Tag Archives: literature

Book launch, 22 May: Gwen Jones, Chicago of the Balkans

The evening of Wednesday 22 May is the book launch for Gwen Jones’s Chicago of the Balkans: Budapest in Hungarian Literature 1900-1939 (Oxford: Legenda, 2013) at UCL-SSEES, co-hosted with the UCL Department of Hebrew and Jewish Studies. Gwen will be in conversation with Professor Ádám Nádasdy (ELTE) about the book and Budapest literature in general.


Source: http://www.fortepan.hu/

The ‘Chicago of the Balkans’ of the title comes from an essay by Lajos Hatvany, ‘Magyar irodalom a külföld előtt’ [Hungarian Literature Through Foreign Eyes], published in Nyugat in 1910. Introducing an imaginary foreign reader to Hungarian history and culture, Hatvany writes:

Ez a szó: Magyarország — eleve és utólag valami korcsmában látott maszatos olajnyomat bizonytalan képzetét kelti. Sivár pusztai tájon tekintélyes nyáj legelész az ösztövér gémeskút körül, — a magyar költő ezt óriási szúnyoghoz hasonlítja, amely az öreg föld vérét szívja ki, kócos-lompos birkabőr-subákba burkolózott parasztok is állnak ott, nagy pipákból pöfékelők, — az egész kép megmártva vöröses alkonyi fényben. […] Magyarország 1867 óta kezdetleges földművelő népből magasabb rendűvé emelkedett, — a közgazdasági gyarapodás, haladás korszaka ez. Ez korszaka az ország európ… az amerikaiasodásának ideje. Budapest a Balkán Chicagójává lesz.

[This word — Hungary — summons up, in advance and subsequently, the uncertain idea of a greasy oil print seen in some tavern. A sizeable herd grazes on bleak plains around the lean shadoof, which the Hungarian poet compares to a huge mosquito sucking out the blood of the old land, while peasants wrapped in unkempt, shaggy sheepskin coats also stand there, puffing on great pipes, and the whole picture is steeped in a reddish twilight. […] Since 1867, Hungary has risen from a rudimentary agricultural people to a higher rank: this is the era of economic growth and progress. This era is the time of the country’s Europ… its Americanization. Budapest will become the Chicago of the Balkans.]

The ‘Chicago of the Balkans’ is not a reference to Al Capone and friends, or even the jazz era of the 1920s, but to Budapest’s rapid expansion and building boom in the last decades of the nineteenth century (for instance, outer Erzsébetváros in Pest was nicknamed ‘Csikágó’ in the 1890s), while most other parts of the country, not to mention the prevailing conservative mentality, in Hatvany’s eyes, remained provincial and backward.

The book spans both the late liberal Habsburg era Budapest, and post-liberal, post-Trianon Budapest, the capital of a much smaller and more homogenous country, and illustrates how discussions of the ‘Jewish Question’ became inseparable from political struggles for the capital city and its culture over a period of four decades. Works by writers from a wide variety of backgrounds are discussed, from Jewish satirists to icons of the radical Right, representatives of conservative national schools, and modernist, avant-garde and ‘peasantist’ authors.

Venue: UCL-SSEES, Masaryk Senior Common Room, 4th floor, 16 Taviton Street, London WC1H 0BW

Time: 6 pm

Weöres translation workshop, 22 May

On Wednesday 22 May, UCL-SSEES is hosting a one-day knowledge exchange workshop to mark the centenary of Sándor Weöres’s birth, entitled Translation in the light (or shadow?) of language, culture and politics [poster pdf]. The event is co-organised by the Centre for Language-Based Area Studies at UCL-SSEES, the Balassi Institute Hungarian Cultural Centre London, and the University of Glasgow Centre for Russian, Central and East European Studies.

weöres tollalVenue: Masaryk Senior Common Room, 4th floor, 16 Taviton Street, London WC1H 0BW

Time: 10 am – 5 pm (registration from 9.30 am)

The work and legacy of Sándor Weöres (1913-1989), one of Hungary’s most influential twentieth-century poets, provide an exceptionally intriguing starting point for discussing the possibilities of translation in its most challenging form, the translation of poetic texts, which, in turn, also challenges the notion and the possibility of translation itself.

