MysteryPeople Q&A with Translator Sam Gordon

For our latest installment of our “Interview with a Translator” Blog Series, we bring you an in-depth interview with British translator Sam Gordon on his just-released-in-the-US translation of Arab Jazzby French author Karim Miské, a roman noir which playfully explores the vibrant, diverse, and criminally creative city of Paris.

 

Interview with a Translator: Sam Gordon on Karim Miské’s Arab Jazz

  • Interview by Molly Odintz

Molly Odintz: Arab Jazz is a fairly complex novel in terms of changing mood, atmosphere, and general quirkiness -was it a challenge to bring all of the horror, humor, and humanity of the novel over to English? 

Sam Gordon: I think the task was made easier by the fact that the various voices and moods you mention don’t overlap too much in the original. The narrative shifts tend to occur at the chapter level, so it was a case of clicking in and out alongside the French. Karim emphasizes the different tones and voices very clearly in the original, so it was relatively straightforward to find consistency and univocality by following the French, even if all the different aspects did have their challenges. My first experience of translating the work involved a sample for the publisher (years ago now!), and this entailed the first five or six pages of the book. These pages center on the protagonist Ahmed, who is a dreamy, very interior character. It was the first of many of his reveries, which are written in beautiful, lyrical, stream-of-consciousness French that I felt compelled to follow relatively closely in the English. The snaps back to reality come at a clear point, so I always felt it was my job to mark this transition from the astral to the terrestrial as definitely as possible.

“…we are no strangers to hardboiled crime fiction, with all its horror and grittiness; and we can do black humor, too…”

Read More »

Advertisements

MysteryPeople Q&A with Translator Alison Anderson

Back in January, I enjoyed Alison Anderson’s excellent literary translation of French author Hélène Grémillon’s psychological thriller  The Case of Lisandra P.a stirring exploration of Argentina in the 1980s. The novel is told from the perspective of a therapist and his patients, many of whom grapple with the traumatic legacy of Argentina’s CIA-backed dictatorship. Gremillon uses an inventive mixture of recorded therapy sessions, police interrogations, and first person perspective, layering multiple perspectives to slowly round out the murder plot. The therapist, accused of murder after his wife’s fatal plunge from a high window, enlists one of his patients to assist in his own investigation into the murder.

Alison Anderson has translated numerous works of literary fiction, including the bestselling novel Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barberry. She has also written her own works of fiction, including most recently  The Summer Guesta historical re imagining of a young Chekhov, the novel he might have written, and the work’s unintended consequences. In honor of International Crime Fiction Month, and as part of our blog’s support for fiction in translation and the professionals who make that happen, I asked  Alison if I could send along a few questions. She was kind enough to let us interview her on about her work on The Case of Lisandra P. and about translation in general. 

 

Interview with a Translator: Alison Anderson on Hélène Grémillon’s The Case of Lisandra P. 

Molly Odintz: The Case of Lisandra P. has an Argentinean setting, yet a French author – does it feel different to translate a book that takes place where the author lives, versus a setting somewhat foreign to the author?

Alison Anderson: This did feel somewhat unusual; I couldn’t say that I could “hear the Spanish” behind the French – I don’t even know if Hélène speaks Spanish (and I don’t) – but I do remember one passage where I had to contact a French-speaking Argentinian friend to untangle what might be the best translation in English for a tricky cultural issue.

What is great about translating mysteries and crime novels is the suspense: I don’t read the whole book first anymore, as I used to, before translating; this keeps the language fresh, and above all the suspense keeps me going and I look forward to my daily “installment” of work. So certainly work-wise mysteries may be my favorite genre!

MO: How did you come to translate The Case of Lisandra P.?

AA: I had translated Hélène’s previous book, The Confidant, for the same publisher, and they contacted me regarding this new one.

MO: The Case of Lisandra P. has a number of character perspectives with unique voices – did any pose a challenge to translate? Which character’s perspective most interested you?

AA: I would say they were each challenging in their own way—to keep their specific voices, to convey their character just through dialogue and the briefest of descriptions (Hélène uses very little description). I felt the most sympathy for Eva Maria, and tended to get quite impatient with Vittorio and even Lisandra herself, but I suspect this is somewhat intentional on the author’s part.

Read More »

Interview with a Translator: Alex Zucker on Translating INNOCENCE, OR MURDER ON STEEP STREET, by Heda Margolius Kovaly

On Monday, June 20th, at 1 PM, the Murder in the Afternoon Book Club meets to discuss famed Holocaust memoirist Heda Margolius Kovaly’s novel Innocence, or, Murder on Steep Street, a noir account of secrets and lies in 1950s Prague, and a rare glimpse at the painful effects of Soviet-imposed Communist rule from a woman’s perspective. Innocence begins at a movie theater, mainly staffed by women whose husbands have either died in World War II or have been arrested by State Security, the Communist Party’s secret police. When a dead body is discovered at the theater and the police begin an investigation, we learn more about each woman’s backstory, and see the ways in which the state’s relentless search for informers has torn apart the communities and families represented in the book. 

