THE TRANSLATOR’S (INTER)VIEW. MIRZA PURIC ON UNDER PRESSURE
“Under Pressure is poetic, poignant, funny, witty, rebellious, snarky, minimalist and bold.” - The translator Mirza Purić
New from Istros Books (May 2019) is Faruk Šehić’s collection Under Pressure – a novel in fragments – a collection of brutal and heart-wrenching stories from the Bosnian war frontline. Waiting to welcome him to London later this week, Under Pressure’s translator Mirza Purić has answered our questions on his experience translating this book and working from a so-called ‘smaller’ language.
Can you describe Under Pressure, its content, style and form, in a few sentences?
“Under Pressure is Faruk Šehić’s first work of fiction. It’s a fragmentary novel or a collection of loosely connected stories set mostly in the far north-western part of Bosnia during the 1990s war. It’s about pressure and decompressing, war, alcohol, poetry, love, war again. Under Pressure is poetic, poignant, funny, witty, rebellious, snarky, minimalist and bold.”
What is your experience of translating a book of stories from the frontline? Did you face any particular difficulties?
“Just my glitchy brain. The fact that the stories take place in the trenches was the least of my worries, I’ve read tonnes of wartime literature and I used to be a military interpreter. The biggest difficulty was finding the official, published translations of all the poems and novels that are quoted or referred to in the text to lift the quotes from. There is no English library in Sarajevo so I had to search the dankest corners of the Internet and pester friends who live outside the noose.”
In particular, did you face any specific challenges related to the cultural specificity of the story and the author’s experience?
“In many ways this is a very local book. For instance, most of the dialogue is in a rather rustic local dialect which can be barely comprehensible to most outsiders. I grew up a bike ride from Faruk so this was no problem. I originally had broad Yorkshire there, as I thought the socio-linguistic status and distance from the standard were about right, but there were concerns that the readers would have to work a bit too hard to make sense of all t’ clipped articles, funny syntax and obscure words, so in the end I had to go with some kind of generic non-standard English. I’m a bit of a stickler for heritage languages and dialects and I’m not too happy about this, but it had to be done.”
The translator Mirza Purić. Photo credit: Stacy Mattingly.
More generally, what can you say about being a translator from so-called ‘smaller’ languages?
“A banal point perhaps, but I find myself explicating much less when I translate from German, or into the multinominal Balkan language. When I worked mostly from English, every now and then leaving things untranslated and unglossed seemed a viable option, or even the best solution. I can’t do that very often now, I have to work harder. And of course there is the perennial issue of no opportunities, few or no literary magazines, an off-putting publishing scene, the ‘smallerness’ of everything.”
What is your favourite passage from the book and why?
“The final paragraph of Undertakers’ Yarn is one of the most poetic bits in the book that are not outright poetry. I don’t want to quote it here, but it wraps up four or five pages of cringy sexual banter, and is just crushingly sad.”
“…That’s how he [Faruk] fits. He towers.” - The translator Mirza Purić on Faruk Šehić
How does the author fit within Bosnian literature?
“His version of the war doesn’t quite chime with the official interpretations, the stuff that you find in sanctioned, subsidised literature. Our lads in Under Pressure are shitfaced all the time, they swear like stevedores, fornicate, eat pig, smoke weed, take drugs and beat prisoners. The official – nationalist – narrative is that they were as chaste as Sir Galahad. So while the book was an instant hit with the readers, for reasons which I hope are obvious even in my translation, some didn’t like what they read, I imagine. Faruk has put something on the line for his art, not too many people here do that.
I’d always considered Bosnian literature terribly pedestrian and parochial, with the exception of a few greats. Faruk was the first modern Bosnian poet/writer I thought was exciting and relevant. Most of the previous generation were a shower of old men in dad jeans with absolutely nothing of interest to say, and I religiously avoided everything they wrote. When his debut collection Pjesme u nastajanju (Poems in Progress) came out in the early noughties, it towered. That’s how he fits. He towers.”
What other books by Bosnian authors would you like to recommend? Are there any books by Bosnian authors you’d like to see translated into English?
“Moja fabrika (My Factory) by Selvedin Avdić, author of Seven Terrors, is a lovely non-fiction book about his home city of Zenica. Senka Marić has a harrowing novel about cancer titled Kinsugi tijela (Body Kintsugi), I’ve just started working on an excerpt and I’m humming with excitement. Nihad Hasanović’s first novel O roštilju i raznim smetnjama (On Barbecue and Sundry Disorders) is an important book to me, I’d love to see it in as many languages as possible. Lamija Begagić and Lejla Kalamujić write phenomenal queer fiction. Darko Cvijetić is an extraordinary language poet. Marko Tomaš and Mehmed Begić are rather underrated. This is a very good time to be a translator of poetry from these parts; a new generation of women poets is taking over, they are tremendous. Some names to remember: Anita Pajević, Dijala Hasanbegović, Lidija Deduš, Selma Asotić, Šima Majić, Zerina Zahirović. Yes, I’ve left somebody out, sorry.”
We kindly thank the translator Mirza Purić for his contribution to our blog.
Mirza Purić is a literary translator, editor and bassist.
Faruk Šehić is coming to London this week to talk about his writing: come meet him, together with Bosnian author Alen Mešković, at the Impossible Territory panel series on 6th June at 18:00 as part of the UCL Festival of Culture (book your place on 6th June here) and at the Yunus Emre Enstitüsü on 7th June at 18:30 for a book launch and talks (book your place on 7th June here).
The events are free, but registration is required.
Faruk Šehić is also the author of Quiet Flows the Una (Istros Books, 2016), translated by Will Firth. This autobiographical novel is the story of a man trying to overcome the personal trauma caused by the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina between 1992 and 1995. Find out more on Istros Books’ website here and at the events mentioned above on 6th and 7th June.