Greatest Women in Translation: Rosalind Harvey

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Welcome back to our Greatest Women in Translation interview series!

Our last interviewee, Anna Holmwood, nominated Rosalind Harvey.

Welcome, Rosalind!

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1. You translate from Spanish into English and have translated literature from different Hispanic countries. How are they different among each other, including in terms of translation?

The various Spanishes around the world are pretty different from each other, and between Latin American countries the difference can be even greater than between Latin American and Iberian Spanish. Not only in terms of pronunciation, which varies wildly, but also vocabulary and grammar. I fell head over heels with Spanish as an undergraduate student on my year abroad in Peru, and the Spanish spoken there is usually described as one of the clearest and easiest for beginners (luckily for me!); while I was there I spoke very little English, even began dreaming in Spanish, and I’ve also spent time in Ecuador, Argentina and Colombia so, for me, the rhythms and cadences of Latin American Spanish are still the ones I respond most strongly to. In terms of translation, I always feel more drawn to Latin American writers because I feel closer to the culture and way of speaking, although I have translated two Spanish authors so far. In the end though, as long as I respond personally to a text and am able to have access to the author when translating (this is why I haven’t to date worked on any dead authors!), it doesn’t really matter to me where the text is from.

2. You created, along with theater group Coney, a real-world translation game called Wordkeys. Can you tell us about it?

In 2011 I was the first translator in residence at the Free Word Centre in London, and my remit was to demystify literary translation by developing a programme of public events around the practice. I programmed a few talks and more conventional activities, but I knew from the start that I wanted to do something that would take people out into the street and talking to strangers, because this is where real-world translation happens, and it is something that all of us engage in every day, very often without realizing it. I approached Coney because they had done work for an organization my then-boyfriend was involved with, Guerilla Science, which puts on fun, wacky events about science for the general public. Coney’s members all have theatre backgrounds and they’ve developed what you might call ‘real-world’ games for adults, people who have forgotten to or no longer have the chance to play in their lives, and playfulness is such an important aspect of literary translation, as well as performance, so it was a perfect fit. The game works like this: there are two teams who uncover clues hidden around an outside space, clues written in a foreign language which they have to translate, and then at the end there’s a shared activity the teams have to perform together. It’s easier to explain by watching a video!

3. In this interview you gave to Free Word, you said that “[a]s translators, we can stand up for ourselves more,” and gave a few examples of what we can do, such as “try and demand the recommended rates.” What recommended rates do you refer to? In Brazil, our union, Sintra, has a table of recommended rates for different translation services, but I’m not aware of any other.

‘Recommended’ is actually not quite the right word. In the UK we are lucky to have the Translators Association, a subgroup of the Society of Authors, and every year its committee meets to discuss what (due to legal reasons) we have to call the ‘observed rate’. Currently this is £95 per thousand words for prose, and £1.10 per line of poetry with a minimum of £35 per poem. A different approach is often taken with illustrated children’s books or graphic novels, but the general gist is that this is roughly the amount that certain UK publishers have been observed to pay to translators. This doesn’t mean that it’s the recommended rate, nor that it is an amount that all publishers will pay (unfortunately!), but is meant to be a minimum, and indeed English PEN will only fund books in translation where the publisher has agreed that they will pay the translator this minimum. We also need to take into account that this rate, aside from being a per-word figure, will often include any time taken to look over edits, any time taken to promote the book. Ultimately, I think it’s important that we recognize that our work is work, that it takes time and effort, and that, unless you are a student (in which case, working for free can be a useful way to gain experience), you should be properly remunerated for it.

4. You teach Modern Spanish Language; Language, Text and Identity; and Translation: Methods and Practice at University of Warwick. What are some important advice you give to your students who are about to enter the translation market?

Read voraciously, figure out what you like to read and who in the UK is publishing that kind of work, put yourself in situations where you will be around other translators to share knowledge, follow closely what is happening in the literary arena in the country whose language you will be working from (ie keeping abreast of literary prizes and finding out who your favourite authors’ favourite authors are), try to gain at least a basic understanding of how the publishing industry works… and don’t give up the day job!

5. You are chair and co-founder of the Emerging Translators Network, an email-based peer-to-peer support group for early-career literary translators working into English (primarily). Could you tell us more about it?

The ETN was founded by myself, Anna Holmwood (your previous interviewee) and Jamie Lee Searle, who translates from German, in 2011, when we half-jokingly described ourselves as ‘the forgotten child stars of literary translation’ – we had all had one book out, which had received a nice amount of attention, and we weren’t sure what to do next to ride the momentum. The world of an early-career literary translator still felt a little disjointed back then: people with one less book than us under their belt were unable to join the Translators Association (you can only join once you have a contract) and so to connect themselves to other working translators; we would all occasionally bump into each other by chance at a a book fair or a launch, but it wasn’t very organized or formal. We wanted to create a friendly space for people at that stage of their career to come together and share experience, advice and good practice, and so we set up a Google Group and started adding members. It quickly grew into this brilliant online community of practitioners talking about a whole range of issues: really practical, nuts-and-bolts things as well as esoteric discussions of semi-colon use. We held a sell-out conference in 2014, and now have over 1,000 members, and I think it’s safe to say that it has changed the landscape of literary translation in that it’s made it easier for what has traditionally been a very disparate group of shy professionals into a group with far more visibility, a louder voice, and an idea of what our shared goals are. I’m very proud of what we achieved, and I’d like to say thank you to all of our members for making the community as wonderful as it is!

6. How do you juggle translation work with teaching?

The short answer is, I don’t! (weeps gently). No, but seriously: it’s not easy, but without the day job I wouldn’t be able to survive, and I think it’s really important to talk about that, about the money side of things. Before I got into teaching I worked for around 10 years as a freelance translator alongside various other things (bookselling, being a university receptionist, private Spanish tutoring, and working in a Chinese furniture shop), and for most of that time I struggled financially. I was building up my career, but I was cash poor and time poor! Now I’m cash-comfortable but time-destitute, and my goal for the near future is to develop a balance so that I can translate one book a year in the holidays, when teaching stops and I have time to focus, and I think that will keep me satisfied – along with shoehorning as much literature into my translation classes as I can get away with. What’s also nice now is that I can use my own translations in lessons, something the students often find valuable as a book is such a tangible thing compare to an obscure academic paper, and it means they’re able to see the link between what they’re studying and a way they might use their skills in the future. It’s always fun to get them to critique my own translations to start a discussion about how no translation (or original!) is ever perfect and it’s such a subjective process, which is particularly valuable in an age when education can be far too focused on right or wrong answers and ease of measurability and results.

7. Now it’s your turn to nominate our next Great Woman in Translation.

I’d like to nominate Jen Calleja, who is a translator from the German, editor, poet, current translator in residence at the British Library, a member of the band Sauna Youth, and an ambassador for the Good night out …. – partly because I admire the way she brings feminism/activism into her work, but mainly, if I’m honest, it’s because I want to know how the hell she finds time to do all the creative things she does with such aplomb!

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Practical tips for translating and publishing Greek documents

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Translating a medical document from other languages is hard enough without having to deal with a complex one like Greek. Although the grammar is logical, Greek is still one of the most complex languages to translate; especially if it’s your first time.

Of all the European languages, Greek poses a number of unique challenges during translation and desktop publishing. Even though many medical devices and drug companies face these challenges with Greek documents, there are straight-forward solutions to overcoming them.

