In defense of Latvia’s best kept secret

  • 2013-02-06

My Dear Ministers of Culture, Foreign Affairs, Defense et al
It has come to my attention that some of Latvia’s best kept literary secrets – the complete works of Blaumanis, Rainis, Ojars Vacietis, Janis Jaunsudrabins, Karlis Skalbe et al are all open to translation into the English language - with all profits from such endeavors potentially going directly offshore to buyers with vested interests.

For example, several speculators in South Australia are interested in purchasing the rights to my translation: Squelcher in the Mire – and of re-setting that famous Latvian love story, between Edgar the stable-hand and Kristine the chamber-maid. It could very well be perfectly set in and around the German heritage tourist village of Hahndorf in the Adelaide Hills. Mister Clooney would make a rugged looking Edgar, don’t you think? And Lady G as Kristine? Hmm! But of course … I won’t sell out to those South Australians!  How say you Minister for Culture? Did you have a chance to visit Hahndorf and surrounds?

The import of foreign literature and its attendant foreign cultural norms and foreign values to Latvia is taking place in gross disproportion. My daughter paid LVL 4.35 to watch the latest North American teen dystopia “The Hunger Games” – already dubbed into Latvian. Fortunately my 16-year-old has had a good and strong enough Latvian high school education for her to be sufficiently critical of this film and its attendant allusions. What think you, Minister for Defense?
Nevertheless, apart from VAT and cinema house expenses, a significant portion of her movie ticket price goes directly back to the producers. The film was released on March 21, 2012 and from its production budget of $78 million it has already reportedly grossed more than $300 million!  What thinks’t Thou, Minister for the Economy?

Just about every post-Soviet home library in Latvia has a broad selection of outstandingly translated novels, from the joyous tale of Elsa the lioness in “Born Free,” to the adventures of Thor Heyerdahl in “RA.” Novels by F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemmingway, the plays of William Shakespeare, the poetry of Lord Byron – all in Latvian – and who could surpass Rainis’ evocative translation of “The Count of Monte Christo” … oh, all right, the anti-Soviet reactionary Maija Silmale’s translation of Victor Hugo’s “Les Miserables” is simply brilliant. The mysterious circumstances of her own final years are worthy of exhumation and redefinition.

Have you read Kalnu aukas – “Wuthering Heights” by Emily Bronte? Do we have a Minister for Literature?
As I understand it, the Lacplesis (Bearslayer) epic was recently translated into English epic verse by the South Australian professor Arthur Cropley – as a labor of love – with some elegant bookwith-annotations production funding generously offered by the University of Latvia and no doubt some assistance from the Culture Capital Foundation. But where can one get hold of a copy abroad? At the Latvian embassy in Stockholm? At the airport bookshops in Frankfurt and Copenhagen?
A more recent production book – LATVIA and LATVIANS – was published with the support of the State research program NATIONAL IDENTITY in co-operation with the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung. Do you have a copy? Have you read it? Where can one purchase a copy of this abroad?

Do our embassies have it in stock for all those tourists who come to collect their visas? Have copies been sent for sale to the Diaspora communities in the U.S. and Australia? The second and third generation Latvian children of exile might just be inspired to reconnect more pro-actively with their heritage on the basis of this politically neutral broad spectrum overview – in English – of the genesis of the Latvian culture of their parents and grandparents. Perhaps by the time you all respond en-masse you will be able to tell me that there are now copies available for purchase at Riga International Airport – Arrivals, and in the Departures Bookshop.

In the meantime, if some Bollywood tycoon chooses to make an epic movie on the 19th century masterpiece “Surveyor’s Times” by the Kaudzitis brothers – will all of the profit for the English language version go to the slumdog millionaires in Mumbai? After all, there is an Indo-European language connection.

My dear Ministers! Will the Ministry for Culture and the Ministry for Foreign Affairs, through its subsidiary Latvia Institute, be offering competitively respectable commissions to have the main literary masterpieces translated into English and then copyright protected, or, shall I be able to “go ahead” with my forthcoming translation of the rip-roaring tale “Launais gars” and sell it to Hollywood as “MONEY FEVER” which, on the basis of title alone should make more than did “Wall Street.”
My dear Ministers – How sayest thee? I need to know. While you are deliberating I could be losing up to 25,000 in moulah every day … and the government proper will surely be interested in its Value Added prospects. Perhaps the Minister for Defense could chime in on this subject as well – after all, national intellectual property is under serious threat of being misappropriated and sold for profit. Is this covered by the Language Law?

Edgars Kariks
Resident of the Republic of Latvia


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