Writer Adam Mansbach On His Patois Children’s Book, “Go de Rass to Sleep”

June 2, 2014

Words by Jesse Serwer

Go the F*** to Sleep, Adam Mansbach’s “bedtime book for parents who live in the real world,” has already been translated into some 30 languages. Now, the New York Times bestseller has become the first book  — with the exception of the Bibleever to be translated into Jamaican patois.

Jamaican writers Kwame Dawes and Kellie Magnus are behind the new interpretation, re-titled as Go De Rass To Sleep. Even better, the audio version, which is out tomorrow through Brooklyn publisher Akashic Books, is narrated by Shaggy.

So how did Go the F** to Sleep, which was originally released in 2011 and is now being developed into a feature film, find its way into patois? “Both Johnny Temple, Akashic’s publisher, and I are big Jamaica-philes,” explains Mansbach, author of the cult-classic memoir Angry Black White Boy and the creator of Samuel L. Jackson’s pro-Obama “Wake the Fuck Up” ads. “He publishes a lot of Jamaican writers, we’re both big reggae heads, he has hilarious stories about roadie-ing for Eek-A-Mouse. We’d always joked about how cool it would be to do a JA edition. When we ended up with a surprise hit on our hands, the possibility started to seem more and more real. Especially since Jamaican patois is such a great language to curse in.”

Dawes and Magnus’s interest in translating the book clinched things. “He’s probably the most famous living poet in the country, and she’s an important author and publishing figure as well,” Mansbach says of his collaborators. “And I think they did an incredible job. The proof being that anybody can read this book and sound authentically Jamaican. Not that I’m advocating that MF’ers start speaking with Jafakin accents.”

One of Jamaica’s most versatile swear words, rass is, of course, not a literal translation of f***. But it was the word best equipped to capture the original title’s meaning, Dawes and Magnus say. “It comes the closest in terms of versatility and easy application,” the pair wrote in an authors’ note. “It is, in Jamaica, not as profane as f***, but it is only barely less profane than f*** is in America.”

Go De Rass to Sleep is “far superior” to the original, the translators claim with tongue in cheek. Not because of their efforts. But “because this has been a given of all translations from Yankee things to Jamaican things.” By way of example, they cite Bunny Wailer’s “Dreamland” (a cover of a song called “My Dream Island” by the group El Tempos), Burning Spear’s take on the Grateful Dead’s “Estimated Prophet,” and Jamaica’s hugely successful Kentucky Fried Chicken franchises.

Following a launch at the Calabash Festival in Treasure Beach, Jamaica, author Mansbach and illustrator Ricardo Cortes will appear at readings at The Standard Hotel in Manhattan, on Wednesday, and at Word! A Caribbean Book Fest in Brooklyn on Sunday, June 8.