Swedish Posts

Interview with Swedish author, Marit Kapla

(C) EU
This interview is facilitated by EUPL and funded by the European Union.

I am posting snippets of my correspondence with Marit Kapla,

I was absolutely stunned by Marit Kapla’s Osebol. It is an incredible piece of work! In my mind, it is in the same league as the Belarusian Nobel Laureate, Svetlana Alexievich. I am not surprised that the Warwick Prize for Women in Translation 2022 was split between Geetanjali Shree/Daisy Rockwell and Marit Kapla/Peter Graves. Both the winners have written very strong books, but it is fascinating to note that the jury put a non-fiction and fiction text at par. In Osebol, the intensity with which Kapla interviewed the villagers and then took care in designing every page is an extraordinary literary feat. Without really constructing the manner in which a reader must access the information, the author manages to persuade the reader to read the text in an accessible manner. Stories of the ordinary folk and yet with the initial blandness of the narrative, the prose poetry form, gives way to a rhythm that is not exactly like a drum beat, but forces the reader to engage with the text. And from within this engagement emerge the distinctive voices and most importantly the cherished memories which go back and forth in time, developing an incredible time capsule in these 800+ pages of text. 

I had a whole bunch of questions swirling in my head as I read Osebol. Some of which I posed to Marit Kapla. And she graciously answered saying that that my reading of Osebol made her very happy and she was honoured to be part of my blog.

Marit Kapla is a Swedish author and journalist. She was born in 1970 and grew up in the small village of Osebol in the mid-western parts of Sweden. She served as Artistic Director of Göteborg Film Festival 2007–2014 and as Founder and Program Director of the festival’s digital streaming platform Draken Film 2014–2015. During 2016–2020 she was one of two editors-in-chief of cultural journal Ord&Bild. She is a member of the board of PEN Sweden. In April 2019, she debuted with the book Osebol; a lyrical account based upon interviews with almost all the residents of her home village. Osebol has been so far translated into English, Norwegian, Dutch and Spanish. Kapla won the 2019 August Prize for best fictional book, the Publicistklubben Prize Guldpennan 2019, the Studieförbundet Vuxenskolans författarpris 2019, Borås Tidning’s Debutant Prize 2020, Göran Palm-stipendiet 2021 as well as the Warwick Prize for Women in Translation 2022 and was on the shortlist for the British Academy Book Prize for Global Cultural Understanding 2022. Marit Kapla’s latest book, Kärlek på svenska (Love in Swedish) was published in the fall of 2022. It is based on interviews with people all over Sweden about love and it’s written in the same lyrical style as Osebol. The interviews were made by documentary filmmaker Staffan Julén for his film with the same title. The book Kärlek på svenska was shortlisted for the European Union Prize for Literature 2023 (EUPL).

Photo of the author: Ola Kjelbye.

Q1. Your debut book Osebol: Voices from a Swedish Village has been described as a paen. Do you agree? Did you set out to write it in such a manner?

If I understand it correctly, the word ‘paean’ can mean several different things. It can be a poem that expresses triumph, thanksgiving, admiration, happiness and/or praise and perhaps other things as well. Perhaps you could read ‘Osebol’ as a paean but I did not really have in mind to write something that would express anything in particular. The writing process was more like an exploration. I did not know what the book would be like when I started to work on it.

Q2 Why and how did you embark upon this project?

I wanted to be an author when I was a child but at age 18, I decided to go for journalist instead, because that profession seemed to provide more of a stable income. At age 45 I left my job at the Gothenburg International Film Festival after ten years, and I decided I would give writing a chance after all. When I had decided to finally try to write a book, I decided very quickly that it had to be about my home village Osebol.

There are probably many reasons why I felt that Osebol had to be the subject of my first book. One reason was that I had noticed that the public debate about the city vs. the countryside had become sharper and more intense during the last decades. It isn’t productive to create antagonism between the city and the countryside like that, rather they are both dependent on each other. But it is important to discuss what the countryside has lost and is still losing with expanding industrialization and globalization, and what future possibilities rural areas might have.

I also understood that Osebol had become an exotic place for many people. Most children in Sweden today grow up in a city or a town, not in a village. Whenever I had read a news story in the paper about the countryside, it seemed to be presented with much prejudice. It didn’t reflect the rich and interesting everyday life I knew from Osebol. That made me really angry. And since I had been living in Gothenburg since 1998 and my family had finally left Osebol in 2007 when my father became ill, I realised that even I had become one of these urban people who have no idea what goes on in a village. All these things made me want to write a book about Osebol.

