The adventures of China Iron of Gabriela Cabezón Cámara. Crève, mon amour of Ariana Harwicz. Sittenlehre of Martin Kohan. Fever Dream of Samanta Schweblin. Les théories sauvages of Pola Oloixarac. Die Donnerstagwitwen of Claudia Piñeiro. Things We Lost in the Fire of Mariana Enriquez. These are just some of so many Argentine books that non-Spanish-speaking readers can access thanks to the unavoidable figure of the literary translator.
Infobae Culture He interviewed five literary translators who bring the Latin American and Spanish narrative into their own languages. The German Peter Kultzen, the French Isabelle Gugnon, the American Megan McDowell and the British Iona Macintyre and Fiona Mackintosh, who reveal challenges and ins and outs of this trade, which is also an art and progressively gains greater visibility.
Next to Camera Head, the academic Macintyre and Mackintosh They recently entered their names in the shortlist of the prestigious International Booker Prize 2020 for their translation of The Adventures of China Iron. “It is an ongoing struggle to get the academic world to recognize the creative value of literary translation and the prestige of the International Booker shortlist is something that has a strong impact in this regard,” says Mackintosh. “And to think that more readers are going to know China makes me happy,” Macintyre adds from an Edinburgh in quarantine due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Beyond the advances in the visibility of this profession, the life of a translator is usually precarious, explains McDowell after integrating the longlist of this award three times, which recognizes the best fiction translated into English, with its versions of Rescue distance, Birds in the mouth and this year Kentukis of Schweblin. “We do not have the relative stability of a publisher who receives a salary, nor the respect that an author awakens, and many times we have to fight to get paid,” says the translator who lives in Santiago de Chile. And he points out that the situation “varies greatly according to the country; I think that in some European countries they treat their translators better ”.
Gugnon –Who turned the Argentines into French Schweblin, Harwicz, Oloixarac, Eduardo Sacheri, Federico Jeanmaire and Rodrigo Fresán, and also in Spanish Antonio Muñoz Molina, among others- compares the work of the translator with “the image of a person who enters a house that does not belong to him and that he has to understand little by little”. He also believes that in this office one must “serve faithfully” the text, although sometimes, in pursuit of style, “one must commit infidelities.”
AND Kultzen from Berlin, he believes that translating “more than anything is a pleasure. It also has a lot of trade / routine in the good sense of the word. What helps me the most when translating is that the text has ‘rhythm’. And, the better written, the easier it is to translate! On the other hand, it doesn’t hurt that there is also some art in the translation, of course. ”
Random and diverse readings came together so that each of these translators chose the profession. “It seems that it was like a vocational thing, of affinities, sympathies, early preferences that today I do not explain myself too well … I do not regret, of course,” reflects Kultzen, who transferred to German authors like Piñeiro, Kohan, Jeanmaire, María Gainza and Sara Gallardoas well as the Chilean Roberto Bolaño and the Peruvian Cesar Vallejo.
GugnonFor her part, she explains from a Paris confined by the pandemic: “Curiously, I have always been attracted to Spain and Latin America. I studied Spanish philology at the university, then I traveled to Latin America. Married to a Chilean, she went to Argentina very often ”.
McDowell Initially he read Latin American authors in translation, then he studied Spanish and went to live in Chile. “I think it usually happens the other way around, when someone bilingual with literary interests realizes that they can do this,” says the translator who brought English to Enriquez, to Chileans Alejandro Zambra, Lina Meruane and Diego Zúñiga and to the Costa Rican Carlos Fonseca, among others.
For his part, Macintyre reveals that the translation seduced her during a contest to turn the poem Live Uncle into English – theories of Federico García Lorca. In the case of Mackintosh, Hopscotch of Julio Cortazar He was decisive in embracing “definitively Argentine literature”.
But how to define the act of translating? What were your most difficult translations? Do they need to communicate with the authors? For a time, the five translators suspend word travel from one language to another and answer these and other questions.
– Does the literary translation currently lack sufficient recognition in your country?
Gugnon: In France it seems to me that literary translation is recognized. In fact, our social status is that of authors. Now it is true that our work is done in the shadows, but more and more journalists mention our names, so I cannot complain.
Kultzen: The truth is that at least here the translators we can no longer complain too much about lack of recognition; This topic in recent years has been improving a lot. There will be colleagues of mine who will not agree with what I say here. However, they could always improve the fees, yes.
Macintyre: Well, no. Today there is a very interesting trend that actually accounts for the opposite. There is a hashtag #NameTheTranslator (name the translator) on the networks, translators participate in events at literary festivals, there are awards that recognize the quality of the translation and so on. Charco Press publishes this subject with care and not only names the translator, but also gives rise to the proofreader, proofreader, typographer and graphic designer. Helen Vassallo, a researcher at the University of Exeter, has a project entitled “Translating Women” that has also raised the profile of writers and translators in the UK.
