Oct 2, 2011

L'analphabète (The Illiterate) (2)

In the previous journal I wrote about Agota Kristof and her novel "L'analphabète". She wasn't a native French speaker but she wrote novels in French.

She herself wrote, "I know that I will never be able to write in French as well as native French authors, but I will try to write the best thing that I can write."

In fact her words and sentences are simple, but she could express her deep thoughts and feelings. Her works must encourage every foreign language learner.

I'll translate the last chapter of "L'analphabète". (I can't read French, so I translated it from Japanese translation.)

One day one of my friends living in my neighborhood said to me,
"I watched a TV program about foreign woman workers. They work all day and do housework and take care of their children at night."
I replied,
"So did I, when I had just moved to Swiss."
She said,
"Furthermore, they can't speak French well."
"I couldn't speak French, either."
She was embarrassed. She couldn’t talk to me about the surprising story of foreign women, which she had known through TV. She couldn't even imagine that I was one of the women who didn't know the language that was spoken where they lived, worked at factories and did housework at night, because she completely forgot my history.
I myself remember them now; the factory, shopping, taking care of my children, cooking and the language that I didn’t know. It was hard to make a conversation in the factory, where it was too noisy. We could just talk while smoking a cigarette in a restroom.
My woman colleagues told me the necessities. They pointed out the view of Val de Luc and said, "It's fine." They touched my body and told me other words: hair, arm, hand, mouth and nose.
In evening I went back home with my child. When I talked to her in Hungarian, my little daughter opened her eyes widely and looked hard at me.
She once began to cry, because I couldn't understand what she said. In another time she also began to cry, because she couldn't understand what I said.
It was five years since I came to Swiss. I could speak French, but I couldn't read it. I was back to an "analphabète". It was me that could read a book at the age of four.
I knew the words. But when I saw them, I couldn't find that they were the words. Spelling and pronunciation are so different. In Hungarian we spell words the same as their pronunciation, but in French they are totally different.
I can't remember how I had lived for five years without reading books. I had read "Monthly Hungarian Literature", which published my poems, once a month. I sent Hungarian books from the Geneva library, too. I had already read most of them, but I didn't care. It was better that I had something to read than nothing, even if I had read them before. And more I was lucky that I could wrote something in Hungarian.
My daughter will be six years old soon. She will start going to school.
I will start, too. I will go to school again. I registered for the summer seminar at the University of Neuchâtel at the age of twenty-six in order to learn reading. It was a French class for foreign students. There were English, American, German, Japanese and Swiss in German area. The first placement test was a paper test. I couldn't get good marks at all and got put into the beginners class.
After several lessons, the teacher said to me,
"You can speak French very well. Why are you in the beginners class?"
I said to him,
"I can't read or write. I'm illiterate."
He smiled,
"I doubt that."
After two years I got a certificate in French with high grades.
I can read. I became able to read again. I can read everything that I want to read: Victor Huge, Rousseau, Voltaire, Sartre, Camus, Michaux, Francis Ponge, and Sade. I can read non-French authors' works through translations. Faulkner, Steinbeck, and Hemingway. This world is full of books, which I've became able to read at last.
And then I had two more children. I'll lean reading, writing, and verb usages with my children.
When my children ask me the meaning of a word or its spelling, I'll never say,
"I don't know."
I'll say,
"I'll check it out."
I'll never be tired of looking it up in a dictionary again and again. I'll find out what I don't know. I became a dictionary lover.
I know that I will never be able to write in French as well as native French authors, but I will try to write the best thing that I can write.
I haven't chosen this language. The destiny happened to impose this language on by chance.
I cannot avoid writing in French. This is a challenge.
Yes, it is a challenge of an "analphabète".


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