Q3 What is the age range of the interviewees?

I decided to not interview children under 18, but there is still a girl of 16 in the book. She sat at the table when I interviewed her parents and she gave some great comments that I was able to bring into the text. The oldest person was 92 at the time when I interviewed her.

Q4 Do you have a standard questionnaire or did you have to tweak it for different age groups and genders? Or none of the former options, but you merely had in-depth conversations?

I had no prepared questions. It was in that sense very different from interviewing somebody for a news story as a journalist. I met everyone in the house where they live and I started out asking questions about the house we were sitting in. Then I tried to listen carefully to ask the right follow-up question. That is something a journalist does too. Basically, I wanted to listen to whatever they wanted to tell me from their life experience and inner thoughts.

Q 5 You do not separate the responses. They merge into one another. The only indication is the changing name at the bottom of the page. What is the principle of organising the interviews?

It was very important for me that the reader should not mix up who is saying what. The village is one but the individuals in the village are many. It was crucial to me to capture both the many voices and everyone’s single and unique voice. I finally decided to present them in a manner as if the reader walks with me from house to house.

Q6 It is said that your signature style of writing is marrying prose poetry with investigative journalism. Why and how did this evolve?

My biggest source of inspiration is the Belarusian writer, Svetlana Alexievich. I wanted to write the book as she would have written it. What I like in particular about her stunning work is how everyone speaks seemingly directly to the reader, as she has eliminated everything else from the text except the bare words from the person speaking. I also like how interviewing a lot of people about the same thing, in my case a village, gives a fascinating multi-perspective-view of the subject. In the end I ended up moving from her prose into poetry. The idea came from a fellow writer who heard me read from one of the interviews that I had published in a cultural journal. He thought it sounded like poetry and suggested that I would also make the layout like poetry. I immediately felt that this was the proper way to present the interviews from Osebol. All along the interview process I had been noticing the poetic qualities in what people told me and wondered how I could give these qualities justice in the text.

Q7 As a trained investigative journalist, how do you manage interviews, especially the gendered responses? Does it require different sets of skills to talk to men and women?

I think every interviewer meets other people in his or her particular way. One aspect in this is that you cannot change who you are. For instance, I cannot change the fact that I am a white woman of now 53. That means something in how other people see me and maybe also in how I by habit act in the world. I need then to think about the things I can influence, in order to prevent these fixed factors to become an obstacle in the interview. I mean, if I find it easier to interview one gender than the other, maybe I should try to change something in my interview technique. Basically, I need to listen carefully to what everyone says, to try to ask similar follow-up questions to everyone and in general to not take anything for granted. I am not saying that I always succeed. Interviewing is a constant adventure in the present, and that is what is so endlessly fascinating about it.

Q8 How important is rhythm to your writing?

Rhythm is very important to me, both in life and writing. I don’t really know how to verbalize it more than that but maybe that is exactly because rhythm is a non-verbal thing. Rhythm is also important in film editing. I sometimes think that I have ‘cut’ Osebol, like you would edit a movie.

Q9 How crucial is memory to storytelling and fact checking while recording oral history testimonies as you have done in Osebol?

When people tell me things in an interview that are not possible to fact check, for instance a story about something that happened in the past that involves only the person in question, my general attitude is to trust them. But of course, I do check things when I write, like names, years, spellings etc. If anything should be wrongly remembered, the person has the possibility to change it before printing. Of course, I cannot guarantee that when someone tells a good story there isn’t an exaggeration here and there. Since the interview situation is clearly stated in my afterword in the ‘Osebol’ book, I think the readers won’t mind that they are also being told the good story. I think the reader is willing to accept that this is oral tradition, with everything that comes along with that, like possible slight exaggerations for dramatic effect.

Q10 How critical is the preservation of local culture?

I think knowledge about local history and culture is very important. It is much easier to dismiss a place or a region if you know nothing about it. History and culture also serve as a source of pride for the people living in a region.

Q 11 Are the Swedish and English layouts of the book similar or is there variation?

They are similar. The main difference is that the English version contains a map to make it easier for non-Swedish readers to understand where on the map the places mentioned in the book are situated.

Q12 In translation, words change. It is not always possible to find one word equivalent of the source language in the destination language. So, what do you do about such challenges?

I trust my translators of course but I am also happy to answer any question they might have. I enjoyed very much working with the translator into English, Peter Graves. Sometimes I would suggest a different English word than he had chosen. My aim was always to try to capture as many meanings as possible that might lie in the original Swedish word. It was up to Peter then to accept it or reject it or give a third suggestion, depending on what would work in English. I am extraordinary pleased with the way ‘Osebol’ finally is translated into English.

