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Christina E. Kramer honoured for translating Macedonian writers

Christina E. Kramer honoured for translating Macedonian writers. Photo by Diana Tyszko.

Christina E. Kramer honoured for translating Macedonian writers. Photo by Diana Tyszko.

Christina E. Kramer of the Department of Slavic Languages and Literatures has received a translation fellowship and award for her translations of Macedonian literature. The $12,500 fellowship from the US National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) will allow her to translate Pyramid of Water (or The Path of Eels) by the Macedonian Albanian writer Luan Starova. The Modern Language Association (MLA) has also given her an honourable mention for the prestigious Lois Roth Translation prize for her translation of Freud’s Sister by Goce Smilevski.

“I have been studying Balkan languages for 30 years and it is only now that I have felt ready to translate literary works,” says Kramer. “Translation brings together my linguistic and cultural knowledge, language ability, and love of literature in a wonderfully complex and creative way. I am honoured to be able to work with living authors such as Starova and Smilevski to bring their works into English.”

Luan Starova is a former professor of comparative and French literature, member of the Macedonian Academy of Arts and Sciences, and Macedonia’s first ambassador to France. He Balkan Saga traces his family history from the collapse of the Ottoman Empire at the beginning of the 20th century to the collapse of Yugoslavia at the end of that century. Starova writes his Saga first in Macedonian, then translates them into his native Albanian. The books are set in Turkey, Macedonia, Albania and Greece— crossing borders, identities, languages, religions, and shifting ideologies. They present the Balkans not as a region of inherited hatreds, but a place where people of different ethnicities together suffered war, poverty, and exile.

Kramer became interested in the works of Starova in 2000, when she began reading the Macedonian version of My Father’s Books while returning from field research in Albania and Macedonia. The description of the young narrator destroying antiquities from his father’s library compelled her to seek the rights to translate the work into English. Since then, she has translated My Father’s Books and The Time of the Goats, published in 2012 by the University of Wisconsin Press.

“Because my academic work has focused on Balkan comparative linguistics and the social conditions that led to widespread multilingualism, Starova’s works hold a special fascination for me; they cross boundaries, seeking to universalize rather than particularize Balkan history,” she says.

Kramer also had the opportunity to work with Smilevski, a young Macedonian writer whose novel Freud’s Sister won one of the European Prizes for fiction. Kramer won the rights to translate the novel in a competition held by Penguin Press. Freud’s Sister (which has now been translated into more than 15 languages) is a fictionalized account of Sigmund’s sister Adolfina tracing her life from childhood to her death in the Holocaust. Kramer says that Smilevski, who works at the Institute for Literature at the Methodius University in Skopje, has fashioned a writing style that has expanded the possibilities of Macedonian literature.

“Smilevksi’s syntactic complexity and lexical richness provide both the challenge, and the standard, for my translation,” says Kramer. “It has been a pleasure working with him.”

The MLA congratulated Kramer in their statement, saying “[Her] translation brings us this work from a lesser known literary tradition in an achingly elegant rendering. The translation allows all the power of the original to shine through, never hitting a false note.”

Kramer, who was also a member of a group of translators of the 19th-century Bulgarian classic Bai Ganyo by Aleko Konstantinov (University of Wisconsin Press, 2011), is currently working on several other new translation projects from Macedonian, in addition to the next Starova novel.