At the moment, Helimission is revising the website and the book order feature isn’t working. However, I am reliably informed that you can order any of the books by sending an e-mail to https://www.helimission.org/en/contact-us/and it will be dealt with. Helimission apologise for this inconvenience, due to circumstances beyond their control, and hope that it won’t deter you from ordering books by Ernie and Hedi Tanner.
A couple of months ago, I was privileged to enjoy a ride among the snowy Alps in one of Helimission’s helicopters – I wrote about it here. https://catterel.wordpress.com/2022/03/20/into-the-blue-yonder/
Helimission is a remarkable, probably unique, charitable foundation based here in Eastern Switzerland that, for over 50 years, has been using helicopters to transport humanitarian aid, medical staff and missionaries across terrain that would otherwise be inaccessible. Mostly jungle. I have been translating for them for a number of years as my contribution to their admirable work. Here’s a link to their web page https://www.helimission.org/en/the-foundation/
Yesterday in my letterbox I found a book by the founder of Helimission, the irrepressible nonagenarian Ernie Tanner, entitled “Where Angels fear to fly”. On opening it, I realised to my delight that this was my translation – under a new title – of “Dem Tod entronnen – immer wieder”, the English version in print at last. (ISBN 978-3-9525111-4-5)
This is an unputdownable account of some of Ernie’s many brushes with death, told in his inimitable style, and I had a great deal of enjoyment translating it. In fact, translating books like this doesn’t actually feel like work: the stories flow from one death-defying event to the next like a raging torrent, interspersed with moments of humour and sometimes sadness.
Throughout Ernie’s narration is the awareness of just how hard his guardian angels must have been working to meet the challenges he constantly confronted them with, and his inextinguishable faith in the grace and protection of God.
From the minute he set off on his very first flight, with the minimum of required flying hours, very basic instruction and less experience, Ernie humbly admits that he was flying on a wing and a prayer. This first flight took him from his village in eastern Switzerland over mountains, sea, jungle and desert, all the way across France and Spain, over the Strait of Gibraltar and down through Africa to Yaoundé in Cameroon.
Chapter after chapter, like a cat with nine lives, Ernie recounts his hazardous adventures: emergency landings in fog, in the desert, in sandstorms, at gunpoint, on the edge of a precipice, and on the terrace of a hotel. And all without accident! Ernie was no daredevil: he lost good pilots and friends in helicopter crashes and he knew that Death was always beside him when he was flying. But his mission and his trust in God gave him the courage and wisdom he needed to bring physical and spiritual help to the poorest, most desperate people of Africa.
“Where Angels fear to fly” is the follow-up to a book written by Ernie’s wife, Hedi Tanner, entitled “More than an Adventure” (“Mehr als ein Abenteuer”) and will be followed by autobiographies of both Ernie and Hedi, which are in the process of preparation for printing.
It’s a page-turner, easy to read, and well worth your time. I highly recommend reading this in conjunction with “More than an Adventure” (ISBN 978-1599190075) and – when they finally come out – the absorbing autobiographies of Ernie and Hedi Tanner.
In the meantime, I hope you’ll enjoy this two-part interview from 2009.
I’m no shrinking violet by any means, but nor am I one to blow my own trumpet loudly. I am, before all else, English! From an early age, I was taught not to push myself forward but to “wait to be asked”. So that’s what I do. Sometimes it pays off. A couple of events this last week have served to boost my self-esteem more than usual and I’d like to share these with you while the glow still lasts
As you can see from the headings at the top of this blog, I also run a blog devoted to my English translations of poems by the German Jewish writer Nelly Sachs. My main purpose in posting these is to help make Nelly Sachs’ work known and accessible among English-speaking audiences who would otherwise be unable to appreciate the original German poems.
Several people have asked permission to use this or that poem for specific events and I’m constantly coming across others on the Internet who have reproduced them without my explicit permission in all kinds of contexts. I see that as positive, because my chief aim in publishing them has always been to make the voice of Nelly Sachs heard among English speakers, so provided I’m given credit, I’m OK with that.
