Monday, April 26, 2010

Andrei Makine: Pardonnez mon français, non?

Life is But a Dream?
(Image from

Michael Kimmelman, whom I've previously cited in Gypsy Scholar, has written a fascinating NYT article, "Pardon My French" (April 21, 2010), on the feared 'decline' of the elegant, elite French language -- feared by the French to be declining, though Mr. Kimmelman is more optimistic.

Foreign-born speakers, however, are taking over . . . for instance, a certain Andreï Makine, who initially encountered difficulties as a foreigner writing in French in France:
[T]o a contemporary writer like the Soviet-born Andreï Makine, who found political asylum here [in France] in 1987, French promises assimilation and a link to the great literary tradition of Zola and Proust. He recounted the story of how, 20-odd years ago, his first manuscripts, which he wrote in French, were rejected by French publishers because it was presumed that he couldn't write French well enough as a foreigner.

Then he invented the name of a translator, resubmitted the same works as if they were translations from Russian, and they won awards. He added that when his novel "Dreams of My Russian Summers" became a runaway best seller and received the Prix Goncourt, publishing houses in Germany and Serbia wanted to translate the book from its "original" Russian manuscript, so Mr. Makine spent two "sleepless weeks," he said, belatedly producing one. (page 2)
Kimmelman has his own point to make, but I find amusing that the Germans and Serbians both wanted the 'original' Russian rather than the original French and that Makine had to stay up for two weeks writing nonstop to produce the 'original' Russian from the original French.

But perhaps there is something more original about a Russian-language edition of Dreams of My Russian Summers? I am curious. Which is better, the French original, or the Russian translation? For that matter, how are the German and Serbian translations from the 'original' Russian? Are they superior to the French original? And what of the English translation from the French Le testament français?

As I implied once before, I am lost among the translators . . .

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At 6:40 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Now this is the kinda stuff I like reading about.

I'd break out a beer but the VA is making me lay off for two months. You may have two though.

Place straws in each and I'll live vicariously.


At 7:00 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

The story is amusing, JK. I'll take you up on those two beers.

Sorry to hear, by the way, that the VA is doing its job.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 10:26 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't know if you asked in jest or in seriousness, but if the setting is Russia and the characters Russian, then the Russian language would better communicate the story. I have not read Linda Park's A Single Shard. It would be interesting to see how vividly and accurately Joseon comes alive in the pages of an original English novel.

At 10:46 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

In jestful seriousness, I suppose. I do wonder if he translated from French into Russian or wrote somewhat freely. But I also wonder why he didn't just admit the truth . . . which eventually came out, as we see.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 1:02 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm sorry too but I just wish the VA had done it's work better last year when they doubled my dosage of a particular med and "forgot" to advise me I could avoid having to give up my beloved beer if I'd simply change my diet.

There is a silver lining, (I suppose) cholesterol is down dramatically and the American fishing industry should be re-hiring.

But now I feel I (and the VA) owe apologies to all those hardworking brewmeisters who are gonna be collaterally damaged.


At 1:18 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

This is what happens, JK, when the guvmint gets involved in things better left to . . . excuse me, better the right of business.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 1:36 PM, Anonymous Toomas Nipernaadi said...

The thing about Makine, though, is that he fibs - so how can we say what is true and what is a fib intended to sell and spread his word?

When meeting with readers in Tallinn last week, Makine told that he does not think he would be able to produce good Russian translations of his work (meaning he has learned from experience of Nabokov?)

He also worried - he thinks the Russian translations of his books are mediocre - "If the translations would be bad, it would be better - readers would understand then that the problems are due to quality of translation. I just hope that there are readers also in Russian who will read my books in French and so know what is what."

At 1:54 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Thanks, Toomas Nipernaadi, for the comment and the report from Tallinn, Estonia. You're right, of course. If a man has deceived, he may deceive again. What can we believe?

Jeffery Hodges

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