Saturday, July 9, 2016

Is Translating Books a Job You'd Enjoy?

Mark Kline, a long-time member of Internet Writing Workshop, translates books, so I asked him for a guest blog on the topic that writers will be sure to learn from. It may be a good venue for you.

Mark Kline
"It felt like a natural step for me to start translating literature. I've always loved reading fiction; I'd been living in Denmark for about twenty years, and I spoke and read Danish every day; I'd started writing short stories (in English); I've always liked working closely with others on projects. And I thought; why not give it a shot?
"I read translations and practiced translating. Then I contacted a somewhat unknown writer whose work I admired. Like most writers – as I've discovered – she was pleased that someone was interested in translating her work, and she was glad to help. I translated a few of her stories and sold them. It was thrilling to see they worked well in English – but how did it happen? It seemed almost like magic.
"Even now that I'm used to it, it can still seem a bit magical, though there's much routine involved. Reading a Danish story or novel, then starting in on it, translating the first sentence, the second, the third, until I reach the end. Then going back and thinking about words and paragraphs, approaching the work in smaller and larger bits, reading it at different 'distances.'

"It's somewhat like writing, except I always have to keep an eye on the original. It's push and pull, a constant stream of questions, usually resolved within seconds but certainly not always.

Questions such as:
  • Does this word correspond closely enough to the Danish word?
  • Does it fit in the flow of the translation?
  • Can I drop the adverb in this dialogue tag and find an English verb that covers it?
  • Is the tone of this paragraph too sarcastic in comparison to the Danish?
  • Should I try to write a sentence using alliteration as the Danish sentence does, or should I stick with what's closest to the content?
 "One way of looking at translation is that it's a series of dilemmas, many of them similar to those writers face. But translation dilemmas have more dimensions. For example, there's a golden rule: thou shalt not improve what you're translating.
"It's constantly in the back of my mind. But how do you define "improve?" Tricky!
"There are also many loyalties to juggle around – the people who will be reading the English translation, the author's wishes, the original work itself, whoever is paying.
"Another dilemma, maybe the biggest one of all – you have to write like other writers do, in styles that may not come natural to you.
"A sort of impersonation act. Maybe translators are like character actors?
"I was lucky. The first writer I translated many years ago became very popular, and through her and her publisher, I started picking up jobs. Gradually I became a full-time translator of literary fiction, poetry, crime novels, cookbooks, memoirs, journalism, alternative educational theory, videos on accordion repair – the strangest job I ever had was writing a report on a book by a Norwegian philosopher whose sentences averaged out at five pages in length.
"I can't say I've ever had a job that wasn't interesting in some way. The translations I'm happiest with don't necessarily come from books or writing I greatly admire. I still think about a short story I translated ten years ago. And a few poems. The beginning of a crime novel I translated last year.
"If you're thinking about trying your hand at translation – assuming you're fluent in a foreign language – I have a few simple tips:
  • Read translations and compare them to the originals.
  • Learn about the culture(s) that speaks the language you're translating from, the source language – traveling there is a big plus, if you can.
  • Practice; short stories or novel excerpts are good to start with, you get exposed to many styles and voices and the practical problems involved.
  • Read slowly and deeply as you're translating.
  • Read a lot in both the source language and the target language, which almost always is your native tongue.
  • And keep writing.
 "If you find you really enjoy translating, there are plenty of universities offering programs you can look into, for example: Center For Translation Studies.

"Some of the literary translators I know, or know of, have at least some education in translation. Most of the others are published writers who moonlight as translators. But then, to me all literary translators are writers.

"They have to be."

"Kingsize, by Mette Moestrup, is among my latest translations. Stephen Burt, said in Yale Review, "It might be no surprise that we live in a great time for avant-garde work in translation. And yet it's still surprising to see translated poems that depend on a spoken voice, on intonation and attitude, working in English almost as if they belonged there: that's the pleasant surprise – and sometimes the shock – of the Danish poet Mette Moestrup's Kingsize …

"I also translated The Last Supper, by Peter Wivel. Paul Berman, author of Terror and Liberalism and The Flight of the Intellectuals, said, "Klaus Wivel's report on the persecuted Christians of the Arab world is vivid, precise, morally astute, heartbreaking, and infuriating."

"I finished an unusual translation recently. It's on a wall at the  National Museum of Art in Copenhagen, which is a place I never imagined anything I ever had anything to do with would be.

"I had to translate the poem so each line and the poem as a whole took up almost the same number of words, characters, spaces, to give a mirror effect on the wall, the original and translation side by side. the poem was written for an exhibition of the Danish painter, Hammershoi.

"My translation of Sara Blaedel's crime thriller,
The Killing Forest was published earlier this year by Grand Central Publishing

"And finally, a story of mine, Ghosts That Never Lived, is in the spring 2016 issue of the Tulane Review, the litmag published by Tulane University.

Mark Kline grew up on a farm in the Flint Hills of Kansas. He now lives in Copenhagen, where he translates and writes short stories. He loves watching jazz from the side of the stage, crooked hedgeposts, baseball, old town barcelona at midnight, grandkids anytime anywhere, his eclectic taste, bees in lavender, informality, the summer we hitchhiked, playing bluegrass, fiction so great it makes you want to live in it, and hollyhocks and zinnias. He hates traumas, tight clothing, his childishness, nationalism, handicap toilets you have to walk downstairs to get to, canned spinach in vinegar, and privilege.