Sunshine Abroad

The trials and rewards of French translation and beyond

Don't Worry, I'm Not Here to Steal Your Literature

Things are starting to happen fast here. Last week at this time, I was in Fianarantsoa. Between then and now, I’ve talked to two journalists, both interviews have been published, and there’s a third hoping to do a TV interview soon. I’m...turning into a minor cultural celebrity? This is a very strange thing, especially for someone who actively despises the idea of ever being famous.

But hey, people are interested! And that’s a really really good thing -- not for me, but for Malagasies. Because if I can be the hook, the attention-grabber, the reason that people here start paying attention to their own literature, then that can help the authors and editors and publishing houses here who are fighting to find readers, to create readers from a population that is no longer really accustomed to reading.

And apparently, I must be doing something right, because the first interview even attracted some critics. None that I found out about myself, because they’re all writing in Malagasy, but some friends here were good enough to translate for me. The basic gist was: “Oh, so now we have to listen to a vazaha about our literature, too? Just like we already are about everything else?”

Obviously, there’s no point in giving any sort of official response. But here’s the unofficial one:


Of course not! You don’t have to listen to anybody.

Sorry to disappoint you, but my primary purpose in translating is for American readers, for other readers all over the globe who speak English and know nothing about Madagascar. I’m working for them, to teach them things, to help them discover new books and new worlds. My goal is and always has been to diversify literary offerings for Americans, not to launch the careers of Malagasy writers.

However, it’s a mistake for anyone to try to close themselves off from the rest of the world. If we share art and culture and, yes, literature with each other, our lives can only be enriched. We Americans, we need Rabearivelo just as much as Malagasies need Shakespeare.

And I would never tell a Malagasy author what to write. That’s up to them, always. All I can do is take their text and try to render it as faithfully as possible into English.

But...if my work happens to help Malagasy authors along the way, too? That’s awesome! If my presence here means that Malagasy authors get more attention? Brilliant! If I can share what I know about marketing and distribution with Malagasy publishing houses, so that they can do their job more effectively and find more readers and sell more books? Win-win-win-win-win. If I can bring a new perspective to the already-rich conversation on how to increase the literacy rate here, that would be amazing, especially for those people who will be able to learn to read and write.

It’s ultimately up to Malagasies to fix the problems here in Madagascar. I can’t do anything about that, and I wouldn’t presume to waltz in with *the thing* that will *obviously* solve everything. Similarly, it’s my responsibility to work on problems in the States. But sharing information with each other makes everyone’s jobs easier.

Plus, I like these people. Why wouldn’t I want to see them succeed?

"Beyond the Rice Fields" Giveaway

I promised it would happen, and here it is! The first couple times I did this, I called it something ridiculous. And tradition must be upheld. Please, prepare yourselves for:

The Third Not-Nearly-Regular-Enough-To-Be-Called-Annual-or-Biennial-or-Monthly-or-Anything-Else A.M.C. Giveaway!

*assorted cheers and trumpets*

Isn't it pretty??

Isn't it pretty??

The Prize: Two (2) randomly-chosen people will each receive one (1) paperback copy of Beyond the Rice Fields by Naivo, translated by yours truly, published by Restless Books, released this month. Each book will be signed by me and inscribed however the winners desire.

The Entry(-ies): There are two ways of entering, each of which grants you one entry (so every person can enter up to twice).

  1. Beyond the Rice Fields is the first novel to be translated into English from Madagascar. Without translation, the English-speaking world would have no Naivo, and no Madagascar. In light of this revelation, comment on this post with your favorite non-Anglophone writer, who you'd never have been able to read if it weren't for translation. (Bonus brownie points if you #namethetranslator!)
  2. To help spread the word, tweet a link to this post. Must either tweet at me (@sunshineabroad) or include this hashtag: #NaivoGiveaway

The Deadline: One week from today! Thursday, December 7, at 11:59 p.m. EST.

The Rules: After the contest, I will randomly select two entrants (by assigning a number to each comment and Twitter account and using a random number generator), and announce the winners on this blog on Friday, December 8. I will then contact the winners for their email and mailing addresses. Anyone with a valid mailing address anywhere in the world may enter. Limit two entries per person.

