The Book of Lech Wałęsa

walesaBy Various

I found this really worthwhile. It gave me a real insight into both Solidarity and Wałęsa. One really big misconception that appears to be propagated by the media is that Wałęsa was fighting for freedom as was therefore a capitalist – but no! Wałęsa was socialist – he believed in socialism as the leader of the Solidarity trade union. After reading this I am really interested to see what he has to say about the way things are now in Poland. Perhaps he has written something – but probably not, he seems to be a man of action and improvisation in the grand tradition of Mickiewicz. The structure of the book is well done; it builds up a groundswell until at last in the last interview it is Wałęsa himself. He seems very quick and quite amusing and able to respond with dexterity to the difficult questions asked. The interview with Wajda is also good as are the statements by random people who sent letters.

The book is also intriguing because it seems that it was published maybe a year after the August 1980 Solidarity victory in Gdansk where Solidarity won the right to be an independent trade union. However in December 1981 Jaruzelski cracked down on Solidarity and the leaders were all arrested. During the eighties there was ferment but it wasn’t until 1989 that things changed and the old Party leadership stepped down. So these reminiscences date from the time where they thought change was about to happen and not in the way that it eventually did but though a socialist system where the people did have control. I enjoyed reading this. It’s not going to be to everyones taste quite simply because not everyone is interested in Polish politics. However, I would say that that a knowledge of Poland and the other central states is the key to understanding Europe as whole.

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That Mad Ache / Translator, Trader

tmaBy Francoise Sagan / Douglas Hofstadter.

This is really two books in one though they are linked. Translator, Trader is an essay covering the ruminations of Douglas Hofstadter as he translated Sagan’s novel ‘la Chamade’ which he renamed ‘That Mad Ache’.

Translator, Trader was perhaps more interesting than That Mad Ache. In it Hofstadter goes into great detail over the issues that presented themselves both specific and general while translating. In the most general sense he had to decide how far to deviate from the literal interpretation of the text in order to create a new work of art in English. Some of the examples he gave did seem a little colloquial but having said that, Sagan’s novel isn’t exactly Stendhal or Chateaubriand. She writes in a fairly breezy way in keeping with the time she was writing. So, Hofstadter is probably ok to translate in a much less literal sense in order to give the novel the meaning and cohesion he requires in English. He has also translated Pushkin’s Eugene Onegin which I would be concerned about if he started using Americanisms like ‘broad’ or ‘dame’ – not that he does. Still, very interesting and revealing particularly since I am helping translate an enormous strange novel from the early 20th century. In this case colloquialisms wouldn’t work as reading it in the original language the prose is quite bonkers, verbose with an extravagant vocabulary. In this instance, to try to recreate that madness and absurdity in English you would have to translate in an overblown literate way.

I think Hofstadter succeeds, the novel reads well and the excerpts that seemed to grate when he quoted outside the novel worked in context and I didn’t notice them – the novel seemed very smooth. I am less sure about his decision to add extra chapters because the novel’s action months after Autumn and two years later didn’t fall under the seasonal moniker ‘Autumn’. I think Sagan meant a less than literal Autumn – it was obviously the Autumn of their relationship or love. So, Hofstadter definitely did put his stamp on this translation and it works well.

As to Sagan’s novel – it was good. I didn’t think it was amazing. I remember I really liked  ‘A Certain Smile’ quite a few years ago and this was every bit as good. I guess now I like a bit more humour in a novel and greater substance. It is still very affecting – not in the same way that Gides’s ‘Strait is the Gate’ is, but it’s well worth reading. If you add Hofstadter’s Translator, Trader into the equation then this double book is excellent.

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