Translations: A Play (Faber Paperbacks): Brian Friel: 9780571117420 …

Translations: A Play (Faber Paperbacks): Brian Friel: 9780571117420 …

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Translations


Translations Themes

Brian Friel


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Themes and Meanings

(Survey of Dramatic Literature)

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By setting the action in a hedge-school, threatened by the establishment of a national school which will conduct all classes in English only, Brian Friel creates a final redoubt for Gaelic culture and the revival of classical languages, which themselves had experienced a decline. Hugh draws just such a comparison between the classics and Irish for Captain Yolland by defining the essence of classical, and implicitly Gaelic, languages, in terms of their etymological and vibrant adherence to a principle innately spiritual (“We like to think we endure around truths immemorially posited”). Hugh’s suggestion that the opulence of the Gaelic language provides compensation for the material dearth of the country folk who speak it is the clearest exposition of Friel’s intent in the play.

As the play proceeds, Friel depicts a variety of responses to imminent cultural extinction. In the instance of Jimmy Jack, Gaelic and classical myths have merged so inextricably that he resides in a delusional state which, though charming in his blurring of myth and reality, denies him the opportunity for meaningful change and adaptation. Maire’s decision to flee the potato blight and learn English is portrayed as a logical step in this time of “modern progress,” but it is not passionately embraced by Friel. Captain Yolland’s affection for the Gaelic tongue and manners renders him an attractive figure in the play, though his implied death suggests that the barriers of language are not easily surmounted. Owen’s duplicitous translations of the English for the Irish invest him with an ambivalence which is itself a prison, as he discovers when he is forced to translate into Gaelic the potential violence to be exacted upon County Donegal by Captain Lancey. Hugh’s closing words to Owen sustain his notion that Gaelic myths invigorate a colonized world: “It is not the literal past, the ‘facts’ of history, that shape us, but images of the past embodied in language.” Whether this balance can be maintained under the duress of invasion remains unresolved, and Hugh’s quotation from Vergil regarding the urbs antiqua (the ancient city) analogically bodes ill for Baile Beag, itself an urbs antiqua poised for a heroic fall.

Next:Characters


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Translations Homework Help Questions

  • What are the themes of Translations?

    While there are many themes at work in Brian Friel’s superb Translations, two stand out in particular, and I’ve outlined them below:
    Language as a vehicle of consciousness: Throughout the course of…

  • What are some quotes from Translations?

    Since this question doesn’t specify that the quotes need to be related to any particular theme in Translations, I’ve included a variety of quotes that I think touch on important ideas and themes in…

  • How does Friel emphasise cultural identity in Translations?

    Brian Friel’s play Translations treats the sensible topic of the Irish cultural identity under the scope of the British occupation of Ireland. Moreover, the play touches on delicate themes such as…

  • How does Brian Friel explore colonization in Translations?

    Colonization is one of the primary themes in Brian Friel’s Translations. It is manifest in a variety of ways, although Friel explores the topic in two primary modes: 1) the physical presence of the…

  • Discuss the view that the play Translations by Brian Frieldeals with significant issues both in…

    Brian Friel’s play Translations deals with significant social issues, both from a historical perspective and a current social perspective. Set in 1833, the play tells the story of one…

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The action of this play takes place in late August 1833 at a hedge-school in the townland of Baile Beag – an Irish speaking community in County Donegal. The ‘scholars’ are a cross-section of the local community, from a semi-literate young farmer to and elderly polygot autodidact who reads and quotes Homer in the orginal. In a nearby field camps a recently arrived detachmen
The action of this play takes place in late August 1833 at a hedge-school in the townland of Baile Beag – an Irish speaking community in County Donegal. The ‘scholars’ are a cross-section of the local community, from a semi-literate young farmer to and elderly polygot autodidact who reads and quotes Homer in the orginal. In a nearby field camps a recently arrived detachment of the Royal Engineers, engaged on behalf of the Britsh Army and Government in making the first Ordnance Survey. For the purposes ofr cartography, the local Gaelic place names have to be recorded and transliterated – or translated – into English, in examining the effects of this operation on the lives of a small group of people, Irish and English, Brian Friel skillfully reveals the unexperctedly far-reaching personal and cultural effects of an action which is at first sight purely administrative and harmless. While remaining faithful to the personalities and relationshiops of those people at that time he makes a richly suggestive statement about Irish – and English – history.
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Paperback, 91 pages
Published
April 27th 1981
by Faber Faber


(first published 1981)

More Details…

Original Title
Translations: A Play (Faber Paperbacks)

ISBN
0571117422
(ISBN13: 9780571117420)

Edition Language
English

setting
Baile Beag ,
1833

(Ireland)

Ireland ,
1833


  • Translations, Brian Friel. Notes by John Brannigan
  • Translations: A Play
  • Translations
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Lists with This Book

The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde Angela's Ashes by Frank McCourt Dubliners by James Joyce Dracula by Bram Stoker Ulysses by James Joyce

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Marthine

Jan 29, 2013

rated it
it was amazing

This devastating, gorgeous play about the Ordinance survey of Ireland in the early 19th century is one of the best, if not the best, of Friel’s plays. It is a direct comment on the replacement of Gaelic with English, and it also comments on the role of mapping as an assertion of imperial control through language and representation over land. The whole point is that you have to suspend your disbelief really hard via the Brechtian device of having all characters speaking English but the Irish char
This devastating, gorgeous play about the Ordinance survey of Ireland in the early 19th century is one of the best, if not the best, of Friel’s plays. It is a direct comment on the replacement of Gaelic with English, and it also comments on the role of mapping as an assertion of imperial control through language and representation over land. The whole point is that you have to suspend your disbelief really hard via the Brechtian device of having all characters speaking English but the Irish characters being unable to understand the English characters and vice versa. Like, if we watch a translation of a Sophocles play, we pretend we’re watching Ancient Greeks speaking Greek to one another, as do the actors.

