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Aug 30, 2009

Serendipity

Last night I had an interesting experience which I hope to have more of. We were visiting friends for a dutch oven dinner with plentiful wine and vodka, and I was admiring my friend's collection of skins, pickled snakes and antlers as he showed me various interesting old books on hunting topics published in the German Democratic Republic. Such books weren't easy to come by in the n70's and 80's if you didn't have connections, and in his case the connection was an aunt who operated a bookstore and brought her young nephew books on nature topics that interested him. These obviously made an impression, because as a man in his 40's, he lives to camp and hike with his dog, a magnificent mastiff with a very peaceful nature. (The hunting license is still planned for the future - these things aren't cheap in Germany.)

One book in his collection interested me in particular: the 4th edition of Alojz Herczeg's Das Weidwerk in Bildern, which was translated into German from Slovakian. The book itself is quite a comprehensive treatise on central European hunting practices in the old East Block, with excellent illustrations, and the German edition is beautifully written. My friend explained that it was a translated work, and when he looked at the page with credits noted that the translator lived in our town. My spine tingled as I asked "Was it Oskar Kasperl?" Indeed it was. I had been telling him about Oskar only an hour before, an amazing man who translated the subjects of agricultural and forestry (and probably others) from a large number of Slavic languages. There are very few people whose competence and presence inspire awe in me, but Oskar is one of them. I first got to know him as the old man who stubbornly tended his yard, raking every leaf and keeping all in perfect order despite walking with two canes. His daughter, a degreed interpreter for German/English/Bengali was one of the first friends I made after moving to Hohen Neuendorf, and she used to tell me wonderful stories of her amazing father and his exploits as a translator and hunter. He was in his 80's but continued to work in the profession he loved. I had heard quite a lot about him before I realized that this was the fellow who kept his yard in better order than anyone else on the street. My yard is a mess and I have about 8 fewer working languages than he does, so I am very much in awe of him, and his main working areas and other interests are ones that I share. If I had to pick one translator whom I would consider an inspiration and a good role model (not that I'm really in need of one at my age), he would be at the top of my list.

But aside from Oskar's intimidating qualifications, the biggest delight for me was to discover that the wonderful book I was reading in the company of friends was in fact a masterpiece translated by someone I know and like who lived just around the corner from me. The world is indeed a small place, and serendipitous evenings like this delight me.

1 comment:

  1. That's a great story, Kevin. The older translators really are something to be admired. They did their work without computers, spellcheck, Google, etc. And he sounds like a great guy. You've gotta love someone who is that meticulous with his yard. I can only imagine how meticulously translated the book is.

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