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Finneganın Vahı

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The Turkish publisher Aylak Adam announced on its Facebook page on 5 December that it would soon be putting out a new book that would ‘make the 76-year wait worthwhile’. In 15 days time, ‘the yearning would come to an end’. Readers began to speculate: was Hermann Broch’s Sleepwalkers finally going to appear in Turkish? Further clues from the publisher followed: the forthcoming work was a ‘crossword’, an ‘illustrated riddle’, a ‘multifaceted, massive obelisk’. Last Friday, three days before publication, the answer was leaked: the first volume of a translation of Finnegans Wake, by Umur Çelikyay of Istanbul’s Koç University.

Almost immediately, Sel Publishing, whose translation of William Burroughs’s Soft Machine had faced obscenity charges in 2011, announced on Twitter that it too had a translation of Finnegans Wake in the pipeline, by Fuat Sevimay, whose version of A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man came out this year. Sevimay spent five months in Dublin as the Irish Literature Exchange’s translator in residence. His Wake will appear in the first half of 2016.

There were a few versions of Joyce’s works into Turkish before copyright expired in 2012, but not many. Murat Belge translated A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man in 1966 and Dubliners in 1987; his versions of parts of Ulysses appeared in Yeni Dergi magazine’s ‘stream of consciousness’ issue in May 1965; in 1987 Belge argued against Ulysses’s translation into Turkish. In 1991, Yapı Kredi Publishing organised a competition to find a translator for the whole novel. The winner was Nevzat Erkmen, a founding member of the World Puzzle Federation. His translation came out in 1996, and became a bestseller. The weekly magazine Aktuel asked readers who’d bought it if they’d made it all the way through to the end. One of the few who said he had was Orhan Pamuk. I wonder if even he will read the whole of Finnegans Wake, which begins, in Sevimay’s Turkish, like this:

nehiryatağında, Havva ile Âdem’i geçip sahilin keskin ucunda körfeze kıvrılır, emrisakin ve yılankavikusvari bir döngüyle bizi yine Howth Cebelhisarı ve Efradına ulaştırır.

Comments on “Finneganın Vahı”

  1. Fred Skolnik says:

    That’s terrific. I can see that “nehir” is the “river” of “riverrun,” which in Hebrew is “nahar,” though there is no connection between the two languages.

    Maureen Freely, in her excellent translation of Pamuk’s “Black Book,” also gives the reader a glimpse, in her Afterword, at how this fascinating language is constructed, which came as a revelation to me. Living in Israel, I occasionally hear Turkish spoken in the news and confess that it grates against my ear, even striking me as somewhat sullen in its intonations, even comically so, leaving me with the impression that the speaker is about to burst into tears, and yet here I discovered that it is full of cascading clauses and finely wrought ambiguities, generating the sense of expectation that you get in languages like Latin and German where the verb typically appears at the end of the sentence.

    • TomStevenson says:

      While you are correct that there is little direct connection between Turkish and Hebrew, this case shows that there is an indirect connection.

      Hebrew is a Semitic language and therefore shares a great deal with Arabic. Nehir came into Turkish from the Arabic for river, نهر (nahr).

  2. tw says:

    I wonder if either version will achieve the extraordinary sales figures of Dai Congrong’s Chinese translation.

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