“They Cry from the War” has been translated only into Arabic and Ukrainian

For the past eight years Anna Khromova has been living in Israel, where she works as a translator and poet. Anna is known for her Ukrainian translation of the book They Cry from the War by the Israeli writer Tirtza Atar. 

Anna Khromova (Copyright: Photo provided by Anna Khromova)

The translator and poet Anna Khromova has been living in Israel for eight years. After she moved to Israel, her translations into Ukrainian began to be published. One of her published works is a translation of Tirtza Atar’s book They Cry from the War, which examines the theme of war and was written for Israeli children about events in Israel. It is written in such a universal language that it is comprehensible in Ukraine many decades later. So, we are devoting the first part of today’s Encounters program to this translation. But first, let’s get to know Ania Khromova. Did her translation career begin right after her move to Israel eight years ago?

Anna Khromova:  First of all, I cannot say that I am a very big expert on Israeli literature and that I know my way around it very well, but, one way or another, you begin to dig around a bit and see various things. You want to gain a better understanding, and in order to do this, you translate. Sometimes, as happened with Tirtza Atar, I simply realized that this is necessary not just for me. I also wanted to introduce her to Ukrainian readers. These texts, which I want to understand for my own sake, I also want to bring to Ukrainian readers. Unfortunately, such pearls of world literature are represented in very small numbers, and I want more of this. I generally believe in the possibility of cultural dialogue and in the fact that works like this help us understand one another. I had an epiphany when we launched Tirtza Atar’s book, and some children told me very surprisingly: “God, the same kind of people are there, they feel the same things as we do!” At that point, I understood that a child is not ashamed to say such a thing out loud. So, what if the same thing happens with adults? I think that this understanding is very important, and I feel like working more and better for its sake.

Iryna Slavinska:  Then I will ask you to tell us a bit more about the book They Cry from the War. You already began talking about the reactions to it. Tell us the story of this book from the very beginning. How did you come across this book? How did it read the first time around? Maybe [tell us] a bit about the author.

Anna Khromova:  There really was a story surrounding the book. It was summer when combat operations began in Ukraine, and there was also a war in this country. It was such a heavy feeling; at first it was actually a complete shock that such a thing was happening in Ukraine.  It was not the first war that we were experiencing here in Israel, but each time it is very painful. It’s impossible to get used to this.

At that moment I realized that my children are old enough to hear and see all this. I wanted to explain this to them somehow, but I didn’t feel prepared for such a conversation because I had studied in Soviet schools, where there were pioneer-heroes, death for the Fatherland… I realized that this was not what I wanted to talk about. I felt that it should be something different. Then I went to the kindergarten to speak with the teacher, I went to the library, and as a result of all these conversations, I found this book.

They Cry from the War is quite an old book—from the 1970s. Its author died a long time ago, she died young. This book affected me with its humanity and the realization that to go to war is a duty; an unpleasant, onerous one, but a person also does not have the right to escape this duty. And this realization in me then overturned my attitude to military actions in general and to what is generally taking place. I translated the first poem in this book simply for myself. Then I contacted my Ukrainian girlfriends and realized that they are troubled by the very same questions.

Iryna Slavinska:  They also need war to be explained to children.

Anna Khromova:  Exactly. And they don’t know how to do this because they have the same cultural background and the same problems with the awareness, if only their own, of what and why this happens.

And so I began translating the book. I began looking around for someone who might publish it in Ukraine, and I got in touch with the Old Lion Publishing House. Fortunately, they accepted this project, even though up to that point we had never worked together and the author was absolutely unknown in Ukraine. It was very important for me that this book be published.

Iryna Slavinska:  It is also filled with fascinating and beautiful illustrations. Did you, perhaps, work with an illustrator? Tell us a bit about this.

Anna Khromova:  She worked separately from me. Her name is Kateryna Sadovshchuk. She’s a young woman, and I was impressed by how she designed the book. For example, in my opinion the Israeli edition is poorly designed with children’s drawings on the theme of war. They are awful, and this transforms the book into teaching material. It is unpleasant for a child to look at this project; it is intimidating in and of itself. It is difficult to read such a book with a child.

