Camille T. Dungy and Daniel Hahn, editors
Regular readers of this column know that this space is dedicated to books created by regional authors, illustrators or publishers. This week, however, the Northwest connection is less substantial than usual.
"Passageways" is an anthology of translated poems and short stories, but of the 35 translators whose work is featured in the book, I could find only one who lives in the Northwest - Susanne Petermann of Medford, Ore.
Grasping for straws, I'll note that University of Washington Press is distributing the book (but San Francisco-based Two Lines Press is the publisher).
While the standard qualifications are rather tenuous, there is enough worthwhile material in this book that I have resolved to be geographically expansive this week.
A globe-spanning collection of literary shorts, "Passageways" is a volume you can dip into at your whim. It's a smorgasbord of genres, styles, themes and perspectives. Offering works from Italy to Israel, Russia to Vietnam, it provides a passport into remarkable diversity.
Of course a passport doesn't promise safe travels, and some of these pieces are dark and disconcerting - the very first offering, a Danish short story called "Blackcurrant," contains upsetting imagery that I wish I could scrub out of my memory, while a few other pieces left me wanting to shout, "The Emperor is wearing no clothes!"
But I also became acquainted with poets and authors whose takes on life were enriching or quirky or wise. The flood of work coming out of Brazil is certainly worth heeding. And I had no idea that rain figures prominently in Romanian poetry - but now that I've been introduced to it, I'll be exploring that oeuvre more thoroughly.
I liked "Y1285/x," a short story by Italian author Marco Candida. His first-person narrator seems to think he has witnessed a reversal of the death process, but then stumbles upon the formula for decomposition instead. The story is an exercise in absurdity - laced with fantastical events, yet cozy with prosaic details. Ultimately, it serves up a humbling reminder of our humanity.
Even more affecting, Russian poet Velimir Khlebnikov's poem "Hunger" is a list poem of the direst magnitude. It offers a haunting portrait of famine.
And Cao Tan's poem, "When I Return," offers a personal take on the international refugee experience in this country and the most fundamental basis for reconciliation with one's enemies.
One of the deep pleasures of the book is not only reading these works in translation, but in hearing from the translators about how they process their work. It is no small thing to translate not only foreign words but also "exotic" cultures in a way that makes them comprehensible to the Anglophone world.
Sometimes a translator must "value message over music," as lesbian poet/translator Elliott batTzedek explains. At other times, Vietnamese translator Ton That Ouynh Du attests, it is vitally important to tease out the "sub-register" of language.
Either way, "Passageways" offers a tour of imaginations that deserve to be explored.
The Bookmonger is Barbara Lloyd McMichael, who writes this weekly column focusing on the books, authors and publishers of the Pacific Northwest. Contact her at email@example.com.