Saturday, September 28, 2013

A call for translators!

In case you didn't know, there's an awesome language site called Parleremo. It's a language community that features many of the functions other sites have - but it collects them all at one place. Here are some of the things you can do:

* Write journal posts and have them corrected by other members.
* Discuss any language in the forums.
* Play language related games.
* Keep a language learning log and share your progress with the community.
* Find language exchange partners.
* Read grammar courses and practice vocabulary.
* Find tons and tons of links to media sites, courses, etc.
* Share language related files.
* Watch videos.
* Read reviews of language related books.
* Read texts in various languages in dual-reading mode.

A lot of this is only possible due to member participating. And here's where the call for translators comes in. I am currently trying to collect literary texts to add to the library at Parleremo, to the "Readings"-section. These are ordinary literary texts - no easy reader or such things, but texts for intermediate to advanced learners. The texts I have access to, by authors Ais and Dani Alexander so far, are in English and need to be translated in to other languages.

Here's what I'm looking for:

* People willing to translate texts (300 words, 700 words, 1800 words - you can choose, and these are just the first texts being added)
* People who have written texts they wish to share (all languages are welcome)
* New members who'll help us get more activity to the site

So! Sign up if you have any interest in languages! And if you want to translate or contribute with texts, please send me a PM (my nick is tricours), e-mail me, or leave a comment with your e-mail... or anything really! 

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

A Scandinavian book snuck in.

I've been meaning to read more Scandinavian books for quite some time (6 months or so?), especially books in Swedish since I always end up reading in English these days. And I did finally. Thesis, degree, exams - finished and all that, I actually read something Scandinavian. A whole magnificent total of two books, Out stealing horses, which I won't write about here because it's so über-famous anyway, and Salome.

Even the cover is lovely.
Lo and behold, this is something as exotic as a coming-of-age book NOT about a young man, but about a young woman. Obviously, since it's a bout a woman it cannot be "universal" and a "must-read" for everyone, but would probably be categorized as "minority literature", and therefore it will probably not gain the recognition it deserves. It has 20 reviews on Goodreads. What is wrong with the world?

People should really read about young girls. Without that, you never really grasp the full cruelty and pettiness human beings are capable of. I do hope this book gets translated soon (translations of quotes are mine).

Innan jag går frågar Miriam: "Vill du hjälpa mig att träna de här sista veckorna? Jag måste öva på att dö!" 
"Jag hjälper dig gärna att dö", säger jag kallt.

(Before I leave Miriam asks: "Will you help me practise these final weeks? I need to work on dying!"
"I'd gladly help you die", I say coldly.)

The plot of this book is irrelevant. Not because it is bad (it isn't, it's brilliant in its simplicity) but because the point is not the plot. This book just exists, it's an experience, a part of a life.  The plot could have been whatever, it could have been any aspect of Elsa's life and it wouldn't matter, as long as it's about Elsa. You think it's about Elsa and Veronica, then about Johannes, perhaps about Veronica and Johannes, Elsa and the dancing, and then you realize that these are all just aspects, and that none of them is more important than the other.

Det var alltid i skymningen, alltid violetta och rosa stråk som ikväll. Ibland nyanser av gult likt ett gammalt blåmärke som tillfogats en himmel som inte längre skyddade sina varelser. Veronica var vinterblek hela våren. Vi fortsatte att klä ut oss. Det hände att hon svimmade men kvällarna var alltjämt rosa och violetta, jag struntade i de långa diagonala sprickorna som spred sig vart jag än vände mig. "Det påminner om Spanien", sa jag till Veronica som log allt mattare.

(It was always at dusk, always the violet and pink streaks, just like tonight. Sometimes shades of yellow like a faded bruise inflicted upon a sky that no longer protected its creatures. Veronica was wintery pale all spring. We continued to dress up. On occasion she would faint, but the evenings were still pink and violet, and I ignored the long, diagonal cracks that spread wherever I turned. "This reminds me of Spain", I told Veronica, whose smiles grew increasingly weak.)

Mamma lutar sig framåt och hon är plötsligt för nära, jag känner doften av hennes olidliga parfym, hennes händer farligt nära min mun, åldrar hud och rött nagellack. Ta bort dem, tänker jag.

(Mom leans in and all of a sudden she is too close, I can feel the scent of her unbearable perfume, her hands are dangerously close to my mouth, aged skin and red nail-polish. Get them away from me, I think.)

