these primitives, these aliens   
kill and die—just as well as we do   
how dare they be so human and inhumane, all at once    
almost like us, too   
how dare they be like us   
how dare they   
‘Conflict zone’ from Pray to the Empty Wells  
 
On the first day of the festival, Iryna Shuvalova will participate in the panel Change and Conflict on the impact of war, displacement, and trauma. The special guest of the festival is, fittingly, the Ukrainian author and journalist, Andrey Kurkov. He will engage in a discussion with The Guardian’s Senior international correspondent and author of Invasion, Luke Harding.   
 
Poetry is a powerful tool for preserving and rejuvenating indigenous languages and traditions, attesting to their relevance and beauty in our increasingly anglicised world. Ela Kucharska-Beard, Curator of Baltic Collections, points to the communion with the natural world and the deep connection with the Estonian way of life that permeates Kristiina Ehin’s poetry. 
 
Cover of 'On the Edge of a Sword' and photograph of Kristiina Ehin
Kristiina Ehin and her poetry collection On the Edge of a Sword = Mõõgateral (Todmorden, 2018). ELD.DS.738555 (Author photograph from Postimees website
 
Kristiina Ehin is a leading, multi-award winning Estonian poet whose work has been translated into at least 20 languages, including English. She has also written short stories, plays and a collection of re-told south Estonian folk tales. Kristiina, who has a master’s degree in Estonian and comparative folklore, is a singer in the contemporary folk group Naised Köögis, continuing the ancient Estonian tradition of women poets and singers. She has also worked as a translator, journalist, dance teacher, lecturer and storyteller.  
 
Kristiina’s poetry, deeply spiritual, is firmly rooted in Finno-Ugric tradition and reflects her profound respect for nature. Her fourth collection of poems, the bestselling  Kaitseala (‘Protected Area’, 2005), was written during a year spent working as a nature reserve warden on an uninhabited island off the coast of Estonia. Her poetry deals with personal relationships (man-woman, mother-child) and the relationship with nature. The poems, light and modern, written from a female point of view, combine fragility and strength; they are both serious and playful, personal and universal.  
 
The European Writer’s Festival will feature Kristiina’s collection of poems On the Edge of a Sword, selected from her collection Kohtumised (Tartu, 2017; YF.2019.a.11834). The poems have been expertly translated into English by Ilmar Lehtpere, with whom the poet has an ongoing collaboration. Kristiina will be speaking at the panel Changing Gears, discussing the importance (or lack thereof) of writing in one genre.   
 
In times of upheaval, poetry amplifies marginalized narratives and gives voice to the voiceless. According to Marja Kingma, Curator of Dutch Language Collections, Simone Atangana Bekono pushes the boundaries of Dutch poetry by facilitating long overdue, radically candid conversations about racial and gender inequalities and other deeply ingrained societal biases. 
 
Cover of 'Confrontations' and photograph of Simone Atangana Bekono
Simone Atangana Bekono and her novel Confrontation (Author photograph from: https://www.vpro.nl/programmas/mondo/video/mondo-minute/mondo-minute-simone-atangana-bekono.html
 
Simone Atangana Bekono is an author with Cameroonian/Dutch heritage, born in Dongen, a town 100km southeast of Amsterdam. She is part of a new generation of Dutch poets who write about discrimination on the basis of race, or gender, or sexual orientation (or all three), about identity, colonialism, and generational conflict. In doing so they take Dutch poetry in a whole new direction. Simone Atangana Bekono burst onto the literary scene in 2017 with the poetry collection Hoe de eerste vonken zichtbaar waren (2nd ed, 2018; YF.2019.a.17267), which was translated into English by David Colmer as How the First Sparks Became Visible (Birmingham, 2021). Other translations include Spanish and Rumanian.  
 
Simone won multiple awards for her Young Adult debut novel Confrontaties (Amsterdam, 2021) YF.2021.a.9720, the story of how a teenage black girl copes with her time in a young offender's institution and with her return to her community. The English edition Confrontations, translated by Suzanne Heukensfeldt Jansen, will be published this year. It has also been translated into German and Turkish.  
 
In March 2021, Simone participated in the online launch event for The Dutch Riveter. Like the European Writers’ Festival, it was hosted by the British Library and organised and presented by Rosie Goldsmith from the European Literature Network. In 2023 she was writer-in-residence at UCL, London.   
 
I am thrilled to see Simone at the Library once again on 18 May, as one of the guest authors at the second edition of the European Writers’ Festival! You will have a chance to meet the poet at the Transformation through Translation panel, where she will be looking into shifting attitudes towards translation in Europe.  
 
Lydia Georgiadou, Curator of Modern Greek Collections, suggests that Dean Atta dissects the intersections between race, gender, and sexuality. The poet embraces his black and queer identities and demonstrates just how liberating and empowering it is to embrace all aspects of who we really are. 
 
Cover of 'There is (still) love here' and photograph of Dean Atta
Dean Atta and his poetry collection There is (still) Love here (Rugby, 2022). Awaiting shelfmark. (Author photograph from: https://www.geeksout.org/2022/05/25/interview-with-author-dean-atta/
 
Award-winning British author and poet of Greek Cypriot and Jamaican heritage Dean Atta joins the closing panel of the Festival, The New Europeans of the Future to discuss how transformation impacts the ‘new’ European authors’ craft, identity and perception of home, nationhood and Europe.   
 
Atta’s featured book, There is (still) love here  is described on the author’s website as “a compelling new collection of poetry [exploring] relationships, love and loss, encompassing LGBTQ+ and Black history, Greek Cypriot heritage, pride and identity, dislocation and belonging” and “an antidote for challenging times”.  
 
The lyrics of ‘On days when’ are characteristic: 
  
On days when  
you feel like a wilting garden, 
gather yourself, roll up your lawn,  
bouquet your flowers,
embrace your weeds.  
You are a wild thing playing
at being tame.  
You are rich with life beneath 
the surface.  
You don’t have to show leaf
and petal to be living.  
You are soil and insect and root.  
 
