Saturday, December 28, 2013

Spolia Magazine

Spolia Magazine is a lovely literary magazine that publishes a variety of texts, including translations.

I’m pleased to have a couple of translations in the most recent issue. These are two short works by Swedish author Mats Kempe. You can read an excerpt here and an interview with Mats Kempe here.

Check out Spolia for other interesting texts in the future!

Monday, December 23, 2013

Charitable Giving

I believe in charitable giving, and I think we become especially aware of giving to others during the holiday season (which can be quite commercial and crass in a variety of ways).

Whether we donate our time and expertise (such as doing translations for free for charities or helping someone learn to read) or we give money, I think it’s essential to help others. This is something my parents instilled in me as a child, through their words and actions.

A year or two ago, I learned about Donors Choose, a website where you can pick projects at schools and support them. Personally, I’m most interested in literacy and literature, so I like to choose projects where I can buy books or other relevant materials for schools, but there is a large variety (science, arts, music, field trips, etc.). While I wish these schools had enough funding to do what they want/need as it is, they don’t, and so for now I try to help as much as I can.

This holiday season, I hope you also find a way to help people to the best of your ability.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Are the Kids All Right?

In October, my new book was published. It’s on LGBTQ literature for children and young adults and I hope the book reads like a popular, accessible text supported by academic research.

I’ve been working on this topic for a number of years now, so I’m really pleased it’s now out there in the world, and I look forward to getting feedback.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Call for Papers

If you know Swedish and work on the translation of children’s literature, you might be interested in this call for papers.

Översättning för en ny generation

4-6 december 2014

Välkomna till Översättning för en ny generation, vid Högskolan Dalarna!

Workshoppen är ett samarbete mellan ämnena Franska, Litteraturvetenskap, Svenska, forskningsprofilen Kultur, Identitet och Gestaltning vid Högkolan Dalarna och Översättarprogrammet vid Uppsala universitet.

Svensk barn- och ungdomslitteratur har ett gott rykte internationellt och många titlar översätts varje år över hela världen. Även om antalet översättningar har varierat volymmässigt de senaste decennierna har svensk barn- och ungdomslitteratur varit en återkommande favorit i förlagsmiljö utomlands. 2013 var Sverige dessutom hedersgäst på Bolognas Barnlitteraturmässa. Svenska språkets relativt marginella ställning i världen leder dock till att det inte finns ett obegränsat antal översättare som kan ta sig an uppdraget att översätta en barnbok från svenska. Tillgången på översättare, liksom generationsskiften bland dessa, är alltså en viktig faktor som inte skall förbises i sammanhanget.

Syftet med symposiet är att särskilt fokusera urvalskriterier inom olika marknader samt att belysa de översättningsmarknader där det sker ett generationsskifte bland översättarna vad gäller barn- och ungdomslitteratur. Huvudfokus ligger på översättning från svenska till världens olika språk. Eftersom det finns en mycket nära kulturell och språklig skandinavisk samhörighet (samma översättare arbetar till exempel ofta från mer än ett skandinaviskt språk), kommer också symposiet att behandla översättningen av norska och danska barn- och ungdomsböcker. Symposiet kommer även att belysa översättningen av barn och ungdomsböcker utifrån vidare översättningsvetenskapliga frågeställningar. En första reflektion kan skissas från frågorna nedan. Denna förteckning är inte uttömmande och ytterligare förslag på frågor tas gärna emot för övervägande:

vilka böcker översätts?

hur relaterar översättningarna till den inhemska produktionen och översättningar från andra språk?

finns det kulturella faktorer som försvårar översättningen?

är det möjligt att särskilja olika strategier vid översättning till olika språk?

hur påverkas översättningarna av den nya generationens läsare?

finns det ett gap mellan det som accepteras av barn- och ungdomslitteratur i Sverige och i övriga världen?

Symposiet utgör ett unikt tillfälle för forskare, översättarstudenter, översättare, och andra intresserade av svensk barn- och ungdomslitteratur att diskutera dess spridning i en globaliserad värld. Språket vid workshopen kommer att vara svenska, men vi välkomnar också sessionsföredrag på norska och/eller danska.

Som plenarföreläsare kommer B.J.Epstein, lektor i litteratur och public engagement vid University of East Anglia i England, att medverka. Hon är författare till många publikationer, inklusive tre böcker, varav Translating Expressive Language in Children’s Literature, som bygger på hennes forskning om översättningen av barnböcker. Hon har också redigerat, korrekturläst eller översatt många böcker från svenska till engelska och var redaktör för Northern Lights: Translation in the Nordic Countries, som handlar om översättning av de nordiska språken.

Vi kommer även att ha förmånen att lyssna på Åsa Warnqvist, från Svenska Barnboksinstitutet, som bl.a. kommer att presentera den samtida svenska marknaden för barn- och ungdomsböcker, och Masako Hayakawa Thor från Högskolan Dalarna, som kommer att berätta om sitt arbete som redaktör/förläggare på ett barnboksförlag i Japan och som översättare av några svenska bilderböcker till japanska.

För den som vill delta i workshoppen med föredrag gäller följande:

Sista dag för inskickande av abstract: 2014.03.24

Svar till författarna efter granskning av kommittén: ca 2014.06.19

Format för abstract: En sammanställning av cirka 20 rader på svenska. I dokumentet ska också finnas uppgift om namn, institution, titel, författarens kontaktuppgifter (e-postadress) och föredragets titel. Tre nyckelord bör också nämnas.

Presentationen kommer att vara 20 minuter.

Förslagen ska skickas till:

För mer information, se

Sunday, December 08, 2013

Nicholson Baker’s The Anthologist

I’ve often enjoyed Nicholson Baker’s writing and I admire some of the creative things he does with fiction. I especially enjoyed The Anthologist because of the way it talked about poetry (the main character is writing an introduction to an anthology of rhyming poetry but is finding it difficult to do). But I was disappointed by Baker’s apparent views on translation (or maybe they were just his protagonist’s views).

For example, the main character, Paul Chowder, talks about opening a magazine and looking at a poem. He notes that you look at the title and the name of the author, and he adds, “if it says “translated from the Czech by Bigelow Jones,” forget it, you instantly move on, because translations are never good. Well, wait—that’s not fair. That’s ridiculously unfair. I’ve read some wonderful translations. Translations of Tranströmer, for instance. But my heart does droop when I see that it’s a translation. But let’s say this poem is one hundred percent original…” (p. 69)

So he thinks a translation isn’t “one hundred percent original” (what’s original?) and he also seems to suggest that you move on rather than read a translation.

On the other hand, Chowder later says how Ezra Pound told W.S. Merwin to “sharpen your mind with translations”, and Merwin did, although Chowder says “I don’t know if it was good for him or not to translate so much” (p. 94). I think most of us who translate would say that it is good, because it forces you to think about language in a different way.

Finally, translation comes up again because Chowder is a big fan of rhyme and he feels that translation destroyed rhyme, because Jules Laforgue “exoticized” Walt Whitman’s poetry in translation and removed the rhymes, and this then had an effect on what people wrote. “The death of rhyme is really about translation. Everybody started wanting to write poetry that sounded like a careful, loving prose version of some sweet-voiced balladeer from a faraway land. Everybody read the prose in their own language, and then they imagined the glorious versificational paradise that they didn’t inhabit but that was glimmering greenly there in the distant original. The imagined rhyme-world was actually better and more lyrical than if they had the original poem in the original language with the actual rhyme scheme in it in front of them.” (pp. 131-2) I don’t know if I follow all this, but he basically blames translation for people no longer writing in rhyme as often.

