Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Czechs and balances

Here's a query for all you literary types out there: If you're reading a novel that someone translated from the Czech, and you find sentences that don't make sense or are difficult, does that mean the Czech doesn't make sense or is difficult, or does it mean that the translator is making it difficult? Here's a sentence from the first page of The Golden Age by Michal Ajvaz:

"It seemed to me more agreeable and more considerate to this place to accord it the fate of other landscapes I passed through, simply to look on contentedly as its contours gradually dissolved in a haze created by a mix of memory, forgetting, and dream, a radiant mist which softens shapes, leaving phantoms of sense to wander among them, and soaks them with the breath of a conciliation which perhaps has its basis in fallacy and the long useless."

First off, it should be that, not which. (Is this a difference between British and American grammar?) The first part of the sentence is OK, but "phantoms of sense":? Breath of conciliation? (Does conciliation breathe?) And what really brought me up short -- "fallacy and the long useless." Long, useless what? Does it really read like this in Czech? Your guess is as good as mine, but this book is going to be tough reading, especially if the translator keeps using "which" when he means "that." I bought the book on the basis of a review at Three Percent, a blog dedicated to literature in translation. Anyway, we shall see.

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