The choice of the words drunken and intemperate is necessarily somewhat arbitrary. While people might disagree about which of the words indicates a greater degree of dependence, this is entirely the point: The narrator is not in agreement with his father about what the words in question mean, and the pompousness and illogic of the conversation in question is of course characteristic of conversations among inebriated people.
The translation’s “the Potato Rows” is a fairly well-established literal translation of “Kartoffelrækkerne,” the name of a distinctive Copenhagen neighborhood of row houses that was created in the nineteenth century as affordable housing for working-class people but comprises real estate that is very expensive for new buyers today due to its central location and attractive local environment. The narrator’s temporary home on Nørre Farimagsgade; the Botanical Garden, where the narrator’s father claims to have gone for a walk earlier on the day on which the events of the story take place; and Kjeld Langes Gade, where the narrator remembers having lived as a child, are all a short walk from each other and from the Potato Rows.
I have rendered the words attributed to W.C. Fields in the story into English as a close translation of the narrator’s Danish version, which is slightly more brutally formulated than the version of the quote in question that is often elsewhere attributed to Fields, “I feel as though the Russian army had been walking over my tongue in their stockinged feet.”
– Peter Sean Woltemade
InTranslation is pleased to be collaborating for the fifth time with the New Literature from Europe (NLE) Festival, which took place November 6-9 in New York. Our November issues in 2010, 2011, 2012, and 2013 were likewise dedicated to the festival and its participating authors.
Our current issue features translations of fiction and nonfiction prose by this year’s authors from Albania, Austria, Bulgaria, Denmark, Germany, Poland, and Romania.
For more information about the festival, its events, and its partners, visit: http://newlitfromeurope.org.
Josefine Klougart’s One of Us Is Sleeping is a moving, mesmerizingly intense investigation of the power and pain of love, of loss and grief, disillusion and the yearning for emotional and physical homeland. Not obviously a novel in the traditional sense, it is a work of astonishing sensibility, and Klougart’s lyrically elegiac narrative is breathtaking and arresting. Twice abandoned by men she has loved, a young woman returns home from the city to the countryside in which she grew up, her devastation compounded by the discovery that her mother has cancer. In the silence of a landscape blanketed by snow, she reflects on what is lost and what, perhaps, remains to be gained, dwelling on seemingly mundane occurrences and states of affairs, details that in Klougart’s poetically crafted sentences become laden with beauty and significance. It is a work that does not rely on the momentum of what most usually is called plot, its narrative does not proceed in any unidirectional sense. Instead, it is fluid, molten, strangely intangible, its potency residing in the wealth and keenness of its observations, the fullness and sonority of its language. As such, it provides a quite singular challenge to any translator.
– Martin Aitken
My translation retains the original story’s street names (Frederiksborggade, Gothersgade, and Rosenvængets Sideallé) as well as the name of the bridge crossed by the narrator and Cora, Dronning Louises Bro (“Queen Louise’s Bridge”). Readers who are unfamiliar with Copenhagen and are interested in the spatial relationships referenced in the story would be well served by consulting a map; it is easy thus to recreate the approximate routes of the various short walks taken by the narrator and Cora to the lake Sortedams Sø, the parks, and the Church of Our Lady. We learn that during the lengthy stay with her grandparents that the bulk of the story describes, the narrator, then a schoolgirl, saw her mother only about once a week (and there is no indication that she saw her father at all); it is particularly worth noting that the location of the narrator’s (parents’) home on Rosenvængets Sideallé is in fact, as the description of the excursion to the lake suggests, within easy walking distance of the narrator’s grandparents’ home on Fiolstræde. The locations reflect typical generational differences: the grandparents’ apartment, which the grandparents have clearly occupied for many years already when the narrator is a child, is located in the medieval core of the city, while the narrator’s parents reside in a historically peripheral area that, while it was certainly considered quite attractive by the 1970s, when the story’s central events transpire, had not been heavily urbanized before the late nineteenth century.