Mackintosh: There are now quite a few publishers publishing literature in translation: Charco Press, Nordisk Books, Tilted Axis Press, Comma Press, Peirene Press, Serpent’s Tail, Pushkin Press, Shearsman Books, Bitter Lemon Press, and many others. I think the traditional notion that something is lost by reading translated fiction is finally giving way to the notion that actually, as a reader, you gain through broader access to other cultures..
McDowell: In the English-speaking world we have seen actions that aim to make translators visible, such as the Booker and several other awards. Now you hardly ever see books that don’t have the translator’s name, although it rarely appears on the cover. We have had the “Women in Translation Month” since 2014. Today many translation contracts include copyrights. Things are improving! But equal the life of a translator is often precarious. We do not have the relative stability of a publisher who receives a salary, nor the respect that an author arouses, and many times we have to fight to get paid. My impression is that it varies greatly by country; I think that in some European countries they treat their translators better. I think that in the Spanish-speaking world there is not much thought about the role of the translator and there are not too many programs to train specifically literary translators. In Chile, at least, there is not.
– How would you define the act of translation? Translator Gregory Rabassa once claimed that literary translation “is an art and not a trade.” Do you agree?
Gugnon: I consider it more modestly like a craft job, a word that contains the word “art”, but at the service of a text written by another. I very often compare the translator’s work with the image of a person who enters a house that does not belong to him and that he has to understand little by little.
Kultzen: More than anything it is a pleasure. It also has a lot of trade / routine in the good sense of the word. What helps me the most when translating is that the text has “rhythm”. And, the better written, the easier it is to translate! On the other hand, it doesn’t hurt that there is also some art in the translation, of course.
Macintyre: It is a beautiful teaching. Fiona and I talk about it a lot. It seemed to us that we were receiving a very complete education, of languages - including our own, English – and also ours as human beings, of concepts, of flora and fauna …
Mackintosh: For me, the desire to translate something always comes at once, like a spark, a touch between languages, a strong connection point with a text that then almost forces you to start translating. It is as if something does not leave you alone until you start trying. The act of translation is to get carried away by an obsession.
McDowell: Translation often serves as a metaphor for other things and there are many metaphors to talk about translation (a bridge, a trip, the interpretation of a play or a score …). I think this points to the ambiguous nature of the translation. Yes, I agree with Rabassa that it is an art, but it is also a profession. Is that a literary translator is many things in one: writer, editor, critic, agent, cheerleader, psychologist.
– What works were the most difficult for you to translate? And which authors attracted you or “discovered” you thanks to their craft?
Gugnon: I just translated the splendid novel Eat dirt, of Dolores Reyes, which has a very poetic orality, and it was very difficult for me to return this naturalness in French. Obviously translate to Rodrigo Fresán It is not easy either, because of the many references it uses. For the work de Diego Vecchio The extinction of the species I was faced with another type of difficulty, which is to reproduce in French a very classic nineteenth-century false tone associated with biting humor. AND Kill me love of Ariana Harwicz It was not an easy task either.
Kultzen: The biggest challenge was probably the translation of Eisejuaz of Sara Gallardo; Cesar Vallejo He was also very demanding with his European chronicles of the 20s and 30s; Argentine and Uruguayan authors in general for their very high literary and linguistic level. In any case, I have been extremely lucky that almost all the books and authors that I have translated so far were “discoveries” of mine that I was able to convince different publishers. It seems that I have a considerable capacity to get excited and to get others excited …
Macintyre: Let’s say that, in terms of being a literary translator, I am a novice. My translation experiences have more to do with university teaching and not so much with the trade.
Mackintosh: This is the first novel that I translate. Like Iona, I have more experience teaching classes on translation. Undoubtedly, in the process of searching for texts that serve as material for these classes, I constantly discover authors. I also discover them thanks to my task as proofreader for Charco Press. It is one of the most effective ways to keep abreast of the new, and the good, in contemporary Latin American literature.
McDowell: Perhaps the most complex book was Facsimile of Alejandro Zambra (Multiple Choice in English). It is an experimental book and it could be said that the translation was also. The text takes the form of a multiple choice test and has many puns, rhymes, double meanings, etc. We take the original’s guidelines, form, and themes, and use English’s resources to recreate the book. In other words, there is much of the book that is not “literal”, although I would argue that there is no literal translation and this is an extreme example of what always happens in literary translation. I have discovered many writers in my work as a translator. I like to think that I am creating my own canon of contemporary Latin American writers in English. There are writers that I started translating at the beginning of my career and I had to look for an editorial, like Alejandro Zambra and Lina Meruane. Others are projects that have already reached me with an editorial in English, such as Mariana Enriquez or Samanta Schweblin. They are books, writers and people who have changed my life, and I feel that I have been very lucky to continue working with them.
– Do you find common ground between Argentine and Latin American authors that you translated?
