Translation

In The Hidden Bend, the Ukrainian mother, Nastasiya, is in New York and dealing with authorities in a language, English, which she barely speaks. She has an appointed translator to explain facts to her and to carry out her decisions, but otherwise, she is mute. She is restricted in her own mind.

Another character in The Hidden Bend, Piers, escapes to France and finds a similar linguistic barrier but without a translator. His real translation problem is the woman he is with and the difficulty in sharing with her the same sense or meaning.

The Hidden Bend’s Asian soldier character has a more nuanced and treacherous translation problem: the words that meant something during the revolutionary war have changed meaning after the revolution. And the alteration in meaning threatens him.

The problem of definitions and of language more generally was part of a few stories in Nine Avenues: Spoken and Heard and most ostensibly in Dictionary.

In My Wife the idea of translation is taken further through the detective story of the narrator in Europe, amidst languages he does not know, interpreting the behavior and rationale of people at a certain time in order to solve a historical puzzle.

And in Corporate, specifically in The Complete Story (With Notes), the piece is a narrative about making stories, about choices and how several items are converted into the bits, character and episodes, which constitute a story.

When tropes keep recurring the reason for them may be intrinsic. In my case it may be moving between different dialects of English: America, Australia and England at various times, understanding and negotiating idioms and definitions, later adding other languages, and perhaps the seed for this translation leitmotif is clearer.

 

©Copyright Guy Cranswick 2017. All Rights Reserved.

 

Technology

Evelyn Waugh was proud that his 1930 novel Vile Bodies had the longest telephone conversations in an English (country, not language) novel to date. It may be that American novels did it first, in hardboiled fiction, but I haven’t found a reference. 1920s Hammett has telegrams sent between offices but no telephone calls.

Through A la recherche du temps perdu Marcel Proust has many telephones and telephone conversations, though they are reported, not reproduced. Starting from the second book, À l’ombre des jeunes filles en fleurs, he says he had one installed so he and Bloch could chat; he talks about the technology and even something like video calls in the future. There is a section called Albertine au telephone. His telephone conversations with the Verdurins’ telephonage (like ‘telephoning’) a word that has died since his period and use.

In the 1930s Italian cinema made the telefoni bianchi films: sophisticate comedies, the white phone represented style and status. For most viewers at the time these were aspirational and completely unrealistic.

These cases indicate the network effects. Phone penetration was slower in England than in America. Proust’s characters were rich and acquired phones early, Proust was listened to operas on his; Waugh’s characters are mostly middle-class and the phone entered their experiences later.

The short story Corporate is conveyed in emails, complete with email headers, addressee email, CC and subject lines and also the typical misspellings. While this presentation appears new it is closer to the epistolary novel, of a Pamela (1740) or Les Liaisons Dangereuses (1782).   I carried this story for a while before I had the idea of writing it as an email thread, the corporate communications of our era.

In The Hidden Bend technology establishes dividing lines between characters: the Ukrainian character, Yeva, is studying advanced computing; another character, Piers, use of technology may seem primitive until it is understood that the narrative is set forty years before. By contrast the Asian soldier is almost defined by machines; he is an able mechanic: radio-tape players and cassette tapes are the mobile music systems in his time period.

None of these books are really about technology, not in the way science fiction treats technology, that is central to the work and determining the plot.

It may be that in future, just as the telephone became universal, the technologies of the future which people will use are advances in communication and transport: driver-less cars which find a parking space every time.

New technology fascinate and in the last 20 years the use and access of technology has made the novel seem a tad dowdy, less exciting, than competitive formats.  Book design acknowledged web design layouts and principles and movies have incorporated in-screen email and texts to display the technologies viewers know. It remains for readers to choose.

©Copyright Guy Cranswick 2017. All Rights Reserved.

Exile

The political leverage over the subject of immigration, and the question of the authenticity and status of displaced people has risen sharply in the last year. The problem of who such people are, across varying degrees of definition, and whether they have rights, or deserve access to sanctuary, is no longer a recognizable debate, it is really an open sore.