Q13 As a debut author, how did you persuade your editors to this extraordinary page layout?

I was fortunate enough to work with the brothers Anders and Jonas Teglund of Teg Publishing. They grew up in the town Luleå in north of Sweden and they had a unique understanding for what my interviews were about. They gave me all the creative freedom I needed, even when it turned out that the book would stretch over more than 800 pages. Anders said all along the process: ‘It would be fun if the book about Osebol would be really long. That would be a great rural statement!’

Q 14 Do you have any Swedish author/book/literary website recommendations for readers?

Apart from the Belarusian writer Svetlana Alexievich, my biggest inspiration when writing Osebol was the Swedish author Selma Lagerlöf. They are both winners of the Nobel Prize in Literature; Alexievich in 2015 and Lagerlöf as the first woman getting the award in 1909. Selma Lagerlöf’s novels and short stories express a lot of insights in the human nature in combination with imagination and emotion. She is a true master. The translator of Osebol, Peter Graves, also translated Selma Lagerlöf from Swedish into English. I warmly recommend his translations, for instance The Phantom Carriage, A Manor House Tale and The Emperor of Portugallia.

Disclaimer: This paper was written under the European Union Policy & Outreach Partnerships Initiative with the view to promote European Union Prize for Literature awardees. The publication was funded by the European Union. Its contents are the sole responsibility of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the European Union.

“The Gospel of the Eels” by Patrik Svensson

If there is only one book you can read in 2020 then make it this superb translation from Swedish by art and culture journalist, Patrik Svensson called The Gospel of the Eels. It is part-memoir of Svensson and part-history of eels. It is at one level an exquisitely meditative reflection upon the mysteries of life, why we do certain things in the manner we do — whether it is man or the very mysterious eel. Like man, who has distinct stages on his life, the eel too has been documented of having four very distinct stages of development. It’s transformation from the glass eel to brown to the sexually mature grey/black eel is a stunning form of evolution that no scientist has ever been able to document in detail. It is as mystifying as the vast amounts of water the eels traverse. From the salty water of open seas to going upstream in search of fresh water of inland rivers. These patterns of movement happen at distinct moments in an eel’s life but why they happen no man knows. It is as puzzling as how do these creatures remember their places of birth in Sargasso Sea and return to it for spawning. Svensson’s fascination for the creatures began when his father would take seven-year-old Patrik eel hunting in the local stream. The author himself was never fond of eating the creatures but he developed a lifelong fascination for the mysteries surrounding eels. While seemingly recalling his warmly affectionate relationship with his father and sharing his family history, Patrik Svensson is able to dwell upon how eels have a history in literature dating as far back as Aristotle, who thought eels bred in mud. Pliny the Elder had an equally fascinating theory which stated that eels were born by rubbing two stones together. Archaeologists in Egypt have discovered scarophagi containing eels. Freud’s first academic paper was on the sexuality of eels after he spent a month living in a tiny fishing town dissecting over four hundred eels. Decades later the eel’s sexuality is still not fully understood. It is a fish whose life cycle has not been documented as yet. This despite efforts to tag fish returning to Sargasso Sea or observing them in tanks but nothing has worked. This fish cannot be artificially reproduced. Now it is in danger of becoming extinct for various reasons, many of them can be attributed to man.

The Gospel of the Eels is a book not to be missed. It raises many questions about life, mortality, man’s excessive need to know, what are the limits man should set for himself as an individual and a race and in his interaction with nature, how much knowledge is necessary and how much pursuit of gaining that knowledge is essential. Like his father who was content with living his life and not particularly keen to investigate into his past or that of his beloved mother, similarly, it may not be a bad idea if we let God’s creatures live in peace and if man learned to live in harmony with them and each other. None of this is really spelled out so explicitly by the avowed atheist Patrik Svensson but it is implied and graciously acknowledged. In fact these are some of the questions that are pertinent more so now during the pandemic. If theories are to be believed, the Covid19 is a health crisis created by crossing or rather violating these very same sacrosanct boundaries between Man and Nature. Of course this book was written much before the pandemic happened but its publication is very timely.

It is a stunning book that has been beautifully translated by Agnes Broome. Well worth buying a copy or even gifting generously.

