By Merita Bajraktari McCormack/
As the Western world breathed a sigh of relief after World War II and moved towards progress and freedom, Albania trotted along with the Eastern Bloc countries and for almost half a century walked a destructive path. The communist dictatorship and its totalitarianism affected every part of life in Albania. Among others, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland was a victim left in its wake.
The first Albanian version of Alice was published in 1944 and titled Liza në botën e çudinavet [Liza in the land of wonders]. It was translated by Beqir Çela and Hysjen Çela (they were unrelated), and published in the Geg dialect of northern Albania. It has been said that for Albanian intellectuals, such as the Çelas, it was a crime to have known English or to hold a diploma from a western school in the 1940s, ‘50s and ‘60s. The sentence was twenty-five years in prison or even death. Hysjen Cela was jailed and released after some twenty years. Beqir Çela became a Member of the Albanian Parliament after WWII and, along with other intellectual Albanians and MPs, was quickly proclaimed an “enemy of the state” and executed in 1948. That brought about the end to the publication of the Çela edition of Alice. The book has all but disappeared, with the only surviving copy in tatters in the National Library of Albania.
The word beautiful comes to mind when the “A Mad Tea-Party” portion of the 1944 Albanian Alice is compared to the same text of the later editions published under Communist rule. Its translation is more dynamically equivalent and Carroll’s twists of meaning and nonsense are better explained. I had access to the book only in photocopies of the selected section, but one can easily feel the richness in words, meanings, rhymes, verses, and the serious effort to bring Alice in Albanian as close as possible to the original.
Alice was not available in Albanian from 1944 until 1961 when the “War of Classes” applied by the communists softened a bit and Drago Siliqi was made head of the state publishing house Naim Frashëri. He advocated that selected foreign literature be translated into Albanian; among these selected texts was Alice in Wonderland. He organized many writers and translators and tasked them with selecting foreign literature to translate. A number of the authors and translators selected were later persecuted by the communist regime, but a list of foreign literature was compiled and translators were put to work. Alice was part of that original list, and the translation by Maqo Afezolli, titled Liza në botën e çudirave [Liza in the land of wonders], was completed in 1961 and reprinted many times until 1998. This second Albanian edition and all editions of Alice since are written in the Tosk dialect, also known as the Unified Albanian Language. The short period during which Drago Siliqi directed the state publishing house was referred to by many in the Albanian literary world as “The Light Coming Along.” Unfortunately Siliqi was killed in 1963 in an airplane accident in China while on a professional visit. The years after 1965 brought a worsening of the “War of Classes.” Religion was banned and a cultural revolution occurred in every aspect of life—the ideology of Marxism and Leninism was prevalent and the crazy idea of Dictator Hoxha for “Creating a New Man” took full effect throughout Albania.
Maqo Afezolli’s translation of 1961 was reprinted in Albania and Kosovo and was the only Alice to appear in Albanian until the late 1990s. At this time several other versions were published, some as translations from the original English and several from Italian. In this essay I will discuss the 1985 reprint version of the Maqo Afezolli 1961 edition and the 2006 edition by the brothers Eri and Taulant Tafa who based their translation on an Italian version. It is also titled Liza në botën e çudirave [Liza in the land of wonders.]
The 1985 Afezolli reprint includes a foreword written by children’s book writer, Naum Prifti. It provides a short history of Alice, gives background on Lewis Carroll, and discusses critiques of the book. Prifti provides a general discussion of nonsense and parodied verses, a number of which are omitted from most Albanian editions. The foreword suggests that Alice mocks the western political class and its religion, something that would be unlikely for Lewis Carroll, a conservative Anglican Deacon.
The following analysis pertains to these two editions. I had wanted to compare the 1944 edition and any later one, but the lack of available copies makes the task difficult. Nevertheless, the 1985 edition translated by Maqo Afezolli and the 2006 edition translated from Italian by Tafa brothers differ in a few elements which makes an analysis more interesting and educational. Below I have followed the order of Warren Weaver. The reader should also keep in mind that this is the first ever analysis of Albanian editions. Consider these elements:
The parodied verse “Twinkle, twinkle little bat…” in both editions is translated mechanically. In the 1985 edition the verse is translated, in rhyme, as:
“The bat is twinkling,
I’m thinking hard as to where he is flying to”
In the 2006 version this verse is translated as:
Quietly the bat is running
Covered with a cape”
This is based on an Italian edition and demonstrates a lack of knowledge of the well-known English poem by both the original Italian translator and the Tafas. The Albanian language is rich in such poems that could have been parodied. The Tafas, in e-mail correspondence with me, admit to creating a debatable but artistic translation and said that their choice of words and their case usage in Albanian could have been better because it would have brought something new to the translation.
“To murder the time” is excellent in both editions and it is well used. In Albanian language the phrase “po e vret kohen” which means “to kill the time” is an everyday slang and often is used to joke and to also mock the lazy and the sluggish people. Albanian society, as in many Eastern European countries, is known for wasting time— on coffee and cigarettes for men, gossiping for women, and long hours of outdoors playing for children—so “killing the time” makes good sense when read in Albanian.