The current status of this dispute bears on the character and story of the ‘soldier’ in The Hidden Bend. Links to the soldier are here and here.

I heard an echo of the bait and switch political rhetoric, which we now hear constantly, while writing the soldier’s tale. I deflected that language and used it to a countervailing purpose. It was also an indirect response to the opportunism, to the conflation of identities and the cant from those vociferous protagonists who sought adherence to their objectives.

Originally, the character had never been conceived in such an environment, but in the writing it took on those layers because of the growing and wider antipathy, which has more recently, released a valve of the worst and darkest motives.

The soldier’s experience is carved out of war and victory, and then, almost imperceptibly, political forces react again and break the unquiet peace which leads to more chaos and violence.  In that situation the soldier, who acquires new attributes after the war, is driven into an untenable situation. As others have said, the soldier’s personal qualities and his unstinting enterprise is extraordinary; he continues to strive and resume the struggle.

In literature and in politics, exile is almost a requirement to attain the greater goal. For the writer, or artist, it represents a rejection of the status quo and the need to live elsewhere and reform. For some: Nabokov and Joyce, it was a permanent state. Nabokov said his life was determined by displacement and consequently he had none of the links and networks that settled people take for granted.

Political exile is even more imbued with meaning being the period when a leader collects their ideas into a form that eventually delivers them power and triumph over their opponents: Lenin at the Finland station, Mao after the Long March, Churchill’s so-called return from exile in Chartwell after the 1930s. Rare cases, where for most people exile is endless deprivation and defeat in every conceivable way.

A book is a small thing and The Hidden Bend, just a single voice. Although the expression of a fictional character’s experience lacks real effect and power, its meaning, and the reason novels are written and read after all, is to understand and reflect on another’s experience.

©Copyright Guy Cranswick 2017. All Rights Reserved.

Repetition

A long time ago I read some letters, and other documents, written in the 1920s by Sudeten Germans. Sudetenland is the German name for a region in the modern Czech Republic, comprising, Moravia, Bohemia and Silesia. After the First World War the Germans there were in a minority. Politically they were part of what was then Czechoslovakia. But they resented their status; it was not what they wanted because it reminded them of what they had lost: being part of Germany, with all the tangible and other emotive links that old bond represented.

I read one of those documents again last week but this time it was by a man in Oklahoma. It wasn’t identical, but it carried enough of the same tone, pleas and ideas, as to suggest a connection. In the essay the man outlines the views, the blunted aspirations and the resentments of people who have been ignored for a long time.  Behind his text was an imperative as to how things ought to be, none of it unreasonable, and all it impossible to realize which made it more desperate.

The connection between Sudetenland and Oklahoma is implied; there are, of course, many details and conditions that are not alike in anyway at all, but nevertheless, the shared sense of experience, of being discarded, rendered irrelevant, is clearly drawn between the two eras.

It is not very surprising that experiences should share commonalities and be articulated in the same way. There must be thousands and thousands of such links between different people over different time periods. That is the essence of The Hidden Bend.

It is the political dimension that makes such a comparison intriguing. Such thoughts are being uttered, besides Oklahoma, in Leeds, Marseille, Lecce, and elsewhere. Through his experiences the Oklahoma essayist makes it clear why political change was obligatory. To the best of my memory, the Sudeten Germans agitated for a border that suited their interests which led to political affiliations necessary to their aims.

It’s not a great leap of the imagination to draw parallels between these two cases into some form of portentous determinism. But no; Kierkegaard firmly shut the possibility of such an idea, and that type of facile inference has exclusive cogency on talk-back radio.

History doesn’t repeat but in nearly similar circumstances, people use familiar refrains to express grievance and self-pity, to claim righteous indignation and rebuke their enemies, to strain for what has gone, but which, in a phrase, can still be held, even in the mouth, and shared between people. It is self-fulfilling and justifies itself through its rancor. Reaction and retribution repeat.

©Copyright Guy Cranswick 2017. All Rights Reserved.

