Tuesday, 10 August 2010

On Translating Hegemann: III

So after the cries of horror on Friday, I have withdrawn into myself and consulted with my editor, and we're sticking with the replacement celebrities. Not in every case (Ann Summers is out, thanks to your mystified feedback), and subject to approval from the author, but still. English-language readers are not used to glossaries and Axolotl Roadkill is not the book to introduce them with. Where German readers of international fiction are apparently happy to be confronted with Betty Drapers and Baal Shem Tovs, British readers are already exploring new territory by reading a translated book. And I want them to get the jokes, not reach for the encyclopedia every few pages.

But rest assured, there are plenty of culturally specific references left in the translation. There are obscure German documentary filmmakers, three-minute vacations in the Teutoburg Forest while leaning out of the window, wealthy and down-at-heel corners of Berlin. There's Nutella and Berghain and Franz Beckenbauer. And it's crucially important that the book is set in today's Berlin, so I'm taking care not to wipe out anything that's not absolutely incomprehensible.

As an aside, a few people expressed wonderment over the fact that the target audience is British. The translation rights have been sold to a British publisher, Constable & Robinson. Usually, English-language rights are sold separately for Britain (sometimes including the Commonwealth) and the USA. Publishers with international distribution possibilities will sometimes buy rights for the whole of the English-speaking world, but that's not the case here. What often happens is that a British publisher and an American publisher will buy rights to the same book and commission a single translation, effectively halving their costs. Then that translation will be reworked for the respective other market. The changes can be fairly drastic, going beyond spelling and punctuation to those bizarre words Americans use for their clothing; you know, pants and vests and the like.

So if and when an American publishing house realises the error of its ways and decides to buy the US rights to Axolotl Roadkill, they'll be editing my text all over again anyway. Or maybe it'll be decades on and they'll commission a brand new translation of this now classic work, rather than using my ham-fisted attempt at rendering Helene Hegemann in the English of 2010.