This article was originally posted by Catherine Cauvin-Higgins on the author’s page provided by AmazonCrossing to authors and translators. It outlines how the book Adieu Farewell was translated into English, thirty years after the events.
Farewell: A Translator’s Journey
In the fall of 2009, I was at home in Denver working on a translation when the soft chirping of Skype interrupted me: my sister Marie-Laure was calling from France to tell me about a riveting documentary she was watching on the German-French ARTE TV channel, “Farewell: L’Espion de la vengeance.” She had the feeling I knew one of the men interviewed: “…a Jacques something or other, from Thomson…Does that ring a bell?”
“Do you mean Jacques Prévost?” I asked.
“Yes, that’s it! That’s the name. Did you know he was a DST spy?”
Intrigued — I could not visualize the man who had hired me in 1978 to be his Russian interpreter in the role of a spy –, I contacted his former secretary Sylviane, a long-time friend since the Thomson years. She was watching the same program, and was as surprised as I was. Suddenly, a few things became clear to us: the mornings when, all smiles, Prévost would firmly suggest we go and have coffee and croissants on the Champs-Elysées, close by… “and take your time, it’s a slow day.” This must have been a day when he was waiting for Nart and Ameil to discuss the Farewell situation in his office with no risk of us hearing them through the thin walls. Also more understandable were those agitated moments when Prévost was gesticulating, pacing frantically his office, repeating “but can’t you understand? Volodia this, Volodia that.” Volodia was such a common name among the Russians we worked with, we did not suspect the remarkable events unfolding under our noses.
Soon after, I received the DVD of the documentary by Jean-François Delassus on the Farewell dossier. And indeed, what a discovery: 28 years after the events, I learned that the man I had followed like his shadow for almost five years during trade negotiations for Thomson-CSF, in Paris and Moscow, was the man without whom the Farewell case might not have been possible. I recognized Xavier Ameil, who had joined our five-person office to represent Thomson in Moscow, and whose profile was not what one would have expected in those days to cope with Soviet reality. Sylviane and I were truly puzzled by the choice of baron Ameil, whose ancestor had successfully led his battalion accross the Berezina river (of grim memory for the Napoleon’s troops who perished there) in an inglorious retreat fom Russia in 1812.
Then, Sylviane told me about the book Adieu Farewell published in 2009 in Paris by Robert Laffont. I asked my father to buy it, read it (he could only enjoy it) and send it to me afterwards, which he did. I read the book with great interest, and discovered that behind the quiet, unassuming personas of Prévost and Ameil, there were two courageous and principled men. So I called them! Prévost was emotional on the phone, since there are not many of us left he can reminisce with about those years (78-82). Xavier and Claude Ameil were also very friendly and willing to answer any questions.
After I finished reading the book, I knew I had to translate this story into English, knowing that we owed it to Vetrov and his French handler-friends, and their wives, who all endangered their lives for the benefit of the West; and we owed it to the American public to share with them information that had a significant impact on U.S. policies under President Reagan. This had never been entirely disclosed in thirty years (outside of the narrow circles of government and intelligence services, and except for the bits and pieces — and errors — in various books and articles). If nothing else, at least my husband Peter could read it. Peter and I first met in August 1981 in Paris, at Thomson-CSF, on the occasion of the official negotiations for the supply of computers and software needed to run the Urengoi-Uzhgorod gas pipeline. I was Peter’s interpreter with the French and Russian participants to this huge project (see chapter 28). We had no idea that for the three previous years the CIA had tried to derail the project.
That’s when I began my journey through the publishing galaxy.
I called Laffont’s Foreign Rights in Paris in January 2010: They had not sold the rights, and had no “hot” lead so far. It seemed like the book was already old news for them, having a very rich catalogue of more mainstream readings. They encouraged me to pursue contacts in the U.S. if I wanted to, and keep them informed.
I then called author Eric Raynaud to find out if he and Sergei Kostin had a translator lined up for their book. There was none. So far so good. There was a chance. Eric was surprised to get a call from a French-American translator living in Denver who knew Prévost and Ameil better than he did.
I wrote to every major publisher in New York who had the best authors writing nonfiction Cold War espionage in their catalogues. No answer; or when I got an answer from the most courteous one, it was a “very interesting, but we don’t do translations.” A sorry state of affairs every translator knows and which is so well documented by Chad Post in his Three Percent blog.
With the London Book Fair looming in April 2010, I recontacted Laffont to see if they intended to revisit the issue of selling the rights. That was without counting on the Iceland volcano eruption grounding 80% of the American exhibitors at home. Darn!
Week after week, I read publishing news very closely, hoping to see a trend or some direction that would give me a better idea of how to make the book known and get a publisher interested.
Meanwhile, in June, it was time for the Denver Film “J’adore!” Festival, screening French-language movies, and the opening film was…Farewell, by director Carion, based on the first version of Kostin’s book, Bonjour Farewell (1997)! We all went in force, friends and neighbors, and after the movie, I was invited to give some more background info and share my experience at Thomson with the public. The film was extremely well received, which was an encouraging sign.
I was in contact with Eric Raynaud on and off to keep one another informed, Sergei Kostin was in Moscow. He had confirmed that he did not have a translator in mind either, certainly not one with my familiarity with the subject matter and the characters in the book.
One day, at the end of June, Eric dropped into the conversation that it was such a strange coincidence that two “witnesses of the time” lived in Denver; Richard V. Allen, Reagan’s former first national security advisor, being the first (Eric had interviewed him for the book). Needless to say, I could not wait to meet Richard Allen, which took no time, and in early July we met over coffee, having agreed that we did not have more than an hour…two hours later we decided to continue the conversation at a later date. RVA was my first moral champion, whole-heartedly encouraging me to pursue my “useful” project. I had brought the French book to show him the faces of the “real people” who made it possible for France and the U.S. to share critical information. I also showed him my MA thesis about the Urengoi-Uzhgorod gas pipeline project and its strategic implications, which I had written in English for the University of Houston political science department in 1986; little did I know that I would read it again.
Later in July, I read an article published in May 2010 about the creation of AmazonCrossing. Very aware of the “less than 3%” situation concerning the translation (for all languages) of foreign literature in the U.S., Amazon had decided to create its own imprint to bring foreign books to English-speaking readers. In the article featuring Jeff Belle, Esther Allen from the PEN American Center Translation Fund was interviewed. She explained how encouraged she was by such a bold decision. With renewed hope, I sent the article to Laffont’s Foreign Rights for North America.
I immediately posted my info about the Farewell project on the AmazonCrossing page reserved for translators, but had no evidence that it had been received. So at the end of August I called PEN, hoping to reach Esther Allen. She was out of town. I had the good fortune to talk with PEN’s Linda Morgan who let me tell her my story, and found it interesting enough to contact Jon Fine at Amazon; Jon Fine immediately answered, recommending I contact his colleague Gabriella Page-Fort who was in charge of giving life to this new division by acquiring rights and working with translators. In late October, I received a contract from AmazonCrossing to translate Farewell.
The rest is history…
C’est ça, l’Amérique!
Catherine Cauvin-Higgins is a French-Russian-English translator living in Denver. She was a Thomson-CSF interpreter during the “Farewell” years, working directly with Jacques Prévost, Vetrov’s initial French contact, and Xavier Ameil, his first handler. She participated in trade negotiations with Vetrov’s peers, in Paris and in Moscow, during those same years. Her translation of Farewell can be found here.