Set In Our Ways
The Q&A on P&W’s Trends page interviewed a literary translator, Zenia Tompkins, founder of the Tompkins Agency for Ukrainian Literature in Translation in 2019. Her mission to promote contemporary Ukrainian writing to English speakers, has intensified of late. The invasion hasn’t changed her mission, only what she is doing. Her goal is to have enough TAULT-trained agents to represent Ukrainian authors until her non-profit is no longer needed and she can get back to translating full time.
P&W’s Literary Life page article, Sanctuary got my attention. Antonia Angress, author of Sirens & Muses, had a distinct childhood. She spent much of her youth attending an international K-12 school in Costa Rica, where she was surrounded by people who spoke a mix of Spanish and French. She only spoke English at home and her family shifted among three languages. Life there had its charms, but she was also very lonely, not fitting into Costa Rican, French or American shoes. Her mother was an unconventional artist and it took a long time for Angress to appreciate her mother’s unusual style. My favorite line from the article was how, after she and her brother had moved on, their mother’s artwork blossomed and she’d said, “No one ever tells you how fun it is getting old.” Amen to that.
Like a lot of people, my family has its share of books and magazines to sort through. Several obits from the Economist surfaced lately, including one from Nov. 20, 2021 for Frederik Willem de Klerk, 85, of South Africa. It was hard to fathom a man so steeped in his family’s legacy that he viewed his Dutch grandparents’ uprising against British rule as the first anti-colonial conflicts in Africa, and the Dutch-speaking Boers as another African tribe. He thought boundaries between races were divinely ordained. But his stand changed when as president in the early 1990s, he vowed to end apartheid. The African National Congress was to be unbanned, and its leader, Nelson Mandela let out of prison. This shift shocked his colleagues. Being deputy president to Mandela as president seemed humiliating to him. When they won the Nobel peace prize, de Klerk believed he deserved it more because it had been so difficult to convince his own party to change. It was impossible for him to admit that separate but equal spaces for each tribe hadn’t worked. It had made sense to him. He only admitted apartheid was wrong in a posthumous video. This obit came to light on Aug. 5, the date in 1962 when Mandela was sentenced to 27 years in prison.
Another Economist obit, from May 28, was for another man, deeply set in his ways. Lawrence MacEwen, 80, died May 16, on a very small island off the coast of Scotland called Muck. His family had bought it in 1896, and made a good living there because its volcanic soil produced good hay, corn, vegetables and pasture. Its rough autumn weather made it unreachable at times, but he didn’t mind. In the 1960s the family had to decide whether to stay or not. One brother planned to leave, so at age 27 he took over for the next 50 years. It wasn’t an easy place to live, but he preferred that it remain simple, without TV, cars, and tourists. He allowed one small hotel that one of his brothers built, and a tea-room that sold his wife’s lovely cakes. Muck didn’t get reliable electricity until 2013, when it had 40 residents. He mostly went barefoot, once planted 1,000 beech and spruce saplings in a day and took over neglected gardens. McEwen gave tours of his farm once a year, and when a lottery opened for residents, he chose families with infants. Although he kept 600 sheep, his deep love was for his cows to whom he recited poetry. By the time his legacy was captured in a documentary in 2014, his son had brought in a fish farm, wind turbines, Wi-Fi, a fancy hotel, and rentals for vacationers. He accepted them gradually. His favorite vision of the future was of his bones on the underside of the sod, listening to his beloved cows gossiping as they grazed.
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