It’s the last day of Women in Translation Month! For our third and final roundtable discussion featuring Aleshia Jensen, Cristina Sandu, Erin Moure, Kari Dickson, Rachel Rankin, and Kristen Renee Miller, we’re discussing translation and gender! The translators also share what they are currently working on and what books you can look forward to seeing on shelves!
Don’t forget—we are offering 20% off all books written and translated by women for the month of August! Sale ends tonight at 11:59 pm EST. As well, use #WITmonth or #womenintranslation on social media to join the conversation and show us what you’re reading.
Charlene Chow, assistant acquisitions editor at Book*hug Press:
Last summer, I was writing my master’s thesis on Ovid’s Metamorphoses and I learned that in many translations, sexual assault against women was often translated right out of the text—erased—by its male translators. For that reason, I am very excited to read (what I think are the first translations of the text into English by women) Stephanie McCarter’s and Jhumpa Lahiri’s forthcoming translations of Ovid’s Metamorphoses. I was wondering if you had any thoughts on how translation relates to gender?
Aleshia Jensen, translator of Céline Huyghebaert’s Remnants:
That particular example makes me wonder who in fact erased the scenes: was it the translators, or was it an editorial decision? I know Metamorphoses has also been retranslated into French by Marie Cosnay (2017). Your example makes me think of Emily Wilson’s translation of The Odyssey. I heard her speak a few years ago, and she talked about how slavery in the book was completely elided by other translations, all by men, and about the ways female characters were portrayed. In this article on her work, there’s an interesting example of the adjective used to describe Penelope’s hand as she weaves (her point being how weaving is very physical), and how these micro decisions in translation change the way a reader sees the character.
In terms of broader thoughts, there has been a lot of questioning and rethinking in the translation community of late around which voices represent authors in translation. These are important discussions to be having, I think. Women in Translation Month itself is based on a gender binary, which is an issue to delve deeper into, too.
To circle back to Ovid, it’s wonderful that there is a new translation forthcoming. Old stories need new voices. My favourite version of Antigone is the film adaptation by Sophie Deraspe, a movie that everyone should see, because it’s stunning.
Cristina Sandu, author and translator of The Union of Synchronized Swimmers:
As a translator working with Finnish, I think about gender a lot. Finnish language doesn’t have genders, and this gives great freedom when writing and translating, as one can bypass details of gender. But it can also make things harder. Instead of just using “she” and “he”, in Finnish one has to use the names of characters or the words “man” and “woman”, which, if one isn’t careful, can sound clumsy.
Your thesis reminds me of something I learnt at university in France when I was 20. I struggled to read and understand classics. But then I found Marie Darrieussecq’s translation of Ovid’s Tristia and Epistulae ex Ponto, published as Tristes Pontiques. There’s something so bold in Darrieussecq’s translation: she’s done exactly as she likes, shortening, changing, deleting, creating her own rhythm and tone. That’s how I discovered Ovid.
A few years ago, I read Emily Wilson’s The Odyssey. I had never enjoyed Homer as I did when reading her. From the very beginning—“Tell me about a complicated man”—the text is clear and dynamic. And I remember how, towards the end, she describes Penelope’s hand as “muscular”. That was so different from the usual way women are portrayed in literature.
I don’t think that these translations rendered these classics more appealing for me because they were carried out by women (or perhaps that does play some part in it). Rather I think that because women historically have been cast aside from the Western canon, they now offer us fresh and original interpretations of the classics which hadn’t been given a chance before, highlighting or developing some aspects of these texts which had been overlooked.
Rachel Rankin, co-translator of Because Venus Crossed an Alpine Violet on the Day that I Was Born:
An image that comes up time and time again in discussions surrounding translation is that of the windowpane. There are those who say that a translator should be as invisible as a pane of glass, serving to present the original work in all its glory exactly as the author intended. I don’t necessarily agree with this image, namely because the translator is not a mechanical processor through which a text passes—translators are human, all shaped by the world in different ways, and as such, it is only natural that we translate and interpret through the prism of our own experiences. When it comes to gender and translation, I think the idea of exploring fresh new perspectives in, for example, new women-led translations of texts such as Ovid’s Metamorphoses or Homer’s The Odyssey is a fascinating one—the idea of unearthing something new in classics like these is incredibly exciting, and the fact that these different perspectives can enable us to challenge and examine our potentially crystalized understanding of such texts is, I think, something to be embraced wholeheartedly.
