At Foyles' foreign language department the other day, I optimistically picked up two children's books in languages I don't know well, operating on the principle that, if I chose something I already knew by heart in another language, I'd be able to figure it out. It worked fine for Struwwelpeter
in German, but this was, alas, a complete failure. My Russian appears to be even worse than I'd thought, and I could hardly understand a word. Damn.
There are really only two things I can tell you about the Russian version of this much-loved Swedish classic. First, the translation seems to be very free; if it were a bit more literal, I'm pretty sure I'd be doing better, and the few lines I can understand are far from the Swedish originals. More interestingly, there is a complete change of metre! In Swedish, it's
DAH DAH-dah DAH-dah DAH-dah
("DJUPT UNder TALLens RÖTTer")
In Russian, as far as I can make out, it's
dah-dah-DAH dah dah-DAH-dah dah-DAH-dah dah-DAH
("gluboKO pod kriVImi kornYAmi sosNI")
This feels very weird! I'm trying to imagine how it can have the same emotional resonances for Russian kids: instead of a cheerful little nursery rhyme, it sounds to me like a tearful lament. But most likely this is just further evidence of my complete ignorance concerning Russian literature.
Our dinner guest last night, a translator at the UN, is fluent in Russian. She looked at this book and read us a few verses.
It sounded much pleasanter than I had expected, but I was also comforted to find that it contained several words she didn't know. Evidently, Russian children's books are trickier than one would think!