Page 60 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 31

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JEWISH BOOK ANNUAL
54
Idioms are translated word for word, with a total loss of sense.”
He was talking of translations from the Polish. There is also the
desire to keep the foreign atmosphere. An outlandish place and
outlandish people must sound outlandish. One doesn’t want to
present Reymont’s Polish peasants as if they were English farm
laborers. Or Polish Jews as if they were Englishmen or English
Jews. Sholem Asch once complained to me of one of his trans-
lated books that “the translation is English, and it should be
Jewish. The Muirs imagined that the Jew in Poland traded in
pence and sixpences.” One of Turgenev’s translators found it
necessary to ask for indulgence, because “the amount of local
Russian color and allusion makes this book almost untranslat-
able.” What do you do with Russian folk sayings?
It wasn’t only the translators. Israel Zangwill did it in
Children
of the Ghetto.
Though in a sense he too was translating. His
Whitechapel folk at that time were speaking in Yiddish. Even
to the children—“He spoke Yiddish,” he tells us of Moses Ansell,
“the children English.” And he translated their talk into English
—sometimes horribly. Like “Talk not thyself thereinto.” And “Be
not a piece of clay,” the familiar Yiddish phrase,
“Sei nisht a
shtik l e im ”
So Hanna Berman succumbed to the temptations. And got
lambasted for it. Sholem Aleichem’s son-in-law, B. Z. Goldberg,
had no time for her and for the other early translators: “The
stories of Sholem Aleichem in English had done no honor to
their translators or justice to the author. These stories were not
translated. They were murdered.” Dr. Jacob Shatzky, a former
president of the Yiddish PEN, gives high praise to the Roumanian
translations of Sholem Aleichem by Sateanu; “masterly,” he calls
them. But “Hanna Berman’s translations suffer,” he says, “from
the same fault as Helena Frank’s, a word for word rendering of
the original. Thus, ‘You have cut my throat without a knife’
when it should have been “You’ll be the death of me.’ ”
Shatzky is just as severe with Helena Frank, whose translations
he finds “a literal rendering of the Yiddish idiom, resulting in
locutions intelligible only to those who are conversant with Yid-
dish.” Yet he concludes that “with all that, hers are the merits of
the pioneer. Moreover, not infrequently she produced passages
unmarred by these defects.” I knew Helena Frank only in the
last years of her life. She certainly had what Shatzky calls “the