~~The Armenian novelist and literary critic Hagop Oshagan died in Aleppo, Syria, sixty-five years ago today. His shrine is in the Christian cemetery of the city, and a community landmark. Oshagan had gone to Aleppo for a jubilee honoring his work as a writer, critic and teacher. He and a group of fellow writers had planned a pilgrimage the next morning to Der Zor, the killing fields of the Ottoman extermination of the Armenians.
In commemoration, I’m posting one of Oshagan’s very early short stories, “Madmazel Yeva,” which was published in Armenian, in the Constantinople literary review Azadamard (No. 11, October 3, 1910) when Oshagan was in his early twenties. I am also posting an excerpt from G.M. Goshgarian’s translation of Mnatsortats, Oshagan’s unfinished novel cycle and his magnum opus which he wrote in the early 1930s in Cyprus.
In the context of the great novels, particularly the Mnatsortats cycle, “Madmazel Yeva” is a modest venture, a small excursion at best. The two decades that separate the early short stories and Mnatsortats are witness to a remarkably prolific, diverse, and innovative output. Even so, this three-page story shares with the later work a revolt against the ways in which the village and its class structure try to use, tame, or crush female desire and sexuality.
I translated this work in 1997; it was published in Ararat (No. 4, 1998) in a special issue on Oshagan. Even such an early work posed significant problems of passage from one language to another. Soon after I finished it, I realized that I could not be the translator of record for Hagop Oshagan, who is also my maternal grandfather. At the time, and for about ten years, someone in Paris and then later in Berlin had been translating Oshagan; he would continue to do so for the next twenty years: Geoffrey Michael Goshgarian has Englished more Oshagan than anyone else, and in him Oshagan has found his true translator. My mother, Anahid Oshagan Voskeritchian, used to say that her father would lament the fact that the translator of his work will appear only decades after his own death.
Goshgarian’s complete translation of Book I of Mnatsortats is forthcoming in the near future. Below is an excerpt from the early pages of the novel. It is from a longer section which appeared in Words Without Borders, the on-line review of international writing in translation. Goshgarian is the recipient of a PEN Translation Award for his translation of Oshagan.
Goshgarian: “Oshagan’s Armenian is not at all natural but barbarously beautiful.” Being faithful to Oshagan, therefore, can appear to be bad translation until the reader begins to understand the author’s logic, deliberate puzzlers, and snares. The meanings begin to multiply, and, to paraphrase Oshagan, the reader is home—in literature.
The earth, light, on Hagop Oshagan.~~
From Mnatsortats (Remnants)
translated by G.M. Goshgarian
It was the mother of the young girl who ought to have been walking beside the groom in the procession and wearing the crown instead of Anna, but was lying up the road, six feet under. The curse of this woman from one of the village’s rich families was just as gripping. You may not know that Garabed Nalbandian had been engaged to her daughter for ten years. That, for ten years, the Morukians had shown their future in-law Hajji Sara the requisite honors and covered her with praise. That, three months past, this child of the Morukian family, as exquisite and dainty as a rose, had hanged herself on her return from Bursa, where they’d gone for the dowry. They said she’d lost her mind. They said she’d been tricked. They said all sorts of things. And they buried her to the endless weeping of a villageful of eyes. No hand dared commit so much loveliness to the earth. She lay in her coffin at the bottom of her grave for a full hour, unburied.
The twin curses made an impression. Once the little group of weeping women had withdrawn and disappeared down a side street, it became apparent that something much sadder was now accompanying the wedding party. The procession paused in front of the Nalbandian house for the sachu.5 It was then that, in order to dispel this heavy-heartedness and, especially, render the bride’s entry into his home auspicious, the master of the house—Hajji Seropeh’s son, a Nalbandian in his forties and, in fact,6 a shoe-smith by trade, whose name and memory have now been effaced—standing with one foot on the threshold and the other outside, gave the bride the finest olive grove in the whole village. Hajji Artin’s beloved, noble grove—where governor and grand vizier had drunk brandy and eaten carp—for Naked Anna! That was the kicker, just the sort of lunacy you might expect from people with Nalbandian blood in their veins.
This surprise sufficed to dissipate the sad mood. A wedding stands and falls with its guests. They come and go, they eat and drink, but their main role is to trumpet the fame of gifts like this one far and wide.