There is (still) love here comes after two novels in verse: Only on the Weekends (London, 2022; ELD.DS.692242) and The Black Flamingo (London, 2019; ELD.DS.455619), which won Atta the American Library Association’s Stonewall Book Award, CILIP Carnegie Shadowers Choice Award, West Sussex School Librarians’ Amazing Book Awards and What Kids are Reading Quiz Writers’ Choice Award. The Black Flamingo featured in the British Library’s recent exhibition Malorie Blackman: The Power of Stories
 
The title poem of Atta’s debut collection, I Am Nobody’s Nigger (London, 2013; YK.2013.a.23925), consciously and deliberately uses the racial slur as a response to its use by the murderers of Stephen Lawrence. The poem achieved much social media coverage and was shortlisted for the 2014 Polari First Book Prize.  
 
Dean Atta is a Malika’s Poetry Kitchen member, National Poetry Day ambassador and LGBT+ History Month patron. He was listed as one of the most influential LGBTQIA+ people in the UK by the Independent on Sunday and his books have been praised by the likes of Bernardine Evaristo, Benjamin Zephaniah and Malorie Blackman.  
 
Europe is in flux, and poetry gently peels away the layers of the ongoing transformation. The authors participating in this year’s festival encourage us to reimagine the society we hope to emerge into once the whirlwind of change has subsided.  
 
In our next post, we will zero in on the recurring themes of the festival. Stay tuned! 

29 April 2024

The Hobbit – there and back, or what are you looking for? Braille books in Slavonic collections 2.

The lights of Obukhovka are fading away as we move on to the magical world of J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle-earth. The author wrote the story about the wanderings of the hobbit Bilbo Baggins for his children, but it quickly became one of the best-selling novels of all time and a firm favourite amongst many generations of readers worldwide. Our recent acquisition of the classic in Russian braille brings the world of wizards, dragons, and elves right to your fingertips.

Do you remember the thrill of reading The Hobbit for the first time? What did your copy look or feel like? Children born in the 1920s and early 1930s held onto a book with a rather unassuming cover.

Cover of the first edition of 'The Hobbit' with a design of mountains and a dragon against a grey-green background

The Hobbit, the first edition published in September 1937 (Cup.410.f.14.)

The first printing of the novel ran to only 1500 copies and flew off the shelves in less than three months. The second impression was issued in an edition of 2300 copies immediately after, in December of the same year. I wonder how many of them were gift-wrapped and spent the night under the Christmas tree, waiting to be discovered by young fantasy lovers. We know that 423 copies did not find their way to readers, as they were destroyed in a warehouse fire in the London blitz. If you have a book looking like the one in the picture above sitting casually on your shelves, you may want to read this article published in the Guardian early this year.

At first, Tolkien thought that his creation would be visualised by every reader in their own way. The publisher, however, convinced him to add illustrations to the book. I am sure many are already familiar with it, but for those who are not – here is the story of Tolkien's illustrations.

My first exposure to Tolkien happened when I read the 1976 translation of The Hobbit into Russian.

Cover of the 1976 Russian translation of The Hobbit with an illustration of Bilbo Baggins and the dragon Smaug

Cover of Natalia Rakhmanova’s translation of The Hobbit into Russian: Khobbit, ili, Tuda i obratno: skazochnaia povestʹ (Leningrad, 1976). YF.2011.a.18078

Although a heated debate is still going on among Tolkien fans about which of the ten Russian versions is the best and closest in spirit to the original, it was Natalia Rakhmanova’s first translation of The Hobbit that influenced the reception of Tolkien first in the Soviet Union and later in Russia. Mikhail Belomninski’s illustrations also became iconic for Soviet children, especially the image of Bilbo Baggins, bearing an uncanny resemblance to the popular Soviet actor Evgenii Leonov.

Illustration of Bilbo Baggins sitting by his fireside and smoking a pipe

Illustrations from the 1976 Russian translation of The Hobbit showing Bilbo Baggins by his fireside (above) and Bilbo and Gandalf meeting the woodman Beorn (below)

Illustration of Gandalf and Bilbo meeting the giant woodman Beorn who leans on a large axe

But of course, Bilbo’s young fans would not know that in 1989, just a couple of years before the collapse of the USSR and communism, Belominskii left the country for the US. He later worked there as an artistic director for the New Russian Word – the longest-running (1910-2010) Russian-language newspaper in America.

Nevertheless, it is telling that it was Rakhmanova’s translation of The Hobbit that was abridged for the braille edition in 1982. It was released in four volumes and limited to just 300 copies.

Spines of the four braille volumes of Khobbit, ili, Tuda i obratno

Printed title page of Khobbit  ili  Tuda i obratno

Page of braille text from Khobbit  ili  Tuda i obratno

From top: the four volumes, title-page and page of braille text of Khobbit, ili, Tuda i obratno : skazochnaia povestʹ v chetyrekh knigakh (Moscow, 1982). LF.31.b.16409. (Please note that due to the recent cyber-attack on the British Library the item does not appear in our catalogue yet; it can be ordered in our reading rooms using the shelfmark.)

The first schools for visually impaired children in Russia, like the one attended by Eroshenko, opened in 1881. In 1882, textbooks for visually impaired children were printed in the linear uncial type cast in Vienna. These were the Gospel of Matthew and Children’s World written by Konstantin Ushinsky, the founder of scientific pedagogy in Russia.

Page with raised text for visually-impaired readers

Children’s World by Konstantin Ushinsky adapted for use by visually impaired students (copy held at the National Library of Russia).

Such was the beginning of using and publishing books in braille. At first, Russian braille books continued to be printed in Berlin, but their production soon moved to the printing house attached to the joint-stock company ‘Goznak’, which was set up for publishing banknotes.

I do not know who was the child who first read the braille edition of The Hobbit, which is now held at the British Library, but it is fascinating to imagine what the story of Bilbo Baggins meant in their life. As Tolkien wisely said, “There is nothing like looking if you want to find something. You certainly usually find something, if you look, but it is not always quite the something you were after.”