Kari Dickson, co-translator of Mona Høvring’s Because Venus Crossed an Alpine Violet on the Day that I Was Born:
That is a fascinating fact! Now I’m going to go out and get those translations when they’re published too!
I would like to hope that sensitivities have changed, so these days, males translators, certainly in English speaking countries, would not deem it necessary or advisable or preferable to translate out scenes of sexual assault.
There was much discussion this spring about who gets to translate what, here in Europe at least, in connection with the translation of Amanda Gorman’s The Hill We Climb. Personally, I think that a good translator can tackle any text, regardless of gender, cultural background, or heritage. However, there may be times and circumstances when it is more prudent to align these factors. And obviously (I think), different translators will be drawn to different genres and types of text. For example, I give poetry a wide berth, and I love short stories. After twenty years of translating, I’m starting to know what kind of book and text might give me more opportunity to shine. And though I have translated more women recently, it is true, I do also translate men. And Rune Christiansen, for instance, gives his female protagonists an emotional register that really resonates with me, whereas I’ve read books about women by women, that do nothing for me.
I think there is still considerable disparity in who gets translated and who gets reviewed, when they are translated, though this is changing, thanks in part to movements such as Women in Translation. I found it amusing and interesting that it was deemed necessary to comment on the fact that the past two Booker International long and shortlists have been dominated by women, whereas no one thought to comment previously, when they were dominated by men. But things are definitely moving in the right direction.
Erín Moure, acclaimed poet and translator of many works including Chantal Neveu’s This Radiant Life:
Translations are readings, we translate readings, not texts. A text is just ink and paper or pixels on a screen until it’s read. There’s many histories of erasures in translations, erasures of gender politics and issues, of race politics and issues. Erasure of feminism from poems, of certain crucial arguments or bases. Erasure of ways language is used to subvert: a classic example here is some of the early translations of Clarice Lispector, which didn’t respect her strange turns of language but smoothed them out, thus losing part of the intended meaning. We need more women translators, for sure, and need more Black and Indigenous translators from all nations, as well, so that the readings of one set of folk do not dominate translated work, yet we can continue to share and let other writers and language artists enter our culture.
Book*hug Press: Are you translating anything right now? What upcoming translated work are you most looking forward to reading?
I’m working on revising some translations for an art monograph, and also doing an edit of a translated film script.
I’m looking forward to reading In Case of Emergency by Mahsa Mohebali, translated by Mariam Rahmani.
I’m translating Sally Rooney’s novel, Beautiful World, Where Are You. This is exciting. I’m also working on a translation of Ilya Kaminsky’s poetry collection Dancing in Odessa. This is one of my favorite books and I’m so glad that a small, independent Finnish publishing house, Kustannusliike Parkko, agreed to publish it.
I look forward to reading Olga Tokarczuk’s Księgi Jakubowe, in English The Books of Jacob. The English translation will be published in November by Jennifer Croft. I first read Tokarczuk some 10 years ago, a Finnish translation of House of Day, House of Night, by Tapani Kärkkäinen. I became completely mesmerized by her tone, her imagination. Then I discovered Croft’s translations after going to her talk in the UK a few years ago. Unfortunately, I can’t read Polish but I feel lucky to have two great doors open to Tokarczuk, one in Finnish and one in English.
I am currently doing my PhD at the University of Edinburgh where I am researching the translation of Norwegian poetry, and of hybrid poetic texts in particular. I am focusing on two poets, namely Halldis Moren Vesaas and Cecilie Løveid, and I am exploring their contrasting styles in order to find out if the strategies we use to translate more formal poetry can teach us anything about how to translate more hybrid, genre-bending work. This is definitely keeping me more than busy at the moment, though I do always try to make time to read works in translation as well. At the moment, I am looking forward to catching up on some of the books that were shortlisted for the 2021 International Booker, namely The Dangers of Smoking in Bed by Mariana Enríquez, translated by Megan McDowell, and The Employees by Olga Ravn, translated by Martin Aitken. I am also looking forward to reading Polly Barton’s translation memoir Fifty Sounds.