Friel’s incisive choice here highlights the constructed nature of the theatrical experience while simultaneously reminding the contemporary Irish audience for whom it was originally written that they have had their access to the Irish language destroyed by colonization. So, watching the play in English, they are really put on the same side as the British, and so the audience is forced to always be aware of their own political and cultural context as colonized people whose language has been so lost that they wouldn’t even be able to understand their own ancestors. In other words, by having characters pretend not to be able to understand each other in a play about language being lost, watchers then are pulled out of the suspension of disbelief that a play requires. He’s reminding the watchers just how thoroughly they’ve lost that language. Totally brilliant. And clever! And sweet. You care about all of the characters a lot, and the fact that we know, due to the formal choices, that the Irish characters’ culture, language, and way of life was lost, and any resistance was ultimately fairly futile.

And, it was Liam Neeson’s first real breakout role, in Field Day’s production of it way back when in Derry.
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Bettie☯

Sep 04, 2010

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really liked it

Recommends it for:
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Shelves:
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play-dramatisation ,
autumn-2010 ,
brit-isles-ireland


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You would have thought they had had enough of poking readers already. Anyways, I shall leave the link at the top and reiterate my four star love of this ‘free speech/anti_censorship’ declaration.

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Rachel

Feb 09, 2017

rated it
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Shelves:
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Translations , set in a fictional Donegal village in 1833, is a play about a 19th century Ordnance Survey wherein a mass Anglicization of Irish-Gaelic place names occurred. This cartography project sets the context for Friel’s narrative, a story which, for its many layers, is ultimately a bold examination of the function of language.

The characters in the play, a group of students who attend a local hedge school, speak only Irish. In actuality the actors on stage are speaking English, and when Eng
Translations , set in a fictional Donegal village in 1833, is a play about a 19th century Ordnance Survey wherein a mass Anglicization of Irish-Gaelic place names occurred. This cartography project sets the context for Friel’s narrative, a story which, for its many layers, is ultimately a bold examination of the function of language.

The characters in the play, a group of students who attend a local hedge school, speak only Irish. In actuality the actors on stage are speaking English, and when English-speaking soldiers arrive, the audience is meant to infer that the two parties are unable to communicate. The multilingual Irish schoolmaster and his two sons exist at this intersection of language and culture, and the liberties they take in translating back and forth remind us that translation isn’t a wholly linguistic effort: it’s a complex process in which meanings become twisted and manipulated.

Though the students speak very little English, they fluently read Latin and Ancient Greek, this integration of dead languages paralleling the probable future of Gaelic. It also provides a delicate subversion of the traditional colonial narrative which hinges on the conqueror imparting culture upon the ‘barbarians’ – in Friel’s play, the Irish are the educated, the multilingual, the classicists. The function of English then becomes one of eradication rather than enlightenment.

In examining Ireland’s complex socio-linguistic history, Translations is a fascinating look at colonization, English imperialism, and the function of language as a tool that’s at once manipulative, restrictive, and liberating. Although this is a play whose themes are perhaps more interesting than the story itself, the characters are all endearing, and the plot, though slow-moving, keeps you engaged through its conclusion. A challenging, erudite, and moving work. I’d love the chance to see this performed live some day.
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Maxwell

Sep 16, 2013

rated it
really liked it

Shelves:
drama ,
ireland ,
2013 ,
2015

First read in spring of 2013

April 2015: I enjoyed this even more the second time! It was wonderful to revisit it after having read it while studying abroad in Ireland. It not only brought back so many memories for me, but it was easier to understand as well. Having seen the play in Dublin after reading it the first time really helped clarify the image of the play in my mind. And I could revisit that while reading it a second time.

I think this is one of those great plays, like Stoppard’s, that r
First read in spring of 2013

April 2015: I enjoyed this even more the second time! It was wonderful to revisit it after having read it while studying abroad in Ireland. It not only brought back so many memories for me, but it was easier to understand as well. Having seen the play in Dublin after reading it the first time really helped clarify the image of the play in my mind. And I could revisit that while reading it a second time.

I think this is one of those great plays, like Stoppard’s, that raises more questions than it answers. It talks about relationships across cultures, language and translation, loyalty, and the idealization of the past. How we deal with these issues varies among cultures and peoples and nations, and I find that distinction to be interesting. It also reassures that being confused or unsure is not something to be ashamed of.

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Leslie

Oct 20, 2014

rated it
it was amazing

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review of another edition

Shelves:
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A real treat! I liked the way that the play works on different levels. The surface story, the historical, the social commentary about colonialism and the arrogance of renaming all of a country’s landmarks, the idea of words as signposts, the way characters do & don’t communicate even without words.

I have also listened to the BBC Radio adaptation which was marvelous. Perhaps I wouldn’t have loved the written play as much if I didn’t have those voices in my mind…

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Grace Mc

Nov 25, 2012

rated it
it was amazing

9th January 1929- 89 years ago tomorrow Brian Friel was born at Knockmoyle (Cnoc Maol) near Omagh in Co. Tyrone- something I was largely unaware of until I started researching this piece. A hefty helping of Friel added to my literary education in secondary school, when our palettes had been thoroughly prepared by a proper diet of Seamus Heaney’s Blackberries from childhood. Despite this I always assumed Friel was born, and raised, and belonged completely to my hometown of Derry. This is an irrit
9th January 1929- 89 years ago tomorrow Brian Friel was born at Knockmoyle (Cnoc Maol) near Omagh in Co. Tyrone- something I was largely unaware of until I started researching this piece. A hefty helping of Friel added to my literary education in secondary school, when our palettes had been thoroughly prepared by a proper diet of Seamus Heaney’s Blackberries from childhood. Despite this I always assumed Friel was born, and raised, and belonged completely to my hometown of Derry. This is an irritating and endearing habit we Derry ‘wans have of claiming people, particularly successful people, as our own. However, the negotiation of who is chosen and who remains an outsider and why is an endlessly complicated and political affair. Something Translations as a drama encapsulates.