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All-caps styles

The Challenge:

Operating manuals frequently make use of an all-caps style for titles within the body of the text. The table of contents (TOC) might be set up to combine an initial cap followed by lowercase letters. In other words, the title “OPERATING INSTRUCTIONS” would be listed in the TOC as “Operating Instructions.”

This technique works well in many languages. In Greek, however, there are certain letters (accented vowels, e.g., Ü Ý Þ ß ü   and the final sigma “ò”) that do not automatically map to the appropriate capital letter. For instance, the final sigma maps to a bullet point when the “all caps” style is applied.

The result is that to make the all-caps titles appear correctly, editors must manipulate the TOC manually, i.e., replace the bullet with a capital sigma. In the case of larger manuals, where the TOC can run for a dozen pages or more, a full day of work would be required to perform the revision.

Suggested Solution:

The all-caps style should not be used in IFUs or manuals that will be localized into Greek. Instead, develop Greek-specific templates and styles that provide for appropriate capitalization of titles.

Text expansion

The Challenge:

When translated from English, Greek text typically expands by 30 percent and, depending on the translator, often more than that. As text length increases, so does the need for more desktop publishing time:

  • Greek hyphenation dictionaries do not exist, requiring the manual hyphenation of formatted text.
  • If the source templates were designed without text expansion in mind, quite a bit of work may be needed to prepare the master pages for Greek text.
  • Given the larger number of pages, a Greek document will require more time for fixing reflowing text and for proofreading formatted pages.

Suggested Solution:

Carefully review your source-language templates to ensure that the longer Greek document reflows with a minimum of manual rework.

 Fine-tuning index entries

The Challenge:

The “code pages” used by Greek operating systems are different from those used by Roman languages. This means that many applications or parts of applications cannot “read” Greek text and display it as gobbledygook.

An example of this limitation is the Marker editing tool in Adobe FrameMaker, which cannot display Greek text, even though the Greek manual itself displays just fine. As a result, not even the simplest of index errors can be repaired by a desktop publishing specialist working on an English operating system.

Suggested Solution:

To ensure the accuracy of the index, the production process needs to account for the time needed by Greek linguists to review and fine-tune index entries and the compiled index on Greek operating systems.

Alpha-sorted elements

The Challenge:

Another challenge that is related to code-page conflicts concerns alpha-sorted elements, e.g., footnotes with alpha designations, alpha-sorted lists, and the index. An English operating system provides A-Z alpha sorts, not Alpha-Omega sorts as required in Greek.

The result is that any automatically generated alpha sorts in the body need to be manually overridden in Greek documents, an additional and potentially time-consuming task. In the index, reference pages must be revised to ensure that the index sorts as necessary.

Suggested Solution:

Where possible, replace alpha-sorted lists and footnotes with numbered lists and footnotes; this will reduce the cost of manual rework and thus improve the overall quality of the documentation.

Translating Greek Medical Documents Requires Patience!

Greek is an inflected language, which means that the words change to convey meaning. Whereas the English language depends solely on word order to convey meaning, Greek relies on changes to the words themselves in order to make sense.

The publishing of Greek documentation presents a handful of unique challenges. However, with careful planning and the development of Greek-specific process steps, it is possible to hold down Greek publication costs and produce high-quality deliverables.

About the author
otd_logoOn The Dot Translations is a New York-based firm that offers translation services in every language. You can contact us 24 hours a day, and seven days a week. Our translators have specialized fields, they get the job done fast without compromising our high quality standards.

IT translation reference material

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Information Technology (IT) translators, like myself, are used to strictly following different reference material. Even when the client has its own glossary and style guide, not always are they totally comprehensive so we have to turn to third-party resources. Luckily, there are some recognized and trusted sources we can follow to base our linguistic decisions on, and not simply throw in anything we like. Personal preference should be our last option.

The most widely used and trusted reference source is Microsoft. Other large IT brands even mention it in their own style guides, instructing the linguist to use it as reference if something is not included in their material. Microsoft has recently (late last year) updated their Writing Style Guide (you can download the PDF for free in the link). It contains topics related to capitalization, punctuation, numbers, URLs and web addresses, everything one expects from an IT style guide. This guide applies to the English language, but you can also find one for your language here (including Brazilian Portuguese, last updated on June 2017). The language-specific style guides are only downloadable (also free of charge); they are not available online.

Microsoft also has an online Language Portal where you can search for terms in different languages, including Brazilian Portuguese. It shows results in its Terminology Collection and in localized Microsoft products in three columns: English, Translation and Definition/Product. This is a fantastic resource! It’s bookmarked in my browser so I can easily access it whenever I need, which is every day.

Apple, another trusted source, also provides its style guide online (in English).

If you know of any other publicly available IT style guide and/or glossary, please feel free to share it in the comments.

Greatest Women in Translation: Anna Holmwood

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Welcome back to our Greatest Women in Translation interview series!

Our interviewee today is Anna Holmwood, Chinese and Swedish literary translator.

Anna Holmwood

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1. According to The Guardian, Jin Yong is the world’s biggest kung fu fantasy writer, enjoying huge popularity in the Chinese-speaking world and being among the 10 bestselling authors. However, his name is barely known to the rest of the world “due to the complexity of the world he has created and the puzzle that has posed for translators.” As the translator of one of his books, what is this complexity and the puzzle about?

There are many reasons why Jin Yong’s work has not been published by a trade publisher in English before (and barely in any other language either, for that matter). Jin Yong first stories were published in his Hong Kong newspaper in serial form in the 1950s, but due to the political upheavals of the time, he only became a household name in China and Taiwan in the 1980s and 1990s. Contact between the Chinese-speaking world and the west only really started to pick up in intensity in the 1990s, and in terms of deeper understanding, I think we are really only at the beginning of what will turn out to be a big shift in world culture as we start to understand Asia better and they take their place at the centre of the world stage. Jin Yong’s stories are grounded in a particularly Chinese genre that dates back several hundred years, but he was also someone who modernised martial arts fiction and made it relevant again. His significance to contemporary writers of kung fu novels cannot be understated. As no martial arts fiction has been translated by a trade publisher in English, editors are understandably a bit unsure – will it sell? Will readers connect? But it makes sense to start with the master, if anyone can make martial arts fiction popular in the west, surely it has to be Jin Yong?

2. In this same article mentioned in question 1, you say that you don’t explain everything in the book because you believe “readers like a bit of a challenge.” That’s a tough decision to make – whether to provide more contextual and cultural information to the reader or not through footnotes or any other sort of side note to the original. How did you come to this decision?

Reading is no fun if it’s too easy! But indeed, you have to maintain a balance between provoking a reader’s interest and losing them completely due to incomprehensibility. In the case of Jin Yong, the broad sweep of the story, the emotional worlds of the characters, the moral framework behind their actions: all these things translate very easily in my opinion. The parts that are more difficult are mostly in the detail, the elements of Chinese medicine or historical references that are perfectly obvious to a Chinese reader. And yet, it is my opinion that an English reader doesn’t need to understand everything on the same level as his/her Chinese counterpart. I would rather that a translation inspires a reader to explore something further than sacrifices the energy and flow in order to make every detail plain.

3. The first volume of Jin Yong’s most popular trilogy, A Hero Born, was translated by yourself (taking you five years). The other two volumes are being translated by different translators. How was this experience of sharing a series of books with other translators?

