At Home in the World


Angélica Freitas, Eka Kurniawan, Kyoko Yoshida, Vivek Shanbhag and Yassmin Abdel-Magied in conversation with Helena Kennedy, introduced by Sunil Buch


By Sitamsini Cherukumalli, Official ZEE Jaipur Literature Festival 2017 Blogger


‘The most important thing for me is the translation of unsaid things,’ began Vivek Shanbagh, author of the acclaimed Kannada novel Ghachar Ghochar. Translation is still a highly under-appreciated art and this session explored the complexities and challenges of translating and being translated. Each of the non-English writers on the panel read out a passage of their work in its original language, ‘in order to capture the musicality,’ said session moderator, Helena Kennedy.

Eka Kurniwan’s book Man Tiger was the first Indonesian book to be nominated for the Man Booker International Prize in 2016. In his works, he frequently borrows from Japanese and Sundanese words, and makes up his own when he cannot find the right word in any of his own tongues. When asked if this posed any difficulty to his translators, Kurniwan readily conceded that it did, but added that he collaborates very intensively with them to create the most fitting translation.

Speaking of making up words, Kyoko Yoshida, who translates works of Japanese and English, makes up whole worlds and myths in her new collection of short stories, Disorientalism. The title and concept behind this collection came from her experience workshopping with American writers: ‘they wanted to make my work oriental’. She spoke amusingly about some of her readers who genuinely believe the exaggerated set-ups in her short stories are real, even the ‘giant man-eating pandas,’ she laughed.

Angélica Freitas, the Brazilian poet and translator, performed a poem from her collection, The Uterus is the Size of a Fist, in her native Portuguese. She agreed with Shanbagh that it is the transference of ‘the unsaid’ that is the most important aspect of translation, especially in regard to poetry, which is a highly distilled medium.

Yoshida pursues her creative writing in English, her second language. She explained, to much laughter, ‘I write in English because then my mother cannot read it.’ Moderator Helena Kennedy enquired whether she found writing in a second language created a sense of distance and perspective, to which Yoshida readily agreed. ‘People think I’m selling out by writing in a globalised language, but for me it is a way to make English less important.’ Whilst Shanbagh maintained that he needed an instinctive relationship with the words he uses, Yoshida observed that for her, writing in English helped ‘resurrect dead metaphors and rewrite clichés.’

Yassmin Abdel-Magied, writer and founder of Youth Without Borders, spoke about her upbringing as a Muslim Sudanese-Australian woman, and all the different intersections that she has had to navigate.  She observed that sexism and inequality within her own community sometimes led the ‘mainstream Australian population’ to use her own words to justify their misconceptions of her community, including at times, their bigotry. ‘When I say something they (the Sudanese Community) approve of, they’re willing to take ownership of me, but on the whole it is a very fragile relationship.’

When asked about the way different cultures perceive his work, Freitas recalled a funny anecdote about the time she read her poem about Gertrude Stein to an uncomprehending crowd in rural Romania. Kurniawan said that some of his Western readers have trouble reconciling the sexual content of his work with their pre-conceived ideas about his country, since it is a Muslim majority nation.

The session ended with a tribute to the brilliant translators that bring literature from all over the world to the public, with Helena Kennedy stressing the need for the literary world to reward them for their difficult and elusive work.


Photo Credit: Chetan Singh Gill



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