“That sounds like hell. Like…damnation. Waiting. After your one chance has gone by.”
The Translator -John Crowley
The Translator by John Crowley is a beautiful story about – love. A Russian poet/professor and young American student have a deep, quiet, sort of an affair. The clarity of their love is contrasted with the complexity of actually living the love in a world on the cusp of the Cuban missile crisis and modern-world madness. The poet, Innokenti, asks her to help him translate his poetry into English:
“She thought, long after, that she had not then ever explored a lover’s body, learned its folds and articulations, muscle under skin, bone under muscle, but this was really most like that: this slow probing and working in his language, taking it in or taking hold of it, his words, his life, in her heart, in her mouth too.”
That passage is so wonderful: all at once Crowley connects the sensual beauty of communication in words, spirit and body.
At the very start of the book, the now adult protagonist, Kit, travels to glasnost Russia, having to defend/explain the quasi-secret relationship and man that she’s not sure she understood; she tells the story of her younger self. Kit’s initial defensive feeling highlights the judgments and secrets absorbed by the younger Kit. Consequently there is a profound yet subtle commentary throughout the story that exposes our constant need to justify and often hide ourselves. Afraid to be ambitious for our hearts, the horror is that all too often we pre-empt the process by talking ourselves out of our desires- we simply swallow our pain. Repression is our prison.
“She had let him say these things, she had let him put her out and had said nothing.”
Life is relentlessly complicated and love gets tangled up and smothered along the way. But through the telling she begins to understand him better. The fears we all face are terrifying, and sometimes, just knowing that someone loves you, just knowing that you love with an endless depth- is, for a few moments, everything. “Through him she had recovered a way to speak…” In this story words are powerful, perhaps world changing, still, I felt Kit’s wound: left open.
“There was a time when she refused to sleep, afraid that in the anti world it would come again, the huge hollow that opened in the world, or in her heart.”
I was fortunate enough to make Prof. Crowley’s acquaintance during the Yale Writer’s Conference that I attended. A lovely man, although not my teacher for the conference, he generously spent time with many of the participants. After an engaging discussion with him I ask, based on our conversation of (what else?) books, which one of his I should read (he has written many). This was his suggestion, and I turn the suggestion, now a recommendation, around to all of you…