For those of you not old enough to recall aspects of life on the home front during World War II, the families of GIs waited eagerly for the arrival of V-mail from their loved ones. These were letters, usually handwritten, from armed forces personnel overseas, which had been reviewed by military censors who often blacked out anything they thought might be of value to the enemy if intercepted. (No e-mail, texting, or Twitter in the 1940s, but plenty of signs with warnings such as LOOSE LIPS SINK SHIPS).Katherine Hoare’s lovely little book, V-Mail: Letters from the Romans at Vindolanda Fort Near Hadrian’s Wall, was published in 2008 by the British Museum Press. It is a selection of documents written by Roman military personnel in the late first and early second centuries. Written in vegetable dye on thin pieces of wood, these writing tablets were preserved by the anaerobic soil of northern England. Commencing in the 1970s, more than two thousand of these writing tablets were discovered by archeologist Robin Birley and his staff in the course of the excavation of the Romano-British fort of Vindolanda.Today, the writing tablets are on display in the British Museum. Vindolanda remains a permanent excavation and research center in northern England at which new discoveries about life on a Roman frontier continue to be made.Let’s read what the soldiers and vicani (residents of the vicus, or village outside the walls of the fort) had to say:First, the famous birthday invitation, the earliest known example of handwriting in Latin by a woman:Claudia Severa to her Lepidina greetings. On 11 September, for the day of the celebration of my birthday, I give you a warm invitation to make sure that you come to us, it will make the day more enjoyable for me if you are present. Give my greeting to your Cerialis. My Aelius and little son send him their greetings. I shall expect you.Sulpicia Lepidina was the wife of Flavius Cerialis, commander of the gar
Every now and then our translators manage to shut down their computers, put the dust-cover on the typewriter, and talk about their work in the wild.
First, Larry Korn—who lived on Masanobu Fukuoka's farm in Japan in the 1970s and returned to the US, where he translated The One Straw Revolution and spread his sensei's teachings—will co-teach a two-week intensive permaculture design course at Restoration Farm in Oregon, beginning June 13.
Next, Robert Chandler, who has been translating the work of Vasily Grossman since the 1980s and who is very much responsible for the author's acclaim as one of the most important Soviet writers, has three events in London this month. The first is taking place tonight at the Free Word Center. And in the upcoming two, he'll be discussing Grossman's recently released novel Everything Flows and talking with Grossman's daughter, Yekaterina Korotkova-Grossman:
June 15, 7.30pm, Pushkin House
June 20, 2pm, British Museum, Stevenson Room
(thanks to Sarah J. Young for rounding up these Grossman-related events, as well as for linking some recent press in praise of Vasily Grossman, on her blog)
Apenas casados, los Boulch, de Lambézellec (Finisterre), estaban ya tan borrachos que hubo que meterles en chirona de inmediato.
Una especie de marabú al que daba hospedaje un árabe de los alrededores de Constantina se le ha llevado el cofre y la hija.
Scheid, de Dunquerque, disparó tres veces contra su mujer. Como nunca la acertaba, apuntó a su suegra: el tiro dio.
Siempre se le impedía a madame Couderc* de Saint-Ouen, colgarse de su falleba. Exasperada, huyó por los campos.
An inquiry about Spanish-language editions of Félix Fénéon's Novels in Three Lines led us to a selection of the pieces by this "maestro del humor negro francés," published several years ago in Letras Libres—which looks to us (with our nonexistent Spanish) to be a Spanish-language analog to The New York Review of Books (perhaps with a more right-wing cast).
By the way, Twitter users can still sign up for the Novels in Three Lines feed.
*chosen here as an homage to Simenon's strangely alluring eponymous heroine in The Widow aka La Veuve Couderc
So during a recent fit of self-Googling (oh, you know you do it too), I stumbled upon this blurb for Jump the Cracks on a Japanese (?) website.