 

Resolution

The reader awakens to the turmoil of the main characters at the same time as “the soldier” rouses to another sultry day on an unnamed battlefield. The soldier wakes to his day, but also attempts to awaken himself as to who he is. The reader is taken on his campaign for discovery alongside the soldier as he tries on different identities such as “the farmer, the son, the brother…” In a similar way, the reader makes the acquaintance of Nastasiya and Piers, who are yet only acquaintances to themselves at the beginning of Cranswick’s book. Nastasiya embarks on a journey that mirrors her own journey of self discovery and Piers behaves in ways that are unfamiliar to him, deepening his idea of who he truly is….(more)

Extract 8: The Hidden Bend. Nastasiya has dinner with Vera’s family

The drive to Vera’s house had been long, the traffic was heavy and Nastasiya became drowsy as she felt the effect of jet lag coupled by the long day, and the exhaustion finally hit her.

She sat in Vera’s car staring out of the window at the long never ending lines of houses, all set on their block, thin houses with driveways and cars, and tangles of overhead lines criss-crossing the streets. It seemed curious to her that everyone had their own house, upright, with a patch of land in the front and back, but in other houses just concreted over for a parking slot, their little piece of land, their territory, and yet they were crowded in tightly, neighbors could see directly into each others houses through the windows of the exactly similar houses in the almost exactly similar streets, thousands of them in the suburbs stretching out and covering the country.

Vera complained about the traffic but when she had arrived at her house she relaxed, the lights were on inside and she led Nastasiya up to the door with a brief history of her family, and that her husband, Dennis, who worked for the public works department as an engineer. Nastasiya liked the title. He was a man of some importance. Vera took Nastasiya through the short hall and past the lounge and small dining area to the kitchen where Dennis was standing by the refrigerator; she kissed him as a greeting on the cheek and introduced Nastasiya. He said hello and offered her a drink: at first a glass of wine, but she wanted tea and he switched the kettle on, as the doorbell chimed and a blur of voices called out. Vera said softly to Dennis, “Is Irina home?” He replied: “She said she’d be back about eight, she’s getting something to eat out.”

Into the kitchen came Bradley, Dennis’s brother, and his wife, Nancy, and their children. Nancy carried a platter, a cake of some type, which she offered up to the room and said, “Tiramisu.” And Bradley said, “Please, excuse my wife, she’s Italian and she’s been making that bad joke since she made the thing.” There followed embraces and kisses and the brothers patted each other on the shoulder. Vera introduced Nastasiya: Bradley shook her hand cautiously, as if he knew something about her; Nancy plunged forward right after her awkward husband and wrapped her arms around Nastasiya’s shoulders and said, “Welcome, welcome. I am so sorry for you.” Their children: Catherine, Peter and Henry were presented with their mother pushing their elbows up to shake the foreign woman’s hand. The children were aged twelve to seven. Nastasiya was overwhelmed with the greetings, the noise, the faces and the names that assailed her and she would never remember and for once she was glad she was not expected to talk very much.

After the greetings, Dennis handed a glass of wine to Nancy and cups of tea to Vera and Nastasiya; Bradley had helped himself by taking a beer from the refrigerator. The men broke off to talk with each other in the adjoining room; the children had run off to play and tease each other; while the women sat at the kitchen table and talked about the day and Nastasiya’s journey, her impressions of New York with Vera as interpreter for the most part. Nastasiya tried talking, to make the effort as she would for a hostess who had invited her home, but she retreated often to smiles and glances at Vera to make sense of it all. Without language, contact was reduced to basic signs, reading a person’s gestures, the meaning their eyes and the tone of the voice even without any comprehension of what they said.

Meanwhile Dennis and Bradley had laid the table and were busy serving the dinner; chicken and vegetables with baked potatoes. They called the women to the table and Bradley barked at his children to behave and be at the table in the adjoining dining area they all sat, with the children. Dennis took the seat as head of the table and Vera sat at the opposite end with Nastasiya at her right side. Nancy arranged the children between her and Bradley opposite. Dennis looked at the table, Vera caught his eyes and they seemed to tacitly know what was coming as he lowered his head as Vera clasped the hands on either side and Nastasiya noted they all joined hands as Dennis said, “Thank you Lord for this meal, which we share tonight and for the people who have come to join it with us; and especially for our new friend, Nastasiya, who has come here from so far away.” He stopped, looked up at the table, and picked up his knife. The table followed him by picking up their knives and forks, and started to cut and eat and talk. Nancy remonstrated with Peter to eat his carrots.

