54 great opening lines: 20

Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary,
Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore –
While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,
As of someone gently rapping – rapping at my chamber door.

The Raven, Edgar Allan Poe


Today I’m working on a translation of a story in which a raven stands guard in a widow’s window, terrifying passers-by.  As I search for the right words to interpret the story, the lines of Poe’s The Raven go round and round in my head.

Gustave Doré created the image in my header.  It’s his interpretation of Poe’s lines.
This and more of Doré’s illustrations for The Raven are available here.

54 great opening lines: 19

Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendia was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice.

One Hundred Years of Solitude, Gabriel García Márquez


Some books have a title that tempts me to turn to the blurb;  this is one of them.  And then, even better, it has this great opening line.  So I began reading.  About half-way through I put the book down.  It lost me.

54 great opening lines: 18

Define the colour red without using the words ‘colour’ or ‘red’ in your answer, and without making reference to any other colours.

The Life of Brian (Or Lack Thereof), Maree Spratt


The first line stopped me momentarily from reading the second line.  My mind filled with words in easy obedience to the command;  red is my favourite.

I found it at the beginning of a short story in Award Winning Australian Writing 2009, a story I’ve used several times to provoke teenagers needing to write something creative.  Brian, the protagonist, competes with contributors on Yahoo Answers, waking one morning to read this challenge.

The author, Maree Spratt, won a Young Writers Award for it;  when I get my students to read this story out loud, they don’t have to act to get the tone right.

Header courtesy of http://nice-cool-pics.com/img-glamourous-red-apple-slices-4627.htm

54 great opening lines: 17

There was once an art critic, I have been told, who had a sure way of identifying ancient Maltese art objects:  he found himself crying before them.

Lest Innocent Blood be Shed, Philip Hallie


The story of a village in the south of France, Le Chambon-sur-Lignon, where every household and farm sheltered or hid refugees between 1941 and 1944, under penalty of death.  In four years, thousands of Jewish refugees were saved;  only nineteen were lost.

Le Chambon-sur-Lignon, France, looking over the railway line on which refugees arrived from 1941-1944
Le Chambon-sur-Lignon, France, looking over the railway line on which refugees arrived from 1941-1944

54 great opening lines: 16

The woman carried the bag with the axe and maul and wedges;  the man had the billy and clean tucker-bags;  the cross-cut saw linked them.

Squeaker’s Mate, Barbara Baynton


A late 19th-century Australian story about a tough pipe-smoking timber-getting woman whose back is broken when she is cutting down a tree.  The man in her life, Squeaker, is good for nothing but she, his mate, has a dog who’s more useful…

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.

54 great opening lines: 14

When I stepped out into the bright sunlight from the darkness of the movie house, I had only two things on my mind: Paul Newman and a ride home.

The Outsiders, S.E. Hinton


Yesterday’s great opening line (no. 13) was the same as the book’s title.  Today’s opening line of The Outsiders is the same as its last line:  ‘When I stepped out into the bright sunlight from the darkness of the movie house, I had only two things on my mind:  Paul Newman and a ride home…’

I’ve just read this novel because I have to teach it, but it was no effort.  All through the book I kept thinking about the author penning the manuscript at 16 years of age.  A born writer.

Weekly photo challenge: Lost in the detail

This week I borrowed a library book, Poésies de F. Coppée, less for the poetry than for the detail in the book’s production.   It packages poems like treasure.  What you can’t tell from the photos below is that this book is just 10 x 16cm, fits nicely in one hand and is surprisingly heavy – 330 grams!  If this is how poetry was published in Paris in 1871, I’d like to travel back in time to Alphonse Lemerre, Editeur, if ever I’m wanting a book published.  And if this happens, you’ll know my book when you see it on the shelves in your favourite bookshop;  it will look just like this:

‘Poésies de F. Coppée’, pp. 6, 7

54 great opening lines: 12

Of late years, an abundant shower of curates has fallen upon the north of England:  they lie very thick on the hills;  every parish has one or more of them;  they are young enough to be very active, and ought to be doing a great deal of good.

Shirley, Charlotte Brontë


Are you imagining it, the shower of curates?