A Sunny Afternoon in Translation

Last weekend, I had to reschedule a meeting with the German writer  whom I’m translating (I was a bit under the weather and couldn’t keep my eyes open). This put me really behind with the amount of translating I wanted done before I spoke with her. [Just as a brief catch up, besides being a writer and book reviewer, I also work on literary translations from German to English. I’m a novice at this, so translating is sort of a slow process for me at times and like most writers, I obsess over every little sentence.]

It was a lovely day in both New York and Germany, and once we got all of the kinks out of Skype, it was wonderful to see and speak with her again (I met her in Germany at the beginning of October).  I had a few questions for her. For example, in her text she had created her own word. For those who are unfamiliar with the language, German is notorious for its extremely long words; they are 1) able to make up their own words and 2) these made up words are just a bunch of words strung together. So to say the least, for a translator, this can pose a problem. I understand what she is saying with her words, but in English we don’t just make up phrases that equal a single word. So I made notes and we thought of ideas for these strange German nuances.

On the flip-side, she is working on a German translation of a short story of mine (a collection is being published in Spring 2012–more info to come).  Certain “products” are mentioned throughout and are important to the narrative. It was so interesting to have a twenty minute conversation about Ajax, non-dairy creamer, and Oh Henry! chocolate bars.

Besides the actual words and discussing the differences in language, I always get a great pleasure about our translation of different cultural points and our individual approaches to translation.

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4 comments

  1. That’s really interesting. I’m considering doing this. I’m double majoring in Political Science and Creative Writing with a minor in German, so I understand. I am semi-fluent in German, but imagine writing a translated book, I would obsess very much about capturing the meaning.

    1. Definitely try! I am a slow translator because I over obsess but the more I work at it the faster it becomes because you will realize that a good translation isn’t a literal translation. I suggest checking out an earlier post about a literary translation panel I went to recently: https://acidfreepulp.wordpress.com/2011/11/11/an-evening-of-translation/

      Also, consider joining ALTA. A year membership for students is $20 and they provide you with so many resources:
      http://www.utdallas.edu/alta/

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