There was not much talking while people ate, though Vera gave Nastasiya a little commentary of what was going on with each person, especially the children. Bradley and Dennis talked about money as Bradley was looking to buy into a franchise. Dennis advised him against doing it and Bradley said it did not matter too much because he could not raise the money and Nancy would not allow him to risk what they had either. “So, we’re talking about a pipe dream!” exclaimed Dennis.

The boys were eating, or pushing their food around their plates, while their parents glanced at their manners and tried to rectify them. At twelve Catherine wanted to be involved in adult conversation but could not understand what Vera and Nastasiya were saying, and when a pause came in the women’s conversation, she asked Nastasiya what she was doing in the US. Surprised, a little shocked at the directness of the girl’s question, Vera leant forward to speak in Catherine’s ear and explained euphemistically why Nastasiya was in New York. Catherine looked at Nastasiya and said, “OK”, as if she had been delayed on a flight to Miami. Nastasiya added, “Vera Sergeyevna is nice lady.” Nastasiya said Vera in her accent, with the V soft and the name floated in the space above them like ‘vyair-ah’. Nancy laughed lightly, repeating the name facetiously, “Oh, so very correct and polite, Vera Sergeyevna.” Vera pointed to Nancy and said in mock seriousness, “You hear that? That’s how you say my name from now on.” Nancy said Vera and Vera replied Vyair-ah and then they were exchanging Vera and Vyair-ah in a phony battle of wills to Nastasiya’s puzzlement.

Vera grinned sarcastically at her sister-in-law as she heard the front door open, and the moment she had been apprehensive over had come: she could hear it was Irina, her daughter.

“Hey, everyone!” said a tall young woman entering the dining area. The table greeted her almost as one, “Hey Irina!” and then she stood by her mother. “How are you? Did you eat?” asked Vera. Irina nodded, “Yes I had something over at Carey’s.” She looked down at Nastasiya who followed the conversation and her eyes were fixed on Irina, which, she did not realize which was either the result of her tiredness or the drowsy effect of the food. She seemed elsewhere, deeply within herself, in her thoughts and drowning. Vera introduced her to Nastasiya and Irina impressed her by speaking Russian and asking how she was. Nastasiya’s reply exhausted Irina’s limited knowledge and she giggled with embarrassment, turned to Vera and said, ”That’s all I know!” sitting down between her mother and Nastasiya. They chatted quickly, catching up, on what Irina had done that evening and her studies; and on the day just passed, the events of the week. Nastasiya warmed to the girl and glowed in the company of Vera and her daughter. The conversation ran smoothly and time past so much so that she did not notice her plate being taken, the children running off to play on the computer; and Nancy bringing the tiramisu out to the table and then apportioning it on cake plates with a fork handed to each of the adults. Catherine came back to the table and asked for a larger helping which Nancy denied her. Nastasiya said the tiramisu was excellent, it was all excellent and with her cup of tea she lifted it up and smiled graciously to Vera and Dennis.

Not long after, when the children became cranky, and as it was ‘a school night’, said Nancy, they would be leaving; Bradley gathered the children with Nancy’s help; the evening was closing with goodbyes and embraces and they left.

Vera checked the time on her wristwatch and said she would take Nastasiya back to the hotel. Dennis was less abashed and embraced Nastasiya and said, “You need anything, you ask Vera and we’ll do what we can.” And after it was translated the pleasure in her smile told him she was grateful for his consideration.

