- The Final Apology1
Michalis Spengos’s novel H τελευταία συγγνώμη was published in 2002 by Ellinika Grammata and became a bestseller in Greece. It is a gripping, well-researched historical/crime novel set during the reign of the Greek Military Junta. A foreign political attaché mysteriously disappears during a visit of State and as the sujet progresses, a Holocaust story unfolds, involving the Romaniot Jews of Ioannina, in Northern Greece. The following excerpt is a chapter from the novel and takes place on the eve of the German deportation of the large Jewish community of this city.
Unlike a poetic text, which at times can be very challenging to render/transpose into a different language, the difficulty of a prose text lies more in its cultural components. Idiomatic expressions, historical and/or political references the reader may be unfamiliar with, and couleur locale need to be reckoned with and metamorphosed into a coherent and legible whole. Although not trivial at times, it nevertheless can be fascinating to witness how some things work in one language but present quite a headache in another. It is here that the seams and ruptures of language as a coherent system become apparent, but it is also endlessly intriguing to witness how much of a culture is contained in, informed by, and connected to its language.
Coming from a comparatist angle, I have had ample opportunity to expose myself to and enjoy the subtle traces inherent in language as sociological, psychological, abstract, and emotive expressions. How something is said—and this is especially true for idiomatic expressions and proverbs which I have studied extensively and personally find very alluring yet challenging—leaves a lot to be inferred about the culture using these expression: idioms such as “δεν μου καίγεται καρφί,” which every native speakers knows has nothing to do with “burning nails”, for example I translated this as, “I don’t give a hoot,” in an attempt to capture the sense and register of the Greek words. However this translation necessarily falls short in rendering the resonances and obscurity of the Greek.
As a near native speaker in both Greek and English (among other languages), I mostly use an intuitive approach when translating. Whenever appropriate or necessary, i.e., when literal translation would have rendered the [End Page 306] text unintelligible or nonsensical, I employed Translation techniques such as Transposition, Modulation, Equivalence, Adaptation and Compensation.
Ioannina, March 24th 1944—Dawn of the 25th
He descended as quietly as possible. Kyra Koula had fallen asleep fully clothed on the bench next to the oven that was still burning. He covered her with a blanket, went down the marble staircase, opened the front door and stepped outside. Snow was falling heavily and the streets were covered already. He felt his knees shaking and giving way. He had to get his courage up; at this point, being a coward was not an option. The Levis’ house was close to the cathedral on Averof Street, which was a main thoroughfare. He needed to avoid the main streets and take the alleyways instead. It would take him a lot longer to get there because of the necessary detour and due to the snow.
He had come within a hair’s breadth of the house when he heard the sound of boots on snow. He fell onto his knees and hid behind a trash bin. He heard the steps coming closer and saw the glimmer of a flashlight. He closed his eyes and waited. When he opened them again he saw a receding circle of light. Now was the moment. He climbed the backside wall of the house and jumped into the garden. He knew the place inside out from childhood memories.
The Levis’ house had been requisitioned as well, but luckily for them it was not inhabited by Germans. They had been sent two Greek families, whose houses in turn had been requisitioned. Nikos did not know them. He knew, however, that the Levis had the upper floor to themselves.
He quickly ascended the outer staircase leading to the kitchen and looked through the front door window. He was lucky. From deep inside a...