Brush up your Grossman

The other day I started a new translation project. It's a biggie – over 44,000 words – and – surprise, surprise – it's a rush job. Why did I agree? Heaven knows. Probably because I'm tired of doing little bits and pieces and would rather sink my keyboard keys into a longish, hopefully consistent text. And also because the text is a manuscript, the memoirs of an elderly gentleman, and as such I deem it important. A mitzvah, if you will.

Thing is, the author is American, and the manuscript is in English, which means the translation is into Hebrew. Theoretically, shouldn't be a problem. Been there, done that, and so on; I'm a native Hebrew speaker, lived and studied here in Israel… But after a lengthy period of translating mostly Hebrew > English, I have to brush up my active Hebrew. I need the words to come to me quickly and easily. Can't afford to wrack my brain and agonize over it.

A case in point occurred fairly early on in the text. A certain character's occupation was described – though not in so many words – as a carter or wagoner in a shtetl. The text used the Yiddish word, which was foreign to me. My mind went totally blank. I consulted an online English/Yiddish dictionary, (completely forgetting that I have the original 1928 hardcover on my shelf) but had difficulty finding the word I wanted, because it was misspelled in the manuscript. I gave up in disgust.

Solution? Or rather, pre-emptive action? – Pick up a well-written Hebrew novel and read it, to rev up the literary Hebrew generator, as it were. Especially in this case, since the text calls for elegant, high register Hebrew. Chatty everyday language or cool, modern-day Etgar Keret type style won't cut it.

I can do that. As a matter of fact, the pile of unfinished books on my night table (which includes, for instance, Graham Greene's A Burnt-Out Case and Stamboul Train, mentioned previously on this blog, also includes an Amos Oz and a David Grossman – my two favorite Hebrew writers. Respectively, these are Rhyming Life and Death, and Her Body Knows – Two Novellas.

But as good and enjoyable as these two may be, it means I must put down the book I am currently reading, viz., Terry Pratchett's Unseen Academicals, with its biting social satire and quirky characters.

It was quite a relief to revert to Pratchett after the last book I read – Larry Niven's A World Out of Time. I found JB Corbell's adventures in Time and Space very tiring, in addition to downright scary at times. I do most of my reading around bedtime, and prefer not to read scary stuff, lest it should give me nightmares.

But I digress.

Back to the problem at hand. As I got up for my lunch-break, an old Hebrew song suddenly started playing itself, loud and clear, in my head: "Kor'im lo Lipa ha'eglon…" [Lipa the carter/wagoner]
Problem solved, this time around.

I really ought to pick up that Grossman. Or Oz.


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