Monday, October 21, 2013

"I Spit On Your Graves" by Boris Vian (Vernon Sullivan)

Original French English Translated Edition of "I Spit On Your Graves"

The strange and weird narrative of the Vernon Sullivan novel J'irai cracher sur vos tombes (I Spit On Your Graves) is at times more interesting than the novel itself, which... is still pretty interesting. 

 I Spit on Your Graves
by Boris Vian (1920-1959)
ISBN 0-9662346-0-X
Library of Congress Catalog Card Number: 97-80958 $17
Translated from the French by Boris Vian and Milton Rosenthal

Boris Vian was a novelist, jazz musician, jazz critic, poet, playwright, a friend of Miles Davis, Duke Ellington, Raymond Queneau, Jean Cocteau, Louis Malle, Jean Paul Sartre, and numerous others of forties and fifties Parisian cultural society. He was also a French translator of American hard-boiled crime novels. One of his discoveries was an African-American writer by the name of Vernon Sullivan. Vian translated Sullivan's I Spit on Your Graves. The book is about a 'white Negro' who acts out an act of revenge against a small Southern town, in repayment for the death of his brother, who was lynched by an all white mob. Upon its release, I Spit on Your Graves became a bestseller in France, as well as a instruction manual for a copycat killer whose copy of I Spit on Your Graves was found by the murdered body of a prostitute with certain violent passages underlined. A censorship trail also came up where Sullivan as the author was held responsible for the material. It was later disclosed that Vian himself wrote the book and made up the identity of Vernon Sullivan!

This edition is a translation by Vian and an American GI buddy of his, that was never published in America. I Spit on Your Graves is an extremely violent sexy hard-boiled novel about racial and class prejudice, revenge, justice, and is itself a literary oddity due to the fact that it was written by a jazz-loving white Frenchman, who had never been to America.

Basically what i did for the TamTam edition was to keep Vian and Rosenthal's translation in tact.  I didn't clear it up due that I didn't want to change Vian's original translation of his own novel, even though there is 'odd' or awkward translated phrases within the book.  But it does capture a slightly and darkly surreal view of America and its language perceived by Vian at the time. 

When Vian was put on trial for the Sullivan book he was told by the court to produce the original English manuscript.  Vian said of course.  It was on a Friday, so over the weekend him and Rosenthal quickly translated the book into English - which of course there was no original English edition of the novel.   If you noticed the original "translated" edition is titled "I Shall Spit On Your Graves" and I changed it to the more American(ized) "i Spit On Your Graves."  Due to the nature of the subject matter and location, I felt the "Shall" should be removed from the title.
TamTam Books edition
The first printing of this novel is here and one can order it at your local bookstore or purchase it at your favorite on-line store.  

1 comment:

Drew Byrne said...

Ah, as if we had time to read all these scruffy old books...