Religion & Beliefs

Behind the Sun

In Memory of Prof. Gershon Shaked 1929-2006 On December 28, 2006, the eve of the launch of Zeek’s first monthly Hebrew translation feature, news reached me of Professor Gershon Shaked’s death at the age of 77. Shaked was one of … Read More

By / February 1, 2007
In Memory of Prof. Gershon Shaked 1929-2006

On December 28, 2006, the eve of the launch of Zeek’s first monthly Hebrew translation feature, news reached me of Professor Gershon Shaked’s death at the age of 77. Shaked was one of the most important and sensitive critics of Hebrew literature since Israel’s establishment. His penetrating analyses and often fearless aesthetic judgments created many of the very terms by which modern Hebrew literature is evaluated. Through decades of service in the academy and more than 20 scholarly books and hundreds of articles, Shaked provided countless scholars, teachers, and authors with a lucid sense of Hebrew literature’s past, present, and future.

In 1939, ten year old Gershon Shaked – born in Vienna as Gerhard Mendel – arrived alone in Mandatory Palestine as part of the “Youth Aliyah.” Spending his early childhood under the growing threat of Nazi domination provided him with keen sensitivity to what later became known as Holocaust literature, a genre he was one of the first Israeli scholars to consider. Likewise, his wrenching acclimation to the nascent Israeli state left him with a lifelong preoccupation with questions of Israeli identity.

Throughout his career, Shaked was committed to seeking out writing on all of Israel’s literary frontiers and exposing new authors to both Israeli and international attention. So it is only fitting that this month’s translation of award-winning writer Efrat Naveh is dedicated to his memory and work.

Enjoy,

Adam Rovner, Hebrew Translations Editor

Vladek, she says to him, Vladek, I yelled to you before, Bud’te ostorozhny, but you, your ears in the sky, you don’t listen, And with that her stocky body narrows, made strong and sharp by love, her hands reach out to his face, lightly touching it, smoothing, rearranging, as if his face were made of some rich fabric, one hand opens his shirt at the neck, her loving eyes burn into him, He looks at her uncomprehendingly, his eyes struggle to remain open, Who is this old woman, and why do so many wrinkles twist their way across her face, he never saw her before, I’m Golbienko, he says to her, I’m Golbienko from Uzbek, now I’m from here, I come to buy meat from Liebman’s like usual, here on the city’s widest street, but why do I see the gray sidewalk spilling out like a stream beside my head, and Liebman’s courtyard with his store’s gate rising tall as a mountain, where am I, for the wife and boy I came, there we lived like king and queen, here like dogs, but there’s meat to make shavlya for Shabbat, that’s good, I’m Golbienko from Uzbek, and you babushka, where did you come from, now I see a large sun in front of you and now you’ve been bleached white like Shabbat, your earrings, dangling gold before my eyes, a sun and another small sun call me from afar, maybe God suddenly brought the sun down into the earth, maybe He went to the moon and brought it here in place of the sun, and everything’s gone white and yellow, and it’s impossible to see anything or understand sometimes how life hides away, a game of hide-and-seek, and I can’t find anything, but my boy, he’s good at finding whatever’s hiding, sweet little Oleg, his body smelling of the bath my wife gives him, and I, for Friday night when he’s hungry, I bring meat from Liebman’s, wherever I go the light will come with me, for sure with my little Oleg who loves the sea and sand, that I don’t have there in Tashkent in Uzbek and never will have, And she, she suddenly says to him again, Vladek, anywhere in the world, in any land, I’d recognize your face, your eyes, your nose, your body, they can’t take that from me, like if they’d take my arm and it would want to return to me, to its mother, to home, I wanted to stop you, but you kept on, what did you think, that you’re young, that you could fly faster than those cars speeding like jets across the ground, that God watches over you, always, even when you were a boy, I’d tell you, Vladek, take care of yourself, no one else will take care of you, and I don’t have eyes that reach the ends of the country, be careful, the angel of death roams everywhere here, he’s visited me more than once, his hands like long worms, lengthening and stretching, becoming colorless, entering people’s bodies, paying them a visit without them even noticing, Vladek, I would say to you when you were a kid, get rid of them, yell, tell the truth, don’t let them, those long ones, like thieves, like criminals, too bad the K.G.B. doesn’t catch and kill those monsters, and in the meantime there’s no one to notice, for sure not God, so be careful, put on, I would say to you, put on a coat, eat meat, keep your body warm, always warm, but not too much, and not too little, somewhere in the middle, so you don’t upset anyone, so you can get rid of those worms that love to steal into dark places, And he looks at her uncomprehendingly, Golbienko, I’m Golbienko from Uzbek, now I’m from here, now I’m coming but the sun is disappearing, there won’t be enough light to choose the meat to bring home where they’re now hungrier than ever, but tomorrow’s Shabbat, he says, And her eyes burn with more love than he has ever seen, but he can’t understand what’s going on here, now her eye is black now white, what color it was before he can’t remember, and her hand on his face later spreads its chill across his body, his body that feels along its length something hard at its back, like the soil of a grave, and Liebman’s sidewalk spills out near his head like a dead stream untouched by the sun, And she says to him, Bud’te ostorozhny, sir, be careful, that’s what I called out to you, I saw you running between the cars on the main street, I knew something bad would happen here, my boy, after all these years, there’s no land I wouldn’t recognize you in, but you ran, where were you running to, lubiminki, where were you running to without thinking of your mother, of your boy, your wife, your body, what did you think, that God is over there, what, didn’t you see how He pursues everyone like an international criminal, like an evil terrorist, like some horrible monster, I used to tell you even when you were a kid, take care of yourself, no one else will, and your mother doesn’t have eyes to watch over you to the ends of the earth, And he says to her, but who are you, babushka, I’m Golbienko, now I see you going behind the sun and now it’s behind you and then the sun’s getting smaller and all its yellow has grown dirty and it’s impossible to know anything here, and Liebman’s sidewalk turns into deep pits and now you’re behind the sun and it’s gone completely black.

Translator’s Note Naveh’s story is technically challenging in many ways, composed of one long sentence switching between the inner monologues and dialogues of the protagonists, both of whom are recent immigrants to Israel speaking in fragmented Hebrew. None of these shifts in consciousness are signaled in the original, and the reader must piece together the story from narrative shards much the way an immigrant must make sense of his or her new environment despite linguistic limitations. The author and I went back and forth about how to preserve a sense of the syntactic difficulty and indeterminacy of the original, while still making the story accessible to English readers. Every translation is an act of interpretation, and what you have before you is the understanding I’ve arrived at in consultation with the author.

- A.R.

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