Katya Rogatchevskaia, Lead Curator, East European Collections

25 April 2024

“The hands want to see, the eyes want to caress”. Braille books in Slavonic collections 1

The British Library is committed to creating an inclusive reading experience. We collect audiobooks and braille materials in various languages and forms and are always on the lookout for new and exciting titles. This post and a second one will feature rare and first-edition braille books in our Slavonic collections. Here we hope to shed some light on the extraordinary life of a largely unknown blind Ukrainian author often likened to such literary giants as Hans Christian Andersen and Oscar Wilde. The second post will touch on the publishing history of a book by a writer who needs no introduction. Without further delay, we invite print and braille readers, children and adults alike, to embark with us on a fascinating journey beginning in the sleepy village of Obukhovka, across vast swathes of Asia and Russia, all the way to Middle-earth, and back again.

The story begins on a frosty January day in 1890 when a third child is born into a family of a wealthy Ukrainian landowner in imperial Russia, Iakov Eroshenko and his Russian wife. The boy, later known to literary enthusiasts in Japan and China as Ero-san and Ailuoxianke respectively, is christened Vasilii. Four years later, tragedy strikes the Eroshenko family when little Vasia loses his vision to measles. Later in life, he would remark: “I hazily remember seeing only four things: the sky, pigeons, the church where they roosted, and my mother’s face. Not too much…But that always inspired and inspires me to seek out pure thoughts - thoughts as pure as the sky - and always made me remember my homeland as well as my mother’s face, in whichever corner of the world Fate cast me.”

Photograph of Eroshenko as a young man wearing a military-style tunic

Vasilii Eroshenko. (Image from http://pmu.in.ua/nogroup/eroshenko/)

Sepia photograph of a church with a group of men standing outside

The Church of the Holy Apostles Peter and Paul in Obukhovka. Built circa 1842, it burned down in 1946. It must have been the silhouette that was etched in Eroshenko’s memory (Image from https://sokm.org.ru/vystavki/virtualnye-vystavki/782-obuhovskie-remesla#)

Young Eroshenko proved precocious throughout his schooling. Blindness had taught the future anarchist and anti-imperialist to take everything with a pinch of salt and to question authority. In 1900, he started attending the prestigious imperial Moscow School for the Blind, where he received training in arts, music and sciences. While there , he also mastered braille and conceived his first literary pieces, painstakingly pricking words into paper with a needle. After graduating in 1908, Eroshenko decided to try his hand at music. He started to earn a living playing second violin for a blind orchestra in Moscow. Rumour has it that he paid a substantial part of his income to a poor actor who would read him books unavailable in braille script.

Photograph of Eroshenko playing the violin, accompanied by a woman on the piano

Eroshenko playing the violin (image from http://pmu.in.ua/nogroup/eroshenko/)

Vasilii’s life took a sharp turn when he crossed paths with the sister-in-law of Leo Tolstoy’s biographer and disciple, Pavel Ivanovich Briukov. Anna Sharapova, who was one of the pioneers of Esperanto in Russia, decided to teach the language to the gifted violinist. Esperanto was invented in 1873 by the Polish ophthalmologist L.L. Zamenhof, who believed that a universal, politically and culturally neutral language would erase communication barriers and relieve international tensions. Eroshenko found Zamenhof’s ideas compelling and soon became a devout Esperantist. Having learnt from Anna about the prospect of continuing his education at the Royal National College for the Blind in England, Vasilii pinned the green Esperanto star onto the lapel of his jacket and set out to London. From then on, the star would guide him, often quite literally, to his distant destinations.

In London, Eroshenko learned about the respect blind people enjoy in Japan. Intrigued, he soon started planning his next trip. He returned to Moscow, where he began taking Japanese classes. In April 1914, he boarded a ship in Vladivostok and headed to Tokyo. Once settled in the Japanese capital, he supported himself by teaching Esperanto and lecturing on Russian literature and women’s emancipation. He also wrote short stories for major Japanese magazines. However, it was not long before he became active in revolutionary circles seeking to undermine Japan’s colonial efforts in East Asia. In 1921, he was accused of threatening national security and social order and was expelled from the country. His stories Vuz’ka klitka (The Narrow Cage) and Orlyni dushi (An Eagle’s Heart) appeared in print in the same year.

Cover of 'Vuzka klitka' wityh a picture of a tiger in the mountains

Cover of Vasilii Eroshenko, Vuzʹka klitka: kazky (Kharkiv, 2016). YF.2016.b.1727

Eroshenko’s stories reflect his view that social ills result from colonial oppression, marginalization of the poor and disabled, and racial inequality. Vuz’ka klitka ponders the question of freedom and free will. The image of an enraged tiger killing and wreaking havoc in the name of freedom and brotherhood is disturbingly familiar. Orlyni dushi juxtaposes the human and natural worlds and offers a sharp critique of imperialism. Its opening: “There once was a mountain kingdom that was ruled by its larger, more powerful neighbour” is also a chilling one in the context of the recent Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Cover of 'Orlyni dushi' with an illustration of two eagles on a rock

Cover of Vasilii Eroshenko, Orlyni dushi: kazky (Kharkiv, 2016). YF.2016.b.1726

As I flick through the milky pages, I cannot help but admire the author’s vivid storytelling and simple yet evocative language. Both stories were written in Japanese, but, for various political and ideological reasons, the Ukrainian translations have always relied on earlier Russian translations. Those, in turn, were based on Chinese versions. Inevitably, Eroshenko’s voice got muffled and distorted along the way, making it hard to disentangle his legacy from that of his translators. The copies we hold, proudly adorned with blue-and-yellow ribbon bookmarks, are the first Ukrainian translations made from the Japanese originals. The translator and scholar of Eroshenko’s work, Iuliia Patlan’, makes a valid point in the preface arguing that this makes them much more faithful to the author’s voice. The Ukrainian text translated from Eroshenko’s original Japanese was titled Vuz’ka klitka to distinguish it from Tisna klitka, Nadiia Andrianova-Hordiienko's 1969 translation from Russian. Both books have print on one side and braille on the other so that a sighted person can read to a child, and they can follow along.