29 June 2020

Guest Post: Aditi Maheshwari, publisher, and Tomoko Kikuchi, translator discuss “Neerav Sandhya Ka Shahar: Sakura Ka Desh”

Guest Post: Aditi Maheshwari, publisher, and Tomoko Kikuchi, translator discuss “Neerav Sandhya Ka Shahar: Sakura Ka Desh”

neerav sandhya ka shahar cover

Last month I heard about an interesting translation project — Neerav Sandhya Ka Shahar: Sakura Ka Desh. It was a Hindi translation (2013) of a Japanese publication (2004)– Yunagi No Machi Sakura no Kuni. It had won the Grand Prize for manga at the 2004 Japan Media Arts Festival and, is probably the only manga comic that deliberates upon continued suffering of the second and third generation victims of Hiroshima and Nagasaki atomic bombings in the year 1945. It has been published by Vani Prakashan in India. Aditi Maheshwari, Publisher, Vani Prakashan and the translator, Tomoko Kikuchi, have shared their thoughts about this process. Aditi will be participating in the Book Souk, Jumpstart. ( http://www.jumpstartfest.com/home ) Logo




Aditi Maheshwari, Publisher, Vani Prakashan 

Three challenges entail a literary translation project undertaken by any publisher. The first and the most basic is staying true to the core and the essence of the original text under translation. The second is doing justice to the cultural idioms and paradigms as expressed in the original, while maintaining its relevance in the new audience. Third and most importantly, ensuring that the original text does not turn out to be anachronous for the new audience, who most likely do not share a similar history. The third challenge naturally applies to historical works from another culture, language or era or those dealing with long lasting impacts/influences of historical events.

Having worked extensively on translations in various world languages (including but not limited to English, Swedish, Norwegian, Polish, German, French and Japanese) and with world renowned literary stalwarts (such as Zwigniew Herbert, Wislawa Szymbroska, Tadeusz Rozewicz, Tomas Tranströmer, Herta Müller, Salman Rushdie, Tasleema Nasreen et al) in the past, one would assume Yunagi No Machi Sakura no Kuni would have been a fairly standard affair.

However, just like every translated work which is a product of extensive research, meticulous referencing and sheer volumes of literary acumen,Yunagi No Machi Sakura no Kuni proved no different. In fact, it unveiled a fourth and new challenge, hitherto not faced by us. This had to do with the art form that Manga comics are and the added visual dimension which they brought to the table. All of a sudden, ‘being true to the original’ developed a new meaning. With visuals being the ready reckoner window to the heart and souls of characters in the comic, the treatment of cultural idioms, anachronism had to be more accurate with very little scope for exercising literary liberties. Page

Yunagi No Machi Sakura no Kuni is a ‘slice of life’ account of the far reaching social, psychological and physical setbacks for the Japanese youth caused by the US bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki 68 years ago. The culmination of journey from Yunagi No Machi Sakura no Kuni to Neerav Sandhya Ka Shahar: Sakura Ka Desh required meeting the aforementioned challenges. It was imperative to have a translator on board who had a deep understanding of the Japanese culture and also had exposure to the Indian cultural paradigms and Hindi language itself. The translator of the book, Tomoko Kikuchi, a young Japanese woman who studied Hindi at JNU and completed her Ph. D. in Hindi literature at Kendriya Hindi Sansthan, Agra was the steering force behind the project.

Even with the right translator on board who could translate sans use of a bridge language like English, we often found ourselves standing on the crossroads with the cultural idioms of Japan and India during the project. For example, the female protagonist in the first part of comics refers to her same-aged male friend with a Japanese pronoun that translates to ‘aap’ and not rather casual ‘tum’ in Hindi. Despite the awkwardness of the formality that the use of ‘aap’ would bring in, the translator chose it over ‘tum’ because according to her, it reflected the real dynamics of such friendships among young people in Japan fifty years ago. As the story continues in the second part, ‘Sakura ka Desh’, the new gen-Y Japanese girls are not shown referring to their male friends with an ‘aap’, exerting their equality by using their names or ‘tum’.

We discussed this and many similar issues at length with linguistic experts like Dr Rekha Sethi (Assistant Professor, Hindi, Delhi University). We finally concluded that although we were well intentioned in remaining honest to the original text and avoiding superimposition of indigenous reflections over it, the possibility of linguistic improvisation at few places, could not be overlooked. Translating a Manga comics in Hindi was a daunting yet fulfilling task for our editorial department. Publishing prose or poetry is always much easier than comics. We treat comics as an art form that involves synchronizing the editorial team towards exploring deeper layers of narration, conducting intensive research on the subject matter and above all, paying attention to what translator has to say. Neerav Sandhya Ka Shahar: Sakura Ka Desh is the result of this process.

