We’re happy to share with you today some great excerpts from the works of three remarkable writers published recently in translation by Archipelago Books: Return to My Native Land by the groundbreaking poet from Martinique Aimé Césaire, Wheel With a Single Spoke and Other Poems by the beloved Romanian poet Nichita Stanescu, and My Struggle: Book Three by acclaimed Norwegian writer Karl Ove Knausgaard.
Archipelago Books is a prestigious American non-profit publisher located in Brooklyn, NY, and dedicated to promoting literature in translation. On marking its 10th anniversary, Archipelago had published one hundred books, translated from more than twenty-six languages into English. Archipelago Books has won numerous prizes for its publications. As The Three Percent blog writes, “What sets Archipelago apart from most publishers is not only their impeccable taste, their faith in their writers and their translators, but it is this magical element – they have faith in readers out there, in you and me.” We hope you enjoy these selections.
—Claudia Serea & Loren Kleinman
Return to My Native Land
by Aimé Césaire
translated from the French by John Berger and Anna Bostock
A work of immense cultural significance and beauty, this long poem became an anthem for the African diaspora and the birth of the Negritude movement. With unusual juxtapositions of object and metaphor, a bouquet of language-play, and deeply resonant rhythms, Césaire considered this work a “break into the forbidden,” at once a cry of rebellion and a celebration of black identity.
I want to rediscover the secret of great speech and of great burning. I want to say storm. I want to say river. I want to say tornado. I want to say leaf, I want to say tree. I want to be soaked by every rainfall, moistened by every dew. As frenetic blood rolls on the slow current of the eye, I want to roll words like maddened horses like new children like clotted milk like curfew like traces of a temple like precious stones buried deep enough to daunt all miners. The man who couldn’t understand me couldn’t understand the roaring of a tiger.
Rise, phantoms, chemical-blue from a forest of hunted beasts of twisted machines of jujube-trees of rotten flesh of a basket of oysters of eyes of a lacework of lashes cut from the lovely sisal of human skin I would have words huge enough to contain you all and you too stretched earth
earth great sex raised in the sun
earth great delirium of the phallus of God
earth risen wild from the sea’s locker with a bunch of cecrops in
earth whose surfing face I must compare to the mad and virgin
that I would wish to wear as countenance before the
undeciphering eyes of men.
One mouthful of your milk-spurt would let me discover always the distance of a mirage on eart
—a thousand times more native, golden with a sun that no prism has split open—a fraternal
earth where all is freed, my earth.
To leave. My heart was throbbing with an insistent desire to give.
To leave… I would arrive sleek and young in that country, my country, and I would say to that country whose clay is part of my flesh: “I have wandered far and I am coming back to the lonely ugliness of your wounds.”
I would come to that country, my country, and I would say to it:
“Kiss me without fear. . . And if I do not know what to say, it is still for you that I speak.”
And I would say to it:
“My mouth shall be the mouth of misfortunes which have no mouth, my voice the freedom of
those which break down in the prison cell of despair.”
And, coming, I would say to myself:
“Beware, my body and soul, beware above all of crossing your arms and assuming the sterile attitude of the spectator, because life is not a spectacle, because a sea of sorrows is not a proscenium, because a man who cries out is not a dancing bear.”
Now I have come.
Once more this limping life before me, no not this life, this death, this death without sense or piety, this death where there is no majesty, the gaping pettiness of this death, this death which limps from pettiness to pettiness; little greeds heaped on top of the conquistador; little flunkeys heaped on top of the great savage; little souls shovelled on top of the three-souled Caribbean
and all those pointless deaths
absurd beneath the spatter of my ripped conscience
tragically pointless, lit by just one phosphorescent noctiluca
and myself alone with the apocalypse of monsters
who suddenly strut across the stage of the small hours
only to capsize and fall silent
an election of hot ashes, of downfall and collapse.
Again an objection! only one, let it be only one: I have no right to assess life by this black hand’s span; to reduce myself to this little ellipsoidal nothing trembling four fingers above the line. I, a man, have no right to deny creation like this. Let me be contained between latitude and longitude.
At the end of the small hours,
male thirst and persistent desire,
I am cut off from the fresh oases of fraternity
Such meek nothingness is like a splinter under my nail
This horizon is too sure and nervous as a gaoler.
Your last triumph, tenacious crow of Treason.
