48 Friday, June 1, 1984
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translating will be much harder .
Despite the urgency, crafting a
fine translation can take as much, or
more time than writing an original
work, says Shevrin. Marienbad took
her two years and four drafts — with
time out to teach Yiddish classes at
Hillel and to regretfully decline invi-
tations to translate various grand-
mothers' diaries acquaintances sent
her way. One six-page section of
Marienbad, with its mix of Biblical
Hebrew and Yiddish, took her two
weeks to translate as she used prayer
books in addition to dictionaries and
thesauruses for her research.
Shevrin spends her days writing
in her upstairs study, where her
granddaughter's Rubber Duckie
graces the desk along with a typewri-
ter and the xeroxed pages of Yiddish
text upon which she makes prelimi-
nary English notations. Evenings
find her in the living room with her
husband, Howard, a clinical psychol-
ogist who is also fluent in Yiddish,
reading aloud the day's translation,
"balancing it like a checkbook" from
English back into Yiddish — a device
she uses to rein the translator's per-
petual urge to "say it better than the
Like all performers, the trans-
lator has some latitude of interpreta-
tion. Exactly how much? Well, Shev-
rin would have liked to "edit out"
some ofln the Storm's, less successful
comic characters. "Bilt you can't do
it," she says. She shakes her head.
"I'll get walloped for that, but it's not
my fault; I didn't write the book; I
In general, Shevrin says, "basic
grammar" best conveys Yiddish's
linguistic persona. "There's a spoken
voice to Yiddish," she says, "a narra-
tive that was the original tradition.
At the end of all my translations, I
read my work aloud. If it doesn't
sound right, I change it. The lan-
guage's homey, friendly tone should
come through in English:"
To produce that tone means
avoiding the stiff and literal "Woe is
me" for the classic Yiddish exclama-
tion Vey iz mirl as well as eschewing
sentences like "I threw mama from
the train a kiss," which fall a little to
the Lower East Side of their Yiddish
originals. When her translation cap-
tures a Yiddish cadence or allitera-
tive phrase, Shevrin is thrilled. "It
was a real find when I came up with
"wheeling and dealing" for handlen
and vandlen,, she crows.
Shevrin launched her literary
career 19 years ago on a whim and a
healthy dose of chutzpah. The im-
petus was an installment of an I.B.
Singer story published in the Jewish
Daily Forward, the Yiddish news-
paper her father mailed to her during
the 19 years she resided in Topeka.,
Kan., where her husband was on the
staff of the Meninger Institute. "I just
had the urge to translate it, to scrib-
ble it down for fun on the spur of the
moment, the way you do a crossword
puzzle," she recalls.
But she sent Singer her transla-
tion, in care of the Forward, and, on a
visit to see relatives in New York, she
phoned him — his name, to her
amazement, was plainly listed in the
Manhattan phone directory. After a
lunchtime interview with Singer at a
Manhattan vegetarian restaurant,
she found herself engaged as trans-
lator by him.
Shevrin found Bel Kaufman in
the Manhattan phone directory too.
But she is unlikely to have to let her
fingers do any more walking for a
while. She loves Sholom Aleichem;
the family likes her translating
work; publishers find the man she
refers to as the "Mark Train of Yid-
dish •Literature" quite marketable;
and while there are 42 Sholom
Aleichem volumes, only about a third
of them exist in English.
An excerpt from 'Marienbad'
Letter 13, from Meyer Mariom- Shlomo Kurlander's pretty wife? And
chik, otherwise known as the in what way is he attentive? He lends
"Odessa Womanizer, to his wife, her money on Shlomo's account. He
Chan'tzi, home in Warsaw while he says that Shlomo Kurlander person-
ally requests that he should give her
"For no reason, dushinka, you money. But whose business is it? • •
accuse me of writing you only once
"Or, for instance, do I care that
every two weeks. To me it seems that he plays, your brother-in-law, Sixty-
I am writing you every day. What six with Madam Tchopnik every day?
else is there to do here in this Tell me, what would you say,
Marienbad where the heat is oppres- dushinka, if you would see me play-
sive and you don't see a living soul ing Sixty-six
with a strange woman?
other than our high-flown Warsaw . But whose business is it? Or, for in-
ladies? I avoid them like the plague stance, is irmy business that Mmes.
because you know my attitude Sherentzis and Pekelis, those two
toward women in general and how I
young women who, on , the
especially dislike these Nalevkis pious
Nalevkis, wouldn't dare say a word
gossips. We in Odessa dislike gossips. out loud to a man, here have cast off
In our Odessa you can walk on -your their wigs and stroll arm
hands and whose business is it? For this Kishinever gigolo,
flirt who is
instance, tioes•it bother me that your chasing after all three Yamayichke's
brother-in-law Chaim is attentive to daughters . ."