A very recent article directed to the Brazilian magazine “Piauí” (not yet published), with a critical introduction of Letters to Véra – Vladimir Nabokov, Edited and Translated by Olga Voronina and Brian Boyd ( Penguin Classics, 2014), by Jorio Dauster, brought out a few excerpts from the VN letters, also translated to the Portuguese by Dauster.
The difficulty of finding a corresponding term of endearment, without transmuting it into a strangely odd and cold form of address, must have begun during its original translation from the Russian by Olga Voronina.*  One of the selected letters began:


Letter dated 10/vi-26:


            This morning, they brought me your third letter, along with my fastbreak. Oh, dipod…” [   ] “Oh, my love, my sweet, my dear one. We walked to Todmoos from St. Blasien on foot. It was burning hot, and I took my shirt off. Tuftikins…My fabulous dipodikins… I’ll read a bit and go to bed.

V. ”  (p.69, LV,2014).


Brian Boyd’s appended Notes were indispensable:  Dipod : “In Russian, tushkan (tuschkanik means ‘jerboa’); jerboas form most of the family Dipodidae.”  (p.568/569). The cuddly term, though, didn’t come out as soft and special as expected (the translator’s first try settled on “gerbinha,” an expression that is almost impossible to trace back to its original form or even visualize) and the choice of “ratinha” (little mouse) is still being considered.

A word that’s too foreign to fit in and excessively modern to be acceptable, but which has gained a faithful following (and even a cover in Time magazine**), was once suggested, in connection to the “dipodidae,” in a blog about pets: “Pikachu” … I confess that Japanese anima cartoons sometimes pop into my mind when I try to figure VN’s choice adding sound and image to his “beasties”!




* In 1926, when Véra was recuperating at a Sanatorium Southern Germany, he invented a zoo of minuscule creatures, some of which may be spin-offs from the unheard-of names he painstakingly coined for her, a fresh appellation in every letter. Many of these “beasties” are indeed little animals, feline and canine in origin … others are strikingly human, such as Mrs. Tufty, a snappy dresser, or Mr. Darling…Nabokov’s verbal jauntiness has overwhelmed many a translator, but his quirky Russian endearments are a new challenge…Nabokov’s endearments reflect his fascination with verbal games in his native tongue… (Translating Letters to Véra, Olga Voronina, lvi/lvii. LV, 2014)


** Pokemon' hit TV show & video game. courtesy  Nintendo.


TIME Cover: Pokeman - Nov. 22, 1999



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