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Dimitri Verhulst - Madame Verona Comes Down the Hil
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Evie
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Joined: 24 Oct 2008
Posts: 3569


Location: Kenilworth, Warwickshire, UK

PostPosted: Sat Nov 05, 2011 11:12 am    Post subject:  Reply with quote

Here is the poem that constitutes chapter V:

Quote:
I don't want you to wait when myh time has come.
You can tuck me in, briefly, but that's more than enough.
And if, while tucking me in, you smile a sweet smile,
just once I'll forgive you your feigned happiness.

Don't sit by my bed to count the erratic intervals
between my putrid breaths.  Don't hold my hand,
which will lie there like a mitten that once contained
my hand that reached for yours.
Don't listen to the grisly pound and rattle
in my chest as cancer does its best
to reconstruct my bones
and don't look into my eyes,
broken in their sockets and adjusting
to the pitch of dark of what will be no night.

Leave me behind in that room.  Alone.
Because the two of us belong to life.

Please ignore this banality and go,
downstairs, into the garden.
Hang your dresses on the line and I will watch
through the window as they salute me in the wind.
Fry something, onions perhaps, and brown them well
in butter, so I can smell them here, upstairs,
and think, 'My God, she sure knows how to cook!'

But if my legs still hold,
and I hope they will,
I'll grip the banister
that still needs varnishing
and say, 'I'm already upstairs, sweetheart,
I'll see you in a bit.'


Tell us how that compares with the original, Marita...it is odd in its language, as a poem, but poetry is even harder to translate than prose.

Chibiabos, I agree that the ending us beautiful - that matter-of-factness is something I love in the book, because it *is* matter of fact, but it doesn't undermine a sense of lyricism at times and luminosity - hard to describe what I mean.  It's matter of fact and understated, but pregnant with richer meaning.

I feel the critics quoted on the cover also struggled to know quite what to say about the book - the Herald calls it 'gorgeously resonant' - which made me wonder if something can simply be 'resonant'.  Perhaps it can - I always think things have to be resonant of something, rather than simply 'resonant' - but maybe I'm wrong.


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Marita



Joined: 21 Nov 2008
Posts: 510


Location: Flanders, Belgium

PostPosted: Sun Nov 06, 2011 9:23 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Hello Evie,

Sorry for the long delay but I wanted to be sure about my criticism of the English version of the poem. I am after all not a native English speaker and didn’t want to give the impression that I think I know the language better than the translator. So I consulted my husband, who is English.

I’m not saying this is a bad translation. It’s just that here and there I would have used a different way of saying things to make it closer to the original.

To me there is a difference between the first line in Dutch
Quote:
Ik zou willen dat je niet wacht

and the first line in English
Quote:
I don’t want you to wait


In English it is a request, in Dutch it is merely a whish. And Mr. Potter knows it is useless to wish that his wife stays away from his bed. That’s why he goes to his forest and commits suicide.
I would translate those first four lines as
Quote:
I wish you didn’t wait when my time has come,
your can tuck me in, briefly, but no more than that.
And if, while tucking me in , you smile sweetly
just this time I’ll forgive you your feigned happiness


The two lines halfway through the poem
Quote:
Laat mij achter in die kamer. Alleen.
Want wij tweeën mogen enkel van het leven zijn.

are translated as
Quote:
Leave me behind in that room. Alone.
Because the two of us belong to life

Short and sweet but more accurate the second line should be
Quote:
Because the two of us may only belong to life.

Of course they don’t belong to life, they’re mortal. But Mr. Potter wants to create the illusion that death cannot touch them. And if she doesn’t see him dying in the awful way he describes, he’ll be alive in her memory not a sick dying man.

I also don’t know why the translator uses ‘pitch of dark’ when just ‘pitch-dark’ sounds better and am I just exaggerating when I feel that ‘My God, she sure knows how to cook!’ is too long and ‘My God, she cooks so well!’ is better for its shortness (although probably not so English).

In the last part he grips the banister in Dutch
Quote:
die ik eigenlijk nog eens vernissen moest

is more or less literally translated
Quote:
that I really needed to varnish again

is translated in English as
Quote:
that still needs varnishing


I think the ‘I’ is very important here. It’s a job he never did and now can never do. There is the implication that it is a job that will never get done anymore. It’s the acknowledgement of a dereliction of duty, not just a statement of the dilapidated state of the house

OK, it all sounds very much like nitpicking and the translator did a good job. But this is the fourth book by Verhulst I’ve read and I don’t think he uses words without a reason. A man who comes up with the title ‘De Helaasheid der Dingen’ (translated as ‘The Misfortunates’ – literally ‘The Alasness of things’), a writer who digs up old, now rarely used words to get the right one, doesn’t use words willy-nilly, even such simple words as ‘I' and ‘may’.

And now you can shoot me down to your heart’s content and tell me how wrong I am.

