Monday, 5 July 2010

On Meeting the Author

I've written about it before, but it's such an odd moment that I feel the need to share all over again. Meeting the person who wrote the book you've been labouring over, chose the words you've been mulling in your mind for weeks and months, thought up the plot that's been accompanying you for such a long time.

It's an oddly misbalanced situation. Because as a translator, you have to creep into your own interpretation of the writer's mind and rewrite their words on their behalf. So of course you think you know them - but of course you don't. The writer, on the other hand, has no idea of their translator, except perhaps an impression they might have gained from a few sporadic email enquiries. Which is probably more reliable than trying to judge a writer through their work, no matter how intimately one knows it.

I'm always slightly wary of that meeting. I often try to put it off, or just not meet the writer at all. It feels almost like surrendering control over my own translation, sometimes. I quite like just watching people I've translated short pieces by read at events, but am them wracked with nerves when I go up to say hello afterwards. As a rule they're pleased, flattered, interested. A friend of mine once said she loves talking to writers, they're great listeners because they're permanently gathering material to write about. And she had a distinct déja vu when she read a particular sex scene...

Today I met up with Inka Parei, whose novel Die Schattenboxerin/The Shadow-Boxing Woman I'm translating. And it was pleasant, and productive, and of course it confirmed that I had no idea what she's really like. And we talked about Berlin - which is very much one of the characters in the novel - and how things have changed here, and how so many people live very much on the surface of the city without knowing the almost personal history of the places around them. And of course about the book, with a lot of gesturing and drawing and trying to find a common language in which to answer those niggling little translation questions.

Of course most translators don't live in the same country as the writers they translate, let alone the same city. But for the very lucky ones here in Germany, there are occasional stipends to get together and consult with the author, or to travel to the place where the book is set. And the Literaturfestival Leukerbad last week invited six translators out of German to a two-day colloquium with the Swiss writer Rolf Lappert, to really get down to the nitty-gritty. I'd be interested to hear how that went, by the way.

And no, I haven't met Helene Hegemann.

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