An Armenian Sketchbook

20161202_205844.jpgI think I stumbled upon this book as I was looking for a guidebook to Armenia. It piqued my interest because it was described as telling of Vasily Grossman’s trip to Armenia in order to translate a novel from Armenian into Russian. The text in question is The Children of the Large House by Hrachya Kochar, and the year is 1960, but Grossman did not translate it in the sense that we know, because he doesn’t speak Armenian. He was actually involved in what we would today call collaborative translation, as Hasmik Taronyan, a native speaker of Armenian, provided him with a crib translation and he revised it together with Kochar and Taronyan. At one point in the book he defines himself as a “literary, not a literal, translator” (85). I’d be interested to know if Taronyan received any credit in the actual translation.

Grossman’s narration is delightful and witty. His attention to detail is pictorial without being overbearing:

“What constitutes the kernel, the heart and soul of Yerevan is not its churches or government buildings, not its railway stations, not its theater or its concert hall […]. No, what constitutes the soul of Yerevan are its inner courtyards. Flat roofs, long staircases, short flights of steps, little corridors and balconies, terraces of all sizes, plane trees, a fig tree, a climbing vine, a little table, small benches, passages, verandas – everything fits harmoniously together, one thing leading into another, one thing emerging from another. Linking all the balconies and verandas, like arteries and nerve fibers, are hundreds of long lines on which the copious and motley linen of the inhabitants of Yerevan has been hung to dry. Here are the sheets on which the black-browed men and women sleep and make children; here are the vast, sail-like brassieres of hero-mothers; here are the shirts of little girls; here are the underpants, discolored in the crotch, of Armenian old men; here are lace veils, swaddling clothes, and little babies’ trousers. […] Old men click their worry beads and exchange leisurely smiles; children get up to mischief, smoke rises from braziers; quince and peach preserves simmer in copper pans, washing tubs disappear in clouds of steam; green-eyed cats watch their mistresses pluck chickens” (23).

The introduction to An Armenian Sketchbook is available online if anyone wants to have a look, and here are my Armenia shots.






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