These are mine: these few gangrenous thousands who rattle in this calabash of an island. And this too is mine: this archipelago arched with anxiety as though to deny itself, as though she were a mother anxious to protect the tenuous delicacy with which her two Americas are separated; this archipelago whose flanks secrete for Europe the sweet liquid of the Gulf Stream; this archipelago which is one side of the shining passage through which the Equator walks its tightrope to Africa. My island, my non-enclosure, whose bright courage stands at the back of my polynesia; in front, Guadeloupe split in two by its dorsal ridge and as wretched as we ourselves; Haiti where negritude rose to its feet for the first time and said it believed in its own humanity; and the comic little tail of Florida where they are just finishing strangling a Negro; and Africa gigantically caterpillaring as far as the Spanish foot of Europe: the nakedness of Africa where the scythe of Death swings wide.
Wheel With a Single Spoke
by Nichita Stanescu
translated by Sean Cotter
2013 Best Translated Book Award Winner in Poetry
Winner of the Herder Prize, Nichita Stănescu was one of Romania’s most celebrated contemporary poets. This dazzling collection of his poems—the most extensive collection of his work to date—reveals a world in which heavenly and mysterious forces converse with the everyday and earthbound, where love and passion and a quest for truth are central, and urgent questions flow. His startling images stretch the boundaries of thought. His poems, at once surreal and corporeal, lead us into new metaphysical and linguistic terrain.
Tell me, if I ever caught you
and kissed the arch of your foot,
wouldn’t you limp a little after that
for fear of crushing my kiss?…
Bas-relief with Lovers
And we are ourselves no more,
we know no more where we begin
or where we end, in space as given,
set on the collumn of these seconds.
And our bodies formed in bas-reliefs
exist out from us, that is,
just one half of us can move,
that side turned to the world.
And everything centers on the eye,
the brow, just the cheek,
just the arm outstretched and that’s it,
the rest ceases to be.
We are enscribed within a circle,
we know no more where we begin
or where we end, in space as given,
set on the collumn of these seconds.
Memories only have the present moment.
What was, no-one knows, really.
The dead constanly switch
names, numbers, one, two, three…
There is only what will be,
only happenings yet unhappened,
hanging from an unborn branch
half a phantom…
There is only my frozen body,
final, stoney, and feeble.
My saddness hears how unborn dogs
bark at unborn people.
Only they will truly be.
We who live these moments,
we are a night-time dream,
a svelte, scampering millipede.
To Lose an Eye
I used to tap my fingernail until
no nail was left,
and my finger until
it wore away.
But a blind man came
to me and said:
“Brother, leave your nail alone,
what if there’s an eye
on the tip,
why pop it?”
But still, but still
this door between you and me,
someone has to knock it down.
Lesson about a Circle
You draw a circle in the sand
then split it in two,
with the same hazel switch, split it in two.
Then you fall on your knees,
then you fall on your elbows.
Then you beat your head on the sand
and beg the circle for forgiveness.
Book Three: Boyhood
By Karl Ove Knausgaard
Translated from the Norwegian by Don Bartlett
On the heels of the first two volumes of the internationally celebrated My Struggle series, Book Three: Boyhood finds us in the sensuous realm of Karl Ove’s childhood. A family of four — mother, father, and two boys — move to the southern coast of Norway to a new house on a newly developed site. It’s the early 1970s and the family’s trajectory: upwardly mobile. The future seems limitless. In painstaking, sometimes self-lacerating detail, Knausgaard paints a world familiar to anyone who can recall the intensity and novelty of childhood experience, one in which children and adults lead parallel lives that never meet. Book Three gives us Knausgaard’s vivid recollections of childhood, his emerging self-understanding, and the multi-layered nature of memory and existence. My Struggle is already a worldwide bestseller, and Karl Ove Knausgaard is rapidly becoming a household name in North America.
The wrapping paper Mom had bought was blue and semitransparent. We sat
in the kitchen, I unrolled a piece and cut it to size; if the edge was uneven and
jagged Mom straightened it. Then I placed the book on top, spread out the
two wing-like flaps, folded the paper over them, and taped down the corners.