I definitely recommend Baker’s work and this novel in particular, but I wish he didn’t have such a negative view of translation. Without translation, how would Chowder be able to appreciate some the poets he admires and learns from? How would he know anything about another culture or its literature?

Tuesday, December 03, 2013

Translator Nina Salaman

While at the Jewish Museum in London in August, I happened to see a mention of Nina Salaman.

I’d never heard of her before, but I learned that she was a well-regarded translator from medieval Hebrew to English and that she was active in the women’s rights movement. You can read more about her here.

It’s always fascinating to get a glimpse into translators’ lives!

Thursday, November 28, 2013

A Video on Translators and Their Rates

You might want to laugh, or possibly cry, at this video on how not to talk to translators about their rates. We probably have all had such experiences!

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Monsieur le Commandant

This review was originally published in the Wales Art Review.

Monsieur le Commandant
by Romain Slocombe, translated by Jesse Browner
190 pp., London: Gallic, 2013.
Reviewer: B.J. Epstein

We’ve surely all read many World War 2 novels. So one might be forgiven for asking what yet another such book could possibly add to the already existent heaps. But it is worth reading Monsieur le Commandant anyway, because it tells the reader about the war from a rather different perspective, and the ending, though what is to come is hinted at, is still shocking. This novel is horrifying and yet it is nonetheless hard to put down.

Monsieur le Commandant is about Paul-Jean Husson, a veteran of World War 1, novelist, and member of the French Academy. He writes a letter – which is the length of the book – to the Nazi officer in charge of his hometown in France, telling him about his life, discussing his political views (all in favour of Nazi policies), and making a special request.

The letter initially lulls the reader. Yes, Husson is clearly a Nazi sympathiser who would like to rid his homeland of unworthy, foreign elements, and yes, he regularly writes extremely anti-Semitic articles, but he is also a successful author with a creative mind, and he is a family man, devoted to his wife, although he cheats on her regularly, and to his two children. But Husson then becomes obsessed with his son’s wife, and it is this unhealthy obsession that drives the plot into more terrifying, and also ironic, territory.

As Husson points out, “I have never indulged in the romantic delusion that writers ought to be saints or heroes to be worshipped at the altar; on the contrary, I Believe that the cultivation of such subversive faculties as the imagination and sensibility carries a clear moral risk. That is why so few writers have led exemplary lives.” (p. 10) Indeed, Husson does not lead an exemplary life.

The protagonist has no fondness for Jews: “Jews pose a national and social threat to every country in which they are found. National, because the Jews are a homeless nation and assimilate only superficially into the civilisation of the country that has nonetheless honoured them with its welcome. Social, because the Jewish mind is critical and subversive to the highest degree; its seditious tendencies, being in no way mitigated by patriotic loyalty, lead it to criticise the institutions of the country to which it has attached itself, sometimes undermining and even destroying them.” (p. 43, italics original)

Beyond his proudly anti-Semitic views, Husson is apparently nothing less than honest in his letter to the Nazi officer (openly discussing his masturbatory fantasies about his daughter-in-law, for example (p. 50), or his attempt to protect a Jew (p. 98)). Nevertheless, this honesty about who he is, what he believes, and how he behaves does not prepare the reader for the choice he makes at the end.

A reader might hope that someone who holds such prejudiced views would change by the end of the book, but perhaps that is not too realistic a wish, given what we know about what actually happened during the Holocaust. The ending will not be given away here, however.

Gallic Press has been publishing “the best of French in English” for six years, and the company is a wonderful resource for anyone who appreciates French literature and/or literature in translation. Monsieur le Commandant was translated by Jesse Browner, an American novelist, food historian, and translator.

And Monsieur le Commandant is a great read that angers and educates in turns, letting readers have access to the perspective of collaborators during World War 2, which is not often depicted in literature.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Market Research

Check out this new publishing company, New Vessel, which clearly is devoted to translated texts. It might be an interesting place to submit work or simply a publisher whose books you want to look for.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013


This review was originally published in the Wales Art Review.

edited by Adam Thirlwell
378 pp., London: Portobello, 2013.
Reviewer: B.J. Epstein

The list of contributors to Multiples reads like a veritable who’s who of contemporary literary superstars (well, as close to superstars as literature ever gets, anyway): Colm Tóibín, Nathan Englander, David Mitchell, Cees Nooteboom, J.M. Coetzee, Aleksander Hemon, Sjón, A.S. Byatt (one of the few women involved), and Jeffrey Eugenides, among around 50 others. Important note, though: they’re all writers and, except for Lydia Davis, few are translators, or appear to have even thought much about translation. Some scarcely know more than their native language.

And yet Multiples is a collection of translations. Odd, isn’t it? So what’s the story?

Editor Adam Thirlwell speaks (as at the recent British Centre for Literary Translation summer school, where I heard him) and writes (as in the introduction to this book) engagingly about why he chose to edit a book of translations by non-translators and what he was hoping to achieve. His hypothesis, he writes, is: “The art of the novel is an international art. Its history is international, and the mechanics of this history is translation—which means that the art of fiction, having survived this history must be tougher than it looks.” (p. 2) He then turned this rather obvious idea into an experiment: “What would happen if a story were successively translated by a series of novelists, each one working only from the version immediately prior to their own—the aim being to preserve that story’s style?” (p. 3)

Already the experiment seems rather strange – why would novelists be better able to preserve style than practising, experienced translators? At least that seems to be Thirlwell’s implication, as though translators couldn’t possibly preserve or comment on style.

So how does it all work in Multiples? As an example, Clancy Martin translated Danish writer Søren Kierkegaard’s story “Skrift-Prøver” to English. This is then translated to Dutch by Cees Nooteboom, and that is translated back to English by J.M. Coetzee. Jean-Christophe Valtat translated Coetzee’s work to French, Sheila Heti (who mentions that she barely knows French though her skills are good enough to “arrange a threesome” (p. 51)) translated his to English, and finally Jonas Hassen Khemiri translated Heti’s text to Swedish. And what did we learn from it? Well, the final product ended up rather different from the original and yet had some things in common with it. Hmm.

Many of the writers add a few notes about their experience of translation. Some are more interesting than others, while many comment on their desperate need to “customize”, as Jean-Christophe Valtat put it (p. 51), the text they were working on. Jonas Hassen Khemiri too describes the text as a “straitjacket” (p. 52) and indeed, this is a common feeling. In other words, writers want to make stuff up and change things around, not translate the texts they are given. Okay. Let the translators at the texts then.

So what is actually to be gained from this intricate game of “Operator” (or “Chinese Whispers”, as the less politically correct call it)?

It seems to be, in part, to suggest that style crosses linguistic and cultural boundaries, and also that there is no one style, so writers should feel free to use whatever suits their topics, needs, and abilities. Again, this isn’t news. Thirlwell also adds that “Maybe in some hypothetical future, literature will become the pure international—oblivious to the problems of time and space—and somehow the language in which you write or read your literature will be less important than the singular, multiple structures those languages happen to form…” (p. 14) One might ask how trapped readers and writers actually are by time and space anyway. Readers are arguably more trapped, by not knowing all the languages of the world, but that’s what translators are for, of course.

Yes, well, I suppose this is all interesting enough. For me, it sounds and reads like postmodern shtick:  clever writers trying to show off their cleverness. I’m not sure if they’ve proven anything with this book other than that good translators are great craftspeople and should be valued higher. Writers might want to stick to their writing, while translators can stick to theirs.