Labelled ‘formalist’ in Socialist Hungary, Weöres was banned from publication in the 1950s. Like many similarly sidelined poets, the only way he could see his work appear in print was through translations of literary works during these years of relative silence. He not only translated from Russian, French, Italian, English, and Chinese – often taking a rough translation of the source text as a starting point – but in his poetry he also explored such diverse areas as Eastern philosophy, Polynesian and classical European myths, early modern Hungarian literature, and children’s nursery rhymes. Following his Europe-wide recognition, which included two public readings in London (1966 and 1980) and in New York and Washington, D.C. in 1977, his works have been translated into a variety of languages, including English, French, and Russian.

The first part of the workshop will address Weöres’s work and legacy, as well as broader issues related to the difficulty of translating poetry.

10.15-11.45 Discussing Weöres in translation: George Gömöri, Zsuzsa Varga and Eszter Tarsoly.

12.00-13.30 Discussing translation in Weöres: Ádám Nádasdy, Daniel Abondolo, Philip Barker and Ágnes Lehóczky.

The afternoon will feature a panel discussion between publishers on the commercial, cultural and political considerations that play a part in the commissioning of translations, followed by a translation workshop.

14.30-16.00 Joana Zgadzaj (Stork Press), Susan Kojakovic-Curtis (Istros Books), Clive Boutle (Francis Boutle), and Mike Tate (Jantar Publishing).

16.15-16.45 Hands-on translation workshop

JAK literary translators’ workshop, 2012 (II)

(Continued from the earlier post here.)

The first texts we translated with Péter Rácz at the 2012 JAK literary translators’ workshop were entries from the 2009 Szép magyar szótár by Szilárd Podmaniczky (b. 1963). The ‘dictionary’ is an anthology of aphorisms and reflections, none of which is longer than a handful of sentences, and first published in the weekly Élet és irodalom. Its title translates literally as ‘Beautiful Hungarian Dictionary’ which says approximately nothing to the English reader; I chose to translate it as ‘Hungarian Handbook of Life’, which seemed to me to convey the author’s ironic intention, although we also toyed with the idea of ‘A Hungarian Dictionary for the Edification of its Readers’, which seemed rather wordy. The entries we translated were the following: jelenség, jellem, mamlasz, manó, uzsgyi, válik and zuháré, most of which were relatively straightforward to work with. Questions of social and cultural resonance were discussed, with reference to tropes and concerns in Hungarian literature that may not be so prominent elsewhere, and this was particularly relevant for natives of the wetter parts of the UK when translating the entry entitled ‘Zuháré’, a cloudburst. Where heavy rainfall is common, a sudden downpour is unlikely to merit reflection, and thus the uncommon word ‘zuháré’ might even be translated for UK readers as ‘heatwave’ or ‘scorcher’, and the entry rewritten accordingly if the translator had full licence to translate freely.

The second text was by Mihály Kornis (b. 1949), the first chapter of Végre élsz (1980), entitled ‘Kérvény’, an official application. The format was easily recognisable as turbo bureaucrat-ese, an exercise in exaggerating the clunky language and thinking of red tape to render it even more absurd. The application in question is a request from one István Tábori concerning the length of his life span and major events, including nominations of family members, education and work, surviving the Holocaust, expropriation of family property after 1948, and his moral opposition to the 1956 ‘counter-revolution’. In other words, the applicant is requesting advance permission to submit to the Party-state. Even the applicant’s name, Tábori, is important, although the translator may choose to leave it as it is: tábor is Hungarian for camp, and the -i adjectival suffix at the end of a family name can also denote Jewish heritage (many Magyarizing Jews chose aristocratic names in the nineteenth century).

Problematic phrases included ‘törvényerejű rendelet’, a government decree issued with the full force of law (and a favourite Socialist legislative tool), and ‘összhasználati idő’, a meaningless construct indicating the total amount of time foreseen. Here is an example of one of the euphemisms used:

(d) 1949-ben szeretnék megismerkedni a fiammal. Jó lenne azonban, ha még ebben az évben végérvényesen megszabadítanának az autómtól, üzletemtől és a párttagságomtól.