Opening from Vuz’ka klitka showing parallel printed and braille text

Opening from Vuz’ka klitka showing parallel printed and braille text

Before settling in the Soviet Union in 1924, Eroshenko had a brief stint in Europe and spent a couple of years in China, where he befriended the modernist author and radical thinker Lu Xun. The blind globetrotter was not met with much fanfare in his homeland. Soviet Esperantists were deemed a threat to the Communist Party, mainly for their transnational networks, which were believed to be swarming with spies. Eroshenko’s refusal to cooperate with the Soviet Secret Services came with a hefty price, as most of the author’s personal archives were confiscated and destroyed. The author, whose life resembled a fairy-tale quest for meaning, departed on his final journey on December 23, 1952. He was buried in his native Obukhovka, unrecognised as a storyteller in Ukraine and Russia. It was not until a translator, Vladimir Rogov, learned about a mysterious ‘Ailuoxianke’ in Lu-Xun’s The Comedy of the Ducks that the dots finally connected, and Eroshenko started to gain the recognition he deserved.

Vasilii Eroshenko did not let his disability limit or define him. Although his short stories may lack the happy endings that we all look for in fairy tales, his fascinating life reads as a beautiful ode to hope and resilience and carries a heart-warming message that light will always prevail over darkness.

Hanna Dettlaff-Kuznicka, Interim Slavonic and Eastern European Curator

References/Further reading

Andrew F. Jones, Developmental fairy tales: evolutionary thinking and modern Chinese culture (London, 2011). YC.2011.a.7404 (Includes an English translation (from Chinese) of Vuz’ka klitka)

Julija Patlanj, ‘Vasilii Yakovlevich Eroshenko’, Kontakto (March, 2005)

Adam Kuplowsky, The Narrow Cage and Other Modern Fairy Tales (New York, 2023)

31 August 2023

Women in Translation Month 2023

August is Women in Translation Month, an initiative that celebrates and promotes literature by women from around the world in English translation. As in past years, members of our team have picked some titles to recommend. We hope they will inspire you! 

Cover of 'Under a Cruel Star', with a photograph of a woman and child

Heda Margolius Kovály, Under a Cruel Star: a Life in Prague 1941-1968, translated from the Czech by Franci Epstein and Helen Epstein with the author (London, 2021) YK.2012.a.24219
Chosen by Alice Pappon, British Library Trainee

Under a Cruel Star memoirs the life of author Heda Margolius Kovály who was born in Prague in 1919. In describing her experiences living in Auschwitz and Communist Czechoslovakia, this memoir offers a magnificent and raw account of human endurance in the face of the most brutal atrocities. Kovály provides a chilling recollection of operating under constant scrutiny and suspicion from the Communist regime and a life of constantly looking over one’s shoulder. This book was first published in 1973 with a British edition published the same year under the title I Do Not Want to Remember (X.809/18317). It has since been re-translated by Franci and Helen Epstein who worked with Kovály herself to capture the truest version of the author’s experience.

Cover of 'Mazel Tov' with a drawing of a pen in the corner

J.S. Margot, Mazel Tov: the Story of my Extraordinary Friendship with an Orthodox Jewish Family, translated by Jane Hedley-Prôle (London, 2020 ) ELD.DS.484114
Chosen by Marja Kingma, Curator Germanic Collections (Dutch and Flemish Languages)

Margot Vanderstraeten’s memoir Mazel Tov (published in English under the name J.S. Margot) was one of the books in the goody bag at the launch in April this year of ‘Flip Through Flanders’, the campaign to promote translated Flemish literature in the UK. It is the story of the author as a student in 1987, when she tutored the children of an orthodox Jewish family in Antwerp. These people could almost not have been more different from herself. She knows nothing of Jewish orthodox culture, which leads to some embarrassing moments. Her having an Iranian boyfriend doesn’t help either. However, over time both parties come to understand and appreciate each other more and they even become friends. It is a story about identity and coming of age that feels very uplifting.
Mazel Tov is translated by Jane Hedley-Prôle who has translated books from Dutch into English for over ten years.

 

Cover of 'Freshta' with an abstract design featuring a woman's face and a butterfly

Petra Procházková, Freshta, translated by Julia Sherwood (London, 2012). H.2014/.5570.
Chosen by Olga Topol, Curator Czech, Slavonic and East European Collections

Petra Procházková is a Czech war correspondent, humanitarian worker and journalist, recipient of Medal of Merit awarded by President Václav Havel. She is known for her in-depth interviews with women struggling to survive in conflict-ridden areas of the post-Soviet world. Procházková covered news from Abkhazia, Ossetia, Georgia, Tajikistan, and Afghanistan. For reporting on the atrocities of Chechen War, she was forbidden to enter Russia for many years. In her novel Freshta, set in Afghanistan before the Taliban returned to power in 2021, Procházková explores Afghan culture following Herra, a Russian-Tajik woman who falls in love with an Afghan man. Colourful characters, and a sensitivity towards local culture and customs gained through the author’s personal experience, make Procházková’s book a captivating read.

 

Cover of 'Apple Cake and Baklava' with a picture of two children on a bicycle

Kathrin Rohmann, Apple Cake and Baklava, illustrated by Franziska Harvey, translated by Ruth Ahmedzai Kemp (London, 2018) YKL.2019.a.17272
Chosen by Susan Reed, Lead Curator Germanic Collections

Kathrin Rohmann’s children’s story Apple Cake and Baklava, translated by Ruth Ahmedazi Kemp, is told from the perspectives of two children, Leila and Max. Leila is a Syrian refugee who has just arrived with her mother and brothers in the German village where Max lives. As her family try to settle into their new home, they wait anxiously for news of the children’s father and grandmother, still in Syria. Leila treasures a walnut from her grandmother’s garden that carries memories of home for her. When she loses it she is deeply upset and Max, who feels drawn to his new classmate, offers to help her find it. A friendship develops between the two, and also between Leila and Max’s grandmother Gertrud, who herself was a refugee from Pomerania after the Second World War. Gertrud still bakes apple cake and lebkuchen to her own grandmother’s recipes as a link with her lost home and family, just as Leila’s brothers try to recreate the baklava that their father used to make in his bakery (there are recipes for all three at the end of the book).
Apple Cake and Baklava is a touching story of friendship, family and food and a good introduction for younger readers to the themes of exile and loss.