Marita


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Evie
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Joined: 24 Oct 2008
Posts: 3569


Location: Kenilworth, Warwickshire, UK

PostPosted: Mon Nov 07, 2011 9:00 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Thank you so much for that, Marita - no shooting down at all!  It's so good to be able to know something about the relationship between the translation and the original.

The subtleties in meaning you highlight are exactly the things that make a difference, and as you say, this is especially important with a writer who takes so much care over choosing words and phrasing things.  It shows that the translator also has to be an interpreter (of what he/she thinks the author meant) and not just a good linguist.

I did feel, as I was copying out the poem, that it didn't read particularly well, but the book itself has such an idiosyncratic style that it was hard to know how much of that was translation - and it was that curious mixture of colloquialism and lyricism which does mark the rest of the book, it just seemed more obvious in the distilled form of that chapter!

But thanks so much - really interesting comments.


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Marita



Joined: 21 Nov 2008
Posts: 510


Location: Flanders, Belgium

PostPosted: Mon Nov 07, 2011 11:43 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

This book is a bit like ‘Farewel, my Lovely’ in that there’s always more to find.
For instance in chapter IV when Madame Verona puts the last log on the fire
Quote:
there had been less and less to hold that he too had held

and in chapter VIII when Madame Verona decides to stay in her house on the hill.
Quote:
She stayed, knowing the hill would become her calvary, and in the end even her hard contract with loneliness.

just two simple lines describing a world of absence and loneliness.
In chapter IX there is a long, interesting bit that could be called ‘how man copes with life’

Quote:
Life wasn’t like a piece of text under which you could draw a line to continue in the same copy book with a completely new text. But we like to offer ourselves this illusion when faithfulness to a memory stands in the way of life. To start anew, divide everything in chapters because they can be closed, and keep maintaining to oneself how easy this is.

That was man, and he arranged his history in a similar way. He drew a line under his structured genocides and started a different story, one in which laughing was allowed, poetry was written, commercials for underwear were made. So it could seem that man rejected man and invented him anew, over and over again, so he wouldn’t have anything to do with his own past. That’s why he found it so easy to paint pictures of gruesome battles that ones had happened, and think them picturesque. That’s why all genocide will become a painting of which the colours will be praised. And that, they must have thought at the table football, is why Madame Verona had started a new life.


This and also the beginning of the chapter on the local vet/doctor (where he ends up asking – why is there a doctor for one animal and another for all the other animals) reminded me of his other book ‘Goddamn Days on a Goddamn Globe’ which is really a long angry tirade about man, denouncing even art as something that only serves man’s self-interest.

There are two bits that I think can’t be translated. They are not really important. I just like the way he says it.
The first one is in chapter II
Quote:
En zij die wist dat ze nooit meer zelfstandig thuis zou raken. Om niet te zeggen ‘op eigen houtje’ als dat niet te cynisch klonk voor mensen die zich bedienen van een wandelstok.

‘op eigen houtje’ means ‘unaided’, by herself’. Literally it says ‘on her own piece of wood’ and Verhulst wonders if it’s not too cynical to use this of people who need a walking stick

The second bit comes in chapter VIII where he talks about Ravel, another composer who went to live on a hill, and he imagines the removal men (verhuizers)
Quote:
… de verhuizers die zijn spullen vloekend naar boven sjouwden verwensten een piano met een vleugel die geen vlerk kon zijn.

He uses ‘vleugel’ and ‘vlerk’. Both mean wing but the first one can also be the wing of a house or here the wing (lid) of a grand piano (vleugelpiano), while the second one can only be the wing of a bird, a wing to fly with, the kind of wing the piano hasn’t got. That’s why the removal men curse and swear.

One last bit of wordplay. The name of the river that runs through the village is Gemontfoux. If you read this it sounds a lot like the French ‘Je m’en fous’ (I don’t give a damn).

Marita


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Chibiabos83
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Location: Cambridge, UK

PostPosted: Mon Nov 07, 2011 12:06 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

How beautiful the Dutch language is!


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Evie
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Joined: 24 Oct 2008
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Location: Kenilworth, Warwickshire, UK

PostPosted: Mon Nov 07, 2011 12:12 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Isn't it!  I am going to try to learn it - have thought about it for years, from a professional point of view, as there are things about Early Netherlandish painting that are written in Dutch and not translated.  But it is worth learning just because it is beautiful, I think!

Marita, I love those comme,ts too - I was thinking this morning that it is not as good a book as the Chandler, though I have loved reading it and thinking about it - but great to connect it to Chandler in that way.  I agree that it's the kind of writing where you do keep finding things, and clearly it's even richer in Dutch - languages are not really fully translatable.  I really do love Verhulst's ability to convey so much in a succinct sentence - that quality is certainly not lost in translation, and this understatedness is there in Chandler too, a sort of deadpan quality that adds an edge to what is really being said.


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Marita



Joined: 21 Nov 2008
Posts: 510


Location: Flanders, Belgium

PostPosted: Mon Nov 07, 2011 12:51 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Chibiabos83 wrote:
How beautiful the Dutch language is!

