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March 19, 1988 - Image 88

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1988-03-19

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

7

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86

FRIDAY, MARCH 18, 1988

LINDA BENSON

Special To The Jewish News

Birmingham

30150 Telegraph, Ste. 323, (South of 13 Mile)

Translator Brings Forgotten
Yiddish Novel Back To Life

Tues. & Wed. 10-6
Mon. & Thurs. 10-8
Fri. & Sat. 10-6

F

or several hours each
day Aliza Shevrin sits
at her desk in the
study of her home in Ann Ar-
bor and makes a journey
backward into another time,
another place and another
language. The world is pre-
revolutionary Russia. The
year is 1912. And the events
— a young Jew and his gen-
tile friend's agreement to
switch identities, a police in-
vestigation of a ritual blood
murder, a Russian trial and
an interfaith love story — are
all woven together by the
special gifts of Yiddish writer
Sholem Aleichem.
Right now, the object of
Shevrin's efforts is a little-
known, but important Sho-
lem Aleichem novel that has
not yet been made available
to the American public, either
in Sholem Aleichem's col-
lected works in Yiddish, or in
English translation. Its title
is Die Blutiger Shpas, or in its
newly emerging Americaniz-
ed identity, The Bloody Hoax.
Shevrin is one of a handful
of American-born Yiddish
translators actively practic-
ing her craft. Her latest pro-
ject, 750 pages long — in-
cluding hefty amounts of de-
scription of Russian urban
life and Russian idioms to add
to the requisite number of
Jewish ones — has created its
own special share of head-
aches.
She considers herself one of
a small handful — about five
or six Americans — that can
do this kind of work, and she
keeps track of her peers' ap-
proach to their craft very
carefully.
"In the next generation,
who knows? Maybe there will
just be two of us," Shevrin
says. "It is important to be a
native American and it is
equally important to have
grown up speaking Yiddish.
Otherwise you cannot do jus-
tice to the idioms. Yiddish,
with its homespun expletives
is rich, rich, rich in those," she
exclaims with a healthy dose
of her characteristic en-
thusiasm.
She cites one example, an
ausgeshlepdeh krank, which
became "a seven year itch" in
the hands of one Israeli-born
Yiddish translator. "To my
mind, that would have been 'a
terrible drag,' " Shevrin says.
She recalls one argument
with an editor over whether
to translate kein ayin hara. "I

Aliza Shevrin: Dipping into a fading era.

felt that the readers would
know it left as it is, and
ultimately the editor agreed
with me."
Other idioms, such as a
shvartz yar oif im, need a bit
more refinement. "I've inter-
preted that as 'the devil with
him,' rather than the more
literal version, 'a black year
on him.'
"And you can't get too con-
temporary either," she cau-
tions. Under no circum-
stances will readers see hak
mir a tchaynik rendered as
"You're driving me bananas"
under Shevrin's standards of
translation. "You have to get
inside the author's head and
interpret his intentions," she
says.
"Maintaining a rhyme
scheme or a sense of allitera-
tion can make translating
even harder," she explains.
Her proudest accomplish-
ment to date? "I came up
with chandler-vandler for
wheeler-dealer," she says,
smiling slyly, "but that was
so rare. Ultimately, your goal
is for the work to read as
though it was written in
English, but that means that
you lose your identity as the
translator."
For The Bloody Hoax,
Shevrin, who speaks no Rus-
sian, has had to rely upon oc-
casional outside consultation
for the Russian idioms and
the heavy doses of description
of local color.
"This is a great story, a

thriller, a love story and a
who-done-it, all rolled into
one. But it is unusual for
Sholem Aleichem, because
it has urban themes and
lengthy discussions of Rus-
sian daily life."
An Ann Arbor friend who
was born in Russia, Basia
Genkina, helped sort out the
different ranks of policemen.
"It seems that there are
endless numbers of policemen
in the story's investigation of
the ritual blood murder,"
Shevrin explains. A member
of the University of Michi-
gan's Slavic languages de-
partment, Sergei Sishkeff
has also provided emergency
advice.
Shervin's husband, Howard,
a clinical psychologist at
U-M, has been Shevrin's "in-
house" editor. His eloquent
command of English has
helped her iron out the rough
spots for the three previous
Sholem Aleichem works that
she has translated as well as
the short stories of I.B. Singer,
and Singer's novel Enemies, A
Love Story that Shevrin
worked on earlier in her
translating career. That work
was nominated for a National
BookAward in 1972.
or Shevrin, Yiddish
translation is a labor
of love more than it is
a quest for financial reward.
It is an opportunity to dip in-
to an era that is rapidly
becoming one of handed-down
memories.

F

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