Vera took the expressway to Manhattan. It was getting late and they talked in snatches, in little phrases as they were both tired. Nastasiya was calm. The car was comfortable and it rolled with an even pitch on the surface of the road, the suspension rolled with the pulse of the tires over the road coming up through the car seat like the feeling a baby must have in a bassinette. Vera asked if she could play her driving music, nothing loud, just quiet and reposed, classical pieces played by solo piano and on the fast moving parkway, with trucks and SUVs and lights racing by, and the restrained balanced and structured piano music, created the atmosphere of a private salon in their vehicle; at once pensive and introspective, in a sense peaceful, despite the flashing lights outside, and the structured harmonies of the music played contrapuntally to the ear while the eye was teased by advertising and the speed of the highway. Inside the car’s cabin they were slightly removed from the outside world although it was so clearly pushing and rushing past their windows.

Vera stared ahead concentrating on the road; Nastasiya looked to the side at the rush of billboards, and houses and let her mind go blank with the impressions of the evening and Vera’s family. Nastasiya thanked Vera again; she said she enjoyed the evening; her family were all very friendly and Vera said a few words which meant little but closed the subject. They drove on in silence and after emerging from the tunnel Vera said she would meet Nastasiya at mid-morning; she would have the chance to sleep late, and perhaps deal with some other matters, to clear and tidy all of Yeva’s property, her schooling, the administration and other details, and of Yeva herself. The real subject was left to hang. Nastasiya looked straight at Vera on that because the implication and intention was clear enough. She would not discuss it now, she really was exhausted.

The Hidden Bend is available on December 4th, 2015

©Copyright Guy Cranswick 2015. All Rights Reserved.

Extract 7: The Hidden Bend: Piers is discovered

On a humid, warm, Friday afternoon she met Piers for lunch and they were walking slowly window shopping, chatting leisurely as Piers did not have to return to the office. There was a holiday air, of leisure and time-wasting, as people prepared to go on vacation, or that businesses had lowered their activity to a level where things were being postponed because senior people were on their vacations. Angela and Piers went from shop to shop, Angela reviewing the goods on display, inviting comment, but Piers could not really feign interest after the third shop and muttered back basic replies to keep her satisfied. She kept his hand in hers, loose, fingers wiped and stroked against the other, but a constant touch as she led him along the pavement, and mollified him that it would be over soon, to appease him; while Piers took in the street, the other shops and the pedestrians: lone shoppers, business people, groups of children, either boys or girls self-involved, walking on the road, obstructing others, and laughing at each other’s comments as they gobbled ice creams, drank from cans of soft drink while some smoked cigarettes. Eating and smoking in the street disgusted Piers. He was aware that Angela had said something but he was elsewhere, mentally removed from another shop window, a taxi and its diesel engine had driven past, drowned her completely, she pulled him to her and like rag doll he was pulled from his inertia to her body, when she imposed a kiss on his lips before he could react, not that he did not want her kiss him, but there was a time and place – as he said – which she rejected as too small minded, and public kissing like eating and smoking was unacceptable. At the margin of his eye he spied three girls on a corner, and then it came into focus instantly, the girl, one of them, one of the girls was Jane: Jane, his daughter.

She, Jane, the daughter, stared hard and lost, as if looking at a doppelganger and questioning her eyes for seeing what she was seeing, whether it was real and actual or an effect, a mysterious double that popularly was said to inhabit the world, but her stare was unwavering and the longer she prised open the image the anger rose of betrayal of what her mother would say, though she had no excuse for being in that street when she was, as she was apparently at college and deceiving her parents and wasting their money for sending her there. But that did not matter because she realised this man with a woman was her father. Piers extricated himself from Angela’s embrace; she felt his arms abruptly tear her from him, she frowned curiously and almost said, “What are you doing, what’s going on?”; but she stopped as she saw him look at the girl, Jane, whose reaction showed she knew the man, at the corner, she followed his gaze and seemed to know intuitively that this girl was his daughter.

