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    « Interview 2005-024: David Karashima | Main | Support a Great LitBlog »

    June 26, 2005

    Comments

    Doug

    Czeslaw Milosz observed that poetry is what gets lost in translation. And in John Crowley's recent novel The Translator, the Russian poet being translated says to his counterpart that she is making new poems from his.

    But readers are right to wonder, even about prose. Some earlier thoughts of mine about translations of Henryk Sienkiewicz's Trilogy:

    By all means, buy this edition if it is your only way to enter the marvelous world that Sienkiewicz has given to Poland and to posterity. ...

    But beg or borrow if you can, and steal if you must, the translation by W.S. Kuniczak that was published in the early 1990s. Discover what happens when a novelist translates. ... And for readers not on intimate terms with the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth in the 17th Century (admit it), he effortlessly drops in helpful hints.

    Here's how Curtin starts:

    There was in Jmud a powerful family, the Billeviches, descended from Mendog, connected with many, and respected, beyond all, in the district of Rossyeni. ... Their native nest, existing to this day, was called Billeviche; ... In later times they branched out into a number of houses, the members of which lost sight of one another. They all assembled only when there was a census at Rossyeni of the general militia of Jmud on the plain of the invited Estates.

    And Kuniczak:

    In the part of the old Grand Duchy of Lithuania that was known as Zmudya, and which antedated the times of recorded history, there lived an ancient family named Billevitch, widely connected with many other houses of Lithuanian gentry, and respected more than any other in the Rosyen region. ... Their family seat, known as Billevitche ... so that in time they split into several branches that seldom saw each other. Some of them got together now and then when the Zmudyan gentry gathered for the annual military census near Rosyen on a plain called Stany...

    Honestly, which version would you rather spend 1700 pages with? The native nest or the family seat?

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