Meet Christina Pribićević-Zorić in person at the 10×10 Tour event, Waterstones, Nottingham 6.30 p.m. Thursday 27 SEPT. Theme: The End of the World? How the Balkans writes the Holocaust. Book focus: The House of Remembering and Forgetting by Filip David (Serbia) and Doppelgänger by Daša Drndić (Croatia). With Susan Curtis, a translator and founding director of Istros Books, chair, translator Christina Pribićević-Zorić and Georgia de Chamberet (currently translating The Disappearance of Josef Mengele for Verso Books).
Tell us a little bit about yourself
I am from New York. My mother was Irish and my father was from the former Yugoslavia so I had a smattering of Serbo-Croatian when I went to Belgrade on a post-graduate scholarship. I went for a year and stayed for over twenty. Apart from translation, I have worked as a broadcaster and headed the Conference and Language Services Section at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia in The Hague. I now live in London.
When you were growing up, what books had an impact on you?
Books that sparked my imagination: Agatha Christie, Dorothy Sayers and Nagaio Marsh started my love of detective stories and Mary Renault’s historical novels about the ancient Greek world got me interested in Greek mythology.
Why do you translate?
So many reasons. First, it’s a chance to give interesting writers from another culture and language a voice in English. Also I love the fact that translation is a constant learning experience. You have to research and understand the historical and local context of the story if you want to convey it properly and make it readable in English. And translation teaches you about language, not least your own – what you can do with it and how far you can stretch it.
How did you kick-start your career as a translator, what was your strategy?
I never had a strategy and never really thought of translation as a career. I just kind of fell into it when a friend asked me to translate a short radio play. After that, one thing led to another.
What was the most challenging part of translating your first work?
Realizing how much I didn’t know.
How and why is the role of the translator important as a UK editor engages in the acquisitions process? Does funding make a difference?
Translators read a lot in other languages and can help the British editor source foreign books and bring interesting authors and books to their attention. Funding is, of course, crucial. Too many books would never be published in translation without it.
Is winning a Translation Prize important and why?
It is very important. Translation prizes bring the translator out of the shadows and acknowledge the creative aspect of translation.
What are you most proud of translating?
The books I have sweated the most over.
What is your dream translation project (or have you already done it)?
The next one around the corner.
What are you working on at the moment?
Serbian writer Vladislav Bajac’s zen novel The Book of Bamboo.
Your views on book publishing and translation?
Publishers should be less cautious and celebrate literature in translation. Fortunately, more and more independent publishers are focusing on translated literature.
Has the perception of books in translation in both the book trade and the Media changed during the time you have worked as a translator?
It has certainly improved since I first started translating many years ago. But the percentage of books published in translation in the U.K. is still embarrassingly low compared to countries like Germany, France and Italy. That said, the fact that translators are now being named in book reviews, that there are more and more articles about translation in literary magazines and that we now have translation prizes like The Independent Foreign Fiction Prize is raising the profile of translators and translation in the U.K.
Your views on how new technology has (or has not) impacted books in translation and your working life as a translator?
The internet has had an enormous impact in terms of research, sourcing quotes, etc., all of which is part and parcel of a translator’s work. I remember having to hunt down English copies of the Quran, the Bible and the Torah for quotes when I was translating The Dictionary of the Khazars in Belgrade in the late 1980s. It was a nightmare. Now these things are easy to find on the internet. Translation tools like Trados are a godsend for organizing terminology and editing. New technology has made the whole process of translation so much easier.
How important is the relationship between author and translator; and when you’re translating work by authors who are no longer alive what needs to be addressed and how?
It is always a great boon for a translator, and hence the translation, if the author can be consulted.
I have been lucky in that almost all the books I have translated have been by living authors who have always made themselves available to answer any questions I might have.
How involved are you, in the promotion of the books you translate? Your views on social media?
I try to be as involved as possible, and to develop a good working relationship with the publisher. Social media offer an excellent way to promote books.
Nearly 80% of the UK’s publishing industry wanted to remain in the EU. In the wake of Brexit, what are the implications for book publishing and translation in your view?
One obvious repercussion: U.K. publishers will no longer be eligible to apply for E.U. funds for literary translation and festivals. U.K. publishers who want to bring European literature to the English reader will now have that to deal with along with all the other challenges they face.
Your bedside reading?
At the moment: 1947 by Elizabeth Asbrink; Meursault, Contre-Enquête by Kamel Daoud; Islednik by Dragan Velikić
Your favourite prose author?
Depends on the day.
Your heroes in real life?
I’m not really into heroes, but I admire people who quietly work for the well-being of others.
Who are the five people, living or dead, you’d invite to a party?
Gore Vidal, Julian Barnes, Danilo Kiš, Dorothy Parker and Victor Borge.
What are your favorite literary journals?
I read all manner of literary journals, from the New York Review of Books to Areté and anything I can find in between.
Your chief fault?
Your chief characteristic?
Your favourite motto?
I don’t really have one, but Beckett’s “Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better” resonates with me.
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