Piers broke from Angela and at first he jogged then ran the hundred or so yards to Jane at the corner; she stuck transfixed with her friends as the threatening figure of the man came to them. He stopped and leant over to her height, face to face, held her shoulders and shaking them, “What are you doing here? Why aren’t you at college?” His vehemence, his animal fury was a terrible force of will. She said nothing: her friends backed away slyly, he saw them move and still fixed on his daughter he waited, cooler now, but enraged mindful of how he appeared in the street. He saw a church behind her, in the middle of the road, eighteenth century, with columns and well-proportioned, built when the area was hardly laid out as it was today; and the idea crossed his mind that it was better place to discuss things with his daughter, better to talk to her there than in the street in full view. Jane was still silent, and he said to her, “See the church, go there and wait. I’ll be two minutes.” She turned and did as he commanded; Piers turned to go back to Angela who had followed him cautiously, mindful not to intrude, and she was watching the clash between father and daughter. When he faced her (her eyes read his face, his worried expression) and he said, “That was Jane: I don’t know what she saw, or what she thinks of it all. She ought to be at school – her maths. Damn her! I have to go now.” He kissed Angela’s cheek, uptight, an obligatory parting kiss. Angela stroked his arm, and said nothing, she could nothing now, she was unnecessary now, just leave him to his own life and wait for his call later, days, perhaps weeks, she did not know; it was not her life her business, the duties, the burden of raising children.

He walked away from Angela, his sharp footsteps on the concrete and she followed him into the church. The gnawing feeling rose in her, she closed her eyes to ignore it and walked back in the opposite direction.

The church was empty, quiet, no one, except for a frightened and alarmed girl, who had never seen her father so angry sitting in a pew, her legs clapped together, her hands in her lap. His footsteps came to her and she turned, looked up to him. He said, “I am sorry for what happened outside, it was the shock.” He paused, he sat beside her, looking at her in the face, eye to eye, “What are you doing here? Isn’t it a college day, or am I mistaken?” She collected her thoughts, “It is, I came up with my friends, Lizzie and Dominica just for the afternoon, we’d been to classes in the morning.” He said nothing. They sat in silence. Then he said, “Alright I see, you had a free afternoon.” Jane nodded; it was partially true but he seemed to be allowing her to avoid a punishment, at least now for wagging college. And another pause because he knew he had to say something about the woman, who had held him, kissed him, but he didn’t know what Jane had seen, or what she construed from the scene. “I suppose you are wondering about that lady, the one in the road, I mean the pavement, the one I was with?” Jane said nothing; she kept a poker face. “She’s a friend, she’s an artist. Her name is Angela White. And well, she had a show of her pictures, a very good one, and we were talking and she had need of investment advice and I offered, you see, and we were out, and well artists are very spontaneous people, emotional and go with their wishes, very tactile…” He ended there, unconvincing. Jane did not react. He looked at her. “You know what tactile means don’t you?” And she nodded. He went on, “And that can be embarrassing for normal people, that is, not artists, like me.” Jane looked at her father and she was not certain if it was true, but she made a calculation that he had forgiven her for skipping college and whether she believed the story about the woman or not, she would accept it nonetheless to keep the peace. “It was really nothing”, Piers said to underline the lack of any real basis to any scandalous idea Jane may have. “Are we straight on that? Are we together on the facts?” Jane said yes. “Well, let’s be getting you home, and to your books; you must have a lot on and much to study.” She stood up and he embraced her, “No need to mention this to Mummy”, he said. He broke from the embrace, Piers looked at Jane seriously and he said, “A second hand story about what looks like…best leave it, just to keep us all on an even keel.” Jane said, “OK, and about college, too?” He nodded, “Absolutely. Anyway what’s one afternoon at your age? I’d be disappointed if you weren’t skipping some classes, even a little bit. Now come on with you and I’ll buy you an ice if you like.” He pulled her closer to him; she liked the pressing feeling of his arm and hand on her shoulder.

And they left the church, into the street, his hand on her shoulder and Piers took Jane to an Italian café in Soho and bought her a three scoop gelato with pistachios and chocolate syrup. He had an espresso and afterwards they walked to a tube station where Piers gave her some extra money and told her to go home while he had to return to his office. She kissed her father and disappeared down the stairs to the station.

©Copyright Guy Cranswick 2015. All Rights Reserved.