Tag Archives: Marguerite Yourcenar

Again Women in Translation Month

Incredible how fast one year has passed – another Women in Translation Month!

My modest contribution to Women in Translation Month is an overview regarding the books by female authors (or co-authors) I have reviewed, mentioned or from which I have translated texts (poetry) that I have published on this blog since last years’ Women in Translation Month:

Bozhana Apostolowa: Kreuzung ohne Wege
Boika Asiowa: Die unfruchtbare Witwe
Martina Baleva / Ulf Brunnbauer (Hg.): Batak kato mjasto na pametta / Batak als bulgarischer Erinnerungsort
Veza Canetti / Elias Canetti / Georges Canetti: “Dearest Georg!”
Veza Canetti: The Tortoises
Lea Cohen: Das Calderon-Imperium
Blaga Dimitrova: Forbidden Sea – Zabraneno more
Blaga Dimitrova: Scars
Kristin Dimitrova: A Visit to the Clockmaker
Kristin Dimitrova: Sabazios
Iglika Dionisieva: Déjà vu Hug
Tzvetanka Elenkova (ed.): At the End of the World
Tzvetanka Elenkova: The Seventh Gesture
Ludmila Filipova: The Parchment Maze
Sabine Fischer / Michael Davidis: Aus dem Hausrat eines Hofrats
Heike Gfereis: Autopsie Schiller
Mirela Ivanova: Versöhnung mit der Kälte
Ekaterina Josifova: Ratse
Kapka Kassabova: Street Without a Name
Gertrud Kolmar: A Jewish Mother from Berlin – Susanna
Gertrud Kolmar: Dark Soliloquy
Gertrud Kolmar: Das lyrische Werk
Gertrud Kolmar: My Gaze Is Turned Inward: Letters 1938-1943
Gertrud Kolmar: Worlds – Welten
Harper Lee: To Kill a Mockingbird
Sibylle Lewitscharoff: Apostoloff
Nada Mirkov-Bogdanovic / Milena Dordijevic: Serbian Literature in the First World War
Mary C. Neuburger: Balkan Smoke
Milena G. Nikolova: Kotkata na Schroedinger
Nicki Pawlow: Der bulgarische Arzt
Sabine Rewald: Balthus: Cats and Girls
Angelika Schrobsdorff: Die Reise nach Sofia
Angelika Schrobsdorff: Grandhotel Bulgaria
Tzveta Sofronieva: Gefangen im Licht
Albena Stambolova: Everything Happens as it Does
Maria Stankowa: Langeweile
Danila Stoianova: Memory of a Dream
Katerina Stoykova-Klemer (ed.): The Season of Delicate Hunger
Kathrine Kressmann Taylor: Address Unknown
Dimana Trankova / Anthony Georgieff: A Guide to Jewish Bulgaria
Marguerite Youcenar: Coup de Grâce
Edda Ziegler / Michael Davidis: “Theuerste Schwester“. Christophine Reinwald, geb. Schiller
Rumjana Zacharieva: Transitvisum fürs Leben
Virginia Zaharieva: Nine Rabbits
Anna Zlatkova: fremde geografien
The Memoirs of Glückel from Hameln

What remarkable translated books by women have you read recently or are you reading right now?

 © Thomas Hübner and mytwostotinki.com, 2014-6. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without expressed and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Thomas Hübner and mytwostotinki.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

 


Coup de Grâce

Coup de Grâce is a short novel by Marguerite Yourcenar, published a few months before the outbreak of WWII. It is the account of the tragic relationship of three people, told by one of them in retrospect.

Erich von Lhomond, the narrator, is a German officer of the Legion Condor who was wounded in the Spanish Civil War and is recovering in Italy which gives him an opportunity to look back at events that happened briefly after WWI, and that had a lasting impact on his life.

Erich and his close childhood friend Conrad took part in the fighting in the Baltics in 1919 between the Red and the Czarist Army; the so-called White Russians were supported in this civil war by German Freikorps (in which Erich and Conrad serve as officers), paramilitary groups with strong nationalist, anti-communist, and frequently anti-Semitic convictions (many later Nazi leaders served in Freikorps units); the situation was rather complex since there were already independent states in Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania who were caught somehow in between. The fighting in the Baltics with its atrocities, summary executions of prisoners, or massacres of people who were just suspected of being sympathetic to the other side foreshadowed in many respects what was to come about twenty years later. It is despite its great importance for the understanding of the history of this century a today almost forgotten episode.