Friday, November 08, 2013

Phrases from Falconry

This summer, I went to the wonderful Suffolk Owl Sanctuary. I learned a lot about birds of prey there and really enjoyed my visit. One thing that was particularly interesting from a linguistics point of view is the influence of falconry on the English language.

You can read more about terms we have derived from falconry, such as “hoodwink” or “haggard”, on this website and this one.

Sunday, November 03, 2013

The Song of King Gesar

This review was originally published in the Wales Art Review.

The Song of King Gesar
by Alai, translated by Howard Goldblatt and Sylvia Lin
436 pp., Edinburgh: Canongate, 2013.
Reviewer: B.J. Epstein

What’s in your heart? Is it a demon? Or a treasure? Or perhaps a bit of both?

Tibetan writer Alai’s novel The Song of Gesar, translated from Chinese by Howard Goldblatt and Sylvia Lin, explores what’s in the hearts of both humans and deities. It’s an epic story from Tibet, told by generations of bards, and now in written format by Alai, the author of a number of novels and collections of poetry and short stories (besides Gesar, only his novel Red Poppies seems available in English).

The novel starts off quite gently, lulling the reader into believing this might be an easy read about the far-off land of Tibet. But soon the reader is hit with paragraphs such as this: “Meanwhile, the demons howled with laughter as they feasted at a banquet of human flesh. First to be eaten were those who had spread rumours. Their tongues were cut out, then their blood was poured into jars and placed on the altar as an offering to evil deities. The demons consumed some of these poor souls, but there were more than they could eat, so the rest were left without their tongues, weeping in remorse and pain. Their wailing streamed past people’s hearts, like a dark river of grief.” (p. 11)

Such passages make the reader (and the characters) wonder whether the gods actually care about humans. Will they help humans or do they expect humans to sort things out on their own? What actually would be best for people? And what are the deities up to anyway? As this might show, The Song of Gesar is part of Canongate’s brilliant Myths series (which also includes work by Ali Smith, Klas Östergren, and Margaret Atwood, among many other important writers), and it’s a vital addition, as this is the first time the Tibetan story has appeared in English.

Alai considers these questions of gods and humans, good and evil, in beautifully written (and beautifully translated) turns of phrases: “The next day the sky shone bright and clear, when the old steward stood on a dais in front of the fortress. The snowdrifts were silently collapsing under the heat of the sun, with water gurgling beneath the white blanket. It was nearly noon, but not a single person could be seen on the roads that led to the tribal lands. The old steward sent soldiers to find them, while he sat on the top tier of the fortress, neither drinking tea nor touching the cheese that was brought to him. Eyes closed, he could hear the snow melting, and when he opened his eyes, he saw steam rising in the sun’s rays. Still no one came. The heat from the sun weakened and, battered by an icy western wind, the steamy vapours turned to grey mist and fog. He sank into gloom. Perhaps he had outlived his usefulness; perhaps he deserved to be abandoned by the people.” (p. 89)

Gesar, the cultural hero of Tibet, the lord of Gling, has fascinating experiences, and at last anglopone readers have access to his story.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013


I’ve recently been told about an interesting website. Belletrista celebrates the work of women writers from around the world, including in translation.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Monday, October 14, 2013

Café Conversations

As it’s a new academic year, it’s once again time for a new series of café conversations. Here is the series I’ve organized for this year; every session is free and open to anyone.

Humanities Café Conversations
October 2013 to May 2014
Run by staff and students in LDC, AMS, PSI, and LCS at UEA

All cafés take place at 3 pm in the White Lion Café at 19-21 White Lion Street in Norwich. All conversations are free and open to everyone.

25 October
Hearing Voices
Dr David Nowell-Smith
How did Beethoven compose when he was deaf? How did the phonograph and the telephone transform how people heard one another’s voices—and their own? What is the voice we hear when we read silently, and why does it sound so different from the voice we hear when we read aloud? And how do works of art—poems, but also films, song, sound art—make use of, and intensify, these daily experience of voice?

15 November
Chekhov’s Seagull – a play and its problems
Dr Nola Merckel and Stephen Picton
When Anton Chekhov’s play The Seagull premiered in 1896 it was a resounding failure in the opinion of its audience, critics and the writer himself. How, and why, did a play once so  condemned come to be regarded as one of the most important developments in modern theatre, and what makes Chekhov’s plays so radical, fascinating and open to reinvention? What can they say to us now? And how far can you go in taking creative liberties with ‘the classics’? To tie in with a current production of The Seagull at Norwich’s Maddermarket Theatre, director Stephen Picton and Dr Nola Merckel will talk about the appeals, challenges and dangers of staging this play.

22 November
What Makes a Great Political Speech?
Professor Alan Finlayson  
Politics involves a lot of talking, arguing and debating. Whether it is Cameron and Miliband addressing their party conferences, activists at Hyde Park or local residents speaking against a planning decision people use their words to persuade others to see things one way rather than another. How do they do this? What ways of communicating make a speech not just good but great? This café conversation will address these questions and establish whether or not politics can ever be poetic.

6 December
Two Countries Divided by a Common Language? Translating from English to English
Dr B.J. Epstein
Translation isn’t just from one language to another; it can also be from one dialect/version of a language to another dialect/version. Harry Potter can be translated from British to American. Shakespeare can be bowdlerised. Emily Dickinson can have her poems shortened. Robert Burns can be translated from Scots English to standard BBC English. Why do such translations occur? And how? In this café conversation, we’ll discuss such translations and try our own.

13 December
The Curious Case of the Dog that Said ‘Ouah’
Alex Valente
Animals in comics are peculiar creatures. A French dog will go ‘ouah ouah’, an Italian rooster ‘chicchirichì’, a Dutch cow ‘booe’. But even heart beats, burps, yawns, phones ringing, engines, punches and fires make different sounds in different languages - or do they? This talk will look at the phenomenon of onomatopeia (soundwords) in comics, and how written words sound in our minds, without sounding like the written word!

10 January
Film Subtitling – Myths and Riches
Dr Marie-Noëlle Guillot
In reviews of foreign films, subtitles are generally only ever mentioned to be berated as inaccurate or approximate representations of the dialogues acted out in the original, sniggered at for losses or other such misdemeanours. For (some) film subtitlers, the greatest reward is apparently that audiences should experience foreign films as though they were watching them in their own language. In other quarters, aspiring to this kind of ‘invisibility’ is described as corrupt. Amateur subtitlers are increasingly taking things into their own hands and with their novel practices bringing into the public eye these largely unspoken debates about audiovisual translation. This café conversation will go behind the scenes of subtitling and explore the positions reflected in the ongoing controversy and what they mean for our encounters with the foreign, linguistically and culturally.

17 January
Poetry and the Possibility of Speaking about the Unspeakable
Dr Cecilia Rossi
In The Echo of My Mother / El eco de mi madre (Waterloo Press, 2012) the Argentine poet Tamara Kamenszain explores some difficult questions: what happens when a parent develops Alzheimer's? How do we deal with Alzheimer's? How, if at all, can we talk about this condition? Is it important that we do? Why? Poetry offers the possibility of finding the words to talk about the most difficult questions facing us. The café conversation will be partly a discussion of these questions and partly a reading of the beautifully moving poems in this collection.

31 January
The Difference Satire Makes
Dr Jo Poppleton  
From Juvenal to Private Eye, satire has always been thought capable of changing things in the world. The satirist attacks those in power, in order to expose their corruption: it rips off the skin to show the truth behind the illusion; it reveals what’s going on underneath the façade. But what sort of power does satire really have? How sure is the satirist about their ability to effect change, and how far can satire be considered as politically and socially subversive?

