21 March 2014

Vera Burlak and Marija Martysevych: Belarus stars at Leipzig


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Photo of Vera Burlak, courtesy of belaruslitteratur.blogspot.com
Are there many visitors to Germany's second largest book fair who really know what they're looking for? When I drove down last week with two colleagues from Hamburg for the day for my first ever Leipzig, the conversation in the car was full of what we know but also what we do not know about our own aspirations.

 Dutifully, I started by searching for translator events I could go to on what could well be The Worst Ever Website designed for a Major Public Event. (Don't even google it.) Thankfully it turned out that there was only one translator's thing I had time to go to, a podium with six international translators talking about the reception of German literature internationally. Which was kinda informative, but also rather worthy. Like how many Important Causes can you be caring about at the one time? The transmission of contemporary German literature for a Hindi reading audience? I'm all for it, and I shall put it on my list.

Vera Burlak and Marija Martysevych can't be accused of any form of worthiness. Marija was on first, reading first a traditional student romance in prose, and then a poem which combined a narrative of an (for me) obscure eastern European late medieval / early modern King, with pretty hot sex. Marija, like Vera after her, first read her work in Belarusian, to be followed by the readings of the excellent German translations. Vera's poetry was translated by Ulyana Wolf into mostly rhyming German verse. I can't remember when I last heard such a natural sounding poetry in translation. You should hear what Vera's reading voice sounds like here, on the audio at Lyrik Line. Or reading voices I should say, plural, as she's a theatrical reader, something I like. None of that ''my importance means I must read in an understated, earnest sounding monotone" for her.

An allergy ridden youngster was the protagonist of the Vera story I remember most, no realism here, instead grotesque, allegorical, moving pictures. The allergic girl unable to eat anything, wrapped away in a bubble room, only able to be saved by the lover's kiss ... which she, soon, becomes allergic to. Like the contents of a Kafka short story, Vera's narratives will sound daft when you try to re-tell them on the quick, but profound, gripping and concise when you experience them direct from Vera's texts. On even better: spoken direct from Mrs Burlak's mouth.

Concision. That's a thing I could learn buckets of, both from Vera and from Marija. Which, I think, is a good place to stop for today. In a corner of the Book Fair, with an unconcentrated audience of about 11, half of them texting at the same time – a steady thrum of conversation in the background – a spirit-sapping situation for a reader –  these two didn't mess about, they just got on with it, fearless, unembarrassed, and presented themselves.

From left to right: Marija Martysevych, Marija & Vera's anonymous interpreter, Vera Burlak, Thomas Weiler (organiser) and woman who read the German translations.

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