A brief overview of the plot then, for those not familiar:
The play takes place in Donegal, in the fictional town of Ballybeg (or Baile Beag- a joke for the Irish speakers out there as it means ‘small town’) in 1833 on the cusp of the potato famine that would result in the halving of the Irish population and leave the Irish language teetering on the verge of eradication. English cartographers are stationed in Ballybeg and are producing a new map of Ireland, the play follows their interactions with the local population. One of the protagonists, Manus, is unsure about his future when the Irish hedge-schools are closed in favour of so-called ‘national schools’ teaching their curriculums in English. Manus’s brother Owen joins the cartographers as a (poor) translator and one of the English soldiers, Yolland, falls in love with a local girl who is also the object of Manus’s affections. At the end of the play Yolland mysteriously disappears, Manus flees, and the English captain gives orders that the entire town will be destroyed if Yolland is not found. The play ends in uncertainty.

Appropriately for a play about language, there is fairly little action in the play as a whole- even Yolland’s disappearance happens offstage. Most of the drama is created by the difficulty the character’s have interacting and communicating with each other. The play opens with Manus teaching a girl called Sarah, who is mostly mute/heavily speech impaired, to speak aloud. The inability to express oneself in language is apparent from this opening exchange. When the other characters arrive onstage their interactions are mostly comical and it is not until the arrival of the Royal Engineer’s that the audience realises that the lines that are being delivered in English are actually to be imagined as spoken Irish. The structural linguistics paradigm shifts markedly at the introduction of the English soldiers as a binary is created where it never existed before. The staging of Irish as English makes for some very powerful exchanges, where Owen is ‘translating’ the words of the captain to the people, but leaving out important information, or when Maire and Yolland begin to fall in love and speak to each other uncomprehendingly. These exchanges are all carried out in English but the communication ultimately fails, making, I think, a emphatic point about the nature of intra-language exchanges as well as inter-language exchanges.

For the audience watching originally when Translations was first performed in the Guildhall in Derry in 1980, very few would have been fluent in Irish and even fewer would have been first-language Irish speakers although the majority, given the politics of Derry’s locale, would consider themselves Irish, and staunchly so in the 1980s.

Perhaps the most arresting concept of the whole play is what Friel describes in the opening of Act Two- worth quoting at length I think:
Yolland’s official task, which Owen is now doing, is to take each of the Gaelic names—every hill, stream, rock, even every patch of ground which possessed its own distinctive Irish name—and Anglicise it, either by changing it into its approximate English sound or by translating it into English words. For example, a Gaelic name like Cnoc Ban could become Knockban or—directly translated—Fair Hill.
This is the intersection where two cultures meet through their languages and at best, a translation is effected erasing or transforming the original, but at worst nonsense ensures. Words that don’t mean anything in either language. Language reduced to its most basic collection of meaningless phonetics.

Of course, English and Irish aren’t the only two languages explored in Translations. Given that it is a relatively short play, a surprising percentage of the lines are either in Latin or Greek or feature one of the two. In fact, the schoolmaster Hugh is surprised that the Englishmen he meets speak ‘not a syllable’ of the ancient languages and adds that ‘our own [Irish] culture and the classical tongues made a happier conjugation.’ The inclusion of Latin and Greek quoted by the characters while Irish is performed in English is an added element of alienation. Friel cleverly manoeuvres his English-speaking Irish audience throughout the play until they are forced to concede their closest approximation in the play is the naïve, bumbling, but ultimately sympathetic and tragic character of Lieutenant Yolland.

Yolland: Poteen—poteen—poteen. Even if I did speak Irish I’d always be an outsider here, wouldn’t I? I may learn the password but the language of the tribe will always elude me, won’t it? The private core will always be…hermetic, won’t it?

Yolland’s realisation is poignant and perhaps unavoidably true given his fate- but Owen’s optimistic and perhaps naïve response ‘you can learn to decode us’ is maybe not unwarranted either. I think that in this exact moment when Yolland is lamenting his outsider status that I see a kind of shibboleth moment in his diction. He finishes each statement with a reaffirming question, an idiosyncrasy often associated with the Irish. I know that I myself tend to reaffirm what I’ve just said, don’t I? I often do this by asking a question or adding a tautology, so I do.

Every time I read this play I reach a similar impasse. Struck by the force of the schoolmaster’s line that ‘English…couldn’t really express us’ I reflect on my own relationship with English, on my love of words and storytelling and talking, and I wonder if it really could possibly all just be a shadow of what I could be capable of in Irish. And now with a new lens and a very English education I can look around at home, as well as away, and think like Ovid:

I am a barbarian in this place, because I am not understood by anyone.