The action of the biggest part of the book takes place in Kratovice, the castle-like family home of Conrad and his sister Sophie whom Erich and Conrad meet again after a long time. In their youth and adolescence, the three of them formed a very close triangle, and they used to share their thoughts, dreams, and secrets. But the war and their growing-up has changed things between them. While Erich and Conrad share a homoerotic attachment to each other, Sophie falls in love with Erich and declares her feelings very openly to him – but Erich is not responding to her feelings.

Yourcenar focuses on the development of the relationship of these three young people, that are tormented by their feelings and also the political situation. An additional complication is the fact that Sophie has sympathies for the Reds, and doesn’t hide it. After being rejected by Erich, she starts a number of short affairs with other soldiers, probably in the hope to arouse Erich’s jealousy. But Erich keeps his calm at least on the outward. Only once, after another compromising short affair of Sophie, he gives her a dressing-down that destroys her last hopes in ever arousing serious interest in her:

“Toutes les réponses eussent été bonnes, sauf celle sur quoi je trébuchai par irritation, par timidité, par hâte de blesser en retour. Il y a au fond de chacun de nous un goujat insolent et obtus, et ce fut lui qui riposta:

– Les filles de trottoir n’ont pas à se charger de la police des mœurs, chère amie.”

“All responses would have been good except the one on which I stumbled by irritation, by shyness, by aiming to hurt back. Deep within each of us there is an insolent and obtuse bounder, and it was he who replied:

– Pavement princesses do not have to take on the vice squad, dear friend.”

This moment seems to mark the turning point of Sophie’s feelings; she is soon leaving Kratovice without giving note to anyone, obviously with the intention to join the Reds.

What follows is the evacuation of Kratovice and the withdrawal of Erich’s unit, skirmishes in which Conrad is mortally wounded, and a truly breathtaking last meeting of Erich and Sophie who has been taken prisoner. I prefer not to reveal more of the story here, but the title of the book gives already away a lot.

This short novel is in my opinion one of the really great works of French 20th Century literature. There are many reasons to consider this book as at least very remarkable.

One reason is the intelligent choice of the central “hero” of the book. The narrator and main character Erich is an ambiguous and therefore interesting character. With his refined and chivalrous manners and his interest in literature and art he is not the heel-clicking stereotype of a German soldier you can see in many Hollywood movies, but probably a more typical example of the old Prussian military elite that was predominantly of French-Huguenot origin – as Erich himself.

Although being historically on the “wrong” side – being part of the military machinery that was responsible for the rise of fascism in Europe and other parts of the world – he is an intelligent man able of introspection and empathy. That is self-evident in his relations with Sophie, but also in his opinion about Grigori Loew, the man with which Sophie was living while siding with the Reds. Loew is a Jew and convinced communist, but nevertheless Erich thinks more highly of him than of most his own brothers in arms:

“…il avait sur lui un exemplaire du Livre d’Heures de Rilke, que Conrad aussi avait aimé. Ce Grigori avait été probablement le seul homme dans ce pays et à cette époque avec qui j’aurais pu causer agréablement pendant un quart d’heure. Il faut reconnaître que cette manie juive de s’élever au-dessus de la friperie paternelle avait produit chez Grigori Loew ces beaux fruits psychologiques que sont le dévouement à une cause, le goût de la poésie lyrique, l’amitié envers une jeune fille ardente, et finalement, le privilège un peu galvaudé d’une belle mort.”   

“… he had a copy of the Book of Hours of Rilke with him, that Conrad also had loved. This Grigori had probably been the only man in this country and at that time with whom I could have conversed nicely for a quarter of an hour. It has to be recognized that this Jewish obsession to rise above his father’s thrift had produced at Grigori Loew these beautiful psychological fruits like the dedication to a cause, the taste for lyric poetry, the friendship toward a fiery young girl, and finally the somewhat overused privilege of a beautiful death.”

