1978

1978

Yugoslav author Danilo Kiš sparked a literary firestorm in his home country with his short story collection A TOMB FOR BORIS DAVIDOVICH. It was translated from the Serbo-Croatian by Duška Mikić-Mitchell and published in English two years later – 1978 – garnering praise from Susan Sontag and Joseph Brodsky. The author and critic Adam Thirlwell rates Kiš as ‘one of the greatest novelists of the twentieth century’.

The stories in A TOMB FOR BORIS DAVIDOVICH are set primarily in Russia and Eastern Europe during the Stalinist Terror of the 1930s. Ostensibly based on real events, Kiš blends fact and fiction to portray the lives of seven misguided revolutionaries who all fall victim to the totalitarian ideologies they espouse.

Kiš’ techniques were often experimental; he deliberately references other writers, such as Jorge Luis Borges, Bruno Schulz and James Joyce, in a manner that was unfamiliar to his contemporaries. When BORIS DAVIDOVICH was published, certain members of the Yugoslav literary establishment accused him of plagiarism. This quickly escalated into a major literary scandal that ended up in court. Kiš emerged victorious, but left Belgrade for Paris shortly afterwards.

The child of a Serbian mother and a Hungarian Jewish father, Danilo Kiš was also a translator. He translated numerous French, Hungarian and Russian poets into Serbo-Croatian, including Sándor Petöfi, Marina Tsvetaeva, Corneille, Baudelaire and Verlaine. One of his last translations was Raymond Queneau’s EXERCISES IN STYLE.

Turning to another famous French book, A LOVER’S DISCOURSE: FRAGMENTS by the philosopher and critic Roland Barthes was also made available to us in English in 1978, quickly becoming a staple of every student bookshelf. Like many other important works of popular culture (including some mentioned in #TA60 1958 and 1962), Barthes’ structuralist analysis of the lexicon of relationships, love and desire was translated from the French by the prolific and multi-award-winning American translator Richard Howard.

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1959

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.