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ALINDARKA'S CHILDREN by Alhierd Bacharevič


by Alhierd Bacharevič ; translated by Jim Dingley & Petra Reid

Pub Date: June 7th, 2022
ISBN: 978-0-8112-3196-1
Publisher: New Directions

Two children wander through the forest in this fairy tale and manifesto.

In a Camp deep inside a forest, there is a Doctor who trains children to lose their native languages and to speak “correctly. After all,” the Doctor thinks, “speaking correctly means that you think correctly. And live correctly.” Alicia and Avi, sister and brother, are at the Camp until their father frees them—not long after, they’re separated from him and wander through the forest, Hansel and Gretel–style, on their own. Bacharevič’s novel blends the magic and darkness of a fairy tale with what is implicitly a manifesto on language and national identity. The Doctor’s “pure” language is Russian, while what Alicia’s father wants her to speak—proudly and unadulterated—is Belarusian. Bacharevič, a Belarusian writer (and former musician), wrote the novel in a blend of Russian and Belarusian, which are about as mutually intelligible as English is to, say, Scots. That apparently informed the translators’ decision to render the Russian portions of the book into English and the Belarusian portions into—yes—Scots. So when Avi talks to Alicia, he says things like, “Ah’m wunnerin whare we are?…If Faither waur tae phone us the noo, whit wad we tell tae him?” This was a bold decision on the part of the translators, and an intrusive one—so intrusive, in fact, it’s difficult to assess the novel on its own. It’s also a decision that seems in part to have missed the point—that every language has its own subtleties, nuances, and flavors inseparable from a distinct, and utterly individual, national identity. Because they speak in Scots, Alicia and Avi seem, unsurprisingly, distinctly Scottish. But they aren’t meant to be in Scotland; they are of course in Belarus. In itself, the rendering into Scots is beautiful, and there is a case to be made that the translators’ task was an impossible one. Still, the result doesn’t quite cohere. In the original, Bacharevič might very well be brilliant—but rendering his work into English and Scots draws a false equivalence among all the languages involved.

The translators’ bold approach to their task overshadows the novel itself.