The Forgotten Words: a translated short story

This semester I took a comparative literature course that was a translation workshop. For the final project, I had to translate a certain number of pages of text from a foreign language into English. I chose a short story I came across online by French author Xuan Vincent called Les mots oubliés, or The Forgotten Words.

This was my first time ever translating formally, but I really fell in love with the process. My professor praised my work and suggested I submit it to a university blog dedicated to literature translated by students – and, of course, I wanted to post it here as well. This led to me contacting the author via email to ask her permission.

Xuan Vincent has read over my translation of her story and kindly agreed to allow me to post it. If you know French, I highly recommend you read the original as well as check out her other writings. You can find them at http://www.oniris.be/auteur/xuanvincent-706.html. Her blog is here: http://xuanadoo35.unblog.fr/.

In addition to the translation itself, I’ve written a translator’s preface that explains more about the story and the author as well about the choices I made as a translator. I hope you find yourself caught up Vincent’s story and enjoy it as much as I did. Perhaps soon I will translate more stories of hers and other French writers as well.

Here is my brief synopsis of the story (which is also the first paragraph of my preface) to give you an idea what the tale is about, and below are both the preface and translation:

Fabien Vannereau bumps into a gypsy musician from his childhood who offers the writer the strange and mystical gift of seven words. A bewildered Fabien continues with his life and forgets all about this encounter until many years later. Now struggling with his career, he is in desperate need of some source of inspiration, and the words start coming back to him and offer him just that. He ends up at a mysterious masquerade meeting in the château of a countess, where he regains hope for his writing career. But there is more to this enchanting place than he thinks. He will soon discover both the truth about the Countess and the purpose of the musician’s strange words.

Translator’s preface.
The Forgotten Words, translation by Rachel Daniels.

 

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French kiss.

Below is a brief scene I wrote last year. I’m not sure if I planned on going somewhere with it or simply letting it stand alone as a snippet of a character’s personality, but I decided to post it as is.

 

“You know French?!” she exclaimed, eyes lighting up. He, who would have otherwise been out of her notice, had sparked her interest. She amused herself with the idea of a new conquest.

“Yeah,” he answered, “I took six years of it.”

“I’m so jealous. I’m only in my second semester of French. But,” she gave an alluring smile, “I am studying abroad in France this summer.”

“Wow, really? That’s amazing! I’d love to go to France.”

“You’ll have to come visit me while I’m there then.” She smirked.

* * * * *

“So,” she began pointedly, “say something to me in French. I’m sure yours is far superior to mine.”

“Um,” he paused to think. “Okay… Je voudrais dormir.”

“You want to go to bed?!” she scoffed and playfully slapped his arm with the back of her hand.

“It was the first thing that came to mind!” He laughed and pulled the blanket tighter around himself. “And, it is really late.”

“You’re so lame.” She rolled her eyes and crossed her arms in feigned offense. After an exaggerated sigh, she leaned in a little and ran a hand through her hair. “How about… tu veux m’embrasser instead?”

His eyebrows raised instinctively at this, and in an amused voice, he responded, “Peut-être.”

She smiled and held his gaze for a moment. “I’m going to go get us some more drinks,” she suddenly declared, pushing the blanket off herself and moving to stand.

 

 

Le Cadeau de Mort

The revised version, as of February 17, 2012.

Prologue:
An angel of darkness,
A knight of the night itself,
A beautiful fiend of silence and shadows,
He haunted me after dusk,
His presence pervading my dreams
And consuming my thoughts,
Endlessly.

Apogée:
Curtains of translucent ivory billowing from the open window
Struggle in vain to chase after me,
To disencumber me from this inescapable fate,
But I am beyond restoration:
He drinks my life from the deepest channel;
Neck arched and face upturned,
I watch the moon slip behind a grey haze.
“Mon amour, je suis désolé.”

Épilogue:
I hear the patter of soil on my temporary roof.
Enveloped by darkness and crimson silk,
Imprisoned by walls of mahogany,
But it won’t be long now:
He will come for me; I will resurface,
And we will take flight.

Click to see the original draft.