I’m currently in the middle of translating a travel book about the Himalayas by Erika Fatland, which is fascinating, fat, and fabulous. It’s the third book I’m translating by her, and I have vicariously travelled large areas of the world with her which was particularly gratifying during lockdown. It’s one of the things I think is most important about translation—that it opens up new worlds and new cultures to you as a reader, when you don’t know the other language. I must apologise to my Scandi colleagues and confess that I very rarely read Scandinavian books in translation, as I can read them in the original. But I love reading books about places I know very little about.
Two books in translation that I’m looking forward to reading from my pile are The Book of Jakarta, a collection of short stories from Jakarta edited by Maesy Ang and Teddy W. Kusuma and published by Comma Press, and Loop by Brenda Lozano, translated by Annie McDermott and published by Charco Press.
I’m savouring my first reading of Chantal Neveu’s upcoming book, You, which no one has heard of yet, even in French, and trying some tentative translations. I’ve translated a few new poems by Chus Pato as well from her new manuscript (not yet published), Sonora… I am currently translating an interview I did with Pato for the Berlin Poesiefestival, from Galician to English, and will find a magazine this fall to publish it in and share what she is up to.
I’m super looking forward to reading Jennnifer Croft’s translation of Olga Tokarczuk’s The Books of Jacob, coming out next spring. It’s 800 pages long or so… I have already read the book in French translation and am looking forward to Jennifer’s work as she is amazing.
Kristen Renee Miller, translator of Marie-Andrée Gill’s Spawn, and Heating the Outdoors (forthcoming):
Yes! I’m of course translating Marie-Andrée Gill’s latest collection, Chauffer le dehors, for Book*hug Press (Look for it in spring 2023!). I’m also working on a little series of “mistranslations”—a project I began just for fun a few years ago. These are tiny, intentionally-wrong translations of fragments of canonical texts in German and Old English—neither of which I speak. The mistranslations are essentially experiments in close listening, associative thinking, and letting the poem decide what it wants to be about. The end result is always surprising, which, in my view, is one of the best things a poem can be.
As for my reading list, I can’t wait to read my copy of Outgoing Vessel by Ursula Andkjær Olsen, translated by Katrine Øgaard Jensen. Katrine did a gorgeous job with Olsen’s previous book, Third-Millennium Heart, which won the National Translation Award in poetry. Outgoing Vesselis described as a book-length mirror poem, which sounds just completely irresistible to me.
About the Translators:
Aleshia Jensen is a French-to-English literary translator and former bookseller living in Tio’tia:ke/Montréal. Remnants, her translation of Celine Huyghebaert’s Governor General’s Literary Award-winner Le Drap Blanc, is forthcoming from Book*hug Press in Spring 2022.
Cristina Sandu is the author and translator of The Union of Synchronized Swimmers, winner of the 2020 Toisinkoinen Literary Prize. Her debut novel, The Whale Called Goliath, was nominated for the Finlandia Prize, Finland’s most prestigious literary prize.
Rachel Rankin is a poet and translator based in Edinburgh, Scotland. Her co-translation of Mona Høvring’s award-winning novel, Because Venus Crossed an Alpine Violet on the Day that I Was Born, is forthcoming this October.
Kari Dickson translates from Norwegian, and her work includes literary fiction, literary fiction, children’s books, theatre, and nonfiction. In 2019, Book*hug Press published her translation of Rune Christiansen’s Fanny and the Mystery in Grieving Forest. Her co-translation of Mona Høvring’s award-winning novel, Because Venus Crossed an Alpine Violet on the Day that I Was Born, is forthcoming this October.
Erín Moure has published over forty books, including poetry, essays, memoir, and translations/co-translations from French, Spanish, Galician, Portuguese, Portunhol, and Ukrainian. Moure has translated several titles for Book*hug Press, most recently This Radiant Life by Chantal Neveu.
Kristen Renee Miller is the translator of Spawn by Ilnu Nation poet Marie-Andrée Gill. In Spring 2023, Book*hug Press will publish her translation of Gill’s latest book, published in French as Chauffer le dehors. Miller lives in Louisville, Kentucky, where she is the managing editor for Sarabande.