Voices and/of Places

The English translation of Helga Ruebsamen’s Het lied en de waarheid (The Song and The Truth) as a case study of identity and plurality in translation





culture-bound items, Dutch repatriated literature, Helga Ruebsamen, heterolingual texts, identity, linguistic hybridity, plurality, translation strategies


After Indonesia’s independence was officially recognised by the Netherlands in 1949, several former members of the colonial élite repatriated. Many among the Indies-born repatriatees’ generation used writing to come to terms with their own controversial, multifaceted identity. While they belonged to the colonial élite, they can be studied as writers geographically and temporally displaced as their colonial land of birth no longer exists. Their desire for belonging is arguably exemplified in the way their novels’ protagonists’ linguistic identity is depicted. While these authors write in Dutch, their characters are embedded in local cultures, languages, traditions, questioning fixed labels and dichotomies. Taking as example Helga Ruebsamen’s 1997 novel Het lied en de waarheid [The song and the truth], this article explores how linguistic identity is represented in Dutch literature of repatriation and how this is tackled in translation into English. This novel is chosen not only because it allows to explore plurality in literature and translation in the selected context, but also because it takes the issues of linguistic plurality in literature and translation a step further: the five-year-old Dutch protagonist leaves the tropical (colonial) environment with its enchanting nature behind and arrives with her family in the Netherlands in 1939 as the daughter of a Jewish doctor, unveiling a third identity layer beyond the Dutch-East Indian dichotomy. After positioning this novel within Dutch literature of repatriation by means of a close reading analysis, this article discusses why and how it can be studied as a heterolingual, diasporic (in this specific case, neither colonial, nor postcolonial) text. The translation strategies used to tackle representations of cultural and linguistic hybridity into English are then analysed by means of a comparative textual analysis. Looking for recurring trends, the results are finally briefly related to the findings of a doctoral project about the English and Italian translations of Dutch-East Indian novels by Hella S. Haasse, which suggest that shared tendencies to generalisation may risk distorting images of linguistic hybridity.


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A harbour in Indonesia






Featured Theme: The Effect of Plurality in Translation