“To draw” is missed in both books. Both editions have simply used the verb “draw” as “take out liquid from somewhere or something” and have not elaborated further. The translation is done mechanically and the double meaning “to draw a picture” is totally left out in the translation. In the 1944 edition the authors had made an effort to explain in Albanian the double use of the English verb ‘to draw’ but missed the meaning. In the 1961 and 2006 editions it is missed completely.
“Well-in” is missed in the 1985 edition. In the 2006 edition the word
“BRENDA” (Well-in, inside) is capitalized to emphasize the word, as was also done in the Italian edition.
Manufactured or Nonsense Words
The manufactured word “muchness” is omitted in the 1985 edition and the letter “m” connection is used simply as an irrelevant joke by inserting funny words like moustache, mouse, and mule that could make the reader happy or fearful.
The translators of the 2006 edition mechanically translate the word “muchness” from the Italian version and also fail to make the connection between the Albanian word and other words beginning with m. The word “muchness” was translated as shumë (it actually means “much”) and the reader can be easily confused as it begins with s and the objects all begin with the letter m. The translators could have done better by including other Albanian words beginning with s.
Jokes That Involve Logic
The logical joke of “having less than what is present” has been included in both editions. They are translated well. The Albanian editions should take some pride in “Albanianizing” Carroll’s nonsense in this section of the “Mad Tea-Party.” Both translations are done accurately and effectively and because the Albanian language provides specific applicable words, this comes across as a good joke. Both editions render the jokes the same way as the original.
Twists of Meanings
The efforts to translate twists of meaning are present and while a few are effectively translated and bring the humor equally as in the original, there are some that are translated verbatim and one that makes no sense. The March hare saying “Suppose we change the subject” is present in both editions. The word “treacle” is translated as “karamel” (caramel) in the 1985 edition and as “musht” (a fruity mush) in the 2006 edition.
“Learning to draw, you know” is missed in both editions. As previously explained the lack of double usage of the verb ‘to draw’ was difficult to translate. Some effort could have been made to bring a fair or even poor translation up to the level of the original English edition as the 1944 edition does. But unfortunately none of the post 1944 editions show such an effort.
“Why with an m-?” and “Why not,” the rude answers to the questions are present in both editions. Unfortunately they are mechanically translated and are not logically connected to the “muchness” subject. This relates in particular to the 2006 edition, which makes some effort to elaborate on the “muchness” word but fails to deliver. The 2006 edition translates “Spring Hare” as Martian Rabbit, while Dormouse is translated both as Gjeri (Dormouse) and in a few instances as Ketri (Squirrel), which the translators have said was an oversight.
This year-long “Alice in Translation” project took me through quite a fascinating journey back to the country of my birth and youth, searching and researching, reading and making notes, telephoning and emailing, the end result being an honest though simple account of The Adventures of Alice in the Albanian Wonderland. I expect we will have more editions of Alice in the future as the book will be a staple forever in every Albanian child’s library.Author’s note: This whole effort would never have materialized without the generous support of my husband, John McCormack, who understood what it meant to me to work on this Albanian language literary project; and our three children Sabrina, Kevin, and Edward for their constant help and encouragement; the respectable Albanian of Boston, the gentleman Mr. Van Christo of Frosina Information Network, for having faith in me and recommending me to get involved with this project; Mr. Jon Lindseth and his team for guiding, listening to me, and most of all being very patient with me throughout the process; Ms. Rezarta Dyryzi–Zotaj who is always there for me and rescues me all the time by “fixing” my English or my problems; Mrs. Vojsava Dyryzi for securing the books in Albania; Miss Lindita Komani for her tireless effort at the National Library in Albania, sorting through titles, photocopying, emailing, providing information, and aiding with the bibliography; Mr. Grant Harris of the Library of Congress for obtaining a reference book from a distant location and for his insightful advice and thoughts on the process; Mr. Lekë Mirakaj and Mr.Simon Mirakaj from the Albanian Association of Politically Persecuted for the information on Beqir Çela; Prof. Lluka Qafoku for his valuable information on the late Beqir Çela; Prof. Astrit Bishqemi for information on the Çela translators; Mrs. Laura Siliqi Konda for her information on her father, the late Drago Siliqi; Mrs. Drita Siliqi, authors Naum Prifti and Pëllumb Kulla; Elvis & Gjergji of Shtëpia e Librit for finding a copy of the scarce 1961 edition of Alice; the Dielli newspaper for running ads for the 1944 edition, sadly without success; the Tafa brothers for their invaluable information, communication, and tireless efforts to explain in detail their 2006 edition; Dr. Dashamir Malosmani, the son of the publisher of the very first Alice in Albanian, with whom we recently established contact and who is optimistic that a copy of the lost 1944 edition will be found; and last but definitely not least Mr. Vladimir Misho who traveled a lot, phoned many people in many cities of Albania searching for books, people, resources, and materials. To all I am forever grateful!