NEA Literature Fellowships

Jennifer Croft

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(2015 - Translation)

Excerpt from Runners by Olga Tokarczuk

[translated from the Polish]

There are countries out there where people speak English. But not like us—we have our own languages hidden in our carry-on luggage, in our cosmetics bags, only ever using English when we travel, and then only in foreign countries, to foreign people. It’s hard to imagine, but English is their real language! Oftentimes their only language. They don’t have anything to fall back on or to turn to in moments of doubt.

How lost they must feel in the world, where all instructions, all the lyrics of all the stupidest possible songs, all the menus, all the excruciating pamphlets and brochures—even the elevator buttons!—are in their private language. They may be understood by anyone at any moment, whenever they open their mouths. They must have to write things down in special codes. Wherever they are, people have unlimited access to them—they are accessible to everyone and everything! I heard there are plans in the works to get them some little language of their own, one of those dead ones no one else is using anyway, just so that for once they can have something just for themselves.

Original in Polish

Jennifer Croft is a writer, translator, and critic based in Buenos Aires, Argentina. She has published in The New York Times, BOMB, The New Republic, n+1, Words Without Borders, World Literature Today, Asymptote, The Iowa Review, The Chicago Review, Quarterly Conversation, and elsewhere. She holds a Ph.D. in Comparative Literary Studies from Northwestern University and an MFA in Literary Translation from the University of Iowa. She is a Founding Editor of The Buenos Aires Review.

Photo by André Munro

Translator's Statement

Many consider Olga Tokarczuk, author of eleven popular and critically acclaimed works of fiction and non-fiction, to be the most important Polish writer of her generation. Runners, which was awarded Poland’s biggest literary prize (the Nike) in 2008, broaches the subject of humanity’s current mobility—wholly unprecedented in our history—with sensitivity and insight and as no other work of literature or philosophy has done. Runners perfectly intertwines travel narratives and reflections on travel with observations on the body and on life and death, guiding the reader beyond the surface layer of modernity and deeper and deeper into the very core of existence.