Given the exciting news I announced on Monday, I thought I’d share this piece I wrote about one aspect of translating The Einstein Enigma. It was originally published June 14, 2011, on www.alisonlaw.com.
Reading Out Loud
Two years ago, every evening after dinner, my partner Jon and I would settle onto the couch so I could read to him. I love to read out loud; it can be a beautifully intimate experience. But this was all business: as a literary translator, it was the only way to find certain flaws in my work.
The Einstein Enigma, by José Rodrigues dos Santos, is a 485-page philosophical adventure story that addresses the concept of God from a math and physics perspective. Now, as a translator and writer, the language side of my brain is rather developed; the science side, well… to be kind, let’s just call it less developed.
Translating this novel required hours – and hours – of research into the theories speckled throughout the book. I needed to make sure I understood them well enough to use the right terminology. But as my deadline drew nearer, there was a lingering uncertainty as to whether I had gotten it all right. I wanted to confirm with another native English speaker that what I had written was intelligible.
Enter Jon. He has a great passion for philosophy and, in particular, the nature of the universe. Because his own theories of life are based on certain mathematical concepts, he was the perfect audience. By reading the novel out loud to him, I hoped he could point out any obvious errors or misunderstandings in my wording.
This is also a dialogue-based novel and benefits from being spoken aloud. Does the dialogue flow? Is it clear who’s talking? Does the vocabulary and phrasing fit the character’s personality? Bringing the words to life was the perfect way for me to determine how well my English translation worked.
As I read from a paper manuscript, pencil in hand, I would scrawl in revisions whenever my tongue tripped or I noticed a perplexed wrinkle on Jon’s brow. We spent hours discussing the concepts and views behind the story, the characters and style of the novel.
Through this process, Jon gleaned further insight into the intricacies of my craft, while his fresh perspective allowed me to see certain aspects of this work I hadn’t considered before. All of this helped to ensure the translation I submitted to the publisher was the absolute best it could be.
Our reading was time well spent on a personal level as well. Evenings away from computers, BlackBerries, TV shows and movies – time together – was cherished. The experience was so enjoyable that we have since read other novels to one another for the sheer pleasure of it.
I’m currently working on another translation and hope to read it to Jon when I reach the revision stage this fall. This one is a work of women’s fiction, so not quite as enticing to him as The Einstein Enigma. But, like it or not, he’s now an integral part of my revision process.