The applicant is recommending he be ‘definitively liberated’ from his car, business and Party membership in 1949, the first year of the Hungarian Workers’ Party dictatorship and the era of high Stalinism. Discussion of the text turned to depictions of the Holocaust in national literatures, and ways in which translators might explain certain items to the reader without intervening too much or resorting to footnotes.

The final texts we translated with Péter were by Ödön Palasovszky (1899-1980), a neglected Dadaist author, poet and theatre director, whose works were often banned and pulped in the 1920s. Some of Palasovszky’s poems are available in this article on the apostles of the Hungarian avant-garde from the online edition of Irodalmi Jelen, and which includes some of his ‘Punalua’ poems from the mid-1920s. Punalua is a polyamorous tradition of inter-group marriage among Sandwich Islanders, Hawaii and clearly, this was not one of the ‘Christian and national’ activities promoted during Horthy’s regency; even Lajos Kassák regarded Palasovszky as an anarchist.

We were given the choice of translating either the ‘Invokáció’ or ‘A zrí – punalua’, both written in 1926. I opted for the latter, which combines pseudo-religious oratory with revolutionary zeal and the promise of violence. The Hungarian ‘zrí’ may be translated into English as rumpus, ruckus, hubbub, brouhaha, or hullabaloo, all of which sound like splendid Dadist pastimes, as well as frenzy, which my colleague chose as it evokes the sound of the original. There’s no greater challenge for the translator than made-up words, and Palasovszky describes the hordes of ‘zrí’ as brothers-in-arms, children thronging through the streets of Budapest, who must kill him because they love him:

Fölismerték magukat bennem és mindennek homálytalanság ami van, mert ez az ő igazi természetük.

‘They recognised in me themselves and the [homálytalanság] of everything that is, because this is their true nature.’ Homálytalanság resembles komolytalanság (serious-lack of-ness), meaning flippancy or frivolity, but homály means obscurity, darkness or dimness. Here, the English translator needs to invent an equally suggestive neologism that won’t stand out as being invented, but which at the same time makes the reader stop and think, hm, excellent new word.

Once again, we worked with a series of texts that were progressively more taxing, but no less enjoyable for that. It is my understanding that many participants were particularly glad to read relatively unknown, or rather neglected authors for the first time, particularly when their writings seem so fresh and exciting almost a century after publication. Many thanks are due to Péter for his thoughtful and exacting workshops; the official diary of the week’s literary events is available in Hungarian on the literature pages of prae.hu.

Hard-boiled translation

– Megvan a kés!
– Hol?
– A hátamban.

Jenő Rejtő, Piszkos Fred, a kapitány

We discussed ways in which a literary language might grow through translation, with reference to translations of hard-boiled fiction by Dashiell Hammett, Ross Macdonald, Chuck Palahniuk and others. Unsentimental narratives of violence and sleuthing can pose many an enjoyable problem for the translator. This excerpt is from Dashiell Hammett’s Red Harvest (1929):

While we were talking about it, plain-clothes men brought in the red-faced bird who had stopped the slug I had missed Whisper with.

Translated into Hungarian almost fifty years later by László Szíjgyártó as Véres aratás (diluting ‘red’ into ‘bloody’ harvest), the passage reads as follows:

Még erről beszélgettünk, amikor két civil ruhás zsaru behozta a vörös képű fickót, akiben megakadt a Suttogónak szánt golyóm.

The translator’s way of dealing with a subject who had stopped a bullet intended for someone else was rather neat. Elements of the poetic came into play elsewhere:

If he was my man, it was a fair bet he wasn’t armed. I played it that way, moving straight up the slimy middle of the alley, looking into shadows with eyes, ears and nose.

The translator makes best of use of the tools available, and will stretch the language where s/he can:

Fogadni mertem volna, hogy ha csak ugyan az én emberem, akkor nincs nála fegyver. Ezért aztán habozás nélkül a csúszós mellékutca közepén rohantam előre, belelesve, belefülelve, beleszimatolva a sötétségbe.

