Almost Lost in Translation Part 2

Beyond Sleep by W F Hermans (1966, translated by Ina Rilke in 2006)

Willem Frederik Hermans was a Dutch writer who is generally regarded as one of the three most important post-war writers in the Netherlands, alongside Harry Mulisch and Gerard Reve (one of whom may feature later). Despite this, his only previous translation into English was in the 1966 anthology The World of Modern Fiction. Luckily Ina Rilke rescued Hermans from this indignity by translating Beyond Sleep in 2006. The novel tells the story of Dutch geologist on an expedition to the north of Norway which does not go according to plan. This was followed the next year by the more serious The Darkroom of Damocles set during the German occupation of Holland. Sadly, neither made a huge impression, but in 2018 his novella, The Untouched House, also set during war-time, was translated by David Colmer and published by Pushkin Press, who now plan to reprint the previous two novels, so perhaps a Herman revival is on the cards. You can read a review of Beyond Sleep by Michel Faber here.

 

Seven Stories by Sigizmund Krzhizhanovsky (written during the 1920s, 30s and 40s, translated by Joanne Turnbull in 2006)

Sigizmund Krzhizhanovsky was a Russian writer of short stories and novellas, most of which were unpublished in his lifetime (1887-1950) due to a combination of bad luck and Soviet censorship. It was not until 1989 that his work began to be published in Russia with a collected edition finally appearing between 2001 and 2005 According to Adam Thirlwell “Krzhizhanovsky’s fiction is based on the fact that language makes things possible that are not possible in reality.” Although the New York Review of Books Classics imprint has become his de facto publisher in English (beginning with Memories of the Future in 2009), his stories first appeared in 7 Stories from Glass New Russian Writing translated by Joanne Turnbull in 2006. Krzhizhanovsky continues to appear in translation with a fifth volume from NYRB, Unwitting Street, is due in August. You can read a review of 7 Stories on Kaggsy’s Bookish Ramblings here.


Alone in Berlin by Hans Fallada (1947, translated by Michael Hofmann in 2009)

Alone in Berlin (or Every Man Dies Alone – the direct translation of its title in German used on its original publication in the US by Melville House) was published in 1947, the same year as Hans Fallada’s death. Though Fallada’s work had been translated into English throughout the thirties (indeed, he thought of immigrating to England after Hitler came to power), he was long forgotten until the publication of Michael Hofmann’s translation in 2009. Fallada’s story of an ordinary couple’s resistance to the Nazis was a huge success (you can tell from this list that UK readers still have a keen appetite for anything related to the Second World War) and, like Suite Francaise, was made into a film. Further translations followed, including two more from Hofmann (A Small Circus and Tales from the Underworld) and another late novel, Nightmare in Berlin, translated by Allan Blunden. You can read my review of Alone in Berlin here.


Comedy in a Minor Key by Hans Keilson (1947, translated by Damion Searls in 2010)

Hans Keilson was also a German writer, but he left Germany for the Netherlands in 1936 (he was Jewish) and later, under the German occupation, had to go into hiding. His experiences informed Comedy in a Minor Key, translated by Damion Searl and published by Hesperus Press in 2010. This short novel is about a Dutch couple hiding a Jewish man, but (proving it’s not entirely autobiographical) the man dies and the couple must find a way to dispose of the body: it’s a fairly dark comedy. Round about the same time the novel he wrote while in hiding, The Death of the Adversary, (in a 1962 translation by Ivo Jarosy) was republished and his first novel, Life Goes On, was translated by Searl in 2012. Though he lived until the age of 101, there were no further novels, though you can also read his 1944 War Diary in English. You can read a review of Comedy in a Minor Key by David Ulin here.

 

The Topless Tower by Silvina Ocampo (1986, translated by James Womack, 2010)

The Argentinian writer Silvina Ocampo has, for many years, lived in the shadow of her husband Adolfo Bioy Casares, and his (and her) even more famous friend, Jorge Luis Borges. Yet throughout her life she published regularly, although her work mainly consists of stories (many for children) and poetry, leaving her lacking the major novel which is often use to launch a writer in English. The Topless Tower is more a story than a novel – it would be generous to call it a novella. In it the narrator finds himself locked in a windowless room in a tower, which he first saw in a mysterious stranger’s painting. It was a slim introduction to Ocampo’s work, but was followed in 2015 by a selection of her stories, Thus Were Their Faces, and, more recently, the posthumous novel The Promise and her first collection of stories from 1937, Forgotten Journey. It seems her work is finally making it into English. You can read my review of The Topless Tower here.

Subtly Worded by Teffi (a selection of short stories written between 1920 and 1952, translated by Ann Marie Jackson in 2014)

Teffi was a Russian writer who began publishing short stories in 1905. She left Russia after the Revolution and settled in Paris. Up until 2014 her stories had only ever been published in English in anthologies. This changed when Pushkin Press brought out a collection of her work translated by Anne Marie Jackson, Subtly Worded, revealing Teffi to be an adept and often amusing proponent of the form. This was followed by two other collections, Rasputin and Other Ironies, and the autobiographical Memories – From Moscow to the Black Sea. You can read a review of Subtly Worded at JacquiWine’s Journal here.


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11 Responses to “Almost Lost in Translation Part 2”

  1. MarinaSofia Says:

    It’s funny to think that Fallada’s Alone in Berlin was almost lost in translation, since it’s quite a classic in the German-speaking world. And I’ll be reading Teffi for #WITMonth – cannot wait!!!

  2. kaggsysbookishramblings Says:

    Another great selection, Grant – happy to see Sigizmund Krzhizhanovsky in there, as he’s a great favourite of mine (as you know!) Happily, I think NYRB have a new volume of his coming out this year!

    I’ve read and love the Teffi, but found The Topless Tower a little less straightforward. The others are ones I’ve not yet read….

  3. JacquiWine Says:

    Another very fine selection, Grant, some of which are completely new to me (Hermans and Keilson). Many thanks for linking to my review of the Teffi, very kind of you!

    Plus, you’ve reminded me that I really ought to seek out that Ocampo. I loved the big collection of her stories that NYRB published a few years ago, Thus Were Their Faces. Marvellous stuff!

    • 1streading Says:

      Happy to link to one of your reviews – I think I may have heard of Teffi there first. Also glad there’s one or two who are new to you as well!

  4. heavenali Says:

    Fascinating selection.
    (apologies, I only just discovered I wasn’t following your blog, I think I lose track of people sometimes).

    • 1streading Says:

      I’m never sure if I’m following people on WordPress or just finding them on Twitter! Glad you enjoyed the selection – hopefully by the end there will be something for everyone.

  5. Caroline Says:

    I’ve seen them all in German translations. Alone in Berlin is the most interesting “case” since through this translation the German was rediscovered. It had been largely out of print and basically forgotten in Germany.

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