German grammar: it’s good for something… Or: the difficulties of gender in translation

German grammar has a bad press, but its complexity actually lends itself to a lot of flexibility in expression – particularly when you want to indicate gender. Using the definite articles die/der, noun suffixes (like -in) or gendered adjective endings are all rather simple ways to add the information that the person or thing in question is male or female. All of these are possible in German, but very hard to replicate in English translation.  Continue reading

Advent giveaway 2: an exclusive short story extract

Today is National Short Story day in the UK, and it’s also #translationthurs on Twitter, so it seems the ideal day for my second giveaway, this exclusive extract of Silke Scheuermann’s ‘The Handover’ (translated by me), from her collection Reiche Mädchen (Rich Girls, 2005).

It might seem like a tease only to post an extract, but in essence – as you’ll see I hope – the extract contains the germ of the whole story, and has all the characteristics of a good short story: subtlety, suspense, intensity, and the promise of a dramatic denouement.

I translated the extract from The Handover for the International Short Story Festival in Wroclaw, Poland, and it’s reproduced here with their kind permission. You can find out more about Silke Scheuermann (in English) here.

Translation workshop with Carmen-Francesca Banciu

Carmen-Francesca Banciu

Last week I went down to Bristol to take part in a translation workshop with Carmen-Francesca Banciu, a Romanian-born author who writes in German. The workshop was the opening event of a conference organised by my lovely colleagues Debbie Pinfold and Sara Jones on ‘Remembering Dictatorship‘. Together with a group of students and translators from Bristol and nearby, we worked on extracts from two novels, Vaterflucht (Fleeing Fatherand Ein Land voller Helden (Land of Heroes) for a public reading which also formed part of the conference.

It’s always a privilege to work directly with an author, particularly one who herself has a lot of experience moving between different languages: Carmen-Francesca told us how up till the age of 10, when she went away to boarding school, her family spoke a mixture of Romanian, Hungarian, German and Italian; and that she picked German up again at the age of 35 when she moved to Berlin after the Romanian revolution. She hadn’t intended to write in German, but found the language creeping into her writing, and decided to make the switch. Continue reading

BCLT / TA translation mentorship scheme

I’m delighted to be taking part in a new translation mentorship scheme run by the British Centre for Literary Translation and the Translators’ Association for the next six months.

As part of the programme, I will be mentoring translator Jamie Lee Searle, a London-based translator of literary fiction and non-fiction from German into English, and part-time tutor at QMUL. Here is Jamie’s response to being selected for the mentorship:

I was delighted to find out I had been selected for the mentoring scheme, and especially when I heard who I’d been partnered with. Having already worked with Lyn on a translation project last year, I am very much looking forward to sharing ideas and learning from her experience in the world of literary translation. I’ve been concentrating on translation full time for a couple of years now, and am sure this partnership will inspire me even further to pursue new projects and raise my profile as a translator. Read more on her blog!

The mentorship scheme, in its second year, supports talented up-and-coming translators by pairing them with mentors for six months. This year the languages included in the scheme are: Arabic, Catalan, Chinese, Dutch, German, Italian, Japanese, Polish, Russian and Spanish.

The programme is sponsored by the Foyle Foundation and the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation UK, and the German mentorship is supported by the Austrian Cultural Forum. You can read more about the programme, and the mentors and mentees, on the BCLT website.

What affects the way we read books? thinking about authors, gender and translations

In my last post, I was looking at different covers for the same novel in translation across a range of languages, because I was wondering to what extent the cover image affects our expectations of the book inside. If the novel has a different cover, do we actually read it differently? could we even consider it to be a different novel? Think of the ‘adult’ versions of the covers for the Harry Potter series, or Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy – aside from being a marketing ploy, those different covers also implied that the version inside was a book for grown-ups, whereas the children’s versions weren’t.

Cover images aren’t the only thing to affect how we read books though; extra-textual (or real-life) information also has a bearing on how we approach narratives. One of my (many) side-interests is in the role that gender plays in a text – how characters’ genders are represented and embodied, for example, or how language reflects, configures and reveals gender – and a few years ago I wrote an article* about three novels where the main character or narrator is the opposite sex to the author. In these cases, the authors were women and the characters were male; one of my conclusions was that writing a character or narrator of a different gender was a way for these writers to signal overtly that these texts were fictional, as much women’s writing tends to be read as autobiographical in the first instance, even when it is fiction. Continue reading

Judging books by their covers: Herta Müller in translation

Since Herta Müller won the Nobel Prize in 2009, there have been a whole host of re-issues, new publications and translations of her writing. It’s fascinating to see how the books are now being marketed (aside from the ubiquitous stickers saying ‘Nobel Prize winner’, of course), and what their cover images say about the writing inside.

Hanser’s handsome hardback versions have minimal images and muted colour schemes. I particularly like the architectural street view and blue wash on their version of Müller’s 1989 Berlin novel, Reisende auf einem Bein: the focus is on the plane in the sky, with its intimations of departures and arrivals. In the novel, the sky above the city – a frequent theme in texts set  in Berlin – is both a reminder of division and suggests the potential to cross boundaries. Continue reading

Highs and Lowlands: desperately seeking Romanian publications by Herta Müller

It might not look like much – the cover is a grainy black and white, with a picture of a rather unattractive toad – but this book, Niederungen, is probably the most sought-after of Herta Müller’s publications… or at least it is from where I’m sitting. There is only one copy to be found for sale on the internet (believe me, I’ve looked hard!) and it’s going for just shy of 1000 Euros – which is a little bit beyond my budget…

The book has a fascinating publication history: it’s Müller’s first book, published by Kriterion in Bucharest in 1982. The book is a collection of short stories which largely deal with life in the rural Banat, in surreal, dark, poetic texts, often from a child’s point of view. Continue reading