Similarly, Ross Macdonald’s 1956 novel The Barbarous Coast, translated in 1990 as A barbár part by Károly Ross, throws up a number of cultural references which may require explanation, or be ignored:

We climbed the steps to Mrs Lamb’s back porch, and I knocked on the rusty screen door. A heavy-bodied old woman in a wrapper opened the inside door. She had a pleasantly ugly bulldog face and a hennaed head, brash orange in the sun. An anti-wrinkle patch between her eyebrows gave her an air of calm eccentricity.

Ross translates:

Fölmentünk Mrs Lamb hátsó verandájára, s bekopogtam a rozsdásodó zsaluajtón. Egy pongyolát viselő, termetes, idős asszony nyitotta ki a belső ajtót. Kellemesen csúnya a buldogarca s vörösre festett haja volt, amely inkább narancsszínűnek látszott a napsütésben. A szemöldöke között lévő ráncosdás elleni tapasz egyfajta szolid különcséget kölcsönzött az arcának.

In translation, metaphor may become simile. The Barbarous Coast again:

He lay exhausted by his incredible leap from nowhere into the sun.

Úgy hevert, mint aki kimerített a hatalmas ugrás a semmiből a fénybe.

Excerpts from Chuck Palahniuk’s Fight Club (1996) revealed a combination of experimentation with straightforward error:

The moment Marla is out the door, Tyler appears back in the room. Fast as a magic trick. My parents did this magic act for five years.

From Attila Varró’s 2000 translation Harcosok klubja:

Amint Maria kiteszi a lábát, Tyler felbukkan a konyhaajtóban. A Nagy Illuzionista. Akár az apám, életem első hat évében.

Aside from the choices all translators must make, which are open to discussion, error usually comes about, we concluded, when the translator is tired.

We ended the discussion looking at György Dragomán’s masterful 2005 translation of Samuel Beckett’s Watt (1953), on which Dragomán is writing his doctoral thesis:

Form and content are not easily separated, each can and must be explained away in terms of the other, but the circularity of the argument will be closer to the insane attitude of endless investigation celebrated in the novel than to the ordinary world of logic and reason.

The full article is available in English, the Hungarian afterword to his translation is here.

Translation seminar with Len Rix

On Thursday 27 March, we once again had the pleasure of Len Rix’s company, this time discussing his translations of Antal Szerb, Utas és holdvilág, 1937 (Journey by Moonlight, Pushkin, 2000), Magda Szabó, Az ajtó, 1987 (The Door, Vintage, 2005), and his article ‘In Praise of Translation’, recently published in the Hungarian Quarterly.

Len described the two novels as personal, quasi-autobiographical works, both dealing with an exploration of the religious mentality, where core personal tragedy is sublimated. Szerb’s brutal self-dissection relies on form and parallelism but, in contrast to Szabó, is somewhat tempered by his heterodox Catholicism. The novel moves between different perspectives using narrative voice to scrutinise bourgeois conformity and façades. Szabó, however, puts her Protestant guilt ‘out there’ for all to examine, and is far more puritanical and judgemental, to the extent that the text is over-charged, and occasionally vulgar. There are very few shades of grace here.

Both texts condense the whole novel in the first chapter, which we read and discussed in the original, draft and final translation. Particular challenges for the translator included the ubiquitous ‘még’ and ‘már’, the countless roles played by ‘is’, rhythm and syntax, and rhetoric.

Regarding the faithfulness and the translation of Hungarian literature, while an older generation of Hungarians in the West see it as their duty to ‘protect’ Hungarian literature from translation and publishers continue to observe a cautious parochialism, successful translations have ‘lifted’ the literal text and made it accessible to an international audience. Here, sales figures speak for themselves.

It was a great pleasure to welcome Len as a guest, in particular for final-year BA students interested in pursuing translation as a career.

Roundtable discussion and exhibition at the centenary of Nyugat

On 11 December 2008, the Friday Circle convened a roundtable discussion and exhibition celebrating the centenary of literary journal Nyugat (West, 1908-41). Anniversary events in Hungary included a year-long exhibition at the Petőfi Literary Museum, numerous talks, lectures and public events, a Nyugat 100 bus that toured the country for six months with a mobile exhibition, and a number of important archive resources being made available online, from audio recordings of Nyugat authors reading their works, texts and graphics, to personal correspondence.

