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Writing Always – But In Which Language?

April 23, 2011

Tags: order, Americanized, Bavaria, China, cross stitching, English, European Natural Medicine, German, Hamburg, immigrant, language, mother tongue, Natural Medicine, novel, obsession, Sebastian Kneipp (1821-1897), Sebastian Kneipp - Water Doctor, translation, writing, Writing Always – But In Which Language?

A few years ago I tried to translate my novel “Sebastian Kneipp, Water Doctor” into German – and I failed badly.

No surprise there: I have been living in the United States for so many years – sure, immigrants lose their mother tongue after a while!

That translation effort - I still remember it vividly: At that time I was probably at the 68th of the book. When I tried to translate it, it sounded awful: trite, shallow, stupid – you get the idea. I gave up on the translation with the feeling that I had lost my sense of “getting it” in German. Somebody else would have to do the job. I had become thoroughly Americanized, and was content with it – when I had decided to immigrate, that was what I expected, wasn’t it?

So, the problem was not that I had lost my mother tongue. The problem was that the 68th English version was not yet as good as the 83rd ...

Forward a few years: Last fall the novel was published - the 83rd version. Several German friends had read the English version of the novel and thought it would be a good idea to bring it out in German. I always said no, knowing I couldn’t do it. Then, recently, I had done a translation of a scientific text into German without difficulties.

Somehow, having successfully finished that translation must have worked inside me. As it happens so often with my projects that start on an unconscious level, one day I just sat down at my computer and began translating again. And this time, I liked the results – there was a voice, there was a language. Words came up from the past – I didn’t even know I knew them. As a youngster, I had had tuberculosis and spent a year in a sanatorium, in Bavaria (being from Hamburg originally) – you who have read the novel know that somehow my story made it into the book. Those old Bavarian words resurfaced when I needed them because Sebastian Kneipp (1821 to 1897) was a Bavarian – and he was the founder of modern Natural Medicine.

It will take me about half a year to translate the novel. But now I am hooked – I am working on it obsessively now. My husband claims I do everything obsessively, and it is true: I put the same obsession in when I had my cross stitch phase – stacks of hand towels and napkins at my friends’ houses still bear witness! I’d say that everything that is worth being done, is worth being done obsessively, immoderately, and well.

Of course, the translation takes me away from a few other projects I have cooking – like my next novel set in 16th century China. But it makes me very happy because I have not lost my mother tongue, after all.
Aspen eyes, by Peggy Peters

Iguazu Falls, by Xin Liu

Alexa Fleckenstein M.D. 2012, by Lolita Parker jr.

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