Translations of Slovak literature in Dutch

 Abram Muller for Literarne Informacne Centrum, Bratislava

Slovak literature in the Netherlands and Belgium is quite unknown due to very few translations in Dutch. The other way around, thanks to the commitment and enthusiasm of two distinctive translators – Júlia Májeková (1919-1991) and Adam Bžoch (1966) – several books of great Dutch and Flemish authors were translated in the past few decades into Slovak, such as Multatuli, Couperus, Claus, Reve, Brouwers, Elsschot, Slauerhoff, Nescio, Anne Frank, et cetera.

Few in the Netherlands and Belgium knew that there existed Slovaks during Czechoslovakia; few knew that for example Alexander Dubček (1921-1992) was Slovak. The inhabitants were mostly called Czechs or more favorable Czechoslovaks. The reputation of Slovakia has changed little since the country became independent. The country is now often confused with Slovenia, which although smaller, is better known as vacationers from the Benelux to Croatia traverse this country.

Good Czech literature has long been available in the Netherlands, from authors such as Hrabal, Havel, Kundera, Vaculík, Škvorecký, Hašek, Klíma, Topol et cetera. The few Slovak works that have been translated into Dutch, were mostly translated from a German translation, sometimes from an English one. The first to appear was in 1945, when the well-known Dutch author J. van Oudshoorn (1876-1951) translated the classic and marvelous Slovak novel Jozef Mak by Jozef Cíger-Hronský (1896-1960) from a German translation. The complete list of translated Slovak works is found below; some works may be disputed as being Slovak, as one author was partly Czech and another became American citizen.

Of the literary translations, it is striking that there are no less than four books translated of Ladislav Mňačko (1919-1994), all in the 60s of the past century and all translated by different translators. In these times in Western Europe there was still a strong left-wing movement, mostly among intellectuals, looking towards leftist regimes as an example for a better life. At the same time among the general population there was a broad trend against communism and all its derivations, due to the cruel suppression in 1956 of the uprising in Hungary by the Soviet Union and due to the surfacing in the media of the atrocities committed by Stalin and Mao. Mňačko fits perfectly in this time, as the fallen communist who is conscious of his past and the mistakes he made. The tragic developments in Czechoslovakia in August 1968 added to his popularity in the Netherlands and Belgium.

Other translations are from children books, for example Slovak fairy tales in a series of books with fairy tales from different countries around the world. There is little known of how Slovak books in Dutch translation were received by the critics. Some of their publishing houses were certainly not small ones, but most of them have now disappeared. Nowadays one will not find any of these books in bookstores, though they are amply available secondhand through internet.

In 2013 the first Slovak literary novel was translated and published from Slovak into Dutch, the short novel V mene otca (In de naam van de vader) by the author Balla (1967), published by Uitgeverij Douane, a small literary publishing house with mainly modern Slavic literature. The translation was made possible thanks to the financial support from The Centre of Information on Literature (LIC) in Slovakia. With the support of the Slovak embassy in The Hague, Vladimír Balla and his Slovak publisher Koloman Kertész Bagala (1964) were invited to present the translation in the Netherlands, at the Slovak embassy in The Hague, in a literary café in Rotterdam and at the Slavic language institute of the University of Amsterdam.

The Dutch translation of V mene otca appeared in 1000 copies and around 200 were sold, mostly through internet, where it is still available. Twice it received attention in the media. Firstly by VPRO, a Dutch intellectual broadcasting organization, which reviewed V mene otca in a more broader spectrum of Slovak literature in general. Secondly the daily newspaper Trouw, considered to be one of the Netherlands’ most renowned newspapers, reviewed the book, dedicating a full page to it. It praised the quality of the translation, and overall it recommended V mene otca to its readers, though the analysis by the critic of the book was not very thorough, viewing the story only from one superficial level.

A translation in Dutch contains roughly 30% more words than the original Slovak work. Slovak, as all other Slavic languages, is a very compact language. Articles are not present and some prepositions are ‘hidden’ in cases. These then need to be present in Dutch (and Flemish, being a Dutch dialect which is spoken in Belgium), a Germanic language which shows similarities to English and German, though it does not use cases. The syntax in Dutch is much more stricter than it is in Slovak, so one is not able to ‘play’ so much with the language. But these are technical matters to be overcome by the translator.

The quality of the work and its content are of most importance. The translator needs to have affinity with the work and it should not be totally alien to the culture of the language the work is being translated in. A good literary work exceeds cultural borders and is recognized and awarded in any other culture. A good literary work is anything but folklore, which is only restricted to a region itself. Balla and many more Slovak authors have the quality to be universally recognized. And Slovakia in general is much more than a country with only folklore, as unfortunately it is mostly being presented still.

Between the end of this year and the first half of 2015, a second Slovak literary novel is going to be translated and published in Dutch, the novel Rozum by Rudolf Sloboda (1938-1995), which will also appear at Uitgeverij Douane. Rozum is a magnificent work which may hopefully find its way to many Dutch and Flemish readers in order to make Slovak literature in particular and Slovakia in general better known. This will certainly not be easy as these days throughout the Netherlands and Belgium bookstores are closing, book sales are dropping while ironically book offers are rising greatly. The competition is enormous though the market is small. But by regularly publishing translated Slovak literature, it may finally obtain the place it deserves on Dutch and Belgian bookshelves.


