Will Firth’s translation of “The Bird on the Balcony” by Petre Dimovski appears in the January 2017 feature, Short Fiction from Macedonia.
One of the five stories I decided to translate for the Macedonian feature, “The Bird on the Balcony” by Petre Dimovski, put me in a somewhat difficult situation. The author’s style is distinctly flowery. I felt a need to tone down or otherwise moderate this sentimentalism because it would sound excessive in today’s English.
I have faced this challenge twice in recent years when translating novels by older male writers from Macedonia. I have not quite worked out for myself if this floweriness is a particularly male form of expression, if it has to do with the generation in question (Dimovski was born in 1946, the other authors in 1941 and 1953), or if there is something innately Macedonian to it—or a combination of factors.
To be specific: Dimovski’s text contains an abundance of abstract nouns (“youth,” “destiny,” “love,” “joy,” etc.) coupled with relatively long sentences, a fair amount of repetition, and a high frequency of participles, which tend to feel “heavy.” In addition, the story is told by an omniscient narrator. If it were not about the uplifting power of love—a redeeming feature—I would describe its style as decidedly fusty. While young readers in the original language may have a similar impression, my sense is that such a style is slightly more acceptable in Macedonia. In an English milieu, however, it would be read as melodramatic, so I realized I had to do something if I wanted to field this interesting story in WWB.
My approach was to tone down the floweriness by gently reducing the number of abstract nouns (occasionally by verbalizing the notions), splitting up one of the most awkward-seeming long sentences, and doing away with some of the repetition by using a synonym here and there. I also rendered a few of the participles with more lively verbal constructions, although this is a standard conversion in most translations I do from Macedonian.
I still feel the story is somewhat “strenuous” in my translation, as a reading experience, but I have done my best to moderate this impression while trying to be faithful to the author. Another useful step was contextualization: I chose to mention the author’s style in the introduction to the feature, and this presumably helped prepare readers.
I’m glad I included Dimovski’s piece because I think it provides a good thematic and stylistic counterpoint to the three stories by younger writers. With my two translations of stylistically similar works mentioned at the beginning, some reviewers picked up on real or perceived inadequacies of the translation, but excessive pathos was not singled out as an issue. I feel this more or less justifies my approach to dealing with an overly rich, sentimental style.