14 February
Communicating Ethically
Dr Jo Drugan
Communicating with others involves ethical challenges, particularly when we try to cross language or cultural barriers. This cafe explains why communicating ethically can be difficult, drawing on recent research in philosophy and translation. We will identify some useful strategies to cope with such challenges by examining real-life practical examples, drawn from the work of professional communicators (translators and interpreters).

28 February
Knowing Poetry
Dr Jeremy Noel-Tod
What do we need to know when we read a poem? Many people find the unfamiliar quality of much modern poetry daunting. But the poet T.S. Eliot believed that poetry could 'communicate before it is understood': if so, what is it that a poem communicates? We will look at a range of modern poems that ask us to follow them into new ways of knowing the world, and consider the kinds of knowledge that we can bring to them as readers.

14 March
A Room of Our Own
Dr Claire Hynes
Virginia Woolf’s essay A Room of One’s Own has been described as a landmark of feminist thought. The essay published in 1929 explores the disadvantages faced by the woman writer and concludes that a private room and money are necessary if she is to progress. How relevant are Woolf’s views to women today? And what should we make of her ideas that men established literary traditions through the centuries and women must therefore develop their own writing styles?

21 March
“The Nearer Home, the Deeper”
Joanne Mildenhall
What makes a place home? Is a sense of belonging in a place dependent on familiarity with the local landscape; on having social networks; on knowing a particular language? Are we bound to represent and defend the places we call home, and if so, how? This cafe will explore notions of home and belonging via the work of Henry David Thoreau. In the postcolonial United States, nineteenth century writers were tasked with providing representative models of American personhood for the nation’s reading public. Thoreau took this role seriously, requiring us as readers to reassess what it means to be ‘at home’.

28 March
Writers, Interviews and Journalism, with Henry James
Dr Kate Campbell
It’s easy to take interviews for granted although they are central to modern life. Most of us will have had job interviews and we will at times have read interviews with famous writers and other celebrities. The kind of interviews that we know in journalism have been around for considerably less than two hundred years. After glancing at their history, this conversation explores some of the issues that interviews by writers and with writers raise, with discussion of two or three interviews, including the response of a famous writer, Henry James, in a rare interview that might have been a hoax.

11 April
But is it Literature?
Dr Clare Connors
The word ‘literature’ seems relatively uncontroversial. We talk of reading literature, of studying literature, of literary prizes and of literary fiction. But what, exactly, do we mean by this? What makes certain kinds of writing ‘literary’ and others not? In this café conversation we’ll do a ‘blind tasting’ of a number of different bits of writing, to see whether – without any other clues – we can separate literary from non-literary writing. And we’ll use this experiment as the basis from which to explore our own and other people’s definitions of literature, to see whether it is possible, or helpful, to arrive at any consensus as to the meaning of this word.

25 April
Paradoxes of the Visible and Other Ways of Seeing.
Dr Jake Huntley
When the King admires Alice for being able to see nobody coming along the road towards them it highlights a paradox of visibility within written representation (just as ‘highlighting’ this suggests how language frequently turns to the specular as part of that representation). This conversation will look at examples of ekphrasis  and also writing that engages with such paradoxes of the visible as Alice finds in Through the Looking Glass, along with considering other ways of seeing that can be represented in other media.

5 May
“Resting in Peace, Not in Pieces”: Collecting and Displaying Human Bodies
Dr Jacqueline Fear-Segal and Dr Rebecca Tillett
Should human bodies, or parts of them, be placed on public display? For which groups or peoples does society most often condone this practice? What are the historical, moral and aesthetic implications for us, as viewers? How should contemporary descendants respond to their recent relatives being stored and exhibited? Should human remains in public and private collections be returned home?  Does death represent the cessation of human rights?

16 May
Anne Frank and Justin Bieber: Discussing the Holocaust in the 21st Century
Dr Rachael Mclennan

In April 2013, Justin Bieber visited the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam and caused international controversy with comments he made in the museum's guestbook. This cafe conversation takes this episode as a case study and starting point for examination of a number of wide-ranging issues. Why did Bieber's comments matter? What might this incident, and the attention it received, reveal about attitudes towards discussion of the Holocaust in the twenty-first century?    

Thursday, October 10, 2013

2013 Nobel Prize in Literature

This year’s Nobel Prize in Literature has been awarded to Alice Munro. Is this what you expected? What do you think?

Wednesday, October 09, 2013

ProZ Community Choice Awards

This blog was nominated on for “Best overall blog related to translation”. Please vote for me here.

Friday, October 04, 2013

Programs in Translation Studies

People regularly write to me to ask me to recommend programs in translation studies to them. This information is quite easily available on the internet, with careful Googling. I also think that since all academic programs require that students do research, you should start by researching universities and their offerings. 

However, I recently came across this list, which has some programs on it, though it is missing many, including the one I teach at, at the University of East Anglia.

Monday, September 30, 2013

International Translation Day

Today is the feast day of St. Jerome (Eusebius Sophronius Hieronymus), the translator and patron saint of translators.

So today we celebrate the (often invisible) work that translators do!

Monday, September 23, 2013

Crowd-sourcing Verb Meanings

The people at this project at MIT contacted me to tell me about it: basically, they are crowd-sourcing the meanings of verbs in order to get a deeper sense of what words mean than what dictionaries offer.

You can check it out here.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Translation as a Team Task

Translation is generally such a solitary business and many translators like it that way. But in July I was reminded how useful it can sometimes be to work with others.

It was the British Centre for Literary Translation summer school and I led the Finland Swedish workshop (my group was fantastic, incidentally!), where we translated work by Johanna Holmström. We spent so much time discussing the nuances of our author’s text and debating about which word would be right and why. We researched together and read aloud and tried out different phrases and discussed how people of varying ages and backgrounds would speak and so on. Johanna often sat in on our discussions and told us about her intentions and her ideas, which was also very beneficial.

The English text we ended up with is, I suspect, better than what any one of us would have done on our own.

Now, I know that it isn’t practical for teams of translators to work together on every text, but the summer school was a good reminder that sometimes it’s worth talking to other translators (and, of course, to our authors) and sharing ideas. Translation is often solitary, but it doesn’t always have to be, nor should it always be.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Translation and Food

I’ve long been fascinated by food and food writing/translation, as I’ve posted about here before.

So you can imagine how excited I was to read about this upcoming conference on food and translation. Some of you might be interested in attending and/or submitting a paper.

Sunday, September 08, 2013

Translator Elizabeth Tanfield Cary

Some time back, there was an article on the BBC website about Elizabeth Tanfield Cary, a sixteenth century girl who was a writer and translator.

The article notes, “She grew up in the village [Burford Church, Oxfordshire] and wrote the piece - a translation from French of the text of the early world atlas of Ortelius - when she was aged 12 or 13.”

Dr Lesley Peterson is quoted as saying that her translatorial decisions are revealing: “For instance, she was just a little girl, but she was an only child and she was her father’s heir…She met Queen Elizabeth I when she was just a little girl, because her parents hosted the queen at her house. So she has these very strong female role models, and in her translations, every time the original text says something complimentary about a woman, little Elizabeth sneaks in an extra adjective.”

What a fascinating piece of translation history.

Tuesday, September 03, 2013

The Portable Museum

Here is a new literary venture dedicated to translated literary fiction. The first two issues were great, and I look forward to reading the next ones.

This might be a great market to try submitting your work to.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Medieval Hebrew Poetry Translated into English

I originally published this review in the Wales Arts Review.

