Found in Translation – Eleanor Chandler on the London Book Fair

London Book Fair

At one point in our youth, we admit to being baffled by reading poetry that had been translated into English, yet still rhymed. What phenomenon was this? Was there some supernatural force at hand? Was English just overflowing with synonyms? Or did brilliant foreign poets plan their verse to accommodate the powerful English-language publishing industry?

Well, as we like to say: “Reading, we get smarter.”

We learned that translation is as much art and science, and remain impressed by the profession.  Writing for Seizure (an Australian print and online journal, produced collaboratively by creative artists and writers), Eleanor Chandler reports on her visit to the Literary Translation Centre at the London Book Fair, where she observed a Korean Translation Slam:

 “As a creative writing graduate with an intermediate grasp on a foreign language, I had typically lumped literary translator into my pile of ‘unrealistic dream professions’ and something for which I was hugely under-qualified. My recent internship with independent UK publisher And Other Stories, who mostly publish fiction in translation, exposed me to a dizzying array of international fiction and led me to reevaluate how I saw translation as a profession. I also helped represent them at the London Book Fair…

 Since it was first established in 2010, the Literary Translation Centre at the London Book Fair has proved to be an integral space for the promotion and development of literary translation in the UK and abroad, providing workshops and seminars on a variety of topics.

 Perhaps one of the most fascinating exchanges I saw was between two emerging translators, Deborah Smith and Eugene Lee, who discussed their competing translations of the same excerpt of a short story by Korean writer Kim Aeran (김애란). Given a limited amount of time to complete the translation, these two budding translators were put on the spot to explain their choices….

Lee and Smith also discussed the joyful challenge of confronting words that simply don’t exist in the target language. The title of the excerpt contained the onomatopoeic Korean word dogeundogeun, which essentially mimics the sound of a heartbeat, but also conveys feelings of tremulous emotional excitement and nervous anticipation, but for which there is no single word for in English. Interestingly, both translators decided to use aflutter as an English substitute that is the best approximation of this complex feeling. To me, these instances are confirmations of the richness of intercultural learning that is going on when we study foreign languages. This also illustrates that translation is always an act of compromise and approximation, caught in a swamp of variables. To get out of that swamp of possibility, translators have the professional right to make informed decisions based on their judgments. It’s never about one-way word substitution, or a set formula, and there’s a reason why computers aren’t great at translating novels.”

You can read the full article here.

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