The Why: Did I mention this is the first novel EVER to be translated into English from Madagascar? And that it's amazing? (True fact, not my very biased opinion.) That's why.

Good luck to all!

You Can't Please Everyone

Beyond the Rice Fields is out. We've been getting some really nice reviews about it. (And there will be a giveaway coming after American Thanksgiving! Watch this space.)

Reviews are all subjective, though. One person's opinion. And people's opinions can vary wildly. I accept that. It's part of putting creative things out into the world -- no matter how much negative reviews might hurt.

And yet . . . sometimes you have to wonder.

Here's one review in Publishers Weekly. It includes this:

"Naivo’s encyclopedic attempt to capture Madagascar’s history is admirable, but the depth of that portrait comes at the expense of the novel’s characters: they are only fully realized in the novel’s thrilling conclusion, and only then as victims of “the foundational animosities” tearing the island apart. Nevertheless, Naivo provides readers with an astonishing amount of information about Madagascar’s culture and past."

Seems legit.

Here's another review from the Historical Novel Society. It includes this:

"The period of Queen Ranavalona’s horrific reign was one of intensity and violence, and yet for a few occasions near the end of the book, much of the historical context is superficial at best."
"Naivo captures a profound relationship between two people and how vastly our lives and experiences change on our various paths, while also illuminating the Malagasy experience."

Also seems legit.

*record scratch*

Wait. Wait a sec. So, on the one hand, the characters are sacrificed at the expense of the historical context, and on the other, the historical context suffers from the relationship between the characters?

Friends, I have translated a paradox. It seems congratulations are in order. :-P

Hey, at least people are talking about it.

"Erfurt" Giveaway

I was going through old posts this morning and discovered that, the first time I did this, I called it something ridiculous. But tradition must be upheld. And thus, please prepare yourselves for:

The Second Not-Nearly-Regular-Enough-To-Be-Called-Annual A.M.C. Giveaway!

*assorted cheers and trumpets*

The Prize: Two (2) randomly-chosen people will each receive one (1) e-book copy of Return to Erfurt, Story of a Shattered Childhood: 1935-1945, by Olga Tarcali, translated by yours truly, published by Centro Primo Levi Editions, released this month. I can't inscribe them this time, but you have the option of receiving a handwritten letter from me to go along with your book, if you so choose.

The Entry(-ies): There are two ways of entering, each of which grants you one entry (so every person can enter up to twice).

  1. In honor of Olga Tarcali, Marianne's best friend who wrote her story in book form, leave a comment on this post of who you would want to write your memoir (other than yourself). Bonus brownie points for explaining why.
  2. To help spread the word, tweet a link to this post. Must either tweet at me (@sunshineabroad) or include this hashtag: #ErfurtGiveaway

The Deadline: End of this week! Friday, February 27, 2015, at 11:59 p.m. EST.

The Rules: After the contest, I will randomly select two entrants (by assigning a number to each comment and Twitter account and using a random number generator), and announce the winners on this blog on Monday, March 2. I will then contact the winners for their email address and, if desired, mailing address. Anyone with a valid email address anywhere in the world may enter. Limit two entries per person.

The Why: This is the most important book I've ever worked on, and it's a damn good one. I'd like to share it with people.

Good luck to all!

Announcement Time!

Remember that oh-so-emotionally-challenging yet ultimately rewarding book I told you lovely readers about a while back? This one. The book that I refuse to call my "Holocaust book". The one about a German girl's exile to France, hiding in Italy, and then life in France after the war . . . the girl-turned-woman who I got to meet, Marianne Spier-Donati. One of the bravest and most wonderful women I've ever met.

(There seems to be a theme, here. The first book I translated was also about another great woman, author George Sand. Huh. Nice connection.)

Anyway, back to the point at hand. This is a publishing announcement!

Yes, that's right: my translation of Return to Erfurt, Story of a Shattered Childhood: 1935-1945, by Olga Tarcali, has officially been published by Centro Primo Levi Editions.