In retrospect, Erich realizes that the communist Russian Jew Grigori Loew was in a way his own mirror image; he also realizes that Sophie’s last wish to which he had complied was indeed an act of revenge that overshadowed Erich’s whole future life. His life after the catastrophic events seems to matter very little to him; he is also aware of the fact that his engagement in diverse conflicts all over the world (Manchuria, Latin America, Spain) have turned the once honourable soldier into a mercenary and adventurer (who will in all probability be soon part of the Nazi aggression in WWII).

There are many other reasons to estimate Yourcenar’s book very highly: the crisp and elegant language, the deep psychological insights in the motivation and the different psycho-sexual orientations of the characters, the dialogues and atmospheric depth of the setting in the family castle of the de Reval family – I enjoyed this gem of a book very much. It made me curious to read more by Yourcenar.

I read the book in the original French; it turned out to be a surprisingly easy read.

An interesting movie is based on the novel: Der Fangschuss (1976), by Volker Schlöndorff (cinematography: Igor Luther).


Marguerite Yourcenar: Le Coup de Grâce, Folio 2016
Marguerite Yourcenar: Coup de Grâce, translated by Grace Frick, Farrar, Straus and Giroux 1981
The text quotes in this blog post are translated from the French by Thomas Hübner.
© Thomas Hübner and mytwostotinki.com, 2014-6. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without expressed and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Thomas Hübner and mytwostotinki.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Reading/Reviewing Plans

The end of the year is approaching with fast steps. This year I haven’t been so active as a blogger as last year until recently – German Lit Month brought me back to the usual pace – and I have done more blog posts on poetry and translations than the year before; also I did more posts in German and one in Bulgarian too. Book blogging is a dynamic process and the focus of such places will always be subject to small unplanned changes, but I will keep also in the next year my habit to publish reviews of books that were interesting to me.

As you already know when you follow this blog on a regular basis, my taste in books is rather eclectic. I am definitely not a person who is permanently scanning bestseller lists or is jumping in on discussions about books that were – usually for marketing reasons – the “talk of the town”. Therefore I avoided so far reviewing books by Houellebecq or Knausgård; it is difficult to not be influenced by the public discussion that focuses frequently on aspects that have very little to do with the literary quality of the books by such authors but a lot with their public persona and their sometimes very controversial opinions about certain topics. Not that the books by these authors are necessarily bad, but I prefer to read without too much background noise. So I will come also to these authors, but most probably not in the near future.

My blog tries to be diverse, but without quota. But of course my choice is subjective and I am aware of the fact that probably most readers will find many authors/books on this list that are completely unknown to them. If you look for just another blog that is reviewing again and again the same exclusively Anglo-saxon authors, then this might not be the best place for you. If you are eager to discover something new, then you are most welcome. 

There are no ads on this blog and this will also not change in the future. There is zero financial interest from my side to keep this blog alive, I do it just for fun. Please don’t send unsolicitated review copies if you are an author or a publisher. In rare cases I might accept a review copy when contacted first but only when I have already an interest in the book. All blog posts contain of course my own – sometimes idiosyncratic – opinion for what it is worth. In general I tend to write reviews on the positive side. When a book disappoints me, I tend to not write a review unless there is a strong reason to do otherwise.

These are the books presently on my “To-be-read” pile; which means they are the one’s that i will most probably read and review within the coming months. But as always with such lists, they are permanently subject to changes, additions, removals. Therefore I (and also the readers of this blog) will take this list as an orientation and not as a strict task on which I have to work one by one. 

Chinua Achebe: Things Fall Apart

Jim al-Khalili: The House of Wisdom

Ryunosunke Akutagawa: Kappa

Rabih Alameddine: The Hakawati

Sinan Antoon: The Corpse Washer

Toufic Youssef Aouad: Le Pain

Abhijit Banerjee / Esther Duflo: Poor Economics

Hoda Barakat: Le Royaume de cette terre

Adolfo Bioy Casares: The Invention of Morel

Max Blecher: Scarred Hearts

Nicolas Born: The Deception

Thomas Brasch: Vor den Vätern sterben die Söhne

Joseph Brodsky: On Grief and Reason

Alina Bronsky: Just Call Me Superhero

Alina Bronsky: The Hottest Dishes of the Tartar Cuisine

Dino Buzzati: The Tartar Steppe

Leila S. Chudori: Pulang

Beqe Cufaj: projekt@party 

Mahmoud Darwish: Memory of Forgetfulness

Oei Hong Djien: Art & Collecting Art

Dimitre Dinev: Engelszungen (Angel’s Tongues)

