The Editors’ Choices are chosen from the submissions from the previous month that show the most potential or otherwise earn the admiration of our Resident Editors. Submissions in four categories — science fiction chapters, fantasy chapters, horror, and short stories — receive a detailed review, meant to be educational for others as well as the author. This month’s reviews are written by Resident Editors Leah Bobet, Jeanne Cavelos, and Judith Tarr. The last four months of Editors’ Choices and their editorial reviews are archived on the workshop.
This an interesting story. The title in English has so many meanings—from mathematical proof to legal proof to culinary proofing (activating the yeast or other agent that causes bread to rise). I think it has a handle on the voice that signals a fairy tale: omniscient narrative, with a hint of the narrator’s views and opinions. There’s a strong moral tone, and a lesson to be learned from the characters’ actions and reactions.
It’s even more interesting that it’s translated from the original by its author. Translation is an art, and it’s a rare writer who can render a text clearly and faithfully from one language into another. Respect to the author for the effort, and for mostly succeeding.
There are a few points at which the structure of the original language seeps through into the English, and a few words that don’t quite mean what they want to mean. Here are some examples:
some children in the village inexplicably had such that they were immediately given to the milkman to grow up as artist’s models in the far-off city.
“Inexplicably had such that” is hard to parse in English. Perhaps “children who had such hair were given to the milkman” and so on.
differing at most into shades of green and yellow might read in English as “differentiating at most” and so on.
Other words are just a hair off the English: Machinists I think want to be “mechanics;” overview perhaps would be “oversight,” or else a word that has to do with authority—some sense that everything is done to code, and follows specific rules; dense bins may be either “heavy” or “numerous,” depending on the original meaning of the translated word. Would the whole village spoke outrageously be rendered more clearly as “The whole village expressed their outrage”?
Zulma’s eyes are described as hazelnut forest ponds. The original image, in which we’re told at more length what color her eyes are, is lovely, but English doesn’t quite condense into so concise a phrase. Forest ponds might work better, but it’s still a little odd. Strange speckled gaze? Penetrating green-gold stare? Pools of green and hazel?
I would recommend running the ms. by a native speaker before it goes out on submission, to make sure all the translations work in English. Sometimes odd or unusual phrasing can be striking and memorable, but if it’s a choice between deliberately unusual phrasing and clarity of meaning, I tend to come down on the side of clarity. For example, while this is correct English syntax, I’m not sure what it means: statistics had shown that mothers almost invariably had daughters and fathers had sons.
Do people in this world not tend to reproduce sexually? Are they cloned, so that the offspring will be of the same sex as the parent? I’m curious too about how marriage works in Proof—it seems as if Zulma’s mother has had consecutive spouses. Are the people of the town not monogamous? Do people pair up for specific periods or specific reasons? Is it marriage as we know it, or is it another form of relationship?
The flow of the story could be a little smoother, as well. First we meet Zulma, then we learn about Proof, which is a reasonable progression of the narrative, but there may be a missing paragraph break between the cannibalism during the famine, and the reference to gossip and backbiting. The concepts don’t quite follow logically. I found myself wanting a line or two more about the cannibals, and a more coherent segue into the backbiters.
I quite like the ending. It’s nicely portentous, and it has a good sense of universal justice coming, at last, for the people of Proof. The one thing I might ask is for a tiny bit more detail about the squirrel’s tail. I would have liked to know the exact direction in which it turns. That would bring us back to the beginning, when we’re told how the tail turns to the East. If we get the same image in the last line, the same slow, inevitable shift, we know for sure the prayer has been heard. And we know what’s going to happen next.
Best of luck, and happy revising!
— Judith Tarr