- Like Mother, Like Daughter
Hester Velmans, trans.
241 Pages; Print, $14.95
The Dutch novel translated into English was the real reason behind this review. The preparatory work was to read the original novel, Het duister dat ons scheidt (2003), written by Dutch best-selling author Renate Dorrestein, followed by the English translation by Hester Velmans, who translated The Darkness That Divides Us. Trying to follow the translator’s perspective, this novel turns out to be a stunning mixture of many genres. The criminal story provides popular, psychological, folkloric, parodic, and psychological hints of secret codes to solve the murder case. All the events and ideas of the Dutch original bring into sharpened focus that the translator, as co-author, has the task of reducing Dutch words, sentences, and fragments into British or American ones. The similarities and differences challenge and threaten the translator’s skill in carrying out the “fortune-telling” art of translation.
In a Dutch village, the 6-year-old protagonist Lucy quarrels with her school friend Matthew. The parents gather to discuss the problem. During the negotiation, Matthew’s father is found “dead as a doornail.” Lucy’s eccentric mother is sent to prison for murder, while Lucy becomes a scapegoat at school. During the years in prison, the male lodgers Luducos (the team of Ludo and Duco) are fathers to poor Lucy. In the second part of the novel, Lucy is a woman-child of 12 years. Her mother returns from prison, but their relationship has become cool and hard-edged. Mother continues to be seen as the murderer in the village. To avoid the good and evil of the gossip in the Dutch village, the family of Lucy’s mother, Lucy herself, and the Luducos escape to remove to the Outer Hebrides, north of Scotland, but their problems continue. Lucy has secrets to conceal but grows up in the closed and brutal nature of the island of Lewis. In the third part, Lucy is 18 years old and returns to Holland. Struggling to transcend the violence in her, she meets her mother again. Lucy sheds her isolation when her mother tells the true secret to her.
From childhood to the magical time of late adolescence, Lucy comes of age. But Lucy’s head is swimming (cover page) with a “blindfolded” balance on the real world, “sitting with her back to the sea.” Lucy’s mother is a Tarot enthusiast. Her cards give the ace of hearts (love, warmth, domestic happiness). Combined with swords and spades (proposition in love or business), the Tarot cards are for her a triumph of love over hate (clubs). Tarot gives the mother-figure the physical and spiritual power to invent the changes of consciousness. For her, the Tarot cards represent the voyage of “restlessness and change” for the life of “travellers and wanderers.” She stimulates the family to move from the yes-no clichés of the stupid villagers to the strange island of Lewis in order to take some rest. She also raises new thought-forms of the household, such as the practical chores of cooking, washing, and cleanup by the Luducos. Unfortunately, the mother loses the divinatory touch with the Tarot when seized by force and confined in prison. Crossing the boundaries between the two worlds, the team of the Luducos represent the joker card. They simply keep the furniture of the family, more or less, together without questions.
The translator’s goal is that the English reader will find the novel the same as the emotive and intriguing melodrama of the original Dutch novel. This is the (im)possible ideal of equivalence between both works. Instead, literary translation is not complete and perfect but achieves the high degree of quasi-equivalence (or sometimes non-equivalence). The grammar and syntax can be easily transposed as regular forms of language, but the cultural syllables, proverbs, and formulas are not conventional forms and must be creatively translated along the pages of the novel. The free-form culture is more of a problem play in the translation of...