Elsa is not a very lovable character. She's a typical teenage girl in many respects: cruel, selfish and proud. But she also lacks the typical reactions to certain things (such as the odd relationship with the hockey playing brute), and that makes her unique. She's not very intelligent, which typical makes me dislike characters, but she is diligent in what she does, and that makes up for any other flaws. That, and the fact that it doesn't matter if you like Elsa or not, it doesn't affect the book in the slightest.

In addition to everything else, this book is perfectly written. I haven't read a Swedish book with such a perfect grasp of every day vulgarities (in the spoken language) that is at the same time beautifully, even poetically, written. There are lovely descriptions of things, circumstances, feelings, that go into unorthodox abstractions and strange pictures that somehow work - and then the most perfectly described mundane scene where none of that belongs, and doesn't appear either. Mara Lee really, really knows what kind of language to use in different situations, and it's quite obvious that she's not just a hobby author, but a professional (she teaches writing). I will definitely be reading anything Mara Lee writes.

Märkligt, att inuti månaden juni bor en liten vinter som blommar ut vid fyratiden på morgonen, för att sedan trängas bort av solen.

(It's odd how inside the month of June, there is a small winter that blossoms at four in the morning, to then be pushed away by the sun.)

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Émigré literature.

Having finished Orlando Figes's impressive book Natasha's Dance (which sure has taken me some time), I have been intrigued by three authors that I have not yet read anything of - Bunin, Nabokov and Tsvetaeva. Unfortunately, I'm not big on poetry, but I will give it a serious try for the sake of Tsvetaeva, and I actually have no idea what Bunin wrote, but I was intrigued while reading about it so it must have been something interesting. 

Both Nabokov and Tsvetaeva intrigue me by being émigré writers. Bunin as well, but as I said, I can't remember what he wrote about all too well. I'll write about him another time. Have you ever thought about how much more sophisticated "émigré" sounds than... well, what they really were, refugees or immigrants? No one likes an immigrant, but an émigré member of the Russian intelligentsia? Ah, how chic! 

Being more or less chic, they were writing outside of their - so to speak - natural habitat, or outside of what they believed was their true home, or the essence of it. I find the displacement of people intriguing, be it in the context of forced emigration or voluntarily moving abroad, or the use of another language than one's native as one's primary mode of expression (minority literature in major languages, such as Kafka). What happens to a person's identity? Is identity a stable thing, formed in your childhood, and if so, do you ever really fit in when you move away? Or is it ever-changing and do people place too much weight on ending up somewhere else than where you were born? How long do you remain a foreigner? When do you acquire the right to have an opinion of your new country, without getting "what would you know, it's not your country"? People who move abroad themselves can often not distance themselves from the petty feeling of proprietorship towards their countries, even though they, undoubtedly, must experience estrangement in their host countries. Stravinsky, himself an émigré who only returned to Russia in the 60's for a visit, said "Yet the right to criticise Russia is mine, because Russia is mine and because I love it, and I do not give any foreigner that right." I wonder if he ever felt like criticizing, for example, France?

Nabokov in that way feels like a perfect Russian émigré gone American (who would not tolerate anyone criticizing America!), having grown up speaking and writing English before he learned to write in Russian. When his Russian reading audience was diminishing, he simply switched to English. Figes quotes his poem To Russia (1939), which I think suits the situation very well. This is a part of it:

He who freely abandons his country
On the heights to bewail it is free.
But now I am down in the valley
And now do not come close to me.

I'm prepared to lie hidden forever
And to live without a name. I'm prepared,
Lest we only in dreams come together,
All conceivable dreams to forswear;

To be drained of my blood, to be crippled,
To have done with the books I most love,
For the first available idiom
To exchange all I have: my own tongue.

 For Tsvetaeva, who ended up in Paris, I think it was more difficult:

"From a world where my poems were as necessary as bread I came into a world where no one needs poems, neither my poems nor any poems, where poems are needed like - dessert: if anyone -needs - dessert..."

Sometimes I really need dessert.

No one wanted to read her poems, she wasn't understood by her fellow Russian emigrants, and Tsvetaeva ended up returning to the Soviet Union with her husband, perhaps not really wanting to, but imagining that she would be appreciated there and find a reading audience again. That didn't happen. Instead her husband was arrested and shot, her daughter sent to a gulag, and she killed herself. Her first daughter also died, before the emigration, and no one (including her son) went to her funeral. How's that for tragedy?

Immigration is always a hot topic, and especially so today when more and more European countries are becoming outright fascist - or at least contain fascist elements that grow stronger and stronger. The statistics, the surface manifestation of immigration are interesting in their own right. Who benefits from immigration? Why do people become so obsessed with their national purity only when they believe it to be threatened? What moral responsibilities do advanced societies have towards the less fortunate who choose to emigrate? The inner workings of individual experiences are equally interesting, and largely ignored in the public debate, which is, might I add, raging in my increasingly more embarrassing native country. And is there a more pleasant way to explore it than through literature?

