Interview | Yan Ge | Author of the Week

Where were you born, and where did you grow up?
I was born in a small town outside of Chengdu, a major city in the southwest of China. And I grew up there. As a teenager, all I wanted was to get out of this place, this muddy, tiny, sleepy town. Years later, when I actually left and lived in Ireland, all I wanted is to go back and to live in the small town where I spent my adolescence. That small town has been lost. It has changed so much. There have been lots of constructions, new buildings, the industrial and high-tech parks and tones of immigrants. The government renamed it last year, making it a district of Chengdu city. My hometown is officially being archived in the history book — there’s no way I can go back now. So I write about it all the time in my stories.

What sorts of books were in your family home?
Both of my parents were Chinese teachers so we have a sizeable collection of Chinese classics, contemporary Chinese fiction, and translated books. I can’t remember I read The Journey to the West for how many times. And I cried a lot when I read Su Tong’s books as a teenager. My parents love Russian writers and I read Gogol and Gorky with them.

Continue reading Interview | Yan Ge | Author of the Week

Interview | Ros Schwartz | Translator of the Week

Tell us a little bit about yourself.
I dropped out of university in the early 1970s and ran away to Paris where I spent eight years soaking up the French language and culture. I enrolled at the radical university of Vincennes and did various jobs, from telephone operator on the SNCF enquiries line to picking grapes, milking goats and teaching English in companies. When I came back to the UK in 1981, I found that I was unemployable, so I announced myself as a translator.

When you were growing up, what books had an impact on you?
I lived in a house full of books. My father collected books and had very eclectic tastes. We used to go to Portobello Road market together every Saturday and he taught me how to identify a first edition. I had unrestricted access to his entire library. We lived in a small suburban house where there was no privacy. I shared a bedroom with my sister and the only place I could be alone was the loo. During school holidays, I think I spent most of my waking hours locked in the toilet with a book. I was a serial reader, so I’d find an author and then read everything by them. I graduated from Enid Blyton to Angela Brazil – I loved boarding school stories – and Agatha Christie. As an older teenager, it was Sartre and Camus, Zola and Isaac Bashevis Singer. Continue reading Interview | Ros Schwartz | Translator of the Week

Interview | Frank Wynne | Translator of the Week

Tell us a little bit about yourself.
I was born in Sligo, Ireland and while I was a good student, and a precociously gifted musician, I did very little to maximize my talents. I went to Trinity College Dublin to study English and Philosophy, but as a young gay man just coming out (in a conservative, deeply Catholic country), I feel in love, slipped off the radar and left university without finishing my degree. It was the end of my first real relationship that prompted me to move to Paris (to a country and a city I have never visited, with rudimentary secondary-school French that I had never been called on to speak aloud). From there, a series of curious but fortunate accidents led to me translating bandes dessinées, working as a publishers’ reader and finally, in 1998, embarking on my first literary translation. So, while I am passionate about languages, and cannot imagine anything more fulfilling than literary translation, I can hardly claim that I had a career path, or worked towards it. In fact, it never occurred to me that I would be “allowed” to translate novels, assuming vaguely that such herculean feats were reserved for some rarefied species.

When you were growing up, what books had an impact on you?
From a very early age, I was a voracious reader – not that our house was filled with books or my parents were particularly bookish, but I haunted the local library and read anything and everything I could lay hands on. My early reading tastes were probably no different to any boy of my generation: C.S. Lewis, Emil and the Detectives, Richmal Crompton and later Tolkien, Philip K. Dick, Robert Heinlein and A.E. Van Vogt. By my teens, I was reading Joyce and Woolf and Dostoevsky (I was idiotically precocious, and my reading of them was through a glass darkly) and marvelling at what words could do, how they could create worlds, affect moods, inspire thoughts, mould dreams. I was determined to be a writer. I wrote my first (truly awful) novel at about fourteen, my second (modernist, sub-Salinger) novel at about sixteen. Thankfully, neither has survived to embarrass me. Books, for me were both a world, and an escape from the world.

Continue reading Interview | Frank Wynne | Translator of the Week

Interview | Jamie Bulloch | Translator of the Week

Jamie Bulloch is an historian, and has worked as a professional translator from German since 2001. His translations include books by Paulus Hochgatterer, Alissa Walser, Timur Vermes, Friedrich Christian Delius and Linda Stift. Jamie won the 2014 Schlegel-Tieck Prize for Best German Translation for Birgit Vanderbeke’s The Mussel Feast.

Tell us a little bit about yourself.
I’m forty-seven, married with three daughters and live in London, where I was born. Outside of books I love cooking, gardening and cricket.

When you were growing up, what books had an impact on you?
Like many children, I adored Roald Dahl’s work, and then came my first taste of translated fiction when I devoured the Asterix series. I read them over and over again. Later, when I went on a school exchange, I got the chance to read them in the original French. In my teens I was a big Stephen King fan.

