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Thread: Jenny Erpenbeck

  1. #1
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    Germany Jenny Erpenbeck

    This review by Michel Faber has persuaded me that German writer Jenny Erpenbeck is well worth a look. Faber also delivers a powerful polemic about the need for more English translations of foreign literature.

    Visitation by Jenny Erpenbeck ? review | Books | The Guardian

    Harry

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    Germany Re: Jenny Erpenbeck

    I'm still sceptical about her upbringing in the family of nomenklatura rocket scientists working for the Russians, but I suppose that that should not impinge upon any judgement as to her subject-matter and style. After all, no one writes off the Hungarian author P?ter Esterh?zy just because his much-lauded dad turned out to be a secret-police informer.

    I do note what Michel Faber has to say about Bernofsky's translation:

    Translator Susan Bernofsky, who did a superb job on the previous books, is back for this one. Erpenbeck's German is poetical, almost incantatory, taking full advantage of the portmanteau words and Rubik's cube grammar of that language. Bernofsky opts for a smooth style that won't come across as bizarre in English, sacrificing some of Erpenbeck's verse-like cadences and delivering a flexible, accessible narrative.
    It would be interesting to see where this in fact is the case. I have never heard German grammar described as resembling a Rubik's cube before. Has Bernofsky dumbed down the style, or has she indeed done a "superb job"? Only close comparison can reveal the truth.

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    Default Re: Jenny Erpenbeck

    Quote Originally Posted by Eric View Post
    I'm still sceptical about her upbringing in the family of nomenklatura rocket scientists working for the Russians, but I suppose that that should not impinge upon any judgement as to her subject-matter and style. After all, no one writes off the Hungarian author P?ter Esterh?zy just because his much-lauded dad turned out to be a secret-police informer.

    I do note what Michel Faber has to say about Bernofsky's translation:

    It would be interesting to see where this in fact is the case. I have never heard German grammar described as resembling a Rubik's cube before. Has Bernofsky dumbed down the style, or has she indeed done a "superb job"? Only close comparison can reveal the truth.
    I can see what he means - lining up all the subordinate clauses and attributive phrases one after the other then slotting the main verb into place with a clunk at the end.

    The Guardian also carries a two-page interview with G?nter Grass but it doesn't reveal anything we don't know already. He always seems to give the same interview.

    Harry

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    Germany Re: Jenny Erpenbeck

    Harry says:

    I can see what he means - lining up all the subordinate clauses and attributive phrases one after the other then slotting the main verb into place with a clunk at the end.
    The dilemma for the translator is how near can you stick to the source language, if that particular text breaks away from the norm, without rendering the result unreadable. It is true that the fact that you can stick the main verb right at the end in German means you can have a build-up that would probably not be possible in English.

    So I hope, in due course, to see the Erpenbeck to see how the translator has tackled it.

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    Default Re: Jenny Erpenbeck

    what's with the Belgian flag, anyway?

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    Default Re: Jenny Erpenbeck

    Quote Originally Posted by Mirabell View Post
    what's with the Belgian flag, anyway?
    And I thought you were going to spout some words of wisdom about Frau Erpenbeck!

    Sorry about the flag. I always have problems with these things on this forum. They're too damned small, and don't seem to be arranged in any logical order.

    Harry

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    Default Re: Jenny Erpenbeck

    Quote Originally Posted by hdw View Post
    And I thought you were going to spout some words of wisdom about Frau Erpenbeck!

    Sorry about the flag. I always have problems with these things on this forum. They're too damned small, and don't seem to be arranged in any logical order.

    Harry
    alphabetical. the flags are ordered alphabetically. the flag before belgium which you chose for ms. erpenbeck is belarus, the flag after is belize. etc.

    germany is between georgia and ghana.