It appears to have been translated quite literally from the catalog blurb on the Flux website — into Japanese, and then back into English. It’s kinda like…chewing your linguistic cud.
But it’s fun to read. And it’s a bit of a lesson in language quirks, which always fascinates me. Both entire versions are
What would you do?
As far as I'm concerned, there's no excuse not to be decent...Especially when you're responsible for a kid.
It just figures that fifteen-year old Victoria's dad fails once again to be at the train station like he's promised. Fuming, Victoria watches as a teen mom stashes her bruised little boy in the train's bathroom. When the mom gets off the train alone, Victoria decides she has had it with all the poor excuses who call themselves parents. Making a split-second decision, Victoria boards the next train out of town — taking the little boy with her.
No, really, what would you do? Victoria's staying on the run until everyone responsible starts keeping their promises. This kid's not falling through the cracks. Not on her watch.
What would you do? As cold arsenic I'm involved, in that location's none self-justification not to take unobjectionable. It precisely figures that fifteen-year yellow Victoria's papa fails erst over again to take halogen the fine-tune displace equal he's secure. . .Especially once you're obligated for a dupe. When the mother gets unsatisfactory the fine-tune unaccompanied, Victoria decides she has had it with each the in straitened circumstances excuses united nations agency bespeak them selves parents. Making a split-second termination, Victoria timber the side by side fine-tune out of town—taking the small male offspring with her. Fuming, Victoria watches arsenic a teenage mother stashes her contused small male offspring inch the fine-tune's room. This dupe's not dropping through and through the cracks. No, truly, what would you do? Victoria's staying along the endeavor until everyone obligated starts ownership their promises. Not along her watcher .
if you’re in procrastination mode, but here’s a sample:
Original: Making a split-second decision, Victoria boards the next train out of town — taking the little boy with her.
Translation: Making a split-second termination, Victoria timber the side by side fine-tune out of town—taking the small male offspring with her.
I love “small male offspring.” And how about the choice of “timber” for “board”? Or “side by side” for “next.” I can just imagine the poor translator, paging through his Japanese-English dictionary and trying to figure out the many nuances of definition, parts of speech, and context.
A few other near-misses:
“united nations agency” for “everyone responsible” (???)
“in straitened circumstances” for “poor” (except in this context “poor” means “incompetent”)
“fine-tune” for “train”…um, okay, maybe. Context again. This is not “train” as in “teach.” It’s “train” as in “choo-choo.”
There also seems to be a disregard for paragraphing and sentence order. Apparently those aren’t important in Japanese?
Truly, brain exploding…I mean, mind-blowing.
Richard Greeman, the power behind the Victor Serge Society and translator of many of Serge's works, including Unforgiving Years, is presently on a speaking tour of Great Britain, discussing "Capitalist and Ecological Collapse: An Eco-socialist Solution." He says,
can be no future without a dream, no progress without the hope of
Utopia. So let us then begin now by trying to imagine a technically
feasible, ecologically sustainable post-capitalist future and
visualizing historically possible roads leading to it. The ‘New
Archimedes’ hypothesis – based on theories of cybernetics, chaos,
emergence and Castoriadis’ Content of Socialism – connects a historically proven lever of worker solidarity and a 21st Century philosophical fulcrum (planetary consciousness) and a global electronicplace to stand (the Internet) where the billions can unite in solidarity in order to lift the earth before it succumbs to capitalist ecocide.”
to contact Richard Greeman about details of the the tour, email "eurojournalists at lapost dot net" and a preview of his book, Dangerous Shortcuts and Vegetarian Sharks can be found here.
Details of the tour follow.
Mon 10 Nov: Capitalist
and Ecological Collapse: An Ecosocialist Solution” at 7.30 pm in the
upstairs meeting room at “The Goose on the Green” pub in Catford.
