Lost Without Translation: Ellen Elias-Bursać on “A Marriage Made in Translation”

Ellen Elias-Bursać, editor of Vlada Stojiljkovic‘s translation of Ranko Marinkovic‘s 1965 novel Cyclops, writes on the special and playful relationship formed between author and translator by their respective attentions to wit, banter, and humor, along with excerpts from the text. Like many previously published titles in the Margellos World Republic of Letters series, Cyclops is now available in a handsome paperback edition, perfect for that new Margellos WRL tote bag to carry around your summer reading. Haven’t seen ’em? They’re coming! Be sure to sign up on the WRL site to receive full e-mail updates and interviews with authors and translators in advance.


Ellen Elias-Bursać—

A Marriage Made in Translation

Vladimir Stojiljković’s translation of Ranko Marinković’s CYCLOPS is a delight from start to finish. Before his death in 2003, Stojilković worked on children’s television and writing poetry and prose for children, and his inventive spirit and jaunty sense of humor join forces with Marinković’s wit to make the translation sing. Here are a few snippets featuring Stojiljković’s virtuosity and Marinković’s charm.

The first chapter is all about shysters and grifters—someone is being duped in every scene—and each character has at least one nickname. It is early 1941, World War II is raging elsewhere in Europe but hasn’t yet come to Zagreb, and Melkior Tresić, the novel’s protagonist, known by his drinking buddies as Eustachius, is standing on a blindman’s scales, hoping to see that he has lost a few ounces in his project to evade the draft by starvation, when his buffoon of a friend, Ugo, aka Parampion, shows up and turns their encounter into street theater. In the process, Ugo fires off a volley of monikers. Tresić is addressed by turns as “Eustachius the Long Lost,” “Ineffable Eustachius,” “Eustachius the Peaceable,” and “Eustachius Equivalentovich.” An onlooker and heckler is dubbed “Monsieur Boulechite” and, because the man keeps touching his ear, Ugo asks him if he works for “May I see Your ID Card LTD.” When a cyclist joins the crowd Ugo bums several cigarettes off him after christening him “von Velocitas.” The young man says he works as a posterer for Franck-O, meaning the Franck coffee factory—a barb about the fascist sympathies of the factory’s owner—and this prompts Ugo to address him as “Bicycletissime” and “Your Velocipederasty.”

The hailstorm of monikers continues when Tresić shows up at the den of iniquity, Hotel Pimodan, dubbed by its denizens the Give’nTake. The master of ceremonies at the Give’nTake is Maestro, a character modeled after bohemian poet Tin Ujević who ruled such dives in the years when Ranko Marinković was a student and young dramatist. Tresić, a journalist for the city newspaper, is returning after several months spent away:

            Melkior made his shy way through the clamor and rhetoric and headed for the familiar table at the foot of the bar, where the full complement of the “boys” was sitting.

“Approach, Eustachius the Lampion, approach the Parampion Brethren,” howled Maestro, pulling Melkior down into the chair next to him. “I’m no longer the Mad Bug, I’m the Inspired Bug—a new title, acquired during your absence,” he confided. His nose tonight was like a ripe plum and his hands were shaking badly.

A man not too old but already dissipated, a brandy-soaked drunk, the City Desk editor. His fingers and teeth were black with nicotine, his mouth reeked with the odor of an animal’s lair. He got ahold of Melkior’s neck and blew the horrible breath into his face.

Melkior coughed, expelling Maestro’s “inspiration”… (35)

There are countless passages of snappy repartee, shot through with a lilting dynamic. One such moment is when Tresić is consorting with his squeeze, Enka, and she gets a call from her husband…

To be continued on WorldRepublicOfLetters.org. Sign up on the WRL site for full e-mail updates before they’re posted to the site, and check out an extended, free excerpt from Cyclops.

Ellen Elias-Bursać has been translating Croatian, Serbian, and Bosnian authors into English for more than twenty years.

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