Book review: Trado

Two poets from different country backgrounds collaborate in a grandiose triple volume of poetry verging on prose and also taking on the essay form. Athena Farrokhzad was brought up in Sweden with her family from Iran. Her critically acclaimed debut Vitsvit (2014) was recently published in Norwegian. Co-poet Svetlana Carstean on the other hand comes from Romania. The poetic meeting makes for lyrical boundary crossing that has political relevance.

Trado continues an earlier collaboration between Farrokhzad and the Carstean. They met in 2012 in a translator´s workshop. Carstean did not know Swedish and Farrokhzad knew nothing of Romanian. All the same they proceeded to translate each other´s poetry into Swedish and Romanian.

In Trado the personal and emotional sphere takes the center stage. There are lots of biographical reflections on childhood and adolescence that give insights to their multi-cultural background. A lot of the subject matter involves questioning gender identity and a struggle for individuality versus the cultural bonds. Farrokhzad states that she is from a place where "we leave our mother´s house". Carstean describes war and military action as a means through which the state and fathers get girls to "forget their sex". Further a common theme is the act of writing and language as an expression of identity.

Farrokhzad reflects upon her being a stranger in her home country of Sweden, while all the same not knowing her mother´s language Persian. And counter-wise her own difference in another vein: "I said: Because my mother does not sing, her shadow sings. Because my mother did not fights, her shadow fights. Because my mother did not write, I write. ". Carstean similarly recalls how language was used to dominate and manipulate in her native socialist Romania.

Yet the format is not merely individualistic, for the two authors make portraits of, borrow words from and imitate each other. As when Farrokzhad writes «I said: Where I come from we run away from a place that never / belonged to us./ Svetlana said: Where I come from, we are nostalgic of a time / we have not seen."

There is a sentiment of love between the two authors, a forbidden love. In real life the poets found a liking to each other when they discovered that both experienced similarly. They write in Trado: " Although of two different countries, two different languages, we shared a common experience. The love between us occurred when we recognized the other as a sister in treason."
Love becomes something dangerous for both poets. It involves breaking free, treason towards old ties and surrender. Also it involves a strong and affectionate bond between lover and loved. And in Trado these are often the two authors. Carstean´s poems are more intimate, tender and passionate, while Farrokzhad´s poems often go into a more aphoristic or rhetorical style.

The format and subject matter is overall very interesting and original, especially in a Nordic context. However, on the negative side the length the work is somewhat long, verging on the repetitive here and there. The essay like portions in third volume seem a little out of place. They blur a focus that the poems could have conveyed very much on their own. Still all in all Trado stands out as a valuable document. It sheds light on passion and personal conflicts on the margins of crossing cultural boundaries.

-Jørgen Flatabø