Actually, I am working with one other translator only, Gigi Chang. I will work on the odd numbers, she’s doing the even numbers. It’s been great to have her on board – she started working on book two just after I finished and handed in book 1 to our editors. We’ve been able to bounce around ideas and she was someone for me to bounce ideas around with during the editing process, so I can’t imagine not having her with me on this journey now. We are in daily contact, despite living on opposite sides of the world. It’s been very important for us to find a way to work together that gives each translator the freedom to work in their own way, but to come together to create a joint voice for Jin Yong in English. This is no small task! But I feel very lucky to have found someone with whom I work so well together.

4. You have been recently appointed Foreign Rights Manager at DKW Agency. What exactly does this role entail?

I am in charge of selling translation rights for our authors, which means, selling into all territories apart from English-speaking ones. This means meeting and talking with editors from all around the world and finding out what books are popular in their markets, what kinds of stories they think resonate with their readers and what excites them personally. It’s a brilliant counterpoint to doing all the detailed work of translating, it’s the best way to get a “bigger picture” of what happens when a book travels across languages.

5. Besides translating from Chinese, you also translate from Swedish. And I must say this article on your translation The Amazing Story of the Man Who Cycled From India to Europe for Love, by Per J. Andersson, captivated me. It must have been a real joy to translate it. Could you tell us a bit more about it?

I loved translating this. PK’s story is incredibly inspiring, and I know from having had contact with him during the translation process, he is as humble and committed to living a life founded on love and acceptance as he comes across in Per’s book. It made for a nice change to Chinese martial arts. It’s that balance between different projects and languages that makes my job fun.

6. What are the differences between translating from Chinese and from Swedish in terms of difficulties or even joys?

I learned Swedish as a child because my mother is Swedish. As such, the ways I came to speak Mandarin and Swedish could not be different – one was from immersion only, I have barely any formal education in Swedish. The other I studied as an adult, alongside courses in the history, economy, politics and of course literature of China. When I first started out, the difference was perhaps more pronounced. I found dialogue in Swedish came very naturally, I understood things by tone and instinct in a way that I didn’t in Mandarin. I have since married and had a child “in Chinese” however, so the intellectual/emotional distinction no longer feels so strong. Now that I live and work in Sweden, I can feel the two languages converge.

There is, of course, a huge difference in terms of literary culture. Swedish fiction has greater and deeper connections to English writing, the underlying grammar and values are far more similar, so translating between these two is like crossing a stream, where Chinese to English translation requires a long-distance ferry-ride across a wide ocean. I think we underestimate how culturally specific our notions of “good writing” really are, and as such, translating between European languages rarely challenges readers at the level of what is fiction, how do we structure a story. There are many cases of Chinese genres that do not have simple equivalents. Crime writing, poetry, essays: these look very different in Chinese. This presents translators and editors with a far bigger challenge than I think the industry is prepared to recognise. And similarly, many types of writing that are popular in the west don’t work in China, for example.

7. Now it’s your turn to nominate our next Great Woman in Translation.

I’d like to nominate Rosalind Harvey for the next interview!

Women, unite, go out and kick ass

This weekend I watched Mary Magdalene in the movies. I wasn’t expecting much of it, but it really touched me. It may be due to the current scenario. You may have heard of the Brazilian council woman Marielle Franco’s assassination here in Brazil last week (if not, here’s an article about it, and a quick search on Google will provide you with more information about this brutal murder). Besides, if you are a woman, you know the struggles we all go through, some more than others. If not, you may at least have an idea or have heard of what it’s like.

I thought the movie is really touching, but this line by a woman particularly stroke me:

We’re women. Our lives are not our own.

It suddenly occurred to me that we go through the same problems since forever. Our current reality is not that different from the reality at that time. When I start thinking the only difference is that we are more open to speaking up, Marielle’s tragic story reminds me we are not.

So are our hands tied? Isn’t there anything we can do? Should we simply conform? NO! We will not be silenced.

We do have more success stories, inspiring movies (have you watched Black Panther?), amazing role models out there to help us get inspired, not give up and keep on fighting. Together, we are stronger.

Besides doing my part setting the example and speaking up when I can, I host an interview series, Greatest Women in Translation. This is my teeny tiny contribution to making ourselves seen and valued, as translators. Now, I came up with another idea for women in general. What we need is inspiration and being valued for what we are and do, not for our looks. Every single one of us is important, but sometimes we lack recognition, support, love. Something simple we can do to strengthen our bond and empower other women is recognize them.

Therefore, I suggest you, whoever you are regardless of gender, leave a comment below telling us who the woman you admire the most are, whoever they are, and why. Which women inspire you, always teach you something or make the difference in your life or even in the world? Go even beyond that and let them know somehow.

I’ll start by naming mine:

  • My mom. I know it’s tacky, but it’s the truth. She’s a strong and determined woman who worked a lot to raise three girls and provide them with what she wasn’t able to have: education. She worked with my dad, but she was the one behind everything. She traveled a lot, spent sleepless nights, never fretted and imposed herself. Most of what I am today I owe to her.
  • My dear friend Carolina Ventura. She’s married and a mom of two lovely girls. Being single and having no kids, I always admire those who run a business having a family. And I think she is the perfect example of it. She’s an admirable professional who exemplary juggles business with family and a quality personal life. A great translator, mom, wife, daughter and friend.
  • Emma Watson. She had everything to take a different path: a beautiful face in Hollywood amidst smashing fame with the Harry Potter movies. Instead, she chose the path to do good and make a difference in the world, including empowering women.

I’m inspired by many other amazing women, from my family (I have an aunt who defied my grandparents and pursued her studies anyway – the only woman to do so in her house; later moved to another country due to lack of recognition in her own, and now lives with her husband, daughter and son far from her entire family), friends, and famous people (e.g. Michele Obama), but I just wanted to give an example in each of those groups.

The world will only change as we change. I will not be silent. I will be heard.
Mary Magdalene, in the movie

Now it’s your turn. Empower someone who you admire by recognizing her in the comments below.

In need to feel inspired? Here are some inspiring quotes by inspiring women.

Guest post: Português e suas variantes

Sejam bem-vindos de volta a mais uma publicação convidada, queridos leitores!

Hoje, tenho o prazer de receber uma colega que divide a variante do português do outro lado do oceano, a portuguesa Tina Duarte.

Seja bem-vinda, Tina!

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Imagem fornecida pela autora

De braço dado

Não me recordo exactamente que idade tinha quando peguei pela primeira vez num livro de Jorge Amado, que me condenou a uma paixão eterna por um universo de personagens tão ricas e com tantos matizes, e pela forma, ora doce, ora crua, como as palavras tão bem desenhavam a história, mas creio que teria uns treze anos. Nessa altura, já conhecia Jorge Amado de nome, lembrava-me vagamente da Gabriela e do Seu Nacib[1] na televisão e já me tinha deixado encantar pelo “português com açúcar[2]” das histórias infantis de um disco de vinil, que uma amiga da família tinha trazido do Brasil, e que eu ouvia sempre com muita atenção, sentada ao lado do gira-discos.

Cresci e aqueles livros e aquelas personagens abriram a porta a um mundo desconhecido, que me fez querer conhecer escritores, cantores, músicos e artistas brasileiros. Para além da perspectiva diferente que uma cultura distinta da nossa nos garante, havia sempre a possibilidade de apreciar a língua, a forma como do outro lado do Atlântico se desconstruíam e verbalizavam emoções, se descreviam situações e realidades. Este gosto muito particular, hoje aliado ao exercício da minha actividade como tradutora, prevalece e continuo atenta à evolução e às diferenças que estas duas variantes da língua apresentam.

