Thursday, July 02, 2015

Translations - Volumes I and II

cover art by 
Bogdan Mavrodinov

We are sometimes viewed as ''negative reviewers'' here, 
on the ''blogosphere'' (or Blogger, more specifically) 
for we blast rather than praise, oftentimes...

Well, today, it shall be at least 99% praise - okay? 

Because today we shift our focus upon the hard task 
of translating literary works 
particular to a certain era, 
certain region, 
certain culture. 
It is a most daunting task indeed - 
and it is not easy to get it just right.
Two great examples of this, 
which have come close to utter perfection 
conveying the original meaning 
onto an English version,
are these ones right here:
the translation of six short stories
(headlined by HOT NOON...) 
penned by Yordan Radichkov  
(translation by Peter Tempest) 
chosen extracts from the 
Notes on the 
Bulgarian Uprisings 
(chosen by one Lyudmil Angelov 
but translated by Maria Rankova)
both off the esteemed 

cover art by:
Kuncho Kunev and Peter Rashkov

Since the French language is so appraised in Sofia, Bulgaria, we shall begin with a French expression indeed... Or donc... À tout seigneur, tout honneur... We have to start with the invaluable historical documentation that constitutes the body of work of one Zahari Stoyanov. Verily, his work is saturated with the mark of a humanist, the idealistic view of the revolutionary in its purest form, the most luminous desire to achieve happiness and freedom when faced with tyrannical oppression of the basest kind. Many are those who believe that this testament will resonate for all time to come with all manners of people; be it the persecuted, the set-asides, the downtrodden in our societies or the irremediably poor layers of the populace - and they are right. For throughout the often graphic but, also, quite often poetic -or poeticized- passages chronicling those traumatic events that took place between 1876 and 1889, the year of the author's death during imprisonment, the tension is deftly rendered and the hope kept alive, despite all that occurs. Each poignant chapter tells of the Turkish brutality in trying to quell the Bulgarian population that had had enough of this barbaric occupation which had reached four centuries of bloodshed already. Stoyanov conveys each and every emotion during this dark period in Bulgarian history in such an effective way that the reader can only feel as if he was personally involved in the uprisings himself. How could it be otherwise when one has such a masterfully rendered first-hand account of those events that saw so much Bulgarian blood spilt each time a nation tried to change its fate and reclaim its land, its identity, its freedom? The uprisings had its heroes and, invariably, they were all its tragic figures as well: how ironic that its chronicler would become one such, too, in time. Professor Alexander Balabanov, an eminent classical scholar, hailed Zahari Stoyanov as the ''Bulgarian Thucydides'' and a classic of Bulgarian prose, back in 1922. In the foreword to the ''Notes...'' this is recalled, as well, by one Ivan Popivanov who concludes that Stoyanov is unquestionably ''an immortal part of Bulgarian culture'' as the text resonates through time with so many facets of life that are still very much of actuality: for there is still oppression in the world, there is still strife. Popivanov concludes: ''in many respects it is in harmony with our own times'' - and it so obviously, so painfully still is, indeed.

With Yordan Radichkov's writings, we get something totally different: anecdotal, sometimes moralistic, folklorish fictional accounts of everyday life under a communist regime - complete with all of its absurdities. contradictions and deeply-ingrained passions, too. It is said that, within the first decade of his penmanship, Yordan Radichkov developed his trademark style and an idiom all his own that set him apart from everyone else, all at the same time marking him as a profoundly original and modern voice of Bulgarian literature. He was a playwright and novelist too; although as a mere introduction to his world, the shorts are perfect in and by themselves. In this rather short collection of his nouvelles one can get a solid idea of the quality of the scribe with, for instance, The Leather Melon which masterfully blends social commentary with elements of science-fiction and even horror, no less! That comes with Radichkov's style; at the most unexpected moment, he will insert into his story some mention of folklore legends such as the vampire or the sprite, as in the case of the extremely-short and amusing The Sprite...! But the latter is an exception rather than the norm - for, usually, the supernatural is only an extra element inserted to spice up the ensemble and it is not the main focus of the tale. In the headline short, Hot Noon, we have a spontaneous rescue operation that quickly becomes a metaphor for the entire planet; is it not the wordsmith's task, after all, to convey subtle and not-so subtle messages to his readership on how to better all facets of humanity?  And it can certainly and assuredly be said that Radichkov was one well-placed sage to advise his fellow man on how to better the everyday and general fate of the human condition. The author passed away just over a decade ago - it was about time he garnered some praise on the literati blog!

A portrait of Zahari Stoyanov 
circa 1888

Now, for the 1%... For you know it was coming! It remains unclear (even with the case of one ''Peter Tempest'' - penname?) where the translators of these works grasped the English language - and since it is, in my own personal case, my third language, I shall not be too harsh at all... However, some passages are just a trifle more than awkward and one wonders if it is not due to the fact that the translation process got stuck in the time-honored trap of trying to convey as much of the original meaning as one could... being in total respectful awe of the source material and its author... and failing to find any possible cultural equivalent in the language one is translating into?  I will dispense with any specific example here - when you read either book, they will jump at you by themselves! And this should not be made into such a big deal at all either: for these two books are gems for all of posterity to look up to - and learn from.

My sincerest and highest regards to 
Sofia Press -
and its editors 
Georgi M. Grigorov 
Vesselin Tsakov 
Velichko Velichkov 
Peter Velchev 
Dimiter Kartalev 
Maria Pavlova  
Krassimira Noneva

and a very special nod to the proofreaders 
Ilina Mirkova (Stoyanov)
Pravda Pesseva (Radichkov)
- for what would an author do without you!
(An author - or a translator!)

Sempre Por O Melhor

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