Editorial by Sarah Death
What do literary translators do for us, and is it a role to which younger people aspire today? Speaking at the award ceremony in London for the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize 2005 on behalf of the judging panel, Julian Evans quoted Pushkin’s definition of translators as “the post horses of literature”. If this metaphor has somewhat unexciting, plodding connotations for us now, we should remember how crucial the post horse was in Pushkin’s day. Perhaps the modern equivalent would be pilots of budget airlines, facilitators of twenty-first century mobility between places and cultures.
The craft of translation has also been likened to other professions. Thomas Warburton, eminent literary translator from English and Finnish into Swedish, a Finland-Swede with family roots in the north of England, recently published his memoir: Efter 30 000 sidor: från en översättares bord (After 30,000 Pages: From a Translator’s Desk. Söderström and Atlantis, 2003). In it, he calls translators literary plumbers, whose task is to make literary communication flow. Without them, we would all have a more limited or insufficient water supply. One might add the parallel of urgency: like plumbing repairs, translations are often required in a rush.
To judge by the number of enquiries SBR has received in recent months from language graduates and others, literary translation is still a profession to which the younger generation aspires. In general terms, advice offered by an established colleague some twenty years ago still holds good. First, never turn down a job if you can help it; gaining practice in as many varieties of text as possible is invaluable in your development as a translator. Second, read all you can, not only in your source language but also your target language and mother tongue. To paraphrase Thomas Warburton: a would-be translator should become a literary omnivore; in translating, you will need to be a chameleon, but you can’t achieve that unless you have first laid down the layers of colour in your skin.
The Summer 2005 issue of In Other Words, the journal of the Translators’ Association in Britain, contains a report from a successful seminar held in February 2005, funded by the Nordic Council of Ministers’ Network North project. This was designed to help beginner translators from the Scandinavian languages orientate themselves in the field, and offered advice on both potential pitfalls and support networks. It would be wonderful if the resources existed to allow all would-be literary translators to attend such events. In Other Words also includes a report from a recent and revealing TA workshop on rates of pay. More transparency in this area is much to be welcomed for literary translators of the future.
from When Finland's Cause Became My Cause: Memories of War and Peace
Translated and introduced by Anna-Lisa and Martin Murrell
Lieutenant Colonel Orvar Nilsson is one of the most decorated officers in the Swedish army and has also received more than twenty foreign honours. När Finlands sak blev min: Minnen från krig och frid (2003) is a valuable historical document, a fine example of first-hand reportage giving the reader a vivid, accurate portrait of army conditions and individual soldiers' experiences.