Into the Light: The Medieval Hebrew Poetry of Meir of Norwich
introduction by Keiron Pim, translated by Ellman Crasnow and Bente Elsworth

“Exalted Lord, cherub-borne on high,/in your created heavens/you inspire awe.//My Lord is mighty to uphold./It befits us to serve him/for he is a holy God.” (p. 50)

So wrote Meir ben Eliahu in the late thirteenth century in his long poem “Who Is Like You?” And indeed Meir “serve[s]” this “holy God” through his poetry. He closes the poem by asking “Who is like you among the gods?” (p. 84)

One might ask who is like Meir among the poets.

Not much is known about Meir. He was a Jew in Norwich (or Norgitz, as the Jews called the city) during the Middle Ages, and lived through the expulsion of the Jews from  his town and from England at the behest of King Edward I in 1290. As Keiron Pim, a writer who put in motion the translation and publication of Meir’s long unknown poetry, puts it in his introduction to this bilingual edition of poems, in his work, “Meir captures the Norwich Jews’ psychological tumult: the oscillation between hope and despair, devotion and doubt, pride and humiliation; the infighting, the confusion, the terror. He catalogues his people’s predicament in ‘the land of the heavy-hearted and exhausted’, where they are scorned and labour under an ever-heavier yoke.” (p. 13)

You can forgive Meir for sounding angry and defiant in turns in his poems (as in “His foe will meet him in his filth/with the rod of his oppressor,/only evil lurking, in warp or woof.” (p. 38)). But despite his justified pain, he still “steadfastly/ declare[s] the kindness of the Lord./We, his beloved, trust in Yahweh/and in his holy servant, Moses.” (p. 84)

This work is important both because of the quality of the writing itself and also for what it can tell us about a period in time that is quite distant from today and about which not much is known. As Pim writes, “Meir’s is the only confirmed Anglo-Jewish poetic voice known from the far side of that lengthy hiatus [i.e. from 1290 until 1656, when Jews were readmitted to England] to describe the social conditions of the time. It is of considerable historical and cultural value.” (p. 10)

This publication includes 16 short poems and four long ones. The original Hebrew – complete with vowels – is printed alongside the English translations by Ellman Crasnow and Bente Elsworth (the former has worked on Walt Whitman and the latter has written textbooks on Danish and also translated poet Michael Strunge from Danish to English). The book might appear scholarly, given the historical context, the detailed introduction by Pim, the note from the translators, and the other paratexts, such as explanations of some of the poems and the poetic features, but in fact it is a work that is for any audience.

In many ways, the poetry feels fairly modern. For example, Meir writes, “Afire with longing for the rains of Love,/here I am, thirsty in my inner heart;/with dew drops of desire the folk are fed,/I too, perhaps, will sip a lover’s cup.//My true Love threatens; faith shrivels in drought,/withers, like reeds, from want of water./O sprinkle upon it healing balm/that impure man may be made clean.” (p. 90) Although Meir often refers to his god an dhis faith in his work, the romantic overtones might remind a reader of Rumi, and surely these sentiments are ones that many can relate to.

The final lines of Meir’s poetry are “Take pleasure in my precious meditations,/these songs of exultation and of awe.” (p. 118) A reader doubtlessly does take pleasure from Meir’s writing. 

Monday, August 19, 2013

A Round-Up of Articles

Here’s a round-up of recent articles on translation or related topics.

In this article, some authors pick their favourite translated children’s books.

This piece looks at long words.

I’m a fan of the apostrophe, so my mother sent me an article on just that topic. As the author points out: “How would you distinguish between my brother’s wives and my brothers’ wives ? Between The military claims we’re wrong and The military claims were wrong ?” My students sometimes say apostrophes don’t matter, but clearly they do.

Here’s one on neologisms.

This is a piece on the translator as advocate.

And finally, one on translation mistakes.

Friday, August 02, 2013


We had the BCLT summer school a few weeks ago and it’s been a busy summer generally, so it’s time for me to decompress a bit before getting ready for the new academic year. See you back here soon and have a good August!

Sunday, July 28, 2013

What Do You Learn from Studying Translation?

Obviously, people get a wide range of things from a BA, MA, or PhD program in translation, or even from just taking a class or two in translation. You can improve your language skills, you can learn about translation theory and its application to or influence on practical translation work, you can make contacts, you improve your writing and editing abilities, you can learn to analyze texts in a new way, and so on.

But recently, I had the chance to ask some of our MA students in translation how they’d changed or developed over the course of the year and what they’d learned about translation, and their answers were fascinating. There were a number of different replies and they had the variety one would expect, covering some of the things mentioned above. However, there was one response that every single student gave.

All the students said they’d entered the program thinking that translation was just about equivalence and they thought there was always a right or wrong way to translate a text. But over the course of the year, they said, they learned that translation is much more complex than that, and that translation is a broader task and field than they’d realized. They laughed at how naïve they’d been and said how interesting it was to learn about many different strategies and approaches for translation. They said they translated more thoughtfully now, not just picking the first word or phrase that came to them, but really considering a range of options before deciding on one.

It was amazing to hear that they all had this in common and that reminded me how worthwhile all the time and effort we put in to our teaching us. This shows how much you can develop over just a few months or a year, and how radically your ideas on a topic can change.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Translated Children’s Books

One of my PhD supervisors sent me this article, which talks about how there aren’t enough translations of children’s literature to English.

I firmly believe children should have access to works from all over the world and that this would be beneficial to them. I’ve been dismayed when talking to some publishers, as they’ve told me that children “can’t understand foreign people” or “don’t want” to read about “others”. It’s the adults who underestimate children and who are prejudiced in this case.

Here’s a quote from the article:

"Children need to read the best books by the best writers from all parts of the world," [author David] Almond said. "Of course they do. But the plain fact is that there is very little translated children's fiction published in the UK, and our children are missing out."

His comments coincide with the launch of a new imprint by Pushkin Press that will focus on international children's books – "a bold venture", according to Almond.

Pushkin Press plans to publish a best-selling Danish series about the adventures of a boy called Vitello. The series has been compared to the Horrid Henry books. It is also looking at a fantasy series by two librarians described as the French Harry Potter. The makers of the Twilight films have already bought the film rights.

Thursday, July 18, 2013


I’ve been used to saying that only 2-3% of all books published each year in English are translations, but according to this article, the number is now 4.5%. It’s a small increase, but it’s one worth celebrating. I hope the percentage gets even higher!

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Working for Free

I wouldn’t usually promote working for free unless it was strictly for charity, but this site does sound interesting, especially for those just starting out.

Someone from Webflakes contacted me to tell me about it. She wrote: “Webflakes is a new lifestyle site that translates international content from leading bloggers worldwide via a community of  volunteer translators. Having just launched, Webflakes exposes English readers to influential international bloggers whose point-of-view reflects their unique cultures in categories such as wine, food, fashion, design, and architecture. The community of  translators are the heart of the operation at Webflakes as they utilize their skills to remove the language barrier while also raising funds for global charities in the process.”

Personally, I don’t have the time to do work for free unless it’s for a charity or other organisation/individual that I have chosen and have strong feelings about, and I do also worry about translators (or non-professionals who are acting as translators) being taken advantage of it, but it’s worth looking at this and similar sites.

Monday, July 08, 2013

When NOT to give up the PhD

Last winter, I wrote a post about giving up on a PhD. There were a lot of comments on Thesis Whisperer in response to that post, and it seems to have been a topic many could relate to. So I thought it was worth exploring a little further. Here, then, I want to talk about those times when you might feel rather low about your studies, but when you ought to be careful about making the decision to quit.

The question is: how can you differentiate between situations that suggest you should quit and those that might feel that way but don’t actually signal quitting time? And if it’s the latter, what should you do?

