Thinking about the books I had read in 2015, I collected them all into a pile, though not all – because I can’t remember them all and also because the dreaded kindle renders books invisible , and annoyingly intangible. I was not surprised to see that ten out of thirty or so were books in translation. I read Spanish and French fluently and do not need to read translations from these languages, but now that I am more familiar with, and dare to feel part of the ever-growing community of literary translators, I am more aware of newly published translations and tend to seek them out especially if they are by a translator I know or know of. This is thanks largely to small independent publishers like And Other Stories, Deep Vellum, Peirene et al. promoting literature in translation. For example, I could have read Tram 83 by Fiston Mwanza Mujila in the original, but was also excited to read the highly acclaimed translation by Roland Glasser. The same applied to Tregian’s Ground co-translated so skilfully by Louise Rogers Lalaurie and the very same Roland Glasser. You might say, I could have read both the French and English versions, but time and the pile of to-read books dictates otherwise, and I am not interested in doing a critical comparison of the two. To state the obvious,the main reason for reading in translation is to be able to read a book that was written in a language we don’t understand. The old translation cliches about windows into other worlds, building cultural bridges etc etc hold true however often they are trotted out. In 2015, amongst others, I discovered Han Kang’s The Vegetarian translated from Korean by Deborah Smith , Ruth Ahmedzai’s translation of Fadi Zaghmout’s The Bride of Amman, and Robert Seethaler’s A Whole Life, translated by Charlotte Collins, books I could never have accessed in their original language and feel all the richer for having done so. Reading them whetted my appetite for more from these authors and/or cultures. I might add that when I read these translations I usually pass them on to friends and family with evangelical fervour, which means that they too read a book or books that they might never have come across otherwise. I also was urged to read Elena Ferrante’s My Brilliant Friend (translated by Ann Goldstein) -and wished I could read it in Italian because I felt it to be an uncomfortable read and couldn’t put my finger on why; was it the translation, or did the original have the same awkwardness? Was it just me – bridling perhaps because everyone was raving about it and I had not been so smitten?!
This was also the year in which I learnt more about poetry in translation, both the business of translating poetry at the BCLT Summer School (see previous post) and reading it, mainly through the excellent Modern Poetry in Translation. Another discovery was Bones will Crow ,a collection of 15 contemporary Burmese poets, edited and translated by ko ko thett and James Byrne, a beautiful bilingual edition (Arc), again allowing a glimpse of a culture and literature that I would otherwise never have read.
All this might seem blindingly obvious. Surely, we all know why we read and why we read translations. But in spite of the gloomy ‘three-percent’ statistic, the time seems to be ripe for translated literature, The translator community appears to be thriving and interest in world literatures growing – perhaps in a bid to understand and appreciate differences and kindred spirits in a world where politicians are building ever higher fences. I am excited by the possibilities of translation, both in the reading and in the art, so this coming year I hope to continue to be curious, to read in as many languages as I know how, to read translations and of course continue with my own translation projects.*
HAPPY NEW YEAR!