Archive | Language Collection RSS feed for this section

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 }

Mango Languages

Mango LanguagesWe are pleased to announce that we have upgraded Mango Languages to include all 39 language courses and 16 ESL courses. You can now begin learning Arabic, Tagalog, Urdu, Tamil, Korean and Russian and many more languages in an easy and effective way. And, just for fun, if you are a Star Trek fan, you will soon be able to learn Klingon, and if you like pirates, you can talk like a pirate! (Talk like a Pirate Day is September 19 – be ready!)

You will also be able to take advantage of the ESL courses which include learning English for both Cantonese and Mandarin speakers as well as Russian, Spanish, Vietnamese, Turkish and more. My favorite is the English for Children course featuring Little Pim. You must watch some of it!

Mango Languages is available from our website under “Quick Links” on the right side of the page. Choose the “Learn a Language link” and you’ll be taken to the Mango Languages page. From home, you’ll be asked to sign in with your library card number. You can browse the courses anonymously, or create a user name and password to track your progress.

Need help getting started? Feel free to ask a Librarian!

Share via email
Comments { 3 }

Spanish in English

I want to write about a few English books in which the characters are Spanish speakers.  The stories present varied backgrounds that don’t show up so often; no little rhymes or gang-bangers.  These are just people who happen to know or speak Spanish in their stories (although the stories are written in English). 

Anne Estevis’  Chicken Foot Farm is a quiet, realistic tale about a South Texas Mexican-American farming family on the edge of World War II.  The war will change a centuries-old way of life – mules to tractors, hand shredding to machine shredding, farms to housing developments.

The family has lived in the Rio Grande Valley since before it belonged to the U.S.  They have never been wealthy in money, but always rich in folklore and culture.  Alejandro, the narrator, is a younger son.  He sees how Nature, time and chance can destroy hard work and life itself in a moment – but he also learns how to rebuild life with love,  loyalty and sweat.

His father always prefers the eldest son, Ernesto, because he sees Ernesto as his heir, the one who’ll “inherit the farm and work the land.”  As is often the case, the father does not really know his children; Alejandro works lovingly (and desperately) on the farm to win his father’s approval, while Ernesto is determined to leave farming forever.  When he does leave – enlisting in the Army when World War II breaks out – it is in a way that may never allow him to return home.

“What used to be the family compound now lies under an overpass of a six-lane expressway,” says Alejandro in the epilogue.  His brother Ernesto’s remains were shipped back from the war to be buried in the Fort Sam Houston National Cemetery.  His sister Virginia, who fell deeply in love with an Anglo who returned her love, never married him – their father forbade her to speak his name, let alone see him.  She tells Alejandro that when she travels the expressway, she feels a “tingling surge” as she drives over what used to be their farm.  He says nothing to her, “but I’ve also experienced a weird sensation at the same spot on the expressway.  I wish I could explain it, but I’m not sure I can.”  An overactive imagination?  Or, he thinks, “the spiritual bonds that exist between between individuals and the places that have enchanted them.”

You may have seen that in the first week of February the Sunnyvale Library and Columbia Neighborhood Center co-sponsored a presentation by Professor Francisco Jiménez , the Fay Boyle Professor of Modern Languages and Literatures at Santa Clara University.  There were almost 400 people at that bilingual talk.  Dr. Jiménez’s memoirs in Spanish and English were sold by Leigh’s Bookstore, and the event went on until 10:45 p.m., as people waited patiently to have him sign their books and take photographs with him.He was not born to bilingualism and a doctorate – far from it.  He came to this country when he was four years old, he knew no English (he said he failed first grade because he didn’t understand a word the teacher said), and for ten years he traveled around the Central Valley picking cotton and strawberries, thinning lettuce and topping carrots, never able to attend school until all the crops were in (the third week in November).  That was The Circuit, the circle his family repeated over and over again every year (the Spanish translation is Cajas de cartón).

When his father was unable to work in the fields anymore, he and his older brother Roberto found jobs as janitors, 30 hours a week, to support the family while they went to high school.  The man he worked for suggested that he go to college (an idea that had never occurred to Jiménez), and offered to write him a letter of recommendation to his alma mater, Santa Clara University.  The college accepted him – and then he had to leave the family he had never left before.  This was not just just a little homesickness; it was a step into an immense unknown.  And how would his family get by without the pay for the work he did?

I’ll leave you to discover how he got through college and was accepted to a doctoral program at Columbia University in his next two books, Breaking Through and Reaching Out.  Eating a strawberry or a carrot will never be quite the same.







Francisco X. Stork was born in Monterrey, Mexico, moved to Texas with his mother and stepfather when he was nine, and grew up in the El Paso housing projects.  He graduated from a small Jesuit college, went to Harvard to study Romance languages and literatures for four years, and then switched to law school at Columbia University and became a lawyer.  But he was always determined to write.

In Stork’s fourth novel, Marcelo in the Real World, Marcelo Sandoval, a seventeen-year-old who lives in a tree house, has been attending Paterson, a school in which he is allowed to remain in his “comfort zone” tending ponies and helping handicapped kids ride them.  He is at the high end of the autistic spectrum, and is happily looking forward to remaining at Paterson for the summer when his father, an attorney at a large law firm, tells him that he must learn to function in the “real world,” and spend the summer working in the mail room at the law firm.  The scene is set for either the mother or the father to be an ogre and push an autistic boy into a place where he is bound to fail – but neither parent does so.  We find out that Marcelo has been able to do many things he wanted to do, even though his father, principally, does not agree that they are worthwhile.

The parents offer their son a carrot and stick: work in the law firm during the summer, and he can choose where he wants to go to school in the fall, Paterson or a regular high school.  Marcelo reluctantly agrees to the summer in the law firm mail room – but just as his father and mother suggested, he begins to learn skills that he would never acquire at Paterson.

By the end of the summer, he has decided where he wants to go to college to be a nurse and a physical therapist, he has learned to call himself “I” instead of “Marcelo” – and he has made a true friend.

Ordinary people -who happen to be Spanish speakers – through difficulty and joy, find a place in the world.


Share via email
Comments { 0 }

Chinese Collection Relocated and Expanded

Recently, the Library moved the popular Chinese language collection from its crowded, densely packed area to a new spacious location near the Libraryzhongwen (chinese) atrium to better serve our Mandarin speaking community. Over the past year, the Library’s Chinese book collection grew 25% from 7,000 volumes to 9,000 volumes. Among the 2,000 new titles added to the collection are many popular works from China, Taiwan and Hong Kong. These include new fiction, biographies, cookbooks, self-help books, travel books, parenting books and many other subjects. The Chinese collection has the highest circulation among all non-English collections at the Library. In addition to books, the Library offers Chinese DVD movies, TV programs, music CDs, magazines and newspapers. View recently added items to the Chinese collection.

Share via email
Comments { 0 }