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Ângela Serrão

May 06, 2016

rated it
really liked it

[mini opinião]
Adorei esta peça, especialmente em termos formais – escrita em inglês por um irlandês onde a maioria das personagens supostamente falam em irlandês, com a participação de outras que falam em inglês; tudo escrito em inglês. Estou a fazer sentido? Imaginem isto a ser representado no palco! É muito interessante ver estas trocas linguísticas e acrescentar o facto de existirem vários registos (personagens de diferentes mundos socioeconómicos). Muito divertido, teve tudo o que é preciso:

[mini opinião]
Adorei esta peça, especialmente em termos formais – escrita em inglês por um irlandês onde a maioria das personagens supostamente falam em irlandês, com a participação de outras que falam em inglês; tudo escrito em inglês. Estou a fazer sentido? Imaginem isto a ser representado no palco! É muito interessante ver estas trocas linguísticas e acrescentar o facto de existirem vários registos (personagens de diferentes mundos socioeconómicos). Muito divertido, teve tudo o que é preciso: comédia, romance e drama. Obviamente que o mais importante são as críticas que Friel faz à sociedade inglesa da época – a falta de educação, de respeito pelas colónias e o seu carácter excessivamente imperialista.
Simplesmente adorei e acho que foi das obras mais interessantes que já estudei 🙂

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Blair

May 12, 2011

rated it
it was amazing

Shelves:
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favourites ,
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Studied at college, which I’m thankful for, because I wouldn’t have loved it as much, I’m sure, without all the breaking down and taking apart and criticising. Responsible for innumerable favourite lines and passages which my best friend and I still quote to each other to this day.

***

Doalty: Ignari, stulti, rustici – pot-boys and peasant-whelps – semi-literates and illegitimates.

Yolland: It wasn’t an awareness of direction being changed but of experience being of a totally different order. I had
Studied at college, which I’m thankful for, because I wouldn’t have loved it as much, I’m sure, without all the breaking down and taking apart and criticising. Responsible for innumerable favourite lines and passages which my best friend and I still quote to each other to this day.

***

Doalty: Ignari, stulti, rustici – pot-boys and peasant-whelps – semi-literates and illegitimates.

Yolland: It wasn’t an awareness of direction being changed but of experience being of a totally different order. I had moved into a consciousness that wasn’t striving nor agitated, but at its ease and with its own conviction and assurance… I may learn the password but the language of the tribe will always elude me, won’t it? The private core will always be hermetic, won’t it?

Hugh: Yes, it is a rich language, lieutenant, full of the mythologies of fantasy and hope and self-deception – a syntax opulent with tomorrows… But remember that words are signals, counters. They are not immortal. And it can happen that a civilisation can be imprisoned in a linguistic contour which no longer matches the landscape of.. fact.

Manus: But when I saw him standing there at the side of the road – smiling – and her face buried in his shoulder – I couldn’t even go close to them… The wrong gesture in the wrong language.

Jimmy: I am a barbarian in this place because I am not understood by anyone.

Hugh: Everything seemed to find definition that spring – a congruence, a miraculous matching of hope and past and present and possibility. Striding across the fresh, green land. The rhythms of perception heightened. The whole enterprise of consciousness accelerated. We were gods that morning… And it was there that we got homesick for Athens, just like Ulysses. The desiderium nostrotum – the need for our own. Our pietas was for older, quieter things… My friend, confusion is not an ignoble condition.
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Phillip

Nov 02, 2012

rated it
it was amazing

Shelves:
drama

Translations is a really interesting play because of the language games it engages in. So many languages lay alongside or atop one another, and the relationships between them are so meaningful that the play becomes incredibly complex. The main two languages in direct conflict are Irish Gaelic and English–the language of the colonized and the colonizers. In early 19th century Ireland (through the 20th century) the British colonial forces tried to (and largely succeeded) wipe out Irish as a langu
Translations is a really interesting play because of the language games it engages in. So many languages lay alongside or atop one another, and the relationships between them are so meaningful that the play becomes incredibly complex. The main two languages in direct conflict are Irish Gaelic and English–the language of the colonized and the colonizers. In early 19th century Ireland (through the 20th century) the British colonial forces tried to (and largely succeeded) wipe out Irish as a language, which was part of a program to cripple (in which they did not succeed) Irish identity. Translations deals with the British army’s program of renaming places in Ireland with English names or Anglicized spellings–so the Irish town name ‘Baile Beag’ gets replaced by the Anglicized ‘Ballybeg.’ These are clearly languages exploring the power relations between the Irish and the British.
The odd and challenging thing about this relationship between Irish and English is that all of the Irish characters are supposed to speak their native language, but the text of the play is written in English. Although there are references to some of the Irish characters wanting to learn English, it is not fully clear until the first British characters show up that the English spoken by the Irish characters is meant to stand in for Irish Gaelic.
Add to this confusion the overlaying of ancient Greek and Latin throughout the play–meant to (contentiously, I would say) connect the Irish language back to the beauty of linguistic antiquity, in contrast to the flat and ugly English language–and the complications and significance of the linguistic play becomes really challenging and really complex in it postcolonial and postmodern implications about the nature of language, identity, and power.

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Priya

Apr 06, 2008

rated it
really liked it

Recommends it for:
those who want to start their own Empire

The last time I read this, I was a young ‘un in my teens so I thought my views of the play were coloured by that but it remains as good a read as I recalled. Considering I’m using another Friel work as(The Key to the City) a source for my thesis, this one–since it’s more explicitly about language, Colonialism and Ireland–was a good follow-up. It’s about Irish history and culture but also about how culture changes in the face of challenges, both internal and external.

The writing (and I’m a Fri
The last time I read this, I was a young ‘un in my teens so I thought my views of the play were coloured by that but it remains as good a read as I recalled. Considering I’m using another Friel work as(The Key to the City) a source for my thesis, this one–since it’s more explicitly about language, Colonialism and Ireland–was a good follow-up. It’s about Irish history and culture but also about how culture changes in the face of challenges, both internal and external.

