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Home: given or made?

Home and domestication in the work of Johannes Semper and Tõnu Õnnepalu



The article investigates questions concerning home and domestication in Johannes Semper’s and Tõnu Õnnepalu’s work. Both authors have participated in „domesticating” Marcel Proust’s novel À la recherche du temps perdu in Estonian. Semper is known to be the first ever Estonian translator of Proust. His translation of the infamous excerpt of madeleine cake introduced Proust’s work to Estonian readers already in 1923. Tõnu Õnnepalu’s translation of Le Temps retrouvé (2004) is up until now the last published translation from the Recherche and also the only part of the novel completely translated into Estonian.

Both authors-translators have rather opposing approaches to the relations of foreign and domestic, which come across also in their translations of Proust. For Semper, domestication depends on the understanding of the foreign. Belonging somewhere, considering a space or a fictional world one’s own is not an impossible task, but may require some effort, which Semper is ready to take in order to make the foreign his own. Õnnepalu’s work presents belonging as a serious challenge as his fictional home-space remains, most of the time, out of reach. Moreover, the borders between the  foreign and the domestic are not always clear; the otherness is inaccessible partly because it is not clearly defined. For Proust, both losing and searching have equal value in the task of creating a fictional world and a work of art. The two translators each bring forth either one or the other aspect of Proust’s writing process and worldview.