When I think of Jaipur, I think of flowers. Thousands upon thousands of petals and buds; orange, blue, purple, red, spun in nets across the paths and marquees. When I think of Jaipur, instead of the pale pink facades for which the city is famous, the monkeys lazying on stall rooves, or the cool winter evenings, I think of the people – the thousands upon thousands of people who came to take part in literature: readers, novelists, singers, poets, translators, milling and chatting underneath the colourful canopy of flowers. It reminded me of Ezra Pound’s lines The apparition of these faces in the crowd/petals on a wet black bough, transported from a Paris metro station to Rajasthan’s capital.
The Diggi Palace, where the Jaipur Literature Festival takes place in January every year, is a grand stage for world literature. Its marquees housed these vast audiences, which were like nothing I had ever seen before in Wales and the UK. When I arrived home and told my family about the enthusiasm for literature in India, it actually took some convincing: “Really? Five hundred thousand visitors? They like books that much?”
Yes, fortunately for us translators and writers, they do. Thanks to Literature Across Frontiers, I was invited to take part in various readings and panel discussions. The audiences at JLF were deeply interested and involved in the written word. One panel on translation turned into an open dialogue and debate with the room, rather than a monologue limited to whoever happened to be on stage. This was refreshing and, again, so different from what I’d experienced at literary events back in the UK. That panel was my very first day at Jaipur, and it was immediately apparent to me that this was the place to be for a translator. Surrounded by proud polyglots, people who’ve spent their writing lives negotiating between languages – between their native and the dominant tongue (whether it be English or Hindi) and other tongues they’ve learned along the way – I was astounded by the richness of form, experimentation and sheer multilingualism that was present at the festival. For instance, in one of the readings of European literature, I shared a stage with Croatian, Mauritian, Icelandic, Latvian, Maltese and Portuguese authors, before meeting Indian authors publishing in Kanada, Tamil, Hindi and Malayali.
Translation is powerful. It is the means by which literature travels; the means by which writers reach their readers, and readers can hear new voices that were once closed to them. It’s this exchange, this act of opening the door for great books and sending them on their way that makes being a translator so worthwhile. Goldfish Memory, the short story collection by Monique Schwitter I translated from the original German, is the only title by the author that has come out in English so far (I hope that this will change soon). Schwitter is a brave, talented writer, deservedly recognised in German-speaking countries like Austria, Germany and Switzerland. She has been shortlisted for the prestigious German National Book Awards 2015 for her novel, Eins im Andern (‘One inside the other’), among other prizes. I first came across her work in 2011, when a Welsh publisher, Parthian, sent a hardback copy of Goldfischgedächtnis to me through the post with the note: Read it. Tell me if you like it.
And yes. I loved it. I loved her powerful use of language, her careful, magnetic prose style, verging into the realm of poetry and experimentation while, at the same time, managing to create believable and charismatic characters. Especially female ones, as in the collection’s opening piece, ‘Our Story’, which follows two friends, one of whom is dying from cancer, as they compose a memoir of their friendship together. Knowing that these tales are now available for Indian readers is, for a translator, incredibly encouraging. I hope that readers who bought copies of Goldfish Memory at the Jaipur Festival enjoy Monique Schwitter’s storytelling as much as I did when I first discovered her, many years ago.
Eluned Gramich is a Welsh-German writer and translator. She studied English Literature at Oxford and has an MA in Creative Writing from UEA. Her short fiction has been published in anthologies and magazines, including New Welsh Short Stories, Stand, Rarebit, Planet, Taliesin and O’r Pedwar Gwynt. In 2015, she translated a German short story collection by German Book Prize shortlisted author Monique Schwitter titled Goldfish Memory. Her memoir of Japan, A Woman Who Brings the Rain, won the New Welsh Writing Award 2015 and was shortlisted for the Wales Book of the Year 2016.