I was approached a few weeks ago by Elly Sullivan, an American student, who requested permission to read aloud one of my translations at a Holocaust Memorial Event taking place at her college in Maryland, followed by an invitation to participate via Zoom in a virtual conference on literary translation that was being hosted by her college on Saturday, 9 April. This intrigued me, so I accepted.
After the initial contact with Elly, I knew that here was someone sensitive, sensible and reliable that I could trust and work with. We devised a format for the presentation based on an interview with me about these poems, the poet Nelly Sachs and all the whys and wherefores of my labour of love as represented by the blog. Because of the time difference between Maryland and Switzerland, we were allotted a slot in the morning immediately after the introduction to the conference, which was convenient for me as it was 4 pm here, a time when my brain is usually firing on all four cylinders.
On the Saturday morning a week before the conference Elly and I took our presentation through a trial run with her erudite poetry group who very kindly gave us their feedback. This was encouraging and constructive, enabling us to make some adjustments and decide which poems to include in Elly’s PowerPoint presentation, to be discussed in the interview.
Then just a few days later I found a request on my Nelly Sachs blog for permission to use my translation “Chorus of the Consolers” in a talk being given in another conference on the Literature of Trauma at the university of Marburg, Germany – this conference had already started and was being streamed live! They were very relieved to have my consent, as the talk was in English and it had only occurred to them at the last moment that they didn’t have an English version of the poem (a crucial part of the talk), so I was also invited to watch and listen to that informative and interesting speech.
Thanks are due to Covid for the rise of Zoom in these last two years, which makes connecting with people so much easier. From my couch here in Switzerland I am able to join others all over the world, so simply and comfortably.
To my relief and delight, back in Maryland yesterday the live-streamed Confluence interview / presentation entitled “Antidote and Access: Literary Translation in the Blogosphere” went smoothly, and feedback on the live chat was very encouraging, full of praise, encouragement and superlatives that made my head grow several sizes too big for my bonnet. This interview was also recorded, so will be available at some point on the website of Montgomery College if any of my readers and followers are interested. (I’ll add the link when it’s all set up.) I hope Elly gets the A+ she deserves for all her work.
You may be asking: What’s all that about “Antidote and Access”? For decades before I retired I was earning my bread and butter – and sometimes a good dollop of jam – from technical and commercial translations, so the creative process of translating poetry really was an antidote at that time to the materialistic prose of the business world. And as for access, the Internet and blogosphere has the edge over a printed book by making blog content available and accessible free of charge to anyone capable of googling; my Nelly Sachs blog has received getting on for 121,000 hits – not bad for a poet whom only the elite few have even heard of. There’s also the extra bonus for me, that I can revise my English versions and add to my selection at any time with no difficulty.
Still, could this lead to publication in book form? That, I must admit, would be gratifying and fun: I started my labour of love almost 30 years ago and though the work has been intermittent with long gaps – sometimes years – between poems, I don’t see an end to it! Nelly Sachs wrote several hundred poems, so there’s a long way to go yet. My currently inflated ego thinks it would be nice to see them in print. Who knows? I must confess to feeling like something of an impostor, and am still waiting to be asked. But – remember Grandma Moses! She was actually even younger than me when she was discovered.
No man is an island, entire of itself,
Every man is a piece of the continent,
a part of the main:
If a clod be washed away by the sea
Europe is the less,
as well as if a promontory were,
as well as any manor of thy friends,
or of thine own were;
Any man’s death diminishes me,
because I am involved in mankind,
And therefore never send to know
for whom the bell tolls;
it tolls for thee.
John Donne, Meditation XViII 1624
Quoted so often, people nod sagely and agree, then forget.
But right now, these words should be engraved on everyone’s brain, their sense and meaning hammered into us. They are as true, even truer in our globalising world, than they were 400 years ago when Donne wrote them on his sickbed.
Whether we are referring to Brexit or ISIS (remember those?), the Corona virus and various forms of lockdown, or the recent inexpressible events that have lit the powder keg of protests, violence and horror in the USA and Hong Kong, these words apply.
The funeral bell tolls. Every time a person dies, each one of us is something less than we were because we are all part of a whole. Selfishness, arrogance, hatred, violence can only lead to the destruction of us all, body, soul and spirit. The bell tolls. Heed it.
