Oberlin Blogs


February 16, 2013

Emily Wilkerson ’15

For my winter term project, I went home to Niskayuna to translate a short story from German to English. To help me narrow down which story I would be translating, I decided to work on a contemporary story that hadn't been translated before, two qualifications that often go together. I was also interested in translating a work by a woman because I find that even at Oberlin, a comparatively progressive college, the things I read in my classes, no matter the language, are overwhelmingly written by men. After skimming through some short stories by a couple of female authors, I chose Roman von einem Kinde by Barbara Honigmann. Although some might not consider this story contemporary, it was published in 19861, it fit all of my other qualification since Honigmann is a woman and this story has never been translated as far as I can find (interestingly, she's done some translations herself, from Russian to German, and some of her other works have been translated into English).

A this point I should probably tell you what the story is about, but Roman von einem Kinde doesn't really have a plot. All 33 pages (12 single-spaced pages in Word) are written as a letter from a female narrator to her former lover Josef. In the letter, she recounts various moments from her life that made her feel isolated or alone, including her failed engagement and a thoroughly depressing Seder. Translating such a long story was an interesting experience. I learned a lot of new words and I feel much more comfortable reading German now, but translating from a language that you have limited knowledge of is really difficult. Most of the time I felt like I was doing a fine job, but occasionally I just didn't know what the original was trying to say, no matter if I looked up every individual word and scoured the internet for colloquial phrases that I might've been missing. There was one particular section in which the author quoted Goethe at length that was incredibly frustrating to translate, but I got through it and I think (I hope) I got a decent translation out of the experience.

I easily could've completed this project in Oberlin, in fact, I might've been able to complete it better in Oberlin, but I chose to come home nonetheless and I can't say I regret it. Often when I go home for two weeks or less, I feel like I don't have enough time to do all of the things I want to do. But because I was home for six weeks this time, I had time to relax2, run errands, and even go on some little adventures.

I visited my Grandparents and got to see my cousins on Cape Cod...

Noah and Lachlann
Little bro and my youngest cousin, technically a cousin once removed I think.
Because every 14 year-old girl needs a set of fake mustaches for Christmas

Four Seas
The best ice cream place on the Cape. A few years ago they started opening on select days during the winter. We had to get some delicious Chip Chocolate before heading back home.

Spent Christmas and my birthday (January 1, yes I was the first baby of the year in my town) with my family...

Pretty house
Snowy day

Spent New Year's Eve with my friends...

Emily on the keys
My idea of a fun New Years Eve is improving some old Broadway and Disney songs with Emily at the piano.

Went to a few of my favorite restaurants...

One of my favorite things about Ambition, the restaurant depicted above, is the awesome decor, which ranges from photos of the owners with actors from touring shows (and Ryan Gosling) to bottle caps to album covers. Not to mention that the sandwiches are named for awesome regional jokes like "Union Girl," "Steinmetz Pretzel," and "Lox 8."

Went swing dancing for the first time...

Did lots of knitting and reading...

Color coordinated books are always the way to go.

Took my 14-year-old brother Noah on a day trip to New York City so we could see the Vlogbrothers and the Mountain Goats perform at Carnegie Hall...

Noah and I

This Year
The Mountain Goats playing "This Year" with everyone involved with the event dancing on stage.
Evening of Awesome
One of the most amazing experiences of my life.

Saw my best friends from high school multiple times...

And took tons of pictures of my cat, natch.

So hard to choose a favorite cat photo...

I find that when I stay home for a slightly longer amount of time, in this case six weeks rather than two weeks (the length of Oberlin's winter break), I'm able to settle in better and just live at home rather than feel like I'm visiting. For that reason alone, staying home for winter term rather than going to Oberlin or some big city was 100% worth it.

1 In other words, the story was written before German Reunification, which led to some odd moments of culture shock since I was born after the fall of the Berlin Wall and honestly have trouble imagining a divided Germany.

2 The West Wing got added to Netflix a few days after Christmas. Enough said.

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