Sponsored by Alliance for Green Socialism
Fri. 21 Nov: “Capitalist and Ecological Collapse: An Ecosocialist Solution” 7.30pm at the Lucas Arms, Kings Cross, sponsored by Alliance Green Socialism
Wed 12 Nov: “Be Utopian, Demand the Realistic” 7:30 pm at the CASA Bistro Bar on Hope Street opposite Philharmonic Pub
GLASGOW: For information update contact email@example.com
Sun. Nov. 16: “Victor Serge’s Ecological Vision,” Autonomous Centre of Edinburgh, 7:00 PM
Mon. Nov. 17: ”The Revolutionary KIT: build your own invisible international,” Edinburgh University Chaplaincy, 7:00 PM.
Tues. 18 Nov: “Is There Hope After Capitalism?” (Ecosocialism versus Capitalist Ecocide) at 6:00 pm Tyneside Irish Center, 43-49 Gallowgate.
Fri. 21 Nov: “Capitalist and Ecological Collapse: An Ecosocialist Solution” 7.30pm at the Lucas Arms, Kings Cross, sponsored by Alliance Green Socialism
Mon. 24 Nov: “Capitalist and Ecological Collapse: An Ecosocialist Solution” 7:30 pm Committee Room, Wolfson College, Oxford.
I was chatting to the Hebrew translator of Nim's Island today, because she's about to start work on Nim at Sea – and it struck me what authors owe to their translators. It's a strange relationship, because more often than not there's no contact at all; the overseas publisher chooses the translator and I usually hear nothing in between receiving the contract and the arrival of the finished book. And of course, unless it's in French, even when I'm holding it, I have no way of knowing what the words inside it actually say.
So what faith I need to have in that translator! Translating a story isn't about replacing each English word with its Hungarian or Hebrew equivalent. It's about hearing the voice of the story, the music and rhythm of the language that makes that story unique, and finding a way to retell that in her own language. It's the gift that ensures that a Basque speaking child gains the same experience from the book as a child in Korea, and that they're both reading the story I wrote.
It will never be exactly the same, of course – but then, no two readers ever read exactly the same book. We all bring our lives, moods and distractions to what we read; it's coloured by all sorts of things that the author had nothing to do with. In fact every time I reread a book it seems slightly different. And of course the differences between one translation and the next will be more different from that.
But my friend in France, a girl I started kindergarten with (Jacqueline in Yasou Nikki) said that when she read L'ile de Nim (Nim's Island in French) she could hear my voice. And to me, that describes exactly why I'm grateful to my translators.
By: Aline Pereira
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Poetry is often about the spiritual, the naked human voice crying out to be heard. Such is the voice of Japanese poet, painter and writer Tomihiro Hoshino. Hoshino is well known in Japan for his simple, down-to-earth verses and essays about the natural world and his reflections on life. A vigorous and active phys ed teacher, Hoshino became a quadripalegic in 1970 after a near fatal gymnastics accident. After spending nine years in hospital where he learned to write and paint with his mouth, he returned to his home village Azuma in Gunma prefecture. From there, he married and continued with his writing and painting, garnering a following with his books and exhibitions.
Although there are now several of Hoshino’s books translated into English, the one I have is Road of the Tinkling Bell published in 1990 (trans. Kyoko and Gavin Bantock.) It contains a sampling of Hoshino’s poetry, painting and essays. The writings are simple and heartfelt, easily appreciated and understood by children and adult alike. What I like about Hoshino’s work is the raw and naked wonder he expresses towards the natural world and his humble expressions of human vulnerability and weakness. In “Cyclamen,” he writes:
I decided today
to do nothing
seem much closer somehow.
Road of the Tinkling Bell is illustrated with Hoshino’s own paintings which are strikingly well-crafted images of flowers and natural scenes. The pleasure of reading the verse goes hand-in-hand with the remarkable illustrations. In the original works, verse and illustration went together mouth-painted on stiff boards used for calligraphy. Such is the love of the Japanese for this remarkable artist, that a museum exists for his work in Gunma, Japan. However, one need not go there to be inspired by the simple, gracious words of a poet whose calling is genuine and deeply spiritual.
