Qingyang Zhou on translating Marica Bodrožić

Qingyang Zhou

on translating Marica Bodrožić

Bodrožić’s poem contains plenty of neologisms, which encourage the translator to experiment with the target language and actively interpret the meaning of the poem in order to find the best translation. For instance, the word “Herluft” in the title is entirely the poet’s original creation. I chose to translate it as “Hither-Air” in order to evoke a poetic tone and to create an alliteration with the preceding word, “heritage,” (Herkunft). The word Gebiet in the fourth line can be translated as area, territory, region, zone, domain, or sphere. I initially decided to use “territory,” since the narrator appears to be quite possessive of her heritage. However, in English, “territory” triggers associations with the animal world, which is perhaps not the original intention of the poet. I eventually chose “turf,” since it can be defined as “an area or sphere of activity regarded as someone’s personal territory,” which transitions well into the discussion of the narrator’s Yugoslavian birth in the following line. Bodrožić also describes towers (Türme) as volljährig, which means “full-aged,” “mature,” or “adult,” bestowing human qualities on inanimate objects. The adjective that I chose in the translation, “full-fledged,” can be used to describe both people and objects. This word might sound less strange to English speakers, without deviating too much from the original text.

Though difficult decisions had to be made in the translation process, the linguistic affinities of English and German can sometimes allow for the transmission of similar tones, feelings, and sensations. One of the most striking features of the poem is the use of the subjunctive mode. My English translation preserves this feature, thus conveying the narrator’s unbounded imaginations and intense longing for the realization of fictional situations. The original German segment of “ein Zuspieler / der Wartenden, der da Hockenden, der auf die Grenzöffnungen / Hoffenden” has a rhythmic flow, since all the short phrases end with en. To create a similar auditory experience in English, I chose to terminate each clause of the translation with ing, even though in German grammar Wartenden, Hockendedn, and Hoffenden all function as adjectives, rather than as verbs.

about the author

Marica Bodrožić is a German writer of Croatian descent. She was born in 1973 in Svib in former Yugoslavia and immigrated to Hessen, Germany, at age ten. Bodrožić began publishing novels and essays in German in 2002, while also working as a translator of English literature into Croatian. As a former guest professor at Dartmouth College, she taught German poetry from the twentieth century to the present. One of her best-known literary works is the novel Kirschholz und alte Gefühle (A Cherrywood Table), which received the EU Prize for Literature in 2013. Her writing often reminisces her childhood in a socialist country and discusses the possibility of personal empowerment through language. Regarding German as her “second mother tongue,” Bodrožić frequently strives to transcend linguistic limitations through neologism in her poems and novels. In 2007, she co-directed a documentary with Katja Gasser, titled Herzgemälde der Erinnerung – Eine Reise durch mein Kroatien (Heart Painting of Memory: A Journey through My Croatia). Dedicated to eliminating linguistic barriers between member states of the former Yugoslavia, Bodrožić signed the Declaration on the Common Language of the Croats, Serbs, Bosniaks, and Montenegrins in 2017. She currently lives in Berlin.

about the translator

Qingyang Zhou (Freya) is a PhD candidate in German at UC Berkeley. She graduated from Penn in 2020 with a BA in German, comparative literature, and cinema and media studies. Originally from Shenzhen, China, Freya is interested in the intersections of German-Asian cultures, particularly as they pertain to the collaborations between East/West Germany, China/Taiwan, and North/South Korea during the Cold War and beyond. She has published academic articles on queer cinema, German and Israeli literature, interactions between Jewish refugees and the Chinese in Shanghai during World War II, and East German portrayals of China in literary and filmic travelogues.