Mom adjusted what needed to be adjusted along the way. Otherwise she sat
knitting a sweater that was meant for me. I had chosen it from one of her
pattern magazines, a white sweater with dark brown edges, it was different,
because the collar was high and straight and there was a split on each side at
the bottom so that it hung a bit like a loincloth. I really liked the Indian style
and kept a weather eye on how far she had got with it.
Mom did a lot of needlework. She had crocheted the curtains in the living
room and the kitchen, and she had sewn the white curtains in our bedrooms,
Yngve’s with a brown hem and brown floral print, mine with a red hem and
a red floral print. In addition, she knitted sweaters and woolly hats, darned
socks, patched trousers and jackets. When she wasn’t doing that, or cooking
and washing up, or baking bread, she read. We had whole shelves full of
books, something none of the other parents had. She also had friends, unlike
Dad, mostly women of the same age at her workplace, whom she visited
now and then, if they didn’t come here, that is. I liked all of them. There was
Dagny, whose son and daughter, Tor and Liv, I went to kindergarten with.
There was Anne Mai, who was fat and happy and always brought us some
chocolate, she drove a Citroën and lived in Grimstad, where I had visited her
once with the kindergarten. And there was Marit, who had a son, Lars, the
same age as Yngve, and a daughter, Marianne, who was two years younger.
They didn’t come here often, Dad didn’t like it, but perhaps once a month
one or more of them came; then I was allowed to sit with them for a while and
bask in the radiance. And occasionally in the evening we went to the arts and
crafts workshop in Kokkeplassen, it was the kind of place where you could do
all sorts of things, the children of other employees at my mothers workplace
went there, too, and that was where we used to make our Christmas presents.
Mom’s face was gentle but serious. She had tucked her long hair behind
“Dag Lothar saw an adder today!” I said.
“Oh?” she said. “Where was that then?”
“On the path to the Rock. He almost stepped right on it! Fortunately, though, it was just as frightened as he was and slithered off into the bushes.”
“Lucky for him,” she said.
“Were there adders when you were growing up?”
She shook her head.
“There aren’t any adders in Vestland.”
“I don’t know. Perhaps it’s too cold for them?”
I dangled my legs and drummed my fingers on the table while humming,
Kisses for me, save all your kisses for me, bye bye, baby, bye bye.
“Kanestrøm caught tons of mackerel today,” I said. “I saw them. He showed me the bucket. It was full to the brim. Are we going to get a boat soon, do you think?”
“Take it easy now,” she said. “A boat and a cat! Well, it’s not impossible, but not this year, that’s for certain. Next year maybe. It all costs money, you know. But you can ask Dad.”
She passed me back the scissors.
You ask Dad, I thought, but didn’t say anything, trying to slide the blade
of the scissors along without making a cut, but it stopped, I squeezed the
handles together and made a jagged cut.
“Goodness, Yngve’s late,” she said, looking out of the window.
“He’s in safe hands,” I said.
She smiled at me.
“I suppose so,” she said.
“The note,” I said. “The swimming class. Can you sign it now?”
She nodded. I got up and ran along the landing into my room, took the
form from my satchel, and was about to run back when the door downstairs
opened and I realized what I had done as my heart skipped an extra beat.
Dad’s heavy footsteps sounded on the stairs. I stood motionless outside
the bathroom as his gaze met mine.
“No running indoors!” he said. “How many times do I have to tell you? It makes the whole house bang and shake. Is that understood?”
He came up and walked past me, his broad back in the white shirt. When
I saw he was heading for the kitchen all my happiness evaporated. But I had
to go back in there, where he was.
Mom was sitting as before. Dad was standing at the window, looking out.
I put the form carefully down on the table.
“Here,” I said.
There was one book left. I sat down and made a start on it. Only my hands
moved, everything else was still. Dad was mulling over something.
“Yngve’s not home yet, is he?” he said.
“No,” Mom said. “I’m getting a bit uneasy.”
Dad looked down at the table.
“What’s that you’ve brought?” he asked.
“The swimming class,” I answered. “Mom was going to sign it.”
“Let me have a look,” he said, taking the form and reading it. Then he took
the pen from the table, wrote his name, and passed the form to me.
“There we are,” he said, nodding in the direction of the table. “Now you
take all this stuff to your room. You can finish it there. We’re going to have
“Yes, Dad,” I said. Put the books in a pile, rolled up the paper, and stuffed
it under my arm, grabbed the scissors and the Scotch tape with one hand, the
books with the other, and left the kitchen.
