Internal Rhyme for the Kicker

I’m moving so fast now that it’s likely I’ll forget even more of this process than elsewhere, so I’m creating a quick post as a memory marker. This is towards the end of “The Match Juggler,” an extraordinary story that actually has a slightly longer title: “The Match Juggler—Furtwängler.” The eponymous juggler is introduced early in the story and then left, when Rudolf Stubler says good-bye to him at the Graz station. Stubler continues on to Berlin, where he has a chance encounter, and a long conversation, with the conductor Wilhelm Furtwängler. The title of the story is ambiguous about whether Furtwängler is his own sort of match juggler. It is a story about art, the death of Beethoven at the hands of the Nazis, the Holocaust, and much more.

The thing I want to remember is the internal rhyme I’ve placed in this paragraph, which does not exist in the source but seems right to me here:

This was what Wilhelm Furtwängler was told, which he, word for word, conveyed to Rudolf Stubler, who would tell the story of these events during family gatherings, when someone got married or when someone was buried. Among the Stublers, as has been noted and as the finale of this family history testifies, they buried a lot more than they married.

I will finish this seventy-page story today, then move on to “The Bee Log,” an internal novella of 170 pages or so.

The idea of nebo as sky and as heaven

I remember Fulvio Tomizza making the claim—this was during the only meal we ever shared together, at his home in Trieste—that he aimed for five ideas per page. An idea, I understood, was a turn of some sort, either in reasoning or character depiction or language, some new thought that generated new interest on the level of the page while the entire book was working towards its larger aims. You might block out how you wanted the book to go, but ideas of this sort were discovered in the writing.

Translating an author’s work—a serious author who wields ideas in something like the manner Tomizza intimated—often means getting a feel for how the author thinks, the sorts of connections he makes. Otherwise, the turns leave you feeling baffled. This is true especially when the ideas are embedded in language play.

Here is an example from a passage in “The Match Juggler”:

As we have repeated on multiple occasions and demonstrated through the depiction of multiple episodes from his life and the memories of other members of the Stubler household, Rudolf Stubler was a believer. Chance (or God) had so willed it: the Stublers were divided into deep, authentic, which also means naïve, believers, and complete unbelievers. There was never a loss of understanding between them—about God there could be no misunderstanding. It was just that for some of them the sky was blue and for others heaven was empty.

This was an earlier draft, when I hadn’t figured out how to deal with the use of nebo, which can of course mean both sky and heaven. In context, the English sort of makes sense, but it is murky and leaves me feeling like the author (the translator channeling the author) is trying to be clever but not succeeding. One can sense a thought behind it, but without knowing that nebo has this double meaning in the source, the thought remains distant and not quite realized in the English version.

I haven’t been counting, but it feels like this sort of turn or one like it happens at least five times per page in Jergović’s prose, and I suspect it is one of the main ways that he manages to get us to be patient—he is very patient—with him as he makes his way towards the book’s larger aims. I have been thinking a lot about patience as I work my way through his book. It is a distinctive quality that he shares with writers he references often, like Ivo Andrić and Danilo Kiš.

Patience also helps me to resolve such issues, as I set them aside but return to them later, and, in this case, see that heavens (plural) can of course have a similar double quality, though by contrast to nebo, which begins with a secular sense and expands to a religious one, heavens begins with a religious sense and allows a secular one. It’s a difference I can live with, and my solution becomes: “It was just that for some of them the heavens were blue and for others they were empty.”

I believe my author will appreciate the zeugma.