Task of This Translator

Todd Hasak-Lowry
  • Review
By – September 24, 2012
Todd Hasak-Lowy’s con­cep­tu­al­ly dar­ing and lin­guis­ti­cal­ly nim­ble debut col­lec­tion of sto­ries, The Task of This Trans­la­tor, evokes the schlemiel tra­di­tion of Jew­ish lit­er­a­ture as it fea­tures youngish, cere­bral pro­tag­o­nists adrift both pro­fes­sion­al­ly and per­son­al­ly. The smarter-than-aver­age, small­er-than- aver­age Israeli man” of the open­ing sto­ry was sin­gle again after a three-year mar­riage to a woman taller than him, who doomed the mar­riage by for­mal­ly announc­ing her reluc­tance to repro­duce at any time with her hus­band despite the impli­ca­tions of their mar­riage con­tract, though they both agree now, not that they talk much, that it was for the best they nev­er made anoth­er per­son.” This daz­zling bit of por­trai­ture illus­trates both the orig­i­nal­i­ty of this fresh new voice and the lit­er­ary tra­di­tion from whence it comes. The strongest sto­ries of the col­lec­tion engage with the moral weight of our blood-soaked past cen­tu­ry in human his­to­ry through immers­ing its char­ac­ters in far­ci­cal sit­u­a­tions, which rapid­ly spi­ral out of con­trol. In On the Grounds of the Com­plex Com­mem­o­rat­ing the Nazis’ Treat­ment of the Jews” (the most pow­er­ful sto­ry of the col­lec­tion), Hasak-Lowy dra­ma­tizes the feck­less­ness of efforts to memo­ri­al­ize vic­tims of the Holo­caust and the lega­cy of Jew­ish rup­ture that inex­orably per­sists through an alter­ca­tion between an Israeli and an Amer­i­can Jew at Yad Vashem. In the title sto­ry of the col­lec­tion, the founder­ing efforts of an ill-trained trans­la­tor to facil­i­tate dia­logue between his East­ern Euro­pean client and the client’s estranged fam­i­ly demon­strates, quite lit­er­al­ly, the inabil­i­ty of lan­guage to con­vey the extent of both human atroc­i­ty and remorse. Weak­er sto­ries in the col­lec­tion will strike some read­ers as per­haps too clever, as affect­ed, final­ly, rather than affect­ing. Yet the stronger sto­ries announce the arrival of a star­tling tal­ent on the lit­er­ary scene.
Samuel I. Bell­man is pro­fes­sor emer­i­tus at Cal­i­for­nia State Poly­tech­nic Uni­ver­si­ty of Pomona. He has been writ­ing on Jew­ish Amer­i­can writ­ers since 1959.

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