Wednesdays with Romain Gary – Part three.
Time for our weekly Gary quotes. Today I’ve chosen two quotes from Les Cerfs-volants. (1980). It’s Gary’s last book and I don’t think it’s been translated into English. The title means Kites. It’s a story of love, hope and war from 1930 till after WWII and from Normandy to Poland.
Like last week’s quote, Erik McDonald helped me with the translation. The quotes I picked are short but triggered exchanges about their translation. I found it fascinating that we both struggled with the same words or expressions and that we had so much hesitation to translate such short passages. It gave me a tiny glimpse of what it must be to translate a book; the exchanges between writers and translators must me interesting and I wonder how translators of dead writers do to make all the choices they have to make every sentence along the way.
|Je comprends qu’on meure d’amour parce que parfois, c’est tellement fort, que la vie n’arrive pas à tenir le coup, elle craque.||I understand how you can die of love because sometimes it’s so powerful that life can’t stand it and it shatters|
Our problem was about the translation of “elle craque”. I had initially written “it breaks down”
Erik commented: I would suggest “bursts,” or perhaps “breaks apart” or “splits open” or “shatters,” if “craquer” sounds like a metaphorical use of the physical meaning (pants splitting, for instance). “Breaks down” works for “craquer” in the sense of “be unable to resist,” but in this short phrase I would take “break down” to mean “stop working,” the way a car can break down.
I answered:I had trouble with “craquer”. I went for “breakdown” because of the word “mourir” at the beginning of the sentence and also because “craquer” is a word you use for “to have nervous breakdown”. Perhaps “breaks apart” is the best or “falls apart”? Or “shatters”? It’s difficult because “craquer” means both mental and physical. You can use “craquer” for “pants splitting” as well. So maybe “shatters” is the best, eventually. (I’m writing and thinking at the same time)
In the end, I settled for “shatters” but it’s not exactly the same meaning as “elle craque”. For me, “to shatter” is more violent than “craquer”. What do you think?
The second quote is the following:
|Le rêve a touché terre et ça fait toujours des dégâts. Même les idées cessent de se ressembler quand elles prennent corps.||The dream has landed and that always causes damage. Even ideas stop seeming like themselves when they take on flesh and blood.|
This is a recurring theme in Gary’s work, how good or nice ideas can become ugly when someone tries to put them into practice. I had first translated “a touché terre” by “has landed” and “prennent corps” by “embodied”
Erik changed them into “run aground” and “take on flesh and blood”. I agreed immediately about “take on flesh and blood”, I knew “embodied” sounded strange but I couldn’t find anything better. However I wasn’t so keen on “run aground”.
Here are Erik’s arguments: “Run aground” sounds like a ship metaphor: the ship gets into water that’s too shallow and hits bottom. That would cause damage. I first took “toucher terre” to be an airplane metaphor, in which case “has landed” or “has touched down” would work, but it would then be unclear what causes the damage.
And this is my answer: I prefer “has landed” because in French you don’t use that for ships. (You’d say “échouer”) and because Gary was an aviator. Airplane metaphors are more probable. And dreams are in the sky. (Day dreaming is « avoir la tête dans les nuages », “to have one’s head in the clouds”) What causes the damage? A dream is not supposed to land to remain intact. It can’t land without crashing and being damaged. That’s what he means.
I wanted to share our exchanges with you because I found it interesting that we had so much trouble translating passages as short as these. I hope you enjoyed this and I’m curious to know if you have other suggestions.
Thanks again for your help, Erik.
See you next week with quote from Lady L.