Friday, July 22, 2011


A new edition of The Last Samurai arrived on the doorstep this morning via FedEx.  I flip through the book with the sense of foreboding which greets each new translation, and find:

Οχυπέφθ y άυδ ςώ ξηιγωφ έοέκωτ Μυρφ θ φ

above the transliteration

muromeno d'ara to ge idon eleese Kronion

[I omit macrons in the depth of my despair]

As so often I am consumed with guilt.  I expect I should have tracked down this new publisher when it first expressed interest in the book and insisted on proofreading the Greek.  It seems to me, though, that they sent in their request in the early days of my representation by Mr Clegg; there were a lot of other things going on.

I should say that, randomised Greek apart, it is a lovely edition.  But oh my poor head.


languagehat said...


Helen DeWitt said...

I know. On second thought, it can't just have been a file that didn't transfer properly, because letters don't have substitutions that are wrong in the same places. Maybe their typesetter was taking revenge for some slight. (Though you'd still think a proofreader would have spotted the difference between the original and what's on the page.)

Helen DeWitt said...

Actually I take that back. Phi seems to correspond to nu in the original. Probably other correlations, though some bits seem to have dropped out.

Снарк said...

Dear Helen,

I am reading Last Samurai right now and enjoing it more than I can say. Thank you very much for it.
May I ask a stupid question about one little detail? When you say that Red Devlin was taked hostages in Azerbaijan and than years later escaped and just walked into the British Embassy in Tbilisi - did you really mean that he got from Azerbaijan to Georgia or was it just a mistake? Sorry for being such a bore but I happen to grow up in the Soviet Union and all this funny countries like Azerbaijan, Georgia, Tadzhikistan etc. etc. are not just names for me.

Thank you once again for tremendous pleasure I'm getting while reading the Samurai.

Helen DeWitt said...

I really did mean that - there was something about the implausibility that seemed right for the character.

Снарк said...

Thank you for answering. I wonder if you can speak Russian? There is a word пошлость which can be roughly translated as 'banality' but this is not what it really means. The thing is that it perfectly describes all that is wrong with Liberace and Lord Leighton and others like them. But may be you do know Russian and this word is familiar to you as well. Just thought you may be interested.
Please excuse my uninvited intrusion into your blog and thank you once again for the book.