But Katia produced beautiful, aesthetic illustrations. She wrote the same story but visually. Tirtza Atar’s text is clearly Israeli, and we decided not to adapt Israeli names to Ukrainian ones, the realities, the days of the week. In other words, we left everything as it was. And Katia took all this and ushered it to a universal, human level. She did not draw Israel. There is no Israeli architecture, and a Ukrainian flag comes out of the back cover of the book. The illustrator brought all this closer to the Ukrainian reader by purely visual means, and I think this is a work that simply deserves the highest compliments and attention from readers.

Iryna Slavinska:  Let’s talk about the reception of this book. You already mentioned that the author was utterly unknown, and the theme of war is generally unfamiliar in Ukrainian children’s literature. This trend, if one call it that, is only three years old; it began with the onset of combat actions in Ukraine. How did you go about acquainting readers with this author and generally with this whole context?

Anna Khromova:  Tirtza Atar’s work in my opinion deserves international recognition. She is a children’s writer, and this is her only truly sad book. She is the author of absolutely beautiful, merry, wonderful poems that are studied, and children from the youngest age know her books by heart. As a mature poet, she is absolutely wonderful as well. She is the daughter of one of the pillars of contemporary Israeli poetry, Nathan Alterman. But I for one don’t know why Tirtza Atar is barely known outside Israel in the international literary community. Perhaps because she died young. There isn’t even an entry in the English-language Wikipedia. She is absolutely unknown, but she deserves recognition.

When I sent the Ukrainian edition to the Institute for the Translation of Hebrew Literature,  I was surprised to see that this book, They Cry from the War, had been translated into Arabic and Ukrainian, that’s it. There are no other translations. I was really struck by this because the work is of such high quality both from the artistic and the pedagogical standpoint, but for some reason it is not known throughout the world. I am glad that I was able to partake in this a bit in order to bring her name some international attention.

Iryna Slavinska:  Did readers grasp what this book is about? And did this tone of the account and this story in general suit them? Perhaps you have some feedback from parents or children about how it read.

Anna Khromova:  From parents I often heard that it is difficult for them to read this book, and not all of them are prepared to read it to their child. I can understand this reaction. But when I myself communicated with children, showed them, then I saw a very vivid reaction. The language is comprehensible to them, an absolutely suitable device in order to convey to them an array of at least some responses to questions that are heaped on them in such a situation from all sides.

Iryna Slavinska:  And the Israeli experience? Do you have to explain a lot about the contents of this book? Perhaps offer some historical or cultural feedback?

Anna Khromova:  No. The text contains a short prose insert stating that this book was written by an adult poet, who wrote it on the basis of her childhood impressions about the period when the war for independence was taking place and her father was at the front—if I remember correctly—and her actress-mother was traveling to perform for the troops. The book concludes with a poem that she wrote when she was seven years old. It is a poem about peace. It’s very childlike, naïve, but filled with the optimism that is inherent to this age, and the belief that all will be well. The text of the book goes beyond a certain historical event. These are human experiences that are similar, I think, in any kind of military conflict.

Iryna Slavinska:  What is it like to write poetry in Ukrainian and live in Israel? And what is like to attempt texts in an acquired language, in Hebrew, if this is at all possible? Ania Khromova and I continue our conversation about life and creativity on the border of several countries and several languages.

Anna Khromova:  Truly not a simple task. I cannot say that I feel at home anywhere. Having left Ukraine eight years ago, I am trying not to lose touch with people. But if you live in another country, you cannot attend festivals, for example. You feel a certain lack.

On the other hand, I am more of a reader in the Israeli literary process. I don’t write in Hebrew because I feel that I lack some normal education in these questions. It is more a case of advancing blindly: I discover some things, and here and there I search for things by myself, I ask around among people who have a better understanding of such questions than I do. I console myself with the fact that such a position allows me to take something from here and something from there, and to enrich readers and the literary process—and myself, of course.

Iryna Slavinska:  And your work in Ukraine? You just said that you don’t have the possibility to attend festivals. But how do you function within the framework of Ukrainian literature? If not through your physical presence at festivals, then how?

Anna Khromova:  The Internet, the Internet, and the Internet. Usually, when I come to Ukraine once a year or once every two years, I become acquainted in person with all those people with whom I have been communicating for a year or two. I think that we know each other already, because we have done some work and completed a project here, a project there, yet we did not see each other. I am terribly grateful to those people who rely on the virtual image of me and are working with me. I contact publishers, and sometimes publishers contact me, which is also very pleasant because this means that texts are circulating somehow and are living a life separate from mine.

