The Malachite Translation

MoskvaSounds a little like a Robert Ludlum novel, right?  But no, I’m referring to a collection of P. P. Bazhov’s traditional tales of the Ural Mountains and the miners who worked there.  It’s entitled The Malachite Casket in English (Malakhitova︠i︡a shkatulka in transliterated Russian).

The stories are very well known by Russian speakers, and Sergei Prokofiev’s last ballet, The Tale of the Stone Flower, is based on these tales.

I didn’t know what malachite was when my parents gave me the book, though I sort of knew what a “casket” was (a coffin?).  But I fell in love with malachite, a copper ore, as soon as I saw it.  Here’s what it looks like:  Unknown-2

And the “malachite casket” of the stories is a jewelry box, not a box for a dead body!

I was reminded of these beautiful tales when I was recently reading two books on translation – one a 2013 compilation by various translators entitled In Translation, and the other Edith Grossman’s 2010 book, Why Translation Matters.  She ought to know; she has written the best translation of Don Quixote in half a century (no mean feat!).

We owe a debt to translation that most of us, I think, tend to forget.   Unless we read French, we have not read Perrault’s original (written) versions of Unknown-3“Cinderella,” “Sleeping Beauty of the Wood,” “Blue Beard” and “Little Red Riding Hood” (you may be unpleasantly surprised at some of these stories, especially if all you know are the Disney versions!).  Unless we read German, we have not read the Brothers Grimm’s “Hansel and Gretel,” “The Fisherman and His Wife” and “The Bremen Town Musicians” (don’t read “The Girl With No Hands” or “All-Kinds-of-Fur;” they’re very creepy).  If we don’t know Classical Greek, we can’t read Aristophanes’ original comedy  The Birds, no Latin and and we can’t read Ovid’s original Metamorphoses – and to bring in a more contemporary note, if we don’t know Swedish, we can’t read the original of Stieg Larsson’s Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.  Jules Verne didn’t write 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea in English and Nobel Prize winner images-2Gabriel García Márquez didn’t write One Hundred Years of Solitude in English (it was brilliantly translated by Gregory Rabassa). These works are all translations from other languages into English.

We English speakers are spoiled because there is so much written originally in English, and so many authors want their works translated into English.  We can all too easily fall into feeling that anyone important – Shakespeare, Dickens, Faulkner – already wrote in our language, so why bother with anything from another language?

Why?  For two reasons.  One is that many important things have been written in other languages (however you want to define important); another language furnishes another window on the world, other points of view.  That’s what makes translation so difficult – and makes getting it right so essential.

And the other reason?  Because so many works written in other languages are so wondrous.  I have never stopped loving The Malachite Casket.  I don’t know how good a translation mine is – but I have never forgotten the characters:  the Mistress of the Copper Mountain, Danila the Craftsman who longs to make exquisite goblets of malachite, Katya, who dares scold the Mistress for stealing her man by showing him the Stone Flower, Tanyushka who leans against the malachite wall of the Tsar’s palace in St. Petersburg and simply melts away…  Open another window on the world and add what you see to your own vision.  Translation does matter.


Share via email
Comments { 0 }

Fantastic Flying Books


Recently on Youtube I came across the 15-minute Academy Award-winning film short based on the 2012 children’s book The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore by William Joyce. My three-year-old and I clicked through and watched, completely enraptured.

According to, the tale is ”of people who devote their lives to books and books who return the favor….a poignant, humorous allegory about the curative powers of story.”  Of course that will hit a soft spot for this librarian, and things may have gotten a bit “dusty” in my living room towards the end of the film. I recommend the book and the film to anyone, child or adult, who can’t live without books. But what struck me afterwards (while rewatching the film, with my husband this time), is that not a word is uttered during the entire thing! Music sets and alters the mood and tempo, and a few key statements are communicated via handwritten letters and printed words on pages; the overall sensation is that of being swirled gently and completely into a gorgeous, speechless world.