List of Slovak literature translated in Dutch:

Jozef Cíger-Hronský: Jozef Mak (De schamele vreugden van Josef Mak, Slowaaksche roman, J.C. Chronsky), from the German translation, by J. van Oudshoorn, J. Philip Kruseman uitgever, Den Haag 1945

Ladislav Mňačko: Smrť sa volá Engelchen (De dood heet Engelchen), adapted from the Czech translation Smrt si říká Engelchen, by Theun de Vries, Pegasus, Amsterdam 1963, printed in Czechoslovakia, graghics Jiří Rathouský

Ladislav Mňačko: Ako chutí moc (De smaak van macht),from the German translation of the Czech translation Jak chutna moc, by G.W. Roos, A.W. Bruna & Zoon, Utrecht/Antwerpen 1967

Ladislav Mňačko: Siedma noc (De zevende nacht), from the German translation, by Johan de Molenaar, A.W. Bruna & Zoon, Utrecht/Antwerpen 1969

Ladislav Mňačko: Nočný rozhovor (De nacht van Dresden), from the German translation, by R. van den Akker, N.V. Koninklijke uitgeverij Erven J.J. Tijl, Zwolle 1970

Ľudo Zúbek: Skrytý prameň (De verborgen bron), from the Czech translation(?), by Marianna Vlasta van Brakel-Pollak, Wereldbibliotheek-Vereniging, Amsterdam/Antwerpen 1967,cover and illustrations by Zdenek Mézl

Milan Šimecka: Koniec nehybnosti (Het einde van de stilstand), from the Czech original, by Geert Lentz, BoekWerk, Groningen 1991

Martin M. Šimecka: Džin (Het jaar van de kikker), from the Czech translation, by Hank Geerts, Wereldbibliotheek, Amsterdam 1999

Alexander Dubček: Nádej zomiera posledná (De autobiografie van een idealist), from the English translation, by Martha Heesen, Meulenhoff, Amsterdam 1993

Rudolf Vrba: Utiekol som z Osvienčimu (Ik ontnapte uit Auschwitz), from the English original, by M.J. Strengholt, Kok Omniboek, Kampen 2007

Miroslav Válek: Veľká cestovná horúčka (Rinkelreizen), from the Slovak original(?), by Hans Krijt, adapted by Coert Poort, illustrations by Miroslav Cipár, printed in Czechoslovakia, Uitgeverij Kosmos bv, Amsterdam 1980

Rudo Moric: Rozprávky z lesa (Verhaaltjes uit het bos), translated and adapted from the Slovak original, by Z. Balvert-Polónyiová, illustrations by Mirko Hanák, graphics Mária Štepková, printed in Czechoslovakia, Fred Keizer uitgever, Dronten 1981

Samo Czambel, z vydania Mladé Letá, Bratislava 1972 (De gouden vrouw en andere Slowaakse sprookjes), from the Slovak original, by Ciny Macrander, illustrations by Viera Bombová, printed in Czechoslovakia, Uitgeverij De Fontein b.v., De Bilt 1976

Samo Czambel, z vydania Mladé Letá, Bratislava 1972 (De domme duivel en andere Slowaakse sprookjes), from the Slovak original, by Ciny Macrander, illustrations by Viera Bombová, printed in Czechoslovakia, Kosmos, Amsterdam/Antwerpen 1982

Pavol Dobšinský: Slovenské rozprávky (Sprookjes uit Slowakije), from the Slovak original, by Olga Kuperova, illustrations by Ľudovít Fulla, printed in Czechoslovakia, Uitgeverij De Fontein n.v., De Bilt 1974

Pavol Dobšinský: Slovenské rozprávky (Meer sprookjes uit Slowakije), from the Slovak original, by Olga Kuperova, illustrations by Ľudovít Fulla, printed in Czechoslovakia, Uitgeverij De Fontein n.v., De Bilt 1975

Mária Ďuríčkova: Biela kňažná (De witte vorstin), from the Slovak original, by Želmíra Polónyiová, illustrations by Miroslav Cipár, printed in Czechoslovakia, Uitgeverij De Fontein b.v., Baarn 1977

Kreatief, literair- en kunstkritisch tijdschrift (literary magazine), no. 2/3, August 1990, Antwerpen/Wevelgem, Belgium: Slovakije, selection and translation from the Slovak original, by Bea Haelterman. Prose from Dušan Mitana, Peter Karvaš, František Švanter, Dušan Dušek. Poetry from Pavel Bunčák, Milan Rúfus, Ján Ondruš, Ján Stacho, Ľubomír Feldek, Štefan Strážay, Ivan Štrpka, Daniel Hevier, Miloš Žiak, Ivan Kolenič.

Balla: V mene otca (In de naam van de vader), from the Slovak original, by Abram Muller, uitgeverij Douane, Rotterdam 2013

Rudolf Sloboda: De laatste regel (Rozum), from the Slovak original, by Abram Muller, Uitgeverij Douane, Rotterdam 2015


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