It’s Women in Translation Month (#WITmonth, for the Twitter savvy), and I’ve spent the past few days listening to an exemplary translating woman discuss the finer points of her art and craft in various tents at the Edinburgh Book Festival. Jennifer was representing her Man Booker International-winning translation of Olga Tokarczuk’s Flights, which came out in the States last week and has been getting rave reviews in The New York Times, The Boston Globe, NPR, and elsewhere. On one of her panels, Jennifer was joined by Antonia Lloyd-Jones, the doyenne of Polish translators, whose rendition of Tokarczuk’s Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead will appear from Fitzcarraldo Editions on September 12.
Sharing the stage with Michael Hofmann and Frank Wynne, Jennifer and Antonia spoke to a packed venue and held the audience riveted. The next day, at high noon, Wynne took on Ros Schwartz in a (thankfully bloodless) “translation duel,” moderated by Daniel Hahn. It was an absolute dead heat (tempted as I am to pun on Frank’s name). The real winners, of course, were in the audience!
I was moved and encouraged by the turnout at these events. Translation has come such a long way in the past few decades… Its practitioners are no longer invisible intermediaries; now they draw crowds at literary festivals. And so much of that progress owes to the hard work of my brilliant women colleagues.
I’ll let one such colleague have the last word. A few days ago, LARB published Yuliya Komska’s fascinating interview with the English-to-Ukrainian translator Tetiana Savchynska, who says the following about translation’s capacity to enrich the literary landscape, to help us acknowledge difference without succumbing to bigotry: “I often imagine a world without Babel, as it were — everyone still using the same language. I contemplate this possibility not only because I would be unemployed, but also because our literary world would look so different if there were no cultural and linguistic differences among communities large and small. Linguistically (though not politically), it can seem that we are inevitably headed toward a world without boundaries, with literatures becoming more uniform and less steeped in discrete cultures. Perhaps translation can work against that. It dismantles some borders but also preserves and guards the uniqueness of what is held within them.”