It’s a tall order to reflect the vast and compelling work being done these days in world literature within a single portfolio on translation. Not least because translators are themselves unsung curators. Given the tiny fraction of books that manage to make their way into English each year, the “task of the translator” demands difficult choices long before that of the words on the page. Reading widely, they must distill the entire literary output of a language or region, both past and present, into those projects they’re moved to champion.
I feel so fortunate as a translator to be surrounded by talented colleagues, all of whom are passionate about the authors and poets they’ve chosen – though you’ll often hear a translator say it was the work that chose them. Such is the thrill of discovery in any curation. When asked to compile this feature, I loved being able to check in with fellow translators I’ve collaborated with in one or another corner of the world-lit universe, ask what they’re working on, and just know they would come back with something amazing. I trust their tastes implicitly. Here Elton Uliana offers an excerpt from Carla Bessa’s unsettling novel My Murilo, about the kidnapping of a trans sex worker in Rio de Janeiro; shot through with lyricism, Uliana’s translation captures a tender memory, slipping easily into the childlike voice of its enigmatic protagonist. Parisa Saranj delves into the meditative beauty of Fereshteh Sari’s poetry, crafting language that by turns dwells, sighs, and soars. And Larissa Kyzer deftly inhabits Steinunn G. Helgadóttir’s “A Radio Operator Goes Hunting”, a story brimming with personality and subtle humor; the sheer force of its narratorial voice is an initiation into the surprising yet delightful world of amateur radio.
If there’s one thread connecting these translations, it is breadth. Think of this compendium as merely a curation of a curation, a small but tantalizing window onto the world. I hope it will spark an impulse to read boundlessly.
Amanda Sarasien is a writer and translator working from French and Portuguese into English. A recipient of a 2022 National Endowment for the Arts Translation Fellowship, her work has appeared in The Common, The Literary Review, Chicago Review of Books, Electric Literature, and elsewhere. She is a founding member of the Third Coast Translators Collective (TCTC), and past co-chair of the PEN Translation Committee, and lives in Chicago.
by Carla Bessa, translated from Portuguese by Elton Uliana
Translator’s Note: Excerpted from the novel My Murilo, by Carla Bessa. My Murilo is the story of Sasha, a trans sex-worker in Rio who is abducted by a psychotic taxi driver and held captive in his cellar. In a disturbing and darkly poetic narrative, where the boundaries between dark and light, love and hate, male and female, masculine and feminine, are continuously dismantled, a series of troubling and violent events unfold, and as the man becomes increasingly controlling and coercive, questions of identity, sexuality and co-dependency emerge between the couple.
The man struggles in his sleep, speaks unintelligible things, sobs, he is sweating. For a moment he calms down, but then it all starts again, now he shakes his feet, panting, agitated. Kicks his legs. From the depths of that tormented dream, he hears a distant call, a voice approaching, and he feels a hand pressing on his shoulder. His own scream wakes him.
“You were dreaming.” Sasha is sitting next to him on the sofa, looking at him.
He needs a few seconds to get his bearings. He looks around, at his room, his furniture, his creature.
“I was having a nightmare.”
He notices that she is dressed in his clothes, a pair of trainers on her feet.
“You’re wearing my clothes…”
He doesn’t answer.
“Want me to make you some coffee?” she asks and starts to move towards the kitchen.
“Wait,” he says, and stares at her silently for a long time. “From now on I want you always like this, dressed up. I’ll sort some clothes out. Men’s. From now on you will be a man again.”
She just shakes her head and mumbles an apathetic consent. She had learned a long time ago to protect herself with indifference. She doesn’t know how she feels, she doesn’t even know if she feels anything at all. In any case, unkempt and with short hair, she already looks like a man.
Besides, any clothing would be a kind of protection, a defence. She runs her hand over her face.
“Well, since I’m going to be a man, can I grow my beard?”
The man hesitates, he wasn’t expecting such a question, but he gives in.
“Yes. And the hair too, but keep it short. Beard and hair very short. And blonde. I want you to be blonde, like me.”
She smiles, relieved. The beard would be a shield. Growing the hair would help to soothe her irritated scalp.
