Spotlight on Literary Translators is a regular feature here at Intralingo. The aim of these interviews is to get the word out about our profession and the works we bring into other languages. The insight the interviewees provide is also sure to help all of us who are aspiring or established literary translators. Enjoy!
Spotlight on Literary Translator Inga Michaeli
LC: What language(s) and genres do you translate?
IM: When it comes to literary translations, I am strictly English-Hebrew, but I also specialize in travel, marketing and trans-creation, and there I work in both directions. I also speak Georgian, my parents’ mother tongue, and a little Italian, but not enough to translate from these languages. I translate most genres, except for poetry. I have done fiction, non-fiction, sci-fi, fantasy, YA, short stories and more…
LC: How did you get started as a literary translator?
IM: In one of my blog posts I had a small confession—I became a translator thanks to The Boss and The King. It started when I was 15, and listened mainly to Bruce Springsteen. I tried to translate his lyrics, and was fascinated with the stories behind his songs. When I was 19, and an undergraduate (I majored in English Literature), I found this crumpled paperback of a novel called Thinner. I have never read Stephen King, so that was almost like a revelation. I read lots of King since then, and used to hide them from my professors so they don’t catch me reading THAT instead of Beowulf and Chaucer and Shakespeare. Even back then, I told myself that someday I am going to translate his books, which I did.
After I graduated, I went to the army—actually, the Israeli Air Force—and the first chance I got, I asked for a day off each week, so I could study translation. It took me four years instead of two, but I got my diploma in Translation and Interpreting Studies, during which time I also finished my extended mandatory service (I was an officer), and landed my first job in a small publishing house. I was a reader and proofreader, and then I got my first book for translation. It was called… The Complete Book of UFOs, but we all have to start somewhere.
LC: What do you love most and least about this work?
IM: I love the creative side of it, like coming up with a pun that works well in Hebrew; or translating dialogue, which non-translators always think is very easy, but it’s not. I used to do lots of subtitling for television, and people would always assume that I get paid for doing nothing more than watching the movie and then “typing” the script in Hebrew as they put it. However, for the dialogue to sound REALLY natural, you have to work at it and hone it, and then even hear it spoken to get the feel of it.
I also love the variety, and the fact that every project opens a door to a new world, I love doing the research and finding the voice of the author… You can say I love most aspects of my work 🙂
Of course, it does not hurt when you get good reviews in the papers and from readers. I have had some readers write to me through my blog, and others even called to say they enjoyed my translations. Plus, seeing my name on dozens of books, that doesn’t hurt either.
LC: Can you tell us a little about a recent project?
IM: It is not one of my latest translations, it was published in February 2013, but I really enjoyed working on The Chosen Few: How Education Shaped Jewish History 70-1492, by Maristella Botticini and Zvi Eckstein. It was special for me, for several reasons. First, I am a real history buff and loved the subject matter. Second, the translation demanded lots of research, I spent days in the library poring over many texts and even doing some detective work, and I love a good challenge.
Most importantly, since I work into Hebrew, I never really collaborate with the authors I translate. I may contact them to ask a few questions, which happens often, and I even met Edward P. Jones at the Banff Centre Residency in 2006, when I was working on The Known World, but this was the first time that my author (Prof. Zvi Eckstein) was an Israeli scholar writing in English, so of course he was very involved in the translation and it was a brand new experience for me.
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