Snow by von Schirach

In the Sueddeutsche Zeitung from this Christmas I read a short story, Schnee by Ferdinand von Schirach. He works as lawyer in Berlin. The man’s writing is cristal-clear, he constructs his text well. And I like his point of view. I learned that von Schirach has published a collection of shortstories this autumn and it was received well by critics and readers. For an interesting interview with the man go here (German only).
I translated the story and hopefully can give you an impression of the original text (it’s the post below). Von Schirachs text is seemingly einfach and that is far away from simple. He changes the view, the perspective, and is near to his personage – although the text prima facie is distant and reserved. A distant observer who allows himself some empathy. The titel of his book Verbrecher litteraly would be given as “criminals”; I’d prefer “wrongdoers” (Uebeltaeter). There is no discussion about that sinking the axe in the wife’s forehead is a crime, but why did he do it. Explaining does not mean excusing. It helps to find the adequate, the just sentence.

Words are important, can be fascinating. They can be charged with meaning, with power, unknown to the user. Nation for example. And words can discharge, explode in one’s face, like humans. Von Schirach uses words cautiously. And changes the view. As lawyer one has to keep distance to the accused, to their stories, but at the same time the only chance for a good defence lies in there, in the story and its telling, the explanation. Again: no excuses, explanation only. In his stories the author bridges this distance, lets the acting person speak, shares his or her point of view. Hassan drives through town and thinks of Jana, describing her as einfach und klar. These seemingly simple words are difficult to translate, especially einfach. It is not “simple”, Jana is not a simple person. I thought about a German replacement – reflecting the author’s intention and interpreting – and decided myself for gerade. So it is “straightforward”. Another seemingly simple word is schön. I find it untranslatable.
I am sure that von Schirach’s stories will be translated to English and probably other languages, and really wonder how it will be done.

One has to weight it out. A lot is in a single word and by translating you give weight to one or another meaning, subtext, variation, accent – how you may call it. So the translation always – always – shows how the translator read the text. And in the best case he carries the subtext of the writer with it.
All I’m saying is, that words are dangerous toys. They come along innocent enough, but their results can be cruel. And again an explanation is needed, another story has to be told. Another just sentence is needed.

14 thoughts on “Snow by von Schirach

  1. Ach … words, Leah, words. I am tired beyond recognition. I feel drained. Charles gave me a bottle of wine (emptied) and a hug, because I was such a fine colleague to him. I feel like a deserter.
    They are all anarchists there. Fighting for their own space. A garden maybe. Ba pardez naval ha puach. And yes, he’s Baldur’s grandson, who choose his parents? Read please. It’s the no-nonsense attitude I like, no trallala, no humbug – AND a mean trick, to turn it to drag the reader in. This “Schnee” story is just a nice little thing in a newspaper. I read the critics about the book, most were good. One saied the persons would not become real but stay shadows, only in the last story of the book it would show up what the writer could do. I do not know, haven’t read the book yet, but I will. It’s the observing, the look from outside – seeing was all we were trained for. And vanishing, teilnehmende Beobachtung.
    I think what v.S. does in his writing is different from what you do – or am I completely wrong about that?

    Excuse me now, I have to sleeeeep …

  2. I’ve been re-reading the Story Of English..I know I’m a geek…anyway, it is amazing how this germanic offshoot has gone on to conquer the planet.
    English is a testimonial product of invasion and at one point only a few speakers were huddled in the marshes hiding from Vikings.
    I shudder to think of how “we” waste, abuse, and misinterpret words on a global scale out here on the interwebs. We could change the world with words.

  3. you did a fantastic job of translating. you were able to maintain style and content, and you were respectful enough to step out of the authors way rather than mash things up just to make them fit. thats got to be a juggling act and a half. and you did this as a blog post! just ‘oh my, ive got some time to kill, guess i’ll just translate something into english, ho hum…’ yeah.

    you impress the hell out of me, mago.

  4. MJ
    Welldone, Fluffy.

    Little grey cells. They better be quiet now.
    *Gulps Brandy, grins stupid*

    Leni Q.
    I am not able to speak Spanish. I tried to read some papers from time to time, but …

    English is a fascinating tool, great adaptability. But the other half of the world speaks and writes Spanish, the third half Chinese and the fourth half something Russian – but these do not blog.

    I do not know what to say. Normally I do not do exciting things.

    You must know: You are the printed translator here.

    I do not intend to press things out of you.

    It’s all ovah now.

    Ha! “erudite”. Thank you!

    What “cultural references” are you referring to? It’s difficult enough to carry over a joke from German to English or vice versa (ha! erudite!).

    The corckscrew is screwing the corcky.

    You bet my Dear!

    I hope so. And for All of us too!

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