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30 June 2015



Bajaja and Viewegh title translation competition

In the autumn of this year, Jantar Publishing will be launching four new titles.

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Bajaja and Viewegh title translation competition
Bajaja and Viewegh title translation competition

Time & Location

30 June 2015

London, London, UK

About the event

In the autumn of this year, Jantar Publishing will be launching four new titles. Two of the titles have given us many sleepless nights due to the difficulty of rendering them into “catchy” idiomatic English and we thought it would be an excellent idea to share the load beyond Jantar HQ and invite our friends to join in a competition.

The rules are very simple:

1. The competition is open to everyone including the Jantar HQ.

2. The judges’ decision is final.

3. The closing date is 30 June 2015.

4. If you can only think of one title, just send it in. It still counts. In the unlikely event that two people come up with the same titles, then each person will get a separate prize. All submissions are to be sent to with “New Book Title Competition” in the subject bar.

5. The prize will be a signed copy of the English book plus an undefined “goodie bag” which will include the early and now deleted paperback editions of “The Angel-maker”, “Prague. I see a city” and “Kytice”.

6. Finally, this is supposed to be fun. Start now!

The two book titles are Antonín Bajaja’s “Na krásné modré dřevnici” and Viewegh’s “Báječná léta pod psa”.

Book 1 - Anotonín Bajaja: “Na krásné modré dřevnici”

The title’s literal meaning is “On the Beautiful Blue Dřevnice” which doesn’t exactly roll off the native English tongue. The beautiful blue Drevnice in the title is the river running though the small city of Zlín and it offers a clear allusion to Strauss’s “Blue Danube Waltz”. It isn’t clear in the text whether the author means this ironically but the river also runs through the author’s garden and features in the narrative. The narrative itself is a series of letters to the author’s sister featuring episodes of the “small history” of the city’s Jewish community from the mid 1930s to 1990. This includes an exodus of the city’s Jewish population before and during World War II, the communist takeover in 1948, the renaming of the city after the first communist president and so on. The people named in it are real people including the author’s sister but for some reason, she is given the English name, “Jeanne”, rather than the Czech name, “Jana”. (My favourite theme in the book features the author’s observation that animal droppings change colour depending on the activities of the government of the time).

If you want to get all inter-textual you could also play on the English translation of the Russian author Sholokhov’s Tikhii Don (which literally means “Quiet Don”) – “And Quiet Flows the Don”, the Don and the Danube are etymologically connected, possibly via a Vedic river goddess (I’ll stop there, I get all excited about etymology). Maybe a verb would sound better in the English title than a sort of prepositional construction. Perhaps better to get away from the Danube reference and come up with something catchy involving simply “a river”?

I’m sure that someone creative can come up with a play on words or a play on an English idiom featuring the words: “waltz”, “river”, “blue”, “sister” or anything else that comes to mind.

Book 2 - Michal Viewegh: “Báječná léta pod psa”

The title’s literal meaning is “Those Wonderful Years under the dog”. The phrase “pod psa”[under the dog]” is a Czech idiom which basically means “bad”. So there you have our problem....”Those Wonderful Bad Years” is not a title that will sell a book. The text is a semi-biographical account of the author’s life from the 1960s to around 1990. It is affectionate, funny and features numerous episodes that will have you in tears of laughter. The book was released as a film in 1997, staring the same actors as the Oscar winning film, “Kolya”, released in 1996. The title was translated then as “Those Wonderful Years of Lousy Living” and “Those Wonderful Years That Sucked”. Though the film is a really lovely and funny creation, I suspect that it didn’t do well outside the Czech Republic partly because the English title was so horrible.

I think there must be an English solution that involves a play on the English idiom “Dog Years” or any other idiom of phrase that features some or all of the words: “Dog”, “bad”, “good”, “year(s)”. Some of you might have other ideas based on familiarity with the original text. I have also suggestions on rendering “báječná” as “heavenly” and “pod psa” as “wretched”.

However, please remember than we seek catchy, idiomatic English titles here, please do not feel constrained by the translation of the original...

That’s it. Good luck. Remember the deadline is the end of June this year!

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