The writing (and I’m a Friel fan so I’m biased here) is fantastic. He deftly connects the political project (English excursions into Ireland and the changing of place names from Irish to English) with the personal (the romance between two people who don’t speak each other’s language) in ways much better than I’ve described (Obviously I don’t have Friel’s way with words :)). Considering much of the colonisation project was a struggle over language and identity, Translations discusses this without coming off as (too) heavy-handed. Rather like Orwell, Friel is concerned about the long-term effects of colonisation but, more specifically, about what the imposition of a new language (and a new way of being) does to the Irish (and the English).

There’s a lot to get out of Translations: the re-writing of history, the status (and creation) of narratives, the role of language, colonisation and so on. But, Translations is also about the people and how they live(d) their everyday lives and it’s in describing this that Friel’s writing shines.


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S

Apr 23, 2008

rated it
it was amazing

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2008 ,
college ,
plays ,
2009

The first time I read this for college I thought it was terrible, but then realised the way we read plays in english class would make anybody hate them. I’ve had to read it again for a resit and I’ve read it about 3 or 4 times in a few weeks, I can’t get enough of it. The structure is just fantastic.

I think plays are closer to poetry than prose/novels in their technical sense – it’s not about a load of people sitting around complaining about the english, but just the right amount of different t
The first time I read this for college I thought it was terrible, but then realised the way we read plays in english class would make anybody hate them. I’ve had to read it again for a resit and I’ve read it about 3 or 4 times in a few weeks, I can’t get enough of it. The structure is just fantastic.

I think plays are closer to poetry than prose/novels in their technical sense – it’s not about a load of people sitting around complaining about the english, but just the right amount of different themes given in just the right amounts at the right times. Like a good souffle, if you mess those egg whites up, you’ve ruined the whole thing. Too many good plays are ruined by ridiculous tedious scenes. My brain just can’t help but feel a sense of genius from the structure. Wonderful and inspiring.
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Laura

Jan 30, 2015

rated it
really liked it

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irish-literature ,
play ,
read-2015

From BBC radio 4 – Saturday Drama:
A new production of Brian Friel’s masterpiece about language and power.

It’s the summer of 1833. In a hedge-school in Donegal, the schoolmaster’s prodigal son is about to return from Dublin. With him are two army officers. Their aim is to create a map of the area, and, in the process, replace the Irish place names with English equivalents. It’s an act with unexpected and violent consequences.

Thirty years ago playwright Brian Friel and actor Stephen Rea founded th
From BBC radio 4 – Saturday Drama:
A new production of Brian Friel’s masterpiece about language and power.

It’s the summer of 1833. In a hedge-school in Donegal, the schoolmaster’s prodigal son is about to return from Dublin. With him are two army officers. Their aim is to create a map of the area, and, in the process, replace the Irish place names with English equivalents. It’s an act with unexpected and violent consequences.

Thirty years ago playwright Brian Friel and actor Stephen Rea founded the Field Day Theatre Company in Northern Ireland. A company that aimed to provide a ‘fifth province’ in which Ireland’s political and social troubles could be explored and re-imagined. Translations was its first production and became an instant classic. To mark its anniversary, BBC Radio 4 has commissioned a new production, specially adapted for radio by Michael Duke.
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Rima Rashid

Nov 19, 2015

rated it
it was amazing

Some of the best books you read are for school or uni. I absolutely loved this play about Britain’s colonial control over rural Ireland.

The characters hit you in the heart in so many different ways. Young and mute Sarah learning to speak. Manus and Hugh witnessing the erosion of their home as English soldiers are sent to change the “confusing names” of places in Baile Beag. Owen realising too late his role in all of this and poor Yolland struggling to find a place where he belongs.

It’s gut wren
Some of the best books you read are for school or uni. I absolutely loved this play about Britain’s colonial control over rural Ireland.

The characters hit you in the heart in so many different ways. Young and mute Sarah learning to speak. Manus and Hugh witnessing the erosion of their home as English soldiers are sent to change the “confusing names” of places in Baile Beag. Owen realising too late his role in all of this and poor Yolland struggling to find a place where he belongs.

It’s gut wrenching how destructive colonialism was. Abroad and at home. Everything becomes mixed. The old with the new till nobody knows what is correct and incorrect and eventually people start thinking the worst: “I am a barbarian in this place because I am not understood by anyone”.
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Katie

Jul 23, 2017

rated it
it was amazing

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2017

I know I was meant to reread this for booktubeathon but I couldn’t resist. This is such a fabulous play, full of so many complex thoughts, ideas and feelings. There is so much to think about as an English speaking Irish person who lives in an Ireland where place names are anglicised and thought of in their English form first. It’s a powerful examination of one aspect of how colonialism changed my country as well as a look at what it means to be ‘learned’ or ‘educated’ especially when that entail
I know I was meant to reread this for booktubeathon but I couldn’t resist. This is such a fabulous play, full of so many complex thoughts, ideas and feelings. There is so much to think about as an English speaking Irish person who lives in an Ireland where place names are anglicised and thought of in their English form first. It’s a powerful examination of one aspect of how colonialism changed my country as well as a look at what it means to be ‘learned’ or ‘educated’ especially when that entails fluency in so called ‘dead languages’.

