The Washington Post: Current foreign fiction has found new U.S. readers. 9/11 is part of the reason.

Translation isn’t just for Tolstoy anymore. Works like Elena Ferrante’s now vault into the American mainstream.

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Liesl Shillinger – Nov 21, 2018

A few months into the Iraq War, three American women founded a magazine called Words Without Borders. They hoped to create “an antidote to xenophobia and nationalism” by publishing foreign literature in translation. To that end, they wanted to share the voices of contemporary writers from the countries President George W. Bush had recently called the “axis of evil” — Iran, Iraq and North Korea — for English-language readers.

North Korea, a “completely closed” country, was the trickiest to comb for fiction, recalled Samantha Schnee, a translator of Spanish literature, who began the magazine with Alane Mason, an editor at Norton, and Dedi Felman, an editor at Oxford University Press.“The only writing we could get was writing from the North Koreans’ own literary journals, which they had in their New York office at the United Nations.” An intern was dispatched to the United Nations for reconnaissance. “She camped outside their office for two days,” Schnee said. “Finally, someone came out and said, ‘What do you want?’ And she said, ‘I just want your literary magazines.’ ” The North Koreans handed them over.

Since 2003, Words Without Borders has published literary translations online by more than 2,200 writers from 134 countries. Another translation publisher, Archipelago Books, opened that year in Brooklyn. More independent presses devoted to international literature followed: Europa Editions, in 2005; Open Letter Books, in 2008; New Vessel Press, in 2012; and a dozen others. Today, literary translation, once the province of monuments of the past, guarded by eminent sages, has leaped from dusty library stacks into the contemporary mainstream: Only last Sunday, a novel from Italy, “My Brilliant Friend,” written by Elena Ferrante this decade and translated into English by Ann Goldstein within a year of its emergence, premiered on HBO as a lustrous, fully realized television miniseries. Propelling the remarkable transformation of this literary landscape? Among other factors, Sept. 11 and its aftermath, with a powerful boost from digital technology. Translation wasn’t just for Tolstoy and Goethe anymore. New wars disturbed the peace.

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The Washington Post: What the women of ‘My Brilliant Friend’ tell us about the men of ‘The Godfather’

This piece discusses some of the plot details of “My Brilliant Friend,” but man oh man is the mood more the point than the plot here.

On The Washington Post

Alyssa Rosenberg – Nov 16, 2018

In the bravura wedding scene that opens director Francis Ford Coppola’s “The Godfather,” brother of the bride Sonny Corleone, played by James Caan, pinches the cheek of bridesmaid Lucy Mancini (Jeannie Linero) and later slips off with her for a clandestine liaison. From these few brief scenes, you’d never know that Lucy is a fully developed character in Mario Puzo’s novel of the same name: She helps set up the Corleone family operations in Las Vegas, and the book explores her grief after Sonny’s assassination and her journey back to romantic and sexual happiness.

I think about Lucy Mancini a lot, not so much because her story is a major loss to movie history, but because she represents the women in the margins who bear the consequences of the main character’s decisions. And she was never on my mind so frequently as when I watched HBO’s adaptation of “My Brilliant Friend,” the first novel in Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan quartet, which debuts on Nov. 18. It would be a disservice to “My Brilliant Friend” to treat it as a mere addendum to “The Godfather.” But watching the movie series and the miniseries together is a powerful testament to what we gain when we see the world both from the center and the margins.

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