Eva Hoffman's Lost In Translation

Eva Hoffman's Lost In Translation

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Eva Hoffman’s memoir, Lost in Translation, is a timeline of events from her life in Cracow, Poland – Paradise – to her immigration to Vancouver, Canada – Exile – and into her college and literary life – The New World. Eva breaks up her journey into these three sections and gives her personal observations of her assimilation into a new world. The story is based on memory – Eva Hoffman gives us her first-hand perspective through flashbacks with introspective analysis of her life “lost in translation”. It is her memory that permeates through her writing and furthermore through her experiences. As the reader we are presented many examples of Eva’s memory as they appear through her interactions. All of these interactions evoke memory, ultimately through the quest of finding reality equal to that of her life in Poland. The comparison of Eva’s exile can never live up to her Paradise and therefore her memories of her past can never be replaced but instead only can be supplemented.
Eva starts the memoir in the middle of the action on the boat to Canada. We instantly become aware of the situation and before we are presented with memories of the home she is leaving, she establishes the idea of memory. After hearing the Polish anthem after departing, Eva comments, “I am suffering my first, severe attack of nostalgia or tesknota – a word that adds to nostalgia the tonalities of sadness and longing” (4). The sound of the Polish anthem is an instant reminder that she is leaving her whole life behind. “I’m filled to the brim with what I’m about to lose – images of Cracow, which I loves as one loves a person, of the sun-baked villages where we had taken summer vacations, of the hours, I spent poring over passages of music with my piano teacher, of conversations and escapades with friends” (4). All of these memories that Eva holds near to her heart become the foundation of her life and future experiences. Eva later comments, “How absurd our childish attachments are, how small and without significance. Why did the one, particular, willow tree arouse in me a sense of beauty almost too acute for pleasure, why did I want to throw myself on the grassy hill with an upwelling of joy that seemed overwhelming, oceanic, absolute?

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Because they were the first things, the incomparable things, the only things. It’s by adhering to the contours of a few childhood objects that the substance of ourselves – the molten force we’re made of – molds and shapes itself.” (74).
The changes create a world of comparisons – knowing the world of paradise in Cracow presents an instant dichotomy with that of her newly uncharted American culture. Eva presents many examples of the differences between the two cultures.
The significant difference is, of course, the language barrier. Eva explains her actual loss in translation – that the words of Eva’s native language don’t hold the same meaning as that of the words in English. She explains, “‘River’ in Polish was a vital sound, energized with the essence of riverhood, of my rivers, of my being immersed in rivers. ‘River’ in English is cold – a word without an aura. It has no accumulated associations for me, and it does not give off the radiating haze of connotation. It does not evoke” (106). This loss of meaning is omnipresent in all of American culture in Eva’s eyes. Eva laments that, “I have no interior language, and without it, interior images – those images through which we assimilate the external world, through which we take it in, love it, make it our own – become blurred too“ (108). Due to this blurred vision of what is meaningful and what is not, there is a constant comparison with that of her foundation in Poland, evoking old memory.
This becomes present in her writing as she explains about her dairy. Eva finds it hard to decide whether she should write her private thoughts in her native language or her present one. She decided to write in English even though it’s not the language of her inner-self. “There is a certain pathos to this naïve snobbery, for the diary is an earnest attempt to create a part of my persona that I imagine I would have grown into in Polish. In the solitude of this most private act, I write, in my public language, in order to update what might have been my other self. The diary is about me and not about me at all. But one level, it allows me to make the first jump. I learn English through writing, and, in turn writing gives me a written self” (121). This theme continues throughout her day-to-day life of finding her new self through comparison with the memory of what she once knew. This comparison is prevalent in her interaction with the people accustom to the culture around her.
Eva mentions a party that turns into a game of spin the bottle. “I’ve found myself among a strange tribe of adolescents – in Poland, a relatively unidentified species – and that this is a sad comedown from Marek and the packs of boys and girls I ran with in Cracow” (131). The passage evokes memories of Marek, considered Eva’s love in Poland. This relationship that Eva remembers from her youth is a substantial moment in her life as she continues to mention the thought of her adventurous feminine destiny and “civilized” marriage – concepts that spin the bottle falls short in comparison. Eva’s memories not only ground her in her initial beliefs but they also cast a shadow on her future actions. Eva sure and somewhat not interested in the party plays the observer feeling that these games were not in her ideals. She later goes onto explain her thoughts on how her life would be in her life in Poland. “In Cracow, I’d have been with been experiencing my youth by going to cellar-cafes and, in the hot intimacy of flushed faces and animated conversation, discussing politics and music and modern poetry. I’d have suffered from close surveillance by vigilantly gossipy friends, and no private places to go with my boyfriend, and the frustration that come from daily powerlessness” (138). Despite, her ideas of Poland and the reality of her inner-self, Eva realizes that she is unable to be this person but instead is forced to assimilate into American culture. “Perhaps a successful immigrant is an exaggerated version of the native. From now on, I’ll be made, like a mosaic, of fragments – and my consciousness of them. It is only in that observing consciousness that I remain, after all, an immigrant” (164).
Eva is represented as a mosaic of fragments – a picture made of small pieces inlaid on the surface. The surface becomes her assimilation into American culture and her observations. The small pieces of ideas, thoughts, and language that she has acquired cover the underlying glue. The glue is her Polish foundation, the nostalgic memories that must be covered. The fragmented pieces don’t create a mosaic without the underlying glue – they bond to make a whole picture. Eva’s memories of her past can never be replaced but instead only can be supplemented. Furthermore, the fragmented pieces also don’t fit properly, leaving some of the glue visible and apparent in her being. Eva is a mosaic – an assimilated immigrant. This is presented thoroughly through her flashbacks and comparisons of cultures, effectively evoking memory and nostalgia.
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