This week’s Poetry Friday host is Wild Rose Reader.
A letter from the editor of NYRB Classics
The Rider on the White Horse is currently available from www.nyrb.com at 30% off the cover price.
Everything's up in the air at the start of Theodor Storm's novella The Rider
on the White Horse, written in 1888 when Storm, who was not only a celebrated author but also
a distinguished jurist, was on his deathbed. The story begins—begins
almost reluctantly—with a strange confusion of voices. First we hear
what we take to be the author—only he disclaims authorship. He tells us
that we are about to read a story that he read maybe a half century ago
in a magazine, a magazine that in the years since he has never been
able to track down, a story, he somewhat puzzlingly adds, of which
"nothing external" has ever reminded him. The story follows: its narrator, traveling along the coast of the North Sea, is caught
in a terrible storm; battered by wind and waves, he repeatedly glimpses a spectral horseman galloping
furiously and soundlessly past him. Taking shelter at an inn, the traveler mentions the apparition,
and now the local schoolmaster steps in. It is he who tells what you might call the story proper—a
ghost story, yes, but also, as these overlapping voices might suggest, a story that has a ghostly
life of its own.
At first, however, there is nothing uncanny about the story the schoolmaster tells, about a
young man making his way in the world sometime in the middle of the eighteenth century. Hauke Heien
is a boy from a modest farming background who, with a talent for numbers and a fascination with the
ways of water, apprentices himself to the local dikemaster and soon makes himself indispensable.
When the dikemaster dies, his mantle falls upon Hauke, who also marries, very happily, his daughter.
It is a success story.
Hauke's story is set, as I mentioned, on the edge of the North Sea, in Frisia, where the proper
construction and maintenance of dikes is crucial not only to the safety but also to the well-being
of the community: as the network of dikes expands, so does the availability of land for grazing or
cultivation. To open new fields, Hauke orders the construction of a new dike, built on new principles.
Content with things as they are, the villagers grumble about the project. The dikemaster, however,
is not lightly disobeyed, and they undertake it. They are—and this is where the story begins
to grow unsettling—truly horrified when, after two years, the work approaches conclusion,
and the dikemaster intervenes to prevent a step without which it will all have been in vain. "Something
living has got to go into it," one man tells Hauke, "Even our grandfathers knew that much...."
Hauke ordains that no sacrifice will take place. The dike is built and holds. The new land is cleared.
Reason trumps superstition. Progress is made. So it appears, and yet Hauke remains a lonely figure,
with only wife and child for company, distrusted by the larger community. He has done his job, neglecting
nothing, except perhaps something about the human. He rides on his white horse along his dike and
feels himself to be "at the center of all the Frisians alive and dead....[towering] above
There is an extraordinary moment in The Rider on the White Horse when Hauke's
wife is sick, and Hauke, unusually, prays:
O God, don't take her away from me! I can't do without her and You know it!... I know
You can't always do just what You want to do—not even You.... Speak to me! Just a breath!
Silence. A silence that is at the heart of Storm's story, where the natural world is prowled
by supernatural apparitions, while the supernatural itself, the divine—even the poignantly
limited God, able only to help a bit, that Hauke addresses—never appears. A world in which
you cannot trust your eyes or anything, much less—Hauke will discover—know yourself.
I'm not going to reveal the end—you'll want to find it out yourself, I hope—and
ruin the suspense, which mounts powerfully as the story proceeds. I will say that by the end we have
been returned, in richer and stranger ways than we might have ever imagined, to the beginning: we
are up in the air again. I began by noting the author's odd disclaimer about "nothing
external" having ever reminded him of the story he happened upon long ago and now intends to
tell again, and one thing that becomes clear in the course of that telling is that the landscape of
the story is an interior landscape—the landscape of conscience, say, where the real and the
unreal exist under continual threat of confusion, kept apart by only the most fragile and provisional
barriers—though Storm's mud slicks, icy marshes, fog banks, crashing waves, and vulnerable
dikes, not to mention Hauke and the villagers, never strike us as anything but unforgettably real.