In the last couple of weeks, while recovering from an unpleasant cough and cold (no, not the Coronavirus) that kept me isolated at home and at something of a loose end, I have been involved in some digital detective work involving an unsuspected treasure that has been lying hidden for almost 70 years.
The father of my dear friend Kathie was an extraordinary man of high principles and vivid imagination, with a great gift of expression: a Jewish Hungarian poet, novelist and above all screenwriter, he began with screenplays for silent films in 1920’s Berlin, starring famous names such as Willy Fritsch and Marlene Dietrich, then moved to Hollywood in the 1930’s and 40’s, culminating in an Oscar for Best Original Story for the anti-Nazi film Arise, My Love (1940). He also published a couple of novels that were very well received.
Then he fell foul of Senator McCarthy.
Having experienced first-hand the regimes of Horthy and Hitler, Janos Szekely’s sympathies understandably lay more to the left than the right. Along with many other successful and talented people in Tinseltown, he was blacklisted and forced into exile. He continued to write nevertheless, but what? Who knows? Not allowed to publish anything under his own name, he used pseudonyms and today there’s no way of knowing what they all were. His daughter is aware that during their time in Mexico, her father was constantly writing and assumes that somehow he managed to earn enough money to support his family. But she was a little girl, and those were Adult Topics that were kept from her. There are consequently many questions in her mind about this period of her life that will probably never be answered properly.
Eventually, they were allowed to return to the USA but only for a limited time. In 1956 Janos Szekely was offered a contract by DEFA, the state-owned film studio in East Berlin, and the little family moved there. Unaware that he was terminally ill, he was able to adapt the stage-play Geschwader Fledermaus into a highly regarded film, but sadly died just days before it was premiered.
His work has been rediscovered in the 21st century.
His best-known novel Kisértés (Temptation, 1947) written originally in Hungarian, has been re-published in new translations (French, German, Spanish and English). The newest English version is already available in the UK and due for release in the USA in April . It’s a remarkable book, very readable in spite of its bulk – almost 700 pages – and very hard to put down. I certainly recommend it. It deserves to be a best-seller.
Right at this moment, however, comes a discovery that is so timely, you really have to wonder whether you believe in coincidences – or is it Providence?
At the beginning of this year, an old family friend in the USA contacted Kathie to say that while he was decluttering his attic he had come across an ancient cardboard box containing a carbon copy of a typed manuscript that Kathie’s mother had given him many years ago. This is a translation into English of another 700-page novel by Janos Szekely, and probably all that remains of that work. Is this what he was writing during those years of exile in the early 1950’s in Mexico?
The friend sent Kathie the manuscript, and she was so excited, she asked me to read it too. I couldn’t put it down – it’s a real page-turner in spite of the somewhat dated English.
“Where’s the original Hungarian version?” I asked.
Kathie shrugged. “My mother probably burnt it,” she replied. “There’s certainly no trace of it in the archives in Budapest.”
What a loss! But what a miracle that this translated version has survived!
Under the intriguing title A Night That began 700 Years Ago it tells the gripping story of a number of gypsies, peasants and Jews whose paths cross and whose lives intertwine in 1944 in rural Hungary during the German occupation of WWII, when arbitrary harsh decisions made in high places affect personal destinies at every level of society. As in Temptation, these are fully fleshed out characters, with faults and foibles as well as strengths, who draw the reader in as their fates unfold. But there is also humour as well as profound thought and insights. Suspense is maintained right to the last page. I could imagine this as a multi-part TV dramatization that would have people rushing home to watch in eager anticipation.
Will it go into print? The time seems ripe. It’s an ideal follow-up to the new edition of Temptation and tentative discussions are about to start with the publishers of the German version of that book (Verlockung, Diogenes, 2016)
Where does the detective work come in? Well, first there’s the question of exactly when this novel was written. Kathie is pretty sure that this must have been what her father was working on between 1950 and 1955 – perhaps not the entire 5 years, but certainly part of that time, and he would have written it in Hungarian. When was it completed and in which country – Mexico, USA or Germany?