A língua portuguesa levada ao Brasil, a países africanos e regiões asiáticas por conta da expansão do território de Portugal, durante os Descobrimentos, tem 273 milhões de falantes, é língua oficial de nove países e uma região administrativa especial, sendo o Brasil o que regista um maior número de habitantes, tornando assim incontornável o seu contributo para a divulgação e importância da língua ao longo dos anos.

Esta nossa língua regista diferenças significativas entre o Português que se fala em Portugal e o Português que se fala no Brasil, quer a nível de ortografia, fonética, semântica, sintaxe e morfologia. Na base dessas diferenças, coexistem as diferentes influências que a língua foi absorvendo de um lado e do outro. Assim, denotamos a existência de inúmeros vocábulos derivados da língua tupi e o predomínio exercido pelo inglês (por proximidade geográfica aos Estados Unidos) no Português do Brasil, ao passo que, do lado de cá do Atlântico, será mais forte a influência de outras línguas românicas. A compreensão entre falantes portugueses e brasileiros não é certamente impossível, mas a comunicação formal, pela sua formulação mais estática e convencionada, será sempre mais facilitada do que uma conversação entre um português e um brasileiro que habitualmente não tenham contacto com a outra variante da língua.

Considero que a ideia veiculada por algumas pessoas da possibilidade de existência de um Português Universal, e que seria até uma das justificações para o Acordo Ortográfico de 1990 por se tratar de uma forma de unificação da língua, está totalmente desadequada da realidade. Estamos perante duas variantes da língua muito diferentes e que não apresentam qualquer tendência a, de alguma forma, convergirem.

Penso com frequência em imagens que ilustrariam o que são actualmente o Português de Portugal e o Português do Brasil: a de um jardineiro que plantou duas sementes de árvores iguais, em terrenos diferentes e deixou que crescessem, espraiassem os seus ramos e criassem os seus frutos, todos diferentes e, no fundo, todos iguais. Ou a de uma mãe que deu o braço à sua filha, jovem adulta, e ajudou-a a sair da sua cidade e a instalar-se numa outra cidade do outro lado do rio. Têm personalidades diferentes, vivem as suas vidas, seguem e absorvem tendências distintas, amadurecem e, no entanto, o laço que as une é indestrutível e inegável.

[1] Gabriela foi a primeira novela a ser transmitida em Portugal, em 1977, três anos após a Revolução do 25 de Abril, que pôs fim a mais de 40 anos de ditadura em Portugal.

[2] Termo que o escritor português Eça de Queirós terá utilizado para designar o Português falado e escrito no Brasil.

Sobre a autora
cópia_foto_out2016AZd_0751 (4)Licenciada em Tradução, Tina Duarte trabalha como tradutora freelancer desde 2006. Sócia e membro da Direcção da APTRAD – Associação Portuguesa de Tradutores e Intérpretes. Trabalhou anteriormente na área da exportação, deu aulas de inglês a adultos e foi fundadora e dinamizadora de uma organização relacionada com a defesa do património natural e construído.

Greatest Women in Translation: Nicky Harman

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Welcome back to our interview series!

This month, I had the pleasure of e-meeting and getting to know a bit more about our first Chinese translator, Nicky Harman, nominated by Antonia Lloyd-Jones.

Nicky Harman

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1. Your latest translated book is Happy Dreams, by Jia Pingwa, one of China’s most celebrated writers. What is it about?

It’s about a pair of migrant workers from a remote village outside Xi’an in China, who come to the big city to make their fortune. Happy Liu and his fellow-villager Wufu find a semi-derelict building to live in and settle into life as trash collectors. We follow them through a series of tragi-comic adventures, but when Happy falls in love, things get more serious: the woman, a prostitute in one of Xi’an’s ‘hair and beauty salons’, is arrested by the Vice Squad and sent to a rehabilitation centre; Happy and Wufu get work on a building site to earn the money to bail her out; Wufu dies and Happy tries to take his corpse back to their village, because the folk belief is that when the body is not returned for burial in his or her home village, the soul will never rest in peace. (This is not a plot-spoiler, the scene actually opens the novel.) Despite the grimness (being a trash-collector in China really is getting down and dirty), this novel is a joy to read. What makes it for me is the character of the eponymous Happy, an unlikely hero who is, by turns, pretentious (he is always ready with an aphorism or a homily), engaging, obnoxious, honest, devious, foul-mouthed and tender (to his best friend and to his lover). Think Charlie Chaplin, Chinese-style. I’m grateful to Amazon Crossing for taking a punt on this novel because, although Jia Pingwa is one of China’s most important living writers, his novels are hard to translate (full of dialect), so have not made much impact in the West. His writing is wonderful but many of his novels are set in the remote countryside where Jia himself grew up, and are long and complex, which is a combination hard to sell to publishers who can’t read the original.

2. I guess the differences between American and British English can be compared to the differences between Brazilian and European Portuguese. I only translate into my native language, Brazilian Portuguese, and don’t dare venturing into the European one. How about you? Being British, do you translate into American English? If so, do you find it difficult?

You’ve absolutely put your finger on a key issue for me as a translator. I write British English, especially if it’s slang dialogue. That’s another reason why I’m grateful to Amazon Crossing – for having faith in me, and for giving me an editor who was sensitive enough to make useful suggestions when I had no idea how to make my British-sounding slang acceptable to American readers. That said, I feel a little sad that Happy Liu could never be ‘chuffed’, but always had to be ‘delighted’, or ‘satisfied’ or something similar. I think the characters’ voices come from deep inside me, as the translator, in fact, I imagine them as coming from my belly, and it’s difficult to restrain the tendency to use certain words when they seem to fit so perfectly the ‘voice’ as one hears it. But every translation is a process of negotiation and compromise, and my feeling, from readers’ reviews on Amazon and Goodreads, is that our combined efforts paid off.

3. Your next translation, due out in May 2018 is Our Story: A Memoir of Love and Life in China, by Rao Pingru. What was special about its translation?

I signed the contract, opened my working document to start the translation…and my heart sank! This author is extremely well-educated and the book is sprinkled with quotes from classical Chinese poetry, as well as references to history, to his Confucian-style upbringing (he’s now in his 90s), and to folk customs and local food. To say nothing of his war-time career, which required me to get a grip on military terminology. But within a few pages, I was entranced – Rao Pingru has the rare gift of telling his life story as if you and he were sitting in his living room and you were the only listener there. This is the only book I’ve ever done (and I’ve translated some pretty gut-wrenching stuff) where every time I arrived at the final pages as I went through first draft, successive drafts, and edits, I got a lump in my throat. He wrote it in grief after his beloved wife died, but it is full of affection and humour. The book is gorgeous to look at too, because Rao is a painter and there are colour illustrations on every page.