 

Cover of 'The mauve umbrella' with two children in silhouette against a background of flowers

Alki Zei, The Mauve Umbrella, translated by Ian Barnes (London, 2016) H.2020/.5039
Chosen by Lydia Georgiadou, Curator Modern Greek Collections

In the summer of 1940, shortly before the Second World War reaches Greece, 10 year-old Eleftheria lives with her parents and twin brothers in Athens. She despises the household chores expected from women of the time, while she adores anything her father does not approve of: reading fanatically, going to the theatre, hoping to one day become a lawyer, inspired by Sophocles’ Antigone. One floor above, lives the Frenchman Mr Marcel, whose nephew Benoit becomes an inseparable friend of the children. Their toys are few, but their imagination endless. Their enchanting games are only constrained by the grownups’ harsh experiences.
A book about two completely different worlds – that of children and that of the adults – each one carrying its own truth. A book that puzzles and entertains at the same time. Through its pages, the beloved Greek novelist Alki Zei (1923-2020) depicts the characters’ ethos, childhood innocence, the agony of war and the upheavals in our lives. Yesterday meets today on a journey… with a purple umbrella.

25 August 2023

New light on the earliest ‘professor’ of Spanish in the UK?

Antonio Vieyra Transtagano – he used his toponymic ‘Transtagano’ ‘of Tras os Montes’ to distinguish himself from the baroque preacher Antonio Vieira SJ (1608-97) – was the first professor of Spanish at Trinity College Dublin and the first in the UK. (Ann Frost reminds us that at the time ‘professor’ was not the lofty title of today, and was largely used to mean ‘teacher’.)

Vieyra, like nearly all the language teachers in London, was a Protestant exile. His date of birth is often given as 1712. His first publication was in London, printed by John Nourse, who seems to have specialised in foreign languages (see ESTC and Foreign-language Printing in London).

Title page of A new Portuguese grammar

A new Portuguese grammar (London, 1768). 1568/3986

Title page of A dictionary of the Portuguese and English languages

A dictionary of the Portuguese and English languages (London, 1773). 1502/272

But he was a man of parts, who also wrote on Persian:

Brevis, clara, facilis ac jucunda, non solùm Arabicam linguam; Sed etiam hodiernam Persicam, cui tota ferè Arabica intermixta est, addiscendi methodus; quam non ita pridèm quinque speciminibus comprehensam, editamque; nunc autem novis, ac berè multis vocabulis locupletatam, (inter quae plurima celtica, imò et aliquot Asiatica et Americana, quo nonnullorum Asiae, Novique Orbis populorum felici origines investigentur exitu, reperiuntur) cum Arabicis aut Persicis affinitatem habentibus, in usum utriusque ling. tyronum, denuò edit ejusdem methodi auctor Antonius Vieyra, L.L. hisp. ac Ital. prof. reg. in Col. S.S. et ind. Trin. Dublin
(Dublin, 1789) 12903.c.20

He arrived in Dublin in 1779 to teach at Trinity College, a Protestant stronghold.

Andrew Wakeley’s best-selling textbook on the use of the compass (first printed 1665) was translated into Portuguese by one ‘Antonio Vieira’ for Antonio Fernandes, merchant of London, in 1762.

Title page of A agulha de marear rectificada …

Page from A agulha de marear rectificada …

A agulha de marear rectificada … composto por Andre Wakeley, mathematico … traduzido do original ingles, por Antonio Vieira, Professor de Geometria na Academia Magnanense (London, 1762) RB.23.a.40456 [The Mariners-compass rectified … composed by Andrew Wakeley, mathematician … translated from the English original by Antonio Vieira, professor of geometry in the Magnanensian Academy]

Could they be related – or even one and the same?

Our Vieira writes in his dedication to Fernandes that he left his homeland in his third lustrum: as a lustrum was a period of 5 years, his age on departure was between 11 and 15.

He calls himself (in 1762) ‘professor of geometry at the Academia Magnanense’ (Orbis Latinus identifies this as Meinvelt (or Mayenfeld), a region between the Rhine and Moselle rivers). He also calls himself ‘chaplain’.

He says explicitly that he turned to translating Wakeley ‘and others’ and needed a patron: a role which Fernandes fulfilled.

Although the humanities and sciences weren’t as divided as they are now, our man’s prologue is stuffed with literary references far beyond the needs of a work of Fachliteratur. He cites Camões – well chosen on account of the maritime feats sung in the Lusiads. He refers to his annotations on the Satires of Horace, Juvenal, Persius and Petronius and draws on classical culture to praise Fernandes as a new Cicero and Juvenal among the ancients and Salignac and Locke among the moderns.

The book has no printer or publisher named: did Vieira publish it himself?

The fullest account of the Professor’s life I have been able to see is the obituary in the Dublin Evening Post, Thursday 16 March 1797:

Doctor Vieyra, who died at the College, some short time since, was King’s Professor of Spanish and Italian. He was a most worthy man, an excellent scholar, and had a perfect knowledge of almost every existing language. Having outlived his family, and most of his acquaintance, he spent his latter days almost in retirement, but his name is well known, in the literary world. His Portuguese Dictionary is the best that has been published of that language. He was born at Estremor, [sic] in Portugal, in the year 1712, and tho’ certainly deserving a more fortunate lot, met with various calamities during his whole life. His father had been taken up by the inquisition, and a small estate he had of course seized. Dr. Vieyra was sent to Padua, and from thence to Rome, where he took the vows and entered in the order of Conventuales. Ganganelli (afterwards Pope [Clement XIV]) was in the same convent at that time, and they were of course well acquainted. The Doctor, after a residence of twenty years in Italy, got leave to return to Portugal, where he narrowly escaped the fate of his father – and was obliged to quit the country, & after many extraordinary adventures, settled in London where he was patronized by the Chevalier Pinto. He got the appointment in Dublin College, many years ago. From the time he quit the convent at Rome, he renounced the Roman Catholic religion. He had several children, who all died before him. – The family of the late Provost, and Lady Moira, were always particularly kind to him. He wrote several volumes on the derivations of words and names; had he spent half the time taken up in such uninteresting works in writing memoirs of his life, he would have gained more, and have given the public some very curious and extraordinary anecdotes.