If you know for sure that you want to work in academia or in another research field, then you probably need to find a way of pushing on with your PhD. Not only do you need the PhD just because it’s usually a job requirement, but also because it shows that you are the sort of person who can do research on a high level and who can carry a major project to completion. Hence, the PhD is something you need to finish so you can move on with your life. Quitting won’t help you achieve your goals.

If you aren’t absolutely sure that you want a job in research but you haven’t ruled it out either, then you should consider completing so that you are giving yourself as many options as possible for your future. Some doctoral students don’t know what they want to do next, which is fine, but then you do need to keep your options open. Again, then, you might not want to quit.

If you want to go into a field that doesn’t require a PhD, but you know you could earn a higher salary or would have more opportunities to develop your career with a PhD, then you need to make a decision for yourself about whether the additional year/s and potential pain of the doctoral programme is worth that extra money or positions. For some people, it is worth it, while for others, they’d rather take a lower salary and leave behind the stress of their studies.

And, of course, if you want to have a career in a field completely unrelated to your PhD research or if you don’t want a career at all, then that’s something to think carefully about as well. You might find that you want to show yourself (and your friends/relatives) that you can carry out a project on a very high level and can get a PhD. You might just really want the pleasure of the title “Dr” or the status that can come with it. If either of those scenarios is the case, quitting probably isn’t the best option (then again, as I said in the last post, I’m not convinced that doing a degree just for the title is the best way to spend a few years of your life).

So what should you do if you’re currently not engaged by your research and you’re tempted to quit but you suspect that quitting isn’t the best idea?

The obvious first step is to talk. Talk to your supervisor/s, your colleagues, your family, your friends, and possibly your therapist. You need to get other people’s insight into what’s happening and what you can do. It could be that your supervisor think you’re taking the wrong tack; perhaps a shift in approach or methodology is what you need. Maybe you’re teaching too much and you’re left with no energy for your research, so you can arrange to have a lighter teaching load for the next term. Maybe you have too many hobbies and you’re not following a clear schedule for your research, and since you’re not accomplishing much, you feel upset about your research. In that situation, you need to work out a new schedule and learn to prioritise. Maybe you’re having a problem with your partner or your children but you’re avoiding it, so that’s causing you to blame your research for you feeling depressed.  Sorting out issues at home should take precedence then. Maybe you’ve recently lost a friend or relative, and you just need time to grieve before you can focus again. And so on.

For many people, feeling unhappy about their research is in fact caused by problems elsewhere in their lives and/or the lack of progress with their research is due to having little energy or low concentration levels. Take some time to talk to other people and to think about what is going on in your life. The problems you think you’re having with your PhD may not actually have that much to do with your research after all, and dealing with those other issues first may have a positive knock-on effect for your studies.

Also, as I said in my previous piece, there are times for all of us when we lose our research mojo. This is not a reason to give up on the PhD. Rather, it’s worth remembering that this is a temporary situation, and that there are ways of dealing with (taking a brief holiday, finding a new hobby, reading for pleasure, spending time with relatives/friends, meditating, going to a museum or a play or a concert, concentrating on teaching, even focusing on another part of the research project). We all need breaks and academics are particularly prone to not taking them because of our workaholic natures (yes, I’m generalising here), so if you’re feeling less than enthusiastic about your work, a strong likelihood is that you just need to do something different and to shift your attention for a little while.

Again, quitting really can be the best choice for some students. But before you make that decision, consider both other factors and also what you want to do after the PhD. It may turn out to be the case that you do want and/or need to complete the PhD, but that a short break or other solutions, such as marital counselling or a different schedule, will help you find your enthusiasm again.

Wednesday, July 03, 2013

Gulp and Translation

There are lots of reasons to love Mary Roach’s fascinating and funny books. But as a translator, one that I appreciate is that she employs translators and interpreters when needed in the course of her research and – and this is the part where she differs from many other writers – she actually mentions this and sometimes even gives their names in her work.

I really enjoyed her most recent book, Gulp, and I liked it even more when I noticed her references to translators. Who knows? Maybe she’ll even write a book on language and/or translation at some point!

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Event Factory

I don’t quite know how to describe Renee Gladman’s novel Event Factory, but it is fascinating, especially for those of us interested in language. The protagonist travels to Ravicka, a city-state (that I somehow imagined looking a bit like San Marino) where the language is a combination of words and movements. For example, at one point she wants to apologize, but has trouble “recalling the “turns” I needed to perform my apology…I went through pareis several times, but always tripped up on the same move and had to start over again. You cannot skip ahead, or you’ll be saying something entirely different. I wanted to say, “When you are a visitor to a place, especially one such as Ravicka, it is difficult to remain stationary. The landmarks call out.” But I could not get my body to say “landmark” versus the “shipyard” it kept performing.” (p. 29) Her inability at times to communicate echoes the confusion many travelers feel when in a new place, where a different language is spoken and a different culture is the background. As the main character says, “If only travelling were about showing off your language skills, if only it did not also demand a certain commitment of body communication, of outright singing or dancing—I think I would be absolutely global by now. In Ravicka, I was barely urban.” (p. 42) I think many of us forget that language does involve a certain amount of facial expressions and movements and we tend to focus on the meaning of words, although obviously Ravicka is an extreme (and made-up) example. It is worth reading Gladman’s novel not only for her poetic turns of phrase but also for her philosophical ideas about communication.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Call for Papers

You might be interested in this call for papers or in simply attending the conference: Crime in Translation Park Building, University of Portsmouth Saturday 9 November 2013 Plenary speakers: Dr Karen Seago (City University, London) Dr Yvonne Fowler (Aston University) A selection of papers will be published in Jostrans, issue 22, July 2014 The translation of crime fiction is all around us, from the current wave of Scandinavian and European crime novels, film and television to recent screen adaptations of classic crime fiction such as Sherlock Holmes. But it’s not only in fiction that translation meets crime. The police and the courts rely heavily on public service interpreters and translators. Translation itself is criminalised in various ways, e.g. in relation to copyright infringement, legal proceedings against translators of ‘problematic’ texts and various forms of piracy. The 2013 Portsmouth Translation Conference aims to bring the different facets of translation and crime together in an interdisciplinary one-day conference, allowing exchange of ideas between translators, criminologists, interpreters, literary scholars and translation researchers. We invite proposals for 20-minute papers and 60-minute practical workshops on any area connecting crime and translation or interpreting. We welcome approaches from practitioners as well as researchers. Topics may include (but are not limited to): The challenges of translating crime fiction Subtitling and dubbing thrillers Crime, translation and the law ‘True crime’ in translation The role of translation and interpreting in criminal justice Translation by and for criminals Translation as a crime Translation and forensic linguistics The representation of translation and interpreting in crime fiction and film Enquiries and/or 300-word abstracts should be sent to by 15 June 2013

Friday, June 07, 2013

Yiddish and Hebrew

Last month, I was in Israel. So I thought it was appropriate to include some links here on Hebrew and Yiddish. Interestingly, I couldn’t find as many free options for these languages as I could for other tongues, but some of these links might be a start, and you can also check out some older posts on this blog for more on Yiddish and Hebrew.

Der Bay is a major online resource for Yiddish.

You can learn a little Yiddish here.

Shtetl has more info on Yiddish.

The Vilnius program is a well known one for learning Yiddish.

YIVO is, of course, the place to go for Yiddish.

Learn Hebrew using cartoons. It’s a very entertaining site!

Here is a free online course for learning Hebrew.

This site starts free, and then you can pay for more lessons.

And check out Ulpan for more Hebrew lessons online.

