Re: RARA-AVIS: A Rage in Harlem/ Wherefore Art thou, Chester?

Etienne Borgers (
Wed, 18 Mar 1998 00:49:36 +0800 (SGT) >On Thu, 12 Mar 1998, James Stephenson wrote:
>: Himes's novels were all written in English, but translated into
>: French by various translators for Gallimard.
>Do you know the quality of the French translations? Himes' style
>and language don't look easy to translate.
>William Denton

I'm a little late with my comment about Chester Himes.

'A Rage in Harlem', was the first mystery novel by Himes and it was
published first in France, in French - in 1958. As James Stephenson
commented rightly: the novel was written in American English by Himes; this
on the request of Marcel Duhamel, legendary French editor of the famous
'Serie Noire' , mystery series published by Gallimard in France since 1945.
At the time, Himes was residing in France.
Duhamel was also the French translator of an earlier book by Himes for
Gallimard ( that was not a mystery novel).

The original title given by Himes to his first hard-boiled mystery book was:
'The Five cornered Square' published in French as "La Reine des Pommes"
Both titles carrying slang effect ("square" in American for conventional,
old fashion - I guess)- French title is in French slang : a real stupid person.
My memory of the quality of the French translation (by M. Danzas) of the
text is thin, as the first time I read it in French, it was on its first
issue - that by the way received a mystery literature prize in France in
1958. But the intensive use of colloquial French ( and slang) in the
translation of dialog was of good effect, close to the intentions of Himes,
I think.
Anyway, at the time Himes' knowledge of French was close to zero, by his
own description in his autobiography.

The error of believing that the novel was originally written in French, came
probably by some mistakes done by journalists in the French press of the
time, as Himes and his successful book were highly commented.
I personally think that Duhamel did not correct this as it made his writer
even more interesting for the local public... besides the fact Himes was a
Black American.

As for "A Rage in Harlem", Himes did not like this tittle, and was
insisting during his negotiations with Avon that they keep his original
title: The Five cornered Square. Up to the point of creating a quarrel with
the American editor.

There is another English title for this novel, for one of its early
publications in USA: For the Love of Imabel

A total of seven novels by Himes were originally published in French in
'Serie Noire', from 1958 to 1961 ( 6 of them with the two famous detectives
Ed Coffin and Gravedigger).

To complement the list of publishers carrying today reissues of Himes' books,
The Old School Bus must not be forgotten.

Himes' autobiography : The Quality of Hurt (1972)
(2 books) My Life of Absurdity ( 1976)
mainly describing his stay in Europe, is a necessary reading for anyone
interested in this great writer.

Hard-Boiled Mysteries

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