4. And you have another novel translation out in May, The Chilli Bean Paste Clan, by Yan Ge?

Yes, that’s a record for me, two book-length translations out in the same month! I actually finished translating The Chilli Bean Paste Clan three years ago, but the route to publication was somewhat tortuous. (Hats off to Roh-Suan Tung, of Balestier Press, who took it on, and has given it a gorgeous cover too.) It’s completely unlike any other novel I’ve translated: a family drama that manages to be both warm and funny, barbed and irreverent, and highly profane. The novel is set in a (fictional) small Sichuan town in twenty-first century China, where Gran’s impending eightieth birthday celebrations are the trigger for growing tensions between the family’s middle-aged siblings. Events take an unexpected turn on the day itself, when secrets from everyone’s past are revealed, including that of the matriarch herself. Yan Ge started writing young adult fiction in her teens and is a well-established and prize-winning author. The Chilli Bean Paste Clan [《我们家》, My Family, in Chinese] was her first excursion into adult fiction, and it is an extraordinarily clever one. The challenges here for me were to express the family bonds and animosities with sufficient subtlety, and the dialect (again!), which Yan Ge herself says is highly local to the small town in which she grew up. In both these areas, she was extremely helpful in explaining things to me. I hope the book does well, because it’s hugely enjoyable. A sort of very wicked Chinese Jane Austen-style story.

5. I think you are our first Chinese translator interviewee! 😊 Why did you choose Chinese as your working language?

There was no contest, really. I do read and speak various European languages, but so do many other excellent translators, much better than me. My degree was in modern Chinese but for many years I let it drop and did other work and lived a completely different life. Then in the late 1980s, I came back to it and re-learnt it. A Chilean translator friend of mine suggested I should try translating because, he maintained, ‘There must be lots of work out there.’ That proved a little over-optimistic and my career as a translator started slowly. But I was instantly hooked on literary translation and I still am.

6. What are the challenges of translating from Chinese into English?

One huge challenge is that you are recreating in idiomatic English a text which in grammar and syntax is just about as far from English as it could possibly be. So the operative term here is ‘recreate’. But at the same time, you have to reproduce exactly what the author is saying as well as being sensitive to how s/he is saying it and the effect s/he is trying to achieve, all the usual considerations of literary translation from any language. So your English has to be extremely good. There’s no way you can follow the source language sentence word for word, you have to make something new, but it has to be an accurate and faithful representation of the original. Of course this applies to translation from any East Asian language, like Japanese, Korean and so on, because they’re all so different from English.

Then, of course, China is a big country and there’s a lot to learn with every book you translate. I think everything I’ve mentioned above just about sums it up: dialogue must sound natural, many writers use dialect, which you have to understand and find a way to express in English, and there are cultural and historical references which are instantly recognisable to the Chinese reader, but which are opaque to many western readers without some sort of a gloss. (Do not mention the word ‘footnote’! These are anathema to most editors nowadays.) Not that I’m complaining at all. I absolutely love this work.

7. What are you most proud of having achieved in your translating career?

My work on Paper-Republic.org is one thing. After all, the work doesn’t end when the translation is finished. I’m passionate about getting readers interested in Chinese fiction and luckily, among Chinese-to-English translators, I’m not alone in that: for the last ten years, I have been part of a core of volunteers on Paper Republic, which works to facilitate both literary and publishing connections between China and the rest of the world. We run online and offline events and publications aimed at raising the profile of Chinese literature among readers, students, editors and journalists. For readers, we provide complete short stories (in our ‘Read Paper Republic’ project) and novel excerpts, as well as public events with opportunities for reading and discussion. For students, translators, and educators, we provide translation-focused educational materials, and facilitate translation-related events and training. The Paper Republic website is also home to an extensive database of Chinese literature and its translation, helping visitors gain an overview of Chinese literature, and its various translations into English. In short, in many ways we have become an effective bridge between Chinese writers and their writing on the one hand, and English-language readers on the other.

With regard to my own translations, I often get involved in promotional work, especially when the author doesn’t speak English. I write blogs, do book launches, and talk at literary festivals. I absolutely love this aspect of translating too, I mean, who would want to sit in front of the computer all day every day, going boggle-eyed over even the best-written book? Not me, I need to get out and about too.

I also feel hugely privileged that I have been able to introduce such a wide variety of Chinese authors in English, and some have become personal friends, which is an added bonus. One area that we all need to work on, however, is a greater focus on Chinese women writers. I tallied up the gender balance in my translations, and it’s about even. But in our annual rollcall of translations from Chinese on Paper Republic, there is a preponderance of male authors, reflecting, one has to assume, men’s greater visibility in the literary world both east and west. Out of the 110 winners of the Nobel Prize for Literature, only 13 have been women. Only a fifth of winners of China’s prestigious Mao Dun Prize have been women, which is a bit dismal because there are so many good female writers in China.

8. What’s the best way of learning more about Chinese fiction, for people who don’t know where to start?

Well, we run the Read Paper Republic project I mentioned above specifically for readers wanting to dip a toe in the waters of Chinese fiction. We began by publishing a complete short story (or essay or poem) every Thursday for a year. We have since added a couple more series of short stories and will continue to do so on an occasional basis. They are all still online – just click on the Read Paper Republic heading or logo on our home page. Of course, we’re not the only people posting Chinese short fiction online: Asymptote Journal and Words Without Borders post excellent work from Chinese, as well as other languages. If you want something longer and meatier, well, a visit to your local bookstore should produce a good novel. Or try googling for helpful lists such as the one produced by TimeOut Beijing, TheCultureTrip and The Wall Street Journal. I recently made up a list myself, for London’s China Exchange festival.  Interestingly, some of the same books and authors turn up on all four lists, which I think indicates growing recognition and appreciation of Chinese literature among English-language readers worldwide. And of course, those lists are only the tip of the iceberg. There is much, much more out there. For instance, if you like scifi, then you are in for a treat, it’s one genre where Chinese writers have made a big impact. For instance, Liu Cixin, winner of the Galaxy Award and the Hugo Award, has half-a-dozen books in translation; and a number of Hao Jingfang’s short stories and novellas are available online in English. And martial arts, a great Chinese genre which hitherto has hardly been translated, has a gem just out in English, A Hero Born, by the inimitable and much-loved Jin Yong, (MacLehose Press, translated by Anna Holmwood). Dig in and enjoy!

9. Now it’s your turn to nominate our next Great Woman in Translation.

Anna Holmwood.

Guest post: Live your passions!

Welcome back to our guest series!

Today I have the pleasure of hosting the dear Dolores Guiñazú, whom I have personally met during the ATA Conference last year.

Welcome, Dolores!

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Live your passions!

From a very early age, I pictured myself working, writing, translating and researching from an office very close to my future family and children, with the flexibility of being there fully present.

I was born in a small town in northeast Argentina, known for its reserves and wildlife, Resistencia, Chaco, close to the limits with Paraguay and Brasil. When I finished high school, I was firmed in my desire to become a Professional Translator and an Interpreter. The University in town did not offer my career, so I had to move to the “Big city”, to Buenos Aires, capital of Argentina, in order to pursue my dream.

Life was not easy at those times, as I missed a lot my family, my dear friends, my home, my daily life, everything! However, my career, new friends made and professors help me a lot in persevering and holding to my endeavor. As soon as I graduated from University, I began working as a Translator in many multinational corporations, like Pfizer, Coca Cola, Motorola, Santander Investment, among others. The experience was very fulfilling and worthy every second. All the new friends and colleagues whom I met throughout those years are deeply cherished. There, I began connecting the dots for my future daily job.

