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We're excited to be joined on the blog by Azrin Fauzi and Ali Aiman Mazwin, to talk about their story and translation, 'Panorama People'/ 'Orang Panorama', which was featured in our 25 April, 2022 issue. This beautiful story about the mutability of art and perception really rewards deeper reading, so we hope you enjoy this discussion!

Born in Penang, Azrin Fauzi is the author of three short story collections, and his fourth (of which 'Panorama People' is part), is in progress. Ali Aiman Mazwin is a copywriter, editor, and translator, based in Kuala Lumpur. We're grateful to them both for joining us today!

Azrin Fauzi:

Azrin, can you tell us about how you got started writing fiction?

I don’t want to write. But I have to admit that it’s all thanks to Franz Kafka. The first time I read “The Metamorphosis” (and continue to reread it again and again in different versions of its English translations), my hand and head can no longer sit tight. Like any other young authors, I’m confused but I want to speak. And the world has to listen.

Currently I’m comfortable with the writings of Clarice Lispector, Jorge Luis Borges, and Julio Cortázar. I feel close to the world and atmosphere in their writings. I can breathe. I am alive again. Reading – apart from watching film and theatre, listening to music, and looking at artworks – usually will make me want to continue creating. And writing is one of the ways.

There are some fascinating links between fiction, art, and truth in "Panorama People”. Can you tell us more about this, and where the story came from?

If I could remember, I think the story did start in Penang, or more specifically when I attended a forum on art writing at George Town Literary Festival in 2018. T.K. Sabapathy, an art historian who was one of the panels at the forum said, “For me, it all began in Penang.” On the one hand, he was probably reminiscing about the time when he started teaching art history at Universiti Sains Malaysia back in the 1970s. On the other hand, as he often stressed, Malaysian modern art itself truly started in Penang, where Abdullah Ariff was one of the pioneers. But “Panorama People” is not so much about the past. It’s about the future. The story was written around the ideas of destruction, imitation and creation. To Destroy creation, to Create destruction. Imitating by destroying. Imitating to create.

Because ultimately, just like Borges said (more or less), “We’re all rewriting the same stories.” I realized this when reading Ovid’s Metamorphoses where all stories that we’re reading today have actually been written a long time ago by the Roman poet. “Panorama People” was probably inspired by one of my favorite films, Last Year at Marienbad (1961) directed by Alain Resnais. It was also inspired by one of my favorite novels, The Invention of Morel by Adolfo Bioy Casares. In The Invention of Morel, the machine invented can record or imitate all sorts of motions (even smells) of the tourists visiting the island before projecting them over and over again – in the name of love. There’s a kind of relationship or ‘ecosystem’ that was created, and not only speculative fiction, but all forms of art should offer possibilities and plausibility. Realized in the name of love.

“Panorama People” is a love letter to Malaysian visual arts. And a love letter to Penang, the island of my birth.

What would you recommend to readers looking to explore Malay speculative fiction further? Or are there any authors you'd like to see translated into English?

There are plenty to suggest, but I would like to mention Mautopia by Ridhwan Saidi. I like the ‘ecosystem’ in the world of the novel: the residents of Bukit Famosa who truly wanted to go to America; who fell in the Red Sea on their way there; and the fishermen of Yawa-Kotti who caught the rays from the Red Sea to bring them back as the staple food of the Bukit Famosa residents. A cycle of imagination surrounding a despicable, dystopian island which was also brilliant, funny and mesmerizing. While also speculating about the way of life, ritual and faith.

Can you tell us what you're working on at the moment?

I don’t want to write. But I’m currently working on my fourth short story collection (“Panorama People” is one of the short stories to be included). I wish that it could be an artist’s book. But what I wish for doesn’t usually come true. I realized that it is a work-in-progress. I realized that it should never be completed. Apart from the text, there are other aspects that form a book and influence the way we interact with it that I’m currently exploring; the materiality of its texture or smell for example, or writings with an expiry date, or… there’s not much that I can tell for now because it is still too early. Maybe you can first read my story collection Amok-Imago which has just been published recently.

Ali Aiman Mazwin:

Ali, what were some of the challenges in translating this story?

The length is definitely one of the challenges. This is probably the longest fiction writing that I’ve translated from Malay to English. I’m also more comfortable and experienced working the other way around in terms of language – I mostly translate writings from English to Malay. Being able to work on and complete this translation is a huge step forward in my personal attempt to translate more brilliant writings in Malay to English, thus introducing these works to more people around the world.

Another level of concern is to deliver Azrin’s unique voice across the two languages. Over the course of his writing career, he has developed a certain style of writing that is noticeably his own. I’m not sure if I have succeeded in reproducing his voice adequately in English, but being able to sit down and pore over the translation with him during the whole process was surely a great help.

One particular issue that I encountered and is typically faced by anyone translating between English and Malay is the pronouns. In English the pronouns are gendered, but in Malay they are genderless. When translating from English to Malay, this issue can be resolved by replacing the pronouns with the character’s name as a way to avoid ambiguity and confusion. On the contrary, a different problem is created when translating from Malay to English – some writers may purposely use pronouns in Malay to introduce or imply ambiguity in the writing, but gender pronouns in English may remove that intended ambiguity. There are times when the singular “they” can be used, but it is not always the right solution.

Can you tell us more about how you got started in translation, and what's the most rewarding part of this work?

The whole thing started with a Facebook post more than five years ago by Buku Fixi, a publisher of urban and contemporary fiction in Malaysia, inviting anyone who was interested in trying their hand at translating a young adult novel from English to Malay to email them. This resulted in my first ever published translation work.

Since then, on a freelance basis, I’ve translated another novel, a series of graphic novels, and some other shorter works here and there, all from English to Malay.

However, my first foray into Malay-English translation only started a couple of years ago in 2019, when a series of microfiction I translated was published. Panorama People is just my third published Malay-English translation, so I’m still quite new at this.

Until now, literary translation is still a side gig for me, but I aim to continue doing it whether to be published or as a creative exercise. The act of translation helps to reveal the text even more to the reader, including the hidden meanings and the unsaid insinuations. I’ve always thought of translation as one of the most intimate ways you could interact with a text. It’s a form of deep reading, an interrogation for the meaning. For me, that’s why translation is a rewarding activity.

What would you recommend to readers looking to explore Malay speculative fiction further? Or are there any authors you'd like to see translated into English?

Buku Fixi, a local publisher, is a good starting point to explore Malay speculative fiction. They publish a wide range of genres, but there are some interesting works of speculative fiction among their collections of novels and short story collections. Even Azrin’s first story collection, Urban, was published by them.

There are many names I’d like to introduce to the English-reading audience, but I would love to see these four contemporary authors getting translated first: Ridhwan Saidi, Wan Nor Azriq, Syafiq Ghazali and of course, Azrin Fauzi. Their writings are quite diverse, but there are elements of speculative fiction in some of their works.

Can you tell us what you're working on at the moment?

There is one translation project still in progress, which is the Malay translation of short stories by a late 19th century Brazilian author. Hopefully I can get it published. I’d also love to translate more Malay writings into English. Apart from that, I’m currently working on a different kind of “translation” project too as an amateur photographer. I guess, we can also consider photography as an act of “translating” the real 3D world into the imaginary 2D world, right?

Thank you both!

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