Acrobat (Paperback)

Acrobat Cover Image
By Nabaneeta Dev Sen, Nandana Sen (Translated by)
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A deeply humane new collection by a luminary of Bengali literature

A radiant collection of poetry about womanhood, intimacy, and the body politic that together evokes the arc of an ordinary life. Nabaneeta Dev Sen's rhythmic lines explore the joys and agonies of first love, childbirth, and decay with a restless, tactile imagination, both picking apart and celebrating the rituals that make us human. When she warns, "know that blood can be easily drawn by lips," her words tune to the fierce and biting depths of language, to the "treachery that lingers on tongue tips." At once compassionate and unsparing, conversational and symphonic, these poems tell of a rope shivering beneath an acrobat's nimble feet or of a twisted, blood-soaked umbilical cord -- they pluck the invisible threads that bind us together.

About the Author

Nabaneeta Dev Sen was a renowned Bengali writer who published her first book of poems at the age of 18, and grew to be immensely popular through her fiction, literary criticism, travelogues, plays, political humour columns, and children's literature. She was also an acclaimed international scholar and feminist, and professor of comparative literature. Her many literary honors include the Padmashri, Sahitya Akademi Award, Bangla Academy Lifetime Achievement Award, and the Lifetime Achievement Award of the Publishers' and Booksellers' Guild. Dev Sen was a mentor to innumerable students and young writers, and she was the Founder and President of the Women Writers' Association, Soi. She died in November of 2019. About the translator: Nandana Dev Sen is a writer, actor and child-rights activist. She has authored six children's books and starred in 20 feature films. As an ambassador, Nandana has worked with RAHI, Operation Smile, UNICEF, and Apne Aap International, to fight against child abuse. Nandana has served on the jury of numerous child-protection committees, international film festivals, and literary awards, including the DSC Prize for Literature in 2019. After studying literature at Harvard and filmmaking at U.S.C., Nandana worked as a book editor, a screenwriter, and a translator.

Praise For…

It was through her creative writing that Dev Sen gave herself a sovereign presence in the Bengali literary sphere . . . She was not afraid of baring her pain in the early poetry she wrote, nor did she ever compromise on questions of freedom.—Dipesh Chakrabarty

"A new collection of Nabaneeta Dev Sen's work, some translated into English by the poet and some, with great felicity, by her daughter Nandana Dev Sen, is beautifully produced by Archipelago Books and covers a spectrum of the poet's gifts from the playful and tender that recall Tagore to the fierce and passionate in her later work, the final poems not so much shadowed by death as ignited by it." —Anita Desai, author of Clear Light of Day and Fasting, Feasting

“Poetry and music are both languages of the heart, so it is a special gift when a great poet of the world is finally well-translated. Here, the legendary Bengali poet, Nabaneeta Dev Sen, is re-birthed in English by her daughter, Nandana Dev Sen. I believe that Acrobat is a book that will rescue us and be loved around the world.”
Gloria Steinem

"These translations of Nabaneeta Dev Sen's poems capture her quirky yet profound voice so beautifully that I felt I could hear her reading them aloud.  These are the poems of an adventurous and indefatigable traveler, observing the world with deep understanding and sympathy, through the prism of a sensibility that is securely rooted in the culture of Bengal."
Amitav Ghosh

"These sparkling translations from Nabaneeta Dev Sen’s long, important body of work cycle through her (and our own) exigent concerns: time, identity, the familial. Dev Sen is famous for perfecting a remarkably clear syntax that incorporates sensual detail and repetition not as ornament but as the very ingredients of its riveting precision. And she always follows her own prescription: 'Stay awake in every line.'" —Forrest Gander

“One simultaneously hears the voices of mother and daughter in a duet of perfect harmony. The translations don’t read as translations; they read as poems, a new voice perfect in its own right, transcending the barrier of death.”
Wendy Doniger

“In Nabaneeta Dev Sen's poems, she walks a tightrope between a black cloud and a cloud that is blood-red. When the rope shivers, you, the reader, can feel it in the lines and hold your breath. Good translations of modern Indian poetry are hard to come by. This one by Nandana Dev Sen has to be one of the best.”
Arvind Krishna Mehrotra

“Nabaneeta Dev Sen's Acrobat is that rare, majestic creature: a book that, through every page, underscores the quiet high-wire act required from the poet. It is a feat whose complexity is only matched by its mastery in inhabiting the multiple selves of artist, daughter, lover, mother, translator, scholar and more. Here are poems that capture the pleasures and trials of the human experience - desire, decay, mortality, childbirth, bereavement, wonder - with unsparing detail and sensitivity, and celebrate the gift of language which helps us transcend them.”
Karthika Naïr

