Lost in Translation

Text

Our modest apartment is considered respectable by postwar Polish standards, if only because we have it all to ourselves. The kitchen is unusually steamy with large pots of soup cooking on the stove for hours, or laundry being boiled in vats for greater whiteness; behind the kitchen there is a tiny balcony, barely big enough to hold two people, on which we sometimes go out to exchange neighbourly gossip with people peeling vegetables, beating carpets, or just standing around on adjoining balconies. Looking down, you see a paved courtyard, in which I spend many hours bouncing a ball against the wall with other kids, and a bit of a garden, where I go to smell the few violets that come up each spring and climb the apple tree, and where my sister gathers the snails that live under the boysenberry bushes, to bring them proudly into the house by the bucketful.

Aside from the kitchen, our apartment consists of the “first room”, with a large mahogany chifforobe, a blue porcelain-tile stove reaching from floor to ceiling, the table on which we take our meals, and my parents’ sofa bed. The “second room” serves as the bedroom for my sister and me. The bathroom has a gas stove to heat up the water, and it’s quite an ado to prepare a hot bath. At the beginning of each winter, a man in peasant garb brings us a supply of coal and thin-chopped wood for the whole apartment, and sometimes I’m sent to fetch some from the basement - a dark, damp place into which I peer nervously before plunging in and filling my two buckets with the coal stacked on our pile.


Commentary

Eva Hoffman’s novel Lost in Translation tells the story of a young woman’s experience of her family’s emigration from Poland to North America in the period of the Cold War. These extracts use the characteristics of the domestic interior to define striking contrasts between material possessions, social and cultural attitudes and divergent ideas of what ‘home’ can be. Central to the contrast are conflicting notions of warmth, both physical and emotional, and differing ideas and ideals of the public and private spheres.

Themes

Boundaries and Thresholds
Identities
Human Relationships

Dominant Representational Strategies

Dwelling

Type
Residential
Detail
Apartment
Historical Terminology
Specified Social Level
Upper Middle

Activities

Type
Eating and Drinking
Hygiene and Upkeep
Intellectual, Cultural and Spritual
Physical States and Actions
Detail
Cooking
Arranging
Managing
Playing
Talking
Standing

Rooms

Type
Kitchen
Utility
Other / Unknown
Bathroom
Bedroom
Historical Terminology
‘First room’
‘Second room’

Inhabitants

Type
People
Detail
Female

Objects

Type
Equipment
Detail
Heating
Tools, Utensils and Appliances

Bibliography

Direct Cross-References

Lost in Translation

Eva Hoffman 1998

Book, JA1008

Indirect Cross-References

Names
Eva Hoffman
Date(s)
1998
Country
Poland
USA
Historical Region
Description
Format
Book
Type
Genre
Novel
Publication
Vintage Books, London, 1998, pp.11-12
Originally published in Britain by William Heinemann, 1989
Copyright
Reproduced by permission of Eva Hoffman
Location
Record ID
JA1007