That being said, I haven't yet started on my mission to explore émigré litterature. I have read some, like Andreï Makiné (who is a later example of an émigré author), but not in any conscious kind of way. If anyone has any recommendation for Nabokov, for example, or other authors, feel free to leave a comment.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

The things you discover by accident.

There are many languages that I wish to learn, however certain small doubts are setting in. How on earth will I be able to find the time for it, the opportunities for it, while at the same time 1) reading an absurd amount of books and 2) actually making some money at some point? No idea. The more I travel, spend time abroad, etc., the more I realize that learning a language is not only a matter of self-discipline and sitting at home with your books and the occasional tutor/language class to calm your bad conscience. This became clear when I spent a year in France and at the end thought "I will never learn another language, because I will never manage to leave home in this way again". A language is not only the language itself, there's tons of stuff connected to it, something that I think perhaps 1% of people get, and especially not those who do not study anything themselves.

I think one of the most important things about spending time abroad is discovering random things that increase your knowledge of the culture the language is connected to. With the right kind of diligence, I guess this can be achieved at home, but that is rarely the case. Recently there has been a series of articles in Swedish press (particularly on regarding the dismantling of language education at Swedish institutions of higher education. There's been repeated mention of how Sweden loses a great deal of business due to the denial of the fact that there are other languages than English, while at the same time having a highly multilingual population (due to immigration). Using money on language educations at Universities and actually sending people abroad doesn't really seem to be a focus. If you are going to deal with people from other countries professionally, you shouldn't just have a half-decent knowledge of grammar and a vocabulary, you also have to understand in what way the people you are dealing with differ from you in the way they interact socially, professionally, etc. That's especially important if you're Swedish and about as formal as a continental European 4 year old! Well, it's not like I have a high opinion of Swedes anyway, so nothing has really been lost.

But really, I intended to write a post about literature. Since getting interested in Ukraine, I have met some... resistance from people. Mostly, it's "isn't that the same thing as Russian?" (never actually coming from Russians). The answer, once and for all, is no. Then there's the "but Ukrainian sounds so funny!" like it's a plaything more than an actual language, which is about as intelligent as the Swedes/Norwegians going "Swedes/Norwegians sounds so stupid/happy!" (both think the same thing about the other, you see, and no one understands why). Finally, there's the "Ukraine is a part of Russia" which is just ridiculous. Ukraine is a separate country, with a separate culture, which has sides that are both Russian (especially to the east, naturally) and western. Being in Ukraine is a whole different thing from being in Russia. And, the literature!

Why hasn't anyone ever told me about Ukrainian literature? On a side note, I love how in Ukrainian bookstores, Russian literature is put together with "World Literature", further shattering the "but it's the same thing"-idea. Since Russians are so fond of claiming Ukraine as their own, why have I never come across any Ukrainian literature anywhere? One would think I would, considering what my interests are. But no. I had never heard of any of the Big Ones until I went to Kiev. I've had this long-standing problem of never finding any Russian literature that I sincerely like, but no such thing with Ukrainian literature. Ukrainian literature is awesome!

Well, I should now confess that I've read a total of 4 books so far. But they have all of them been *quite* awesome. Ukraine deserves to be acknowledged for this. Why is it all Tolstoy, Dostojevsky but no Franko, Vynnychenko? I discovered Franko by being given his Перехресні стежки by my tandem partner in Oslo, and Vynnychenko by being given his Записки кирпатого Мефістофеля (in a volume with some short stories as well) by a friend I made in Kiev. They both interest me in a way Russian literature has not quite been able to. I have a whole stack of books waiting for me, after going to the Petrivka book market and saying to an old man there that I was looking for Ukrainian literature. He enthusiastically picked out four or five volumes and sold them to me for almost nothing. I hope they will continue to amaze me. I doubt I would have this knowledge and these insights if I had just stayed at home in Oslo, just like I wouldn't have known that Russian people aren't actually as gloomy and scary as they appear on the street. I wouldn't have learned this from only going to Ukraine either, because Ukrainians on the street are different from Russians on the street!

For all of those who understand Ukrainian, here's an interesting mini-documentary on Vynnychenko. (Unfortunately the music is sometimes so loud it's hard to hear what they say.)

Friday, September 14, 2012

Small photo post.

Kiev is still great.

There's a new cat bothering me at the computer.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Update from Kiev.

