André-Marcel Adamek at Words Without Borders

January 25th, 2012 § 5 comments

Happy New Year! For various reasons, it’s been a while since I posted, but I thought I’d better get this up before the month ended, and the January issue gets archived. My translation of André-Marcel Adamek’s story “The Ark” is up at Words Without Borders, who are kicking off 2012 with an appropriately apocalypse-themed issue. It begins like this: “I shall destroy man whom I have created from off the face of Belgium…” In less than one line, the reader gets a sense of the author’s playfulness and seriousness, his ambition and ardor, his humanism and humor. It also strikes, with perfect pitch, a sort of self-deprecating chord typical to Belgian writers, aware of their country’s size and how habitually it gets passed over. Belgians are nothing if not practiced at puncturing pretension, yet for all their mockworthy dithering, they have a very strong if complicated sense of identity. You know what kind of story you’re walking into here, and it delivers: a modern-day unassuming Noah, hapless before his exacting Lord. “The Ark” overflows with love, sometimes gentle, sometimes outraged, for the people of its tiny land.

Adamek was an author with huge heart. He knew how to spin a yarn, plumb a soul, pace a scene, and wright a sentence. A consummate autodidact, he fought for and earned everything he had, wresting it from an uncharitable world with cleverness and will. When I saw him in June, the ungrateful life with which that world sometimes rewards writers had worn him to a wisp. With the Belgian government still at an impasse, and Europe itself on the verge of economic crisis, “The Ark”, first penned in the mid-90s, had come to seem timely once more, if in all the ways no one would have hoped for.

André-Marcel Adamek passed away last August.

§ 5 Responses to André-Marcel Adamek at Words Without Borders"

  • raviram says:

    dear Mr Gauvin
    I read your translation of “The Ark” and find it both humorous and thought provoking…especially the para beginning

    Sometimes on my walks I think, with uncontrollable sadness, ….

    so very true…

    I could not quite grasp the ending.. would appreciate if you can share your views on the same..


  • Edward says:

    Hi! Thanks much for your comment. Glad you enjoyed Mr. Adamek’s work. There’s no one right way to read the ending of a story, but I suppose my interpretation is this: the narrator discovers (despite himself, and his instructions from God, and his special status) that he can’t bear to leave behind the people of his country, whom he loves so much. Almost unknowingly, in a trance (finding out only much too late when he sees the axe in is hand) he sabotages his only means of survival, the ark, in order to drown with his people–perhaps because he can’t imagine a world where everything he holds dear is gone?

  • Hi there Edward,

    I really enjoyed Adamek’s story. I think your translation caught the tone of the narrator’s struggle quite well.

    I was not familiar with Adamek prior to reading this story, but I am curious now to know more. And that, I think, reflects well on Adamek and his translator!


  • Edward says:

    Thanks much for the kind comment, Damian, and for stopping by! I found the review at your site–the first such Adamek has gotten in English, to my knowledge–both comprehensive and comprehending; you really get to the heart of the tale as well as the tone, through which Adamek attempted to highlight when not outrightly satirizing elements of his dearly beloved Belgian national character.
    These months later, I’m still saddened by Adamek’s death, and while sadly I’ve no news of any of his novels making it into English (Luise von Flotow’s translation of Master of the Black Gardens has been stalled in production at Peter Lang for years), my translation of another story of his, “Barnaby’s Goose”, should be appearing sometime this spring. I’ll keep you posted (fingers crossed: the journal just announced a name change).
    You’ve got a great trove of reviews at your site! I was especially happy to see Lagerkvist’s Dwarf!

  • Hi Edward,

    I very much enjoyed reviewing The Ark. I definitely look forward to reading more of his work as it appears (if it appears).

    Reading short stories – and those of Words Without Borders in particular – is an excellent way to find those undiscovered gems of non-English literature. It’s a shame how little is translated.

    I’d certainly be happy to read and review anything more of Adamek’s that you have translated (or anyone else, for that matter – I notice you have quite a lengthy resume). I will be getting to the Best European Fiction 2012 story at some stage, so that’s good, too.

    Feel free to send an email should you wish.


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