While I was at the desk cutting the paper for the last book, a bike rolled
up on the gravel outside. Just then the front door opened.
Dad stood waiting for him in the hall when he came up the stairs.
“What time’s this supposed to be?” he said.
Yngve’s answer was too subdued for me to hear, but the explanation must
have been good because the next moment he went into his room. I laid the
book on the paper I had cut out, folded it, and placed another book on top
as a weight while I tried to pick the tape free from the roll. When I finally
loosened a corner and pulled some off, it tore and I had to start again.
Behind me the door opened. It was Yngve.
“What are you up to?” he said.
“Wrapping my books, as you can see,” I said.
“We had buns and pop after the training,” Yngve said. “In the clubhouse.
And there were girls on the team. One of them was really good.”
“Girls?” I said. “Is that allowed?”
“Apparently. And Karl Frederik was great.”
Through the open window came the sound of voices and footsteps going
up the hill. I stuck the bit of tape I had on my finger on the paper and went
over to see who it was.
Geir and Leif Tore. They had stopped outside the drive to Leif Tore’s and
were laughing about something. Then they said bye, and Geir ran the short
distance to his drive. When he turned in there and I saw his face for the first
time there was a little smile on his lips. His hand was clenched around something
in his shorts pocket.
I turned to Yngve.
“What position are you going to play?”
“I don’t know,” he said. “Probably defense.”
“What color’s your strip?”
“Blue and white.”
“Just like Trauma’s?”
“Close,” he said.
“Come and eat!” Dad called from the kitchen. When we went in, there
was a plate with three slices of bread on it and a glass of milk in our places.
Clove cheese, brown cheese, and jam. Mom and Dad were in the living room
watching TV. The road outside was gray, and so, almost, were the branches
on the trees at the edge of the road, whereas the sky above the trees, across
Tromøya Sound, was blue and open, as though it arched above a different
world than the one we were in.
The next morning I was woken by Dad opening the bedroom door.
“C’mon, up, sleepyhead!” he said. “The sun is shining and the birds are singing.”
I pulled the duvet to the side and swung my feet onto the floor. Apart
from the sound of Dad’s footsteps, fading as they went down the landing, the
house was perfectly quiet. It was Tuesday. Mom started work early, Yngve had
to be at school early while Dad didn’t have to start until the second period.
I went to the wardrobe and searched through the piles of clothes, chose a
white shirt, which was the best I had, and blue cords. But the shirt was probably
too smart, I thought, he would notice, perhaps ask why I was all tarted
up, perhaps tell me to take it off. Better to wear the white Adidas T-shirt.
With my clothes under my arm I went into the bathroom. Fortunately
Yngve had remembered to leave the water in the sink. I closed the door
behind me. Lifted the toilet seat and peed. The pee was a greenish yellow,
not dark yellow as it often was in the morning. Even though I tried carefully
to make sure all the drops fell inside the bowl when I shook myself dry, some
landed on the floor, small transparent globules of moisture on the bluishgray
linoleum. I dried the floor with some toilet paper, which I threw in the
bowl before pulling the chain. With the flushing noise in my ears I stood in
front of the sink. The water was a pale-green color. Small transparent flakes
of God knows what were floating in it. I cupped my hands, filled them with
water, leaned forward, and dipped my head in. The water was a tiny bit colder
than me. A shiver ran down my spine as it settled on my skin. I soaped my
hands, rubbed them quickly over my face, closing my eyes as I did so, and
rinsed and dried them and my face on the light-brown towel hanging on my
I pulled the bedroom curtain aside and peered out. The trees in the forest,
above which the sun had just risen, cast long, dark shadows over the shimmering
tarmac. Then I put on my clothes and went into the kitchen.
There was a bowl of cornflakes in my place, with a carton of milk beside it.
Dad wasn’t there.
Had he gone to his study to get his things together? No. I heard him moving in the living room.
I sat down and poured milk over the cornflakes. Dipped the spoon in and put it to my mouth.
Oh my God.
The milk was off, and the taste of it, which filled all my mouth, caused me
to retch. I gulped it down because at that moment my father came across
the floor. In through the doorway, across the kitchen, over to the counter,
and leaned against it. He looked at me and smiled. I took another spoonful
from the bowl and put it to my mouth. The mere thought of the taste made
my stomach turn. But I breathed through my mouth and swallowed it after
only a couple of chews.