And as to what I also mentioned to begin with, the strangely layered voices by which the story
is relayed, by the end it is clear, I think, that the story we have heard is essentially choral: the
story of any community and the sacrifices by which it ensures its survival; the story of the isolated
souls that constitute all communities and of their deaths. Storm, as I said, was unsure he would
live to complete it, and in the background of the story you can hear something like the dead saying
to the living (as the living suppose), You are who we were and will be who we are. One of the
mysterious effects of this extraordinary work is that at some point the modern reader realizes
with a shock that he too is included—included already—in this ghostly chorus. It is
ghost story in which, you could say, the reader is brought up short by his own apparition. The reader
is the ghost.
The Rider on the White Horse is the title story and masterpiece in a selection of
Storm's novellas and stories translated by the very fine American poet James Wright for the
Signet Classics series, when it was edited by E.L. Doctorow. If I see a book from that series that
I haven't read, I always pick it up, and in this case I was especially interested because of
Wright's involvement. I'd always meant to read Storm, though more as a matter of duty,
I suppose, than anticipated delight. It's not often that one starts a long story, finds oneself
pulled irresistibly along through it, and finishes it both astonished and convinced that it is,
in the strongest sense of the word, great—a work that will deepen with rereading, that matters.
That was my experience with The Rider on the White Horse.
Scholar and translator Douglas Parmée—who translated two NYRB Classics, The Child by Jules Vallès and Afloat by Guy de Maupassant—died last August. What follows is an expanded version of the obituary that ran in the London Times.
Douglas Parmée was a lecturer in modern languages at Cambridge—and a fellow of Queens’ College for sixty years— who also became known for the number and quality of his translations. These included Effi Briest (Theodor Fontane) and Bel-Ami (Guy de Maupassant) for Penguin Classics; A Sentimental Education (Gustave Flaubert), Nana (Emile Zola) and Les Liaisons dangereuses (Choderlos de Laclos) for the Oxford University Press World’s Classics series; and, for Short Books, a selection from the aphorist and epigrammatist Nicolas Chamfort. He also published two anthologies, Twelve French Poets (Longman 1957), which became for some years an A-level textbook, and its successor Fifteen French Poets (Longman 1974), which did not.
As well as being Director of Studies in French and having various other college jobs in the pluralistic Cambridge way, he spent time at the University of the West Indies in Kingston, Jamaica and in Barbados and at the University of Western Australia in Perth.
The style of his work can be judged from a review of Liaisons, which praised a racy, colloquial and accurate translation, a concise, well-honed, elegant introduction and helpful and informative notes. It was this raciness, allied to his remarkable facility with languages and a relish for the unconventional – perhaps a distaste for the conventional as well – that led him into some of the byways of Francophone literature, including the crique-craque tradition of Haitian folk fables, which he would assert were superior to those of La Fontaine, especially to anyone who expressed the opposite view. He went to Papa Doc’s Haiti from Jamaica and became the English expert on Haitian literature, giving talks on the Third Programme. This feeling for négritude, though not assumed, gave him further pleasure by the irritation it caused to some. Symbolism and Surrealism were also among his interests, but his true forte was a deep knowledge of and admiration for French novelists of the nineteenth century.
He was born in West Dean in Sussex in 1914 – despite the name, there is no French blood in the family for at least the preceding three hundred years – and was at Simon Langton Boys’ School in Canterbury before his father, an Inspector of Schools, moved to Cambridge and his son entered the Perse School. There he thrived, leaving in 1933 to go up to Trinity College, Cambridge as a teacher training college student, a now non-existent category, spurning an exhibition offered by Downing College. At Trinity he took a first in both parts of the Modern and Medieval Languages Tripos – a starred first in Part II - becoming an exhibitioner in 1934 and a senior scholar in 1935. He left in 1936 to do post-graduate work at the University of Bonn and a doctorate at the Sorbonne. During this time he received various scholarships and studentships from Trinity, including the Dunning in 1938 and the Rouse Ball in 1940.