Iryna Slavinska:  Is this Facebook?

Anna Khromova:  This is generally an indispensable instrument. I am also trying to blog; I see that very many people from Ukraine visit it, which makes me very happy.

Iryna Slavinska:  Did your move to Israel have an impact on your creativity? Ania Khromova says that not just moving but also climatic and geographical factors can have an impact on a change in writing.

Anna Khromova:  I don’t know to what extent this is Israel or the fact that I am simply growing up. Texts change, the writing style changes. Earlier, larger forms were written. Right now, I am trying to write more laconically. Sometimes I think that maybe this is due to the entire linguistic immensity around me, and I am trying to find as few words as possible, which are as correct as possible in order to express what I want to say as simply as possible.

Iryna Slavinska:  You haven’t tried to write in Hebrew?

Anna Khromova:  No, I don’t have a feeling for it yet. Perhaps there is a bit of education lacking here. I came to Israel at the age of 25, that is, I did not attend school here, I didn’t serve in the army, didn’t study at an institute here. I didn’t have any opportunities to dive into the linguistic milieu, and of course this had an impact on my feel for the language. I am constantly trying to work on it, to read, and to listen, but I am generally afraid to predict whether I will be able to write in it one day.

Iryna Slavinska:  Anna Khromov thinks that poetry, whether Ukrainian, Israeli, or any other, works with themes and emotions that are situated beyond the national context and may be read by any readers.

Anna Khromova:  The deeper and more intimate things that we say the more universal they are. On the outside there are many diverse circumstances, all different. But if you plunge into the depths, speak genuinely about profound things, people begin to recognize themselves in them. It is a bit paradoxical, but in fact that’s the way it works.

Iryna Slavinska:  You haven’t tried to have your works translated into Hebrew?

Anna Khromova:  Anton Paperny has translated several of my poems. It was a very strange, very pleasant feeling. Perhaps it would be worthwhile exploring this in a more serious fashion.

Iryna Slavinska:  How do poems change when you are reading your text written in Ukrainian and then it appears in Hebrew. What changes in it? Still and all, certain languages change in translation; cultures do not coincide; some things come through differently.

Anna Khromova:  It’s the same thing when you read your text translated into English or Russian. There are certain differences.

There was an incident with Anton’s translation. I was rereading this text, and literally in the middle [of it] I began laughing because it is partly about nature and there are names of plants, names of birds. The flora and fauna are different, and in principle I knew these words in Hebrew. For the Ukrainian poem I had found some Ukrainian counterparts. But it turns out that the translator did the work in reverse, translating this poem back into Hebrew. This cheered me up so much that for a few days I simply walked around laughing and feeling enlightened. It was a very interesting experience.

Iryna Slavinska:  Do your children read Mama’s texts in Ukrainian?

Anna Khromova:  They don’t speak Ukrainian. Every now and then they are full of enthusiasm for learning it, and when we visit Ukraine, they bring back words and expressions. I think that if we lived there for a longer period of time, they would begin speaking it very soon. But in daily life I am a Russian-speaking person. For some reason I was afraid of burdening my child with a third language. We chose the following strategy for ourselves: at home we speak Russian, and they learn Hebrew in kindergarten and at school. And it works. In principle, they do not mix up the languages. Then for some reason [I decided] to divide the languages with my husband: “You speak Russian, and I’ll speak Ukrainian, or the other way around.” Maybe it would have been worthwhile doing this, I don’t know. Right now, they are asking, and bit by bit they are learning something here, something there. Comprehension is still quite far away, but I console myself with the hope that once they are older, they will have a complete set of instruments in order to begin reading it.

This program was made possible by the Canadian non-profit organization Ukrainian Jewish Encounter.

Originally appeared in Ukrainian (Hromadske Radio podcast) here.

Translated from the Ukrainian by Marta D. Olynyk.
Edited by Peter Bejger.

NOTE: The UJE does not necessarily endorse opinions expressed in articles and other materials published on its website and social media pages. Such materials are posted to promote discussion related to Ukrainian-Jewish interactions and relations. The website and social media pages will be places of information that reflect varied viewpoints.