Secondly, who was the translator, when was it translated, and what happened to the original English manuscript, since what she has now is only a carbon copy? It says on the title page “Translated by Frank Gaynor”. The New York Times published an obituary for a well-known editor, author and translator of that name who died aged 49 in February 1961 in New York, so that is probably our man, but we have been able to find out very little about him. He appears to have translated mainly from German, though there’s also a novel translated by him from Spanish, and most of his work was on scientific and esoteric subjects. So did he also translate from Hungarian? Or was there an intermediate German version that he translated? Or was there more than one translator called Frank Gaynor?
Thirdly, there are two notes enclosed with the manuscript saying that it should be returned to Paul Jarrico at a London, England, address. Why? Who was he? Again, thanks to Google, we found that he was another well-known Hollywood screenwriter blacklisted by McCarthy, who moved to Europe in 1958 and may have been a friend of Janos Szekely. Was Jarrico supposed to get it published, or adapt it into a film? Presumably, this instruction to return the manuscript to Jarrico was ignored – or did Paul Jarrico give it back to Mrs Szekely after her husband’s death in December 1958? Why and when did she give it to Kathie’s friend in the USA (the writer son of another McCarthy victim)?
Was it ever offered to a publisher? If so, was it rejected? Is that why his widow destroyed the Hungarian original, thinking it wasn’t worthy of publication? Or – exciting possibility – does the Hungarian original still exist somewhere, gathering dust? Kathie’s mother died ten years ago in her nineties, so she can no longer give any information, but some of her father’s papers were archived in a Budapest museum. Could there be more clues there?
The final question is, where did all of this come from? What experiences – if any – did Janos Szekely have with gypsies and peasants and all the other strata of Hungarian society that live and breathe in both this and Temptation? How much is from his own life and how much is based on research, and if research, what were his sources? Again, there is no one left alive to answer this.
A Night That Began 700 Years Ago is a mystery that began 70 years ago: will it ever be solved?
P.S. You Can’t Do That To Svoboda, 1943, under pseudonym John Pen, is another very readable (and short!) novel by Janos Szekely.
i mentiond in my last post that I had finished translating another book, so this is just to satisfy any curiosity which that may have aroused. If you have been following me for a long time, you may remember that back in 2013, 2015 and 2016 I reported on an African family separated by the war in Rwanda who were finally, after several years, reunited here in Switzerland.
My friend Josêphine and her husband Désirė described their traumatic experiences and adventures in a book published first in German as Auf der Flucht getrennt which I translated into English under the rather lame title of On The Run (see my blog post Synopsis of On The Run in 2016 – ISBN 978-3-7407-1525-0, available as paperback or Kindle edition from https://www.amazon.de/dp/374071525?tag=lovelybooks-rdetail-21).
A few months ago, friends who had spent many years as missionaries in Africa asked me if I would be interested in tackling a book that had just come out in French, with another story from Rwanda. Once again, it’s a Christian testimony by an amazing woman. The title in French is Pourquoi je leur ai pardonnė, and is also available from Amazon (ISBN 978-2-8399-2477-6) for those of you who read French. The autthor, Apollne Dukuzemariya, has also given a TV interview that can be viewed here https://dieutv.com/videos/1451-talk-shows/1163-ciel-mn-info/78277-pourquoi-je-leur-ai-pardonne. The English version will hopefully be published later this year. Here’s the synopsis:
Rwanda1994. Pastor’s wife Apolline Dukuzemariya is beaten andg butchered by militia who leave her for dead in front of her children. Physicians doubt she can survive with an open skull and without suitable treatment; her life hangs on a thread, while murderous raids contnue daily even inside the hospital. Despite all odds, she holds onto life.
Eventually, Apolline is able to get to Europe on humanitarian grounds thanks to the intervention of long-time mssionary friends. The long slow healng process allows her opportunity to reflect, read and pray. Today she is able to talk about the inner workings of her soul and spirit that led to this miraculous outcome.She also describes her childhood, her vocation to become a nun that turned out so differently, her marriage and the events that prepared her to face the indescribable. Far from being a chronicle of the genocide, this book is the story of a woman’s spectacular resilience and those who accompanied her on her journey, making her triumph possible. A first-class testimony to the power of forgiveness in a generation that, more than ever, needs reminding of what it means to forgive.
“I AM NOT SCARRED BY MACHETES.