Although his doctoral thesis—on the symbolist Henri de Régnier—had been completed and indeed published, as was then the rule, he never took the degree, either because the war intervened or, as was sometimes said, in a fit of pique on his part at some Sorbonne functionary's trying to charge a fee which he felt he had already paid. He certainly owned the academic hood.
Back in England, he became Secretary of the Students’ Department in the London office of the British Council from 1939 to 1941. It was in this capacity that he found himself at a lunch for another symbolist poet, Paul Valéry, whose description of the inadequate wine he was offered – “Mais, c’est curieux” – he treasured.
In 1941 he was claimed by RAF Intelligence and then, very naturally, the Government Code & Cypher School at Bletchley Park, where he worked in Hut 3 as part of the team, eventually nearly 600 strong, that translated, analysed and interpreted the decrypts from Hut 6. It was while there that he met and married in 1944 Gwen Hepworth (“Wendy”—he had a habit of using his own versions of names and places), on secondment to Hut 6 from the Foreign Office; his best man was the irascible Glaswegian John Cairncross, later exposed as a spy for the Soviet Union and dubbed the Fifth Man by the press.
After VE Day he was sent to Berlin; he was horrified not only by the condition of the defeated Germans, but by some of their conquerors’ behaviour to them, in particular that of a brother officer who, having agreed the price of a pleasure-boat with its owner’s widow in cigarettes, paid her in Woodbines.
Once again back in England, in 1946 he joined the French department at Cambridge, not long thereafter becoming a fellow of Queens’ College, where he remained until he retired. After the enormous success, noted above, of his anthology Twelve French Poets, he turned to translation. Some indication of his output’s range and extent can be had from observing that, as well as the classics already mentioned, it included Sons of Kings (Les Pléiades) by Joseph-Arthur de Gobineau, the thriller Dossier 51 by Gilles Perrault, eight of the articles in Italian Fascisms from Pareto to Gentile (from the Italian), Rosa Luxemberg, a reappraisal, by Lelio Basso, also from the Italian, The Second World War by Henri Michel (co-awarded the Scott Moncrieff Prize) and An Exemplary Life (Das Vorbild) by Siegfried Lenz, which won an award from the PEN Club of New York.
He enjoyed giving lectures, despite modestly having described that activity as casting false pearls before real swine; his became very popular: perhaps the undergraduates who liked his irreverence and wit were hoping for a repeat of the legendary if not mythical occasion he lectured on Surrealism dressed only in cap, gown and black tights. He was also Steward of his college and on the wine committee, duties from which he derived much pleasure.
He was divorced from his first wife in the early Seventies, soon marrying Meg—Margaret Clarke, then a research student - with whom he went to live in Adelaide, South Australia, after his retirement in 1981, when he was made a life fellow of Queens’. The location, with a very good library and no more than an hour or two’s drive from three significant wine-producing areas, was carefully chosen.
In retirement, with no academic distractions, he worked on his translations harder than ever; with no need for income from them, his tastes for the recondite or undervalued as well as for the classics could be expressed. The new selection from Chamfort gave him particular pleasure, with its uncynical and humorous appreciation of human nature comparable, he felt, with Montaigne; he also gained great satisfaction from The Child by Jules Vallès, an autobiographical novel dedicated to everyone who was bored at school.
