When in Europe, Promote Europeans

One thing about the Utopiales Festival that is a little annoying is the fact that the festival has a big bookstore, almost none of the books in which I can read, because they are in a language I don’t read with any measurable skill. During the day, I’ll see a slate of French writers signing books and then see their books piled up on the stands, and I’ll be a bit glum knowing that I have no chance of reading them, short of actually learning to read French (or German, or whatever).

So I was really quite pleased last night when James Morrow handed me a copy of The SFWA European Hall of Fame, a collection of sixteen stories, originally written in languages other than English, and translated into English and edited carefully by James and Kathryn Morrow (with the help of the translators and writers) to retain as much of the flavor of the original text as possible.

That’s a lot of work, and it shows: I’m working my way through the book now, and the style and flavor of the work is different, sometimes in obvious ways and sometimes in ways more subtle. But as a reader in English, you do get the idea you’re through the looking glass a bit — that perspectives are skewed in unexpected and mostly pleasing ways. I haven’t gotten through enough of it yet to give it all a rave, but what I have read is enough to make me wish I was actually able to read another language than my own, in order to read more from these authors. Curse my leaden brain!

In any event: Check it out if you’re feeling worldy and adventurous.

14 Comments on “When in Europe, Promote Europeans”

  1. You got to meet James Morrow? You lucky dog. It sounds like you’re having fun, which is great.

  2. James Morrow is indeed a lot of fun, as is his wife Kathryn. And yeah, I’m basically having a ball.

  3. It’s a shame that there’s still a lot of Stanislaw Lem awaiting translation to English, and Faber still block a proper unabridged version of Solaris.

  4. I kinda developed a girl crush on Candy over at Smart Bitches Trashy Books when she professed her love of James Morrow’s books. I wanted to jump up and down shouting “ME TOO”. But I restrained myself. Which can be difficult.

  5. Indeed the inability to read and speak another language is to be regretted. Of my many failures the one I am least proud of is my failure to lean another language.

  6. For David (and anyone else who has always wanted to learn a second language but didn’t think they could):

    I took German for four and a half years in high school and college, and French for three. An hour a day, five days a week. I got great marks in both languages (A’s), and yet can’t read or speak either language well enough to save my life.

    That always bothered me somewhat, as I expended a tremendous amount of effort to accomplish essentially very little. About two years ago I decided that if I couldn’t learn any “natural” languages, why not try one of the “planned” languages. So I gave Esperanto a try.

    Within two weeks of studying Esperanto on my own for maybe ten or fifteen minutes a day, I was (with the help of an online dictionary) to easily read the Esperanto news sites (yes, there are Esperanto news sites, although the best – ?angalo – shut down a year or so ago). A month in, I started actively participating in some Esperanto language forums. Six months in, I decided to start writing my blog entirely in Esperanto (for the practice, mainly, but also because it was fun). Now, two years later, I am basically fluent at writing it, and near-fluent at speaking it.

    It’s very, very easy. About two million people worldwide speak it, in nearly every country, and it has a very vibrant presence on the internet. The Esperanto version of the Wikipedia is (or was, the last time I checked) the fifteenth largest foreign language version – bigger than many natural language versions such as Danish or Czech.

    And, because the vocabulary is heavily based on European languages (although structurally it is closer to the Asian languages), one of the side benefits is that I find that I am able to read a lot of the Romance languages (Spanish, Italian, and French) without too much difficulty.

    Learning it is also made easier by the website Lernu! (http://www.lernu.net), which is all about learning Esperanto, and has free lessons from basic to advanced, forums, chat, an online dictionary, and is available in twenty-four different languages. Currently about 40,000 people are registered there. It’s an active place.

    Learning Esperanto is very fun, very easy, and you can speak with people from literally all over the world (I mean, how often do you see Russians, Poles, Lithuanians, Hungarians, Chinese, Koreans, etc., in the English language forums on the net? Honestly, I rarely ever see them, whereas I see them all the time on the Esperanto boards). It really does open the world up in ways that English does not. If you’re interested, just head on over to Lernu! It’s totally worth the rather minimal effort learning THIS language!

  7. John:

    The Amazon blurb says that there’s a Polish author in there, but does not name him… who would that be? Sapkowski, by any chance? If so, then the English translations that I’ve seen are far less than adequate. I’m Polish by origin and I’ve enjoyed his writing in Polish, but I don’t think I would have ever been attracted to it if I’d only seen the English translation.

  8. Hi John! I’m one of the lucky ones you signed a book for yesterday (a translator type, if you remember). I just wanted to leave an e-mark (scuff?) after meeting you. I looked around for you during the manifestations of the evening – if you can call them that – but almost all the English-writing participants of the Utopiales were absent, and I guessed y’all had found better things to do, together or separately.

    I’m glad to see you express this frustration about other languages’ literatures.. We got to talking about this w/ some of the French publishers/writers around, and you’re certainly not the only one to feel it.. Of course, with the US as Athens in the Greek Republic of yore, the “need” to translate foreign works into English declines everyday… We can hope, though.

  9. Izzy:

    The Polish author in the book is Marek Huberath.


    Yes, last night I was out to dinner with my publisher. I did stop by the Festival briefly afterward (about 11 o’clock) but I was pretty beat by the time, so I went ahead and crashed. I’ll be wandering about today, though, so be sure to say hello!

  10. Hmm, being a Finn, I’m quite impressed that the book contains a story from a finnish author. (Baby Doll by Johanna Sinisalo. She’s actually pretty well known in Finland even by people who don’t read genre stuff due to winning the Finlandia Prize in 2000)

  11. Mike: That’s true, though as SF in languages other than English goes, aside from Jules Verne, Lem has by far the most exposure in the US. The only other non-English SF authors I can think of who are not that hard to find are Karel Capek and Arkady and Boris Strugatsky.

  12. …Come to think of it, I guess there’s also some Japanese stuff–at least some of Koji Suzuki’s Ring series counts, though it’s usually sold as horror rather than as SF.

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