First English translation of Aspazija's prose sees daylight

Aspazija's prose will now be available to international readers as well, as the first English translation of her non-verse, dubbed Aspazija. Her lyrical prose has been published. The opening of the book will be celebrated in the Rīga Central Library on Monday. Latvian Radio talked on Monday with the translator Astrīda Stanke, a Latvian living in the US, about the new book, and her own plans too.

Astrīda Stanke is living in Collinsville, Illinois. She has been living in the US for more than 60 years, as her family went into exile in the mid-40s, and she's just finished writing a novel.

Latvian Radio has called her in an opportune moment. "I was just now, before we started our conversation, started to review the corrections of my novel. I have worked on it since 1983," said Stanke.

Her novel How Long is Exile? describes the experiences of Latvians after the Second World War. Stanke said that one of the impulses to tell this story was the perpetual feeling of being an alien and a stranger in America.

"Since we've been living in America, for some sixty years now, most of us have retained our Latvian accent, and that's why everyone keeps asking 'Where are you from?' That queston annoys me. Then I think - okay - and I have written a novel as an answer to this question," she said.

"It's not autobiographical, but it includes things that I have heard and stories about people whom I've met. I hope that the novel will be good and people will for once know where we're from. We're from a deep, big culture," said Stanke.

The novel encompasses the time span from World War II to the early 2000s, sketching also the reunion of Latvian refugees and those who remained in the country. The main character is a woman named Milda Bērziņa Arājs. 

"I chose that name as it's very symbolical. [Milda] is both [the name for] the goddess of love, the Monument to Freedom and the five-lat silver coin. And many women have been named Milda or Mildiņa, including my mother. The topic is simply the travels of a human being through life, as we all travel from birth to death," the writer said.

How Long is Exile will be published in America within the next few months, and Stanke isn't planning on translating it into Latvia. If someone's interested, let them do the translating.

Meanwhile, the first-ever English version of Aspazija's prose will be released on Monday, September 21. 

Astrīda Stanke as been researching and translating the works of Aspazija for more than 40 years now. She is certain that Aspazija is a world-class name that's still underrated even amongst Latvians themselves.

"For all these years, especially in the Soviet times, Aspazija has been all but clouded in the shadow of Rainis, and one of my goals was to pull Aspazija away from this suffocating shadow of [her husband] Rainis," she said.

"That's why I created the prose book in a way that shows the pre-Rainis times of Aspazija, when she was at the height of her art as a new writer. There are no such writers elsewhere. There simply aren't," said Stanke.

The opening of Aspazija. Her lyrical prose will take place on Monday, September 21 at 17 o'clock in the Rīga Central Library. Attendants will be able to hear how the prose of Aspazija sounds in English.

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