Authored by Fumiyo Kono, Neerav Sandhya Ka Shahar: Sakura Ka Desh (2013) is originally published as Yunagi No Machi Sakura no Kuni (2004).

(C) Aditi Maheshwari 

Tomoko Kikuchi, Translator 

Tomoko Kikuchi, skv No2, GBSSS Gblock, GBSSS DDAFlat, 22 Aug 2013दो साल पहले मैंने सुप्रसिद्ध जापानी सचित्र पुस्तक “हिरोशिमा का दर्द”(NBT) का हिन्दी अनुवाद किया, जो छोटे बच्चों को परमाणु बम की त्रासदी को बताने के लिए सर्वोत्तम पुस्तक है । उसके बाद मैं सोचने लगी कि उसी संदेश को भारत के युवा पाठकों तक कैसे पहुंचाया जाए । अक्सर युवा पीढ़ी युद्ध या विश्वशान्ति के विषय से विमुख रहती है । उन दिनों मुझे संयोग से जापानी कॉमिक “नीरव संध्या का शहर, साकुरा का देश” का परिचय हुआ । 2004 में जापान में प्रकाशित उस कोमिक ने मुझे सहसा आकर्षित किया और मुझे लगा कि कॉमिक्स का रूप भारतीय जवानों को भी जरूर आकर्षित करेगा ।
अनुवाद की पुस्तक को प्रकाशित करने के लिए पहली शर्त है कि यहाँ के प्रकाशक को ढूंदना, जो बहुत मुश्किल काम है । इस पुस्तक के लिए मैंने कई प्रकाशकों के साथ बात की, आखिरकार वाणी प्रकाशन से मुलाक़ात हुई । माहेश्वरी जी ने मुझे सहसा यह जवाब दिया, “जापानी कोमिक्स का हिन्दी अनुवाद एक नई कोशिश है, बहुत दिलचस्पी है ।” यह सुनकर खुशी से ज्यादा मुझे हैरानी हुई, क्योंकि तब तक मैंने एक भी प्रकाशक से ऐसे सकारात्मक और स्नेही बात नहीं सुनी थी । इस प्रकार माहेश्वरी जी की कृपा से पहली शर्त पूरी हो गई । बाद में जापान फाउंडेशन की सहयोग योजना के तहत प्रकाशन के लिए कुछ आर्थिक सहायता भी मिल सकी ।
अनुवाद करते समय दो भाषाओं से संबंधित संस्कृति और इतिहास का पूरा ध्यान रखना होता है । पाठकों को अपरिचित संस्कृति से परिचित कराने के लिए अनुवादक को दोनों को जोड़ने वाले पुल की भूमिका निभानी होती है । सीमित जगह में पूरी सूचना डालना बहुत मुश्किल है । इतना ही नहीं, कोमिक्स में एक विशेष प्रकार का प्रयोग भी है, जिसमें आवाज और भावना को लिपिबद्ध किया जाता है।
मसलन, जब कुत्ता आवाज़ देता है तो हिन्दी में भौ भौ कहा जाता है, पर जापानी में वन वन । ऐसी आवाज भी है, जिसका जापानी भाषा में शब्द उपलब्ध है और हिन्दी में नहीं । जब कोई हैरान हो जाता है, तो जापानी में उस मनोभावना को “गान” उच्चारण से अभिव्यक्त कर चित्रों के साथ अंकित किया जाता है , परंतु हिन्दी में इस प्रकार का कोई प्रयोग नहीं है । जापानी कोमिक्स के अनुवाद में इस प्रकार की बहुत सारी समस्याओं का एक एक हल निकालना पड़ा, आपको भी पुस्तक देखने पर जिसका अंदाज होगा ।
अनुवाद में एक संकट यह भी था कि एक तरफ कोमिक्स का संवाद एकदम बोलचाल का होता है, परंतु दूसरी ओर मेरी भाषा एकदम पीएच. डी. की है । इस स्थिति में समन्वय लाने के लिए डॉ रेखा सेठी जी ने मेरी बहुत मद्द की । कभी उनके घर में, कभी आई. पी. कॉलेज में लंबे समय तक बैठकर हमने एक एक संवाद का सही रूप ढूंढ़ निकाला । उसी दौरान अनजाने में हमारे बीच भारतीय और जापानी संस्कृति का काफी आदानप्रदान हुआ होगा ।
(C) Tomoko Kikuchi 
28 Aug 2013 
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