Translations

Helgoland by Carlo Rovelli, translated by Erica Segre and Simon Carnell

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September 2021, no. 435

Theoretical physicist Carlo Rovelli has a gift for writing short, conversational, popular physics books. His earlier works, notably Seven Brief Lessons in Physics (2015) and The Order of Time (2018), have been bestsellers, and Helgoland is continuing the trend.

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The Gleaner Song by by Song Lin, translated by Dong Li & Vociferate | 詠 by Emily Sun

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September 2021, no. 435

The Chinese poet is so often a wanderer and an exile. The tradition goes back to Qu Yuan (c.340–278 BCE), author of ‘Encountering Sorrow’, the honest official who was banished from court and drowned himself in a river, and it continues to our time. During the Sino–Japanese war (1937–45) a group of patriotic early Chinese modernists were displaced from their Beijing universities to an improvised campus in the south-west, where they read avant-garde Western poetry.

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Reflections of a Nonpolitical Man by Thomas Mann, translated by Walter D. Morris

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September 2021, no. 435

Nobel Laureate, author of The Magic Mountain (1924) and Doctor Faustus (1947), Thomas Mann (1875–1955) needs little introduction. His books have long been available in English. Yet one work, Reflections of a Nonpolitical Man (1918), a series of confessional essays on which he laboured throughout World War I, is rarely praised. Mann (not known for his modesty) pointed to its importance as a historical document: ‘By listening to my own inner voice,’ he says in the prologue, ‘I was able to hear the voice of the times.’

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Civilisations by Laurent Binet, translated by Sam Taylor

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September 2021, no. 435

Acclaimed as the most original novel of the 2019 rentrée littéraire, and recipient of the Grand Prix du Roman de l’Académie Française, Laurent Binet’s most recent book, Civilisations (2019), is a cleverly crafted uchronia, or speculative fiction. The author is inviting us on an epic journey that devises alternative key moments in history, from a Viking tale to an Italian travel diary, and from the Inca chronicles to the capricious destiny of Cervantes. Let the adventure of counterfactuals begin …

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Two Women and a Poisoning by Alfred Döblin, translated by Imogen Taylor

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July 2021, no. 433

In Two Women and a Poisoning, Alfred Döblin (1878–1957), one of the twentieth century’s greatest fiction writers, brings his other gift – a profound insight into psychological suffering honed by decades of experience as a psychiatrist – to bear on a baffling murder trial in Berlin in March 1923. Like Sigmund Freud’s famous case histories, his account is compelling as both narrative and an analysis of the unconscious inner conflicts of the people involved. Unlike Freud, however, Döblin warns his readers not to expect definitive answers: ‘Who is so conceited as to fancy that he knows the true driving forces behind such a crime?’

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Only one manuscript of Beowulf has survived. It was in Sir Robert Cotton’s library. Cotton had been a student of that careful genius William Camden, who, through a lifetime’s work, formulated a different view of history: not the record of victory but the recollection of lost worlds and times. He and his fellow Antiquarians searched out fragments and ruins: Roman urns in the fields, Saxon burials under St Paul’s, a giant’s thigh-bone under a London cellar. They collected ancient manuscripts.

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On the Line: Notes from a factory by Joseph Ponthus, translated by Stephanie Smee

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June 2021, no. 432

Few books immediately suspend time; few need no warm-up and almost demand to be read, reread, underlined. Stephanie Smee’s rendition of Joseph Ponthus’s multi-award-winning first solo book, On the Line: Notes from a factory, is one such read. It is the autobiographical story of an intellectual with a career in social work in the suburbs of Paris, who, having moved to Brittany for love, can’t find a job in his field and is forced to sell his labour as a casual worker in the local food-processing industry. Here we couldn’t be further from postcard Brittany, whose wild nature, hazy skies, mysterious language, and inhabitants inspired a Romantic generation of poets in search of an exotic fix without the hassle of leaving the Hexagon.

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There Are Places in the World Where Rules Are Less Important Than Kindness by Carlo Rovelli, translated by Erica Segre and Simon Carnell

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March 2021, no. 429

In a recent interview, Italian physicist Carlo Rovelli confessed that the book he would most like to be remembered for is The Order of Time (2018), a work in which time, as it is commonly understood, ‘melts [like a snowflake] between your fingers and vanishes’. The Order of Time, Rovelli admits, only pretends to be about physics. Ultimately, it’s a book about the meaning of life and the complexity of being human.

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Philosophers attending a conference in the Swiss resort of Davos in 1929 eagerly anticipated a debate between Ernst Cassirer, a celebrated member of the academic establishment and a supporter of progressive liberalism, and Martin Heidegger, whose radical break from tradition had impressed younger philosophers. For those who expected a clash of titans, the result was disappointing. There were no denunciations, no rhetorical bolts of lightning. The true parting of their ways came later, in 1933, when Cassirer, a Jewish supporter of the Weimar Republic, was forced out of his position and into exile, and Heidegger, now a member of the National Socialist Party, told students of Freiburg University to be guided by the Führer.

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Napoleon and de Gaulle: Heroes and history by Patrice Gueniffey, translated by Steven Rendall

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December 2020, no. 427

Forty years ago, François Furet outraged the French historical establishment by proclaiming that ‘the French Revolution is over’, launching a blistering critique of the Marxist categories and politics of university historians, many of them still members of the Communist Party he had abandoned in 1959. By the time of the bicentenary in 1989, historians were in bitter dispute over the meaning and legacy of the Revolution. In that year, Patrice Gueniffey completed his doctorate under Furet at the prestigious research school the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales in Paris. He remains at that institution today, Furet’s most famous disciple and a celebrated historian in his own right.

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