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Popular Luxembourg author brings work to English audience
Culture & Life

Popular Luxembourg author brings work to English audience

4 min. 06.01.2017 From our online archive
For the first time the works of one of Luxembourg's greatest writers, Guy Rewenig, will be available in English. Wort.lu/en spoke to the writer and translator to find out more.

For the first time the works of one of Luxembourg's most popular writers, Guy Rewenig, is available in English following the publication of "Your Heart of Ice is Hot as Vice".

This book of "miniatures" is from four works, which were first published between 2000 and 2002 by Editions Phi.

The new English compilation, translated by Sandra Schmit and published by Éditions Guy Binfeld, offers an eclectic mix of short stories, poems, aphorisms and ironic definitions.

Wort.lu/en spoke to the writer and translator to find out more.

Who is Guy Rewenig? A wild rascal or a tame kitten? (to quote one of your miniatures)

Guy: Without doubt, I am both. I can be tender like a lamb and ferocious like a wolf. It all depends on the situation and circumstances.

The genre of "miniatures" is not so well-known in the English-speaking world. When and how did you begin writing "miniatures"?

Guy: When I began publishing my work, half a century ago, the trend for miniatures coming from Germany and the east was very fashionable. My first collection of aphorisms "Hausbesetzung" (in German) dates from 1975.

This book includes four individual works. How do they compare and complement one another in your opinion?

Guy: Basically, it is a sequel, or series of short texts on many subjects. The four volumes differ in form: sometimes the emphasis is on poetic elements, sometimes miniatures in prose dominate. And then the series also includes a kind of dictionary, so an alphabetical list of satirical definitions.

The miniatures play with words as much as ideas. Given they were originally written in German, to what extent was it a challenge to work them into English? What was the process for doing this?

Sandra: I had translated a 19th century Luxembourgish poetry collection a few years back, so I knew what I was getting myself into. However, Guy Rewenig's work took the challenges to a whole new level. Every word, every turn of phrase is laden with so many different connotations. Not to speak of the double entendres, some of which I only noticed while I was working on the text.

The miniatures are a rich, pungent concoction of rhymes, aphorisms, mini short stories and word definitions dissecting trends in politics and society

The miniatures are a rich, pungent concoction of rhymes, aphorisms, mini short stories and word definitions dissecting trends in politics and society.

With each genre, I ran into new, unexpected difficulties. After a while, it becomes like a sport: how many layers of connotations do I manage to keep in my translation? In the end, some passages just proved too elusive.

If a short text is based on a word play or a concept that simply does not exist in English, you sometimes just have to declare defeat.  So, yes, translating Rewenig was challenging and brain-racking, but it was also a lot of fun.

The texts were written 15 years ago and in fact some of them can be directly linked to events around the world. What would you say makes them timeless?

Guy: First of all, I note that at the global level, nothing has changed fundamentally during the last 15 years. The same is true at national level. This means that most of my subjects are still relevant.

And then there are great timeless themes by definition : love, hate, death, war, hopes and illusions – everything that characterises “life”. But this is all given an ironic twist.

Your texts provide a refreshing view on culture at the end of a year in which dishonesty and deception is becoming the norm in politics, for example. To what extent has this year provided inspiration and material for new works?

Guy: I have just finished a text (essentially satirical) that reflects the tensions and upheavals of recent times. It is called "Comment blanchir les bêtes noires sans les faire rougir" (how to whiten black beasts without making them blush) and tells of the disappointments of an African asylum seeker who wants to become a genuine Luxembourger.

This book will be released in early 2017. There will also be a cabaret show of the same name at Neimënster Cultural Centre on February 5, 2017, as part of the “Festival humour pour la Paix”.

If you were to recommend a reader to read one text from your book, which would it be and why?

Guy: It is a difficult choice, but I would say: "Stonewalling, or: The Rules of Escalation" because this text describes the origin and the fatal evolution of the phenomenon of violence. It can be applied to many very current conflicts.

More about the author & translator

Guy Rewenig was born in 1947 in Luxembourg. He writes in three languages (Luxembourgish, German and French) and has published 85 books. His predilection for satire and parody is found across his work, be it in his plays, sketches, novels and poems other works.

Translator Sandra Schmit was born in 1972. She is author of two novels and works as a researcher at the Literary Archives in Mersch.

Meet the author & translator

Meet the author and translator at a book reading and signing event at Chapter 1 The Book Loft, 40 rue des Bruyères, L1274 Howald-Luxembourg on January 19 at 6:30pm.

Entrance is free but reservation is required. Click here to register