Translator's notes

two poems from The Hunchbacks’ Bus

By Nora Iuga

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‘i’m sam’, begins Nora Iuga’s The Hunchbacks’ Bus (Autobuzul cu cocoșați), which I translated with Diana Manole’s expert collaboration. The book is a sort of family chronicle centred on sam and his life, much of which is in his head, his not very faithful wife minodora and his brother istovitu (the name means exhausted, worn-out). It’s comic, though not often (at least to me) in a laugh-out-loud kind of way; surreal or fantastic at moments, at others ribald, eccentric; perhaps even a little hard to cosy up to, since Iuga keeps everything at an ironic distance, her style rarely lyrical in a traditional sense. The syntax is direct but the imagery teases and surprises; the poetic voice is energetic, even audacious, with a delightful quirkiness.

In the first of five authorial interludes, short monologues in prose, Iuga addresses the reader, ‘you might find it hard to believe, but sam actually exists’ (notwithstanding the fact that he’s sometimes presented as a dog); and Iuga notes otherwise in ‘sam is an angel’:

          i’m still determined to find out who
          sam is and what he does with his little stick

Iuga’s world may at times be one of loss, worry, proverbially a dog’s life, but it spins away with exhilarating dreamlike absurdity.
As translators, one of our main challenges was to convey the momentum of Iuga’s playful style while accurately conveying her diction and imagery. For translators, as for poets, li le things
can mean a lot. Even on the level of appearance: along with scant punctuation, no uppercase letters appear in the original, so we preserved this convention. We chose the informality of contractions. One petty betrayal: we helped the English-language reader with some commas in direct discourse. Key cultural allusions had to come through clearly, not just a phrase like Kant’s ‘starry vault above’ and ‘moral law within’ but also references to Romanian customs and daily life.

There were idiosyncratic moments as well. At one point Manole clued me in on the significance of an odd phrase sam screams in minodora’s dream:

           come see what a tumbling rock
           has to go through to reach a beautiful stillness.

Iuga, who is a close friend of Diana’s, had explained to her in a phone call, ‘everything that’s alive and moving aims to reach stillness which means eternity, i.e., eternal death, which is beautiful.’

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