May 14, 2014

Nominating "Hemingway's Boat" for the Three Tokes Award

This is not another post about a literary award. This one's about a literary anti-award.

1890s The Overcoat  (Lizok's Bookshelf)
My love for Russian literature has led me to some strange and suggestive territories, none of them involving a geographical presence in Russia, note. I was conveyed to the latest of these outposts by reading Lizok's Bookshelf, a blog by Lisa Hayden Espenschade, a writer, translator, and Russian teacher who "loves reading Russian fiction, particularly novels", and as seems more true with Russian literature lovers than any other type of literature lover, I therefore instantly knew her to be a true comrade and worth frequenting. Which I did, and this is what I learned.

Apparently, there's an award in Russia called the Абзац (Absats) Literary Anti-award, which is awarded yearly to four books: one for 'Worst proofreading,' one for 'Worst translation', one for 'Worst editing' and one for "Complete violation of all norms of publishing'. Unlike many of Britain's coveted prizes, eg Baileys, Man Booker, and the recently noted here Bollinger Everyman Wodehouse, Absats is not the name of a sponsor, but a Russian word meaning "indentation" or "paragraph".

The Indentation anti-award?

As so often happens in the Russian sphere, things were denser and more turbid than they seemed at first sight.

"When I looked for good ways to translate абзац for you [writes Lisa], I found some typical slang definitions that fit nicely with what I heard so often, basically “the end of something,” something peculiar, or a sort of intensifier that expresses emotion. This pretty much sums up my coworker’s uses of the word. Russian Internet searches turned up other alleged slang uses of абзац: to denote three puffs/tokes or some sort of 220 millimeter missile."

There you have it. Of course I had to see what books had been deemed Three Toke books (is this like our 'three on a match'?) but, shock! a check of zapaday revealed that this year's award had been cancelled! So we'll have to wait until next year to see if Absats comes up with a book to top the 2008 winner cited by Lizok's Bookshelf, a book called How to Seduce Any Man, which had been plagiarised from the book How to Make Anyone Fall in Love with You.

syndetics-lcIn the meantime, I've got what I adjudicate a Four Toke Fail. It's in Hemingway's boat: everything he loved in life, and lost, 1934-1961, by Paul Hendrickson, a very good book lent to me by my friend the fine poet and erstwhile tall-ship sailor Bob Orr. It's Knopf who would have picked up the statuette for this one.

It's the 1930s and Hemingway's staying in Bimini on his beloved boat, the Pilar. He's recently had his favoured safari partner Bror Blixen, famed for his big-game hunting skills and his philandering, also Isak Dinesen's ex-husband, and Blixen's third wife Eva to stay. Eva is Swedish, an ex-race car driver, flirtatious, always skimpily dressed (for the era), and had been assigned sleeping quarters adjacent to Papa's, although the general impression is that the two had shared his.

On Bimini dockL to R: Unidentified man, Eva Blixen, Pauline Pfeiffer (Mrs. Hemingway), Hemingway, Bror Blixen. Ernest Hemingway Collection. John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston

And here it comes, page 250:

After the visit, the couple had moved on to New York, from which the Baroness Blixen wrote Hem a letter, "on the engraved hotel stationery of the Waldorf-Astoria. ...Eva was leaving for Sweden - whether with Blix or without him wasn't clear from the letter - but she planned to return to Africa at summer's end. 'Do come clown in the autumn,"she said.' "

"Do come clown in the autumn"? Do you mean to tell me not a single person looked at that and thought "Come clown? Gosh, that's an odd thing to write to a tough guy like Ernest Hemingway. Could this be a mistaken reading of the careless handwriting of a woman swigging her sixth or seventh gin of the day? Maybe, hmm, it was a loopy 'd' and not a 'cl'?"

Or, as Knopf would have it, "her sixth or seventh gin of the clay!"

Hemingway clowning in Africa?

Ditulis Oleh : Karen Craig // 20:00


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