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 Lola Rogers
By Lisa Carter, Intralingo Inc.
Lisa Carter: What language(s) and genres do you translate?
Lola Rogers: The majority of my translations have been contemporary Finnish literary fiction. I translate mostly novels, but also occasional short stories, poems, comics or non-fiction, always from Finnish into English.
LC: How did you get started as a literary translator?
LR: It was the Finnish language itself that first interested me, long before I knew very much about Finnish culture or literature. I was a linguistics major as an undergraduate and my degree program required students to study at least one year of a language outside of their native language family—in my case Indo-European. I was already fascinated by the little bit I knew about the complex Finnish case system, so I decided to take a year of Finnish. After one year of study I understood why the department had such a requirement. The languages I had studied previously—Spanish and a little French—no longer seemed truly “foreign” by comparison. After two years of study I could begin to speak enough Tarzan Finnish to order in a restaurant from a very patient waitress. And I’ve been studying Finnish ever since, constantly challenged and delighted by the language.
In the process I’ve become just as fascinated by Finland’s unique folklore, literature, history and music. My first translations were the lyrics of Finnish pop songs—mostly Ultra Bra, a fantastic band – for mixed CDs I made for friends. It was a way to slow down and really understand the words, a method of increasing my language proficiency, but at some point I realized that translating was something I never seemed to tire of, an endlessly engrossing and enjoyable activity. So I decided to become a translator.
After my first few paid translation jobs for Books from Finland and a couple of other journals, I applied for an internship at the offices of FILI Finnish Literature Exchange, which was an invaluable learning experience and a way for me to meet Finnish publishers, who began hiring me to write sample translations. I then had the good fortune to be recommended to write a sample from Sofi Oksanen‘s novel Purge (Puhdistus), which was quickly picked up for sale to dozens of countries and was the first novel I translated for publication.
LC: What do you love most and least about this work?
LR: I love the way that translating allows me to write without having to find my own inspiration. There’s none of the agonizing over whether I have anything worth saying, no pressure to invent something out of whole cloth. I have the luxury of a ready-made work and I get to focus entirely on the craft of the writing, on being faithful to a truth that another writer has already found. Or a fiction, as the case may be. I’ve heard translation described as a selfless or humble act, and I understand why people say that, but I translate for entirely selfish reasons. I translate because I think it’s really fun.
And what do I love least? Negotiating contracts, I suppose. Sometimes it’s very straightforward, and I’m so relieved, but since I started translating novels for publication I’ve been surprised by how often I receive what could charitably be called disingenuous messages when negotiating the terms of a translation project. On several occasions, for instance, a publisher has told me that they never provide a translator’s royalty when I have reason to be fairly certain that they do. Having to participate in this kind of fictional interaction leaves an ugly taste in the mouth. Even when everyone is completely honest and transparent, the negotiation process is an inherently difficult one. You want to be paid fairly and they usually want to pay you as little as possible, which is all perfectly understandable. But you also know that you’ll be working together for several months, so there is often a moment after finalizing a contract when you both step back and appreciate each other a little, maybe exchange a few very friendly little emails, glad that the ugly business is over. Perhaps I’ll get used to it as time goes on.
LC: Can you tell us a little about a recent project?
LR: Right now I’m translating Death at Twilight Grove (Kuolema Ehtoolehdossa) by Minna Lindgren. It’s the first in a trilogy of crime novels set in the fictional Twilight Grove nursing home in Helsinki, and it combines comic and tragic elements in a way that I really love. It’s an extremely warm-hearted and likable book, and it feels as if it will appeal to a group of readers that my previous translations may not have. That idea of writing for a different kind of audience, for the kinds of readers who like a book with characters who feel like friends, has been very inspiring. I really want to instill the same zany charm as well as the seriousness of Minna Lindgren’s text into my translation. Every text I translate gives me a new voice to express. It’s very satisfying work.
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