As I always wanted to keep on studying and improving my skills, I began a two-year MBA degree in the evenings, after my working schedule. In fact, I have always had two or more jobs at the same time. With my new pursuit, I pushed even harder, as this postgraduate course was difficult, very demanding, and required too many hours, whole weekends studying and being immersed in books and research papers. The experience was a blast. The professors, the best. And the experience of this association of my hometown University with Albany University was truly gorgeous. Once every two months, some teachers from US came to Argentina to teach us the latest trends and studies, the same as the University there. And all the courses were in English! I really enjoyed and seized this experience. We cannot forget the importance of continuous study, researching, reading new topics, new trends. Nowadays, more than ever, we cannot settle. The world needs us to stretch and keep on moving even further.

While at the MBA I met a new friend and she was the one who introduced me to my husband. The moment I met him, I knew he was the love of my life. I was not very young, and all my friends were already married and with kids. But, I truly believe there is a time and a moment for everything you really want to have. After getting married and while I was expecting my first son, I soon realized that one of the very first reasons why I have chosen my career had been the idea of being “my own boss”, of deciding my own times and choosing my projects. So, I made the big decision to quit my safe and awesome salary to begin working for my own Company. My dearest hubby helped me a lot in taking this huge step in my career. We are a team, and our income depended on this huge change. Changes, as always, are not easy. You have to hold on tight to your decision and move forward, not matter what. The team work I have always had and all the communities where I belonged have been really thought provoking and inspired me to raise the bar in all the projects and throughout all the years that went by.

Translation times changed a lot since my early beginnings, with a typewriter and millions of papers, liquid paper to erase mistakes, no Internet at all and with that, endless hours at libraries and researches done all over many different places and public entities. Being now in an almost paperless and extremely connected world (thanks, Internet!) makes our work in translation and communication easier and faster for all of us.

As women, some of us like the idea of having children and at the same time want to keep on doing what we love, keep on working and do the best to thrive in our careers. We know that we can accomplish our dreams. Dreams sometimes do not come true, but DECISIONS made at the right time and with deep passion and belief, DO COME TRUE.

My two boys, now at high school and my two girls at elementary school know what I do for a living, respect my working times as well as my clients and their different time zones, meaning phone calls and emails at any time and any day, and take pride in having a full time working mother. They are my inspiration and my example. Family life is hectic and breathtaking, I enjoy every minute of it. Time flies, really fast, and all of sudden my little beautiful babies are grown-up boys and girls of whom I am very proud of. I am very thankful and blessed for my life and the opportunities I have had so far. Life is a gift. Gratitude makes you feel supported and affirmed by your loved ones.

Doing what you love makes it all flow seamlessly, and you can barely distinguish when you are really working and when you are resting and having fun with your children. Passion shows in all details of our lives. Flexibility and teamwork are crucial. I am very thankful for my blessings and all the opportunities life gives me every day to keep on swimming and learning.

RESIST the urge to take the easy route. Your potential is not in your comfort zone.

Live your best life and expect more.

About the author
IMG_0002Dolores R. Guiñazú is a Certified Sworn (Court-Approved) English to Spanish Translator & Interpreter specializing in mindfulness, health care, marketing, legal & corporate communications. After graduation, she spent ten years working as an in-house translator for multinational corporations, such as Pfizer, Santander and Motorola in Argentina. Then, she continued working as a freelance translator, working in teams and with colleagues for Global Agencies as well as for direct clients all around the world. She holds an MBA in Marketing from USAL & Albany University in New York. And she is also a Spanish Copy Editor and Proofreader certified by Fundación Litterae and Fundación del Español Urgente (Fundéu). A member of the ATA (American Translators Association).

Greatest Women in Translation: Antonia Lloyd-Jones

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Image created by Erick Tonin

Welcome back to our Greatest Women in Translation interview series, dear readers! Our interviewee today is Antonia Lloyd-Jones, award-winning literary translator from Polish into English.

Welcome, Antonia!

Antonia Lloyd-Jones

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1. Your wide list of published translations from Polish into English include fiction, reportage, biographies, poetry, children’s books, film scripts, short stories, academic essays, among others. In such a diverse portfolio, what do you like translating the most?

I don’t have a favourite genre, but I enjoy varying my diet. When I’m translating an entire book, it inevitably gets into my blood stream – to sense fully what the author is aiming to achieve, I have to let it get inside me, let it touch my soul, before I can find a voice for it in English. It can be a painful experience if the emotions expressed in the book are difficult (and Polish literature has more than its fair share of tragedy), so I need variety to alter the mood.

One of the features of Polish literature is that it has very strong literary non-fiction, with just as much to offer the translator as fiction. The genre that has come to be known as reportage is largely a Polish invention, started off by Ryszard Kapuściński in the 1950s and developed by Hanna Krall, and in the next generation by writers including Mariusz Szczygieł and Wojciech Jagielski. They write books that are about true events, people and places, but it is neither news reporting or travel writing; instead they portray whole societies or nations from the bottom up, through the lives of ordinary people. In terms of style these are some of the most challenging books I have translated, and among the most fascinating.

I love translating children’s books, probably because I have never fully grown up myself, but also because they offer specific translation puzzles that are fun to unscramble.

For instance, in Krystyna Boglar’s novel Clementine Loves Red, which I co-translated with Zosia Krasodomska-Jones, there’s a little girl with the weird name ‘Jarzynka’, which means literally ‘little vegetable’. When they meet her, the other children are amazed, but later it turns out her father is called Mr Jarzyna, an unsurprising Polish surname, and the child’s nickname is a diminutive based on it. After much head-scratching, in English we called her Macadamia, and her father was Mr MacAdam.

My translations due to appear this year illustrate the huge range on offer in Polish literature, and I really can’t say which is my favourite. This month there’s Posts, a witty poetry collection by Tadeusz Dąbrowski, including evocative poems inspired by the trips to New York that resulted from a previous joint publication. Next month there’s Dancing Bears, reportage by Witold Szabłowski, who uses the fate of performing bears rescued from Bulgarian Gypsies and rehomed in a special shelter as an allegory for people in countries that have emerged from totalitarianism, but who don’t understand freedom. In May there’s Priceless, a high-energy thriller by Zygmunt Miłoszewski, about a team of Poles commissioned on behalf of the nation to steal a Renaissance painting that was looted during the war, but when they try, they realize someone’s trying to kill them. In June there’s Lala by Jacek Dehnel, an exquisitely written novel, closely based on reality, about the colourful life and adventures of the author’s grandmother. And finally in September, there’s Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead, an eco-crime novel by Olga Tokarczuk, in which the female narrator lives deep in the Polish countryside, where she insists that avenging animals are responsible for a series of strange deaths of local male bigwigs who hunt.

2. You have led workshops for Translation Nation project in UK primary schools working with children aged 10-11 to produce translations of stories from their own native cultures. How was this experience in introducing translation to kids?

I’m not sure what the children would say about my competence as a teacher. I came away from this experience with undying admiration for all primary school teachers, as they do one of the most difficult jobs imaginable, especially teaching classes with children from twenty or more cultures. And I’m also in awe of Sarah Ardizzone, who devised and runs the whole project (now as Translators in Schools). Even with my lack of ability to organize boisterous 10-year-olds, I found it tremendously rewarding.

The project involved encouraging children from various cultures to bring stories from home, for their classmates to translate and then read to each other in performance. At the first school, the story that made the greatest impression came from a shy Polish boy who told it to me between sessions in the corridor; it was about his granny’s appalling experiences as a deportee in Siberia during the war. The other children were moved and shocked by the real-life story of their friend’s relative. It was the only moment in three whole days when they sat riveted, in silence. Afterwards the headmaster thanked me for bringing so much out of this shy boy, and had a local paper report on it. But it wasn’t me, it was the excellent project that gave him a chance to explain something about his culture to his school friends.

