Over the Abyss in Rye
September 16, 2013 2:51 PM   Subscribe

If you truly would like to hear this story, first of all you will probably want to find out where I was born, how I spent my stupid childhood, what my parents did before my birth—in a word, all that David Copperfield rot. But truthfully speaking, I don’t have any urge to delve into that. "If Holden Caulfield Spoke Russian" (SLNYer)
posted by Rustic Etruscan (15 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
... and then years later, was paired by his long-lost twin, who said the same things as the original, but with more honesty to the source.

Interesting read, thanks!
posted by filthy light thief at 3:09 PM on September 16, 2013

(Synopsis continued) and the Russian folks who considered a friend tried to throw his twin out as a fraud.
posted by filthy light thief at 3:25 PM on September 16, 2013

"He had a massive castle in the Riviera, in Europe, and in his free time for the most part he flogged some dames with a stick. Over all he was courageous and all that, but he’d beat women until they lost consciousness."

traduttore traditore
posted by Oxydude at 3:28 PM on September 16, 2013 [1 favorite]

First, this is the funniest thing I have read in a week:
"The Russian GQ editor Michael Idov ... wrote a lucid and funny takedown of the work, speculating that if Salinger’s original had inspired Mark Chapman to shoot John Lennon, the most that Nemtsov’s translation could hope for was 'to incite an unbalanced person to stick up a beer kiosk.'"
"The Party authorized the novel’s translation believing that it exposed the rotting core of American capitalism, but Soviet readers were more likely to see the novel in broader terms, as a psychologically nuanced and universally appealing portrait of a misfit who rebels against the pieties of a conformist society"
Back in the Old Country, my mother was a painter and my father was a musician (although they both had day jobs, and my mom effectively gave up art as a vocation after my dad died) and the Leningrad youth art scene was almost necessarily subversive, if not openly then in private. Doubly so because they and most of their friends were Jews and had nothing nice to say about the USSR. I can only imagine how encountering Catcher and, more specifically, the sheer freedom of thought must have been for the first time.

In America, my mom was a voracious reader, but the only authors she read in English were J.D. Salinger, Ernest Hemingway and Sidney Sheldon. The latter may seem incorguous but most of what she read in Russian was pulp crime fiction, so Hemingway and Salinger were the odd ones out. At least they were when the weight of the world was upon her and, from personal experience, I know thay reading capital-L Literature in that state can be a feat of strength.

Anyway, when I was in 7th grade, she had a falling out with her boyfriend (who lived with us) and we moved in with her mother, my grandmother for a month. Absolutely no one was happy with any aspect of this arrangement. I think I slept in a sleeping bag on the carpet.

Reading this article, knowing better what Soviets saw in Salinger, I now have a much better idea why she literally threw a copy of Catcher at me one evening during exile at grandma's and ordered me to read it.
posted by griphus at 3:33 PM on September 16, 2013 [11 favorites]

In very similar circumstances, my mom threw Dale Carnegie's How to Win Friends and Influence People at me and ordered me to memorize passages out of it. I think her campaign to get me to win and/or influence lasted less than a couple of weeks, but I still shudder when I see that book's name.

The set of writers that defines the Russian canon in English is pretty different from what a Russian reader would list, and the same is true in reverse. Thanks to what I'm sure is a series of banal coincidences, Sidney Sheldon, Wilkie Collins, and Mayne Reid (!) are practically household names. Wikipedia claims that Reid's adventure stories were some of Nabokov's childhood favorites.

Languagehat has a thread on the shortcomings of the new Catcher translation.
posted by Nomyte at 3:50 PM on September 16, 2013 [4 favorites]

To my non-native eyes, the new translation really does seem to be trying too hard. In 1961, Holden didn't talk like a bandit or a beatnik, he talked like a prep-school kid trying to sound grown-up. The Nemtsov translation makes the mistake that so many readers have made: taking Holden as seriously as he takes himself.
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 5:16 PM on September 16, 2013

To my native eyes, the Nemtsov translation is like a Russian-language version of "stewardess, I speak jive."
posted by Nomyte at 5:33 PM on September 16, 2013 [3 favorites]

Simply fascinating stuff. I absolutely love the comparison between the two translations, even knowing how painfully inadequate back-translations must be when discussing the accuracy of, well, a translation.

Thank you for posting; I can see a translation theory reading rabbit-hole in my future...
posted by Gordafarin at 8:42 AM on September 17, 2013

Nomyte is basically dead-on in re: the jive thing. From what I can mentally back-back translate -- anyone have that paragraph in Russian? -- the sheer amount of slang coming from a kid who would have absolutely been taught the Proper Way of speaking makes it sound like a conscious affectation.
posted by griphus at 8:49 AM on September 17, 2013

Although that does remind me, I really need to finish reading Memoir of a Russian Punk. The protagonist's friend hangs out with the jazz crowd and calls himself "Kadik" as a sort of calque of "Cadillac."
posted by griphus at 8:55 AM on September 17, 2013

The paragraph in question can be found at the end of Languagehat's post.
posted by Gordafarin at 10:53 AM on September 17, 2013

I'm one of those oddballs to whom Salinger's Holden never spoke. I read it, I just couldn't identify with it. I wonder if I'd like one of the Russian versions (were I to be able to read fluently)....
posted by dhartung at 1:28 PM on September 17, 2013

I think what jumps out at me the most in the New Yorker post is how typical the cover for the newer Russian edition is. I have dozens of recent Russian books that look just like that: the cheap paperboard cover, the mawkish, kitschy cover art, the atrocious type design job, the all-caps promotional slogans exclaiming THE CULT CLASSIC OF OUR TIME and THE INTELLECTUAL BESTSELLER THE WHOLE WORLD IS READING.
posted by Nomyte at 2:05 PM on September 17, 2013

Oh, lord. Now you've reminded me of the tradition of 1990s-2000s Russian детектив novel covers. The Catcher one would be a collage with a baseball mitt inexplicably cradling a revolver, a tarted-up Sunny smoking a cigarette and staring dead ahead at the reader, a creepy white-suited Mr. Antolini holding a drink and maybe an American flag thrown in for good measure.

("детектив" literally means "detective." It is the Russian term for a fiction genre that encompasses all sorts of crime-related writing, from traditional detective fiction to lurid crime fiction, with the latter being the one more associated with the term, at least in the community in which I grew up.)
posted by griphus at 2:19 PM on September 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

Look at this book cover. Try to guess what this book is about.
posted by Nomyte at 4:57 PM on September 17, 2013 [2 favorites]

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