We purchased a dozen or so really beautiful foreign language children's books recently. They're all in excellent condition, and each has a bookplate inside from a language education center's children's literature collection, with the name of the country the book is from neatly printed in pencil at the bottom. I can usually recognize Czech because I was in Prague for three weeks a few years ago-- so at least I'm familiar with the look of written Czech and a lot of really beautiful children's books of fairy tales and myths have been illustrated and printed in what is now The Czech Republic; a few of them have passed my way before. But in this purchase there are also books from Finland and Slovakia, and I'm grateful to have those penciled notes, as I wouldn't recognize the languages. A helpful clue to finding out what language a book is in is to check the place of publication. Helsinki, Bratislava, Prague, cool. Though of course a book published in Prague could be in any language. Certain parts of almost all books are the same; the copyright page, for instance, where I can almost always find date and place of publication. Not always. Sometimes there's no date. Sometimes no place of publication. A good reference book that describes and names all the different physical and printed parts of books is ABC for Book Collectors by John Carter.
I was trying to identify a children's book in Czech by Jacques Prevert, the French surrealist, poet, and writer of screenplays. I couldn't really figure out right away what the title was, because the words of the title were written in a tricky way, with two horizontal lines of type, apparently two words, which were bisected by two diagonally slanted lines of type, presumably two words. I couldn't tell which order the words went in, because the arrangement was, to me, ambiguous. (A lot of architecture and graphic design books have titles which are difficult for me to decipher because their cool graphic quality was given more importance than their meaning by the book designer.) I looked at the cover of the book, then the title page, but they both had the title written in the weird slanty way. But when I turned in a few pages, the first lines of text in the book, apparently poetry, matched the title words, so now I had the order: Pohadky pro nehodne deti. A book search of this title on Amazon and Abebooks produced nothing. So I tried different versions of the title, shortened. Then I used a translation program, and it translated the title as Pohadkny Nehodne for Children - now I had a partial translation. So then I Googled the title and came up with a bunch of results in Czech. I translated the first one, using the "translate now" button, and it came up with a Wikipedia article on Jacques Prevert translated by computer into English. It looked so pretty, like a real Wikipedia article, but the English was absurd, perhaps fitting for a surrealist.
About Prevert's life, and then his death: "In 1948 he fell out of the French windows (on the spot where it was previously installed machine gun) . He was in a few days in severe coma . Prévert injuries caused serious neurological sequelae. Died from lung cancer. Inherent cigarette he became fatal."
Finally, I found the French title in the printer's imprint, which was hidden at the back of the book: Contes pour enfants pas sages, or Tales for Naughty Children.
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