Our contribution was intended as a reflection on Hungarian literature, culture and translation at Nyugat’s centenary. To this end, we invited speakers and guests to a roundtable discussion at the University College London Wilkins Refectory, to discuss the anniversary and broader questions of Hungary’s contentious relationship to ‘the West’, over coffee and Hungarian patisserie.

Following a welcome from Dr Daniel Abondolo in the chair, Tim Wilkinson, translator (Imre Kertész, Péter Zilahy, a number of academic monographs on history and culture) and essayist, opened the roundtable. Noting that Nyugat was by no means a representative cross-section of Hungarian literature at the time, Tim introduced the notion of the literary canon in order to address its scope and validity. If a major writer such as Dezső Szomory had dropped out of Hungarian literary life, then the construction of the canon should be the subject of critical attention. Tim then presented figures from the Nyugat era and from the past fifteen years, on the number of translations of Hungarian literature published, their authors (living or dead) and translators, observing that no great progress had been made in terms of quantity. Although the ‘free adaptations’ of Mór Jókai’s novels had a contemporary equivalent in popular translations of questionable quality, the translator can today choose from a wide range of excellent authors and works.

Len Rix, translator of Antal Szerb, Magda Szabó, and others, continued with the theme of difficulty in finding and navigating Hungarian literature in translation. He stated his aim as a translator, to acquaint English-speaking readers with Hungarian literature, and then introduced a discussion of the foibles of the publishing industry. Publishers are timid, translators do not receive royalties, and editors might insist on ‘no adverbs’. For Hungarian literature to move from the margins into the mainstream, it needs translations that will catch on, and intelligent marketing expertise. In conclusion, Len rephrased Tim’s observation that the books would then have no difficulty selling themselves.

Dr Zsuzsanna Varga of the Centre for Russian, Central and East European Studies at the University of Glasgow, presented her work in progress: a searchable database of Hungarian Literature in English translation, 1969-2007. The database lists works of fiction, drama, and lyrical poetry, the best known and most widely translated genre of Hungarian literature, and focuses mainly on texts published in the UK and in Hungary. It includes monograph-length translations of Hungarian fiction, individual poets’ volumes, the contents of historical and thematic anthologies of poetry and short fiction, as well as many periodical items. The database included, at the time of Zsuzsa’s presentation, almost 3,500 titles.

Informal discussion broadened out to include Hungary’s view of ‘the West’ as superego, Nyugat as a ‘rainbow coalition’ of writers who didn’t agree on much, translation anthologies, the establishment of an East European film network at Sheffield Hallam University, and a selection of photographs and images from Nyugat.

The accompanying exhibition held in the School of Slavonic and East European Studies Library presented a selection of original journals, first editions and newspapers from the Library’s rich collection. Original and facsimile issues of Nyugat from 1908 to 1939 were on display, together with accompanying notes highlighting the early Secession aesthetic, the breadth of subjects addressed by contributors, and the diverse authors and works discussed in ‘Figyelő’, the reviews section, the austerity and pacifist controversies of First World War issues, as well as personality clashes, and changing editorial styles and staff, such as that imposed by the Second anti-Jewish Law in 1939, towards the end of the journal’s existence. Debates on aesthetics and ethics could be followed in the context of social and political upheavals over the first half of the twentieth century. Visitors could peruse newspapers from the first years of the twentieth century, Nyugat’s peer and rival journals, and a small number of first editions. We highlighted graphics and illustrations throughout, from portrait photographs, caricatures and illustrations, for instance of a ‘modern’ bookshop in England in 1934, to maps, advertisements for shoe cream and personals. The exhibition notes can be viewed or downloaded in pdf format here.

A reception followed at the SSEES Masaryk Senior Common Room.

The co-convenors, Dr Gwen Jones and Eszter Tarsoly, would like to extend warm thanks to all those who took part, in particular SSEES library staff who suggested and organized the exhibition, and Jenny Rasell, for her assistance and enthusiasm on the day.

