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The Importance of Translation, Art and Identity

In 1816, Anne Louise Germaine de Staël, better known as Madame de Staël, published her article “The Spirit of Translation” in the first issue of the Biblioteca Italiana. The article, originally written in French and translated into Italian by Pietro Giordani, prompted Italians to depart from Latin literature by starting to translate the novels of the English and German writers. Madame de Staël’s arguments today are more relevant than ever. Over the centuries, Italy has increasingly opened up to literature in translation, a phenomenon that has not yet taken hold in English-speaking countries. Madame de Staël argues that opening up to foreign literature through translations allows you to discover new cultures and allows literature to evolve. Would you like to read some foreign titles? Enjoy these novels in translation we have chosen for you.

All Men Want to Know by Nina Bouraoui

Translated by Aneesa Abbas Higgins, published by Viking on 6 August 2020.

All Men Want to Know is a semi-autobiographical novel by French-Algerian author Nina Bouraoui.

In the ’80s, eighteen-year-old Nina comes to terms with her sexuality, while frequenting a lesbian bar, The Kat. Here, she forms bonds and friendships with different women, in particular Ely, a fascinating and troubled young woman, and Julia, the woman Nina falls in love with for the first time.

As Nina ventures into the Parisian nightlife, she spends the aftermath of these nights out writing, processing her feelings about her present and her past; she writes about her mother and her diplomat father, and her childhood torn between Algeria and France.

The novel is divided into four sections, which intertwine throughout the novel:

“Knowing” reflects on Nina’s childhood and the traumatic experience of witnessing the aftermath of her mother’s sexual assault, the civil unrest in Algeria, and the political climate the characters had to live through, with the absence of their diplomat father. This part of the novel also touches on the acts of violence perpetrated against women in Algeria.

“Remembering” reflects on Nina’s adolescence in Algeria and France with her grandparents and, in particular, recounts the friendship with Ali, with whom she can feel like her true self, realising that she is different in her sexual preferences.

“Becoming” is Nina’s present: her nights at The Kat, the friendships she establishes in Paris. She neglects university and calls herself a writer, spending her alone time doing just that. Nina falls in love for the first time with a woman, Julia, and faces her fears of inadequateness.

“Being” sees Nina in a new relationship, accepting that she can’t control the future and, as a consequence of that, herself.

All Men Want to Know is a beautifully written novel that deals with the protagonist’s duality; how her heart is torn between Algeria and France, the two parts of herself that cannot seem to coincide, but that she has to try and fit together. It is an extremely vivid and lyrical novel, as the reader feels Nina’s inability to accept her sexuality as a result of the culture medium in which she was brought up into, and later accepting herself, aided by the community she finds in Paris.

The Story of My Teeth by Valeria Luiselli: a clever literary experiment

Translated by Christina MacSweeney, published by Coffee House Press in 2015. Original Spanish title: La historia de mis dientes.

Despite being under 200 pages, The Story of My Teeth by Valeria Luiselli packs a lot in. It’s a hybrid text and to a certain extent, a communal effort. A study on truth and fiction and a collection of examples of stories well told. A show of erudition that will entertain readers who enjoy clever references and quotations. It is an extremely amusing book that will tickle your funny bone.

The protagonist and main narrator Gustavo “Highway” Sánchez Sánchez is a Mexican auctioneer, who appreciates the art of inflating and straight-out perverting the truth to maximise profits. The book revolves around his life and his most extraordinary achievement, selling his own teeth for an exorbitant amount of money.

During the legendary auction, he claims that the teeth he had extracted years prior belong to the likes of Plato, Petrarch, Rousseau, Virginia Woolf and many others. Thanks to his brilliant and hypnotic oratory skills, he convinces an audience of elderlies to give up their savings.

The Story of My Teeth was originally commissioned by a modern-art show. Luiselli wrote the book in individual chapters, which she asked the workers of a juice factory (which was funding the art show) to read aloud and review. She then took their comments into account while writing the following chapters. This, combined with the brilliant chronology left in the appendix by English translator Christina MacSweeney, the book turns into a form of collaboration, a symphony of ideas.

Despite the text being so focused on stretching the thin line between honesty and mendacity, readers find, at the end, there is a gallery of photographs at the end of the book that prove that Highway’s story was based on real places, people and feelings that one can still encounter in the district of Ecatepec, in Mexico City. Without them and the many quotations, the reading would be incomplete.

In The Story of My Teeth, you’ll find a literary experiment that doesn’t feel like one. Especially enjoyable for the fans of Mordecai Richler or Jorge Luis Borges.



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