Wednesday, 15 January 2014

#translationquery: The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet

Well what do you know, more random thoughts about form in translation...

This spring I read David Mitchell's The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet - absorbing, absolutely unputdownable book by a preposterously gifted writer - and as I laid into chapter 39, I found this:

Gulls wheel through spokes of sunlight over gracious roofs and dowdy thatch, snatching entrails at the marketplace and escaping over cloistered gardens, spike topped walls and treble-bolted doors. Gulls alight on whitewashed gables, creaking pagodas and dung-ripe stables; circle over towers and cavernous bells and over hidden squares where urns of urine sit by covered wells, watched by mule-drivers, mules and wolf-snouted dogs, ignored by hunchbacked makers of clogs; gather speed up the stoned-in Nakashima River and fly beneath the arches of its bridges, glimpsed from kitchen doors, watched by farmers walking high, stony ridges. Gulls fly through clouds of steam from laundries' vats; over kites unthreading corpses of cats; over scholars glimpsing truth in fragile patterns; over bath-house adulterers, heartbroken slatterns; fishwives dismembering lobsters and crabs; their husbands gutting mackerel on slabs; woodcutters' sons sharpening axes; candle-makers, rolling waxes; flint-eyed officials milking taxes; etiolated lacquerers; mottle-skinned dyers; imprecise soothsayers; unblinking liars; weavers of mats; cutters of rushes; ink-lipped calligraphers dipping brushes; booksellers ruined by unsold books; ladies-in-waiting; tasters; dressers; filching page-boys; runny-nosed cooks; sunless attic nooks where seamstresses prick calloused fingers; limping malingerers; swineherds; swindlers; lip-chewed debtors rich in excuses; heard-it-all creditors tightening nooses; prisoners haunted by happier lives and ageing rakes by other men's wives; skeletal tutors goaded to fits; firemen-turned-looters when occasion permits; tongue-tied witnesses; purchased judges; mothers-in-law nurturing briars and grudges; apothecaries grinding powders with mortars; palanquins carrying not-yet-wed daughters; silent nuns; nine-year-old whores; the once-were-beautiful gnawed by sores; statues of Jizo anointed with posies; syphilitics sneezing through rotted-off noses; potters; barbers; hawkers of oil; tanners; cutlers; carters of night-soil; gate-keepers; bee-keepers; blacksmiths and drapers; torturers; wet-nurses; perjurers; cut-purses; the newborn; the growing; the strong-willed and pliant; the ailing; the dying; the weak and defiant; over the roof of a painter withdrawn first from the world, then his family, and down into a masterpiece that has, in the end, withdrawn from its creator; and around again, where their flight began, over the balcony of the Room of the Last Chrysanthemum, where a puddle from last night's rain is evaporating; a puddle in which Magistrate Shiroyama observes the blurred reflections of gulls wheeling through spokes of sunlight. This world, he thinks, contains just one masterpiece, and that is itself

The rhyme sneaks in so sweetly that it was several lines before I realised what I was reading. And then it disappears again as seamlessly as it appeared. The use of rhyme in the passage doesn't seem structurally or thematically motivated, as far as I can see - it is not repeated elsewhere in the novel, it apparently just happens, because of reasons.

I am curious to know how the translators rendered this amazing passage.
If any well-disposed readers of this blog happen to have a copy to hand of the French translation by Manuel Berri (Éditions Alto, 2012)

or of the Italian translation by Maurizio Bartocci (Frassinelli, 2010) (not that I would know the translator's name from the publisher's website because it appears not to be listed, tsk)

or of the German translation by Volker Oldenburg (Rowohlt, 2012)

or of the Spanish translation by Víctor V. Úbeda (Duomo Ediciones, 2011) (not that I would know the translator's name from the publisher's website because, grrrrrrrrr, etc......)

please feel free to get in touch with a comment about it - or better yet, share it. Indeed, if you have access to any translation of this passage please do feel free to write in; although I would need a back-translation into English to make any sense at all of translations into other languages, I am still curious. 

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