PRATIE PLACE

Monday, January 12, 2009

I finally manage to get The Incredibly Miserable Boy laid in his coffin...

I've been spending a few hours here and there translating a Yiddish novela for a friend. I finally crawled over the finish line five minutes ago; the Incredibly Miserable Boy is now in heaven with his pious mother.

The enervating effect this story has had on me reminds me of a big bummer of a class I took at Yale: "The Rise and Fall of the Byzantine Empire."

OK, so you know when a class is called Rise and Fall that it's not going to end on a cheery note - and it's history, so everybody already knows the outcome, there's no final surprise twist - yes, on the last day of class the "barbarians" (that would be our ancestors) swarmed over the walls and fin.

Even forewarned, though, I found it surprisingly hard to force myself to go to class -- considering I didn't even like how things were going when they were at their best. I didn't think the Byzantine Empire was my kind of place. So when the steep, decadent decline descended - well, one thought about sleeping late and initiating one's own decline.

Back to this novela - as I've explained to my patron, translating is like building a house: the first 95% of the house takes 5% of the time, and the last 5% of the house takes 95% of the time. I've only been working on Yiddish for a couple years, and there are quite a few words and passages in this story that I got "mostly right," maybe 95% right. To get them utterly 100% right would require a lot of expensive face time with our local Yiddish professor Sheva Zucker.

Also, it has to be decided how much of a rewrite to do. The author was Mr. Purple Prose, and he used a fairly limited vocabulary - perhaps because his intended readership was busy, poorly-educated housewives. How many times per page can a speaker "shriek" - should I wield a thesaurus lavishly or stick with the original? He was also a master of badly constructed run-on sentences. Do I try to imitate his, uh, Byzantine structures or do I insert a sturdy number of periods?

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