Saturday, November 21, 2020

Suggested translation, passage from Marie Ndiaye


Suggested translation of passage from Marie N’Diaye


I wrote[1] my mother a letter[2] full of fake cheerfulness; I pretended to believe her and congratulated her, was so pleased[3] for her. She answered straightaway and asked me to come[4] to her home[5] in Marseille.[6] She said[7] nothing about my children, did not[8] ask about the health of any of them (she did not know about the baby which is on the way). I could tell it was my mother’s handwriting: the dots on the I s are outsized[9] circles, and every sentence contains several surprising mistakes, which are somehow original, all hers. She suggested I should come[10] to see her for Christmas Day, and practically ordered[11] me to do so,[12] saying that right after she was leaving to visit her husband’s family.[13] The word upset me terribly.[14] It absolutely could not fit my mother,[15] that plump[16] lady, her face entirely framed by the grey edge of her headscarf, with her hollow, yellow cheeks and her thick black plastic glasses. How could that rigid[17] and desperate woman who had never so much as pronounced the name of any man since my father left, that woman who was so withdrawn,[18] now be talking of her husband?[19] And of a child? I worked out[20] how old she was: she was forty seven. It might be possible, but it was not at all believable. And was it not somewhat rude[21] to ask me to come for Christmas, on my own, and say nothing of her grandchildren, as if all of a sudden she did not have any any more, or no longer acknowledged their existence.

Two days before Christmas, there I was on my way to Marseilles. We had arranged that my mother pick me up at Saint-Charles[22] station[23] and as I was waiting on the platform, tired, heavy and almost unable to move, thinking she must have forgotten we were to meet up, or that the whole story was so unlikely that it couldn’t end with my real mother actually turning up, I saw a smiling woman coming towards me who was wearing[24] my mother’s unsightly[25] glasses. A man was following behind her, and in the arms of this man[26] was a little girl.

[1] Structures with « write » may be more complex than you think. « I wrote to my mother a letter… » sounds excessively literary to me, « I wrote my mother a letter » is better here. Notice that when the adressee is represented by a personal pronoun, the grammar is different in Britain than in the US. British : « Why don’t you write to me ?; Why didn’t you write to him ? » USA : « Why don’t you write me ? » « Why didn’t you write him ? » See here : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VRwAN6kv14w

[2] A « fake letter » sounds too much like an object which appeared to be a letter but was in fact something else. However, « phoney » is acceptable.

[3] « Rejoiced » is much too strong, and sounds rather biblical [« and my spirit hath rejoiced in God, my saviour » : Luke 1 :47].

[4] I think it is slightly better to avoid the word « invite ». Being invited to your own mother’s home sounds a little odd.

[5] “Her home » and « her place » are different in register, but neither is impossible here.

[6] Old British people still write « Marseille ». In journalism, using the French spelling without the « s » is now far more common.

[7] Far better to add a verb in translating into English, as often.

[8] This passage is in a fairly informal style, since we see such expressions as « me voilà en route », « presque le l’impose ». Is the style informal enough to allow use to use contractions in English ? I do not think so, but the point is debatable.

[9] Or over-large. Disproportionate does exist, but sounds over-technical.

[10] « She suggested I come » is good, too, perhaps too literary.

[11] Not « forced » which suggests too much physical constraint.

[12] = “practically left me no choice”.

[13] Someone tried « She was leaving for her husband’s relatives’ ». This is, strictly speaking, possible. (I am spending Christmas day at my wife's mother's) but difficult to follow here, and better avoided.

[14] I liked « the word really grated on me ».

[15] = It was completely at odds with who my mother was.

[16] “Chubby” is usually reserved for babies or children.

[17] Someone tried « adamant » but this adjective is usually used of a person in a specific situation, and not to speak of a general personality trait. « I tried to persuade the sales manager to delay the delivery, but he was adamant that the following week would be too late ».

[18] “Secluded » is possible, but « withdrawn » sounds more psychological .

[19] I chose to split the sentence in two. If you do not make this choice, it is best  to move the main verb upt towards the beginning of the sentence, or add a new additional verb.

[20] The problem is not complex enough to use a calculator, or to use the word « calculated ». A latinate word of this sort is bound to be more at home in scientific or technical discourse.

[21] “Out of order” is possible, but probably too slangy. “Out of place” is good. “Inappropriate” sounds too intellectual an objection.

[22] Strictly speaking, this needs a hyphen.

[23] No definite article here. « I will pick you up at Victoria Station » « What time do you arrive at Incheon airport ? ». Also « train station » is probably too much information.

[24] The Be +ing is necessary here.

[25] « Inelegant » is not strong enough.

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