Spotlight | Oxford Translation Day at St Anne’s College

Translation does not simply jump from one language to another. It also ‘crosses’ languages in the sense of blending them, as you might cross a bulldog with a borzoi, or two varieties of rose . . . Translation can cross languages that have much in common – for example, English and French – and language that are very distant – like English and Malay; it can span languages that share the same script system (Japanese and Korean) and those that don’t (Japanese and Arabic or German); it can go between dialects (or between a dialect and a language) or between different words of the same language . . . Translation can be done by one person, or several, or hundreds – or by machine. It can be a matter of life or death, as in a war zone; or an ordinary part of everyday existence in a multilingual community.” Matthew Reynolds, Translation: A Very Short Introduction

bulldog britainIn short, language-learning and translation skills are vital in our global era. Ever more so for Brexit Britain: as links are severed with Europe, forging new links with faraway foreign countries will become crucial. How ironic that the prevailing mood is so bulldog British, with foreign language learning on a downward slide, and languages no longer being part of the core curriculum for 14 to 16-year-olds. To expect everyone else to speak English, the lingua franca spoken across the world, and no longer be embarrassed by being monolingual, is a deeply arrogant and short-sighted attitude. Language is the means by which one accesses a culture, and is the expression of a culture.

There are oases of hope. Thank goodness for those universities which run language courses and postgraduate degrees in translation – Westminster, Roehampton, SOAS, UCL, UEA and Portsmouth among them.

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Review | The Past, Alan Pauls | booktrust.org.uk 2008

Roberto Bolaño called novelist Alan Pauls from Argentina “one of the best living Latin American writers.” The Past, first published in the UK in Nick Caistor’s English translation, is about obsessive love, addiction and self-destruction, played out against a bewitching backdrop: Buenos Aires. It is a strange, unsettling read.

Protagonist Rimini is good looking and easy going; his partner Sofia is eccentric and strong. Their relationship seems inviolable and eternal to their friends, but “occasionally Rimini faltered. He wavered, ran away from Sofia, and then was enraged at his own weakness.” They split up after twelve years, but Sofia refuses to accept that they are no longer a couple, “two people like us cannot separate”. She writes letters and leaves messages on Rimini’s answering machine, obsessing about the importance of sorting through the hundreds of photos of their time together, but he is scared to look at them, “for fear of being sucked into an emotional whirlpool and drowning in it.” Sofia’s presence becomes ominous like that of a stalker. She clings on as he struggles to let go and make a new life.

Continue reading Review | The Past, Alan Pauls | booktrust.org.uk 2008

Book of the Week | Landing by Laia Fàbregas

When you’re rooted in yourself, you feel settled wherever you go. I guess to feel good we need to find places to adapt to. Except once we’ve adapted we need to move on, to find a new place to adapt to. But once you’ve adapted to several different places, you no longer have one place where you belong. That’s when the place where you belong becomes the space between those two different places. Moving around and seeing new places — that’s my natural habitat. The truth is I’m a nomad.” So speaks Roberto, train steward on the high-speed Talgo.

Modern society is becoming increasingly rootless and uniformist, as the forces of global capitalism, increased migration and social pluralism influence work, lifestyle and beliefs. Economic migration is spurring rapid social change, leading to ambiguity about identity, sense of place in the world and a cultural dissonance. As governments lose touch with their citizens, they ignore to their peril how groups that are ignored, or ostracised, become desperate, rebellious and take direct action. Humans need to belong to a social group, to be heard, make sense of their identity, and develop a sense of belonging — a sense of purpose. In a shifting world, no wonder social networking on the internet is so huge.

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Interview | Samantha Schnee | Translator of the Week

Tell us a little bit about yourself.
I was born in Scotland and moved to the US with my family at the age of four. We lived in the heartland of the US, in Nebraska, for several years, before moving to Texas, where we settled. I became an American citizen during my first year at uni. I started learning German, took lots of Spanish literature courses, and studied abroad in Berlin, Madrid, and Mainz, but in the end I became an English major because I wanted to access the creative writing courses offered by that department. I wrote a collection of short stories for my senior project. By the time I graduated I had gorged on literature for so long that I felt like I needed to do something completely different, so I went to work for a bank. I ended up in the Latin American group of an American bank, helping companies from Mexico, Chile, Argentina, and Brazil access the US markets. I loved the clients but I didn’t love the work itself, which was incredibly demanding — I didn’t have the time or energy to read a book for three years so I left that industry for publishing. I worked for Andrew Wylie as his assistant for a year, then for Francis Coppola, launching his literary magazine, Zoetrope: All-Story, finally settling at Words Without Borders, which published its first issues of writing from Iran, Iraq, and North Korea, six months after I began working there in 2003.

When you were growing up, what books had an impact on you?
It’s so lowbrow that it’s slightly embarrassing to admit, but I loved the Nancy Drew mystery series; I read every one, some multiple times. I think what appealed to me was the girl power — that these three young women were daring and fearless in the pursuit of truth and justice was quite inspiring. The book I probably read the most times was Frances Hodgson Burnett’s The Little Princess. I was captivated by the character Ram Das, who would sneak across the rooftops into the little girl’s garret with carpets and firewood, pillows and blankets, to make it a more pleasant place for her to live. It seemed utterly magical to me. I suppose I’m still rather fanciful.

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Book of the Week | Oh, Freedom! by Francesco d’Adamo

“I have a dream that one day, down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of ‘interposition’ and ‘nullification’ − one day right there in Alabama little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.” The spirit of Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream” speech made on 28 August, 1963, underpins this captivating and lyrical children’s book, deftly translated from the Italian by Siân Williams. The Oh Freedom! playlist at the end of the book is a natty touch.

Freedom of thought, religious freedom, freedom to live a fulfilled and happy and better life . . . People fleeing from the violations and abuses of tyrannical regimes all around the world dream of it. Oh Freedom! How precious you are!  To what lengths will people go, in the hope of starting a better life?
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