“What about a name? Can I have a name?”
“You choose one.”
“Murilo”, she says without hesitation, standing up to go to the kitchen.
In the kitchen she sees he had forgotten to lock the cupboards where he keeps the knives and sharp instruments. He is getting careless, which is to say, trusting. She could kill him now. She could kill herself. Could she? She takes a knife, and runs her fingers across the sharp blade, almost cuts herself. Suddenly she remembers that he could be watching her from the other room. A cold panic takes over her body. Fear of what? She pauses, taking a deep breath. A terrible fear of having to go back to the cellar, of being beaten, that he might kill her and then himself, as he had threatened countless times so she wouldn’t do anything stupid. Unlike him, she still fears death. She doesn’t want to die. It wouldn’t be fair to have lasted so long, endured so much pain, humiliation, hunger and cold, just to give up now. She wants to live, even if out of sheer stubbornness. That’s what it is. Wanting to live was an act of defiance.
And patience … She would wait. The day would come when she would have the courage to cross the threshold, the gate, the street. And walk away. For the time being, she had to entangle him, intoxicate him, make him more and more dependent on her. To be honest, he is already entirely in her hands, but he is also suicidal, and because he sees her as part of himself, he wouldn’t think twice of taking her with him.
She puts the knife back in the drawer and makes the coffee.
“Murilo, don’t mess around with knives! Haven’t I told you many times, young man?!”, his mother yelled from the kitchen door. He’d always liked to play that game: his left hand flat on the table and, with a knife in his right hand, stab the spaces between his fingers with increasing speed. It gave him that piercing thrill that he might make a mistake and cut his hand. But he used to say: the fingers are mine, the fear is mine, it’s my problem. His mother would always disagree, she would tap him on the head and take the knife away, never really telling him off. She was very sweet. And so, off he would go to the backyard to play with fire.
“Can’t live without danger, the little monkey!”
The suburban house was simple, but not the poorest. It had a reddish concrete floor that was always perfectly waxed, and the corners were crammed with plastic and paper flowers. His mother made them herself in a craft circle at church. She was good with her hands, she also made sweets to sell and had many customers. His father worked as a security guard at the local doll factory, a big mass of muscles. He only took Murilo to his work once, the boy was over the moon. He was only little. He grabbed a doll and stuffed it into his pocket, got caught and was beaten on the way home. He never did quite understand the reason for that punishment, but come to think of it, no reason was needed. His father had frequent outbursts. Sometimes, he would hit Murilo with a belt for nothing, because of the boy’s clumsiness or some inappropriate mannerism. His father said that he was a “good for nothing.” Murilo gave up trying to understand. He took it in silence, didn’t cry, didn’t complain. He never spoke of dolls again, but from that day on, he started playing with knives and fire.
He was a sensitive, gangly boy, with poor health. He had knock knees. When he walked a lot, he got purple marks on the inside of his legs where his knees touched. But they were just a few more bruises next to the others he wore on his body as if they were tattoos. In time, he felt almost proud of them. They were the record of his resilience. His stubbornness had started there. The same stubbornness that now made him insist on wanting to live.
He never gave up on the dolls. He had a little girlfriend from school who took him home after class. Her parents worked, and the two of them could play without being bothered. He ended up falling in love with the girl, and this was the first confusion in his head, because he felt he was exactly like her and at the same time he desired her. He didn’t understand and blamed himself.
Sometimes he would take home a Barbie hidden in his schoolbag, and he spent hours in his room combing her hair and changing her clothes. His mother pretended not to see. When his father came home, the doll would go under the pillow, and wouldn’t come out until the next morning, dishevelled.
One day, his mother held him by the arm as he was going out to the backyard.
“Sit down. I want to have a word with you.”
“It’s about your father. You know, he’s not a bad person. But he has a problem inside his head. It’s like a stranger is hiding in there deep down and it’s quiet most of the time, but sometimes it comes out and takes over. It is as if two souls shared the same body, do you understand? When one decides to appear, the other one loses control, and your father derails like a train. There’s nothing we can do, it’s fate. We must have patience. And faith. And you’ve got to be clever, get out of his way when you notice that stranger in his body. Leave, run, disappear. That’s all. Now you can go.”