I think it's about time for an update on my life in Kiev (yeah, I moved there for three months with a friend). We've already been here for two or three weeks, and I hadn't bought any new books until yesterday. It's weird.

I started reading Taras Bulba. It's proving to be quite difficult.
 I also haven't visited any churches yet, but then that's partially because I've visited them before and we have visitors coming that we have to take to some tourist places. Not that churches are necessarily very touristy, but for people from Protestant countries Orthodox churches are quite spectacular. I did visit the Lavra, the Monastery of the Caves, founded in the 11th Century. When I went there I had a personal guide, a person who works in one of the very many buildings inside the convent area.

A cemetery inside the Lavra.

A bell tower constructed in various styles.
 I also walked up the Andrijivskij spusk. On weekends it's full of people selling souvenirs, crafts, stuff in general. It goes from St. Andrew's church on the top of the hill down to Podol, the old merchant part of town.
At the top of the hill.

St. Andrew's church.

I bought my books from a woman at the bottom of the hill. First, she tried to speak to us in English, and switched to Russian when I protested. The, when I said I was interested in Ukrainian books, she switched to Ukrainian. I am told, over and over again, that I shouldn't have gone to Kiev if I wanted to learn Ukrainian, because no one speaks Ukrainian in Kiev. Only, they really do. I hear Ukrainian all the time, you see it everywhere on the streets, and I really have to practice my Russian as well anyway, so it's a win-win situation.

We now have two days of rain coming up. It feels quite nice after a couple of days of 30°C, and I only wish I had a bottle of whiskey to go with my new books. I am contemplating a visit to the huge historical museum today, with an obligatory stop in a café somewhere with dear Taras.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Marta Ketro.

This summer has not lead to very many posts here. Not because we've had a great summer. Actually, we've hardly had any summer at all, and what you see below on the photo is one of those rare days with sun. Don't be fooled though, it was still cold outside. 

Марта Кетро - Улыбайся всегда, любовь моя (Always smile, my love)

I rarely write anything about books here these days since I use Goodreads for my nerdy literary needs, and since all I do now is read, I don't have much else to write about. However, I thought I should jot down a couple of words about the most recent Russian book I've read. It belongs to a genre that I both adore and somehow, secretly, despise - feminine prose. That it says "Самая искренная и нежная из легенда русского интернета" (The most genuine and tender legends of the Russian Internet) on the cover annoys me somewhat because of the use of the word "tender". As soon as they put words like that, or "feminine prose" on the cover of a book, a huge chunk of possible readers are immediately scared off. However, it's quite true, it's very, very genuine, and very tender (bleh). I like the genuine part, it places Marta Ketro in the exclusive club that Annie Ernaux reigns in, but unfortunately, it does become a bit too flowery and horribly unstructured. Whereas Ernaux's books have structure and are so completely devoid of pretense, Ketro has some of the same brilliant insights and writes some absolutely wonderful things, but the red thread in this thing that I have a hard time calling a book, is difficult to grasp. It begins very, very well, with a narrative. Then there's a death, and there's a new story, then it all seems to fall to pieces and there's I don't know how many pages of I don't know what. All of a sudden, something brilliant, and then just... a confusing mass of words. It's a shame, because Ketro obviously has potential. Perhaps some more editing would have been appropriate here? I'm not sure if perhaps the death, the turning point, is the reason for the following chaos, and that there's a symbolism there. What could have turned into a normal life, like a normal narrative, with logical events following one another, turns into loose encounters, random meetings. I may have read the book too slowly, so that my loosing track of what on earth was the story line was actually my fault, and not the author's.

Quote time!

Нет ничего прекраснее, чем любить человека на расстоянии, избегая не только физической близости, но и простых встреч. Идеальный союз двух душ, неувядающий и неутолимый. Что может быть лучше?
Почти так же прекрасна телесная близость при польном внутреннем отчуждении. Есть особая, освежающая свобода в том, чтобы принадлежать партнеру лишь телом, сохраняя душу одинокой.

С определенного возраста при появлении (и уходе) нового мужчины возникает мысль: а вдруг этот - последний? Вдруг никогда больше не случится нового таинства, новой страсти?
Я бы хотела узнать у мужчин, чувствуют ли они так же, да не смею. Каждый раз, когда кто-то говорит: "Ты моя единственная", - мучительно тянет спросить: "Неужели не боишься, что я у тебя последняя?" Жутко ведь - быть приговоренным к одному телу. Как ни одной новой книги прочитать.

I felt that this song by Thåström suited this book. The main line goes "It should have been you" (with "Fan" being the easy-going Swedish equivalent of "Fuck").