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Raspberry jam

Written By: daveski on August 6, 2007 2 Comments

Recently I’ve been reading Eva Hoffman’s memoir Lost in Translation, and I got to thinking about what is lost, and, like the name of this blog, what is found as names and selves are translated between countries and cultures. And specifically, what’s the relationship between transliteration and translation?

I notice in the book that Hoffman starts out as Ewa in Poland, where the “w” in her name is pronounced in Polish as “v”. But after she emigrated to Canada as a 13-year old child, and later as she pursued writing in the United States, the spelling, or visual identity, of her name succumbed to the need to pronounce it ‘correctly’, and she became “Eva”. Or at least she started using those letters to identify herself to the English speaking world that she found herself in. What was at stake for her in the two pen strokes’ difference between a v and a w?

Studying Spanish in high school, then Japanese, and then Korean in college and at work, and in years after as an English teacher, I saw examples of this around me all the time—of names transliterated into sound systems that weren’t quite ready for them, and of people who chose to rename themselves entirely as often as they relented to being redefined between two other sounds in another language. But I didn’t think about it too much with regard to my own name until I traveled two years ago to Montreal for a conference, and with French and English buzzing in my ears, found myself written onto a jar of jam in a small Polish grocery store.

I had memorized growing up that my family name, Malinowski, with the “now” pronounced like the word it spells in English, meant something like “dweller at or by the raspberry patch.” I had laughed at this notion with my brother. I guess we weren’t royalty, we said without giving it much more thought. Our grandfather had told us that our name, like many other immigrants to the U.S. at the time, had almost been changed at Ellis Island to “Malone,” so it would be easier to pronounce. We were glad it hadn’t been, happy that we kept this ‘real’ link to a past life in a country we had never visited, but felt in the sounds of our great grandmother’s speech, the smells of cooking cabbage and caraway seeds in the kitchen, and in truisms that we heard passed down from generation to generation, like the one we were told when we asked why stubbornness seemed to run in the family: “For Polish people, it’s easier to do things the hard way.”

(to be continued)

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2 Responses to “Raspberry jam”

  1. ReneeP on: 20 August 2007 at 8:01 pm

    Dave, sorry to be barging in with my probably irrelevant ramblings.. But I’ve read your title and thought to myself: “Great, he is going to write about my favorite topic!” – and I am still hoping you write about raspberry jam in your second entry. For years, I have been trying to explain the magic of raspberry jam to my American friends (and even wrote a poem about it!) – all futile. Perhaps if I were a better poet, I could express this: what my grandmother’s compote tasted like in the dead of winter, a museum of fruit in a jar. Or what raspberry jam is like: how it is sweating and breathing behind its glass, translucent, red like treasure. And how you wait for it, wait to get sick, not very sick but sick enough to stay home – especially if there is a good book to read; and Grandmother takes the bottle of raspberry jam out of the cupboard: it will make you sweat and make you better. Quick! you must finish the book before the jam’s work is over…
    Malinowski. That’s a truly noble name :)

  2. daveski on: 24 August 2007 at 5:57 pm

    Wow. I don’t know if I’ve ever tasted raspberry jam like that. I wonder, growing up in a place where just about everything seems to come from a box or a jar or a bag or a can, packaged and labeled, stacked and shipped (how much of the food in Safeway resembles something that can actually be eaten?), if that’s why I felt like I could find myself in the fruit on the vine, before cooking, rather than after. It took years before I could eat cooked fruit, but I could always get lost in the tangles and leaves, shifting shadows of light and dark, buzzing of bugs, and scent of the boysenberry bushes outside our house. As if I had to learn to taste the warmth of the sunshine in the fruit picked from the vine, feel its juice in my hand, and work for an hour with my tongue to try to dislodge the little seeds from between my teeth before I could recognize those same seeds in my mom’s bottles of boysenberry jam, and then venture so far as to eat a piece of pie…

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