Murilo never forgot that conversation, not least because his mother was a woman of few words. They understood each other through long and eloquent silences. He never forgot that story of the stranger living inside his father and, for the first time, he recognized in himself something of his father, that person he hardly knew, whose body, just like his, housed two souls.
Elton Uliana is the co-editor of the Brazilian Translation Club at University College London. His work has been published in Daughters of Latin America (HarperCollins, 2023), Asymptote, Oxford Anthology of Translation, Latin America Literature Today, and others. Carla Bessa is the author of three collections of short stories and a novella. In 2020 she won the Jabuti Prize in Brazil for her book Urubus [Vultures]. Her work has been translated into English, Greek, and German.
A Radio Operator Goes Hunting: Transmitting Multicoupler
by Steinunn G. Helgadóttir, translated from Icelandic by Larissa Kyzer
I am a radio amateur. Right after my high school graduation, I enrolled in the National Telephone Company’s Radio Broadcasting School. I graduated in 1968 and the same year, I got my license.
Radiograms and amateur radio were—and are—my main passions, and so I was lucky to get a place on a cargo ship, the MS Fossar, after graduation. It was a fine time: good wages, decent food, and great camaraderie. I didn’t realize it then, but that was the sociable chapter of my life. The boys on board were a laugh, always getting into scrapes, and sometimes, I went into town with them in the evenings. And though this might not seem to be a tale worth telling, it was, as it happens, during this period of time that I fell into a split-second love affair with a girl from Suðurnes and I still dream of her to this day.
It goes without saying that this woman has long since forgotten me, but a memory like this is important to a man like myself. It was a Saturday night. I remember the day precisely because that morning, the news came out that Pioneer 11 had done a flyby of Saturn and discovered a new ring.
If I close my eyes, I can still picture the smoke-filled discotheque on Austurvöllur Square. The joint was jumpingand we boys were sitting like usual, butts doubled-up around one of the low, circular tables, stomping our feet in time with the heavy bass and enjoying some nonchalant people-watching. As a rule, we weren’t big on dancing, my friends and I—for my part, I’ve never danced a step in my life. Anyhow, most everyone was already ambling off when it came time for the last dance, stretching as if awaking from hibernation and resolutely disappearing into the blinking disco lights.
I sat alone at the table and knocked back my glass. The noise was terrible, and I was about to give up and go back to the ship when a beautiful, dark-haired girl in a violet dress sat down next to me and asked if I felt like a hot dog. That was unexpected, but I was hungry and it seemed like a decent idea.
It was not without excitement that I followed the girl along the rain-soaked streets of downtown to the old corner store in Þingholt that she said she owned. She’d set up a cozy, little cubby for herself at the back of the store. As the girl loosened her hair from her ponytail, she put some saxophone music on the hi-fi and heated up some hot dogs that then she skillfully arranged in pillowy buns. I’d barely finished swallowing the last dark-pink bite when the woman began taking off my clothes. Said they were wet, which in and of itself, was true. Then she took off her dress—this total stranger. After that, I don’t remember much, truth be told, other than that the darkness in the shop swirled with black hair, white flesh, and my own body, which obeyed previously unknown laws that night. There was something in the air impelling the rapid and chaotic course of events and for the first and only time in my life, I enjoyed touching another human being.
Eventually, we slept in an all-too-soft bed and around dawn, I woke from a nightmare dripping with sweat. It seemed like I was missing one of my arms, which was no wonder, since I’d been laying on it and it was numb. And pressed up close against me, much, much too close, was skin—unfamiliar, damp, and hot. A dreadfully unpleasant feeling washed over me and silently, with shaking hands, I hurried into my still-wet clothes and crept out.
But although I felt pretty terrible that morning, the memory of that event has softened with time and I tend to thinkthat she made me a more interesting man. A man with a story.
A few years later, I gave up sailing. It wasn’t a big deal for me because even though no one ever bothered me onboard,I was by then finding it hard to deal with people and noise and found myself withdrawing more and more.
