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.

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Otata and Omama

Miljenko Jergovic uses the words “otata” and “omama,” which it took me a little bit of research to figure out are actual regionalisms for “Great-grandpa” and “Great-grandma.” They are used especially by Croats of German background, I assume as a kind of pidm_92787gin that takes the “o” of the German “Opa” (grandpa) and “Oma” (grandma) and combines it with the “tata” (father) and “mama” of Croatian.

I am still thinking about how to deal with this in translating from a text that uses these terms a lot—the male character (otata Karlo), who rather sets the tone for the family, is a Swabian from the Banat; his wife is half-Italian and half-German or Slovene (whether German or Slovene is something of a mystery). One option would be to leave them as otata and omama and assume, over the course of the thousand pages of the book, that readers will at least get used to them, if not learn to derive some of the same warmth of family feeling with which they are used in the book.

At the other end of the spectrum would be translating them as Great-grandpa and Great-grandma, which, while a little long, are not at all unwieldy in English. In my sample for the publisher, I used Great-grandpa—hadn’t got to the Great-grandma yet—and it worked fine, even if it loses some of the local color. It does get a bit long, however, when the first names of the characters are added. “Great-grandpa Karlo” and “Great-grandma Johanna,” repeated many times, start to “cut my ear,” as the Russians say.

Another option, would be to use the German Opa and Oma, especially since the author uses “nona” and “djed” for the grandparents—”nona” I plan to keep as Nona in English, while “djed” will likely be Grandpa—and so using the German words would not be confusing to readers as they would be the only characters referred to in that way, and using in effect three languages for the names of all these characters would suggest something of the linguistic range of the family. A disadvantage is that Opa and Oma are in themselves pure German and miss the mixture in the Bosno-Croatian version.

Another option would be to come up with something in English that is somehow like these other terms but more immediately accessible to an English reading audience, something like Opapa and Omama. Basically, Omama would be the same as in the source, and Opapa would be a root-based translation (tata becoming papa) combined with use of the German-derived “o,” which will be familiar to some English readers by association with Opa and Oma. Opapa and Omama would also match the rhythm of the source, and as I read them back the ring in my ear is rather nice.

These discrete entries are going to be a lot of help to me as I make my way through this monster of a book. In the meantime, I would love to receive any suggestions anyone might have.