Another child said he was half-Greek, and brought in the Odyssey! That was a bit ambitious as a translation project, but we chose the story of the Cyclops, which went down well too. At the second school, an Egyptian boy who had only been living in Britain for a few months made up his own wonderful story, about a man living in Cairo with a giant pet tortoise that destroyed the neighbour’s garden but made up for it by giving him a daily ride to work on its back. And there was a Latvian girl who at first wanted nothing to do with the project, but ended up as our most enthusiastic participant. I felt sad to say goodbye to her and hope she’s flourishing.

Children from abroad who’ve settled in the UK with their parents learn English very fast and often speak it better than the adults, so they act as ambassadors for the older generation. And among them there are sure to be some future literary translators, so it’s brilliant to start nourishing their talents early.

3. You promote Polish books to English-language (UK and US) publishers and readers. Apart from having two past winners of the Nobel Prize for Literature, namely Czesław Miłosz and Wisława Szymborska, in your opinion, what’s special about the Polish literature? What’s your pitch to publishers and readers?

Polish literature has several special features. Its fiction tends to differ from English-language novels, for instance, by being based more often on style and less often on linear plots or straightforward story-telling. That quality can make it not just hard to translate, but hard to sell to publishers, who view it as experimental and possibly unappealing to British and American readers, whose expectations tend to be fairly conventional. But it is actually an asset for ambitious, high-quality literature.

For instance, last year two Polish novels were very well received in English, though neither has a conventional structure and both are characterized by superb style. They’re Swallowing Mercury, Wioletta Greg’s evocation of childhood in a Polish village, translated by Eliza Marciniak, and Flights, Olga Tokarczuk’s unusual take on the broadly understood concept of travel, translated by Jennifer Croft. I’m thrilled to see what excellent reviews these books have had, as both are gems of contemporary Polish fiction.

As I have said above, Polish reportage is in a special category of its own, so I often find myself explaining its particular qualities to publishers. In the past I have put a lot of effort into finding publishers for my own generation of reportage authors, and now I’m very pleased that my colleague Sean Bye has made headway with bringing more of them to English-language audiences. His translation of Filip Springer’s History of a Disappearance, about the fate of a mining town that ceased to exist, brings a superb new voice to a wider audience. And we both have plans for more Polish reportage in translation.

I suspect that translators from some of the more mainstream languages, such as French, Spanish or German, are more likely to be commissioned than translators of ‘minor’ languages such as Polish. Instead, translators from Polish have to work alongside Polish publishers and agents to convince foreign publishers to buy the rights to Polish books. On average, only about 10 to 15 literary works in English translation from Polish are published each year. But I don’t see anything wrong with that as an annual ‘score’ – what counts is quality, and the competition that Polish books have to go through to appear in English to some extent guarantees that it’s the best books that get through, or at least the ones with the best chance of success on English-language markets.

Of course Polish poetry is well-represented in English, but there are some dynamic younger poets yet to be translated. Although I rarely translate poetry I’m hoping to find a publisher for a collection by Krystyna Dąbrowska, a personal favourite of mine. How would I pitch her work? It’s vivid, evocative, haunting, sometimes deeply personal and emotional, sometimes keenly observing other people’s lives, often inspired by travel to faraway places. But the best way will be to show it to them.

Another Polish speciality is children’s illustrated books. There is a fabulous new generation of illustrators and graphic artists at work now, many of them inspired by their predecessors in the 1960s and 1970s. After a rather Disneyesque phase, the best tradition is back and booming. So far Daniel & Aleksandra Mizielińska have blazed a trail abroad with their worldwide best-selling Maps, H.O.U.S.E., and Under Earth, Under Water. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg — Polish illustrated children’s books represent an unexploited gold mine, represented by artists such as Katarzyna Bogucka, Agata Dudek, Paweł Pawlak, and many others. Their work speaks for itself, and I’m hoping more English-language publishers will soon see the light.

4. According to your own words, you find it enriching to mentor emerging translators. Why?

Mentoring is one of the best parts of my job. I’m now working with my sixth mentee, Zosia Krasodomska-Jones, who for the mentorship is focusing on children’s books, especially YA and younger children’s novels. What a great excuse for me to find out more about them too. We have just spent a week in Poland talking to people who are well-placed to advise us on the latest publications. There’s a wealth of good books to choose from, and the hardest thing is to decide which ones are likely to work on English-language markets. We came away with lots of ideas, and a big task ahead to sift out the ones we want to pitch at the Bologna book fair in March.

I don’t have time to work on all the books I would like to promote or translate, so helping younger translators to develop their careers allows me to pass on ideas or projects that deserve attention. Sometimes I pass on work to them that I haven’t time for, but I don’t want to treat my mentees like a dumping ground – mainly I try to help each one to identify and then realize translation projects that they feel passionate about. I think mentoring is the best way to increase the number of Polish books being published in English while also guaranteeing quality. Over the years I’ve built up useful contacts and experience that I can pass on to emerging translators, which gives them an instant leg-up in the profession. I’m very proud of their achievements so far and look forward to watching them change the future face of Polish literature in translation.

But I also learn a lot from my mentees. Translation can be an isolated profession, so to see how other people approach a piece of text, which works attract younger translators and what they’re interested in translating broadens my vision and keeps me open to new ideas.

5. In your interview for Authors & Translators, you said, “It’s disheartening that some people would never contemplate watching a film with subtitles or reading a book in translation – saddest of all for them, as they’re missing out on a feast of entertainment and knowledge. And the world loses, for lack of mutual understanding.” Apart from Polish literature, what translated books have you enjoyed reading and suggest to us? 

Where do I start? I’ll tell you about three authors I have recently read in translation. I can’t stop thinking about The Gurugu Pledge by the Equatorial Guinean writer Juan Tomás Ávilar Laurel, translated from Spanish by Jethro Soutar (published by And Other Stories). It’s a shocking account of the desperation that drives people to leave their homes in African countries and try to get into Europe, but end up trapped in a horrible encampment in Morocco, where the women in particular suffer appallingly. I think every world leader should be made to read it.

Another book I’d recommend is Eve Out of Her Ruins, by Ananda Devi, translated from French by Jeffery Zuckerman (published by Les Fugitives/CB Editions). Set in Mauritus, it’s about four teenagers grappling with their own identities and with the adversities life has forced on them already. I’m pleased to see that Jeffery Zuckerman has been shortlisted for the inaugural TA First Translation Prize for his beautiful translation.

And finally please read Jón Gnarr’s trilogy, translated from Icelandic by Lytton Smith (published by Deep Vellum). Gnarr was a stand-up comedian who became a rather unlikely but apparently successful Mayor of Reykjavik. Based on his childhood and adolescence, the first in the trilogy is The Indian, which despite being about a child’s struggle with his own intellectual limitations and the lack of understanding of the world around him, is riotously funny. The second is The Pirate, about his determined teenage efforts to be a punk rocker, when there was only one other punk in all of Iceland. The third is The Outlaw, when things turn dark as our hero discovers sex and drugs. Moving, comical, disturbing, brave, highly recommended.

6. You have translated different books by the same authors, such as Zygmunt Miłoszewski, Olga Tokarczuk and Paweł Huelle. Do you get more familiar with the author’s style after the first book or is every book unique?