Ever since I injured my back in a work accident, I’ve also been on disability, which isn’t bad at all, because now I can focus on my main interest: amateur radio.
When I was discharged from the rehabilitation center, I saw a sales listing for a brown house out east—one of the cottages the government manufactured to rehome those whose houses had been buried in the Eldfell eruption on Heimaey in 1973—and it’s here, within these thick, effortlessly interlocking Swedish logs, that is my refuge. There’s nothing outside the kitchen window but the sea and beyond that, there’s nothing but the South Pole. The only person I’ve met here in the village is Elías across the way who’s lived his whole life in the square, cracked-concrete houseon the other side of the street, and he does not abuse my circumscribed hospitality.
I feel like I’ve arranged my life advantageously, in that I’m mercifully free of people imposing on me, although I’m in constant contact with my friends all over the world. The radio is my way of taking part in a vibrant social lifewithout the fuss and discomfort that go along with physical closeness. Dressed in an old, discolored tracksuit, I pull the folding curtains closed in the evenings and turn on my Luxo lamp. I make myself comfortable on the faux leather sofa from the charity shop and chat with interesting people on distant continents and scratch myself when and where I want, keeping the French fries within reach and a two-liter bottle of Coke at a safe distance from the equipment. Our topics of conversation are varied. We often talk about the equipment itself, exchange advice, complain or brag about ourselves, and sometimes we discuss global issues that we all approach from different angles. It’s like we’re listening to a giant orchestra, but still hearing each individual instrument.
For a while, I also had a lady friend, a radio amateur in Idaho. She could be funny, was incredibly knowledgeable about the ionosphere, and assembled her own OptiBeam without any help. Sometimes, we got a bit romantic. Then we called to each other over the high seas, let the moon relay our greetings, and howled into the heavens through our antennae. When she started to talk about visiting, I quit talking to her—I figured it wasn’t worth the hassle.
But I keep skipping stones across the heavens with my friends. As long as the antennae swivel day and night on their foundations, we’ll go looking for satellitesque spacemailand cast our greetings forth over the horizon. My situation is now as good as I could hope for, and I don’t need to thank anyone for that except myself, because I’ve done nearly everything by myself—with the exception of a little volunteer labor on the part of Elías and his digger.
My newest treasure is a finely-crafted Stepp antenna, which I installed to the east of the house and can see from the bed if I don’t close the curtains. There is a quiet dignity about my antennae when they are silhouetted against the heavens in the twilight, and their noble poles break up the featureless landscape in this sleepy village and lead thoughts and eyes upwards, which is by no means a bad thing. People here are rather conservative and naturally, they aren’t all pleased with the antennae. Elías across the way, on the other hand, has never complained.
I enjoy considerable respect among my comrades in the amateur radio network and therefore it matters to me who I get involved with. My time is valuable and I only spend it with interesting—though not necessarily good—people. For example, I have a warm relationship with a writer in South America who has sat in prison for half of his life, a drunken movie director in Australia who is frequently mentioned in connection with pornographic films, and a Nigerian warlord with hazy morals and a chilling photo album that he brags about when he’s in high spirits. And actually, I sometimes spent evenings with Hussein of Jordan in the 80s, although I’ve not gone shouting that around. All of this expands my perspective and increases my insight into the lives of others, which is definitely of particular importance for me, since I sometimes amuse myself by writing stories.
The writing started late one night some years ago, when I was talking to my Cuban friend, Tumbling Dice, for the last time. He was a fairly well-known artist who’d lived an exciting life, despite almost never having two pennies to rub together. That night, he confided that he had cancer, that he was being moved to a hospital in the morning to die and would not return to the radio.
After our conversation, I was filled with something like restlessness, and I opened the curtains to see the stars because it was a cloudless night. The boundless vault of heaven stretched before me, showing me my smallness—how fragile life is, how relative time. After however many millions of years, would the Milky Way and Andromeda converge? Whether mankind would still exist was an open question, we who’ve been here for forty thousand generations. It was written in the swirling stars that I would die and I wouldn’t leave anything behind: no descendants, no art, no newly-discovered lands, no discoveries of any kind. I would be forgotten.
