Wednesday, April 15, 2009

The Translation : Joyce Carol Oates

It’s great that the second story I read in this project came from Joyce Carol Oates. Oates and her writing are what solidified my love for the short story. Of course, Glimmer Train came first, started the fire, but JCO can be credited with dousing the fire with plenty of gasoline. I have been fortunate enough to read countless stories by Oates from various collections and in numerous magazines. It seems that no matter the literary magazine/journal I come across, I seem to look for a piece by her. I like the thought that there should always be an artistic anchor one hitches himself/herself to.

This story is another from the 1978 collection that I read several months ago and reread today. As I mentioned in the previous post, I first read this during a visit to my car dealership last year. I found today’s reread much more to my liking. I suppose that I am quite susceptible to environmental conditions while I read.

JCO does a fine job with “The Translation”, and it is of course worthy of this collection in BASS. Good selection by Solotaroff. Then again, I wonder what sort of pressures he felt to include her. She had made quite a name for herself by the time of this selection, and if she was left out...

This story hit me with another interesting draw. I was expecting the typical JCO plot, theme and rich details...but she was surprising in her “normalcy”. At least that is what I thought 7/8ths of the way into the story. I think she does a nice job of causing the reader to question the relationships in the story; Oliver with himself, as well as his relationship with his translator and the object of Oliver’s desire, Alisa.

The setting of the story is also special to me. I too smelled the Linden (lime) trees on a spring day. I too saw the poured concrete buildings. I also felt some of the same pressures and awkward social situations Oliver found himself in. I cast curses on my native country, vowing never to return. I spoke ill of my country to shine a brighter light, or a more hopeful light on my host country.

There is a scene that Oates describes in the story that takes place in a crowded café. I can honestly say that I was in the same position as Oliver on more than one occasion. I felt the pains of not knowing a language that was being spoken around me.

People entering and exiting my life under suspicious circumstances while I lived in Romania. Constant feelings of being under surveillance. Money lent never to be repaid.

I also found myself in a conversation where this quote would have fit perfectly.

“the nature of freedom is not so simple. But it is always political.”

I’ll give this a 7 out of 10 a bump up from the 6 I had on my first read.

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