Sunday, June 02, 2013

The Telephone Game in Translation

Here’s a silly game to entertain you: the telephone game in translation. You enter some text in English (or another language), then you watch as it gets translated back and forth between languages. Then you see what the text ends up as – it’s just like playing telephone/operator/Chinese whispers/whatever else you might have called it, except with multiple languages.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Yo, what’s up?

I’ve been the recipient of hundreds of emails from students over the years. Some of them have been quite polite and well-written, but quite a few are informal to the point where they are verging on the rude. And many are full of typos.

“Yo, what’s up?” was one of the most informal openings I’ve gotten, while “Hey” is the most common informal one.

“Hope your well” is a regular mistake I see. “im writting my essay about x” is also not an usual phrasing.

“Respond immediately” is a frequent demand, and often those who use it send me their email over and over (and over) again if I don’t reply within a few hours. If a student should happen to send me the email on a Friday night, I have many copies waiting for me Monday morning, with increasing exhortations stating how I “must” reply right away or the student will be upset or be unable to write the essay or do the reading. And yes, this often comes from students who are waiting until the last minute to do their work, though they’ve known about the assignments for weeks, if not months.

So I liked this guide to emailing your teachers, and I suggest students follow the tips.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Vote for Brave New Words

Once again, Brave New Words has been nominated as one of the best language blogs. Please vote! All you have to do is click a button. Thanks!

Thursday, May 23, 2013


I recently discovered the journal Asymptote, which is dedicated to literary translation. As they say on their website, “Though a translation may never fully replicate the original in effect (thus our name, “asymptote”: the dotted line on a graph that a mathematical function may tend towards but never reach), it is in itself an act of creation.”

An intern for the magazine told me, “Not only do we offer the translations of these pieces, but we are happy to publish the originals, audio files of the original languages, and the translators’ commentaries where possible.” I think their approach to translation is fantastic, and I urge you to check the magazine out.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Picking up Hidden Meanings: Guest Post

I met Tim Lenton at a discussion I ran on translation and I thought he had some interesting ideas, so I invited him to write a guest post for the blog. Luckily, he agreed. Here it is:

It is a truth universally acknowledged that to attempt a proper translation, you need to be fluent in both the language of the original writer and the language you are translating into. Or is it?

Translation has fascinated me for a long time. I have been particularly intrigued by the difficulty of translating from Hebrew or Aramaic (sometimes via Greek) into English, which is a very different kind of language.

If you are looking at biblical translation, you have the additional problem of a few thousand years of cultural change added into the equation. Given the near-impossibility of translating contemporary poetry satisfactorily from one language to another – trying to convey the precise sense, the rhythm, the context and all the nuances – there doesn't seem much chance of getting those old biblical writings safely and securely into modern English.

Which is presumably why we have so many different translations of the Bible, though it doesn't explain why so many people appear to attribute infallibility not just to the Bible, but to the translations, especially if they are a few hundred years old and have the word James in the title.

I do not speak Hebrew, Aramaic or Greek, but reading about the Aramaic language in particular led me to what I think is an understanding of the way some of the New Testament was written. To many this will be an arrogant and laughable claim, and they may be right. But a feeling for language is as important as technical ability in it. My degree in German gave me something of that feeling for the way ideas were adopted into different languages.

I had long been aware that some idiosyncrasies of Greek (for instance, the continuous present tense) had not been conveyed into English in most translations. English people (like most modern Europeans) tend to look at things in a cause-and-effect way, so the New Testament  injunction to "Ask and you shall receive" leaves us looking around for what has not been delivered, whereas the meaning of the original is, I believe, "Be an asking sort of person and you will receive things", or to turn it around, "If you don't ask, you don't get".

But a book called Prayers of the Cosmos, by Neil Douglas-Klotz, which I discovered by chance in a friend's library on Holy Island, opened my eyes to the huge differences between the Aramaic and English way of looking at things – in particular how Aramaic words (like Hebrew) include a deep reservoir of roots and history in a way that just doesn't seem to happen in English unless you delve deeply and academically into the derivations of words.

I was intrigued to discover, for instance, that the Aramaic word for prayer (slotha)also means setting a trap, and the word for bread (lahma) also means understanding. This is highly figurative language which allows your mind to expand on what is on the page – roam around it, so to speak, to pick up all the hidden meanings. English, though wonderful in its way, is not like that.

One of the things that Douglas-Klotz did was expand on the Lord's Prayer, bringing out of the original Aramaic all the subtleties and allusions. But he did this at great length. I felt I would like to have a go at producing a usable Lord's prayer based on the Aramaic words. And so I did.

Ah, you may say, this is not a translation: this is a paraphrase. And of course you're right in the strict sense. But translation is bringing something across, and as Douglas-Klotz had brought something across to me, I wanted to bring it further across and add my own feeling for the language to it.

Is it possible to have a genuine feeling for a language you don't speak? I think it is, but then I would, wouldn't I? Here is the "translation" I ended up with:

Our Father, who is throughout the universe.

let your name be set apart and holy.

Through your kingdom and counsel,

let your desire and delight be,

as in the universe, also upon earth.

Give us this day bread for our necessities

and food for our understanding,

and free us from our offences, as also

we have freed our offenders.

And do not let us enter our temptation,

or make do with worldliness,

but set us free from error and immaturity.

For the kingdom, the power and the song

belong to you

from ages to ages.

Sealed in faithfulness.

What makes this worth doing? Is it just new words for the sake of it? Not at all.  This version gets rid of at least one wrong translation (the absurd "Lead me not into temptation") and breathes in some wider and deeper meanings.

For me, the word "delight" is important, because it presents God as benevolent, rather than as a despot. I wanted to include the idea "food for our understanding" in "our daily bread" and the Aramaic idea of immaturity and worldliness into the familiar but one-dimensional  "temptation". (The Aramaic also contains the idea of unripeness, but I decided regretfully that this could not be comfortably accommodated.) 

I also liked the word "song" as an expression of "glory", and "from ages to ages" better expresses the original than "for ever and ever".

Professional translators may regard this as amateurism of the worst kind. For me it was an exciting adventure, and one which has received a good response from those I have offered it to. Admittedly, they don't speak Aramaic either. But I'm not sure that matters.

Obviously I could not have done it without help from a genuine linguist in Douglas-Klotz, and he deserves most of the credit. He opened the door, and I went through it. Which is what doors are for.

Tim Lenton is a poet and former local newspaper columnist with experience of lecturing at the UEA. He has a BA (Hons) in German from Birkbeck College, London, is now retired and lives in Norwich with his wife, who is an education consultant. He has a website at

Monday, May 13, 2013

Cooking the Books

I’ve received some emails asking me how I got into translating cookbooks and what sort of skills you need. As with other types of translation, food writing is a specialized field and just enjoying eating is not enough of a qualification.

But let’s say you do genuinely love food and would like to work with cookbooks and other texts. What kinds of things could you do to try to break into food translation?

--Learn as much as you can about food. Cook and bake a lot. Read food magazine and borrow cookbooks from the library and study their style (and try out their recipes). Take a course, if you can afford it. Even if you don’t take a class, make sure you learn about different cuts of meat, techniques, ingredients, and tools, as they vary tremendously.

--Write restaurant reviews. Yes, you can start with blog posts, especially if you do so on a blog that isn’t your own (i.e. if you have an editor). You should also try to get an article or two in local publications, and then work your way up to national ones, if possible.

--Do other sorts of food writing. For example, interview chefs. Write travel articles that mention restaurants. Publish your own recipes.