It depends on the author. Paweł Huelle does more or less write in the same style, and of course practice has made me more familiar with it. He has favourite words (whether he knows it or not) that he understands in a particular way. But he sometimes surprises me totally – not long ago he wrote a story that could have been by Gogol, or Dostoevsky in his satirical mood, featuring an insane dream largely set in Saint Petersburg. Apart from that, two of his novels are deliberately stylized in homage to great European authors: Mercedes-Benz is a tribute to Bohumil Hrabal, and Castorp is a prequel to The Magic Mountain and owes a great deal to Mann. In both cases I read translations of these authors into English to help me to attune to the style.

Zygmunt Miłoszewski is best known in English for his crime trilogy featuring Prosecutor Szacki (Entanglement, A Grain of Truth and Rage), and they do have a homogeneous style, but his thriller Priceless reads more like similar books written in English – at times I felt I was translating a translation. And his latest book in Polish, As Ever, is a totally new departure, not a crime novel but a romantic book with a historical twist; in 2014 an old couple are celebrating 50 years of married life, then they mysteriously wake up back in 1964 with the chance to live all over again, but this time Poland is not under Soviet, but French control. In every way it is new and different from his earlier books, and I’m looking forward to translating it.

Olga Tokarczuk is extremely versatile and every book is distinctly different. She loves to play with form and voice, so it’s hard to say that I grow more familiar with her style from one book to the next. The three I have translated are House of Day, House of Night, which is one of her ‘constellation’ novels, consisting of a loosely connected set of stories, ideas and images; Primeval and Other Times, the twentieth-century history of a village told through its residents, which owes a lot stylistically to myths and legends; and Drive Your Plow… in which the narrator’s sometimes unsettling voice is influenced partly by William Blake, partly by Leonora Carrington, and wholly by Olga Tokarczuk. Luckily I share her work with Jennifer Croft, an excellent translator, who is now working on The Books of Jacob, a sweeping historical epic about the mystical leader of an eighteenth-century religious sect.

7. Now it’s your turn to nominate our next Great Woman in Translation.

I nominate Nicky Harman, who translates from Chinese.

Working less and “il dolce far niente”

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Photo by Julia Wimmerlin on Unsplash

I was scheduling my social media posts when I came across this article. The subject of working less, instead of more, that has been gaining ground recently (finally and thankfully!) has my total support for years, so I loved this article (it’s long, but worthwhile, believe me). I wanted to comment on practically every paragraph of it, so I decided to write a post, instead of simply posting it on social media.

When I started out, I worked a lot – weekends, holidays, nights! At the time, I lived with my mom, and I remember she would bring me food at the desk because I didn’t have time not even to eat. I remember my parents would go to bed and wake up, and there I was, still working. And when I went to sleep for a couple of hours in the morning (or afternoon), it was not the same as sleeping at night, so I would never rest properly.

Have you noticed how people preach being busy and working on weekends and overnight as something to be proud of? I hold a grudge on those memes, and I feel really sorry for people who proudly share them on social media. Just as I feel sorry for project managers who ask for my availability past 8 pm. “Look, I am so professional and dedicated, I work until late at night!” Sorry, pal, not something to be proud of. Your reply will only arrive in the next morning anyway, so you could have used the time you spent writing me the email to leave earlier and go home to your family. Seriously, people, just stop!

I don’t remember exactly when I stopped playing with my health and sanity, but I did eventually. I started respecting weekends and a good night sleep, and taking vacations (with absolutely no work whatsoever). After a while, I started following regular working hours and exercising in the evening (after reaching my maximum weight and having health problems). Mind you, I’m 34, and it must have taken me only a year or so to start having health problems and realizing I needed to change. I learned with practice. That old living and learning thing.

Nowadays, I wake up at 6 am, run three times a week in the morning, take a shower, have breakfast and then start working, at around 9:30 to 10 am. I have a decent lunch at around noon, do the dishes and rest a bit on the sofa while taking a quick peak at social media watching series (maybe not one of my healthiest habits, due to the flow of information to my brain, I know). Every week day, I hit the gym in the evening, so I usually stop working at around 5 to 6:30 pm, depending on the day. Take a shower, have dinner, rest a bit on the sofa while watching series and, again, taking a quick peak at social media and emails, after all, I usually spend all this time from when I stop working until I finish my dinner away from my cell phone (a great break to the mind). I used to do this until the time I went to bed, but nowadays I’m even changing this nighttime habit. At around 9:30 pm, I switch my cell phone to airplane mode, go to bed and read a book for about an hour, before going to sleep.

The secret? Being heavily productive in the restricted working hours you have left, avoiding procrastination and social media during working hours.

[T]he work we produce at the end of a 14-hour day is of worse quality than when we’re fresh, […] undermines our creativity and our cognition, […] it can make us feel physically sick – and even, ironically, as if we have no purpose.

I’m totally aware my routine will hardly fit anyone else. The fact that I’m single, have no kids and live by myself plays an important role in making it easier, but if I wasn’t organized, determined and strict, this wouldn’t work anyway. Even if you are married and have a bunch of kids, you can make it work. The secret is learning your daily routine, creating your own working hours, whenever they are, and strictly following them. Restrict your social media time to avoid procrastinating. Actually, restrict everything that is not work-related. Be professional and respect your working hours. The benefits will be worth it: more time to do whatever you want.

Keep human! See people, go places.

After all, what do you work for? Earning money, paying bills and living the life, right? We all preach the greatest benefit of being a freelancer is being free. However, most people use this freedom to work even more. That will never make sense to me. Use your freedom to go see a movie on a weekday afternoon when you have no projects, walk in the park, have a coffee with a friend or do nothing.

[Doing nothing] helps you recognise the deeper importance of situations. It helps you make meaning out of things. When you’re not making meaning out of things, you’re just reacting and acting in the moment.

Now that is something I seriously need to master, although I have been trying hard to practice: do nothing, be idle. It’s so hard! It’s as the article says, when we have nothing to do, we end up reaching for our phone or turning on the TV. It’s like we can’t handle being left only with our thoughts. Think of it for a moment… This is so sad! The good thing is it doesn’t really mean, in the strict sense, to do absolutely nothing. You can meditate, knit, doodle, discuss a problem with friends, cook… anything that doesn’t require 100% concentration. I went to the beach a couple of weeks ago and I tried to put this into practice: when in the water, I tried to sink in its energy, feel the waves, let my thoughts flow freely; when under the umbrella, I tried to watch the sea, listen to it and, again, let my thoughts flow. Remember: what works for me may never work for anybody else and vice-versa, so find what suits you.

I’d love to hear how you organize your day in order to maximize your productivity and have a decent work-life balance. Also, feel free to share how you practice your dolce far niente.

 

P.S.: You may have noticed I’ve been absent from the blog and from social media. First, the same old thing: projects. Second, I’ve been feeling quite tired lately, so I’m respecting my body and, instead of dedicating time to the social media and the blog, I’m using that time to rest a bit more. I’m putting the free in freelance to great use. 😉 However, don’t fret. I’m already slowly going back to normal. On February 1, a new Greatest Women in Translation interview will be published, with Antonia Lloyd Jones; on February 5, a new podcast episode will be published, with Reginaldo Francisco (Win-Win project), just before taking a break (after 20 episodes, it’s time for a well-deserved break: we return in July with fresh, newly-recorded episodes); on February 9, our guest of the month is Dolores Guiñazu; and on February 20, hopefully, another post by me.