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News & Features » October 2014 » Yardenne Greenspan: On Translating Tel Aviv Noir

Yardenne Greenspan: On Translating Tel Aviv Noir

To celebrate the release of Tel Aviv Noir—the latest in Akashic’s Noir Serieswe’re pleased to feature a guest post from Yardenne Greenspan on translating the anthology.

New Yorkers: Don’t miss coeditors Etgar Keret and Assaf Gavron—along with Gina B. Nahai (The Luminous Heart of Jonah S.) and Salar Abdoh (Tehran Noir, Tehran at Twilight)—at the New York Public Library on Wednesday, November 5!

TelAvivNoir-currentI grew up in Tel Aviv. I know what each neighborhood feels like—I know how the flea market smells warm even in winter; I know the sweaty sensation of beachside falafel stands; I recognize the way people slow their steps north of Arlozorov Street and speed up just south of it. I began working as a translator when I lived in Tel Aviv. When I translated Tel Aviv Noir, I was no longer living in Tel Aviv but still visited it frequently, and I missed it almost all the time.

Being an anthology, this book presented my first experience of translating a narrative that happens all over the city. It was like seeing it through not one, but eleven pairs of eyes. Each of these writers has his or her own Tel Aviv. Gadi Taub’s is hopeless and criminal; Julia Fermentto’s is spontaneously violent; Matan Hermoni’s is haunted; Alex Epstein’s, surreal; Deakla Keydar’s is filled with familiar strangers.

As I made my way through the stories, I had plenty of moments of recognition. Assaf Gavron’s story, “Center,” confirmed what I’ve always felt—that the Dizengoff Shopping Center, which I visited often as a teenager, was full of dark and dangerous nooks. Shimon Adaf’s piece, “My Father’s Kingdom,” launched me back to my days at grade school in Tel Kabir and the fascination I felt with that ethnically mixed, halfway-built neighborhood. I know not one, but many vintage shops featuring questionable items, like the one in Gai Ad’s story, “The Expendables.”

These recognitions were accompanied by countless surprises. I never could have imagined people paying to take tours of crime scenes in Neve Sha’anan, as they do in Yoav Katz’s “The Tour Guide,” or hunting for wildlife downtown, as in Etgar Keret’s “Allergies.” I’ve never seen the city as a reincarnation of the Jewish shtetl, as Matan Hermoni does in “Women,” or been immensely disappointed by the dreariness of a strip club on Allenby Street, like the young heroines of Julia Fermentto’s “Who’s a Good Boy!” Each story was a new adventure—a new plot, a new premise, a new Tel Aviv.

Working with eleven talented writers was a privilege that came with its own set of challenges and rewards. Each story had its own unique style and language, and that had to come first. However, they all had to eventually fit together in one collection that made sense, the way the city’s disparate neighborhoods come together to form one cohesive urban mass. The stories had to speak to each other, complement and contradict each other, and in this project more than any other, I, the translator, was the conduit, the mediator.

Doing this, I began to see where all these varied points of view converged. What unified them wasn’t their similarities, but rather their different takes on what noir meant. While some of the authors stayed close to the classic noir structure—the lonely private investigator, trying not to become jaded; the femme fatale; the criminals; the lowlifes; the rain—others chose to interpret noir more freely. In a sunny, sweaty, laid-back place like Tel Aviv, which nevertheless still bubbles with Middle Eastern unrest, noir can happen in a park where Sudanese refugees spend the night, or a late-night hummus place. It could mean Death himself listening to reports of suicide bombings on the radio, or a ghost that moves in with a writer to save on rent.

This translation also afforded me the opportunity to get to know each author’s approach to the translation process. While some were very hands-on, making suggestions and asking questions, others set their story completely loose. I also worked with the two editors, Etgar Keret and Assaf Gavron, who each had their own style and experience, and the meeting of the three of us led to some fascinating discussions as to the right way to translate grammatically imaginative emails sent from an abstract Internet deity (in Gon Ben Ari’s “Delete Recent History”), and the distinction between the pejoratives utilized by an explicitly racist woman and one who is simply ignorant.

More than anything, translating Tel Aviv Noir was an experience of multiplicity, richness, and variety: many authors, two editors, and the translator—me. My job was to make this town big enough for all of them.



YARDENNE GREENSPAN is a writer and translator working in Ithaca, NY. She has an MFA in Fiction and Translation from Columbia University. In 2011 Yardenne received the American Literary Translators’ Association Fellowship. Her translation of Some Day by Shemi Zarhin was chosen for World Literature Today’s 2013 list of notable translations. Yardenne serves as Asymptote Journal’s editor-at-large for Israeli literature. Her translations from Hebrew include work by Gon Ben Ari, Etgar Keret, Yirmi Pinkus, Alex Epstein, and Yaakov Shabtai. Her fiction, essays, and translations have been published in the New Yorker, Haaretz, Words Without Borders, Drunken Boat, World Literature Today, Hot Metal Bridge, Two Lines, and Asymptote, among other publications. She is currently working on a novel about fatherhood and the American-Israeli dream.

Posted: Oct 29, 2014

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