Oxford Translation Day at St Anne’s College Spotlight

oxford translation day 2017 bookblast spotlight

Translation does not simply jump from one language to another. It also ‘crosses’ languages in the sense of blending them, as you might cross a bulldog with a borzoi, or two varieties of rose . . . Translation can cross languages that have much in common – for example, English and French – and language that are very distant – like English and Malay; it can span languages that share the same script system (Japanese and Korean) and those that don’t (Japanese and Arabic or German); it can go between dialects (or between a dialect and a language) or between different words of the same language . . . Translation can be done by one person, or several, or hundreds – or by machine. It can be a matter of life or death, as in a war zone; or an ordinary part of everyday existence in a multilingual community.” Matthew Reynolds, Translation: A Very Short Introduction

Literary Translation and Brexit

In short, language-learning and translation skills are vital in our global era. Ever more so for Brexit Britain: as links are severed with Europe, forging new links with faraway foreign countries will become crucial. How ironic that the prevailing mood is so bulldog British, with foreign language learning on a downward slide, and languages no longer being part of the core curriculum for 14 to 16-year-olds. To expect everyone else to speak English, the lingua franca spoken across the world, and no longer be embarrassed by being monolingual, is a deeply arrogant and short-sighted attitude. Language is the means by which one accesses a culture, and is the expression of a culture.

There are oases of hope. Thank goodness for those universities which run language courses and postgraduate degrees in translation – Westminster, Roehampton, SOAS, UCL, UEA and Portsmouth among them.

Oxford Translation Day is a joint venture of the Oxford-Weidenfeld Translation Prize and Oxford Comparative Criticism and Translation (the research programme housed in St Anne’s and the Oxford Research Centre for the Humanities), in partnership with the Oxford German Network and Modern Poetry in Translation. Every year a series of workshops and talks are held throughout the day at St Anne’s, culminating in the Oxford-Weidenfeld Translation Prize.

This year’s programme kicked off with Nicky Harman’s popular masterclass on Chinese to English literary translation. There were sessions on how to translate dialogue; women’s writing from Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania; poetry in dialogue; and a panel of leading luminaries from MacLehose Press, And Other Stories, Granta Books, discussing the pains and pleasures of publishing translated literature. The talk was chaired by chaired by Dr Eleni Philippou who was responsible for putting together the day’s sessions. The panel was joined by Dr Chitnis Rajendra who recently completed a report on translating the literatures of small European nations.

Certain key findings of Dr Rajendra’s research for the Arts & Humanities Research Council give hope: the widespread and enduring pessimism about the prospects for translated literature in the UK is outdated, (which chimes with discoveries included in a piece posted in March 2015, Boom not Bust: A new chapter in the story of translation in the UK); concern has shifted from a focus on the low amount of translated literature being published to questions about the diversity of literature translated; the number of independent presses publishing translated literature has markedly increased in the past decade; technological advances are central to the growth in translated literature; translated literature remains the preoccupation of the educated urban middle class, largely London-based, and is almost completely absent from school curricula . . . The full report can be obtained from the University of Bristol.

It was well worth taking time out in the afternoon to see the superb exhibition at the Ashmoleon, Raphael: The Drawings, of 120 artworks. High-Renaissance religious paintings are not really my thing, however preparatory detailed studies of heads and hands, or human bodies – be they cheeky cherubs, or writhing males in combat, or shapely women, which in some cases looked as though they were in 3D – are another matter. I had no idea that The Ashmolean houses the greatest collection in the world of drawings (around 80) by Raphael, originally collected the Regency portraitist Thomas Lawrence.

Waterstones is also worth a visit; housed in an imposing curved five-storey building in Ancaster stone, with bays and coupled columns and cornicing. Built in 1914 for William Baker ‘house furnishers and decorators’, the architecture smacks of Edwardian opulence. I was pleased to see the just-published sequel to Lesley’s Blanch’s posthumous memoirs well-displayed, face out, in the ‘new biographies’ section on the ground floor. (Far to Go and Many to Love: People and Places is published by Quartet Books, and On the Wilder Shores of Love: A Bohemian Life is published by Virago/Little Brown Group.) BookBrunch recently published a piece on editing memoirs and Lesley Blanch.