Earlier this year, I interviewed Alex Zucker, the novel’s translator, via Skype. We chatted about the book, translation, and the enduring appeal of Czech literature to American readers. Some of the interview has been condensed to summary form. 

  • Interview by Molly Odintz

Molly Odintz: It seems to me that Czech literature has inspired more interest in America than other Eastern Bloc countries. When I try to name writers from other small European countries; for example, Bulgaria, or Lithuania, or Belgium, I come up short; when I think of Czech writers, automatically, there are a bunch that come to mind. Why do you think that Czech writers have such a high reputation and recognition among American readers, compared to writers from other smallish languages? 

Alex Zucker: I guest-edited an issue on Czech literature for Words Without Borders, and I wrote an introduction to the issue that talks about the popularity of Czech authors; my theory is the reason these Czech authors, Kundera,  Klíma, Hrabal, Havel,  Škvorecký, the reason as many Czech writers are as well known as they are is because they had people in this country championing them, and writers from other countries have not had this same level of support…There has been a critical mass of important influential people in the US and Europe in publishing who really vouched for Czech authors, and made sure they got published, reviewed and got attention. I think Czech literature in the United States does not have a champion right now; there’s nobody writing about Czech literature on a regular basis, in contrast to the UK, where Czech books are reviewed regularly in the Times Literary Supplement.

Alex goes on to name figures in support of Czech literature in France and the Czech Republic as well.

A lot of translators and publishers now are starting to look more at books that might in the past have been considered less literary. They’ve realized that readers don’t care if a book is a translation as long as it’s a good read.

MO: Do you think that writers in the Czech Republic have more celebrity status than writers in the United States? 

AZ: Than in the United States? For sure; but I think, the whole position of intellectuals is different in most European countries than here; there’s a long tradition of them writing for papers, in France they have intellectuals on talk shows…We don’t have intellectuals on talk shows, here, we have “experts.” It is much more common for writers to write for newspapers about topics not about literature or their own writing, so in the Czech Republic you have writers weighing in on public affairs on a regular basis.  Alex points out that, during the Prague Spring uprising of Czechoslovakia against Soviet oppression, writers were an integral part of Czech opposition to the Soviets, and spoke out for political change before and after, despite their party membership and orders to toe the line. 

MO: Tell us about the initial publication of Innocence.

AZ: Innocence, by Kovaly, was originally published in Czech in 1985 by an emigre publishing house in Cologne, in Germany, called Index, under a pseudonym, and I would guess she wrote it in the early 80s, but set it in the 50s….One of the reasons people are interested in this book is that it is to some degree a fictionalized account of the author’s life in the 50s after her husband was falsely accused of being a traitor to the Czechoslovak communist regime, despite being a high official and member of the Communist Party. Throughout the Eastern Bloc there were show trials with wild accusations against mostly high-ranking Jews in communist parties in Eastern Europe of disloyalty to the Soviet Union as part of a Trotskyite-Titoite-Zionist conspiracy.

In 1952, Kovaly’s first husband, Rudolf Margolius, was tried and accused with a group of mostly other Jewish members of the Czechoslovak Communist Party….Rudolf Margolius was, along with Heda Margolius, a survivor of Auschwitz and a few other camps  (this was in the intro to the book that her son wrote.) The accusation of Zionism among high-ranking Jewish Communists in Czechoslovakia [was particularly ironic] given that the Communist regime in Czechoslovakia was the main supplier of arms to the new Israeli state after 1948….But that’s another chapter of history. Kovaly’s story reflects the fickle nature of Stalinist politics and how the waves rippled through the East Bloc through the early 50s and even after Stalin’s death in 1953.

Read More »

Molly’s Top 10 International Crime Novels of 2015

  • Post by Molly Odintz

 Last year, I posted a list of my top international crime novels, and a list of my top novels of the year, foreign and domestic. This year, as part of my life-long attempt to destroy all hierarchies and question all assumptions, I have decided to include my top international crime fiction as one list, and my top domestic crime picks as another.

Below, you’ll find an eclectic group of novels, united only by the scattered and distant nature of their geography. Next week, I’ll be posting my list of top picks for US-based fiction – more concentrated geographically, but just as diverse in subject matter


innocence or murder on steep street1. Innocence, or, Murder on Steep Street by Heda Margolius-Kovály, Translated by Alex Zucker

Explore the world of 1950s Prague, where the men are either Russian occupiers or in the gulag, and the women who try hardest to do the right thing are the ones most morally compromised by the Soviet system. This darkly atmospheric novel was written by a woman who had worked to translate Raymond Chandler into Czech, and functions as a perfect Soviet noir. Available in English for the first time!Read More »

MysteryPeople Q&A with Translator Danusia Stok


As part of our celebration of international crime fiction during the month of June, we bring you the following interview with Polish-English translator Danusia Stok, who has translated Marek Krajewski’s Inspector Eberhard Mock novels, among other works. Melville House Books, with Danusia as translator, has brought many of Krajewski’s novels to English audiences over the past few years, including Death in Breslau and, most recently, The Minotaur’s HeadBelow, you can read Molly’s interview with Danusia about the experience of translating crime fiction. Molly is MysteryPeople’s resident international crime fiction expert/fangirl.

