“Dreams of Trains” and “Maid”: two translation innovations of March

Writer and literary critic Vera Bogdanova suggests two translated innovations of early spring: a novel about a hard life in harsh conditions and a light story with a happy ending for a girl who looks like no one else but found her happiness.

Train Dreams by Dennis Johnson

Train Dreams is a short, platonic honest novel about the life of American hard worker Robert Grainier, covering two-thirds of the 20th century. Robert’s first memory is of a train that takes him, at the age of six, to his aunt and uncle in North Idaho. What happened to the parents is unknown and there is no one to say. Throughout his life, Greiner worked hard: as a young man, he cut down forests in the northwestern United States and helped build bridges. When there are fewer forces, it carries people, cargo – and corpses. Around him, people die quickly and foolishly: either lumberjacks on which trees fall, then an Indian who drank for the first time in his life, immediately got drunk with saliva and fell unconscious on the rails under the wheels of a train. a bum who was cut off because of the fourteen-dollar ties on his legs and left to die under a tree.

Death is so common that Johnson does not give it extra words, the measures are no more than other events in the novel: we are introduced to a minor character and two pages later he dies.

Robert Grainier himself lives unexpectedly long, unexpectedly poor – and finds highway construction in the 1960s.

Forests provide work and shelter, but they also threaten the safety of Greinier and his family. If the main tool for America’s development was the railroads, then forest fires became the main curse, in one of which Greenie’s wife and daughter died when he left for work. Since then, he has avoided society. He builds a hut and lives there alone for the next forty-eight years, mourning and watching as the ancient forests disappear around him and the cities grow. Sometimes he sees his wife’s ghost. She can not calm down and transmit to her husband painful memories from the last hours of her life.

Denis Johnson is one of the most respected contemporary American writers, with Updike, Franzen, Cunningham and Palahniuk all being recognized for their novels. Johnson was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize twice, the second time in the fateful 2012, when for the first time since 1977, the jury refused to award the prize: “There were many reasons for this”, Sig Gisler, head of the Awards Committee , he said, without going into further details.

Johnson is not emotionally involved in any of the tragedies he describes. Together with his hero he watches what is happening from the side, passionately celebrating every event, equating the change of seasons and the death of a friend under a fallen fir tree in meaning. The world he describes is a hard, incomprehensible and mysterious place full of chaos. There is no more meaning in human life than the life of a wolf or a tree, a man can in an instant swallow a fire, get dirty on rails, be killed because of one or two banknotes in his pockets. There is no goal either: the hero works where he should, does not suffer from the search for answers to existential questions and is the same part of wildlife that just exists in the moment. And then he dies in the loneliness of his hut – as quiet as he lived, as every animal dies in the forest.

“Any writer can describe the construction of a hut or the glade of a forest in simple words, but only the best can create a whole world with the help of words and, without slipping into ethics, inhabit it with people who are authentic. . , as well as the text itself, in their simplicity. Chekhov succeeded in this … Johnson succeeds in his story as well “, wrote the columnist James Wood about the dreams of trains in The New Yorker. This is a novel about persistent survival – without agony and bright events, it turned out to be surprisingly comforting against the backdrop of the news of the last days. And if you now want to think about the eternal, I advise you “Train Dreams”.

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“The Maid” by Nita Prowse

If you want something light and always with a good ending, triumphant justice and punishing evil, then Nina Prowse’s novel “The Maid” will be a great choice.

The heroine, named Molly, works as a maid at the Regency Grand Hotel. It is also called Rumba – like a robot vacuum cleaner, because Molly leaves no hair or nose behind, is always precise, accurate, without emotion and, most likely, suffers from an autism spectrum disorder. Strange, old-fashioned, she even speaks, as in the emotional novels of the 19th century, and when, inconsistently, she transforms French words into her speech. Nevertheless, Molly is charming – as a serious child, taking the face value even the speeches of obvious swindlers she meets on her way. She does not understand people at all and they will definitely use it to set her up and accuse her of murder.

Nobody pays attention to it: guests only see the cleanliness in a luxurious room, but not the people who clean up scattered things.

However, the status of the invisible Molly is not a burden – she really loves her job and does not tolerate dust. Molly’s love for cleanliness was instilled by her grandmother, who replaced her mother, father and friends. Now her grandmother is gone and Molly is drowning in sad loneliness.

Although he still has a friend – the young and not very happy married wife of a rich man who stays regularly in the hotel. One day, Molly finds him dead in his room. And then the intrigues will begin, a scandal that threatens the reputation of the hotel and the seemingly peaceful Regency Grand will turn into a real coil.

Nita Prowse is the editor-in-chief of Simon & Schuster Canada, The Maid is her first novel. His idea came to Prowse in 2019 during a flight from London to Toronto. She wrote the prologue on a napkin and two years later her novel was on the New York Times bestseller list and in many selections of the best books of the month and year.

Prior to joining the publishing house, Prowse taught children with disabilities. “People could be incredibly cruel to them,” says Prowse, “and the manifestations of that cruelty that I happened to see shocked me. But at the same time, children with disabilities are stronger, more resilient and more easily adapted than most people without a diagnosis. “I wanted to show the reader that Molly’s difference from the rest can be her strength.”

Prowse managed to create a heroine, separated from reality, but at the same time close to every reader. Molly talks calmly and quietly about how she deals with everyday life. The maid’s uniform is her second skin and work is a way to organize chaos, to be locked in a safe, understandable space and even after the death of her beloved grandmother, Molly goes to work. She lives through betrayal, loss, understands who her friends and enemies are – and who among us has not had the opportunity to learn from our mistakes and experience frustration?

“The Maid” has been compared to Osman’s “Thursday Murder Club”, but I found Prowse’s debut novel with finer humor, deeper characterizations and generally more of a detective story (despite the reversal in the end, you will quickly guess who is the killer) and a hybrid of the novel of adulthood and the tragic escape — if there is no such genre, Prowse managed to invent it.

“I never described Molly,” she says. – I did not want to talk about the characteristics of its development in the first pages of the book or on the cover. I was afraid that in this case, the readers would lose the most important thing: that Molly is no different from us.

publishing house
“ABC”, translated by Irina Teterina

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