I AM MARKED BY THE LOVE AND POWER OF GOD”
This is a true story
Two young people, Désiré and Joséphine, growing up happily in secure loving families and making plans for their future careers, are suddenly torn violently out of their peaceful everyday lives as civil war destroys everything they ever cared about. They flee from their homes in Rwanda, Africa, to neighbouring Congo-Kinshasa. They survive in desperate conditions in refugee camps, are forced to flee again and spend months wandering through the jungle where they encounter all kinds of danger from wild animals, pygmies, pursuing armed forces, and even nature itself, until they again reach safety, this time in Congo-Brazzaville. They settle down, have two sons, and then have to flee yet again. Although they manage to build a new life for themselves, they are homesick for Rwanda and so in 2000, six years after the civil war, decide to return. This is a disastrous decision. Désiré is arrested, jailed and tortured but manages to escape and get back to his family.
They find themselves fleeing a fourth time, to Cameroon, where they are attacked and the family is split up. All alone with her third son, still a baby, Joséphine is taken in 2004 to Switzerland where she applies for asylum. After a long battle, this is granted but she has no idea what has happened to her husband and two older sons. Fortunately, the Red Cross succeeds in tracing the two boys and after yet another battle they are admitted to Switzerland to join their mother and little brother in 2006.
Although she has no news of her husband, she never gives up the search for him and remains convinced he is still alive. Meanwhile, Désiré has been close to death from sickness and disease, enslaved in Chad, escaped, and finally arrived in Nigeria. Here he tries to search for his lost family and finally discovers that they are all together in Switzerland. 9 years after the family was split up, Désiré is finally allowed to enter Switzerland and be reunited with his wife and three sons.
Throughout these harrowing experiences, Désiré and Joséphine never lose faith in God, constantly give thanks and recognise His hand over their lives.
Now available in English from https://www.twentysix.de/shop/on-the-run-johanna-krapf-9783740715250
When I gaze into the sun
Half veiled by a cloud
Mayhap its full
Round shining spreads out into a coloured ring
Like the glory around the throne
Of the Christ figure in Mistra.
When I fly above the clouds
I can also see that glory.
Beneath me, opposite the sun,
The same ring lies in the clouds,
My shadow resting in its centre.
When I fly through rain
While the sun is breaking through the clouds
I see the great rainbow
That I know so well from the Earth,
But now I see it as a full circle.
I flew a lot in my youth
And this truth has stayed with me all my life:
The rainbow is a full circle
And we see only half of it
Because the Earth is too close.
This has stayed with me:
All clouds are brilliant white;
Dark clouds are only clouds in shadow
But above every dark cloud there is light.
We all know about the clouds’ silver linings, but did you know that the rainbow is really a circle and not just an arc? Too often, the things of earth just get in the way and prevent us from seeing so many lovely truths.
I don’t have a huge following on my blogs – you are basically the same trusty few who comment regularly and one or two people who say shyly to me, “I read your blog sometimes.” And I say once more that I’m very grateful to you for your feedback and support, expressed or silent. At least I know I’m not talking to myself.
How surprised I was yesterday when WordPress suddenly notified me that my Nelly Sachs website was getting more traffic than usual. I looked at my stats and my jaw dropped. Almost 10,000 views, just under 5,000 visitors! Was it Holocaust Memorial Day? I checked – no, that’s in January. Then a message popped into my mailbox and all was explained. It gave me a link to http://isupdate.com/google-doodle-celebrates-nazi-germany-survivor-nelly-sachs-cnet/ and I realized that 10 December was Nelly Sachs’ 127th birthday.
I was very touched that this was being commemorated and a bit overwhelmed to see that so many people had followed the link to my translation of O die Schornsteine (O the Chimneys). This is probably the most accessible of Sachs’ poems, but I was very pleased to find that several people had moved on to other pages, and left comments there (mostly complimentary). By the end of the day my site had been visited by over 12,000 people and there were more than 20,000 views.
Considering the millions of people still classed as refugees (which is fast beoming a dirty word) I feel it fitting to link here to two of Nelly Sachs’ many poems on the subject of displaced persons.
There was an elephant in my room last night. A pink one.