Isn't it pretty? It fits in really nicely with all the different series that CPL Editions has started publishing. All of the books are fantastic. (Check them out here.)

Things to note:

  1. Yes, I will be doing a giveaway shortly. Stay tuned! More info TK.
  2. If you find yourself in New York City next week, CPL Editions is reopening the SF Vanni bookshop in celebration of all their new publications. The party will be on Tuesday, February 17th, 6-9:00 p.m., at 30 West 12th St. Full announcement here.
  3. Finally, and most importantly, you can purchase the book now! Paperbacks here, ebooks here, and more info from the publisher here.

Go forth and read! (I mean, it doesn't have to be this book; you should be reading excellent things, anyway.)

Hey! You won!

Specifically, two of you: First book goes to JUAN MARROQUIN! Congratulations! He wrote: "My favorite 'strong woman' is Elizabeth Bennet, from 'Pride and Prejudice'. She is strong and does her best with the resources she had at hand, gracefully but without giving up."

Second book goes to LIZ W, who is @westbynorth on Twitter. Congratulations to you, as well!

Juan, Liz, I'll be in touch later today to get your mailing addresses.

Now, for the rest of you amazing people who indulged this little game, you can still win a copy of the book, in a sense. It just requires a purchase -- of the book.

(Sorry. It's the opposite of "No Purchase Necessary." I had to.)

Anyway, The Last Love of George Sand is officially on sale from all your favorite sellers (disclaimer: first two are affiliate links, but you can bypass them if you so desire):

Amazon Barnes & Noble Indiebound ...or your favorite local bookshop

Spread the word! George Sand is here, in English, as you've never seen her before.

Stellar reviews don't make anyone blue!

Marketing for The Last Love of George Sand is in full swing, with pub date only two weeks away. But the first review came in last year. Yep, this review from Kirkus was posted way back in early December. Publishing timelines are weird. But enough about that, the review itself is brilliant!

Now, Kirkus is an especially important reviewer to get. They call themselves "The World's Toughest Book Critics Since 1933," and it's no joke. The entire industry looks to them for helpful, honest reviews. And they have starred reviews, which they award "to Books of Exceptional Merit."

Ladies and gentlemen.

I present to you.

The STARRED Kirkus review for The Last Love of George Sand.

Delightful reconstruction of the deeply fulfilling, late-life romance of the French novelist with a devoted, younger engraver.

Obviously a labor of love, this work by the accomplished French biographer Bloch-Dano (Vegetables: A Biography, 2012, etc.) is highly entertaining and original. The author sees her job as reassembling the life of her subject from scattered pieces and “the ravages of time” and then, if all else fails, using her imagination to fill in the details much like a novelist. The result is a series of pointed assertions like light bulbs going off in her head, questions and switching to the present tense, all while sticking to the courageous, romantic spirit of her subject. George Sand was in her mid-40s when her son brought his engraver friend Alexandre Manceau to spend the holidays of 1849 at her beloved ancestral home, Nohant. A famous novelist and playwright, she was now bone-weary after the failures of the socialist revolution of 1848, into which she had thrown herself, and strapped by debts and squabbles with her headstrong daughter. Nohant had always served as her refuge, in between bruising stints in Paris and maternal love affairs with a series of “men-children.” Bloch-Dano ably portrays Sand's attraction to the 32-year-old engraver, a man of modest beginnings and much talent, highly intuitive, intelligent and devoted to Sand. Manceau not only took over the theatrical productions at Nohant, but also assumed the role of her secretary and copyist, living with her for 14 years while plying his commissions as a sought-after engraver. Bloch-Dano’s portrait is poignant and beautifully researched.

A love story probably suppressed by Sand’s resentful son, brought here to vivid life in the hands of her capable biographer.

Color me very proud.

It's coming...

Yes, folks, the major event we've all been waiting for. Okay, maybe just me.

The Last Love of George Sand gets published on February 6. I translated this biography of the famous French writer from Evelyne Bloch-Dano's rich French text. Thus, I'm nearly buzzing with excitement.

But you should also be excited about it! Why, you ask?