As to be expected from such technological pioneers, Morris Lessmore’s cinematic creators at Moonbot Studio go beyond the printed book and a short film. You can download the richly illustrated ebook from iTunes ($4.99), and once you own (or borrow from the library) either a printed or ebook copy, you can buy an app (for iPhone/iPad only, $0.99) called the IMAG-N-O-TRON, which according to Moonbot “uses augmented reality technology to bring the printed page to life.  Simply point the camera of your device at the pages and step into Morris Lessmore’s library, see words fly off the page, and peek into a part of Lessmore’s world not shown in the book or movie.”

Fantastic flying books, indeed!

I hope that everyone has a safe and fun Fourth of July holiday tomorrow. The library will be closed, but remember, our eLibrary offerings are always open. Happy Fourth!


Share via email
Comments { 0 }

Pool smarts

SwimmingSchool’s out, and despite the rain at the beginning of the week, we’re in for some warm days.  If you’re looking for some pool time, check out the swim programs offered through the City of Sunnyvale.  Lessons and open recreational swim are offered at Columbia Park Pool, Sunnyvale Middle School Pool, Washington Park/Swim Center, and Sunnyvale Swim Complex at Fremont High School.  Hours and programs vary by location.  To find out more, go to the City’s Swimming and Aquatics page.

Safety is always a concern during pool season.  We may breathe a sigh of relief once our kids have learned to swim, but even swimmers need to be cautious around water.  Becoming “pool safe” is a process, and it’s a good idea for families to review water safety together before hitting the pool or beach.

The U.S. Consumer Product & Safety Commission’s Pool Safely page is rich in educational information and resources for families.  Elementary aged kids can review what they’ve learned through the interactive game Adventures of Splish and Splash.  Much of the information is available in Spanish as well. 

There’s one more resource I’d like to share.  I’ve recently run across an article titled Drowning Doesn’t Look Like Drowning.   Marine Safety Specialist and retired U.S. Coast Guard member Mario Vittone describes how to tell if someone’s in trouble in the water.  Surprisingly, drowning doesn’t look like one might expect.  There’s no splashing and calling out; instead, it’s very quiet and it looks much like treading water.  As we all work to keep our kids happy and safe in the pool, I want to help get the word out about what to watch for.

Now let’s go out and have a safe, fun, and active summer.


Share via email
Comments { 1 }

Adults Create at the Library

Have you noticed the fun craft programs we’ve been offering for adults? We usually meet on a Tuesday or Wednesday evening at 7 p.m.  It’s a great chance to meet new people, learn a simple craft and just spend an hour or so doing something creative. Thus far we have made valentines, learned simple crocheting techniques and baked some retro Shrinky Dinks that turned into earrings and fobs.  In July we’ll be making duct tape clutches and repeating the Crochet program, then in August we’ll make bookmarks with the popular product washi tape. The best part  of the series is that you only need to bring your creativity since we supply the materials and tools.  The Friends of the Sunnyvale Library have provided the funds for these fun activities.

If you missed the first programs but are interested in learning how to do some of these old and new crafts check out these books.

For creating with felt fabric:

Stash Happy Felt

A basic crochet manual for right and left handed beginners:

Crochet Your Way

And finally a book on creating with Shrinky Dinks:



Share via email
Comments { 0 }

Sunnyvale Art Club annual art exhibition


Winner of Best in show award, Cleo Crouch

Our annual Sunnyvale Art Club exhibition was a hit.  Over 700 people attended the event.  The work of over sixty artists’ was on display.   A variety of media were represented from water color, oil painting and some wonderful photography.

Members of the club did outdoor painting demonstrations.   Prizes were awarded.  Kristen Olson, a noted landscape artist, was on hand to judge the exhibition and offer awards.    The best in show award was won by artist Cleo Crouch.


painting patio

Open air painting demonstration

Share via email
Comments { 0 }