An Inspiration: Electronic Translator of Czech Literature into Hebrew


Both Czech and Hebrew writing count among smaller literatures, which means it is not easy to make sure that a sufficient volume of mutual translations is authored. The topic was discussed by two charming young translators - Magdaléna Křížová, translator of Hebrew literature into Czech, and Pierre Pe'er Friedmann, who translates in the opposite direction. The first surprise of the debate came when Magdaléna said she had enough work for years to come, while Pierre, besides translating, has enough time to teach both at the Charles University Philosophical Faculty and at the Prague Jewish Grammar School. As he said himself, in Israel Czech literature is popular with the readers but less so with the local publishers. It is still a risky investment.

Pierre Pe'er Friedmann comes from Tel Aviv. His grandmother had Polish roots, but he was born into a purely Israeli family. He studied literary criticism at the Tel Aviv University, got acquainted with the work of Karel Čapek and decided to write his thesis on the approach to truth in the works of Karel Čapek. Back then he thought that he could pick up some Czech so that his work would be based on more than just Čapek's translations. Little did he know that his entire life had just changed. He became a translator of Czech literature into Hebrew, moved to Prague in 2010, started a family and says he plans to stay (a more favourable climate being one of the reasons). In fact, he is currently the only specialised translator of Czech literature into Hebrew, expanding on the huge achievement of Ruth Bondy, who introduced the Israelis to Hašek, Kundera, Hrabal, Škvorecký, Kohout, Klíma and also, for example, Viewegh. Unfortunately, this iconic translator has recently deceased, which means "her lot" had to be taken over by Friedmann. Authors translated by him include Karel Čapek, but also Jáchym Topol and Ladislav Fuks, whose The Cremator he has recently been very successfully introduced to the Israeli market. Friedmann's dream is to translate Daniela Hodrová's novel The Kingdom of Souls. One prominent Israeli publisher had almost agreed, but eventually withdrew from the project. Pierre hopes that this is just for the time being. He considers the translation of Jáchym Topol's Gargling With Tar to be his most exacting to date, as Hebrew has a much narrower vocabulary compared to Czech, while Topol probably uses all the existing Czech words and, occasionally, even borrows from Serbian or Russian swear words. Hebrew is by no means ready for this, which meant that Friedmann had to create something like an extended version of Hebrew that would interpret Topol in his full extent, along with the fact that Hebrew leaves much to be desired in its colloquial modes. Translating Ladislav Fuks, on the other hand, was relatively very easy. And beautiful. After the debate with both translators it became clear that Czech literature has a great ambassador on the Israeli book market, which means that translations are taken care of for several decades into the future. And let's hope that Pierre will also educate some equally great successors.