« | Home | »

Walaïïï, camarade!

Tags:

Every week of my language degree, we were set a few paragraphs of a novel to translate into French. Someone in Graham Greene would be having a conversation about the sort of country one doesn’t bother learning the French word for; someone in Iris Murdoch crossed a bridge over a river that bubbled and fizzed untranslatably or, at a particularly low point, Bertrand Russell combed out the concept of liberty in a way that should slide comfortably into French but refused to for me. Perched on the edge of a sofa in a book-lined study, each of us would offer up a sentence to be dismantled by a tutor who had decided on the best version 25 years earlier.

Despite the bad memories, I will be dusting off my dictionary for a live translation event at the British Museum next month (it’s part of the London Review Bookshop’s World Literature Weekend). The translation, of a short story in French, is done in advance by two translators: the ‘live’ bit comes into play when each of them reveals their version sentence by sentence to the audience, the other translator and the novelist, for discussion and disagreement. The idea is that the sort of close reading you need to do to translate well will bring out aspects of the text that are rarely paid attention to.

Alain Mabanckou

The challenge has been set by Alain Mabanckou – born in the Republic of Congo, educated in Paris, now based in LA – who has offered up a very short story about someone getting conned into buying an ill-fitting suit. He’s not much known here, but in France Mabanckou’s style, which loosens corseted French sentences with jokes, puns, slang and references to Albert Cohen’s Belle du Seigneur as well as Tati, the thrift shop in Barbès (‘les plus bas prix!’), has made him one of the most interesting, unpredictable and prize-laden contemporary French novelists. Sarah Ardizzone and Frank Wynne will be the ones perched on the sofa on 19 June, offering sentences that will be new to everyone apart from the chair, Daniel Hahn. The audience will have hand-outs of the French version and the two English versions as well as the panel to talk about ways of getting ‘Walaïïï, camarade!’ or the slightly baffling idiom ‘se mettre sur son trente-et-un’ into English. And there won’t be an exam at the end of it.

Comments on “Walaïïï, camarade!”

  1. Chris Larkin says:

    I hope that ‘se mettre sur son trente-et-un’ would be something along the lines of ‘dressed to the nines’ and not, as Google translate seems to want, to ‘get on his thirty-ones’.

  2. cigar says:

    Sounds more like “puts on his thirty one”.. Maybe it is the size or model of a shirt?

  3. Oliver Rivers says:

    French Wiktionary says the phrase means “se mettre en grande tenue,” so dressed to the nines sounds about right. Perhaps “in full fig” would also work.

Comment on this post

Log in or register to post a comment.


  • Recent Posts

    RSS – posts

  • Contributors

  • Recent Comments

    • wearytruth on Stoke and Copeland: "Corbyn’s stated mission in leading Labour is to offer a break with the past and create an economy for the many, not the few." That was MY stated...
    • Ouessante on Stoke and Copeland: Stoke: Cons+UKIP 49.1%, Lab 37.1%. Saved only by a split vote. Hardly cause for Lab rejoicing I think. They should be very worried.
    • streetsj on Stoke and Copeland: As in all votes there are a multitude of reasons why people vote as they do but it seems unlikely that Nuttall's contribution was anything other than ...
    • piffin on Stoke and Copeland: That Labour could beat off Ukip's anti-immigrant challenge in Stoke but lose to the Tories in Copeland suggests the latter result was informed by the ...
    • suetonius on Remembering Seymour Papert: Oh my, flashback inducing. I remember being an undergraduate right when the book came out, physics student at the time. Several of my professors wer...

    RSS – comments

  • Contact

  • Blog Archive

Advertisement Advertisement