It was an uncomfortable moment. I hurried to close the curtains, ran from the window and when I stubbed my toe on the couchin my agitation, my eyes fell on a book that Elías had left at my house a month before: True Stories from the Afterlife.
I stared at the book and slowly but surely, the sign became obvious. I was supposed to leave behind stories. Four years later, the manuscript for my first book was ready. Finally, I had created something that would last.
The story was about a man who found out that he had eleven half-siblings all over the country. He decided to find them all and for that reason, he made his way around the Ring Road, zip code by zip code. The book is 700 pages long and I’d started to think that it would become a trilogy. But there wasn’t just the writing to deal with—the research for such a project is endless. I often sat at the computer long into the night and what I don’t know about Icelandic geography and paternity disputes isn’t worth knowing. Anyway, all of this finally reached an end and it was a solemn occasion when my new printer produced the final draft of the manuscript in my living room at home.
The next day, I saw the very same book being promoted by a large publishing house in Reykjavík. Even the title was the same. It was the first book by the author, who was a very young man.
The shock was dreadful and I was sure that the guy had somehow gotten a hold of my manuscript.
Half-crazed with paranoia, I spied on the author, I went to Reykjavík and ambushed him in front of the apartment building where he lived. I phoned him at all hours of the night and accused him of plagiarism. It even occurred to me to murder him and come to think of it, it is actually odd that the sonofabitch didn’t call the cops—that’s obviously suspicious in and of itself. I also searched like crazy for a bugging device in my house because one can never be sure with these computers and sometimes I’d read aloud to myself from my manuscript.
But it all came to nothing. I never found an explanation.
Three years passed before I felt up to beginning to write again. This time, I wrote on a typewriter, never read aloud from the book—which was actually just a short novella—and didn’t discuss it with a soul.
It’s the love story of a boy and girl who meet at a summer camp for teens with obesity problems. As so often happens where young people are concerned, the fairy tale doesn’t end well: he has trouble committing to the relationship and she develops an eating disorder.
The book was published right as I was finishing the manuscript, and this time, the author was a young woman.
Two years later, I was beginning to want to write again. I had a vague idea, but owing to bitter experience, I didn’t dare start. I couldn’t even bear to work the idea out in my mind. I suspected that I might be cracking up and after a while I decided to pop over to visit Elías across the way.
I don’t know how it happened, but he’s probably the only person who I can stand having near me. Maybe it’s because his presence is like the coffee that he brews—somewhat transparent. I don’t think that Elías socializes with a lot of people, although he’s sometimes in the company of seers and the departed, but it’s common knowledge that he knows quite a lot about these sorts of things and I had to discuss these strange events with someone.
When I came out onto my front steps that bright winter day, a jet plane flew over. Its wooly tail scissored apart the Texas Tower antenna tower that I ordered the year before last and the top part of it seemed to float away. As I looked after it, spellbound, I was almost tripped up by a broken Shakespeare antenna pole that was lying on the ground, tangled in old barbed wire like a bird in a net. After carefully freeing this old friend of mine from captivity, I carried the cold metal inside and put it on the living room floor. Then I checked the status of the other antennae before I continued on to see Elías across the way, tip-toeing across the icy street in my tennis shoes. I let myself into the sweltering hall of the old modernist house where I wriggled out of my insulated coveralls and left them on the floor.
Elías met me in the kitchen, offered me a seat at the yellow pine table and we slurped coffee a bit affectedly from the china tea cups with seagulls on them that had belonged to his mother. Quiet voices were quietly conversing in posh English accents on the television in the living room, where thick, moss-green curtains had been drawn. A flickering blueish light followed the disembodied voices out into the hallway. In the kitchen, the faint aroma of smoked sausages blended with the smell of citrus dish soap, which reminded me that I’d forgotten to eat.
The winter sun cast an artificial spring twinkle on Elías’s digger where it dozed with its lemon-yellow shovel sprawled in the parking spot in front of the kitchen window. He takes good care of the digger and only lets it work four hours a day, because he intends for it to last another five years, or until he turns seventy and stops working himself.
