Editing and Self-editing

I think about the importance of editing often as I’m working. Partly this is because I am also editing other people’s writing as I write and translate. It is easier to separate these activities when the writing is of very different kinds, but sometimes they cross paths, and then I have to be careful that the voice of one first-person narration does not slip into another first-person narration. That, I think, is happening with this post. It sounds to me a bit like the narrator in Vassilis Alexakis’s Mother Tongue (La langue maternelle), the English translation of which (by Harlon Patton) I am editing for Autumn Hill as I work on Kin. Alexakis has a lovely first-person narrator’s voice, but it is quite different from Jergovic’s. How they are different would take me too long to figure out–I need to get back to both!–but here is a very brief example of the kind of editing that seems to be absolutely essential in both the self-performed and the other-performed kinds.

Re-reading a recently translated passage, I came across this phrase, which ends a section in which the narrator has commented on the disappearance of an entire line of relatives from the past: “Mi smo u rodu s fantomima i duhovima.” I am somewhat embarrassed to admit that my draft version had “We are the relatives of phantoms and spirits,” which is basically what the phrase means but misses an obvious connection to the very title of the book, which is explicit in the expression, “u rodu s…” (in relation to…). The slight change to “We are kin to phantoms and spirits” raises the register ever so slightly and strikes for the whole line a more effective, more moving tone.

I find myself looking at every sentence this way, which is of course no way to finish on time but gives me so much more pleasure than just rushing forward to get through the pages (and pages). It will be a better book, I hope, as a result of these little things.

Uncles and Uncles

I am struggling a bit with the challenge of Turkishisms. There are lots of them in Rod, regionally specific words that derive originally from Turkish and retain something of their Ottoman-era stylistic aura. Sometimes they are referenced explicitly, sometimes they pass by without comment, but any reader of the original work will be aware of them, even if only dimly. How to bring them out without simply using an italicized foreign word in each case has to be part of a global approach to the whole translation, it seems to me.

A good example is the chapter entitled “Stričevi i amidže,” which means “uncles and uncles,” the first word deriving from “stric” or “strik” (father’s brother), while the second is the plural of “amidža,” which according to the Hrvatski jezični portal, means “stric.” A bit more searching will make it clear that amidža is the word used by Muslim families for uncle, and this is what the chapter is about. The ending is poignant:

When they found themselves all together, they always knew exactly, and never did any child mistake, who was called amidža by whom and who was called strik by whom.

The wars of the nineties were needed for the Rejc children and grandchildren to understand the nature of the difference.

Our Auntie Marica, Uncle Eda’s wife, a good cook and a simple-hearted woman, with a big heart and a stormy disposition, was born in Vitez.

Nieces and nephews did not call their uncle amidža there.

Except among the Muslims.

This kind of example is simpler than those in which the words are used without comment, for here the text teaches readers to read, making it possible to simplify the chapter title to “Uncles” without fear that the significance of the word “amidža” will be lost.

Elsewhere I need to think and choose carefully. There are so many examples that I’ve started keeping a list. It will be something I talk about with my author–for we are at least in contact about such things–when we discuss the text at length.