“To know Europe, you have to know Goethe. To know Goethe, you have to know Faust.”
These are the words of Debabrata Rej, the undiscovered West Bengal writer, translator and playwright, whose Bangla translation of Goethe's famous tragic play has finally seen the light of day, almost 50 years after the translator author finished the work.
The most well-known Bangla translation of Faust was done by Ahmed Sofa, published in 1986. Debabrata Rej had completed his translation almost 30 years before that, in 1958, and finalized his version in 1967. Unfortunately enough, he was unable to see the publication of his work before he passed away. His son, Anup Rej, approached UPL to publish his father's translation of Faust. It was probably one of the best literary discoveries of UPL.
The unique value in Rej’s translation comes from the fact that he translated not from any English edition, but from the original German. The dedication and effort this required was highlighted at the book launch session on September 7, 2016, organized by UPL, as part of the 6th Bangladesh Boimela in Kolkata. The discussants were German language scholar Professor Sunanda Bose, and writer Shankarlal Bhattachaya. The session was moderated by an academic and German language expert Dr Subharanjan Dasgupta and the guest of honour for the ceremony was Dr Faizul Latif Chowdhury, director general of Bangladesh National Museum.
Writer Shankarlal Bhattacharya shared, "I finished reading Debabrata Rej's translation of Goethe in one breath! I was amazed to notice how many different styles he has adopted, and it has successfully retained the theatrical property.”
Faizul Latif Chowdhury, an expert on Jibanananda Das, compared Sofa and Rej's translations, and recommended interested readers to read both. He mentioned that while Sofa took a lot of poetic liberty, Rej was probably truer to the original expressions. Dr Chowdhury congratulated UPL for recognising Debabrata Rej’s monumental effort which would enable Bengali readers to reach a greater level of familiarity and understanding of this celebrated milestone of literature.