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Model translation from Camus' La Peste

From La Peste by Albert Camus (1947)

This is from the free samples page of

Camus’ novel, written just after the horrors of the Second World war is an allegory about the Nazi occupation of France and the presence of evil and suffering in the world in general. In this extract the central characters are witness the death of a child who has fallen victim to the plague in the Algerian city of Oran. The setting is a hospital ward.

Le long des murs peints à la chaux, la lumière passait du rose au jaune. Derrière la vitre, une matinée de chaleur commençait à crépiter. C’est à peine si on entendit Grand partir en disant qu’il reviendrait. Tous attendaient. L’enfant, les yeux toujours fermés, semblait se calmer un peu. Les mains, devenues comme des griffes, labouraient doucement les flancs du lit. Elles remontèrent, grattèrent la couverture près des genoux, et, soudain, l’enfant plia ses jambes, ramena ses cuisses près du et s’immobilisa. Il ouvrit alors les yeux pour la première fois et regarda Rieux qui se trouvait devant lui. Au creux de son visage maintenant figé dans une argile grise, la bouche s’ouvrit et, presque aussitôt, il en sortit un seul cri continu, que la respiration nuançait à peine, et qui emplit soudain la salle d’une protestation monotone, discorde, et si peu humaine qu’elle semblait venir de tous les hommes à la fois. Rieux serrait les dents et Tarrou se détourna. Rambert s’approcha du lit près de Castel qui ferma le livre, resté ouvert sur ses genoux. Paneloux regarda cette bouche enfantine, souillée par la maladie, pleine de ce cri de tous les âges. Et il se laissa glisser à genoux et tout le monde trouva naturel de l’entendre dire d’une voix un peu étouffée, mais distincte derrière la plainte anonyme qui n’arrêtait pas : « Mon Dieu, sauvez cet enfant. »

Mais l’enfant continuait de crier et, tout autour de lui, les malades s’agitèrent. Celui dont les exclamations n’avaient pas cessé, à l’autre bout de la pièce, précipita le rythme de sa plainte jusqu’à en faire, lui aussi, un vrai cri, pendant que les autres gémissaient de plus en plus fort. Une marée de sanglots déferla dans la salle, couvrant la prière de Paneloux, et Rieux, accroché à la barre du lit, ferma les yeux, ivre de fatigue et de dégoût.

Model answer

Along the whitewashed walls the light was changing from pink to yellow. The morning waves of heat were beating against the window. They hardly heard Grand leaving as he said he would come back later. They were all waiting. The child, his eyes still closed, seemed to grow a little calmer. His hands gently clawed away at the sides of the bed. Then they rose, scratched away at the blanket below his knees and suddenly the child doubled up his legs, bringing his thighs above his stomach and remained quite still. For the first time he opened his eyes and gazed at Rieux who was standing straight in front of him. His mouth, in a face with a fixed expression the colour of grey clay, opened, and almost immediately, there emerged a long, incessant scream, hardly varying with his breathing, filling the ward with a discordant, monotone protest, so inhuman that it seemed come from all mankind at once. Rieux gritted his teeth and Tarrou looked away. Rambert went and stood beside Castel who closed the book which had been lying open on his lap. Paneloux observed the child’s mouth, fouled by the sores of the plague, pouring out that death cry which has sounded out across the ages. He sank to his knees and everyone thought it quite natural when he said, in a slightly strangled voice, but one which could be clearly made out from the nameless, never-ending wail: “My God, spare this child.”

But the child continued to wail and, around him, the other patients began to grow restless. The child at the far end of the ward whose little sobs had gone on unbroken, now quickened their tempo, so they became one continuous wail, whilst the others in the ward groaned ever more loudly. A tide of sobbing swept across the room, drowning out Paneloux’s prayer and Rieux, who was still tightly gripping the rail of the bed, closed his eyes, dazed with exhaustion and disgust.

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