Review: Kanaval – Vodou, Politics and Revolution on the Streets of Haïti – by Leah Gordon

kanaval

Kanaval

Leah Gordon is a former punk artist from London. She is also a photographer and this book reflects upon her experiences of Kanaval on the streets of Jacmel in Haïti between 1995 and 2010. Haïti was the first black republic in the Western hemisphere, a black slave nation that overthrew the yolk of its French European masters. A core component of the revolution’s power was the African-inspired Vodou belief system and intertwined with politics the Kanaval (Creolisation of Carnival) traces its routes to the clandestine slave gatherings in the upland forests of the island. Gordon takes powerful black and white images of the key Kanaval characters and interviews these characters, capturing a series of oral histories from the poor local inhabitants who invest their energy effortlessly, creating characters, making costumes, designing props, organising dance routines and applying makeup, to create this pre-Lentern annual orgy of street theatre and fiesta. We meet the Lanse Kòd (The Rope Throwers), Jwif Eran (Wandering Jew), Papa Sida (Father of AIDS), Oungan (Vodou Priest), St Michel and also the Satanic Zel Maturin (The Wings of Maturin). These characters act out a fight of good versus evil, they challenge the audiences to raise small amounts of money and to reflect upon the political realities of Haïtian life. There is a series of critical essays throughout the book from key researchers of Haïti, that reflect upon the essence of Leah Gordon’s work. The book is enlightening and the images, that can be very disturbing, project an exoticism and spirituality that gives the reader a true taste of the Kanaval performers’ messages and allows the reader a glimpse of the post-colonial ‘Other’ that is the Caribbean.

Review: Spain 1812-2004 – by Christopher J Ross

spain 1812-2004

I have read this book as I am doing a university course next year on Spanish History in the Modern Period. The book is devised for language students and at the end of each chapter excerpts in Spanish are provided, with translations, which are really useful. The book has some great side notes, detailing often Spanish phrases for the various political bodies, organisations and specialist terms one encounters in the text. If I was to be critical of the book it is to say that it focuses very much on politics and maybe goes into too much depth at the expense of wider cultural issues. Certainly the last few chapters make tough reading and are perhaps more intrinsically focussed than say the wider world knowledge of the Spanish Civil War and enduring Franco régime. Spain is often an international anomaly in its history, from Empire to international isolationism through to its modern period of more fiercer European integration. There was a lot of detail on regionalism that I found most intriguing, in particular the cases of Catalonia and the Basque country. I feel that the book is well worth reading and now feel suitably historically enlightened about the state and home of the Spanish language. I am sure that I will find plenty of future use of the book as a reference tool.

Review: Women and the Second World War in France, 1939-1948: Choices and Constraints – by Hanna Diamond

women ww2 france

This book focuses on the role of French women during World War 2 and the immediate aftermath. It is clear that the women of France bore the brunt of dealing with the occupier, very often their men away, detained as prisoners of war or, for example, sequestered to work abroad in the Fatherland, Germany. Women had to cope with running family businesses, looking after the family, acquiring food. They may have chosen to either be collaborationists or to have joined the resistance. I found it particularly interesting hearing of the women who collaborated with the enemy, either seeking roles within Vichy or directly engaging with the German soldiers. The shorn heads of collaborators at Liberation cast powerful images in the reader. Women became, I feel, more valued in society as a result of their wartime activities and although they may have gone back to their roles afterwards as second class citizens within the family and society, they did earn themselves suffrage and I feel moved women as a whole towards parity with their male counterparts. The book is written in feminists tones, though without being to alienist to the male reader. It is factual and interesting and provides a good basis for further study for the university course I anticipate studying on the subject of Women in World War 2 France.

Review: The Politics of Translation in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance

The Politics of Translation in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance
The Politics of Translation in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance by Renate Blumenfeld-Kosinski
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I discovered this book in the Cardiff University library and thought it would provide a valuable insight into translation in history. I am interested in general history of the Renaissance and Middle Ages and found that this book helped to transfer pre-existing knowledge to the field of Translation. The book is a selection of academic papers from primarily North American institutes, There seemed to be a lot of emphasis on the French language as a vernacular and also, more obviously, Latin. I suppose that this reflects the importance of French as a cultural language at the time. It precedes English as the global lingua franca by some distance.

The general introduction chapters were very useful in terms of setting into context the role of translation during the epoque and the political implications that a translator would consider.

The stand out chapter for me introduces the subject of Etienne Dolet, a translation martyr who was sentenced to death and executed as a result of his work. The Dolet tale was an intriguing one and demonstrates clearly how a target-language’s cultural attitudes have to be taken into consideration when working as a translator. I feel that Dolet is a person upon whom I would like to follow up research throughout the course of my Translation degree.

I am a keen fan of Montaigne and it had previously eluded me that a lot of his great work was inspired by his activities as a translator. There are two chapters covering his translation of Raimond Sebond and the detailed critique that has ensued regarding the fidelity of his translation and the speculation of the true political motives behind his methodology. I think that very often, in translation, some of the reasoning and suppositions of translation critics fail to address the actual linguistical differences between foreign tongues. There are massive style changes at work that are bound to change the register of the original author and the translator would often introduce new ideas and themes only at a subliminal level, although that could very reasonably be done within the culture and political / historic climate of the current prevailing target-culture.

This book covers a wide variety of other topics, some of which are more relevant and interesting than others. I enjoyed The Alfredan Boethius chapter. The work of Eusebius on Vergil’s 4th Eclogue and also there was a certain romance to Leo Africanus’ story.

I think that this book is quite specialised and obviously could be very much more enlarged with further examples. It is a nice, neat text to furnish a translator with examples of some of the perils his journey might face. I’ll definitely refer to this book in future studies.

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