Translation Reviews Round-Up

Los Angeles Review of Books Interview

When Nathan Scott McNamara from the Los Angeles Review of Books wrote to ask if we could talk, particularly about my three most recent translations, I wrote back, “I am a devotee of all things translation as to me all writing is translation, translation the essence of all writing. I translate in order to become a better writer. I write in order to become a better translator. So yes, gladly. Ask away.” Click here to read A Perpetual Layering of Language and Meaning: An Interview with Writer and Translator Jenny McPhee.

Neapolitan Chronicles                                                Anna Maria Ortese

“Ortese’s people are all in primary colors, so vivid that they jump off the page. Moreover, it is splendidly translated by two masters of their trade, Ann Goldstein and Jenny McPhee…this book will be of interest to Ferrante fans. But Ortese is worth reading for herself. Her mixture of the surreal and the real in all of this work is original and compelling. An example of prose that has lasted and will continue to do so.” – The Arts Fuse

“This collection of writing and reportage about Naples was a major inspiration for Elena Ferrante. Ortese’s portrait of the Italian city just after World War II is of a place of poverty and desperation.” – The New York Times, New & Noteworthy

“The texts in this book are kept together by a tension in the gaze, which wants to avert the eyes and cannot do it because compelled to watch, compelled to witness, and to write. And it is not her private world Ortese wants us to see: but to take part in the intensity of her scrutiny, to see with her.” – minor literature[s]

“Elena Ferrante has cited Ortese (1914-98) as one of her greatest influences, and the connections are obvious in this collection of short stories and essays, which infuse a grimy, chaotic Naples with unsentimental menace rather than romantic mystique. Ortese gathers concrete details about the realities of poverty, and, like Ferrante, delineates moments of status tension with blunt accuracy. The narrator of ‘The Silence of Reason’ encounters an old literary friend and describes his presence in the room as ‘an abyss, a chasm full of hands clapping, which created a desolate sound, an endless sigh.’ The story’s skewering of Neapolitan intellectuals caused such an outrage that Ortese had to leave the city.” – The New Yorker, Briefly Noted

“The new edition of Neapolitan Chronicles, by Elena Ferrante’s English translator Ann Goldstein and co-translator Jenny McPhee, presents more reason for celebration than simply the re-emergence of this seminal work. For one thing, until now, Ortese’s book has never appeared in English in its entirety; Frances Frenaye’s 1955 translation lopped off part of the longest of the five pieces that make up the volume and added three not present in the original. For another thing, Goldstein and McPhee have included a preface and afterword Ortese wrote for Roberto Calasso’s 1994 Italian re-issue, and these commentaries by Ortese help to illuminate her aims in writing the book as well as her feelings about its rocky reception by Neapolitans. The translators’ own introduction provides additional context.” – seraillon

“Though it has patches of satisfactory writing, ‘Neapolitan Chronicles’ is a shallow, obtuse, insufferable book, its faults so glaring and pervasive that I fail to understand how anyone can overlook them.” – The Wall Street Journal

(I found this WSJ review pretty interesting in its fierce negativity. It is not unlike how the Sud group responded to Ortese’s book–and Ortese–when it was first published. The reviewer here shows no interest in Ortese as a literary figure at a time and place, sadly a very common critical approach to women authors. In any case, reviews come and go. The book remains.)

“The translator is often hidden in publishing’s shadows (indeed, the series of events for translators at Italy’s biggest book fair is actually called “The Invisible Author.”) But many readers of Ortese may actually find their way to this book through the two translators that have brought her work to English-speaking readers: Ann Goldstein, Elena Ferrante’s translator, and Jenny McPhee, an accomplished novelist whose new translation last year of Natalia Ginzburg’s seminal work of nonfiction, Family Lexicon, was widely lauded.” – Cleaver Magazine

The Kremlin Ball            Moscow, view of Red Square with St. Basil Cathedral and Spasskaya Tower, 1931

“This is a glimpse of 1920s Moscow, among the Soviet high society. It’s the aftertaste of the revolution. Published posthumously, Malaparte’s court chronicle captures Stalin as the surveyor of every intrigue and scandal from his nightly opera box.” – The New York Times, New & Noteworthy

“Malaparte drops names, titles, and geography freely, and this version of the text has excellent notes that keep someone less familiar with Moscow and Soviet people well informed, while Jenny McPhee’s introduction helps to frame the book with Malaparte’s biography.” – Cleaver Magazine

“Malaparte is bedeviled by the issue of religion in Russia’s new communist heart. Where does Christ fit in this loudly, mockingly atheist realm? Furthermore, where is death? Malaparte’s musings on the fate of the old guard – among them such characters as Leon Trotsky’s sister – are both referential and, thanks to Jenny McPhee’s translation, effortlessly flowing. The narrator’s speculations about the aristocrats are interwoven with colorful traceries of Moscow. As the dream of communism sours, Malaparte explores the repressed sentimentalism and despair of his hosts, and the ominous shadow of something more dangerous than idealism.” – The Arkansas International

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