"A prolific, peerless writer who made worlds and words come alive."—Raja Sen

"There's an aching beauty within each one of these translations. There's assuredness balanced against vulnerability; there's dignity and compassion. Nabaneeta was an acrobatic writer, uniquely able to negotiate the tightropes of language, migration, separation, union and motherhood, one of the most brilliant writers that I ever knew." —Siddhartha Mukherjee, Pulitzer Prize winning author of The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer

"Deep, sparse and yet moving in poetry, Nabaneeta Dev Sen is gorgeous in her immaculate prose. Equally comfortable as a citizen of the world, as a woman exploring her own courtyard, Dev Sen's literary existence contains several apparently irreconcilable facets." —Anita Agnihotri

"It was through her creative writing that Dev Sen gave herself a sovereign presence in the Bengali literary sphere . . . She was not afraid of baring her pain in the early poetry she wrote, nor did she ever compromise on questions of freedom." —Dipesh Chakrabarty

"In prose, Dev Sen radiated warmth and joy, enlivened by her trademark self-deprecating humour and a robust sense of hope and compassion even in the direst of circumstances." —Somak Ghoshal, Livemint

"One of the doyens of Bengali Literature... I got to read whatever little I could of what was translated in English. But I hope more is translated. I hope more people read her. Quite a prolific writer."—Vivek Tejuja

"In everything Nabaneeta Dev Sen was, writer-teacher-feminist, etc, her luminous poetic legacy is this: she (and her words) embraced life with critical exhilaration, anticipated and experienced its short-changes, and came back to life again with one more pirouette after the lights dimmed."
Brinda Bose, Associate Professor, Jawaharlal Nehru University

"I knew Nabaneeta Dev Sen as a brilliant academic and a fierce advocate of women's writing. Now, thanks to Nandana's superb translations, I'm getting to know another Nabaneeta, whose insights into sadness, loss, and the inexorable march of time illuminate the world of the heart with blinding honesty and verbal grace. Above all, a Nabaneeta who is a very distinguished poet, up there with the best." —Martha C. Nussbaum, Ernst Freund Distinguished Service Professor of Law and Ethics at the University of Chicago

"Nabaneeta Dev Sen was one of the most beloved, versatile and prolific writers in Bengali literature. Equally expressive in poetry and prose, fiction and non-fiction."—Bookseller at McNally Jackson

"The translator has done a superb job retaining the flavor of the translated poems matching those that the author herself wrote and translated into English . . . Saturated with feelings of sadness, betrayal, haunting memories, and amorous grievances. . . . Nabaneeta’s poetry is a precious addition to international literature." —L. Ali Kahn, The New York Journal of Books

"To read Acrobat is to feel the poet’s clarity of compassion, the radiating warmth of her words unshakably ringing out “as an instrument for women’s freedom and unity.” Her poems are conversational and spontaneous . . . There is a plainness to the language presented in Acrobat, that supple modesty is often sincerely meaningful." —Jay G. Ying, Poetry Foundation's blog

"Both (Nabaneeta Dev Sen and Nandana Dev Sen's) voices come alive through every lively, loving, celebratory line. An ode to the things that make us human and bind us to one another."—Anna Claire Weber, the Center for the Art of Translation

"[In her poetry], words are not symbols, not individualised characters, but sentinels that represent hopes, dreams, fears, and inner instincts."—Uma Nair, Times of India

"An extraordinary talent, author, poet, and novelist."—Trisha De Niyogi, Bengaluru Review

"Her spontaneity, unique style of expression, vast and varied experience of life are evident in her poems, short stories, novels, features, and essays. Her wit and humor, sense of detachment together with heart-to-heart sensibility give her writings a personal touch that is hard to ignore." —Indian Library of Congress

"The reach of the poems is sometimes startling, even from page to page . . . Most of the poems have a tense abruptness, a compressed energy, that reads variously like angry, rueful, bitter traces of relationship, codas to episodes that aren’t described but may be inferred . . . [They] pivot on a taut self-questioning." —Mekong Review
Product Details
ISBN: 9781939810809
ISBN-10: 1939810809
Publisher: Archipelago
Publication Date: May 11th, 2021
Pages: 120
Language: English