The Oxford-Weidenfeld Translation Prize ceremony

Drinks followed by readings from the shortlist and a superb sit-down dinner marked the occasion. Founded by Lord Weidenfeld and funded by New College, the prize aims to honour the craft of translation and to recognise its cultural importance. The shortlist features a rich pick ‘n’ mix of genres and cultures:

Sudden Death by Alvaro Enrique translated by Natasha Wimmer: “A rich historical pageant, the narrative traces the convoluted story of the antagonism between Caravaggio and Quevedo. Caravaggio, as is known, was the brilliant and irascible artist whose portraits of saints and other holy figures, which he modelled on prostitutes and beggars, kept his audience in a state of shock. Quevedo, as is perhaps not so well known outside the Spanish-speaking world, was an irascible and brilliant writer whose satirical prose and exquisite verse, written under the Inquisition’s vigilant eye, kept his audience in much the same state. Both were wanted for murder by the authorities and both died of a malignant fever . . .” from The Guardian.

masha regina bookblastMasha Regina by Vadim Levental, translated by Lisa Hayden: “Masha Regina is a provincial girl from a remote Russian backwater where she isn’t content: ‘I don’t want to spend my life like you!’ she tells her bus-driving father before taking off for the city. On the train, the teenage Masha meets a boy, Roma, who helps her find her way to a school where another young man, A.A., teaches; A.A. helps her to be admitted. Both figures end up playing important roles in Masha’s life. It turns out to be a prominent life. Masha grows up to be a film director, to make artful, influential – indeed, revolutionary – films of which all Europe stands in awe . . .” from Kirkus Review.

BUY Masha Regina

panorama dusan sarotar bookblast reviewPanorama by Dušan Šarotar, translated by Rawley Grau:  “In a manner reminiscent of W.G. Sebald, Šarotar supplements the narrative with photographs, which help to blur the lines between fiction and journalism as the reader journeys on a reflective yet kaleidoscopic trajectory from northern to southern Europe. The writer’s experience of landscape is bound up in a personal yet elusive search for self-discovery . . .” from the Peter Owen/Istros website.

BUY Panorama

The Transmigration of Bodies by Yuri Herrera, translated by Lisa Dillman: “Makina, the heroine, entrusted with finding her brother, is a bridge between cultures and also languages. When not on important missions which involve travelling to the much larger, strangely unhappy neighbouring country – no guessing where that is – she mans the village switchboard, ‘the only phone for miles and miles around.’ She knows the contrasting languages: ‘Makina spoke all three, and knew how to keep quiet in all three, too’. . .” from the Irish Times.

BUY The Transmigration of Bodies

penguin classics bookblastFor Two Thousand Years by Mihail Sebastian, translated by Philip Ó Ceallaigh: “The remarkable story of a Jewish student in 1920s Romania  . . . Sebastian was a respected lawyer, a successful dramatist and a literary critic and commentator on the arts. He had friends who would be famous in middle age: Mircea Eliade, the expert on the subtle differences between the world’s religions; EM Cioran, the maverick philosopher who moved to Paris and became one of the great prose stylists in the French language, and Eugen Ionescu, the future absurdist playwright who Gallicised his first name to Eugène and changed the “u” at the end of his second to an “o” once he, too, had established himself as a Parisian. . . .” from The Guardian.

BUY For Two Thousand Years

In Search of Lost Time: Swann’s Way: A Graphic Novel by Stéphane Heuet, translated by Arthur Goldhammer: “A graphic adaptation of Swann’s Way, the first volume of Marcel Proust’s great Modernist novel In Search of Lost Time, is translated from the French by Arthur Goldhammer, who says in his introduction that he and Heuet have ‘tried to preserve the ‘flavour’ of Proust.’ He compares their book to a ‘un menu de dégustation, or tasting menu, (which) tries to give a full sampling of the dishes in the repertoire of a great chef.’ Heuet’s love of Proust shines through in his inventive drawings . . .” from The Independent.

To find out more about Gallic and their ethos, check out The BookBlast Interview with Jane Aitken.

BUY Swann’s Way: Swann’s Way

Cry Mother Spain by Lydie Salvayre, translated by Ben Faccini: “This is a rather special book, as it is a daughter’s fictional re-creation of what her mother Montse went through in the summer of 1936, while living in a small village in Spain. Her mother is now elderly and suffers from dementia, but her memories of what went on during the Spanish Civil War are still intact . . .” from the Historial Novel Society.

BUY Cry Mother Spain

And the winner of the 2017 The Oxford-Weidenfeld Translation Prize


Bret Easton Ellis and the Other Dogs by Lina Wolff, translated by Frank Perry: “At a run-down brothel in Caudal, Spain, the prostitutes are collecting stray dogs. Each is named after a famous male writer: Dante, Chaucer, Bret Easton Ellis. When a john is cruel, the dogs are fed rotten meat. To the east, in Barcelona, an unflappable teenage girl is endeavouring to trace the peculiarities of her life back to one woman:  Alba Cambó, writer of violent short stories, who left Caudal as a girl and never went back . . .” from &Other Stories website.

BUY Bret Easton Ellis and the Other Dogs 

Read the Book Blast review of winning translator, Frank Perry’s current project, Oblique Place, published by Maclehose Press out in 2018.

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