The original story uses the very commonly-used Danish terms of address for “paternal grandmother” and “paternal grandfather,” Farmor and Farfar respectively. While I have generally used the formal English terms of address “Grandmother” and “Grandfather” respectively, I have rendered the original’s “Farmor og Farfars gæsteværelse,” which contains the first instance of the nouns in question, as “my paternal grandparents’ guest room.” While this constitutes a slight departure from the narrator’s usual tone, the translation would otherwise never definitively establish that the grandparents and Cora are the narrator’s relatives on her father’s side, a circumstance that suggests particular tensions and interpretive possibilities (it is of course striking that as far as we know neither the grandparents nor the narrator receive a telephone call from the narrator’s father during the narrator’s stay on Fiolstræde, much less a visit). The story is very much written in a Hemingway iceberg theory mode; it hints at but does not specify the exact nature of the problems in the relationship between the narrator’s parents on the one hand and between the narrator and her parents on the other hand, and it appears not unlikely that these problems have been a causative factor in the narrator’s undescribed breakup with the unnamed, undescribed father of her own children, about whom we know nothing except how old they are at the time of Cora’s death. All of these problems may ultimately be intimately intertwined with and have been determined by the narrator’s father’s early relations with his parents and sister or his genetic inheritance, or both.
– Peter Sean Woltemade
Before he wrote his renowned fairy tales, Hans Christian Andersen wrote the play Mulatten (Horatio in English), which premiered at the Royal Danish Theater in Copenhagen in 1840 and was a great success. It takes place on Martinique, and deals with slavery and the plantation system in a unique way: two white women (Eleonore, the plantation owner’s wife, and Cecilie, a countess living with them as a ward) fall in love with Horatio, a man of mixed race who is free. When the plantation owner discovers the two white women’s–and particularly his wife’s–affections for Horatio, he attempts to sell Horatio as a slave at an auction and later to kill him. In a surprise ending, Horatio is saved by Cecilie when she proposes marriage to him, in which she refers to an old law that guarantees the liberation of a slave if he is married to a white person (known as “code noire”).
The play was written at a time when the Danes owned plantations and slaves in the Danish West Indies. Not only does the play grapple with race and gender issues, but it is also clear that Andersen himself is speaking through Horatio, a poet, who is considering the role of the artist in a society that does not appreciate him as such. Andersen himself was at an early stage in his artistic career and was not established yet. The intellectuals of his day refused to take him seriously, not only because of his impoverished background, but also because of his highly creative and innovative ideas and usage of the Danish language. His contributions, particularly his fairy tales, would later transform Danish literature forever and put Denmark on the international literary map.
The translation of Andersen’s play is one in a series of books I’m seeking to publish in 2016 to commemorate the purchase of the Danish West Indies by the U.S. Another book which will be translated in connection with the series–this one, from English to Danish–is the celebrated Harlem Renaissance writer Nella Larsen’s Quicksand, which tells the story of a half-Danish, half-African-American woman’s plight to find her Scandinavian and African American identity in the 1920s.
– Nina Sokol
Thomas Boberg is probably the least insular of contemporary Danish poets. A life spent travelling and residing throughout–especially–South America has earned him comparisons to César Vallejo and Nicanor Parra, as well as the translation into Spanish of his 1993 collection Vandbærere, which appeared in Peru as Portadoras de agua the following year. This in addition to several acclaimed works of travel writing has cemented Boberg’s reputation as a kind of travelling man of Danish letters, hurling into the duck pond of his home country artistic impressions of a dizzying variety.
The book-length poem Hesteæderne (The Horse Eaters), in which the first of these poems appears, is a surreal and allegorical near-indictment of contemporary Danish society, peppered with references to T.S. Eliot, Karen Blixen, and Søren Kierkegaard, but served according to the strange, other-worldly recipe of Boberg’s genius. The society he portrays–which is and is not contemporary Denmark–is a post-apocalyptic dystopia of rampant corruption, violence and moral degradation from which no one, it seems, is spared. “I write…because I won’t put up with it,” Boberg writes elsewhere, and The Horse Eaters is really a sustained, artistic manifestation of that impulse.
The Brooklyn Rail welcomes you to our web-exclusive section InTranslation, where we feature unpublished translations of fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and dramatic writing. Published since April 2007, InTranslation is a venue for outstanding work in translation and a resource for translators, authors, editors, and publishers seeking to collaborate.
We seek exceptional unpublished English translations from all languages.
Fiction, Nonfiction, and Poetry: Manuscripts of no longer than 20 pages (double-spaced).
Plays: Manuscripts of no longer than 30 pages (in left-justified format).