When I heard that my publisher was arranging to have an audiobook made of my translation of Franz Kafka’s classic tale of transformation The Metamorphosis, I was thrilled. The thrill was only compounded when I found out that they were hiring Edoardo Ballerini to record the book. Besides being a wonderful actor for stage and screen, Edoardo happens to be an old friend of mine. And just a day or two later, we sat down together to talk through our ideas about Kafka’s novella. How funny is it? Why and how? How ironic? How tragic? It was fascinating to hear the characters analyzed from the point of view of an actor who was about to literally give voice to them. I’d done that myself nearly two years before, deciding that I wanted to underscore the faint note of hysteria I detected in Gregor’s reveries, the subservience of his mother, his father’s bullying.
And now Edoardo has completed his work, and the audiobook is out and available for purchase and download. And it’s really gorgeous Just as I hoped he would do, Edoardo uses a deadpan delivery with just a hint of a wink behind it to play up the book’s often understated humor. I think the voice he picked for the narration is just right: it sounds almost British, but without actually using a British accent, recreating the sense of cultural ambiguity I was aiming for in the translation (I wanted it to sound neither British nor American but cast in a vaguely dislocated idiom that I hoped would go well with the Mitteleuropean atmosphere I was trying to create). And Edoardo does the characters really well – each one has a distinct way of speaking, but they all sound like they belong together. It’s a beautiful thing.
And since the publisher has given me a few extra copies to dispose of as I please, I thought: why not a raffle? But instead of buying a ticket, all you have to do to enter is send an email using this link (blank is fine) from whatever email address you’d like to have the download information sent to if you win. [The link has been deactivated since the contest is now closed.] I’ve got two copies to raffle off, and will use the random generator at www.randompicker.com to select the lucky winners. That’s all there is to it.
Unless you’d like to double your odds. If so, read on. You may have noticed something called the “ice bucket challenge” floating around your Facebook feed. Yes, it’s silly, and I’m not going to ask you to dump cold water on your head, but the point of the buckets is to draw attention to the neurodegenerative disease ALS (Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease). ALS is truly dire: it causes your brain cells to gradually lose the ability to control your muscles, making it at first impossible to do things like walk, and eventually also to do things like eat, speak or even breathe. There aren’t currently good treatments for ALS, in large part because the disease is rare enough (with “only” an estimated 5600 newly diagnosed cases each year in the U.S.) that doing all the research needed for drug development isn’t a good financial investment for pharmaceutical companies. So what research there is has all been funded by government agencies and private foundations that support ALS research. I would like to ask you to consider donating an amount of your choice to one of these organizations (list below). If you do, when you enter the raffle for the audiobook, write the words “I donated” in your email (honor system) and tell me the name of the organization you picked, and I’ll enter your name twice. Otherwise, a strict one-entry-per-person rule applies.
The fight against ALS is personal for me. A colleague of mine at Bard College, Frederic Grab, died of ALS during my time there, and a musician friend is currently ill with it. I also think Kafka would approve of asking for donations for this cause. A little-known fact about him is that in his position in the Workers’ Accident Insurance Institute he really stood up for public health issues and, for example, used financial incentives to encourage factories to raise their safety standards by putting high price tags on lost fingers and limbs. It worked. And he himself, given his long struggle with the tuberculosis that eventually killed him, must have been all too aware of what it’s like to have your body turn against you. Certainly there’s nothing like a debilitating illness to make you feel estranged from your own body, as the antihero of The Metamorphosis, Gregor Samsa, is as well.
One more thing you should know: the audiobook was produced and distributed by Audible.com, so you have to have an Amazon account to be able to download it. I wish there were a way around this, but I think there isn’t.
Here is a short list of ALS organizations I think merit your support (and check out their high CharityNavigator ratings):
The ALS Therapy Development Institute
University of Pittsburgh Center for ALS Research
Please be generous, and I hope you’ll soon have Edoardo/Gregor whispering in your ears. If you enter the raffle and do not win, you can always get your own copy of the audiobook here.The raffle ends on Monday night (Aug. 25) at midnight, and the winners will be notified on Tuesday. [Congratulations to “pdm” and M. Lynx Qualey, who were selected in the Randompicker drawing as the winners of this raffle; download instructions are on their way to you.]