Chevalier Pinto was Luís Pinto de Sousa Coutinho, Viscount Balsemão (1735-1804), Portuguese Minister Plenipotentiary in London, 1774-88. With his wife, Catarina de Lencastre, he made his home into a literary and scientific salon. He supplied George III with books on Portugal, used by Southey for his History of Brazil. (All this according to Rodrigues.)

On 9 November 1774 Pinto wrote to the Bishop of Beja in support of two scholars: Manuel Azulay, a Jew, son of Portuguese parents, who aspired to a job teaching Hebrew in Portugal (he promises not to draw attention to his religion); and a monk who has written a Portuguese grammar and dictionary and has knowledge of Arabic and Persian, who seeks travel money and access to becoming a secular priest (Malato Borralho, 58). (Pinto also aided António de Morais e Silva, father of Brazilian lexicography, when he fled the Inquisition: Rodrigues 98.)

Who could this be but our man? But wasn’t he a Protestant by then?

It may not be too fanciful to draw the following chronology: Antonio Vieyra Transtagano was born in 1717; left Portugal in his third lustrum; went to Rome, became a Protestant, went to Mayenfeld; arrived in London in need of a patron and where he slaved as a dogsbody translator; by 1762 he was teaching and publishing in London; in 1774 he had the patronage of Chevalier Pinto; in 1779 he was in Dublin.

Translators have always sought patronage, and translators were often hacks – one thinks of George Borrow translating for newspapers, or the women readers in the British Museum in the nineteenth century (described by Bernstein).

Professor Antonio Vieyra’s biography has many lacunae, but perhaps this book allows us to fill them in.

Barry Taylor, Curator Romance Collections

Barry Taylor, ‘St Anthony of Padua, alias Fernando of Lisbon’, European Studies Blog

Foreign-language printing in London, 1500-1900, edited by Barry Taylor. (Boston Spa, 2002) 2708.h.1059 

Maire Kennedy, ‘Antoine d’Esca: First Professor of French and German at Trinity College Dublin (1775-1784)’

Carmem Rodrigues, ‘Chevalier Pinto: “Um dos homens mais ilustrados que já viveram no Brasil”’, Fênix: Revista de História e Estudos Culturais, 19 (2022), 93-112

Maria Luísa Malato Borralho, "Por acazo hum viajante --" : a vida e a obra de Catarina de Lencastre, 1a Viscondessa de Balsemão (1749-1824) (Lisbon, 2008) YF.2010.a.8017

Ann Frost, The emergence and growth of Hispanic studies in British and Irish universities ([Great Britain]: Association of Hispanists, [2018]) YD.2019.b.1143

Dublin Evening Post, Thursday 16 March 1797 (Irish Newspaper Archives)

Susan David Bernstein, Roomscape: women writers in the British Museum from George Eliot to Virginia Woolf (Edinburgh, [2014?]) ELD.DS.47217

14 August 2023

Paul Vincent - 40 years of translating

Paul Frank Vincent (1942-) is an award winning translator of Dutch and German texts into English; in 2016 he and John Irons won the Oxford-Weidenfeld Prize for 100 Dutch-Language Poems (London, 2015; YC.2017.a.3500). His career spanned many decades, but now he is retiring from translation at the age of 81. That is proof of his passion for languages, literature and translations, especially German, French and Dutch, all of which he studied at Cambridge. His choice for languages was influenced by his father who had fought in the Second World War on the continent, from where he brought back French and German songs. They fascinated the young Paul. He read translations of Grimm fairy tales as well as English classics such as Black Beauty.

Paul Vincent could have chosen to study German or French and he did indeed study these languages for a while when he realised that not many students did Dutch, so he switched. His decision proved the correct one when Paul came back from a holiday in the Netherlands with a desire to know more about the meaning of “strange letter combinations” in vowels such as ‘au’ (similar to ‘cow’) and ‘ui’ (not found in English).

For 22 years Vincent taught Dutch language and literature, including translation, at Bedford College and later at University College London (UCL), before taking the plunge into freelance translation in 1989. His teaching experience served him well, although finding work as a translator was and is not easy. Like every starting translator he had to accept what was on offer. That first offer was a jackpot: The Discovery of Heaven by Harry Mulisch, one of the Big Three in Dutch literature. Not the easiest of novels if you ask me, but Paul pulled it off.

Front cover of Harry Mulisch, The Discovery of Heaven, translated by Paul Vincent

Front cover of Harry Mulisch, The Discovery of Heaven, translated by Paul Vincent. (London, 1998) H.2000/2442

Works by Dutch and Flemish authors, both still alive and long dead followed. Vincent has quite a wide ranging repertoire: from Louis Paul Boon, Guido Gezelle, Louis Couperus to Katrien Hemmerechts, Tom Lanoye and Silvio Alberto (Tip) Marugg. He prefers the big beasts of Dutch literature, such as Harry Mulisch and Willem Frederik Hermans. He has translated fiction, poetry and the odd non-fiction work.

Title page of Harry Mulisch, Siegfried, translated by Paul Vincent

Harry Mulisch, Siegfried, translated by Paul Vincent. (London, 2003) Nov.2003/1794

Vincent’s favourite project was translating one of Mulisch’s later novels, Siegfried (2001). Translating is a puzzle; the easy bit is that there is an original text, the hard part is turning the original in an acceptable text. A good translator is able to find the middle-ground between staying true to the original text and making sure the text makes sense in the target language. If you then find word plays, such as anagrams in the text, that poses an additional challenge. Paul struggled with the anagram the protagonist made of the name Hitler, but found an elegant solution by using his first name as well.

The anagram in Dutch reads: Helrit, Relhit (ride to hell, riot hit).

In English it reads: I, dart of hell, Half Riot-Led.

Anagram in Dutch from Harry Mulisch, Siegfried

Anagram in Dutch from Harry Mulisch, Siegfried (Amsterdam, 2001) YA.2002.a.19603

The anagram of Hitler’s name in English

The anagram of Hitler’s name in English. 

