By Luis Sanz Irles
When I was offered the possibility of having one of my novels translated into English, I immediately realized two things: what a great opportunity it was, and what a challenge. It must have been my lucky week, for I was also given the possibility of selecting the translator from a choice of three candidates. After reading their versions of the first chapter, I picked Lisa Carter. A question of verbal affinity, I would say. Once I overcame the troubled amazement of reading one’s own carefully woven words in another language, I found that Lisa’s version had a tempo and an inner musicality which I thought were more mine that the others. Lisa it was!
That was only the beginning of my torment, as giving your text for someone to translate is like entrusting your own child to a tutor during a long forced absence. Will the tutor be the right one? Will my beloved child come out of the ordeal unscathed?
In a deeper level of your brain, the thoughts get darker: am I really going allow this witch to sink her filthy claws into “my” baby? How can she ever handle the inviolable rhythm of my prose, the fine marquetry of my sentences? Am I crazy? After all, there is inevitably something devious in a translation, and the mere fact that (as Adam Kirsch suggests) its very nature consists of “bringing the distant close only by erasing the very language that marks it as distant” already puts us on the alert.
As we began to work, Lisa’s tranquil approach to the job had a powerful, soothing effect upon my worst fears. She sounded reasonable, she didn’t act like the insane nanny that plots to take away your child pretending it is hers. She was okay with the fact that I had written the book and, wonder of wonders, she said she was ready and willing to listen to me!
So far so good.
As we moved forward, I began to enjoy her respect for the text she had been entrusted with. We had an intense exchange of emails to make sure we agreed on the overall style, the way she intended to work with my long (somewhat “Faulknerian”) periods, which the average English reader may be less accustomed to, a number of extra linguistic, cultural and literary references that appear in the book, and even other minor technical issues (but important from a marketing perspective) such as whether she would use American or British English. It was fun to work with her in those long preparatory discussions.
She had won my trust. My fears now turned towards myself. How much was I going to be able to respect her work?
I’m not an easy client. Not only is my knowledge of the English language reasonably good (enough to read Faulkner, Nabokov and Joyce, to give you an idea), but when it comes to words, I am a maniac. Not the best credentials for a translator to feel comfortable about me, I’m afraid.
I hope she found my behavior tolerable. I restricted my comments to make sure she understood some nuances in the Spanish text and give her full command over how such nuances had to be transposed into English. (I only had to insist a little on that she didn’t varnish some indecorous words or profane scenes, and she didn’t blink an eye when following my wishes).
I am happy with the result and can solemnly declare that, whilst I am the author of the Spanish novel, the English version belongs to Lisa Carter almost as much as it belongs to me. I am glad to acknowledge that by having her name next to mine on the cover of the book.
Stay tuned: Silent Shadows will be released soon! And next week, Lisa will comment on what it’s like to work with a writer who is a self-professed maniac (about words, that is). J
Readers: What has your experience been in relinquishing a text into a translator’s hands, building that trust and collaborating to create a new version in another language?
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