Lust for life: Thoughts on a translation

These days, Vincent Van Gogh has become a household name. He stands out as one of the most celebrated artists of the nineteenth century with his celebrated paintings, especially Starry Night. Yet, how much do we know about him as a person- about the hardships and adversities the artist had to face in his life in order to pursue his passion?

‘Lust for Life’- the classic biographical novel based on the life of Vincent Van Gogh, penned by the American author Irving Stone gives us an opportunity to know the artist as a person, to look for the hidden darkness behind the luminous colors of his paintings. The novel was translated into Bengali by Nirmal Chandra Gangopadhyay, titled as ‘Jeeban Piyasa’ and first published in September 1954. It was reprinted by Subarnarekha Publishers in January 2010. It is undoubtedly one of the most absorbing translations in Bengali, and an appealing read.

The cover of the book, designed by Soumen Paul, features the famous painting by Van Gogh- ‘Wheatfield under Thunderclouds’. It indicates to the readers that they would soon enter the poignant life of the artist- alluding them to dive into the pages and eventually lose themselves in them. Right from the first page, the clarity of the translation amazes us, along with the eloquence of the language. A naturalness comes about almost unknowingly, it does not sound like a translation at all!

The book has been divided into nine sections based on their settings- London, the Borinage, Etten, the Hague, Nuenen, Paris, Arles, Saint Remy, Auvers- places where Vincent lived. The story begins in London- where he was a youth working as a clerk at an art dealership, and follows him till the end of his life- the vast wheat fields of Auvers. Van Gogh’s love for Nature and its people marked his journey all through his life- phases as colorful and vibrant as his paintings. From the poor miners of Borinage to the host of artists in Paris- everyone he met had affected Vincent, his art in some way or the other. The novel beautifully portrays his struggles to find his own way, holding on to life, to his passion in spite of all adversities.

As the book comes to a close, the readers are bound to find themselves crying over it. It is worth wondering how a translation can reach such great heights that it seems as if the novel had originally been written in Bengali only!

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