Vincent translates poetry, too. He has tackled 17th-Century poets Joost van den Vondel , P.C. Hooft , Gerbrand Bredero, the 19th-century writer De Schoolmeester (‘The Schoolmaster’, pen name of Gerrit van de Linde), Guido Gezelle and many others. His last poetry project was Mei (May) by Herman Gorter (Nijmegen, 2021; YF.2022.a.18897; you can read the original Dutch text here).

Cover of Herman Gorter, May, translated by Paul Vincent

Herman Gorter, May, translated by Paul Vincent. (Nijmegen, 2021) YF.2022.a.18897

The Translations Database of the Dutch Foundation for Literature lists 125 titles translated by or contributed to by Paul Vincent. The database lists every Dutch title that has been translated into a foreign language. The organisation that runs it is responsible for the promotion of the quality and diversity of literature in the Netherlands and abroad. Its counterpart in Flanders is the Flemish Literary Fund.

Vincent sees a definite uptake in the UK of translated Dutch literature, mainly thanks to campaigns such as New Dutch Writing and Flip Through Flanders

New Dutch Writing banner with the words 'Double up on Dutch books'

Banner New Dutch Writing 

Flip through Flanders banner

Banner Flip through Flanders 

Over the space of his long career Paul built a large library, containing literary works and works on translation. He has very kindly donated some 200 books to the British Library which we didn’t yet have. This is a welcome chance to fill some gaps in our collections, for which I would like to thank Paul very much, indeed! They will soon appear on our catalogue with a note about their provenance, so anyone who reads them knows they came from him.

Title page of F.E.J. Malherbe, Zuidafrikaanse Letterkunde

F.E.J. Malherbe, Zuidafrikaanse Letterkunde (Pretoria, 1968) Awaiting shelfmark.

Happy retirement, Paul, and thank you!

Marja Kingma, Curator Germanic Collections

03 March 2023

New acquisitions: Rab-Rab Press

On until 18 March, the exhibition Editorial Tables: Reciprocal Hospitalities at The Showroom brings together publishers, artists, and curators with an interest in ‘independent, experimental and artist-led publishing, with a focus on intersecting feminist and decolonial perspectives’. We were glad to receive the back catalogue of one of the featured publishers, Rab-Rab Press, based in Helsinki and founded by Sezgin Boynik.

Cover of Rab-Rab: journal of political and formal inquiries in art

Rab-Rab: journal of political and formal inquiries in art, Issue 01 (2014). Awaiting shelfmark.

Rab-Rab Press publishes Rab-Rab: journal of political and formal inquiries in art, which is a platform for politically charged interventions in an art world that has surrendered to its ‘ideological blindness’, to the dominant language of ‘liberal capitalist paranoia’. The journal itself and the range of books published by Rab-Rab are seen as part of a “writerly” art practice that, according to the first issue’s opening article by John Roberts, stemmed from Conceptual art’s dismissal of the ‘intellectual division of labour’, the strict separation of the work of the art practitioner and the art critic.

Reprint of E. P. Thompson’s, The Railway: An Adventure in Construction

Reprint of E. P. Thompson’s, The Railway: An Adventure in Construction (Helsinki, 2020). Awaiting shelfmark.

Rab-Rab Press is also engaged in publishing, and often translating for the first time, out-of-print forgotten works. Twentieth century and contemporary political thought from across Europe finds a home at Rab-Rab, from the work of Slovenian sociologist Rastko Močnik to two lectures by the Polish-Georgian avant-gardist Ilia Zdanevich. There is a reprint of E. P. Thompson’s, The Railway: An Adventure in Construction, on the international labour brigades in Yugoslavia, and most recently a translation of the increasingly influential artist and thinker Karel Teige’s Jarmark umění, The Marketplace of Art.

Cover of Karel Teige’s Jarmark umění, The Marketplace of Art

Karel Teige’s Jarmark umění, The Marketplace of Art (Helsinki, 2022). Awaiting shelfmark.

Lastly, Rab-Rab’s focus also turns to surprising cultural political moments, whether that is the Archie Shepp-Bill Dixon Quartet playing the 8th World Festival of Youth and Students in Helsinki 1962 (Free Jazz Communism), Mao Zedong’s last meeting with the Red Guards in 1968 (The Conclusive Scene), or the release of London-based Practical Music’s LP, Albanian Summer: An Entertainment, in 1984 (From Scratch: Albanian Summer Picaresque).

With such an eclectic range of publications bringing lost writing and moments to light, we look forward to what Rab-Rab Press takes on next. In the meantime, there is still a chance to catch the exhibition.

Pardaad Chamsaz, Curator Germanic collections

24 February 2023

Marking one year since Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine

24 February 2023 marks one year since Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine. While the British Library has been collecting digital and print material relating to Russia’s war against Ukraine since it began in 2014, the full-scale invasion has led to, and necessitated, the publication of new works, from diaries and speeches to books for Ukrainian children arriving in the UK.

This blog post brings together some of the items the British Library has acquired in the past year, as well as some of our ongoing activities to support and collaborate with Ukrainian colleagues, institutions and guests.

Photo of books from the Books Without Borders event

Photo from the Books Without Borders event courtesy of the Embassy of Ukraine in the United Kingdom and the Publisher’s Licensing Services Ltd

Children’s books presented by the First Lady of Ukraine, Olena Zelenska, at the British Library

In August 2022, the Library hosted the launch event for ‘Books Without Borders’ in partnership with the Publishers’ Licensing Services (PLS) and book print specialists Halstan, who funded and produced 16,000 Ukrainian language books for children arriving in the UK. We welcomed 40 children and their families to the British Library’s Learning Centre. The event was also attended by the Ukrainian Ambassador and the First Lady of Ukraine, who joined remotely to present the books and answer the children’s questions.

The books have been distributed to families and libraries across the UK, including the British Library (see References). 

Cover of In the Face of War

Cover of In the Face of War

In the Face of War

‘In the daily life of war, only something like photography – unfamiliar, auxiliary, almost mechanical – is capable of holding together sequences and memories.’ Day 16. Friday, March 11.

