We all know translation is important for expanding our understanding of other cultures and training our mind. Even one single word can make a significant difference when it comes to capturing the original text’s tone and meaning. And it is important to realize that being a translator is a challenging and often extremely difficult job. For those of you who are interested in a translator career or who are just curious to read more about it, Rachel Cordasco from Bookriot shared in a recent article some translators’ motives behind their choice:
1. Rebecca L. Thompson
I’ve always been drawn to languages, because, to me, they seem like the fastest way to enter into and understand a new culture. That, paired with my love of books, made literary translation an obvious choice for me. I love the way we as translators occupy a middle ground and interact with a text. It’s really a documentation and replication of the reading process–in fact, I like to read the book for the very first time as I’m translating it. By moving page by page as both a translator and a reader, I come as close as possible to creating a genuine, unfiltered experience for the reader of the translation. It’s a challenge that never gets old.
2. David Shook
I grew up as a Texan in Mexico City, which meant that I lived in translation, in the fertile ground between languages and cultures. It wasn’t until college that I knew that literary translation even existed. But once I discovered it, it was game on. As in my own practice as a writer, I think that it’s a fascination with language that keeps me interested in literary translation. There’s a combination of curiosity and enthusiasm that I think many of us share.
3. Ezra E. Fitz
Nothing connects you with a text or an author like being a translator. As Rabassa himself once said, “a translation is nothing but a close reading, perhaps the closest reading possible.” That’s what I wanted to do: read something so closely that the act itself would blur the boundary between the page and the ink that’s seeping into it.
4. Michelle Bailat-Jones
My first translation project was entirely for practice. I translated the first section of Marie Vieux-Chauvet’s Love, Anger, Madness (The Modern Library published a stunning translation of the book in 2009, by Rose-Myriam Réjouis and Val Vinokur) under the supervision of an accomplished translator. That first work was a revelation. Within Chauvet’s novel were all of the things I still really loved—politics and history on a thematic side, complex metaphor and intriguing narrative choices on the technical fictional side—and yet I could work within those things while playing with English. It felt like incredibly deep reading, and I’ve never looked back. Translating is, in all the best ways, very much like writing except that I don’t have to make up any of the story.
5. Jennifer Croft
In college, I majored in English and Russian and minored in Creative Writing. When I graduated, I tried to think of ways to combine those three things, and I came upon translation. In the past fifteen years, I’ve had the enormous privilege of working with some of the most talented writers of Central Europe, brilliant women like Poland’s Olga Tokarczuk and Sylwia Siedlecka, or Ukraine’s Natalka Sniadanko. Everyone I’ve translated has taught me something unique and essential about writing and the world.
6. Allison M. Charette
One of the things that has started drawing me more and more to translation, though, is the translator’s role in cultural awareness and general amity. By sharing all these different worlds, we’re advocating for other cultures and educating our own. It’s quite the idealistic view, but humanizing the “other”, making the foreign more familiar: that’s how hatred, racism, and xenophobia can be combated. Books, not bombs, right?
7. Jordi Alonso
After a childhood spent mixing English, Spanish, and French, I graduated with an AB in English with an emphasis on Creative Writing from Kenyon College in 2014, where I also studied Literary Translation, Anglo-Saxon, Latin, Provençal, and ancient Greek. I’ll be graduating from Stony Brook University in the spring of this year with an MFA in Creative Writing and Literature. My studies have given me a solid background in classics, modern literature, and translation.
8. Aviya Kushner
I grew up in a Hebrew-speaking home in New York, and I have been translating from Hebrew to English all my life. The space between languages is a country with no name, a special zone, a state of mind. As a child, I didn’t realize that this unnamed space was what translators went in and out of every day, and that the survival of literature depends on these travelers.
9. Lisa Rose Bradford
Henry James once said: “To criticize is to appreciate, to appropriate, to take intellectual possession, to establish in fine a relation with the criticized thing and to make it one’s own.” I believe literary translation is founded on a similar rapport, with the added value of affording one creative and productive readings of a text. In my case, this relationship began with German grandparents and a high school exchange in Argentina, both of which enhanced my fascination with words. Once in college, a literary translation workshop directed by Rainer Schulte increased my appreciation of the possibilities of language as regards rhetoric, musicality, and imagery. Translation became a mode of reading and a marvelous challenge.
10. Sophie Hughes
I’ve often heard literary translators refer to themselves as bridges into other worlds, and it’s true that a large part of what we do is provide a path for readers from one place to reach the literature and ergo the culture, history, even the spirit of another—all without having to speak the language of that place. This idea of it being a bridge-building, empathetic vocation was what first appealed to me about literary translation. In fact, it turned out that the task at hand is really more akin to digging tunnels: (mentally) back-breaking, producing one engineering quandary after another (the idea that we can map one language neatly onto another is as alogical as a tunnel under the English Channel), and the end product is basically invisible.