# Дата: 3 Ноя 2014 04:32
TWO NEW STRUGATSKY TRANSLATIONS: "Hard to Be a God" and "Roadside Picnic."
These two books have shaped generations of Soviet readers (including my own). They have first been translated into English in the 1970s. I haven't read the old Picnic but the old God translation was hideous: boring and cumbersome. Two years ago certain Olena Bormashenko translated them again. Right off the bat: these versions are much better. It least now the reading doesn't feel like an obstacle course. The philosophy and the adventures of these masterpieces are well preserved. I also didn't notice any serious translating blunders.
However, there are serious "character" problems in the language of the novels. They are especially apparent in Picnic. The original novel, especially Part I, is written in a very colloquial, street language. This technique was a novelty in the '60s USSR and immediately won the audience over. Unfortunately, in Bormashenko's translation, the street dirt of a lowlife stalker Red Schuhart's words and thoughts is largely gone, replaced by Bormashenko's own scholarly manners. The result feels entirely wrong.
The atmosphere in the translated text is partly sterilized, partly alien to the spirit of the original, which is exactly what the Brothers battled against in the times of Soviet censorship (thoroughly described in Boris Strugatsky's own Afterword). "А долбанет тебя?" becomes "what if something gets you?" (instead of "whacks you," "zaps you," "nails you," or a dozen other words with vigor), "вляпался в студень" becomes "got into slime" (instead of "stepped into slime" or something to that extent), and "доносчик" becomes "informer" (technically correct, but hardly a word from Red's vocabulary, as opposed to a "rat" or a "snitch").
Bormashenko is also too wordy. Street talk means shorter word constructions: not "guys from the Institute" but rather "Institute guys," not "we've had our fun, but that's enough" but rather "the fun's over," not "they broke him, left only a shell of a man," but "broken down, a shell of a man," etc. I also don't like her repeated use of "kicked the bucket" for "гробанулся." I'd prefer the more succinct "snuffed it." Basically, this translation could use more gravel and ire.
In some places, however, the feeling is preserved: "Всю его кровь поганую выпил" as "I'd bleed the bastard dry," "Кого хочешь утопит" as "would rat on his own mother," Dina's dirty "хочешь?" as "want some?", etc. And, of course, the culmination in "Hellslime" as "Ведьмин студень"; a perfect find! I also appreciate Bormashenko correcting a small but funny error in the original: the Brothers didn't know that "борщ" in English is "borscht," not "borzhsh." Unfortunately, political correctness is responsible for the black man in the novel receiving a literal transcription of his name: "Gutalin," instead of "Shoeshine," as he should've been named. Some minor flaws surface in the bits like "Мы пусть будем здоровы, а они пусть все подохнут": "Let us all be healthy, and let them all go to hell!" The second half of this sentence is perfect. "Healthy," on the other hand, is from a lexicon of a concerned mother, not riffraff like Red. "Здоровье," in this case, refers to general well-being, not health ("Let us all be well" is slightly more on target).
It's Hard to Be a God is a little better, because Don Rumata's language is more aristocratic and intellectual, but, when encountering folklore or just regular everyday speech, Bormashenko gets overly cultural again. For example, "Ты должен был убрать Дона Рэбу" is translated as "You should have removed Don Reba." Sure, this is true to the meaning. However a more appropriate stylistic translation, in my opinion, would be "You should have taken him out." It's more aggressive, punchy, and imperative; the way Don Kondor would've pronounced his command. But Bormashenko, a cultured person that she is, does not end sentences with prepositions.
The only gross blunder that I noticed is translating "каждый сам за себя" as "one for all," instead of "every man for himself."
Again, some of her solutions are excellent: "проморгали" as "we dropped the ball," and some others. I also have to give her credit for perfectly translating the centerpiece dialog between Rumata and Dr. Budach. The old version mucked it up beyond belief.
All these issues create a wholly different atmosphere. Both Strugatsky's novels are extremely intense and impactful. They brilliantly depict the despair of a man who has been failed by his system of beliefs. Unfortunately, this intensity and despair are largely lost in translation.
A separate item I disagree with is Ursula Le Guin's final proclamation in the Foreword that "the final promise of happiness for all" at the end of the novel is an "unmistakably bitter political" satire of the Communist promise. I don't see it this way at all. In my opinion, it's a desperate plea to the Supreme Being for salvation from the Failed Mankind as a whole. Also, instead of "let no one be forgotten," I would have used "let no one be left out" ("left behind" would also be good, if not for the lousy allusion to the "No Child Left Behind" education program).
All in all, a commendable effort, but I hope next time Mrs. Bormashenko adds some much needed intensity to her translating work.