One gripe though. Why do we have no fadas on words like Máire and why are words like poitín anglicised to poteen? To me that somewhat undermines the point being made even if it is to make it more accessible to English speakers.
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Lindsay Wilson

May 30, 2012

rated it
did not like it

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plays

I really hated this play. The premise was moderately promising, the idea of languages and cultures colliding as the British tried to come up with new names for places throughout Ireland. But what a snooze it ended up being. Everything seemed deliberately pretentious, particularly the ridiculous amount of obscure Greek history thrown in. But the thing that was most infuriating was the fact that while all characters are speaking English, you have to suspend your disbelief enough to believe that th
I really hated this play. The premise was moderately promising, the idea of languages and cultures colliding as the British tried to come up with new names for places throughout Ireland. But what a snooze it ended up being. Everything seemed deliberately pretentious, particularly the ridiculous amount of obscure Greek history thrown in. But the thing that was most infuriating was the fact that while all characters are speaking English, you have to suspend your disbelief enough to believe that they don’t understand each other, as only the British are ACTUALLY speaking English, and the Irish have had their words “translated” so the audience can understand them. See? If you don’t even understand what I mean as I’ve written it here, you must be able to imagine how infuriating it was to read and then watch. Ugh.
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Samurdhi

Oct 06, 2015

rated it
it was ok

“He said the sooner we all learn to speak English the better! ”

This play clearly shows the manipulation of language. How do you measure the importance of one language over the other? How do you establish that your language is better than the other? Language is something which is entwined with your culture so denying your language and embracing another language can mean rejection of your culture. Some like to do it whole heartedly (those like Owen and Maire) but some reject it (Manus).

I liked the
“He said the sooner we all learn to speak English the better! ”

This play clearly shows the manipulation of language. How do you measure the importance of one language over the other? How do you establish that your language is better than the other? Language is something which is entwined with your culture so denying your language and embracing another language can mean rejection of your culture. Some like to do it whole heartedly (those like Owen and Maire) but some reject it (Manus).

I liked the play although I found it frustrating in some places. The overall idea is very nicely portrayed by the dramatist showing that even though there are more than one language in the world, how the British believe that their language is superior and greater than all the other languages.

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Audra

Apr 20, 2014

rated it
it was ok

The concept for this play sounded interesting and some of the wordplay was. In the end I felt like the story didn’t quite get where it was going. Or maybe the problem is that it’s the same old story of colonization and its ugly truths. I thought the relationship between the two brothers might be flushed out, but it wasn’t. In the end there wasn’t enough newness or depth of character for my taste.

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Ana

Jan 02, 2017

rated it
liked it

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english ,
library ,
do-not-own

Me lo tendría que haber leído en noviembre para una clase but shit happens. Also i’m a mess así que bueno, primer libro del 2017 leído.

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Paul Ryan

Mar 16, 2017

rated it
it was amazing

Read twice now and lucky enough to see a great production the other day. It just improves the more you look at it.

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Maria Grazia

Jul 15, 2018

rated it
it was amazing

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classics ,
contemporary ,
read-in-2018 ,
irish-authors

It’s a 1980 classic and a powerful account of nationhood, dealing with the turbulent relationship between England and Ireland in one quiet country community. But it’s also much more. It’s a timeless and universal play about the power of words, identity, non-communication, culture-clash. It’s about language as a vehicle of cu. lture and about the possibility of truly translating from a language into another. I loved it!

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Princess

Feb 11, 2014

rated it
liked it

This is a familiar enough story for the reader from a former British colony. The English arrive in a small Irish townland, for what appears – at first – to be a purely innocuous reason: they want to draw a map of the area, and they want to Anglicize the Gaelic names that the locals have attached to particular places. Interestingly, the local that they choose to work with – the interpreter, if you will – is a handsome young man, charming and cheerful, where his brother – who resists the English –
This is a familiar enough story for the reader from a former British colony. The English arrive in a small Irish townland, for what appears – at first – to be a purely innocuous reason: they want to draw a map of the area, and they want to Anglicize the Gaelic names that the locals have attached to particular places. Interestingly, the local that they choose to work with – the interpreter, if you will – is a handsome young man, charming and cheerful, where his brother – who resists the English – is lame. This brother (Manus) fits the profile of the resistant native. Although intelligent enough in his own right, he appears deformed, not only in figure, but in speech, for he refuses to speak English, even if he is fluent in the language.

The two brothers are the sons of the Master of the townland’s hedge-school (no more than a former barn where the students learn Greek, Latin, writing, geography, and sums). Most of the action in the play takes place inside this hedge-school, and we learn the different attitudes of the students to English – some admit that it is the language of commerce/ the language that will lead them to better lives in America, where others will admit only the superiority of Greek and Latin.

By the end of the play, however, none of the students’ thoughts or feelings matter. The hedge-school will soon be replaced with an English-only national school. The English have succeeded in translating all the local Gaelic names into English ones, and when one of their own disappears – a Lieutenant, probably done in by one of the locals for daring to take up with one of the local beauties – the English turn openly militant, asserting their power, and assuring the people of the townland that they – the Irish – are utterly dispensable. They must produce the missing Lieutenant, or have their homes razed to the ground. They must take on the English language and English ways, or perish.

This story is heartbreaking. Here, again, is the arrogance of the English as they run rough-shod over a thriving people, leaving behind chaos and broken lives.

I am not sufficiently detached from the story to comment on its literary qualities. (My rating of the book is suspect, too. I do not know if my fight is with the content of the play, or with its style.) In fact, I can say only this: it made for very easy reading, and what’s that they say about easy reading? Ah, yes: “Easy reading is damn hard writing.” I’ll add this: good writing makes for easy reading.


