Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Sweater that no one has seen before / Sweaters in literature

I came across this true story described in the diary of this Czech writer and translator Jan Zábrana sometimes in the 1970s, but the story dates back to 1953. Just a little preview, his parents were condemned for a parricide in a fabricated trial in the 50s and both of them spent in a prison 10 years. Zábrana was only 20 then and took this act as a personal violation which he suffered all his remaining life. His diary is at places sour, depressive, especially after he turned 40 (quite early to feel the death coming, eh?), it is as well a diary of the every day life in a socialistic country, at places it is energetic and pleasure to read, gives opinion on literature, writers, poets, memories at contemporaries and his own little stories he went through and he considered funny or worth memorizing for other reasons.
So one day in spring 1953 he received a package with a sweater. It was sent from a prison where his father sat, it was supposed to be a piece of clothes that his father didn't need but as it turned out it all must have been a mistake, his dad never possessed a sweater like that. Anyway, Zábrana kept it and describes it: (here I apologize for my translation and thus injury to the original beautiful text). "It was a fantastic beauty - I have never seen anything like that before or after. It was gigantic, reached to my knees. It could have been 20 years old or even more. It had a strange pink-cyclamen basic color, but patterned with green, brown, umber squares and rectangles, a pattern that I have never seen in Bohemia before - someone must have brought it to Czechoslovakia from Jamaica in the 30s. But all the colors were so washed out that a sweater looked like a hummingbird leached from an acid. It had a gigantic collar with exotic buttons, each different. And it was repaired in a similar fantastic way: the holes in sleeves were knitted in with thread of different colors, with cloth patches, with patches from old socks from a rough gray yarn, armpits were fixed up with some felt, perhaps cut up an army blanket or a horse cloth. All these patches, although unplanned and rampaged, were sewn exceptionally carefully and thoroughly - it looked like a garment of a clownish Methuselah or a Norwegian sea wolf. I used to wear that sweater at night shifts, also when going out to pubs at the peripheries of Prague, at a place like that they threw me out once when I had it on, they thought I ran away from a mad house. At the close of one muggy day in June, when I arrived two ours late to my friend's house, Alice gave me a hug even in that sweater and started to kiss me hysterically and cry that she had been worried about me. She was wearing a yellow bikini. We were standing at the door sill, she in that yellow swimsuit and I in that unbelievable sweater of the faded rainbow colors and she was hugging me and cried with joy that I had showed up after all, that I didn't get picked up." (understand: not because of the sweater but because it was a Stalinistic era.)

Do they wear sweaters in Jamaica? Just imagine that only 30 years and something ago there could have been sweaters that were hard to imagine, that "one hadn't seen before". So, of course, I went and googled up Jamaica + sweater. And there are all these sweaters made of a yarn called Jamaica, what a disappointment, but nothing nothing that I was looking for. So, despite Google, this description by Zábrana still remains a mystery. After all, the sweater probably wasn't from Jamaica. Any suggestions?


Edited: Here is a version of the sweater that Robotika drew after she had read this post:
http://robotika.wordpress.com/2009/01/16/the-lost-sweater/

9 comments:

robotika said...

This is such an interesting story. I am totally intrigued and might try to draw a little version of the sweater myself. Thank you for posting this! Do you know if there are there any English translations of his diaries? " A Norwegian sea wolf" "A hummingbird leached from an acid" Wonderful!

Magdaléna said...

Yes, draw it! And don't forget to show me. Hummingbird and such, I myself got excited translating it. I didn't find his book on the bookfinder.com and I don't think it was translated in English, although as a testimony of the time it would be interesting for those who didn't go through it.

Jill said...

i've never been to jamaica, but i have been to other parts of the caribbean, and there are times when a sweater comes in handy...so it's not totally out of the question! and the rastas in jamaica are known for knitting up some crazy striped colorful hats.

raining sheep said...

I agree with Jill, the Rastas do have some pretty wild knitted and crochet items. I think your translation is splendid...I tried to translate it back into Czech...some Czech words and phrases just sound better in Czech and are difficult to translate don't you think?

Bohemian girl said...

I guess, you must have felt the Czech phrases beneath my translation strongly. I have been just translating something for my work and there are long composed sentences that just have to be split so that they sound well in English. (the translation was into English, my husband always has to correct them, ehm, rewrite them.)

Ritva said...

hi,
interesting post!
...and i have tagged you, if you like to play:)

robotika said...

Here is my little version of the sweater. Enjoy!
http://robotika.wordpress.com/2009/01/16/the-lost-sweater/

Bohemian girl said...

Robotika, this is amazing! Can I post it here, on my blog?

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