Look. George Sand was a lion of a woman. Facts:

  1. She was a proto-feminist in the mid-1800s, dressing in men’s clothing, smoking cigars, and managing her own finances and philanthropic work. She took a male name for her pseudonym, even spelling it in an English fashion, instead of the French "Georges." (That's why her name looks so familiar to English speakers.)
  2. Like most other artists and cultural creators at the time, she was a staunch supporter of democracy. But she was also friends with Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte, who later became Napoleon III, Emperor of France. During a series of audiences with him after his coup d'etat, she convinced him to grant amnesty to her friends, whom this self-same emperor had exiled to Algeria or sentenced to death for political crimes.
  3. Divorce was illegal in France during her adult life. So, at the age of 26, she just negotiated with her husband to spend half of each year in Paris with her lover.
  4. Then, she continued on to have some of the steamiest and gossip-worthy affairs of all time – five years with the libertine poet, Alfred de Musset; nine years with the genius composer, Frederic Chopin, until his untimely death from tuberculosis; the list goes on and on, and on and on and on.
  5. Oh, right, and she was a writer. One of the most admired and prolific artists of her era, in fact. The list of her completed works runs as long as my arm. She was one of those rare authors who managed to earn a nice living from her work, gained fame and acclaim for her writing during her lifetime, and whose works continue to be taught in French literature classes around the world (especially in high school classes in France).

So of course, there have been many biographies of this amazing woman written over the years, in both French and English. But not all of her life has been told yet.

See, at Christmastime in 1849, she met a young engraver from the working class, thirteen years her junior. His name was Alexandre Manceau. He was a modestly successful artist in his own right, but not one whom history would ever remember. They fell in love. He became her companion for the next fifteen years -- the rest of his life -- and George would never take another lover.

But there was one problem. (There always is.) Alexandre Manceau was one of Maurice's best friends. Maurice Sand. George's son. George only met Alexandre through Maurice's introduction, and then "stole" her son's best friend away from him. Naturally, Maurice resented his mother for this. Quite a bit.

After George's death, Maurice did everything in his power to suppress any records of Alexandre Manceau. Burned letters, forbade anyone from talking about the engraver, refused to allow publication of any posthumous works by his mother that mentioned Manceau. It took years after Maurice eventually died in 1889 for those works to be legally published.

So for decades, even upwards of a century, there were no primary sources that mentioned Manceau. Everyone assumed he must not be very important, so he's only awarded a few lines in any biography of George Sand. If he's mentioned at all.

But guess what? That's all about to change.

This book is entitled The Last Love of George Sand. Guess who this "last love" is?

Yep, right in one: Alexandre Manceau.

Now do you see why I'm so excited about this book???

One Peril of the Publishing Industry:

Lead time.

There's that expression that goes: "Hurry up and wait." That is the publishing industry, from an author or translator's perspective.

You hurry up to get that manuscript to your editor...and then wait nine months to see it in print.

You get super stressed about finishing it, and tweaking it to perfection, and you're so excited/relieved when you finally do...only to put all that excitement on hold for the marketing push next season.

Or even before contracts are signed, you translate a new sample or write a new story as fast as you can to send out to all the magazines and literary journals and agents that you can...and then try not to sit around waiting for the response to hit your inbox, because it won't come for a very long time.

Then, when everything's done and you're finally ready to share your work with the world, and accolades start coming're not allowed to publicize the reviews until they get published, which could be days or weeks after you're notified about them.


In my younger days in a children's chorus, we worked with a wonderfully eccentric performance artist. At lunch one day, he got everybody's attention, because he wanted to share a poem with us. "It's called, 'Waiting,'" he said. He cleared his throat. Exhaled slowly. Gazed at the ceiling in preparation. Took a sip of water. Made eye contact with every single person gathered around the table. Stood up. Straightened his vest, brushed the crumbs off of his vest. Planted his feet in a firm stance. Clasped his hands in front of him. Took a deep breath.

And bowed, to giggles and a rapid crescendo of applause.

That was it. And it's the only poem I remember in its entirety from before age 15.

Hurry up and wait.