I’m reading a wonderful, smart, funny book called “The Possessed: Adventures with Russian Books and the People Who Read Them” (Farrar, Straus and Giroux), by Elif Batuman, a literature professor at Stanford University.
Being one of those “people who read Russian books,” I dove right in to Batuman’s “adventures” – and found something to share with Jewish Standard readers.
The first chapter, “Babel in California,” is an account of a conference about the Russian-Jewish writer murdered, like so many Jewish intellectuals, by the Soviets. At the conference, a translator objects that while his version of the Babel story “Odessa” is on exhibit in a glass case, it is “next to a caption quoting ‘Odessa’ in a different translation.”
“Copyediting,” he is told by the conference organizer. “You would not believe the changes they made.”
The organizer “told the story,” Batuman writes, “of the copy editor who had translated all the italicized Yiddish in such a way that Luftmensch (an impractical visionary) came out as ‘pilot’; shamas (the beadle of a synagogue) turned, via ‘shamus,’ into ‘private detective.'”