Translating Magda Szabó, Disznótor, 1960

Madga Szabó’s 1960 novel Disznótor is a remarkable exercise in minimal reference tracking. Reference tracking – who is being referred to – can cause problems for many students (and translators) of Hungarian. Because Hungarian lacks gender-specific personal pronouns and grammatical gender, the student might, for years, encounter trouble deciphering whether the person being spoken about is male or female. Translators from Hungarian can also fall into a switch reference trap: a switch reference is a clarification of which third person is being referred to. In a conversation between a man and a woman, for instance, a sudden reference to ‘a férfi’ should be translated as ‘he’, not ‘the man’.

Disznótor brought Virginia Woolf to mind, in terms of the purposely difficult text in which everything is shown and nothing is told. The density of the text is partly due to the novel’s structure: events over the course of one day are narrated by means of seventeen interior monologues. The 1965 translation by Kathleen Szasz, Night of the Pig-killing, tackles the problem of whether and how to translate given names in a rather uneven way, by assigning acceptable (Sándor becomes Alex, Geréné is Mrs Gere) or frankly weird (János becomes Jonas, Anti becomes Tóni, and Imre becomes, inexplicably, Péter) ‘equivalents’. Where reference tracking occurs at a much later stage in the original, however, the translator clarifies identity and gender as early as possible; moreover, the identities of the narrator and subject are frequently, and, one assumes, deliberately unknown. Szabó very occasionally assists the reader by highlighting emphasis one would pick up from speech:

Paula felhívta az iskolában, bejelentette, hogy valami gyűlés van, tovább bent kell maradnia. Ha éhes, kérje el Andreától a vacsoráját, és Szalayt okvetlenül meg kell hívni a disznótorra, ő szóljon neki.

The translator must use his/her knowledge of the entire text, not to mention his/her wits, to clarify who has to stay, and who is hungry, whereas who must invite Szalay to the pig-killing is marked by the author.

Paula telephoned him at school, saying she had to attend some sort of meeting and would have to stay late. If he got hungry he could ask Andrea to give him his dinner. Yes, Szalay had still to be invited to the pig-killing, he had better speak to him.

From the opening lines of the chapter entitled ‘Sándor’, the translator pads out the sparse text and provides no less than three masculine personal pronouns for a sentence that contains none in the original:

Délutános volt, de felkelt jókor, nem szeretett heverni.

He worked the afternoon shift but he got up early, because he didn’t like to idle in bed.

An English-language translation will require reference tracking by means of personal pronouns, but also references to events alluded to elsewhere in the text. Szabó can switch the subject from sentence to sentence:

Hát sose lesz már nyugalom odabenn?
Először hol sír, hol nevet a néni, aztán ajtócsapkodás, szaladgálás, beveszi magát a fürdőbe, hányik. Kiment a hátsó szobába, hogy ne hallja a hangot, nem mintha ő is felémelyednék tőle, csak hát jó az ilyet még hallani sem.

Will she never be quiet in there?
First the old woman laughs and cries, then doors slam, running footsteps sound, and she shuts herself up in the bathroom and vomits. Mrs Gere drew back into the inner room so as not to hear her; not that it affected her in any way.

It is up to the translator how much s/he leaves the reader in the dark, to do the work themselves. Disznótor, a goldmine of stylised ambiguity, and a challenge to the most ambitious translator, is, at present, best enjoyed in the original.

Further reading: a short article marking Szabó’s 88th birthday, in which János Háy describes Szabó as ‘like rock ’n’ roll: intense, radical and smashing’, and Szabó’s (1917-2007) obituary in the Guardian.

Translating Grendel, Tömegsír, 1999

As part of our translation series, we discussed an excerpt from the novel Tömegsír (Mass Grave, Kalligram, 1999) by one of our favourite authors, Lajos Grendel (b. 1948), with a view to thinking about untranslatability. The premise of Tömegsír is simple: following post-1989 property restitution, an academic moves back to his family home in a small town referred to only as ‘T’. In the course of digging a well, a mass grave is discovered underneath the narrator’s property.