The Ukrainian artist, writer, and photographer Yevgenia Belorusets kept a diary during the first months of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine. Writing from Kyiv, the diary, which included photographs, was updated in real-time and published by Spiegel (German) and ISOLARII (English). It formed the basis of the installation A Wartime Diary, which was exhibited alongside the work of Ukrainian artists Nikita Kadan and Lesia Khomenko in the exhibition This is Ukraine: Defending Freedom at the 59th Venice Biennale 2022. Their work also led to the publication of the pocketbook In the Face of War (also by ISOLARII), of which the Library holds a copy. Another edition of Belorusets’ diary will be published in early March with a new preface by the author.

Cover of the Ukrainian edition of Zelensky's speeches from the first month of Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine

Zelensky’s speeches from the first month of Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine 

Volodymyr Zelensky’s speeches and addresses (in Ukrainian and English)

‘Do not forget about Ukraine. Do not get tired of Ukraine. Do not let our courage go “out of fashion”.’ (Zelensky, Introduction, A Message from Ukraine)

Elected in 2019, President Volodymyr Zelensky has led Ukraine’s resistance to Russia’s full-scale invasion since February 2022. The British Library holds copies of Zelensky’s published speeches in Ukrainian and English translation. A separate English-language collection, A Message from Ukraine, was recently published by Penguin Random House. It includes 16 of Zelensky’s personally selected speeches from 2019-2022, as well as an introduction in which he reflects on how the months since the invasion have changed Ukraine and him personally. He ends with the words: ‘What will bring the end of the war? We used to say “peace”. Now we say “victory”.’

Mstyslav Chernov, Fire burns at a factory after a Russian attack in the outskirts of Kharkiv, Ukraine, 15 April 2022. Visual interpretation for Ukraine Lab.

Mstyslav Chernov, Fire burns at a factory after a Russian attack in the outskirts of Kharkiv, Ukraine, 15 April 2022. Visual interpretation for Ukraine Lab.

Ukraine Lab

The Ukrainian Institute London is an independent charity dedicated to strengthening Ukraine’s voice in the UK and beyond. The Library has worked with the Institute on a number of projects and events, including Ukraine Lab (2022), an online writing residency for emerging writers from Ukraine and the UK. Working in cross-cultural pairs, the six participants explored global challenges related to environment, disinformation and war, through the prism of Ukraine and the art of storytelling. You can read their work here. As part of the project, the British Library led a collections-based workshop and hosted an online event (recording available).

Ukraine Lab was run by the Ukrainian Institute London in partnership with PEN Ukraine and the Ukrainian Institute as part of the UK/UA Season of Culture, funded by the British Council.

Cover of Andrey Kurkov’s Diary of an Invasion featuring the 'Russian warship' stamp

Cover of Andrey Kurkov’s Diary of an Invasion

Diary of an Invasion by Andrey Kurkov

‘At first we did not understand what war was. You can’t understand it until you see it and hear it.’

Diary of an Invasion by Andrey Kurkov, the critically acclaimed author of novels including Grey Bees and Death and the Penguin, brings together his writings and broadcasts from Kyiv. Kurkov interweaves his personal story with those of his compatriots, as well as political and historical commentary, in a remarkable record of life immediately before and during the full-scale Russian invasion.

Kurkov took part in an event hosted by the British Library to mark Worldwide Reading of Ukrainian Literature Day in September 2022. Organised by the Living Knowledge Network in partnership with the Ukrainian Institute London, a recording of the event is available to watch on LKN’s website.

Cover of Sanctuary Foundation’s book for Ukrainian children arriving in the UK, Hello / Pryvit

Cover of Sanctuary Foundation’s book for Ukrainian children arriving in the UK, Hello / Pryvit

A bilingual book to welcome Ukrainian children in the UK

Designed for Ukrainian children who have arrived in the UK in the past year, this bilingual book includes messages of welcome from British and Ukrainian celebrities including Bear Grylls, Tom Odell, Mel Giedroyc, Andriy Pyatov and Jamala. The book was created and published by the charity Sanctuary Foundation, who presented a copy to the British Library in December 2022. Sanctuary Foundation is working with LKN to distribute the books to local libraries around the UK.

N.B. The items featured in this blog post have recently been acquired by the British Library and some may not yet be available to Readers. We will update the shelfmark information and will flag their availability via Twitter as soon as they are ready to order.

References

Kolosok: ukraïnsʹka narodna kazka, illustrated by Adelʹ Hilevych (Kyiv, 2021), YF.2022.a.23583.

Pro bidnoho parubka i tsarivnu: ukraïnsʹka narodna kazka, illustrated by Iulii Kryha (Kyiv, 2021). YF.2022.a.23582.

Zhenchyk, zhenchyk nevelychkyi, illustrated by V'iacheslav Lehkobyt (Kyiv, 2021), YF.2022.a.23586.

Halyna Tkachuk, Bilka Kvasolia ta Opivnichnyii Pozhyraka, illustrated by Nataliia Kashchak (Kharkiv, 2019). YF.2022.a.24557

Valentyna Vzdulʹsʹka, Fotofan: mystetstvo fotohrafii dlia ditei (Kyiv, 2022), YF.2022.b.2327.

Misiats’ viiny: khronika podii: promovy ta zvernennia prezydenta Ukraïny Volodymyra Zelensʹkoho, uporiadnyk Oleksandr Krasovytsʹkyi (Kharkiv, 2022), YF.2022.a.22981.

Druhyi misiatsʹ viiny. YF.2022.a.22966.

Ukraine Aflame: War Chronicles: Month 1, compiled by Oleksandr Krasovytskyy; translator Ganna Krapivnyk (Kharkiv, 2022), YD.2022.a.4046.

Ukraine Aflame – 2. YD.2022.a.4047.

Volodymyr Zelensky, A Message from Ukraine (London, 2022), ELD.DS.739195.

Yevgenia Belorusets, Nikita Kadan, and Lesia Khomenko, In the Face of War (Berlin, 2022). Awaiting shelfmark.

Andrey Kurkov, Diary of an Invasion (London, 2022). Awaiting shelfmark.

Krish Kandiah and Miriam Kandiah, Hello / Pryvit! (Sanctuary Foundation, 2022). Awaiting shelfmark.

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