Continue reading Interview | Jamie Bulloch | Translator of the Week

Spotlight | The A to Z of Literary Translation, Georgia de Chamberet | Words without Borders 2008

The A to Z of Literary Translation by Georgia de Chamberet was posted on the Words without Borders blog in instalments from February to  May 2008. It was circulated at the Masters Class in Translation Studies which Alane Mason (W.W. Norton) and Dedi Felman (Simon & Schuster) team taught in at Columbia University in the City of New York in 2008. Founded in 2003, Words without Borders is a superb site which promotes cultural understanding through the translation, publication, and promotion of the finest contemporary international literature.
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I contributed to the @wwborders blog from 2005-2009. Whilst writing about English PEN’s Writers in Translation committee of which I was a founder member—tapping into my experiences as an editor, agent and publicist—the idea of doing a fun, but far from definitive listing, The A to Z of Literary Translation came to mind.

Artistry and adaptation are essential to the process of literary translation, since translation is an act of writing. Also accuracy and avoiding short cuts based on the when in doubt, cut it out approach. Writers make good translators—obvious examples being Baudelaire (translator of Edgar Allen Poe) and Robert Graves (translator of classical Latin and Greek authors and George Sand).

Beyond words into the mystery of language, and its cultural hinterland, is where a good translator will carry the reader on a journey of discovery. Good literature is primarily concerned with human beings, and is cosmopolitan, traveling beyond national identity and a book’s original social and cultural context—the same goes for a good translation.

Continue reading Spotlight | The A to Z of Literary Translation, Georgia de Chamberet | Words without Borders 2008

Interview | Nicky Harman | Translator of the Week

Tell us a little bit about yourself.
I’m based in Weymouth and in London. I go to China every year on visits. I speak and read Spanish, French and Italian but I only translate from Chinese. I have two kids, grown-up now, and two grandchildren. I keep reasonably fit, cycle, walk, swim and do yoga –– but all in moderation! And I love food.

When you were growing up, what books had an impact on you?
When I was very small, my father used to read us Grimms Household Tales every day after tea, and I loved that. Rapunzel (‘let down your hair’) was a particular favourite. This only happened in winter . . . my parents were farmers, and in summer, work went on till late in the evening. In my early teens, my father tried to wean me off children’s books and introduce me to the classics, and as a result, I went on strike and didn’t read any more fiction until I was in my thirties. After that, and somewhat belatedly, Jane Austen and Charles Dickens became big favourites. I wasn’t an entirely undutiful daughter: I carried around my father’s present of a leatherette-bound box set of Austen for twenty years without ever opening them, and then had to retrieve a couple of the volumes from houses in places like Sheffield and Wandsworth, where I had somehow mislaid them years before. I never did make headway with Trollope or The Brothers Karamazov, which my father kept pressing on me. Continue reading Interview | Nicky Harman | Translator of the Week

Review | Manuel D’Exil, Velibor Čolić | Editions Gallimard

Manuel D’Exil − comment réussir son exil en trente cinq leçons (A Survivor’s Guide to Exile in 35 Chapters) by Velibor Čolić

Both World War I and World War II originated in the Balkans. Central-Eastern Europe is a region that is terra incognita to most Brits. Prime Minister Chamberlain famously remarked about the Czechoslovak crisis in 1938: “How terrible, fantastic, incredible it is that we should be digging trenches and trying on gas masks here because of a quarrel in a faraway country between people of whom we know nothing.” Dictator Marshal Tito held Serbs, Croats, Slovenes, and others in a state of uneasy alliance until his death on 4 May, 1980. Ethnic tensions grew in Yugoslavia and war broke out in 1990

The Balkans are once again the crucible of crisis – this time as the main refugee route to northern Europe. Thousands have become trapped in Greece after Macedonia, Croatia and Slovenia closed their frontiers. Continue reading Review | Manuel D’Exil, Velibor Čolić | Editions Gallimard

Spotlight | Boom not Bust: A new chapter in the story of translation in the UK

Translations on the UK market

In a piece for The Swedish Book Review published in 1997, I stated that, “Roughly 3% of the titles published in the UK every year are translations (as opposed to 30-40% in France and Germany).” It is a puzzling paradox that Britain is such a multi-cultural society yet so insular when it comes to ‘foreign’ writers in translation. Especially since book-buyers just want a good story and are not particularly concerned about its provenance.

Dr Jasmine Donahaye’s 2012 survey Three percent? Publishing data and statistics on translated literature in the United Kingdom and Ireland is unequivocal: “Literary translation in the UK and Ireland – whether assessed according to its broader definition or restricted to the genre categories of poetry, fiction and drama – is a little higher than the often-cited 3% figure. Indeed it is consistently greater than 4%, and, over the sample years, consistently increases.”

She gives the following statistics:
“The percentage of all publications that are translations: 2.21% in 2000 ; 2.65% in 2005 ; 2.43% in 2008.
“The percentage of poetry, fiction and drama that is translation: 4.37% in 2000 ; 4.51% in 2005 ; 4.59% in 2008.
“The percentage of all literary genres (the entire 800 Dewey range) that is translation: 4.17% in 2000 ; 4.20% in 2005 ; 4.37% in 2008.”

Continue reading Spotlight | Boom not Bust: A new chapter in the story of translation in the UK