‘T’ is the prototype Central European small town, and the site of an ensuing farce. It never becomes clear who the bones belonged to, or how they ended up under the house. In this excerpt the town’s mayor explains the intricacies of post-communist identity to the narrator, who has been offered (threatened with?) honorary citizenship of T.:

 — Mi nem vagyunk azok – mondta. – Akik azok voltak, ma már nem azok. Nagyot fordult a világ – mondta – kereke. Én azelőtt is az voltam. Most is az vagyok, de a mostani azom nem ugyanaz az az, ami a régi azom volt. Azelőtt mi ellenségként állhattunk volna szemben egymással, de most ez megfordult. Most barátok vagyunk, segítünk egymásnak és egymáson. Közös a vektorunk – mondta még. – Az azunk többé nem ugyanaz az az. Tudja, én  másvalaki voltam tegnap, noha ugyanaz vagyok, az orrom például nem lesz se nagyobb, se kisebb, de ez mind nem számít.

Grendel, Tömegsír, second edition, 2006, p. 21

Both the mayor’s confusion, and translation difficulty, hinge on ‘az’; no one English word would work for each and every instance of ‘az’ (the, that, them, those). Rather, the translator would have to render the mayor’s difficulty in expressing his muddled thoughts into nonsense, and somehow replicate linguistic clumsiness for the play on ‘az’. For instance, ‘az azunk nem ugyanaz az az’ could be ‘we are not the we that we were’. However, it is the ‘az’ to which the speaker refers that has changed, not him or his surroundings, and it is the ‘az’ that remains constant in the text, it is not ugyanaz az az! Ultimately, the text is so deeply embedded in Hungarian that any attempt to lift it out would ‘kill the patient’ in the process.

I would be interested to check against the Slovak translation, Masový hrob.

A good Hungarian-language article on Grendel’s prose works is Sándor Olasz, ‘A megtörténtek paródiája. Grendel Lajos regényei’, in Új Forrás.

Translating János Háy, ‘Petőfi híd’, 2007

János Háy’s short prose piece ‘Petőfi híd’ (Petőfi bridge) is one of seven short stories named after Budapest bridges, published together in Házasságon innen és túl (Budapest, Palatinus, 2007). BA student Malcolm Lesley translated ‘Petőfi híd’ as part of a finalists’ language project on translation and translation criticism. Reading the original with Malcolm’s translation, we discussed questions of equivalence, the problematic notions of fidelity and transparency, and difficulties specific to the text. To begin with:

Csak a felszín locsogott, minden fület eltömített a hangja.

Malcolm translated Háy’s first sentence last, not least because of the nod to the opening stanzas of Attila József’s 1936 poem ‘A Dunánál’:

A rakodópart alsó kövén ültem,
néztem, hogy úszik el a dinnyehéj.
Alig hallottam, sorsomba merülten,
hogy fecseg a felszin, hallgat a mély.

All further allusions to ‘surface din’ in the translated Háy text then had to refer back to the opening sentence.

An old lady, overdressed on a warm spring day because neither her neighbour Mariska nor her children would be able to look after her if she fell ill, makes her way to the Danube. She engages in a mild bout of competitive morbidity with a woman ten years her junior and, having thought about how the noise might cover her pain, decides to make her way over to Buda. Going at her own pace, neither fast nor slow, she notices the handiwork of ‘delinquents’ (as they are called on TV), economics students she believes to be bankers, and sociology students she believes to be beggars, while traffic whizzes past. She is unable to see details on the other side of the river until she reaches the top of the Buda steps. Worried about the wind on bridges, she wonders how many people who passed her by, which reminds her of the time she lied to her husband about his terminal cancer. The old lady reaches the steps, takes in the scene, and slowly turns around, ‘like a lorry in a tight space’, to face the Pest side again:

Majd elmesélem, gondolta magában, majd elmesélem a Mariskának, hogy láttam ma Budát.

Malcolm’s translation:

I’ll tell her, she thought to herself, I’ll tell Mariska: today I saw Buda.

Malcolm felt that humour needed to be prominent in the English translation, otherwise the mortality, if not morbidity, of the original might threaten to overwhelm.