 – Interview by Molly

Molly Odintz: I’ve been reading primarily fiction in translation for many years; partly, because it seems to me like a shortcut to finding excellence. What qualities spur the translation of a novel? 

Danusia Stok: Firstly, of course, the book needs to grip my interest and this applies both to content and style.  I guess content is the first attraction since I like to be engrossed in what I’m reading.  But then the importance of style quickly slips in.  If, as is the case with a crime novel I am reading now, the action is good but the language and style is poor, there is, I feel, no point in translating the work – just as I find reading poorly written English novels a waste of time and patience.  Another aspect which I believe is important is characterisation.  Novels where the characters are little more than caricatures or clichés fall in my estimation.  Whereas novels where the characters reflect the culture of a given country and a psychology which is both universal yet, in certain aspects, specific to a particular culture may well be worth considering for translation.  And then there is the geographical element – as in Krajewski – as well as the particular historical and sociological context.

MO: Tell me a bit about the experience of translating Marek Krajewski’s crime novels. How did your appreciation and understanding of Krajewski’s work evolve as you translated multiple novels by him? 

DS: I’m not sure that my understanding of Krajewski’s work evolved as I translated the various novels.  I sensed an affinity from the very beginning.  Certainly, I became increasingly engrossed in the city and historical set-up.  But as for my appreciation, I liked Krajewski’s work right from the start.  However, as I continued translating his novels, I grew to feel that Mock and Popielski were long-standing friends of mine.  I may not have liked every aspect of their characters (especially Mock’s) but I felt very close to them.

MO: Marek Krajewski immerses his readers in a pre-war Poland and Germany that look very different today than the period in which his novels are set. Did translating his lush descriptions of interwar Central Europe change your understanding of the world he describes? 

DS: Certainly.  Although I, myself, am Polish, I was born in England and history was always the weakest of my subjects working on Krajewski’s novels kindled my interest in both the topography, geography and history of 20th century Poland.  In fact, it has heightened my interest and desire to visit other Central European countries. (To such an extent that I have just been on a short break to Budapest).  There is something about the era about which Krajewski writes that I find both fascinating and disquieting, disturbing.  I now plan to visit Wroclaw/Breslau.

MO: How do translators keep up with their craft? Does one need to read widely and constantly in the languages you translate in order to keep up with evolving phrases and linguistic usage?

DS: And this is a bit of a problem, finding the time – because yes, a translator needs to read continuously – both in the original language and the target language, since both languages are living (and literary trends changing).  Then there are various workshops and conferences we attend.  Interaction with other translators – and publishers of course – is also very beneficial and energising.

MO: Can you give me a couple examples of some of the harder to translate phrases used in Polish crime fiction?

DS: I’m afraid no particular examples as to difficult phrases to translate in crime fiction come to mind.  However, what is extremely difficult to translate is jargon, slang, dialect, street language etc.  The criminal underworld is full of specific terms and to find the equivalent can prove very, very hard, to say the least.

MO: When a book has appeal across many different languages and cultures, what, do you think, accounts for this appeal? What themes and genres translate most widely?

DS: Do you know, I think this changes.  Trends come and go.  At present I believe that crime  novels in translation which delve deeper into the psychology of the characters are proving increasingly popular.  They offer the reader something they can identify with – basic aspects of human psychology are much the same across countries – while providing a certain objectivity; the familiar i.e. the emotions and reactions, is brought up against the unfamiliar, i.e. the foreign setting.  Crime novels which immerse the reader into the culture, traditions and atmosphere of another country, too, are of interest.  People are – hopefully – becoming more open to other cultures, other ways of thinking and behaving, and a gripping novel which offers a reflection of these “other worlds” is an attractive way of learning and experiencing this “otherness”.  I, for one, find I can retain and learn more from a historical, let us say, crime novel in translation, than from a text book.

MO: This one is kind of a broader question – what can we gain from reading literature in translation? 

DS: Much of what I’ve written above pertains to this question, too.  Literature in translation opens out the world – and I know this sounds very clichéd.  But it is true.  It immerses us into other cultures, histories, beliefs.  It presents us with other angles on life.  In so doing it could well – and let’s hope it does and will – teach us tolerance towards what may initially appear unfamiliar or even alien to us.


You can find copies of Marek Krajewski’s books as translated by Danusia Stok on our shelves and via bookpeople.com