It’s a sad, oft-sung refrain on Strange Flowers: numerous works by or about our fabulous subjects published in foreign languages have never been translated into English.
Swiss writer and adventurer Annemarie Schwarzenbach is a perfect example. There is no biography of her available in English, and very few of her writings. So it comes as a very welcome development that not one but two of her books have recently been translated. They’re published by Seagull Books whose intriguing list offers, among other things, translations from French (Antonin Artaud, Guillaume Apollinaire, Guy Debord) and German (Thomas Bernhard, Heiner Müller, Max Frisch).
Lyric Novella, as we saw recently, was written during Schwarzenbach’s Berlin period in the early 1930s (though it was actually penned in Rheinsberg, north of the city). It concerns a young man’s obsessive love for a nightclub singer, but as Schwarzenbach biographers Nicole Müller and Dominique Grente point out, the real model for the hero is obvious. “What contemporary critics were forced to overlook, or didn’t want to see, that is, that it was a representation of a lesbian love affair, is clear to today’s readers. The mask of the sensitive, youthful protagonist is too thin to prevent Annemarie’s face from shining through.” The translation is by Lucy Renner Jones.
The second of the two books, All the Roads are Open (translated by Isabel Fargo Cole) relates Schwarzenbach’s remarkable car journey from Geneva to Kabul around the beginning of World War Two, in the company of compatriot Ella Maillart (who produced her own account in The Cruel Way). The website To the Edge of the World shows this and her other extraordinary trips, along with Schwarzenbach’s own photographs. Sadly the adventure also coincided with Schwarzenbach’s worsening depression and addictions of which she would never be entirely free until her death, on this day in 1942.