Shelf Life

In translation

Nearly 40,000 penguins needed to be saved after a tanker spilled 1,300 tons of oil off the coast of South Africa in 2000. Nearly 40,000 penguins needed to be saved after a tanker spilled 1,300 tons of oil off the coast of South Africa in 2000.
By Jan Gardner
Globe Correspondent / January 9, 2011

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Notwithstanding the runaway success of Stieg Larsson’s “Girl’’ trilogy, literature translated into English is but a swirl in the sea of poetry and fiction written in other languages. Among the handful of American publishers devoted to books in translation is Zephyr Press in Brookline, which specializes in works from Russia, Eastern Europe, and China.

Its newest book is “Snow Plain,’’ a collection of stories by Chinese writer Duo Duo, who recently won the Neustadt International Prize for Literature. Past winners of the prize include Gabriel García Márquez and Octavio Paz. The settings of Duo’s stories — England, the United States, Canada, and his hometown of Beijing — reflect his peripatetic existence during 15 years in exile, and his storytelling asserts, as translator John A. Crespi writes, that “we ought never be completely sure where the here and the now really are.’’

Readings provide additional opportunities to become acquainted with the work of writers from other nations. On Thursday, Ilan Stavans, editor of the “Norton Anthology of Hispanic Literature,’’ will present Carlos Yushimito, a Peruvian-born writer of Japanese descent, at 7 p.m. at Porter Square Books in Cambridge. Yushimito, a graduate student at Brown University, was among the 22 Spanish-language writers under age 35 heralded in the winter issue of Granta as rising literary stars.

A week later, on Jan. 20, translators of Russian writers Daniil Kharms and Elena Fanailova and Srecko Kosovel of Slovenia will join together at 7 p.m. at Brookline Booksmith. The translators, all affiliated with Ugly Duckling Presse in Brooklyn, will read prose and poems and talk about the art of their craft.

Saving penguins
North Shore resident Dyan deNapoli was working at the New England Aquarium in Boston when she answered a call for help in June 2000. A tanker off the coast of South Africa had spilled 1,300 tons of oil into the Atlantic Ocean. Thousands of volunteers were needed to de-oil 40,000 penguins and nurse them back to health.

DeNapoli joined what is still the world’s largest animal rescue, a story she tells in “The Great Penguin Rescue’’ (Free Press). Upon walking into an enormous warehouse filled with penguins, she was overwhelmed by the stench and the silence. Penguins are normally gregarious but these creatures were completely traumatized.

The rehabilitation was a big success and the first penguins were returned to the wild after three months of treatment. Yet the broader outlook for penguins is grim. Overfishing and temperature increases associated with global warming are threatening their food supply. Fourteen of the world’s 18 species of penguins are threatened or endangered.

DeNapoli, who travels globally to teach audiences about penguins, is donating a portion of the proceeds from book sales to penguin rescue groups.

Coming out
■ “The Truth About Grief: The Myth of Its Five Stages and the New Science of Loss’’ by Ruth Davis Konigsberg (Simon & Schuster)

■ “The Inner Circle’’ by Brad Meltzer (Grand Central)

■ “The Sentry’’ by Robert Crais (Putnam)

Pick of the week
Jean-Paul Andriaasen of Water Street Books in Exeter, N.H., recommends “Our Man in Tehran’’ by Robert Wright (Other Press): “In November 1978 when students overran the American embassy in Tehran and took nearly the whole staff hostage, six Americans found refuge in the Canadian embassy. They were eventually smuggled out of Iran thanks to the brave actions of Ken Taylor, the Canadian ambassador. This book, which is relevant to the current situation in Iran, reads like a high-level nonfiction thriller.’’

Jan Gardner can be reached at