Tag Archives: Nicolas Kurtovitch

Translating Nicolas Kurtovitch

by Anthony Nanson

9781906900533The second book, besides Lindsay Clarke’s Green Man Dreaming, that Awen will launch this Wednesday 5 December (Black Book Café, Nelson Street, Stroud, doors 7.30 p.m., talks 8 p.m.) is By the Edge of the Sea – an English translation of Nicolas Kurtovitich’s short story collection Forêt, terre et tabac.  

I first read Forêt, terre et tabac, and another of Nicolas’ collections, Totem, about three years ago, in the course of my research for a novel in progress that’s set in Nicolas’ homeland, New Caledonia. I loved the way his stories conjure an enchantment of place and also an enchantment of moments of being, inviting the reader to contemplate how there’s more going on within and around us than we may readily perceive or understand. Part of the way he does that is through his wonderfully lyrical yet varied style; he is very much a stylist writer, and indeed the greater part of his oeuvre is poetry.

I was so impressed by his style that I was inspired – just for fun – to start translating one of the stories in Forêt, terre et tabac into English. When, a year later, I travelled to New Caledonia to do field research for my novel, I was lucky enough – quite unexpectedly – to meet Nicolas. From this meeting arose the project of translating the whole book and of Awen publishing it. The experience of translating Nicolas’ stories felt at the same time an immense privilege of trust and a compelling intellectual challenge, unlike anything else I’d done as a writer or editor, since this was the first time I’d translated a book. No doubt the experience will be familiar to other translators of literary writing: the need to immerse your sensibility in the (French) text and then carry the feeling of that as you craft English sentences that may be structurally very different and yet aim to impart a similar effect. In reviewing my translations, Nicolas repeatedly referred to the importance of rhythm and I was hugely gratified by his affirmation of the rhythms of my English.

I’ll finish this blog with the two comments from the back cover of By the Edge of the Sea the first by another prominent New Caledonian writer, the second by a scholar and translator of francophone Pacific literature:

‘Charm of expression, restraint in tone, precision of line, nuance, and rhythm – these are the prime qualities of the writing of Nicolas Kurtovitch, a gifted poet and story writer. But beware – the innocuous advance from one line to the next leads us inexorably into profound existential questions, and though his texts may be set in the Pacific this geographical precision can swiftly vanish to evoke the Universal. By the Edge of the Sea – twelve fascinating short stories that compel us to look at ourselves anew.’ Claudine Jacques

‘Nicolas Kurtovitch has been at the forefront of French-language Pacific literature for four decades. He has explored many different genres, but remains a poet at heart as this work in prose attests. This fine collection of short stories, the author’s first, takes us from the lagoon of his native New Caledonia to the ocean, from the mainland to the islands, from Kanak fields to Australian desert, from suburbia to the bush. Yet whilst the author always has a keen eye for place and space, the narrator does not always specify locality. These stories of beguiling simplicity take us on a complex inward journey, if we are prepared to read across the blurring of borders. By the Edge of the Sea, full of inter-cultural dialogue with self and others, remains relevant not only to New Caledonian society, striving to find its multicultural future out of its socially and racially divided past, but also to wider humanity, in the Pacific and beyond. There is, too, an abiding ecological sensitivity in this writing that conjoins human and physical geography. In short, this collection of stories retains its appeal and importance, its freshness, a quarter-century after it first appeared, and that can now be appreciated for the first time by an English-speaking public thanks to Anthony Nanson’s careful and sensitive translation.’ Peter Brown, Université de la Polynésie française / Australian National University

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Book Launch in Stroud: Lindsay Clarke and Nicolas Kurtovitch

by Anthony Nanson

9781906900564.jpgOn Wednesday 5 December, Awen has a launch party in Stroud for two new books – at the Black Book Café, Nelson Street. It’s a free event; doors open at 7.30 p.m. and the talks start at 8.00 p.m.

Green Man Dreaming: Reflections on Imagination, Myth, and Memory is a definitive gathering of Lindsay Clarke’s inspiring essays and talks. Those of his essays which had come my way in past years had a big impact on my life, and I think the same has been true for many other people, so I’m really thrilled that Awen is able to make this amazing body of work available in book form. Lindsay is as inspiring a speaker as he is a writer, so if you’re in reach of Stroud do seize this opportunity to come and hear him.

9781906900533.jpgWe’re also launching By the Edge of the Sea, a collection of short stories by Nicolas Kurtovitich, one of the leading literary lights of New Caledonia, whom I had the pleasure to meet during a research trip there in 2016. The book was originally published in French as Forêt, terre et tabac. It was a tremendous privilege to translate Nicolas’ gorgeous lyrical prose into English. I will read from one of the stories at the event, but we also intend that Nicolas will be present via skype from New Caledonia and have chance to speak to us.

The evening will be emceed by the irrepressible Richard Selby. Please come if you can.

Below is some information about Green Man Dreaming. I’ll say more about By the Edge of the Sea in a subsequent blog post.

The transformative power of imagination, the elusive dream world of the unconscious, our changing relationship to nature, and the enduring presence of myth – these subjects have preoccupied Lindsay Clarke throughout the thirty years since he emerged as the award-winning author of The Chymical Wedding. Assembled in this definitive collection are the major essays, talks, and personal reflections that he has written, with characteristic verve and insight, on these and other themes relating to the evolution of consciousness in these transitional times.

Speculative, exploratory, salty with wit, and interwoven with poems, this book brings the Green Man and the Daimon into conversation with alchemists, psychologists, gods, and Plains Indians, along with various poets and novelists the author has loved as good friends or as figures in the pantheon of his imagination. This lively adventure of the spiritual intellect will take you through shipwreck and spring-water into the fury of ancient warfare, before dropping you into the dark descent of the Hades journey and urging you on to the fabled land beyond the Peach Blossom Cave. Through a reverie of images and ideas, Green Man Dreaming puts us closely in touch with the myths and mysteries that embrace our lives.

‘Among the many things we need right now is a voice as sane, wise and affectionate as the one deployed so compellingly in these pages. Lindsay Clarke is the original northern powerhouse. Green Man Dreaming is an important book.’ Andrew Miller

‘Lindsay Clarke’s magical prose elucidates the deep wisdom held at the depth of our soul. Green Man Dreaming brings together some of the gems of Lindsay Clarke’s inspiring and imaginative writings. This is truly gold dust.’ Satish Kumar 

‘There is something simultaneously elated and searching about Lindsay Clarke’s writing which makes it quite distinctive and immensely attractive. He is an inspiring teacher and talker and a gathering of his occasional pieces is to be heartily welcomed.’ Adam Thorpe