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    Default Re: Jenny Erpenbeck

    flags alfabetical huh esperanto last huh our alfabet ends in e huh b for betterwitter huh low german huh fifth from end catalonian huh i like alfabet huh forth from end english huh i still like alfabet huh huh huh

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    Default Re: Jenny Erpenbeck

    Visitation is indeed worth reading. But, even though I'd normally avoid like the plague stories seen from a adolescent girl's viewpoint, I like The Book of Words even more. Its subject has a lot in common with Kadare's The Successor--officials in a totalitarian government and the effect of their roles upon family--and for me at least the Erpenbeck was even more powerful than the Kadare.
    the chance encounter of a sewing machine and an umbrella on the dissecting table. . .

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    Default Re: Jenny Erpenbeck

    I've now had a chance to read Jenny Erpenbeck's Visitation for myself, in the Bernofsky translation, and it is indeed a tour de force. I'm almost inclined to seek out the German original (Heimsuchung), because to judge from the superb translation, Erpenbeck's German must be incredibly flexible and multi-faceted.

    Central to the novel is the concept of time, and the mutability of things. The book begins with an italicised passage depicting the advance of the glacier, 24,000 years ago, that cut out the Märkisches Meer, the sea-like lake of the Mark Brandenburg. But even that is not destined to last for ever:

    " ... but one day it would vanish again, since, like every lake, it too was only temporary - like every hollow shape, this channel existed only to be filled in completely some day."

    The fixed point of the novel is a fine old house by a lake in Brandenburg, with wrought-iron balconies, stained-glass windows like jewels and a bedroom with a hidden closet, set in a lovely garden. As the house stands silently by the lake, Germany's violent history is played out around and through it. A young woman in the grip of madness is drowned. The Jewish neighbours disappear one by one. The Red Army requisitions the house, burns the furniture, tramples the garden. A young East German tries to swim to the West, and is caught. A couple return from brutal exile in Siberia and leave the house to their granddaughter, who is forced to hand it over to new owners, who demolish it.

    Apart from the house itself, the most durable feature of the landscape is The Gardener, the genius loci:

    "No one in the village knows where he comes from. Perhaps he was always here. He helps the farmers propagate their fruit trees in the spring, inoculating the wild stock with active buds around Midsummer's Day and dormant ones when the sap rises for the second time, he grafts new scions onto the trees chosen for propagation using whip or cleft grafts depending on the thickness of the stock, he prepares the required mixture of wax, turpentine and resin, then bandages each wound with raffia or paper, everyone in the village knows that the trees propagated by him display the most regular crowns as they continue to grow. During the summer the farmers hire him as a reaper and to build the shocks ... he knows how to weave green spruce twigs into braids and place them in the boreholes to the proper depth to draw out the water ... he lives alone in an abandoned hunting lodge at the edge of the woods, he's always lived there, everyone in the village knows him, and yet he is only referred to by both young people and old as The Gardener, as though he had no other name."

    Some novelists go in for the grand, general sweep of events and avoid the practicalities of daily existence. Others revel in describing the physicality of things and processes, how people practise crafts and how things work. Erpenbeck is of the latter variety.

    The Gardener builds and repairs and refurbishes the house and garden according to the whims of successive owners, and heals the damage caused by the fury of war. His ubiquitousness in the story is demonstrated by the chapter-headings:

    THE GARDENER
    THE WEALTHY FARMER AND HIS FOUR DAUGHTERS (an intense and detailed study of Brandenburg folklore)
    THE GARDENER
    THE ARCHITECT
    THE GARDENER
    THE CLOTH MANUFACTURER
    THE GARDENER
    THE ARCHITECT'S WIFE
    THE GARDENER
    THE GIRL
    THE GARDENER

    and so on.

    In her Acknowledgements at the end of the book, Erpenbeck thanks a host of organisations and foundations and archives that have made documents, letters, film material and photographs available to her, then goes on to thank a total of 36 individuals and one whole family "for assisting me in my research as well as offering ideas, advice and answers to a great many questions".

    We've all read novels - especially historical ones - in which the author's researches are like ballast that shifts and sinks a boat under its weight. It's a tribute to this author and, my God, to her dedicated translator (who has to deal with ironic screeds of German bureaucratese at the end, relevant to the selling of a house), that the novel reads as lightly and gracefully as it does.

    Harry
    Last edited by hdw; 22-Nov-2010 at 20:02.

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