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Sophie

Jun 10, 2017

rated it
it was ok

Shelves:
read-2017 ,
university ,
owned ,
re-read

Okay, I know this is going to sound weird, but if you just kind of… cut out a huge section of this play, I would have really liked it. I liked everything about it, the concept is so interesting. But they have these two characters, Hugh and Jimmy, who just go on and on in Greek and Latin and talk non-stop about Ulysses and it just came across as being pretentious?? The climax was ruined because yer man Hugh went on some feckin’ rant about god knows what!
Ignoring the unnecessary Greek, I think

Okay, I know this is going to sound weird, but if you just kind of… cut out a huge section of this play, I would have really liked it. I liked everything about it, the concept is so interesting. But they have these two characters, Hugh and Jimmy, who just go on and on in Greek and Latin and talk non-stop about Ulysses and it just came across as being pretentious?? The climax was ruined because yer man Hugh went on some feckin’ rant about god knows what!
Ignoring the unnecessary Greek, I think the premise of the play was really clever. You see these British soldiers coming to a random place in Donegal to translate and rename a lot of the areas and to map the area out. The point of the play was the language barrier (everyone is speaking English, but only the British are actually speaking English if that makes sense??), which I thought wasn’t very well executed, except for in the scene with Yolland and Maire. This scene was actually the reason I picked up the play. We had done it in college and I absolutely fell in love with it, and honestly the rest of the play is a giant let down on this scene.
The number one thing that annoyed me in this play (and believe me this is very pedantic) was when there were actual Irish words used. Not one fada was used in the entire play. Every Irish word was spelt wrong. “I heard ‘tra’ meant beach”, haha no sweetie it does not that is not a real word. AND WHAT IS THIS “POTEEN” NONSENSE IT IS “POITÍN”!!! Maire should be Máire?? “Gaelic” goodbye I am so mad at this play and stupid Donegal Irish.
Anyway, thanks for reading folks, I’m going to go to sleep and dream about proper Irish spelling 🙂

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Emily Philbin

Oct 10, 2013

rated it
it was amazing

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An excellent drama! Friel’s “Translations” is a short but powerful play, yet in its own way quiet and understated somewhat, written in 1980 that clearly brings to life the struggle of maintaining a cultural identity by couching such a battle in the seemingly endless dispute between Ireland and England. Taking place in Ireland in the 1830s, Friel depicts a young man unable to see he is compromising his own cultural identity by willingly working to replace Irish place names with Anglicised ones. A
An excellent drama! Friel’s “Translations” is a short but powerful play, yet in its own way quiet and understated somewhat, written in 1980 that clearly brings to life the struggle of maintaining a cultural identity by couching such a battle in the seemingly endless dispute between Ireland and England. Taking place in Ireland in the 1830s, Friel depicts a young man unable to see he is compromising his own cultural identity by willingly working to replace Irish place names with Anglicised ones. As the drama unfolds, Owen, whose name is lost on the English and is called Roland instead, slowly begins to recognise that he is losing his own identity to these English surveyors much like his country is being suppressed and attempts are made to strip it of its “Irishness.” Owen’s earlier cavalier attitude toward names — he says, “It is only a name” at one point in the first act — changes too late, and Owen and the audience are left with the understanding that this culture will never be the same once its names are gone. This focus on names reminded me of Arthur Miller’s 1953 play “The Crucible” where John Proctor, toward the end of the play, recognises that his name is the only one he will have, and he refuses to give up his name “because it is [his] name!” and thus his identity. Though neither character has the power to stop what is happening around him, both realise the importance of naming, of identity and the danger of losing identity as the plays make clear reclaiming a lost identity seems impossible.

Beautifully done, powerful, and touching — I highly recommend it.
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Laura Buechler

Aug 12, 2009

rated it
really liked it

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A few weeks ago I read a play in my History of Drama class that really capitivated me. It’s Translations by Brian Friel, set in the early nineteenth century, and it tells the story of a group of Irish peasants/farmers struggling to get an education in a hedge-school because the British Empire has made public Irish education illegal. This is set agains the backdrop of the arrival of a group of British army surveyors who are there to map the region – meaning, either renaming or translating the Gae
A few weeks ago I read a play in my History of Drama class that really capitivated me. It’s Translations by Brian Friel, set in the early nineteenth century, and it tells the story of a group of Irish peasants/farmers struggling to get an education in a hedge-school because the British Empire has made public Irish education illegal. This is set agains the backdrop of the arrival of a group of British army surveyors who are there to map the region – meaning, either renaming or translating the Gaelic names into proper English ones.

Naturally, language is a central theme in this play. The students argue about whether they should learn English – is it a threat that will cause them to lose their cultural identity, or is it the only way they will survive in the new world being built around them? In the end, the British military use their completed maps to invade the countryside and take over completely. In the process of learning about the land and translating its secrets into concepts they could understand, they have taken all the power away from the Irish.

I was fascinated by the whole story. It fits right in to my passion about language – without it, we are powerless: we cannot form thoughts let alone act on them. Language is a surefire way to either give or take power, and the history of colonialism affirms this.
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Zan

Oct 09, 2011

rated it
it was amazing

Everyone in my programme was buzzing about this play the other day, and I’ve heard a great deal about it before, so I finally sat down to read it. And I loved it.

This play is based on the concept of the Ordnance Surveys taking place in Ireland in the 1830. The purpose of the project was to map the country in great detail, six inches to the mile, as well as to standardize the names of places in Ireland. The action of the play also revolves around a hedge school, a type of school that predated the
Everyone in my programme was buzzing about this play the other day, and I’ve heard a great deal about it before, so I finally sat down to read it. And I loved it.

This play is based on the concept of the Ordnance Surveys taking place in Ireland in the 1830. The purpose of the project was to map the country in great detail, six inches to the mile, as well as to standardize the names of places in Ireland. The action of the play also revolves around a hedge school, a type of school that predated the National School system, and was meant to teach Latin, Greek, English (sometimes), and Maths.

The tension of language is present throughout, especially since the play is written in English. A fascinating part of the play’s structure is that though English is the main medium, it is clear that some characters are supposed to be speaking Irish, while others speak English. I find it is a fascinating structure.

