So far this Women in Translation Month, I’ve focused on my usual reviews, with eleven posts published looking at twelve books from eight different countries. However, the last week of August brings a change of pace. Today marks the start of a short project, with an introduction to a work you might not be familiar with (although you may have heard of the writer). The topic of the piece is a rather sombre one, but as you’ll see, this is a story with a fair dollop of humour blended in, too, making it a fun introduction to the writer’s work 😉
Ricarda Huch is probably best known in the Anglosphere for her novel in letters Der letzte Sommer (The Last Summer, translated by Jamie Bulloch for Peirene Press), but she was actually a prolific writer, meaning there’s lots more to discover for anyone able to read German. A while back, I was browsing online and discovered a fun story dating back to 1899, in which the writer looks into the past to imagine how people might act in the face of certain destruction.
Der Weltuntergang (The End of the World) begins in 1599 with a solemn, matter-of-act announcement by its unnamed narrator that the end of the world is nigh, with a date set for the middle of the summer. Confident in his prediction, he passes the information on to his friend, the local pastor, little knowing the effect this announcement is to have on his home town. The pastor wastes no time in warning his congregants to start preparing for judgement day, and as he spews out tales of fire and brimstone, his church is packed to overflowing with the frightened townsfolk.
Predictably, though, not everyone sees things the same way. Many people decide that if it’s time to go, you might as well make the most of the little time you have left, while others can’t quite make up their mind, attempting to make preparations for either eventuality. Meanwhile, the date given for the apocalypse draws ever closer, with only one thing known for sure – not everyone can be right, and whatever happens, somebody will be disappointed.
Der Weltuntergang is an amusing take on human nature and the way we react in the face of disaster. The story actually took me back to another fin-de-siècle event, namely the much-hyped millennium bug, when governments spent billions of dollars attempting to prevent a catastrophic computer meltdown that never eventuated. At the time, some people made their own preparations, moving into the woods with supplies of food for months; others weren’t quite as prepared (I had a couple of bottles of mineral water and some packet noodles…). The characters in Huch’s tale are taking the threat far more seriously, but the similarities with the modern world are plain to see.
Alas, I haven’t been able to find a copy of this available in English (although there may well be one out there), so I’ve been forced to take matters into my own hands. Yes, just as was the case with my German Literature Month work on Eduard Graf von Keyserling’s Schwüle Tage (Sultry Days), I’ve decided to make my own English-language version of the story and share it with you all as a present – Happy Women in Translation Month!
The story runs to about twenty pages, and I’ve divided it into four parts of roughly equal length, with the sections to be published on my blog over the next four days. After that, as was the case with Sultry Days, I’ll also post a Translator’s Afterword, in which I’ll discuss some of the interesting issues I encountered while working on the text. Translation, while enjoyable, is rarely a simple endeavour, and I hope a peep behind the curtain will be of interest.
Of course, those who can read German may wish to check up on me, and the copyright-free digital text I used as a starting point can be found here, at the German equivalent of Project Gutenberg. If that’s not the case, then I’m afraid you’ll just have to stick with my version to see what happens when the day of reckoning arrives. Until tomorrow, then – and I hope you’re ready for the end of the world…