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.


54 great opening lines: 15

Mother died today.

The Outsider, Albert Camus (trans. by Stuart Gilbert.  Originally L’étranger)


Yesterday (no. 14) I posted the first line from The Outsiders.  With a final s.  Different book, different author, but the same theme of a protagonist who feels like he’s outside of society.  Like a misfit.

Today’s post is about The Outsider by Albert Camus.  Thousands of words have been penned and keyed about his opening line.  In French, it is ‘Aujourd’hui, maman est morte.’  Literally, ‘Today, Mum died.’  Three words that various translators render variously.  Today, Mother died.  Today, Mummy died.  Today, my mother died.  My mother died today.  Mum died today.  Mummy died today.  Mama died today.  Today, mum is dead.  If it’s published in the US, Mum would be Mom.

The maman quandary was mine when I translated the short story Origami by Anne Bihan, in which a small girl refers to her mother as maman, French for Mum and Mummy.  Since the girl is Japanese and the setting is Japan, I searched the web and happily found that some Japanese children are starting to use the European-sounding Mama, which I liked for my translation because of its similarity to Maman, and thought it good for retaining a closeness to the French.  (I also liked Mama because one of my sons uses it when addressing me…)  Of course, I put myself in the shoes of the little girl and remembered that I used to address my own mother as Mummy.  But that doesn’t sound Japanese or French;  it sounds English.  Or Australian.  Like me.

What about the actual Japanese word for Mum: Okaasan?  There’s not really any question of using it;  an English reader with no knowledge of Japanese would be lost.  But did I want this child to sound Japanese or French or Australian?  Well, Japanese.  Ok, so I should write either Okaasan or Mama.  Yet, as I wrote Mama Mama Mama, my life’s experience continually prompted me:  as a child and then a mother, the word was Mummy (except for one son!).  So, at first, I wrote Mummy, then read the story into a recorder and listened to the playback as objectively as possible.  It didn’t sound Japanese or French.  But does it have to?  For me, for this story, it does.  I changed it to Mama and read it again into the recorder, played it back and liked it for its Frenchness and modern Japaneseness.  Mama it is.

A sidenote:  I couldn’t have written this post, repeatedly typing ‘my mother died’, if my very own mother were alive!  A second sidenote:  On the day Mum died, I was doing some paid work for the French lecturer who had taught me Camus’ L’étranger, and I had to send him an email to say I needed time off for the funeral.  I began the email, at first, with Aujourd’hui, maman est morte.  Then I deleted it and wrote something less direct, less literary.  Perhaps he thought of Camus, anyway.