FORBIDDEN COLOURS by Yukio Mishima was translated from the Japanese by Alfred H. Marks and published in English 1968, two years before Mishima committed seppuku (ritual suicide) after an attempted coup d’état. The Japanese title, ‘Kinjiki’, refers to colours that people of certain ranks were not allowed to wear at the Japanese court. ‘Kinjiki’ combines the kanji 禁 ‘forbidden’, and 色 ‘colour’ – but 色 can also mean ‘erotic love’. Thus the title is a euphemism for homosexuality. In FORBIDDEN COLOURS an ageing, misogynistic man takes revenge on the female sex by manipulating a handsome young man, who marries for money but lacks the ability to love.
The translator, Alfred H. Marks, developed an interest in Japan as a result of his service there with U.S. military intelligence during World War II. A professor of English literature, he returned as a Fulbright scholar in 1965 and subsequently translated modern Japanese literature, in particular the work of Mishima.
Other first-time publications in English translation in 1968 include the Danish cult classic HAVOC by Tom Kristensen, translated by Carl Malmberg. The tale of a disaffected man of letters spiralling into alcoholism and self-destruction, author Karl Ove Knausgård describes it as ‘one of the best novels ever to come out of Scandinavia’.
And there’s another great work by our #TA60 1966 author, the Norwegian master Tarjei Vessas: THE BIRDS, translated from Nynorsk by Torbjørn Støverud and Michael Barnes. Here’s the opening paragraph, because it’s beautiful:
‘It was evening. Mattis looked to see if the sky was clear and free of cloud. It was. Then he said to his sister Hege, to cheer her up: “You’re like lightning.”’
For almost 300 years Norway and Denmark were united kingdoms, and Danish was the sole official language. When the two countries separated in 1814 a linguistic struggle ensued in Norway with different versions of written and spoken Norwegian competing for official recognition. The heavily Danish-influenced Norwegian of the 19th century urban and educated classes evolved into what became known and sanctioned as Bokmål, or ‘book language’, while Nynorsk, or ‘new Norwegian’, predominated in the rural west. Nynorsk is based on the ‘people’s language’ (Folkespråk) proposed by the 19th century linguist Ivar Aasen, assembled using Norwegian dialects that had retained their regional character. The Norwegian language conflict is still a politically contentious issue today; variant spellings are allowed, people are encouraged to speak their local dialect, and there is no officially sanctioned spoken language.
The great Norwegian author Tarje Vesaas wrote in Nynorsk, contributing to its acceptance as a medium of world-class literature. Vesaas’ works are characterised by their rural settings, spare, evocative prose, and the sensitive depiction of characters’ psychological trauma. His masterpiece THE ICE PALACE, which takes its name from the caves of a frozen waterfall, tells of an intense friendship between two young girls, one of whom carries a dreadful secret. Doris Lessing described it as ‘unique… unforgettable… extraordinary’. THE ICE PALACE was translated into English by Elizabeth Rokkan in 1966.
Another Nordic novel first published in English in 1966 is THE FISH CAN SING by the Nobel Prize-winning Icelandic author Halldór Laxness. It was translated by Magnus Magnusson. Best known in the UK as the presenter of the long-running television quiz show Mastermind, Magnusson was also a journalist and author, and a prolific translator of Icelandic and Old Norse literature, including other works by Halldór Laxness and several classic Norse sagas.
Julio Cortázar’s ground-breaking novel HOPSCOTCH can be read in different ways. It is divided into 155 chapters and employs a variety of different perspectives and non-linear narrative techniques. The author invited his readers to read the episodes consecutively, or to ‘hopscotch’ through them according to his ‘table of instructions’, which shows the events in a different light. Alternatively, readers may choose their own paths through the book, playing on the idea of the reader as the author’s ‘co-conspirator’. Like Carlos Fuentes (cf. #TA60 1964), the Argentine novelist was part of the huge international success of modernist writers from his region in the 1960s and ‘70s known as the Latin American Boom. HOPSCOTCH is often regarded as the first ‘Boom’ novel. It first became accessible to English readers in 1966 in a translation by the great Gregory Rabassa.
Next in the series of 60 classic first translations celebrating 60 years of the Translators Association of The Society of Authors is IF THIS IS A MAN, Primo Levi’s devastating account of his time in Auschwitz, first published in English in 1959 in a translation from the Italian by Stuart Woolf.
Levi supervised the first translations into English and French, and was especially scrupulous when overseeing the German. In a later book, THE DROWNED AND THE SAVED, he wrote: “I did not trust my German publisher. I wrote him an almost insolent letter: I warned him not to remove or change a single word in the text.” This must have made life very difficult indeed for his translator, Heinz Reidt, tasked with changing all the words in the text from Italian ones into German…
In 1959 English readers also met LITTLE OLD MRS PEPPERPOT for the first time. The much-loved children’s books by Alf Prøysen were translated by Marianne Helweg, who found a catchier name for the character known in Norwegian as ‘The Teaspoon Lady’. The illustrator was Björn Berg.
Other classics first translated into English in 1959 include HOMO FABER by Max Frisch, translated from the German by Michael Bullock, and THE BRIDGE ON THE DRINA by Yugoslav Nobel laureate Ivo Andrić, translated from the Serbo-Croatian by Lovett Edwards.