March 15, 2008
Things have been quiet on this blog, mainly because I have been working on Dog of Heaven: Truths and Myths of Blue Mongolia's Blue Wolf, a [ed. words missing here] the manuscript of Mongolian National Library Director Dr. Akim in order to have it ready for publication next week.
The task of "editing" a really bad, sometimes nonsensical, very un-literary English translation has amounted to rewriting the entire book manuscript sentence for sentence. It has its fun moments, though. Sometimes the translation has moments of unintended, but still brilliant, comedy. Here's a sampling of the manuscript that fell in my lap:
"Wolves catch marmots very adroitly. It was on Five hills mountain (in the near of Ulaanbaatar) in autumn. I was watching a wolf through binocular. On this side of slope five or six marmots were grazing. The wolf sniffed their traces and run towards them from behind a hillock. The marmots didn’t notice it. But the wolf was running and waiving with its tale. It was waving with tales as hunters wave to provoke marmots. Marmots got provoked and were whizzing."
Whizzing marmots! Brilliant.
Dr. Akim, Dog of Heaven author, and Bill Infante, Asia Foundation Mongolia director who funded the book's publication
April 23rd, 2008
So the part of my life being eaten by the manuscript is over, suddenly. Akim was in the hospital up until right before the reading we were to give to celebrate the book release—he was still there the morning of. He's your basic brilliant and sometimes confused old guy who still works and teaches and is usually home resting by 3pm. He had disappeared the weekend before, when the book manuscript needed badly to go to print but we didn't want to do it without his final approval, and we found out after the fact that he'd been in the hospital. Chilaajav had been in a private hospital once and I'd gone to see him there. It was like a subpar hotel where they were just monitoring, tested him. It's not a surprise that the older Mongolian men I know have heart problems.
So the book went to press late and for some reason the publisher, Edo, needed to send it to Beijing. So we found out at about 2pm, the book event being at 5pm, that there was no book. All 1500 copies were still in Beijing. Welcome to Mongolia. Bill was pissed, and I felt bad because no one could help that Akim had been sick and unable to give his approval til later. But by 5pm, Eggii had found someone somewhere who produced 16 copies of the book. Welcome to Mongolia. It looked great.
Two weeks ago I lived at Edo for two days, manually putting in every tiny grammatical change, worrying over how to capitalize words in chapter headings, being served salty milk tea by the tank-top-wearing young guy on my side of the office and fending off the head of Edo, who worked on the other side but asked me out when he gave me a ride back even though we had just been talking about his wife and children. I came back an extra day because halfway through my first stay at Edo, the power went out. Entire aimags don't have power right now. There are some blinking lights on the street that blink at 6am when no one is out or awake and the lights aren't needed, and then they take the power out of entire districts of the city and counties of the country. I guess a boiler exploded? At the central power place? That's what I hear anyway.
So everyone was there. And the room was packed. And I gave an interview afterwards in terrible Mongolian for the TV cameras that were there. Akim and I read two passages, him in Mongolian and me in English, and Bill spoke about the efforts I had made to help create a PEN chapter for Mongolia—and that this book is an example of the kind of thing that a Mongolian chapter of International PEN would make possible.
I think the best part was just watching Akim's eyes light up when his oldest and closest friends showed up. He and I were trying to rehearse—I was trying to get him to rehearse—the parts I had chosen to read (he made me choose) in his office and people started pouring in. Akim had naturally been looking a little under the weather what with heart problems and such, and it was so fantastic to see the sweet old man belly-laughing his ass off with his oldest friends. I got away with only three shots of vodka before the reading, and that was by escaping early. Akim's old friends filled up the front row and laughed at him and talked and applauded a lot. It was truly a transformation for Akim—from a tired old guy to this spritely happy tipsy old guy. Bill had the idea to do this event as something nice for Akim just because he thought Akim was sweet and wonderful, and it couldn't have come at a better time.
Here's the excerpt we read:
"It was on the third night of the midwinter month of the Red Rat during a Sand Hare year, at the end of a wide valley called Ungeleg in Tunkhel county, Selenge province. It was pitch dark, the kind of dark in which herders say it’s impossible to see the horse-catching pole in one’s own hand. The only lights were the stars glimmering in the deepness of the sky. Rays radiated from them as sun-reflected ice fragments hurl rays into one’s vision. I had to blink, and like a child I wanted to suck the ice fragments. The snowfall that had begun earlier that day had slowed, and only the occasional snowflake fell on my face, bringing moisture. Jhevegjav, an old hunter, was showing me how to invite wolves by howling. During the three years I was putting together this book, I met many people who claimed to be able to do this. I let them howl, and no answer ever came. It is really true that human howls can bring wolf howls in return?
Unfortunately, journalists don’t like to believe something they haven’t seen themselves. So I followed into the late night this old man, who in spite of his 75 years was more vigorous than a 25-year-old, and watched him take several steps away from us and begin to howl. I had heard wolves howl before, and it did seem similar to me, but my hearing is nothing like that of the wolf. Will the wolves answer?
The old man howled once again. Several minutes passed. Perhaps there were no wolves in this valley, or the wolves knew it was not a fellow wolf who howled.
Lower than our position in the valley, one wolf answered deeply. It seemed a male wolf. Then another wolf howled, in a higher tone, perhaps a female wolf. Then many wolves began howling in different voices. My Jhevegjav indeed provoked them to howl, and now they were howling to each other. Maybe man and wolf do understand each other…
Nine of Ghengis Khan’s commanders were hunting along Kherlen river and saw a female wolf accompanied by a boy of about 4 years of age. They chased the wolf, captured the boy, gave him the name Shaaluu and taught him speech. Later Shaaluu became the commander of one of Genghis Khan’s hundred-unit armies. One night before a battle with the enemy the great army camped in a circle on the steppe. In the night came the sudden sound of a wolf’s howl. Shaaluu heard the wolf, jumped to his feet, and ordered his army out, saying, “This place will be inundated tonight!” And it was, wiping out the enemy army. The wolf helped her human son in this way many times, and Shaaluu, as he understood the animal language, in turn helped Genghis Khan this way."