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ISSN 1409-6900 | UDK 82+7     Blesok no. 42 | volume VIII | May-June, 2005



                     Peer-reviewed journal
Blesok no. 42May-June, 2005

Gained in Translation

p. 1
Erica Johnson Debeljak

    In April 1992, I had a rendezvous with my long-distance lover, Aleš, in Rome. I had traveled on a transatlantic flight from New York and he had traveled by train from Slovenia. Sitting down on a bench in the Piazza Navona waiting for him to appear, I opened the book that I had started on the plane the night before: Immortality by Milan Kundera. While it may be difficult to become absorbed in a tale of fictional lovers when waiting at the center of an empty piazza for a real lover to appear, Kundera’s narrative sweep and originality were such that they drew me in. I had finished one chapter – the one that ends with Paul racing to Agnes’ hospital bed desperate for a last kiss – and was turning the page to embark upon another, when I sensed someone beside me on the cool stone bench and felt the touch of a hand at the small of my back. I looked around to see Aleš’s face, long-distance no more, looking into my own.
    In that instant, Kundera’s Paul and Agnes vanished into the bright sunlit square. Aleš, unknowingly taking up Paul’s fictional impulse, leaned in to kiss me but just as his lips were about to reach mine, he stopped and let out a cry of surprise. “Wait,” he said, and reached into his duffel bag and pulled out a book. “Look,” he said triumphantly. His was a paperback whereas mine was a hardcover and had a different cover design, but the coincidence was unmistakable. The book Aleš held up toward me was entitled Nesmrtnost and was written by none other than Milan Kundera. Laying his volume down on top of mine, Aleš took my face between his two hands and looked into my eyes: “We’re reading the same book,” he whispered. His face was so close to mine that I could feel the heat of his words on my skin. But of all the many things I might have said at that moment, of all the romantic phrases I might have murmured or sighed, this was my response: “Only you’re reading in translation.”
    “We’re both reading in translation,” Aleš corrected, reconsidering perhaps whether he wanted to kiss me after all. A distinct coldness had entered his voice, and it seemed possible, that after the long months of waiting, the affair was going to end then and there. Happily, my

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