Vishy's Reviews > The Jews' Beech

The Jews' Beech by Annette von Droste-Hülshoff
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Nov 30, 11

Read on November 30, 2011

‘The Jews’ Beech’ was recommended by one of my friends. As it was short, I thought I will read it. I also found the writer’s name interesting – she must be the writer with the longest name whose work I have read :) It is about the life and times of a boy called Friedrich Mergel. The story starts in 1738 and ends towards the end of the 18th century. How this boy grows up to become a young man and the experience he goes through and the strange happenings in the village where he lives form the story. There are thieves who come to the forest near the village and cut trees without permission. The rangers try to catch them but the thieves repeatedly evade them. During this time, one of the rangers is killed. Nobody knows what happened. Some suspicion falls on Friedrich, but he has an alibi. Friedrich has an uncle who seems to have a mysterious background and there is another boy called Johannes who is, strangely, Friedrich’s lookalike. What happens across the years and how the fortunes of Friedrich turn out form the rest of the story.

One of the passages from the book, which I really liked, came on the first page of the story and went like this :

It is difficult to view that period impartially. Since its disappearance, it has been either arrogantly criticised or absurdly praised, because those who experienced it are blinded by too many dear memories and those born later do not understand it.

I read two translations of ‘The Jews’ Beech’ online – here and here. The first one seemed to be closer to the original as it had long sentences and traditional words and constructs. I started with that, but when I lost track of an important element of the story, I went and read the second translation, which had shorter sentences and modern words. However, there were some issues I had with the second translation – for example Friedrich’s mother’s name was anglicized from Margrethe to Margaret. And Johannes Neimand’s name to John Nobody. It made me wonder what is more important in a translation – whether the story has to be conveyed clearly to the reader or whether the style of the author in the original book should be preserved. It made me appreciate the difficulties and intricacies of translation and how one translated version could vary significantly from another.
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