Outside his pursuit of literature as a professional he had an abiding interest in all the arts, being a keen concert-, gallery- and filmgoer. In earlier days he had been fond of the company of convivial wits, having been well-acquainted with, among others, the belligerent critic and boozer John Davenport; Kingsley Amis’s horror when told he would have to teach Conrad amused him particularly. His interest in wine has been mentioned; he had a good palate and was both knowledgeable and experienced. He was widely travelled, both in Europe and outside; in the Fifties and Sixties, the Long Vacation usually saw him leaving Grantchester Meadows to cross the Channel en famille, first in a Vauxhall Velox, then with a Berkeley Cavalier caravan behind his short wheelbase Land Rover or, later, his Austin Westminster. He was not a good driver—and a worse back-seat driver: his adjurations to “keep the revs up” have passed into the family language. He had also been a reckonable tennis and squash player; at school, though not having an especially large or powerful physique, he had set a shot-putting record which stood for many years.
The geographical position of Australia in the Far East led to the development of an interest in the Dao that reflected his own quietist and patient approach to life. As, though tended devotedly by Meg, his health began slowly to decline, this attitude allowed the departure of successive physical faculties to be met not with resignation but with resolution to make the best of what remained.
He is survived by two sons and a daughter of his first marriage and by his second wife and their son.
Douglas Parmée, translator and academic, was born on June 6, 1914. He died in his sleep on August 11, 2008, aged 94.
© Nicholas Parmée 2008
In getting together our edition of Tibor Déry's (that's Déry Tibor to you Magyarphiles) novel Niki we came across some poems of his, published in the short-lived Dokumentum, a journal he helped edit. After dropping some not-so-subtle hints to poet and translator George Szirtes (who has written the introduction to Niki) that it would be wonderful to read the poetry in English, he graciously had a go at translating one or two. We should mention that the poems would not have been found had they not been digitized by the New York Public Library.
born into sunlight
they swam around her silent
one spring night they entered my heart
the well of resurrection!
their golden ferries glittered through my breast
look at them dancing!
years march on monotonous in the garden greenhouse
here and there a face leans towards me
and sheds its tears
feed my goldfish
the wind moans outside
day’s leaden back casts its shadow across us
who will unearth time’s infinite gifts from my body?
in the dust of the street…
there sprawl the lost nights
gilded wooden statues of beggars march along the boulevard
the stars above them: the purple-scaled highway of my fish
George Szirtes webpage and blog
Niki: The Story of a Dog
Photo: Caitlin Burke, via flickr
We haven't shared the good news, of which there is quite a bit:
Joel Rotenberg's translation of Stefan Zweig's Post-Office Girl is a finalist for the 2009 PEN Translation Prize
The late Douglas Parmée's translation of Guy de Maupassant's Afloat is a runner up for the French-American Foundation's Translation Prize
And Jamey Gambrell's translation of Vladimir Sorokin's Ice has been shortlisted for the Rossica Translation Prize, which honors excellence in translations from Russian
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Some have suggested that we translate our stories into multiple languages to expand our market. This is a fantastic idea and we’d love to try, but we are wary of the perils of mistranslation.
As an opera singer, I do a lot of translation of song texts, and I know very well how easy it is to make a mistake. Sometimes one letter is all the difference between what you mean to say, and a dirty word. Other times, a colloquial phrase that is popular in the States might transform into a hideous insult in another culture.
Just for fun, we plugged a few of our books’ phrases into Translation Party, a fun site that will translate any given English phrase into Japanese, then back to English, then back to Japanese, etc. until the phrase reaches “Equilibrium” (meaning the software is finally able to accurately reproduce the exact same phrase in both languages). The results are fun and exactly what we don’t want to happen when we finally do translate our books.
First, a line from “What Animal Are You?”:
Roar, you great lizard and stomp through the floor.
Roar, to the floor and trample lizards.
Trample lizards are rumbling and the floor.
Final: There are sound and floor-stomping lizards.
The next phrase from “If I Were Big” took a little longer to reach equilibrium:
She’d have long legs and go anywhere
She has long legs I have, go anywhere
She will go anywhere to have my long legs
She will move to any location on my long legs and a
She moved to any location of my long legs
Her to move anywhere in my long legs
I long to move the legs of her everywhere
I have to move to where her legs are long
You must move the length of her legs I
Final: I need to move the length of her legs
Ours were fun, but my favorite came from the lyrics to Van Morrison’s “Brown Eyed Girl”:
Start – Hey where did we go, days when the rains came, down in the hollow, playing a new game.
