Well, the season of enforced merriment has arrived once more, and even though the winter solstice has come and gone – meaning that the days will now be getting longer again – it’s still only the second-darkest day of the year, and so you’ve got plenty of cause to look for a few good distractions. Enter Daniel Hahn, translation stalwart. I’m calling him that because he’s the programme director of the British Centre for Literary Translation and former chair of the Translators Association as well as a highly respected translator from several romance languages, of books by authors like José Luís Peixoto, José Saramago, Philippe Claudel and Pélé. His translation of The Book of Chameleons by José Eduardo Agualus won the 2007 Independent Foreign Fiction Prize. But I’m calling him that especially because he is blogging in depth and detail about his current translation-in-progress: Carola Saavedra’s Flores Azuis (Blue Flowers).
He got started just before Halloween:
I’m about to start translating a novel.
It’s written in Portuguese, and it needs to be written in English. There is a Brazilian novelist at one end, and an American publisher at the other, and there’s me in the middle, tasked with giving the publisher exactly the same book the novelist has written, keeping it identical in absolutely every conceivable respect, except that I’ve got to change all the words.
The next thing you know he’s already gotten stuck just trying to translate the first two words of the book. Then he takes a step back and talks to us about his philosophy of first drafts; fidelity; structure; British vs. American English; and last I checked he was deep into heavy tinkering with the intricate innards of sentences and talking us through his process. Which is completely fascinating, especially observing the permutations by which a passage changes during revision. For example, his translation of this Portuguese passage:
Eu não disse nada, não chorei, não pedi explicações, não te implorei para ficar. Eu apenas permaneci ali, imóvel, muda, deitada na cama, enquanto você se vestia, pegava a mochila e ia embora.
morphs from the initial rough:
I didn’t say anything, I didn’t cry, I didn’t ask for explanations, I didn’t implore you to stay. I merely stayed there, immobile, mute, lying on the bed, while you dressed, took your rucksack and went away.
to a polished draft (via several intermediate steps) to look like this:
I didn’t say anything, I didn’t cry, didn’t ask for explanations, didn’t beg you to not to go. I just stayed there, unmoving, silent, lying on the bed, while you got dressed, picked up your backpack, and left.
Along the way he has a lot to say about rhythm, tone and ways of approaching the revision process. I want all my students to read his blog. And I can’t wait to see the next installments myself. You can keep an eye on his progress and current entries here. Happy new year, Danny!