1 mai 2015

ENG - Cidade Escaldante: What can be learned from a Portuguese edition of Himes’ The Heat’s On? 1 – The titles.

Found in the Lisbon flea market (Feira da Ladra in the popular borough of Alfama) Cidade escaldante (The Heat’s on) by Chester Himes, translated into Portuguese in 2000 by Clarisse Tavares.
The translation of the title is quite interesting. Cidade escaldante means The Hot/Burning/Boiling City. As in the Spanish translation of the same novel (Empieza el calor – The Heat Begins), it is related to the title of the 1st American edition of the book, The Heat’s On, and thus quite different from the original French title in the Série Noire, Ne nous énervons pas. Of course, the polysemy of Heat, which refers at the same time to firearms, to the police and to one of the heat waves that affect New York in the summer and have exaggerated consequences on human behaviour is not precisely rendered but this concentration of diverse meanings cannot be translated accurately in French.
When Himes’ publisher was given the manuscript, it was written (as always) in English and its title was Be Calm, the French translation of which, Ne nous énervons pas, is a good approximation. This French title is not very different from other titles by Himes, such as Il pleut des coups durs or Tout pour plaire. The book was later published in the United States, successively as The Heat’s On (1966) and Come Back Charleston Blue (1972).

Original title of the manuscript in English
Série Noire title
Title in the later American edition
The Five Cornered Square
La reine des pommes
A Rage in Harlem
If Trouble Was Money
Il pleut des coups durs
The Real Cool Killers
A Jealous Man Can’t Win
Couché dans le pain
The Crazy Kill
The Big Gold Dream
Tout pour plaire
The Big Gold Dream
Don’t Play With Death
Imbroglio négro
All Shot up
Be Calm
Ne nous énervons pas
The Heat’s On
Back to Africa
Retour en Afrique
Cotton Comes to Harlem

In the Série Noire catalogue, Ne nous énervons pas (Be Calm), n° 640, is situated between two Carter Brown novels, On se tape la tête[1], n° 638, and Y'a du tirage[2] (n° 642), and it partakes the Parisian slang inspiration of both titles. As far as I know, Himes never gave any clue about the choice and the translation of his titles, still his original English titles corresponded to what he knew or understood of the Série noire titles policy and of the explicit expectations of his publisher.
La reine des pommes is quite a good approximation of The Five Cornered Square, although it doesn’t convey the polysemic pun on square: the geometric figure – in this occurrence a very extraordinary figure – and a naïve, even a stupid individual. The Série Noire titles of four of the Harlem domestic novels Il pleut des coups durs, Tout pour plaire, Imbroglio négro et Ne nous énervons pas[3] are quite interchangeable whereas the novels are so different! Couché dans le pain only refers to a short part in one of the 1st chapters of the novel. Retour en Afrique, which is a much better title, corresponds to the original title in English and highlights the general meaning of the novel.
Unlike the Série Noire titles and even those of Himes’ English manuscripts, the titles of the 1st American edition of the books enhance the singularity of Himes in relation to Carter Brown or other authors, and the originality of each novel amongst the novels that make up the Harlem cycle.

[1] Original American title: The Savage Salome.
[2] Original American title:  The Dream is Deadly.
[3] The Real Cool Killers, The Big Gold Dream, All Shot Up and The Heat’s On.

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