Author: Zahra Patterson
Publisher: Ugly Duckling Presse (2018)
Taking as its starting point an ultimately failed attempt to translate a Sesotho short story into English, Chronology explores the spaces language occupies in relationships, colonial history, and the postcolonial present. It is a collage of images and documents, folding on words-that-follow-no-chronology, unveiling layers of meaning of queering love, friendship, death, and power. Traveling from Cape Town to the Schomburg Center in New York, Zahra Patterson’s Chronology reveals and revels in fragments of the past-personal and the present-political.
"Journal of translation, of friendship, of politics, of document, of witness, of mobilizing, of love: Zahra Patterson walks into a café in Capetown in 2009 and changes the world by reading Marechera's Black Sunlight and meeting an instant soulmate. In trying to translate a short story from a language she doesn't know—Sesotho—Patterson invents a genre in such a generous way that you, the reader, invent one too. Take all this in—this beautiful collage of e-mails, pictures, self-made dictionary entries, theory upturned, letters to the dead, personal takes on whites colonizing blacks then & now, there & here. You won't regret living this & you won't be the same."
"Spare, witty and moving, Chronology also meditates on diaspora blackness, focusing on Southern African languages, literary cultures, and landscapes. Translating Sesotho becomes an experiment in joy as Patterson turns small acts of writing into souvenirs."
"Multiplicity and non-linearity are the default in Patterson’s book. She achieves this in the way she writes about her actual, tactile experiences with translation and the cultures contained inside this interplay that is inextricably rooted in annihilation and brutality. Her humble, passionate account builds into a long-form essay that itself embodies the unmoored, unsayable experience of home and exile as carried through language. Patterson’s nuanced telling of her struggle to connect with Sesotho feels extremely fresh and real, like 3D, which is no failure at all."
"It is here that we realize that the tether of Chronology, roping us between past, present, and beyond is the interrogation of intimacy. Deeper than yearning, such intimacy prods for a closeness that may never satiate. In fact, it is actually in the disappearance of such intimacy—living in the violence of being “lost in translation”—that our narrator experiences resolve. [...]Chronology, is both a book about relation and about excerpt. To read it is to engage with a time where a wandering soul would always be a more reliable guide that any machine, computer, or device. Chronology asks us to consider the consequences of development and its connection to our relationships. Z struggles to find a book that will support her translation. What she had yet to realize, is that she was set to work at designing her own."
–The Brooklyn Rail
Winner of the 2019 Lambda Literary Award for Lesbian Memoir