The village was visible on the other side of the garage, but there was no one out and for the first time since I moved here, I wondered why there was never a soul to be seen walking on the main street.
I picked at a dry grocery-store pastry that Elías set out on a blue floral plate and listened to him drumming lightly on the tabletop with his long, spotted fingers— tammmtatammtammmtatamm—as he looked absent-mindedly at the topmost kitchen cupboard on the right. I couldn’t make out anything unusual there myself, but sometimes it’s as if a switch hasn’t been flipped in Elías, or rather, like he’s on auto-pilot. He’d put some kind of slop in his thin, flat hair; I stared, hypnotized by a rubbery drop as it slowly oozed onto the collar of the squeaky-clean work shirt that seemed to have shrunk in the wash and it dawned on me that Elías was my only friend. Or at any rate, no one else occurred to me as we sat at his kitchen table—it’s been so long since I’ve physically spent time with another human being.
When I confided to him that I was playing at being a novelist and had written two unpublished novels, he looked down awkwardly at his holey wool socks.
That’s something else, he said finally, a bit tentatively, and squirmed in his seat while nodding so vigorously that the smell of Brilliantine gushed into the air.
I suspected that Elías was afraid that I planned to ask him to read my compositions, so I hurried to continue.
This thing with the writing is important to me. I mean, men like us don’t leave much behind, we don’t know many people and don’t have any descendants…Although it’s naturally different for you, who’re always in touch with people in the Paranormal Society and even the others…the departed, I hurried to add, when I sensed that Elías wasn’t entirely pleased with this description.
I told him how my stories had been inexplicably stolen from me and then the light flipped on in Elías’s eyes. He got really interested—pricked up his blood-shot ears and stopped drumming his fingers.
I’d gotten a bit heart-sick talking about it, so I fell silent and stroked my fingertips over the tabletop—feeling the veins in the wood without looking down—and stuck the rest of the pastry in my mouth. I wanted to ask for milk but I didn’t feel comfortable and anyway, it would probably be past its expiration date.
Elías sat silently for a good while, knitting his brows and staring thoughtfully out in front of him, but then he got a bottle of Jenever from the cupboard under the sink and two beautifully decorated shot glasses from out of the blueness of the living room. I was a bit startled—I’d never known him to have alcohol on hand before. Probably inherited from his mother, I thought. The glasses, not the bottle.
You’re obviously the victim of telepathy, Elías said gravely and gave me a faint sideways glance with his liquid blue eyes as he filled the glasses. Maybe it has something to do with the antennae and the shortwave equipment that you’re always surrounded by, I don’t know, but I see no other explanation for it. He sighed. At best, I could believe that you’d developed an allergy to some frequency, that you were sending your stories out involuntarily. He closed his mouth and when his teeth clacked together it occurred to me that he might have dentures.
We both fell silent for a moment.
Are you talking about thought transference? I asked quietly, although I knew exactly what he meant.
Yes, what else? He shrugged. It’s the only sensible explanation. It’s perfectly normal and it’s always happening, even though people don’t want to face facts and scientists deliberately deceive the public about it. Hmm…They can research the brain, brood over it and dissect it, but they never find the mind, my friend. They never find the mind…This shouldn’t come as any surprise to you. Always with the radar overhead. He gave me a reproachful look.
It irritated me that he spoke loudly and distinctly, as if I were simple or had started to lose my hearing, and I silently shook my head, but Elías continued, undaunted.
Let me explain how thought transference works. It’s dreadfully easy if you think about it.We can take Spassky and Fischer’s chess dual as an example. It’s practically unthinkable that the thoughts of the viewers at Laugardalshöll arena didn’t have a significant influence on how they played. I mean, the Russian didn’t have a hope. Icelanders were always warmer towards the Yank. He was somehow more colorful and you probably remember how electric the mood was in there…
Elías had started to drum his fingertips on the table again but now the rhythm was faster. Tammtammtammtammtammtammtamm. Look, telepathy naturally increases the more people gather. It’s self-evident. That’s to say it’s multiplied. A set formula. And when so many people focus on something as one, a totally massive thought transference occurs. But it’s clearly different for you. You’re just by yourself and so there’s only one conceivable explanation: you bleed stories. Elías shook his head woefully.
