Lost in Translation

Posted by Daniel on Jun 25, 2010 - 6 comments

I am aware that I've been neglecting my "neglected classics". These are books about BC (a list appears at right) that I think deserve a better fate than to moulder unread on the back shelves of your local library. So here's another.

Eva Hoffman published her emigration memoir, Lost in Translation: A Life in a New Language, in 1989. It is a brilliant book about identity and childhood and language and lots of other things.

The book is divided into three sections. The first concerns Hoffman's post-war Polish childhood. The fact that it is titled "Paradise" gives you some idea of what she thinks about her parents' decision to emigrate to Canada in 1959, when the memoirist was thirteen years old.

This brings us to part two ("Exile") and the BC part of the story. The Hoffman family crosses Canada by train ("vast, dull and formless") and settles in Vancouver, very reluctantly in Eva's case. She arrives with a heavy heart and never really adapts to life on the West Coast. One of the charms of Lost in Translation is the way it contradicts our smug certainty that all immigrants feel lucky to be here.

I am approximately the same age as Eva Hoffman and while she was attending Eric Hamber High School I was not far away at another west side school. If our paths had crossed, which they did not, I'd have been intimidated by her intelligence and "foreignness". My parochial little world, filled as it was by basketball and visits to White Spot, had no room for such exoticism.

This world with which I was so familiar gives Eva a severe case of culture shock. The manicured lawns, the plumbing, the processed food, the otherworldliness of the New World: everything is strange and alienating. Her book is all about the psychological trauma of emigration.

The third part of the book is about Eva's life after she left Canada, which she did as soon as she graduated from high school. But the favourite part for me remains her tart observations on Vancouver in the '60s, my Vancouver, from the point of view of an opinionated outsider.

Labels: BOOKS