Rosmarie Waldrop presents small, various accounts of the relationship she has had with the French poet Edmond Jabes. The relationship is manifold for her as she recounts, first as a poet and reader, then as a translator and friend to Jabes. These sparks of recollection accumulate unpredictably and gently.
Waldrop generously shares her intelligent courses of reading Jabes, her nearly vertiginous trials, translating the rhythms and puns of his books, as well as some amusing events and anecdotes about the life of the poet. Of course, Jabes is not present on account of such a mixture of sharings, but Waldrop's book enriches one's idea of Jabes. It is most difficult to find an assemblage as rich about Jabes' life and work in English, let alone one as touching and pleasant. I read this book in an evening and found myself popping all about, in the notes seeking the French versions of the poetry translated in the text, the bibliography out back, and front again to review a joke or echo of sentence at hand.
In addition to the pleasure one might have reading about the Jabeses and their milieu, this book may be welcomed for its candid discussion of translation, its goals and methods. Some of Waldrop's solutions to vexing passages are ingenious and exciting.
There are very few books of this nature. Illuminating translator's tales are rare and rarer still are the anecdotal sharings of the translator's interactions and impressions of her source. I recommend this book highly to those with an interest in Edmond Jabes, poetry after WWII, translation or writers in exile. It also allows part of the author's own life to develop in front of the poetry on view.