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Publisher finds niche with Latin translations, including Dr. Seuss

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CHICAGO - Bolchazy-Carducci Publishers, headquartered in a workaday industrial park in far north suburban Wauconda, Ill., has been in operation for more than a quarter-century specializing in Latin and Greek textbooks.

But a few years ago, with the help of an envious little wretch known in Latin as an invidiosulus, the firm made its mark on the wider world of books.

This particular wretch was the star of "Quomodo Invidiosulus Nomine Grinchus Christi Natalem Abrogaverit" - a Latin version of Dr. Seuss' "How the Grinch Stole Christmas" and a surprise publishing hit of 1998-1999.

Soon, Bolchazy-Carducci followed with playful Latin versions of Seuss classics "The Cat in the Hat" and "Green Eggs and Ham," which, like "Grinchus," featured Seuss' delightfully daffy original drawings. There were also translations of "Yes, Virginia, There Is a Santa Claus" and Shel Silverstein's "The Giving Tree," as well as books and CDs with popular songs, such as "Old MacDonald," in the ancient Roman tongue.

The effort was so successful that the company has sold an unheard-of 100,000 copies of the Seuss translations alone and won plaudits from Publishers Weekly for carving out "one of the quirkier niches in publishing."

Now, Bolchazy-Carducci is poised to make waves again in the book universe, but with a volume far different in spirit from those charming children's books and rhymes.

Next June, around the anniversary of D-Day, the press is planning to publish the first one-volume, 850-page compendium of excerpts from the speeches and proclamations of one of the most powerful and hated figures of the 20th century.

Adolf Hitler.

For Ladislaus and Marie Bolchazy, the work of putting out books has never been about profits - although profits have come. It has been a vocation, like the calling of a young man to the priesthood.

That, in fact, was the career path that that Ladislaus, called Lou, initially took, spending nine years in Roman Catholic seminaries in New York state, studying Latin and Greek, theology and church history. But he realized that, for him, the vow of chastity would be too great of a sacrifice. And within a couple years of leaving the seminary, he had met and married Marie Carducci, a textbook editor.

By then, Lou was aiming to be a classics scholar teaching Livy, Cicero and Homer to college students. However, while he was getting his doctorate, most schools decided to drop their foreign-language requirements. So for three decades, he was an itinerant, part-time teacher, taking jobs where he could find them.

In 1979, he was teaching part time at Loyola University Chicago when, in addition to opening a print shop, he began publishing classics textbooks. Soon he discovered a small but steady market.

Marie - who was working as a reading specialist in suburban school districts while raising the couple's son, Allan - says her husband loved to teach but saw a greater potential in publishing.

"Lou said to me, when you teach, you influence one classroom of students. When you publish, your influence is far beyond that," she recalls.

Their goal in publishing the works by and about the great Latin and Greek writers wasn't so much to promote those languages as to showcase the important ideas of great thinkers.

Lou says his seminary training, particularly his early life under a vow of poverty, helped him as the business was getting off the ground.

"The spirit of poverty," he says, "gave me the freedom to do what I think is significant. I went into these books with my heart first and making money after. If the money doesn't come in, you haven't wasted your life."

The money, though, has come. Today, Bolchazy-Carducci, with a staff of only 17, has become a major force in Latin and classics textbooks - along with such behemoth publishers as Cambridge University Press, Oxford University Press and Prentice Hall.

"Lou and Marie do great work," says Kenneth F. Kitchell, president of the American Classical League.

They have seen their sales grow from about $500,000 in 1985 to more than twice that in 2004, helped by a modest resurgence of the classics on high school and college campuses. In addition, the rise in home-schooling has widened the market for the company's complete self-teaching Latin course, Artes Latinae. But, even more, it has been the Bolchazys' insistence on high-quality translations, illustrations and packaging that has brought them attention and sales.

"We want to get important pillars of Western civilization into the hands of more people by making them more readable and therefore more accessible," Lou says.

One of his favorite projects was the company's 1992 publication of Gilgamesh, "The Epic of Gilgamesh," a 4,000-year-old Middle Eastern epic that predates the Bible but tells many of the same stories, such as that of the Great Flood. Moody, sexy and mysterious wood-block illustrations by Thom Kapheim complement Danny P. Jackson's lively free verse translation.

Indeed, the text is so well done, in terms of scholarship and style, that Prentice Hall included it in its massive college-level anthology, "Literature of the Western World: The Ancient World Through the Renaissance," and D.K. Graubart, a Jerusalem-based publisher, employed it in a lavish 2001 Hebrew-English edition featuring original work by noted Israeli artist Zeev Raban.

The Bolchazys brought the same attention to detail care in overseeing the translation of "How the Grinch Stole Christmas" into Latin. "We want to build a bridge from the present to the past," Marie says. "What better way to show Latin is alive than to put Dr. Seuss in Latin? This sounded like a match made in heaven."

Lou emphasizes, though, that, in translating children's books, the goal is to popularize the humanities and classical thinking. For instance, the Latin version of "Yes, Virginia, There Is a Santa Claus," he notes, is "a good introduction to abstract ideas, like love and truth and beauty."

Values of a much different sort will be on display in the company's new Hitler book, a condensation of a four-volume set the firm has published in installments since 1990.

Lou, who is 68, a year older than Marie, was born in Czechoslovakia and spent most of his childhood under Nazi domination and, later, Russian occupation. When he was approached about publishing an English translation of the speeches and proclamations of Adolf Hitler, he jumped at the chance. "I said, `Boy, this is an opportunity to put Hitler under a microscope.'"

Not everyone was so sanguine. "Our staff was afraid we'd be bombed," Lou recalls.

Yet, in publishing the set over the past 15 years, Bolchazy-Carducci has won high marks from scholars. And gotten very little flack.

The collected speeches "are an invaluable primary source," says Peter Black, senior historian at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C. "They are used to document Hitler's thinking and Hitler's political signals to his Nazi followers and the general public, and give a sense of what kind of things the general public was hearing from the dictator."

Of course, at 3,400 pages and with a list price of $715, the four-volume compendium was never going to make anyone's best-seller list. Not that the one-volume version, at $39.95, is likely to set sales records - but it will certainly make it possible for a much wider circle of scholars and students to examine Hitler and his public ideas in detail.

That's a good thing, Black says. "The value of having these available to people who will use them properly far outweighs the potential for abuse," he says. "In a free democracy, we shouldn't be afraid of books we don't like - even by Hitler."

As a scholar, Lou doesn't want the horror of Hitler's rule to be lost. "I'm very happy to be involved in this," he says.


(c) 2005, Chicago Tribune. Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service.

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