--You can also do food editing. If you work as a proof-reader, try to find jobs that allow you to edit cookbooks and other texts about food, such as guides to cities or countries or cultures.

--Start small in regard to food translation. If you’re at a restaurant with a badly translated menu, offer to edit it. If you’re at a restaurant without a translated menu, offer to translate it. If you do one or two of these for free, you have something to put on your CV, and you have gained experience and potential customers. Grateful restaurant-owners may even pay you, or at least offer you a free dish or glass of something tasty.

--Do other sorts of food translation. For example, translate restaurant reviews or restaurant websites. As with food writing, try to do as many types of food translation as you can. This helps you learn about different styles, and it will help you make contacts.

--Sign up with agencies and/or with translation organizations and list food as one of your specialties.

--Contact publishing companies and magazine editors and offer your services. Do likewise with restaurants.

--Don’t set your heart on only doing food translation. Most translators do a variety of texts, so be aware of that, and try to work in a few different fields.

Basically, you need to show that you have a lot of knowledge about food and about language. So the more you can do to prove this, the better.

Food translation is a lot of fun and it can be a challenge (not to mention a danger to your waistline). But to succeed, you need to take food as seriously as you would medicine, or finance, or literature, or anything else.

Wednesday, May 08, 2013

Literary Translation Events in Norwich and London

I have organised a literary translation reading in Norwich on 17 May at 4 pm in the Undercroft (under the market). You can hear short excerpts from texts that have never been translated to English before. All the translators are UEA staff or students. The reading is free. (See below for the poster, which was designed by my PhD student Alex Valente. Thanks, Alex!)

On 22 May, you can hear a talk by me in London at City University on Fallen Women, Moody Bitches, and Stupid Southerners: Language Usage in Thrillers and Their Translation. This will take place at 6.30 pm in Room AG22, College Building, St John’s Street, and it is also free, followed by a reception.

I hope you can make one or more of these events!

Friday, May 03, 2013

Translators and (Their) Authors

As you read this, I’m on my way to Tel Aviv to attend the Translators and (Their) Authors conference at Tel Aviv University. I’ll be speaking about Swedish author Gösta Knutsson, who also translated work by Lewis Carroll.

Besides the fact that the conference itself sounded interesting, I was also keen to go because I’ve only been to Jerusalem, and I loved it and wanted a chance to see more of Israel.

I hope some of you will be at the conference and, if so, I look forward to seeing you there.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Translators Without Borders

While most of us must generally do work that earns us a living, we can often donate our time and energy and maybe even some money once in awhile. It is important to give back to our communities whenever possible.

So I encourage you to sign up with Translators Without Borders. This way, you can take on the occasional volunteer translation job, knowing you are helping others. You can of course also contact a charity or other volunteer organization and offer your time and skills.

Volunteering need not be onerous; a few hours a month is enough and it's wonderful to feel that you are helping others.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

A Round-Up of Articles

My colleague Jo Drugan, who also teaches translation, sent me this fascinating story about historical vocabulary and anachronisms. For translators, finding language that suits the context can often be very challenging, and may require research.

This is another article sent by a colleague, this time Kate Griffin, who also works for the British Centre for Literary Translation. Happily, this article discusses how translation is becoming more visible in the US in academia.

Research often suggests that knowing multiple languages is good for us, but this article states that speed-learning a language is good.

If you can read Swedish, this piece claims that “poets are dangerous as translators”.

And sticking with Scandinavia, if you a want a laugh, watch this video to learn some Danish.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Croatia via Iraq

I had never read a Croatian novel, though I’ve been to Croatia, until a few months ago. Here’s my review of that Croatian novel in English translation. The review was published in Wales Arts Review.

Our Man in Iraq
Robert Perisic, translated by Will Firth
202 pp., New York: Black Balloon Publishing, 2013.
Reviewer: B.J. Epstein

I must confess: as far as I can recall, Our Man in Iraq was the first book I’ve read that is set in Croatia. And what an introduction to the country it is.

Robert Perisic’s Our Man in Iraq is about Toni, a journalist who grew up in a rural village and now lives in Zagreb, the capital city, with his girlfriend, an actress whose fame is steadily growing. Besides dealing with his feelings of insecurity due both to being a country mouse as well as to having a partner who is suddenly more successful than he is, Toni makes the mistake of sneakily getting his boss to hire his Arabic-speaking cousin to be their newspaper’s reporter in Iraq. Unfortunately, Toni’s cousin Boris doesn’t seem terribly mentally stable, so Toni ends up ghost-writing Boris’s articles for him. Understandably, this eventually leads to Toni getting in trouble, especially when Boris stops communicating with his family and they fear that he’s been lost and go to the media about it.  Meanwhile, the war in Iraq rages and reminds the former Yugoslavians of the terrible war that they lived through, and the current war between the generations that they seem to be experiencing as well. Apparently Perisic is known as an anti-war writer in Croatia, and that comes through very clearly in this novel.

While this plot might sound like a strange combination of seriousness and slapstick, it actually works quite well. The subjects and styles shift, and you just have to give yourself over to the story. Our Man in Iraq explores topics ranging from journalism to good versus evil, from relationships to the effects of war. And in Firth’s translation, Perisic’s prose is often lovely and thought-provoking.

When Toni and his friend have returned to university after serving in the war, he finds that people’s attitudes towards them have changed, and their own attitudes have changed as well. “During this period the world fell apart. Nothing was permanent, authorities faded and people flinched before us. We realized that we belonged to a generation that had a moral advantage because it was defending all those old folks accustomed to the molds and models of socialism. Lost as they were, they patted us on the shoulder as if they were thanking us for something. We vocally despised socialism and they agreed with us on that. We despised their life’s experiences and they agreed with us on that too. We disdained all they’d done and stood for, and again they agreed with us. To leave no doubt that the future belonged to us, we rejected everything that until yesterday had been of any worth. They agreed with us on all that.” (p. 27) As one might expect, Toni too is later forced to confront the things he thought he stood for, and the choices he made, or thought he had.

As he puts it, “I’d fled to Zagreb and become a city boy; here I went to a thousand concerts, lived with an actress who played avant-garde dramas, I acted cool, and did everything right. The fear of someone thinking I was a redneck made me read totally unintelligible postmodernist books, watch unbearable avant-garde films, and listen to progressive music even when I wasn’t in the mood. I was terrified of everything superficial and populist. If something became too popular, I rejected it. Even in moments of major inebriation when I felt like singing a popular peasant song I stopped myself. I maintained discipline. But in vain. All at once they were breathing down my neck again. I thought I’d given them the slip, but now they’d encircled me, having used Boris as bait, and were closing in for the kill.” (p. 104)

You’ll have to read Our Man in Iraq to see if Toni breaks free or if he ends up trapped, or both.

I’m so pleased that more publishers are publishing literary translations, and that more of these translations are from languages other than French or German. It’s essential that we learn about other people, other cultures, and other “life’s experiences”, and fiction is one of the best ways to do this. Think of each translation as an Our Man in… book, so Our Man in Iraq serves as an Our Man in Croatia, letting us know a little bit about what is going on in Croatia. But of course we must remember that each translated text is only one story. We need many more translations so that we can get access to more stories. One can only hope that publishers such as Black Balloon will continue this important work.

Our Man in Iraq is in a sense about trying to control what is actually uncontrollable. “We try to make sure things don’t get out of control. There’s always that danger here on the slippery edge of the Balkans. Here we always squabble about what we’re allowed to enjoy and what not.” (p. 115-6) Whether those in the Balkans are allowed to enjoy Our Man in Iraq or not I can’t say, but those of us in English-speaking countries certainly can, and should.