Tag: prose

Translating Dubravka Ugrešić’s The Red School, Vladislav Beronja

The word translation comes from Latin, meaning “to carry across.” Let’s first dwell on the verb “carry.” It suggests that one should be careful and not spill, break, shatter, whatever object one is transporting from one shore to the other. Here the cargo is especially precious to me. Ugrešić has been one of my favorite writers ever since I picked up The Museum of Unconditional Surrender, her 1997 novel that uses Berlin’s scarred cityscape as a meditation on war, memory, and loss. Taking the form of an émigré’s suitcase, the novel is also filled with verbal photographs—transportable, fragile memories of an interrupted life and a former homeland (Yugoslavia). It was the Croatian original that had left a primal scar on me, a mark of both its beauty and power, but I have since read and reread Celia Hawkesworth’s English translation and been deeply seared by it. Other originals and translations followed. The Ministry of Pain in Michael Henry Heim’s polyphonic improvisation—a novel about masochistic attachments to loss and the anodyne power of forgetting; Baba Yaga Laid an Egg in Ellen Elias-Bursać’s spirited rendition—a feminist reworking of gendered archetypes in Slavic mythology and folklore; and David Williams and Elias-Bursać’s transposition of Ugrešić’s wily Fox—a book of multiple, defiantly female self-portraits nested inside one another like Matryoshka dolls. Her collections of essays are no less precious, intricate, architectural: The Culture of Lies, Thank You for Not Reading, American Fictionary, Nobody’s Home, Karaoke Culture, Europe in Sepia, and the most recent, The Age of Skin. In all these works, Ugrešić has distilled so much history, so many cultural references, so much feeling and reflection into a miniature object—a printed book. To read Ugrešić is to commune with a sensitive, playful, deeply intentional consciousness compacted into the space of a bookshelf; to trace the routes of her peregrinations through Berlin, Zagreb, Amsterdam, New York, Moscow, Naples and Tokyo; and to partake in her melancholy reflections on the detritus of history left in the wake of “progress.” So, when Dubravka had agreed to collaborate on the last issue of harlequin creature with her multimedia work, The Red School, Meghan and I were overjoyed. This is a writer we both cherish with a project that fit perfectly into harlequin creature’s commitment to women writers and artists, to translation as cultural labor, and to sophisticated combinations of image and word that, in this case, recalled the history of experimental and bespoke bookmaking. It also offered an exciting challenge to us as printers. We were already doing the work of translation in our heads. But taking on this role, in more sense than one, was also daunting. How do we carry this precious object across different languages and forms? What if something spills on the way, shatters and loses its essence?

Continue reading “Translating Dubravka Ugrešić’s The Red School, Vladislav Beronja”