It flew in through the open French window at dusk, clattered about a bit and then hid itself where I couldn’t chase it out again. Seeing that it had apparently settlde down for the night, I gave up the hunt and went to bed myself.
This morning it was clinging to the inside of the curtain; I opened the window and poked my visitor out. It sat trembling on the windowsill, evidently traumatised, so I did what I would have done for a bee and gave it a large blob of honey. Maybe I killed it with kindness? Eventually it stopped fluttering and lay perfectly still, its nose and feet in the honey. Dead.
What a privilege for me to have been honoured by its visit. I feel quite sad that I wasn’t able to save this very beautiful creature. RIP.
My gorgeous elephant hawk moth
Another elephant-related incident – a tenuous link, only because elephants never forget – occurred a few days ago. An old school-friend contacted me to ask, given my elephantine memory, if I could recall a song we sang in primary school (that’s over 60 years ago!). All she could remember was that Miss Stevenson had taught it to us and it contained the word Innisfree. As far as I was aware, we never sang Yeats’s poem so I knew it wasn’t that, but from deep in the swirly mists of my childhood arose a faint melody, flitting in and out of my consciousness but – like my moth – never quite catchable.
However, the following day I suddenly knew the title: The Flight of the Earls. Instantly, the melody returned and most of the words. Not Innisfree but Innisfail, the old poetic name for Ireland. I googled it, and found that it was a poem by Alfred Perceval Graves, set to a haunting melody by Charles Villiers Stanford. Neither name meant anything to me, but I was glad to be able to free my friend from her torment of forgetfulness.
What bothered me in all this, though, was that the name Miss Stevenson also meant nothing to me, although I distinctly remembered singing the song at school. My friend sent me a succinct description: “Grey hair, straight style, usually in grey clothes. lived till she was 102.” Sounds like a typical schoolmarm, but despite racking my brain nowhere can I find either an image of her or an echo of her name. The melody, however, lingers on. And so do the lyrics. I’ve been singing this old song as I go about my chores. Poor neighbours!
The subject of memory has been quite topical for me lately. In Sanibel library, towards the start of my vacation, I found a thousand-page biography of Marcel Proust on sale for two dollars. The size of this is commensurate with its subject, of course: A la Recherche du Temps Perdu may not be quite the longest novel ever written but it certainly looks impressive on a bookshelf (over 3,000 pages).
Now when I was about 20, my BA (Hons) course included a couple of trimesters studying the French novel. My reading list included hefty tomes by Balzac, Hugo, Zola, Flaubert, Gide – and of course Monsieur Proust, whereby the book on which we were to be examined was the double volume of Le Temps Retrouvé, which is the final link in the chain bringing the story full circle. That of course obliged us to read the entire set of seven volumes – no easy task in the limited time available – and it was competing with such heavyweights as Les Misérables, L’Assommoir (which is also one of twenty books in the Rougon-Macquart series) and my candidate for the most boring book ever published, Bouvard et Pécuchet.
I was able to boast truthfully that I had read all of Proust in French but I didn’t admit I had retained nothing! There just wasn’t enough time to digest all the imperfect subjunctives and unfamiliar vocabulary, and I was lucky in the exam that I was able to choose other works to write about. During the intervening half century, I’ve played with the idea of re-reading this magnum opus but – until now – it’s remained a vague idea.
Although the Proust biography was a bit heavy going for beach reading, I did manage to finish it (and bring it home for future reference), as it piqued my interest in Proust once more. Then I discovered I could purchase the version intégrale of A la Recherche for Kindle for a mere 2 euros! This time, I have the leisure that was lacking in my youth, the patience to linger over the notoriously interminable, serpentine sentences and the maturity to discover the charm, humour, profundity of thought, intensity of analysis, richness of language, the vivid evocation of la belle époque, and the sheer poetry of Proust’s account of his search for lost time.
I’m normally a fast reader, but here I have met my match. In four weeks, I’m only two and a half books down, four and a half to go, halfway through Du Côté des Guermantes. I know already that when I finally reach the end, I’ll have to start re-reading from the beginning to refresh my memory: maybe this is a project for the rest of my life! I think I will have to buy the hardbacks. Surely I’ll find a set in the brocante.
They will look very impressive on my bookshelf.