Evie wrote:
Isn't it!  I am going to try to learn it - have thought about it for years, from a professional point of view, as there are things about Early Netherlandish painting that are written in Dutch and not translated.  But it is worth learning just because it is beautiful, I think!

If we could only convince the Walloons of that. Sadly most of them think Dutch is a horrible sounding language just for peasants and they don't want to learn it. Admittedly some of the dialects (including my own) have sounds that would rival anything Eliza Doolittle produces in My Fair Lady but that’s probably the case for dialects in most languages.
Evie wrote:
I really do love Verhulst's ability to convey so much in a succinct sentence

He caught my attention with his (semi-)autobiographical work ‘De Helaasheid der Dingen’ and more precisely with the title. In case you might find it or the film made of it ‘spoilers follow’.
His mother left him and his father and they went to live with his grandmother. All his uncles live in the same house, all mostly jobless, all hard drinkers (including his father). He escaped because somebody (his grandmother?) called the social services. He grew up in homes and with foster families. Now he’s among the most successful Flemish writers. His book is not a misery-childhood one. It contains his typical humour as well as the harder bits. It also evokes a sense of togetherness, a ‘one for all, all for one’ feeling amongst the family. It ends with him grown-up visiting his remaining uncles. He has grown away from them and their way of life and his feelings are pulling him in opposite directions – relief for the life he has and sadness because the closeness has gone and he doesn’t really belong with them anymore.

Marita


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Green Jay



Joined: 13 Jan 2009
Posts: 1605


Location: West Sussex

PostPosted: Mon Nov 07, 2011 4:35 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Marita wrote:
Hello Evie,

Sorry for the long delay but I wanted to be sure about my criticism of the English version of the poem. I am after all not a native English speaker and didn’t want to give the impression that I think I know the language better than the translator. So I consulted my husband, who is English.

I’m not saying this is a bad translation. It’s just that here and there I would have used a different way of saying things to make it closer to the original.

To me there is a difference between the first line in Dutch
Quote:
Ik zou willen dat je niet wacht

and the first line in English
Quote:
I don’t want you to wait


In English it is a request, in Dutch it is merely a whish. And Mr. Potter knows it is useless to wish that his wife stays away from his bed. That’s why he goes to his forest and commits suicide.
I would translate those first four lines as
Quote:
I wish you didn’t wait when my time has come,
your can tuck me in, briefly, but no more than that.
And if, while tucking me in , you smile sweetly
just this time I’ll forgive you your feigned happiness




I haven't read this book and am just following this discussion as a hanger-on but I found your comments so interesting, Marita. I feel that the 4 lines above that you translated were rather better than the published version, if I can say that. All the tiny decisions are so important, as well as getting something fluid - if the author's own style is fluid - and I appreciated hearing your thoughts. As Evie says, when an author is one who is so careful about word choice and subtle meaning, quality of translation is even more important. I suppose there is no one right way, but there are some that are more right than others, and some that are just plain wrong.


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Green Jay



Joined: 13 Jan 2009
Posts: 1605


Location: West Sussex

PostPosted: Mon Nov 07, 2011 4:49 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Just to add, when I was reading The Twin by Dutch writer Gerbrand Bakker a few weeks back, I wrote:

'The novel is in translation, and although I originally said I loved the writing style (described on the jacket as "Spartan prose") a review on Amazon from someone who read it in its original Dutch first, said that the translation was clumsy and translated literally certain colloquial phrases - it quoted one, which then made the English seem ridiculous and off-kilter. Then I began to see expressions I had thought just part of the narrator's slightly odd way of seeing things, and which did not make too much sense, might just be mistranslations. This took the shine off. But images of landscape, weather and mood still stay with me from the novel, even if ultimately it disappointed.'

The phrase that the Amazon reviewer quoted was a colloquial one that meant 'taking the piss' but in the English version came out as something like 'perching up on the roof' , which didn't make too much sense in context but then the characters of the narrator and his father did say and do some odd things, which I just accepted. This has made me wonder about my response to the whole book now; how odd were these people, or how skewed was the translation? And it won the Impac Prize!


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Chibiabos83
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Joined: 19 Nov 2008
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Location: Cambridge, UK

PostPosted: Mon Nov 07, 2011 4:59 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Interesting, Green Jay, and I see the books share a translator - David Colmer.

From the first couple of pages I was afraid I wouldn't like the translation. I thought it started clunkily, though I don't have the book to hand to give examples. But I think that may simply have been down to a difference in style between the introduction and the rest of the book. It settled down after that, and became a pleasure to read. One thing I did note down that I didn't like, on the opening page, was Colmer's 'everyone who has ever and will ever die'. I suppose it may be technically correct, but this mixing of tenses always feels wrong to me (as does, for instance, 'one of the best, if not the best, book in the world' etc. with its missing plural). A matter of taste, perhaps.



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