Gugnon: Among some yes: without having in any way the same style, Harwicz, García Lao and Samanta Schweblin they are identified with certain experimental literature. Strawberry it occupies a separate place, being a literary UFO that writes metafiction. Feinmann, Dal Masetto, Sacheri and Guillermo Orsi they could almost be unified under the black gender label. Pola Oloixarac he is a separate person who writes insolent and humorous literature. In this it could be compared with Diego Vecchio, but with very different styles. Dolores Reyes It also occupies a specific place with a very personal style, but which is for me the continuation of a pseudo-popular literature like that of Arlt. By “pseudopopular” I mean that, being very oral, he achieves splendid spontaneity after intense stylistic work.
Kultzen: An enormous linguistic and literary awareness and its peculiarities; often good humor and healthy irony; also very commendable, in my opinion: that, above all the Argentine authors, continue writing novels that are not too long and that they “dare” to publish short novels, and all the more intense! There, and not only there, many Anglo-Saxon authors could learn. There are, from what I have seen reading and translating, a greater variety of styles, themes, perceptions, ways of narrating, which are not limited to the mainstream so trite that Anglo-Saxon literature dominates so much (and increasingly the other literatures, by the way ). And this variety is exactly what I like the most, which is why I prefer not to mention authors or private titles.
Macintyre:The dynamism of punctuation and syntax in Spanish is always a source of confusion for the British! Long sentences make us very uncomfortable.
Mackintosh: Since I am a professor of Latin American literature and also of comparative literature, I cannot help but relate everything I translate with its broader literary context. I have a habit of seeing intertextual connections in everything I read.
McDowell: Most of my writers are more or less part of the same generation, so hopefully there will be connection points. Traces of dictatorships can be seen in the work of writers like Alejandro Zambra, Mariana Enríquez, Diego Zúñiga and Lina Meruane, even with how different they are. Among Chileans there is a tendency towards self-fiction and among Argentines there are threads of social consciousness and supernatural elements. I am also interested in highlighting the importance of gender issues. I love that the stories of Mariana and Samanta have so many female protagonists. Alejandro, I think, is also concerned with gender issues and the current male role.
– Do you establish a direct dialogue with the author during the translation process? Does the text ever feel like “your own”?
Gugnon: Yes. I am always in contact with the authors to ask them questions, sometimes suggest corrections or ask for clarifications, propose solutions when it is necessary to move slightly away from the text to serve the style. In addition to the Argentine writers, I translate to Antonio Muñoz Molina already Juan Gabriel Vazquezwho, like Ariana HarwiczThey are writers who speak very good French, so we have permanent exchanges. I do not consider myself the author of the texts I translate, quite the contrary: I have to serve them faithfully, although sometimes, to serve a style, you have to commit infidelities.
Kultzen: In some cases there is a very intense contact, which can become friendship, in others less, and there also seem to be authors who do not like to communicate with their translator too much. There is everything and everything must be respected, it seems to me. In any case, in times of e-mail there is an amazing ease and speed of communication. It is difficult to imagine how the exchange between authors and translators would work before … And as for the “property” of the text: Be that as it may, for me it will always be the author’s, not mine. Yes, there are characters that one ends up falling in love with, such as the delicious Chinese Argentina / Chinese Argentina Su Nuam de High heels of Jeanmaire. AND Eisejuaz he will forever be one of my heavenly heroes.
Macintyre: When translating The Adventures of China Iron, Fiona and I do not communicate much, too much, with Gabriela. That lack of communication was actually a mistake that has to do with professional shyness and Anglo-Saxonism. At a certain time, we send you a list of questions through Carolina Orloff, the director and editor of Charco Press, and her responses were very encouraging. They also left us calmer …
Mackintosh: The relationship that I usually establish with the text is intense reading, immersion, an almost detective investigation, and an obsessive self-questioning: have I grasped everything that this phrase means? With the author, it seems to vary according to the personality and the text. With Stephen Peicovich We met a couple of times to read together my versions of his poems verse by verse. We had very little contact with Gabriela, until the launch at the Edinburgh International Literature Festival in August 2019, with the novel already in print! Despite this, or perhaps precisely because of this, Iona and I have a rather strong sense of the text. The Adventures of China Iron as our own, and we have a series of inside jokes about certain parts of the text.
McDowell: I always try to have contact with my writers and I am lucky that my writers are very generous with their time. It helps me a lot to be able to ask them specific and general questions about the text. I want to have all the information and understanding when translating that the writer had when writing. If I feel that the book is mine … Yes and no, it is a complex relationship. Do you know that feeling that you have as a reader towards a beloved book or writer, that you have read many times and can quote verbatim? That book is like a friend or family member and is part of your inner life. You feel an identification with that book, don’t you? This is how I feel with the books I translate, multiplied by ten or by one hundred. At the same time, of course, the book is not mine, I do not make myself vulnerable in the same way as the writer. I am like a caretaker of my books, your advocate. SI pride myself on my books, they bring me joy, but it is different from the writer’s suffering and joy. It is a combination of the experience of the writer and the reader, perhaps.