And the Wind Sees All by by Guđmundur Andri Thorsson (transl. Björg Árnadóttir and Andrew Cauthery)

Cover imageGuđmundur Andri Thorsson’s And the Wind Sees All is the third in Peirene’s ‘Home in Exile’ series. I reviewed Soviet Milk here earlier in the year but chickened out of Shadows on the Tundra, billed as Lithuanian survival literature. I’m sure it’s very good, I’ve yet to read anything published by Peirene that isn’t, but I fancied something a little more cheerful. And the Wind Sees All takes place over the brief bicycle ride that Kata takes to Valeyri’s village hall in preparation for the evening’s concert, taking in the stories of the villagers who catch sight of her out of the corner of their eyes.

Today is Midsummer’s Day and Kata is determined the concert will be a success. Mounting her bike in her blue polka-dot dress, she remembers the man who loved her and who she loved. Each of the villagers she passes is preoccupied: the rich man, friendly enough, who keeps himself to himself remembers the wife he neglected; the village poet feels a poem on the tip of his pen which won’t quite come; a woman remembers the rock star father of her child and the perfect guitar solo he played for her while her husband thinks about seabirds; another recounts a disturbing dream to her host, the village historian whose wife brings in the money. There are a multitude of secrets kept in Valeyri, many regrets revisited, loneliness endured and some quiet happiness, not to mention gossip, enjoyed.

The villagers’ reveries, memories and reflections read almost like a chain of closely intertwined short stories through which Kata flits on her bike. Their overlapping and interlinked histories are all relayed in a mere two-minute journey, each of them quietly pulling the reader into their lives. There’s humour, too – some of it gentle, some of it dark. Thorsson’s writing is often strikingly beautiful – poetic yet understated, the repetition of phrases adding a rhythm and musicality. There are dozens of quotes I could have pulled out but here are some of my favourites:

The mist. It comes in off the sea and slides along the spit. Every summer’s day, it creeps up the fiord as evening approaches, noses around the slopes and the foothills and slips into the village, where it curls around the boats in the harbour and licks the corners of the houses, before lifting itself 

He felt the sun hot on his temples, intrusive as an overfriendly relation

She hears the solo in her head, enters it, stays there for a moment engulfed in the bright glow of its magnetic chaos, soars… She asks Guđjón if he would like more coffee

All of this is expertly translated by Björg Árnadóttir and Andrew Cauthery. The idea of a joint Peirene Stevns Translation Prizetranslation fascinates me. I can’t imagine how they set about it but the result is a rather lovely piece of writing.

Which leads me to the launch of the Peirene Stevns Translation Prize. Lest you be thinking ‘yet another prize’, this one’s different. It’s to be awarded to a previously unpublished translator who will get a grant of £3,500 plus a residency in which to translate a novel to be published by Peirene in 2020. Details are here. I like the sound of a prize which aims to foster translating talent, So often translators are overlooked but without them us monolinguals wouldn’t be able to read nearly as widely as we can.

17 thoughts on “And the Wind Sees All by by Guđmundur Andri Thorsson (transl. Björg Árnadóttir and Andrew Cauthery)”

  1. I like circadian narratives that take place in just one day … but this takes it to an extreme — just a couple of minutes on a bike! I’ve lost track of Peirene’s newer releases, but this sounds like one to seek out.

    I noticed that the last couple of Murakami books have been jointly translated too. I wonder if the translators split up the book into sections and then swap their translations to make corrections and even out the style. That’s the only way I can see it working. I don’t know how co-authors work; I don’t think I could ever write ‘with’ someone else!

      1. Indeed. I understand the thinking that it could bring more translated books to people, but the quality wouldn’t be there. I can see that it would be useful if you wanted to translate diplomatic documents quickly, or documents from international symposiums, but I’d have thought those documents would also contain nuances that a machine would miss.

    1. It is, isn’t it. It’s nice to see encouragement for translators. I don’t think they get enough credit. I seem to remember seeing a tweet about French translators being considered co-authors which seems fair to me.

  2. In theory I would like to read all of Peirene’s books (although, as you’ve said, they often sound difficult or sad or both!) and imagine curling up with them on a series of wintry Sunday afternoons. The prize is a lovely idea indeed!

    1. This is probably the most cheerful Peirene I’ve read although there are dark sides to everyone’s story, of course. They are such an admirable publisher with a very sharp editorial eye.

  3. This sounds wonderful. I really like stories set in a contained amount of time – 2 minutes is probably the most extreme I’ve heard of! Peirene are a great publisher. its so commendable that they’re extending this to foster translating talent.

    1. This is one of my favourite Peirenes – it’s certainly one of the more cheerful. I think this prize is very typical of Peirene and their thoughtful approach both to literature and to what’s happening in the world.

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