Irish/English language shifts and tension are my bread and butter, so this play really drove that home for me.
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Sarah

Feb 22, 2009

rated it
it was amazing

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drama ,
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A gorgeous play, one Friel might be more remembered for in the long run, rather than Dancing At Lughnasa. This work centers on an 1800s Irish village, and its struggle to maintain the Irish language when the new British rulers come in and start renaming everything in sight. Only one of the soldiers is charmed by the indigenous culture and his attempts to communicate in the incorrect language with Sarah, the local he has fallen in love with, create the beating heart of the matter: language define
A gorgeous play, one Friel might be more remembered for in the long run, rather than Dancing At Lughnasa. This work centers on an 1800s Irish village, and its struggle to maintain the Irish language when the new British rulers come in and start renaming everything in sight. Only one of the soldiers is charmed by the indigenous culture and his attempts to communicate in the incorrect language with Sarah, the local he has fallen in love with, create the beating heart of the matter: language defines human culture, but language is transcended by true empathy with another individual.
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Joseph

Apr 26, 2009

rated it
it was amazing

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About the only thing I can say against this play is that I’m completely incapable of imagining it inside my head. The Celtic words are so strange that they continually drag me away from the play, as I try to figure out how they sound, and the fact that Friel uses English to represent two different languages doesn’t help.

But none of this is any fault of the play, but merely a symptom of my own ignorance. In truth, the play is brilliant, addressing language as both a form of healing and as a corru
About the only thing I can say against this play is that I’m completely incapable of imagining it inside my head. The Celtic words are so strange that they continually drag me away from the play, as I try to figure out how they sound, and the fact that Friel uses English to represent two different languages doesn’t help.

But none of this is any fault of the play, but merely a symptom of my own ignorance. In truth, the play is brilliant, addressing language as both a form of healing and as a corrupting and oppressive power.
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Anna-Maria Morgenstern

Mar 30, 2016

rated it
really liked it

Even though this book just has 91 pages, the characters grew on me in that short time. The book was interesting and the plot went into a direction I did not expect at all.
Definitely recommending this one! Loved it.

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Cleo Harper

Mar 15, 2017

rated it
really liked it

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plays

This story revolves around English officers sent to Ireland to rename cities and landmarks with “more recognizable” names. It’s short and sweet, with a tragic ending, but has a few funny moments when two people who don’t speak the same language say the same thing and the other doesn’t understand

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Padraic

May 23, 2008

rated it
it was amazing

Shelves:
ireland ,
irish-language ,
read-and-loved

A people forget how to speak. Dún Laoghaire becomes Kingstown. We all get drunk. So it goes.

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About Brian Friel

Brian Friel
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Brian Friel is a playwright and, more recently, director of his own works from Ireland who now resides in County Donegal.

Friel was born in Omagh County Tyrone, the son of Patrick “Paddy” Friel, a primary school teacher and later a borough councillor in Derry, and Mary McLoone, postmistress of Glenties, County Donegal (Ulf Dantanus provides the most detail regarding Friel’s parents and grandparents
Brian Friel is a playwright and, more recently, director of his own works from Ireland who now resides in County Donegal.

Friel was born in Omagh County Tyrone, the son of Patrick “Paddy” Friel, a primary school teacher and later a borough councillor in Derry, and Mary McLoone, postmistress of Glenties, County Donegal (Ulf Dantanus provides the most detail regarding Friel’s parents and grandparents, see Books below). He received his education at St. Columb’s College in Derry and the seminary at St. Patrick’s College, Maynooth (1945-48) from which he received his B.A., then he received his teacher’s training at St. Mary’s Training College in Belfast, 1949-50. He married Anne Morrison in 1954, with whom he has four daughters and one son; they remain married. From 1950 until 1960, he worked as a Maths teacher in the Derry primary and intermediate school system, until taking leave in 1960 to live off his savings and pursue a career as writer. In 1966, the Friels moved from 13 Malborough Street, Derry to Muff, County Donegal, eventually settling outside Greencastle, County Donegal.

He was appointed to the Irish Senate in 1987 and served through 1989. In 1989, BBC Radio launched a “Brian Friel Season”, a series devoted a six-play season to his work, the first living playwright to be so distinguished. In 1999 (April-August), Friel’s 70th birthday was celebrated in Dublin with the Friel Festival during which ten of his plays were staged or presented as dramatic readings throughout Dublin; in conjunction with the festival were a conference, National Library exhibition, film screenings, outreach programs, pre-show talks, and the launching of a special issue of The Irish University Review devoted to the playwright; in 1999, he also received a lifetime achievement award from the Irish Times.

On 22 January 2006 Friel was presented with a gold Torc by President Mary McAleese in recognition of the fact that the members of Aosdána have elected him a Saoi. Only five members of Aosdána can hold this honour at any one time and Friel joined fellow Saoithe Louis leBrocquy, Benedict Kiely (d. 2007), Seamus Heaney and Anthony Cronin. On acceptance of the gold Torc, Friel quipped, “I knew that being made a Saoi, really getting this award, is extreme unction; it is a final anointment–Aosdana’s last rites.”

In November 2008, Queen’s University of Belfast announced its intention to build a new theatre complex and research center to be named The Brian Friel Theatre and Centre for Theatre Research.


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Books by Brian Friel

Dancing at Lughnasa
Philadelphia, Here I Come!
Faith Healer
The Freedom of the City
Making History

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Trivia About Translations

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Quotes from Translations

“To remember everything is a form of madness.”


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“…that it is not the literal past, the ‘facts’ of history, that shape us, but images of the past embodied in language.”


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