Translation Tuesday: seven micro stories by Alex Epstein
An intelligent mouse, a broken umbrella and Franz Kafka feature in tiny stories of love and hope translated from Hebrew
By Alex Epstein and Yardenne Greenspan for Translation Tuesdays by Asymptote, part of the Guardian Books Network
In the religion column the robot wrote: human.
It was an old spaceship with no windows (they couldn’t afford a new one). Before takeoff, they painted stars on the ceiling of their child’s bedroom.
A Children’s Story
All the children in the kindergarten had superpowers. One could move clouds (and furniture) through the power of thought. Another could walk on air as high as the tops of trees. A third (her name was Sappho) could stretch her arm up and touch the moon. There was also a child who could replace his stutter with a song.
An Almost Ordinary Love Story
Instead of flowers, he brought her another broken umbrella. She put it in a vase and filled the vase with water. The next day the umbrella opened.
The Intelligent Mouse
In order to give the scientists a reason to put him back in the maze, he was never in a hurry to reach the hunk of cheese. From time to time, when they had him compete against another mouse, he let his friend win. In his free time in the cage he wrote science fiction stories about a marvelous, terrible universe with no maze.
A History of the Moon
Another draft for an impossible novel
It’s 1924, again. It’s early June, again. But Franz Kafka has stopped coughing up blood. His condition is improving incredibly fast. In mid-July he is already asking Max Brod for the manuscripts he had entrusted to him; he makes sure they will burn. In September, after another nightmare, he shaves his head bald. Less than a year later he sails from Hamburg to Buenos Aires, never to return. His letters to Dora are becoming rarer and rarer. On the other side of the last photograph he sends her, he writes: December 1931. Me and my good friend Luis Borges. I asked for his sister’s hand. Then they rewrite a few chapters from the Book of Ecclesiastes, and so on. Then the Nazis conquer Europe, and so on. Then, the moon, again—
A Final Writing Guide
Take a deep breath. Write until the page turns blue.
Translated from the Hebrew by Yardenne Greenspan
- Alex Epstein was born in Leningrad (St. Petersburg) in 1971 and moved to Israel when he was eight. He is the author of ten works of fiction in Hebrew, and was awarded twice, in 2003 and 2016, the Israeli Prime Minister’s Prize for Literature. His very short stories are published regularly in Haaretz newspaper. His books were translated into English, Russian and Portuguese; a French translation is forthcoming in 2016. He lives in Tel Aviv.
- Yardenne Greenspan has an MFA in Fiction and Translation from Columbia University. In 2011 she received the American Literary Translators’ Association Fellowship, and in 2014 she was a resident writer and translator at Ledig House’s Writers Omi program. Her translation of Some Day, by Shemi Zarhin (New Vessel Press), was chosen for World Literature Today’s 2013 list of notable translations. Her full-length translations also include Tel Aviv Noir, Edited by Etgar Keret and Assaf Gavron (Akashic Books), Alexandrian Summer by Yitzhak Gormezano Goren (New Vessel Press), and The Secret Book of Kings by Yochi Brandes (forthcoming from St. Martin’s Press). Yardenne is Asymptote’s editor-at-large of Israeli literature, and has recently joined the blogging team at Ploughshares. Her writing and translations can be found in The New Yorker, Haaretz, Guernica, Asymptote, The Massachusetts Review, and Words Without Borders, among other publications.