Final: Or here is a small hole in the rain, I, or, if necessary, you must create a new game.
One of the weird things about publishing a novel is it thrusts you into a public position even if you resist it. This never happened when I published poetry or parenting essays. Then I was just an anonymous mom who wrote for a little extra diaper money. Every once in a while, I would get a letter (the stamped kind in the mailbox) from someone who liked what I had written: always a mom, always with kids the same ages.
Now I get regular emails about writing or comments on the book, and teenage girls write to me pretty often. I get requests to read and "fix" manuscripts or I am asked to pass them along to my editor or agent. Kids ask me questions to get extra points on their book reports.
I was asked to speak at a luncheon the other day. The median age at that luncheon is around 78 -- I'm going to stand there and talk about an angsty girl who sets fires in the woods and speaks to fish that reside in her head?
The other day I got some books in the mail. At first, I couldn't figure out why anyone would send me books in French. I teach Spanish now and then, but French? Then I looked closer. This was MY book, in translation. (Seeing my own name gave it away...duh)
I forgot they might translate it. I was feeling very international when Emma walked up and looked at the cover.
"You wrote a book about a pink mermaid?" She was very excited.
"No. This is The Shape of Water. Only in French."
"The same book?" (disgusted, disappointed) "I thought you finally wrote something I would like."
So much for feeling international and writerly. This morning, someone found it and sent me the page review in French. I put it into the Google translator and this is what I got:
See availability in branch Flaky preparation nonavailable Summarized more The mother of Magda had always said that the world was filled with strange secrecies and marvellous qu' they only could see. But now qu' it n' was there, the world of Magda found itself bathed d' distresses and of loneliness, even of madness. When an imaginary family of fish quarreling started to torment it, the only discharge system of Magda was to cause splendid but destroying fires in the surroundings of the marshes, close to the house. The form of l' water draws a picture sinisterly lyric and surprising daily newspaper and of l' unreal, in which Magda starts to disentangle the secrecies of its family and to seek a stable place in the world.
I like it; I think it's sinisterly lyrical in its own Gallic way.
I recently got interested in translating a middle-grade novel written by a well-known and long-dead foreign author. Do I have to get some sort of permission from his estate? Also, once I translate it, what's the next step? Are agents open to translations?
I love questions like this. It’s not something I ever would have thought of myself.
Yes, absolutely, you must get permission from either the author’s estate or the author’s publisher. That would depend on who holds the rights for foreign translations. My suggestion is to start with the publisher, who will probably direct you to the agent for the author or the author’s estate.
Before you do that, though, let me explain a little about how selling foreign rights typically works. When a book is sold to a foreign publisher to be translated, the publisher has it translated using their own people. Very rarely is a book translated and then sold to that country. In the case of Stieg Larsson, for example, the book was sold to the U.S. publisher and then the publisher brought in a translator to translate the book. My guess is that the agent or the publisher has worked to get this book published in many other countries, but because of low sales or lack of interest they never got a buyer.
All that being said, it can never hurt to contact them to see what they say.
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Surprise is surely one of narrative’s virtues, but do Americans overlook, in its favor, other narrative rewards and satisfactions, other priorities and uses? Pop and pulp especially, by standardizing story forms and making, so to speak, formula racers—sleek, streamlined thrill machines capable of hugging hairpin plot reversals and sudden narrative curves—have made us canny consumers of plot.
Edward Gauvin is guest blogging at Three Percent, a blog run by the translation program and publishers at the University of Rochester to promote the art of translation. I enjoyed his post about the challenges of reading translations, and thought this marriage of formulaic narrative to its image was...well, rather sleek and streamlined too.