So far we’ve made four stops on our International Booker 2020 longlist journey, and that means it’s time for a rest before we set off on the next stage of the trip (there’s still a long way to go…). That’s why I’ve decided to take a week off to do something different; although when I say ‘different’, some of you may well disagree. You see, in addition to reviewing translated fiction, over the past couple of years I’ve started to do the odd spot of translation myself, and this week sees the publication, if that isn’t too high-blown an expression, of my latest effort. We’re off to the mountains for a short, refreshing vacation away from it all, and our guide is someone regular readers will find rather familiar 🙂
Eduard Graf von Keyserling’s short story ‘Nachbarn’ (‘Neighbours’) is a short piece telling of a fateful encounter between two couples taking a break in the mountains. We begin with the married couple Oskar and Dina: he’s a slightly pompous official with a poetic bent; she’s a happy soul who just wants to enjoy life with her husband. The time away from it all is supposed to bring them together, but (fortunately for our story) that doesn’t appear to be the case, and Oskar’s frustration at not being able to force his poetry from out of him leads to a rather strained marital relationship.
Of course, what all good poets need is inspiration, and that arrives in the form of another couple staying in the room beneath theirs. With a rather ambiguous relationship, this second pair stay cooped up inside all day, only going out in the evening to spend time in a small boat on the nearby lake, and when Oskar and Dina sit out on their balcony, they can hear the couple’s conversations, and the desperation in their voices.
It won’t surprise anyone when Oskar decides that this is where he’ll find the key to unlock his poetic potential, and ‘Neighbours’ explores what happens when the two couples interact. In a story running to around fifteen pages, with the only character besides the two couples being the maid who serves them, Keyserling again shows us how selfish men, and artists in particular, can be, and what it’s like to be the one living with them…
Interested? Well, stick around because I’ll be bringing you an English-language version over the next few days. To be more precise, I’ve chopped the story up into four bite-sized chunks, with one published at the same time over each of the next four days. After that, of course, I’ll be bringing you the now-traditional translator’s afterword, in which I’ll discuss a few of my thoughts on the story and the translation process.
If you haven’t tried Keyserling’s work before, you can always check out the novellas I’ve previously translated (Schwüle Tage, or Sultry Days, and Seine Liebeserfahrung, or Experiences of Love) to see if he might be a writer for you. He’s an author whose work I enjoy immensely, and there isn’t much available in English apart from a recent retranslation of his best-known novel, Wellen (Waves). If that’s too much trouble, though, just tune in at the same time, same place, over the next few days to see how the story unfolds.
But if you’d rather not bother, don’t worry – our International Booker travels will continue next week after this classical interlude 😉
The image of the author’s painting (1900), by Lovis Corinth, was sourced from the writer’s German-language Wikipedia page.