Anton Donchev: Time of Parting

Jabbour Douaihy: June Rain

Michael R. Dove: The Banana Tree at the Gate

Jennifer DuBois: A Partial History of Lost Causes

Isabelle Eberhardt: Works

Tristan Egolf: Lord of the Barnyard

Deyan Enev: Circus Bulgaria

Jenny Erpenbeck: The End of Days

Patrick Leigh Fermor: Mani

Milena Michiko Flašar: I called him Necktie

David Fromkin: A Peace to End All Peace

Carlos Fuentes: Terra Nostra

Amitav Ghosh: In an Antique Land

Georg K. Glaser: Geheimnis und Gewalt (Secret and Violence)

Georgi Gospodinov: Natural Novel

Georgi Gospodinov: The Physics of Sorrow

Elizabeth Gowing: Edith and I

David Graeber: The Utopia of Rules

Garth Greenwell: What Belongs to You

Knut Hamsun: Hunger

Ludwig Harig: Die Hortensien der Frau von Roselius

Johann Peter Hebel: Calendar Stories

Christoph Hein: Settlement

Wolfgang Hilbig: The Sleep of the Righteous

Albert Hofmann / Ernst Jünger: LSD

Hans Henny Jahnn: Fluss ohne Ufer (River without Banks) (Part II)

Franz Jung: Der Weg nach unten

Ismail Kadare: Broken April

Ismail Kadare: The Palace of Dreams

Douglas Kammen and Katharine McGregor (Editors): The Contours of Mass Violence in Indonesia: 1965-1968

Rosen Karamfilov: Kolene (Knees)

Orhan Kemal: The Prisoners

Irmgard Keun: Nach Mitternacht

Georg Klein: Libidissi

Friedrich August Klingemann: Bonaventura’s Nightwatches

Fatos Kongoli: The Loser

Theodor Kramer: Poems

Friedo Lampe: Septembergewitter (Thunderstorm in September)

Clarice Lispector: The Hour of the Star

Naguib Mahfouz: The Cairo Trilogy

Curzio Malaparte: Kaputt

Thomas Mann: Joseph and His Brothers

Sandor Marai: Embers

Sean McMeekin: The Berlin-Baghdad Express

Multatuli: Max Havelaar

Alice Munro: Open Secrets

Marie NDiaye: Three Strong Women

Irene Nemirovsky: Suite française 

Ben Okri: The Famished Road

Laksmi Pamuntjak: The Question of Red

Victor Pelevin: Omon Ra

Georges Perec: Life. A User’s Manual

Leo Perutz: By Night Under the Stone Bridge

Boris Pilnyak: Mahogany

Alek Popov: Black Box

Milen Ruskov: Thrown Into Nature

Boris Savinkov: Memoirs of a Terrorist

Eric Schneider: Zurück nach Java

Daniel Paul Schreber: Memoirs of My Nervous Illness

Carl Seelig: Wandering with Robert Walser

Victor Serge: The Case of Comrade Tulayev

Anthony Shadid: House of Stones

Varlam Shalamov: Kolyma Tales

Raja Shehadeh: A Rift in Time

Alexander Shpatov: #LiveFromSofia

Werner Sonne: Staatsräson?

Andrzej Stasiuk: On the Way to Babadag

Ahmet Hamdi Tanpınar: The Time Regulation Institute

Pramoedya Ananta Toer: A Mute’s Soliloquy

Pramoedya Ananta Toer: The Buru Quartet (4 vol.)

Lionel Trilling: The Middle of the Journey

Iliya Trojanov: The Collector of Worlds

Bernward Vesper: Die Reise (The Journey)

Robert Walser: Jakob von Gunten

Peter Weiss: The Aesthetics of Resistance

Edith Wharton: The Age of Innocence

Marguerite Yourcenar: Coup de Grace

Galina Zlatareva: The Medallion

Arnold Zweig: The Case of Sergeant Grisha

Stay tuned – and feel free to comment any of my blog posts. Your contributions are very much appreciated. You are also invited to subscribe to this blog if you like.

© Thomas Hübner and mytwostotinki.com, 2014-5. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without expressed and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Thomas Hübner and mytwostotinki.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.