Finding the Just Name: On Translating Ismailov

By Robert Chandler

Featured Art: The Sea by Gustave Courbet

One of the most difficult works I have translated from Russian is Hamid Ismailov’s The Railway. This novel has a huge geographical sweep, taking in not only most of Soviet Central Asia, but also Iran, Afghanistan and parts of European Russia and western Europe. It incorporates a great deal of twentieth-century political and cultural history. It comprises many separate stories, often linked together only tangentially. It is full of unfamiliar real-life detail—Soviet, Muslim, and (most bewilderingly of all) Muslim-with-a-Soviet-veneer-to-make-it-acceptable-to-the-authorities. And there are at least 137 different characters. How could I make all this not only comprehensible to people from another world but also interesting and enjoyable for them? One approach would be to simplify. The publishers of the French translation omitted about half the chapters, leaving out everything that did not relate to the story of the novel’s central family. I have no doubt that this stripped-down version has its merits, but this is not the way I wanted to go myself. The Railway is exuberant and Rabelaisian, full of slogans, spells and curses; Hamid (the author and I are close friends, so I shall refer to him by his first name) is deeply aware of the power of fantasy, of the way words beget words and stories beget stories, of the power of language to create reality. I did not want to sacrifice this exuberance.

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On Translating Thai Artist Wisut Ponnimit from Japanese to English

By Matthew Chozick

Featured Art: Head of a Woman with Bent Head by André Derain

Tuk-tuks, manga as literature, onomatopoeia, Valentine’s Day

My wife and I climb with light luggage into the back of a three-wheeled Thai taxi, a tuk-tuk. As we drive off, city lights and a pink sunset blend marvelously together. Our tuk-tuk weaves through traffic as I see a gold adorned Buddhist pavilion, a Burmese-Mexican burrito restaurant, and then a Yamaha motorcycle dealership. It is, incidentally, from the land of Yamaha that we have just arrived by airplane.

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The Stones and the Earth: On translating Wiesław Myśliwski’s Stone Upon Stone

By Bill Johnston

Featured Art: Alpine Scene by Gustave Doré

Wiesław Myśliwski’s magisterial 1984 novel of Polish village life Stone Upon Stone (Kamień na kamieniu) is a text in which language plays a central role. The entire novel reads like a magnificent sustained spoken monologue; Myśliwski’s gift for conveying the pithy, unsentimental wisdom of peasant language is apparent in every sentence, and it is language, not story, that ultimately drives the narrative and makes the book the masterpiece it is.

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On Translating C.P. Cavafy’s “Come, O King of the Lacedaimonians”

By George Economou

Featured Art: Green and Blue: The Dancer by James McNeill Whistler

Άγε, ω βασιλεύ Λακεδαιμονίων

Δεν καταδέχονταν η Κρατησίκλεια
ο κόσμος να την δει να κλαίει και να θρηνεί·
και μεγαλοπρεπής εβάδιζε και σιωπηλή.
Τίποτε δεν απόδειχνε η ατάραχη μορφή της
απ’ τον καϋμό και τα τυράννια της.
Μα όσο και νάναι μια στιγμή δεν βάσταξε·
και πριν στο άθλιο πλοίο μπει να πάει στην Aλεξάνδρεια,
πήρε τον υιό της στον ναό του Ποσειδώνος,
και μόνοι σαν βρεθήκαν τον αγκάλιασε
και τον ασπάζονταν, «διαλγούντα», λέγει
ο Πλούταρχος, «και συντεταραγμένον».
Όμως ο δυνατός της χαρακτήρ επάσχισε·
και συνελθούσα η θαυμασία γυναίκα
είπε στον Κλεομένη «Άγε, ω βασιλεύ
Λακεδαιμονίων, όπως, επάν έξω
γενώμεθα, μηδείς ίδη δακρύοντας
ημάς μηδέ ανάξιόν τι της Σπάρτης
ποιούντας. Τούτο γαρ εφ’ ημίν μόνον·
αι τύχαι δε, όπως αν ο δαίμων διδώ, πάρεισι.»

Και μες στο πλοίο μπήκε, πηαίνοντας προς το «διδώ».

Come, O King of the Lacedaimonians

Cratisicleia did not deign to allow
the people to see her weeping and grieving;
she walked in stately silence.
Her serene demeanor revealed
nothing of her sorrow and her torments.
But even so, for a moment she couldn’t contain herself;
and before she boarded the hateful ship for Alexandria,
she took her son to Poseidon’s temple,
and when they were alone she embraced him
and kissed him, who was “suffering grievous pain,” says
Plutarch, “in a state of conturbation.”
But her strong character fought back;
and regaining her self-composure, the magnificent woman
said to Cleomenes, “Come, O King of the
Lacedaimonians, when we come out
of here, let no one see us weeping
or acting in any way unworthy
of Sparta. For this alone is in our power;
our fortune will be only what the god might give.”

And she boarded the ship, heading for that “might give.”

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The Homophonic Imagination: On Translating Modern Greek Poetry

By Karen Van Dyck

Featured art: Two Pupils in Greek Dress by Thomas Eakins

When I translated Jenny Mastoraki’s prose poem “The Unfortunate Brides” (1983) I drew on the beat and even the syllabic count of the Greek to create a rhythm that was legible, but new in English:

. . . the way a roóster lights up Hádes, or a gílded jaw the speéchless night, a beást jángling on the rún, and the ríder búbbles up góld.

For Anglophone readers, the four phrases make up a recognizable stanza, though somewhat unusual with two long beats in the first two phrases and three shorter, faster ones in the last two. Newness arose not simply from the surreal imagery, but from the sound on which it rode.

To focus on the sound of the source text is to run counter to the dominant translation strategy, which focuses on meaning. This is true more generally, but also in the case of Modern Greek poetry. Translations such as those by Edmund Keeley and Phillip Sherrard introduced the poetry of C. P. Cavafy, George Sef-eris, Odysseas Elytes and Yannis Ritsos in an idiom that reads easily in English and makes the living tradition of myth and history readily available to an Anglophone audience.

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