Six degrees of separation: The Outsiders to Sweet Water – Stolen Land

For the challenge by Booksaremyfavouriteandbest to find six degrees of separation between books, this month’s starting point is The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton.

1. At first I thought it was The Outsider (singular), one of the English titles given  to Albert Camus’ L’Étranger. But reading the author’s name made me look again. I noticed the plural in Hinton’s title and recalled my sons reading this book at high school and then reading it myself. However, I had immediately thought of Camus’ book and its opening line, ‘Aujourd’hui maman est morte’, much discussed by translators. In Stuart Gilbert’s translation, The Outsider,  it becomes ‘Mother died today’.

2. This led me to think of another opening line disputed and revised by translators, the first line of Swann’s Way by Marcel Proust, translated by C. K. Scott Moncrieff: ‘For a long time I used to go to bed early.’ So many ways to say this.

3. And the first line of Anna Karenina by Tolstoy, translated by Constance Garnett: ‘Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.’

4. And from there my mind went to Tolstoy’s War and Peace, currently showing as a TV serial. I have the book, a gift from my daughter-in-law who works in a bookshop, but I haven’t tackled it.

5. However, I have decided to tackle another hefty Russian novel, Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment, only because I found a pocket-size edition in a 2nd-hand shop.

6. I took a break from Crime and Punishment after a few chapters and picked up a shorter novel, Sweet Water – Stolen Land by Philip McLaren. What surprised me after reading a description of a gruesome murder in Dostoevsky’s novel was to read a number of such scenes in McLaren’s.

Of these six books I’ve read three wholly and three in part, but enough to remember them.

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54 great opening lines: 33

All happy families are alike but an unhappy family is unhappy after its own fashion.

Anna Karenin, Leo Tolstoy (Trans. by Rosemary Edmonds, who prefers this title over Anna Karenina)

*****

This novel brings two things to mind:

1.  An author I work for dictates while I type.  She dictates for several minutes, then thinks for several more.  During one of these silences I once pulled Anna Karenin from her shelves and began reading.  After six months, I’d read about half the novel during our dictation sessions.  She rewarded me with my own copy so I could finish it.

2.  The opening line is famous, but Tolstoy didn’t write these words;  the translator did.  You might recognise or have heard the line as it is above, translated by Rosemary Edmonds, or another of the many slight variations on this opening proverb, like a recent one by Pevear and Volokhonsky:
‘All happy families are alike: each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.’

Or a golden oldie by Constance Garnett:
‘Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way. ‘

If you ever quote one of them, you’re giving credit to a translator.  And that makes me feel like my hours translating literature are worthwhile.

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