I’d developed a nervous twitch in one eyelid and an ache in my temples and I had to go home. Immediately.
Elías was a little hurt when I said goodbye so quickly, but he took it in stride.
When I got home, I couldn’t stop thinking about telepathy and Elías’s explanation of the phenomenon. For some reason, I’ve never been able to concentrate when he talks about this supernatural stuff and up until now, I’d managed to avoid going with him to a séance. But perhaps there was something in it? I certainly know more about waves and radio than most people, but I understand nothing about telepathy.
I needed information and I sought it where I usually do: on the Internet. At the same time, I tried to recall what I’ve learned about wavebands. Where most waves are concerned, there has to besome kind of matter between the transmitter and the receiver in order for the wave to travel from one place to another. For example, the air transmits sound waves from those who are speaking to those who are listening, since no sound can be transmitted in a vacuum. But this is not absolute. No matter is needed to transmit electromagnetic waves between places. We get light and energy from the sun in spite of the void in space between us and it. Everyone knows that. Electromagnetic waves can be transmitted through space in a void—the obvious example being radio waves. Nature is a dissembler.
I turned the day upside down, woke at night, talked to people in other time zones, and subsisted primarily on coffee and biscuits. At dawn, I lay down and caught a few fitful winks until around noon, when I sat back down at my equipment. It didn’t occur to me to leave the house and I wasted no time on cooking nor cleaning. Telepathy had a powerful grip on me. I examined the issue from various angles. All my life, I’ve been a pragmatist, but now I tried to open my mind to something that was difficult to explain.
Was it honestly possible that thoughts could be transmitted between people by some means? The questions piled up. Are thoughts something in the family of the microwave-murmurs that are constantly droning at us from space without us realizing it?
How does string theory go again?
Can it be that our thoughts and ideas just ripple around us like that?
And what is their essence?
What becomes of them when we die? Will they hover between us for all time?
Are we talking about different dimensions?
Does this have something to do with the God Particle?
Do thoughts wear out from overuse?
My friends the radio amateurs didn’t let me down any more than they had before, and quickly brought me clues from various corners of the world. A man who calls himself Bluebirdsix in Arizona confided that he was suffocating in the thoughts of other people, which were constantly flooding into him. He had trouble disentangling them and working them through. I received more messages in this vein, but didn’t feel like specifically looking into them.
Then an acquaintance of mine in Nebraska told me about a scientist at Berkeley who’s done remarkable experiments with the psyche. By closely observing the flow of blood in specific places in experimental subjects’ brains when they looked at 120 photos, a computer was able to predict their reactions to each picture with as much as 92% accuracy. 92%!!? The odds of this being a coincidence are .8%. Are we so predictable? I also found an interesting article that said that Russians have invented mindreading technology that they used in the war in Afghanistan and Americans were simultaneously using this same technology during their War on Terror. The article didn’t reveal how this worked, though. It’s probably a military secret.
Next I looked at what methods are used when such phenomena are investigated within parapsychology, and found an experiment on clairvoyance that was overseen by Dr. Joseph Browne Rower and Ronald Wyatt at Duke. The colleagues blindfolded themselves and led each other through complicated passageways using thought transference.
In another experiment, Rower created a deck of cards with various symbols. Two men sat on either side of a screen with a deck of shuffled playing cards. One chose a card and looked at it, and at the same time, the other had to guess what card it was and write down his conjecture—which frequently turned out to be correct.
I started to suspect that maybe the nature of my stories was such that silence could not conceal them.
A week later, I began to put up formwork molds in the northeastern corner of the property. When I was digging for the foundation, I saw that the soil that came up in the shovel was fertile, dark, and fragrant. I thought that boded well and I promised myself to plant potatoes somewhere on the property when I’d completed my mission. I worked night and day and quickly erected a fifteen-square-meter, windowless concrete hut that I lined with copper sheeting, until I had made myself a so-called Faraday cage for protection against incoming waves. According to my sources, both the Vatican and American embassies have had good experiences with this method.
