27 May 2014

Die Deutsch Brian Moore; or, Ginger Coffey in NYC

At once one of the funniest and most depressing novels ever set in my beloved Montreal, The Luck of Ginger Coffey is a favourite. I expect I've seen three or four dozen cover treatments over the years, but the one gracing this German translation, happened upon this past weekend, really caught my eye. More than anything, I was reminded of a travel poster… and, as it turns out, it was copped and cropped from just that.

Published in 1994, Diogenes' Ginger Coffey sucht seine Glück has the only cover I know that focusses on the protagonist's status as an immigrant. Nothing wrong with that, except that Moore never tells us just how Ginger, wife Veronica and daughter Paulie arrived in Canada. We know that they left Ireland by ship. I guess it's possible that they disembarked in New York. Could be that they then caught a train to Montreal. What I can say for certain is that the Coffeys wouldn't have sailed on the Normandie; it was scrapped in 1946.

I'd planned to make this post about the use of the word "ship" in the novel – It appears fourteen times. How interesting is that! – but the cover drew my attention to the many German-language editions of Moore's novels. I had no idea.

Turns out that the Normandie Ginger Coffey sucht seine Glück is just one of several. All use a translation by Gur Bland, but vary in title. It was first published as Das Blaue vom Himmel in 1963 by Rütten & Loening. The Rowohlt 1970 reissue, as Ein optimist auf seitenwegen, suggests a ribald romp, making the Bantam I Am Mary Dunne appear very tame indeed.

And just look at the hot goings on Büchergemeinschafts-Lizenzausg promises with its 1978 edition of Die frau des arztes (The Doctor's Wife).

Sex sells, of course, which explains Diogenes' 1987 Schwarzrock (Black Robe), suggesting a tale of sapphic love set amongst the 17th-century Algonquins.

The publisher is much more honest with its current edition, though I hasten to point out that the men depicted are Abenaki.

Intentional or not, Diogenes seems particularly adept at choosing misleading images. Here it sells a translation of An Answer from Limbo as Die Antwort der Hölle – The Answer from Hell – slapping on a darkened image of René Magritte's Homage to Mack Sennett; in effect transforming protagonist Brendan Tierney into Jame "Buffalo Bill" Gumb.

The publisher has a curious habit of choosing highly recognizable late-19th-century women as stand-ins for mid-20th-century characters. Its cover for Ich bin Mary Dunne casts Madelaine Bernard in the lead, as captured in Gaugin's Portrait of Madelaine Bernard.

Saturnischer Tanz, Malte Krutzsch's translation of The Feast of Lupercal, uses Manet's Irma Brunner to depict  "boyish, unfinished" Belfast lass Una Clarke.

Dillon, Der Eiscremekönig and Die Versuchung der Eileen Hughes use equally odd details from Edward Hopper paintings. Still, I could match them with their English titles, despite my non-existent German. The one that threw me was Strandgeburtstag, which uses David Hockney's Beach Umbrella.


Google translate comes up with "Beach Party".

Beach Party?

Turns out to be Fergus.

Well, Fergus Fadden does live in Malibu.

The first paragraph of The Luck of Ginger Coffey:
Fifteen dollars and three cents. He counted it and put it in his trouser-pocket. Then picked his Tyrolean hat off the dresser, wondering if the two Alpine buttons and the little brush dingus in the hatband weren't a shade jaunty for the place he was going. Still, they might be lucky to him. And it was a lovely morning, clear and crisp and clean. Maybe that was a good augury. Maybe today his ship would come in.
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  1. Geburtstag is German for Birthday, not party! Birthday on the Beach would be a better translation than Beach Party. But I'm not sure it would lead you to learning it's the German version of Moore's Fergus, a novel I am not familiar with at all. I have issues with Google's translation software all the time. Some of the simplest words get a secondary or even tertiary translated meaning rather than the primary one which is more suitable.

    1. Thank you, John. It's been a couple of decades since I read Fergus. I really can't recall anything about a birthday.

      I found Google's translation of Das Blaue vom Himmel, Pie in the Sky, odd. Is this accurate? The phrase doesn't appear in Moore's text. As for Ein optimist aug seitenwegen… well Google couldn't give me a suggestion.

      Fun fact: It seems that the German publishers have had just as much trouble with Moore's The Feast of Lupercal as their English-language counterparts.I count three different titles, the most bizarre being Die Wölfe von Belfast.

  2. You mistyped the preposition "auf", Brian. Ein Optimist auf Seitenwegen is best translated as The Wayward Optimist. "auf Seitenwegen" literally means "on the byways" or "off the beaten path" in common English slang. As for the other I think the literal translation The Blue of the Sky is nicely poetic. Better yet is Blue Heaven since Himmel can mean either sky or heaven depending on context. Pie in the Sky may very well be an English equivalent to a German idiom I'm not acquainted with. I used to know a lot of German idioms and slang phrases, but they've disappeared along with (thankfully) most of my other high school memories.

    1. It's that damn spell check again, John. What I should've written is not that Google couldn't give me a suggestion, but that what it gave made no sense. Ein Optimist auf Seitenwegen comes our as An optimist on page for. The Wayward Optimist isn't the worst title in that it captures something of the book. The Blue of the Sky is indeed nicely poetic… and appropriate. There are several points at which Coffey looks to the sky, as when he reaches his lowest point:

      "No longer was he a man running uphill against hope, his shins kicked, his luck running out. He was no one: he was eyes staring at the sky. He was the sky."

      It's a wonderful novel.

  3. Love all of his work. Would you cite this book as the best novel set in Montreal? We are looking for one to read before our trip. It's been so many years since I read this is would fall into "new" for me.

    1. The best novel set in Montreal? It's certainly my favourite Montreal Brian Moore novel. If forced to give an award to the best, I think it would go to Gabrielle Roy's The Tin Flute (Bonheur d'occasion).