Tuesday, 29 January 2019

In Praise of Translators

Table Talk by Monica Manolachi - cover artwork is Le Poète et la lune by Victor Brauner

Monica Manolachi is an professor of English at Bucharest University, and a poet, prose writer and translator. She frequently translates for the Romanian publication Contemporary Literary Horizon , a multi-lingual magazine (English, French, Spanish, Romanian among others), chief editor Daniel Dragomirescu. Through the hard work of these translators and editors we are given access to writers from other countries and languages, an access which we would not have otherwise.

Translated literature gives us a wider view of  'the lives of others' and of cultures, values, styles, insights, history – for the chance to read texts that are different in all kinds of ways, from what we as English language readers are used to. 

In the books I’ve read by the authors mentioned below, many of our assumptions about what writing ‘should be’ are challenged: in terms of style, the way language is used, the blurring of boundaries between fiction and non-fiction, between fantasy, dream and reality, the disruption of chronology. Those staples of narrative such as plot, character and voice are used in unexpected and imaginative ways. I feel thankful to read writing that disregards or plays with literary conventions such as chronology, style, content and categories. 

In the past, I’ve enjoyed translated writers such as Marina Tsvetaeva, Konstantin Paustovsky, Danilo Kiš, Stefan Zweig, Dubravka Ugrešic, Thomas Bernhard, etc. who are well-known, and perhaps lesser known (to English speakers) writers such as Irena Vrkljan, Miroslav Krleža and Miklos Radnoti. In recent years, thanks to small and dedicated publishing houses such as Istros BooksPushkin PressMacLehose Press  etc. I’ve been introduced to such greats as Daša DrndićEvald Flisar,  Andrej Nikolaidis,  Faruk Šehić,  Alma Lazarevska,  Fatos Lubonja,  Dušan Šarotar  and many others. If you are curious about other literatures, and open to their differences of approach, mood, style, focus and even subject matter, I would urge you to read these and other authors, check out these publishers' lists and you will learn so much about a larger world which we can all share, thanks to these publishers and their translators.

From collaboration with these Romanian writers, their magazine, and their publishing imprint Bibliotheca Universalis, I’ve also discovered writers such as Rada Ignu, Roxana Doncu, Daniel Dragomirescu and of course, Monica herself. We owe so much to translators like Monica, (John Hodgson, Celia Hawkesworth, Alison Anderson, Yla von Dach, Will Firth, Dmytro  Drozdovskyi and Dmytro Chystiak, again, just to name a few) and it is heart-warming to see them being much more acknowledged.


Stefan Zweig considered translation as ‘the best way for a young writer to gain a deeper, more creative understanding of the spirit of their own mother tongue’
He wrote ‘In this modest activity of interpreting illustrious works of art I felt certain, for the first time, that I was doing something really meaningful which justified my existence.’

It is indeed a ‘special kind of pleasure’ as Zweig put it, to be able to translate a writer’s words into one’s own language and I feel lucky to have been able to do this, in however minor a way, from French, and to have worked with writers from Albania, Bulgaria, Romania and Ukraine, to translate their work.

Monica has yet another talent, that of interviewing, of asking pertinent questions of others, and her latest book Table Talk (just published by Bibliotheca Universalis, in English) is a series of interviews with writers and translators from English-speaking countries – USA, Canada, Australia & UK – and from the Netherlands and Romania. The Romanian language version will also be available shortly.

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