In the middle of the house, there’s a concrete helmet hanging down from the ceiling. Out of it hang copper wires that touch the floor for grounding. My ideas will end in the earth before anyone else can dip into them. In the house, there’s also a little washroom, but no electricity. Electric wiring can leak waves and carry all kinds of currents with them, so I bought myself a used gas stovetop and gas refrigerator. In the innermost corner, there’s a mattress and a sleeping bag and with butterflies in my stomach, I finally arranged a desk with a typewriter and a chair on wheels under the helmet in the middle of the floor. A radio wave suit hangs at the ready and calls to mind a beekeeper’s attire.
Everything is prepared. I have seen to it that my ideas will not leak out of this house. But that’s not all: the tables have turned and I’m on the offensive. A Transmitting Multicoupler with an isolator and an over-ear headphone and microphone set await me in a small, exposed annex that’s connected to the concrete house. A cable runs from the antennae and in to me, where I’ve set up an easy chair and writing desk because the world is full of unused stories and I’ve a mind to go hunting.
This is the day that I’ve waited for. The weather gods are doing their part and flocks of migratory birds hover with sea gulls and ravens around the shiny black discs that turn in four directions. The new antenna tower stands in front of me, aglow with innumerable colors in the sun, some of which I’ve never seen before. A bumblebee clumsily flies around before plonking itself down on the sunbaked concrete. Elías stands in the driveway and sends me a nervous grin that he hopes is an encouraging smile. Only he knows where I’m going and maybe in retrospect, he can see his role in this journey. But there’s no going back now.
I’m done sending my comrades, the radio amateurs, my last QSO and Elías walks in my direction. He’s dressed in an old-fashioned suit that smells of mothballs and a garishly-colored tie in honor of the occasion. It is clear that he’s uncomfortable and I can’t do anything about that, but I’m rather pleased that he’s concerned about me.
Are you sure it’s a good idea to be in there for the whole summer? he asks guardedly, dithering amongst the mayweed as he jangles the unseen digger keys deep in his pants pocket. I mean, you definitely have Vitamin-D tablets and suchlike? I seem to remember that adult men need around 500 milligrams a day. He snuffles. Do you know how to do yoga? I could show you a few poses pretty quickly…He falls silent uncertainly and shakes his head. I just don’t understand why you don’t want to have a phone in there with you.
And then I do something that I’ve never done before. I put my arms around Elías and embrace him quickly before I walk to the door of my new, windowless concrete house and wave and smile like Buzz Aldrin in the photo that was in the paper, that one that was taken when he took off his helmet, said goodbye, and went to heaven.
There is silence in the house.
Larissa Kyzer is a writer and Icelandic-to-English literary translator, most recently of The Mark by Fríða Ísberg. Larissa was awarded the American Scandinavian Foundation’s 2019 translation prize and has received grant support from the Fulbright Commission, the Icelandic Ministry of Education and Culture, the Icelandic Literature Center, and Finland’s Kone Foundation. She is a former co-chair of PEN America’s Translation Committee and runs the virtual Women+ in Translation reading series Jill! Writer and visual artist. Steinnun G. Helgadóttir received The Jón úr Vör Poetry Prize in 2011 and The Icelandic Women’s Literature Prize 2016 for her novel Voices From the Radio Operator’s House.
By Fereshteh Sari, translated from Persian by Parisa Saranj
Blanket of Dreams
The Lost Direction
The Lost Alley
Parisa Saranj is an Iranian-American writer, translator, and editor at Consequence Forum, a literary magazine focusing on the human cost of war and geopolitical violence. Her writings on contemporary Iranian politics and translations from Persian have been published in several publications, including Defunct, True, Ms. Magazine, Two Lines, and Your Impossible Voice. She has also translated two documentaries, Nasrin (2020) and Sansur (2023) on women’s rights in Iran. Fereshteh Sari is a poet, writer, translator and member of the Iranian Writers’ Association. She won the 2004 Parvin Etesami Poetry Award, presented each year by Iran’s Institute of Culture, Art and Architecture.