Dad showed no signs of wanting to leave and I continued eating. If he had
gone to his study I could have emptied the dish into the bin and covered it
with other rubbish, but as long as he was in the kitchen, or on the first floor,
I had no choice.
After a while he turned to open a cupboard door, took out a bowl of the
same kind as mine and a spoon from the drawer and sat opposite me.
He never did that.
“I’ll have some, too,” he said. Sprinkled some golden, crispy flakes from
the box with the red-and-green cockerel on it and reached over for the milk.
I stopped eating. Knowing that a calamity was looming.
Dad placed his spoon in the bowl, filled it to the brim with milk and cornflakes,
and put it to his mouth. The moment it was inside, his face contorted.
He spat it out into the bowl without chewing.
“Ugh!” he said. “The milk’s off! Oh, good grief!”
Then he looked at me. I would remember that look for the rest of my life.
His eyes were not angry, as I had expected, but amazed, as though he was
looking at something he just could not comprehend. Indeed, as though he
were looking at me for the very first time.
“Have you been eating cornflakes with sour milk on them?” he said.
“But you can’t do that!” he said. “I’ll get you some fresh milk!”
He got up, poured the carton of sour milk into the sink, shaking his arms
wildly as he did so, rinsed it, scrunched it up, put it in the trash can beneath
the sink, and grabbed a fresh carton from the fridge.
“Let me have that,” he said, taking my bowl, emptying the contents into
the sink, scouring it with the washing-up brush, rinsing it again, and putting
it back on the table in front of me.
“There we are,” he said. “Now help yourself to more cornflakes and milk.
“OK,” I said.
He did the same with his dish and we ate in silence.
About the translators and authors
Aimé Césaire, groundbreaking poet and educator from Martinique, was one of the founders of the Négritude movement in Francophone literature. Breton considered Césaire’s epic poem Cahier d’un retour au pays natale (Return to My Native Land) “nothing less than the greatest lyrical monument of our times.”
Born in 1923 in Harbin (China), Anna Bostock has translated works by György Lukács, Bertolt Brecht, Le Corbusier, Ernst Fischer and Wilhelm Reich, among many others. Her last translation was “Gesture and Speech” by André Leroi-Gourhan, published in 1993 by The MIT Press.
John Berger is a renowned novelist, essayist, art critic, painter, poet, screenwriter, dramatist, translator, and human rights activist. His works include To the Wedding, Here is Where We Meet, Bento’s Sketchbook, Pig Earth, and the Booker Prize–winning novel G. Among his celebrated studies of art are Ways of Seeing and About Looking. His other translations include Mural by Mahmoud Darwish, co-translated by Rema Hammami.
Nichita Stănescu (1933–1983) was the most beloved and groundbreaking Romanian poet of the twentieth century. Stănescu transformed Soviet-style aesthetics from within, infusing the tangible world with a metaphysical vocabulary all his own. Stănescu received the Herder Prize in 1975 and was nominated for the Nobel Prize in 1979.
Sean Cotter’s translations from the Romanian include Nichita Stănescu’s Wheel with a Single Spoke and Other Poems (recipient of the 2012 Best Translated Book Award for Poetry), Liliana Ursu’s Lightwall and Nichita Danilov’s Secondhand Souls. His essays, articles, and translations have appeared in Conjunctions, Two Lines, and Translation Review. He is Associate Professor of Literature and Literary Translation at the University of Texas at Dallas, Center for Translation Studies.
Karl Ove Knausgaard was born in Norway in 1968. His debut novel Out of This World won the Norwegian Critics Prize in 2004 and his A Time for Everything was a finalist for the Nordic Council Prize. For My Struggle: Book One, Knausgaard received the Brage Award in 2009, the 2010 Book of the Year Prize in Morgenbladet, and the P2 Listeners’ Prize. My Struggle: Book One was a New Yorker Book of the Year and Book Two was listed among the Wall Street Journal‘s 2013 Books of the Year. My Struggle has been translated into more than fifteen languages. Knausgaard lives in Sweden with his wife and four children.
Don Bartlett has translated novels by many Danish and Norwegian authors, among them Jo Nesbø, Roy Jacobsen, Lars Saabye Christensen, and Per Petterson. He lives with his family in Norfolk, England.