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Witold Gombrowicz

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To purchase Trans-Atlantyk

Title: Trans-Atlantyk
Author: Witold Gombrowicz
Genre: Novel
Written: 1953 (Eng.: 1994)
Length: 122 pages
Original in: Polish
Availability: Trans-Atlantyk - US
Trans-Atlantyk - UK
Trans-Atlantyk - Canada
Trans-Atlantique - France
Trans-Atlantik - Deutschland
  • Translated by Carolyn French and Nina Karsov
  • Introduction by Stanislaw Baranczak

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Our Assessment:

C- : a painfully bad translation mars any appeal this otherwise promising text holds.

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The Nation B 11/7/1994 Bill Marx
The New Republic B 12/12/1994 Jaroslaw Anders
The NY Rev. of Books C+ 6/10/1994 John Bayley
The NY Times Book Rev. B+ 5/2/1995 Bruce Allen
The Spectator B 13/8/1994 Adam Zamoyski
TLS . 4/10/1996 George Hyde
World Lit. Today D Winter/1995 Jerzy R. Krzyzanowski

  Review Consensus:

  No consensus, beyond that the text is demanding and hard to understand. Some think the translation a success, others think the book is untranslatable.

  From the Reviews:
  • "For those willing to risk losing their minds, Trans-Atlantyk is a dizzying amalgamation of romp, prank and rant.(.....) Still, Trans-Atlantyk is a worthwhile adventure in reading, not only because of its poetically fractured language (...) but because Gombrowicz has compressed his anarchistic themes--patricide and filicide, rejection of homeland, sexuality--into a tightly woven comedy of the dankly ridiculous." - Bill Marx, The Nation

  • "(A) highly inventive linguistic mixture that conveys much of the energy and the self-parody of the original. By no fault of the translators, however, it lacks the rich historical associations and the literary references of Gombrowicz's work." - Jaroslaw Anders, The New Republic

  • "The translators struggle bravely, but, as far as this reader is concerned, almost wholly in vain. Sounding sometimes vaguely like the contemporary novels of Barth or Burgess, sometimes like a translation of Gunter Grass, or Tristram Shandy rendered (if such a thing were possible) in an inferior and imitative idiom, the English of Trans-Atlantyk is simply not tolerable, as English or as anything else." - John Bayley, The New York Review of Books

  • "(I)ts vivid expression of the complex ache of not belonging has a gratifying universality, and even baffled readers may find themselves laughing out loud at the sheer bilious energy of its sentences." - Bruce Allen, The New York Times Book Rev.

  • "Carolyn French and Nina Karsov are to be congratulated for producing a translation that conveys some of the ebullience and the sheer fun of the original, while doing their best to render faithfully the allusions and the layers of meaning. This is a book that needed to be translated." - Adam Zamoyski, The Spectator

  • "(T)he Polish in which it is written, a peculiarly stilted, synthetic, parodistic fusion of "dead" styles (picaresque narrative, comedy of humours, mannerist excess, plus sheer, empty loquaciousness) is hard to translate, forcing risky strategies and choices upon the translator (mostly well judged here, though the Polish is much funnier). Maybe it is too easy to say there is nothing else like it; after all, post-modernists from Pynchon to Ackroyd have played similar language games, and so did Joyce. Yet the special frisson of dread one gets from this Dance of Death never quite goes away." - George Hyde, Times Literary Supplement

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       There are few greater and more reprehensible crimes committed against literature every day than that of translation. Taken almost for granted, translation has done more to demean great (and even mediocre) works of literature than even literary criticism. And few people have been screwed more grandly by well-meaning (and less well-meaning) translators than Witold Gombrowicz, an important and very talented author. This volume isn't quite in the same league as the notorious Grove Press edition of his Cosmos and Pornografia -- translated from the Polish into the French and only from there into English (pornographic indeed), an indignity of double translation generally reserved for Albanian writers like Kadare (spit on the edition if perchance you see it !). But perhaps this is worse. Ten years they spent on this worthy undertaking, Ms. French and Karsov. It does not show. But then we should have slapped the book shut and flung it aside upon reading that the first named translator, Carolyn French, "did not know Polish." Who needs translators who know the language they are translating from ? (Such proud ignorance is, regrettably, common enough among re-versifiers, but is prose now to be similarly ill-treated ?) Never mind the fact that ten years is long enough to learn it .....
       Admittedly, Trans-Atlantyk is an exceptionally difficult text, written in a Polish style based on a literary style from several centuries ago. Translators French and Karsov chose, perhaps correctly, to imitate this style by using a comparable English from the 17th and 18th centuries -- or so they claim. Regrettably their prose does not resemble the English of this -- or our -- time closely, and so they have made a fair mess of things. We are great fans of the brilliant Gombrowicz, and even we were put off by this, so it has got to be pretty bad.
       Gombrowicz, author of the incomparable Ferdydurke and the marvelous Diaries (all available in what are at least readable translations) is an important author who deserves better. Stanislaw Baranczak (apparently the only person in the United States who is allowed to -- or cares to ? -- have his say on Polish literature) promises in his introduction that this is Gombrowicz's "greatest accomplishment as an artist". Would that we could judge. Describing his exile in Argentina at the outbreak of World War II it is a convoluted and curiously presented work. There is a suggestion of Gombrowicz talents, but the translators beat it down with their crude sticks.
       Regrettably we can only recommend this volume to those who can not read the original (or a superior translation in some other language) and who are fascinated by the author or the subject. Both Gombrowicz and his readers deserve better.

       We find ourselves in complete agreement with the translators only on one point: they hope that "ours will not be the last translation of this unique and important work." Amen.

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Trans-Atlantyk: Reviews: Witold Gombrowicz: Other books by Witold Gombrowicz under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Polish author Witold Gombrowicz (1904-1969) spent much of his life in exile in Argentina. One of the major writers of this century, he has not received the attention he deserves, due in large part to his difficult and bizarre publishing history, largely a result of his exile. His Polish books, written in Argentina, are first published in Paris ... and so on.

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