That Wondrous Paragraph

And, oh my, Miljenko, you have some lovely paragraphs, which I knew already of course, but when I get to write them again in English, I feel them in a way that makes me new:

In the winter of 1945, while Vjekoslav Luburić was cooking people alive in the basement of a Skenderija villa, and the Independent State of Croatia was, with the blessing of our Archbiship Ivan the Evangelist Sarić, squaring accounts with all those not living in accord with Jesus Christ and the Poglavnik Ante Pavelić, my Nona—who knows where or how in Sarajevo then—had her final abortion. If they had captured her, she and whoever had helped her would have found themselves among those hanging from their necks along the boulevard in Marijin Dvor. It was the final moments of the Croatian state and no time to be fooling around by throwing some woman into the camps at Jasenovac. It was also the final moments in which an abortion could have been carried out, for a month or two more and the fetus would have been too large to dispose of. Thus was the birth of my aunt or another uncle avoided at the final moment.

There are too many things to love about this, the personal subtly mixed into the historical, the ironic deftness, that splendid repetition of final. It is so good. I have added the explanatory Vjekoslav and Ante and camps, for the source is appropriately eliptical there, and there is something darkly hilarious about the part about Jesus Christ and—in the source, article-free—Poglavnik Pavelić, which allows for the possibility of thinking of Pavelić as the administrative superior of Jesus Christ (I hope my rendition does not eliminate completely that possibility), but that twist at the end is so like a Shakespearean couplet that closes a soliloquy, a little rhyme to say here we are together, see? Now on to what comes next.

That familiar ache

Teaching an extra graduate course for a colleague hoping to come up for tenure ate up more of my time in the fall than I thought possible, leaving me far behind my self-imposed December benchmark for translating Kin (not to mention absenting me from this weblog). Then, out of the blue, I got asked to serve in a new administrative post that made me wonder at the possibilities. This is the only reason to take up a new administrative post, I believe, so after wondering over it, I took it up. The inevitable result was even less time and, most importantly, no regular routine.

Finally in the past few weeks I’ve been able to establish one, counting up words and pages to see how much I can reasonably accomplish in what segments of time–is three thousand words per week enough? (probably not). At last, based on what I’ve managed to crank out in the past week or so, and the fact that the work gets faster as I do it more, it looks feasible. I remember this from previous long prose translation projects, numbers of words or pages per day projected out mentally to see whether I could finish by the deadline, revisions to those numbers as I worked, then a grown certainty and comfort as the project gained momentum. This is not like writing an article or review. You can stop where you need to stop for that. You write as much and as well as you have the time to do so. With this, there is an end from the beginning, and a whole bunch of words you need to get to, pages and pages of them. Maybe four thousand words per week? (probably not).

Nor is translating poetry the same, despite the fact of all those words–it’s true, there are fewer of them as a rule, but more importantly, and let’s face it, who’s waiting for you to finish those poems? You can take your time. Actually, the argument for timeliness is really flipped on its head: You really should take your time. Tomorrow that line or image will work itself out, and if not tomorrow, then the next day or the day after that. Here, however, not only do you have pages and pages of prose words, which is one rather interminable feeling thing, but there also seem to be people waiting, strange as that might seem from your poet’s perspective. Best get to it, every day, the earlier the better, and for as many hours each day as you can spare.

Hence the conclusion, which I’ve remarked on before though maybe not in writing until now, so here it is: The difference between translating poetry and translating prose? The backache.

Paper and Book

Very pleased to learn that my Woman in the Window will be released in paperback this spring. I try to feel good about that, but this perhaps American illness I have in spades, along with the deadline to finish Kin, has me looking ahead, and here I may have found the heart, or one of the hearts of Jergović’s book:

Why did Vasil’ Nikolaevich come to the Stubler house, among all those men and women with their children, to be completely silent in our midst?

When I’m bored or have nothing to think about, or when I feel hopeless and at the end of my rope—hopeless like now as I write this novel of the Stublers, whose end is known from the start, a novel out of time and in it, which continues even after it’s finished and is finished by its very first sentence, which reads, “There in Bosowicz, in the Romanian Banat, on his departure for Bosnia, my great-grandfather Karlo Stubler left behind an elder brother”—again I wonder why Vasil’ Nikolaevich came to our house.

Atop this question, whose unanswerability I try to preserve within me, cultivating it like an oak bonsai, a series of equally unknown answers grows, and each is in harmony with its own narrative genre, stylistic format, or perspective from which the same question is always posed.

The book is the enactment of this unanswerability.