Independent Foreign Fiction Prize and Readers' Day, May 2013.
Being on the 8am train to London on a Saturday was a bit of a shock to the system yesterday, not helped by the fact I'd been out at a Norfolk and Norwich Festival Event the night before. However it turned out to be a great day and one that I really hope I can repeat in 2014!
I posted just under a month ago about the IFFP 2013 and the book I was reading - and I'm pleased to say that the author did manage to wrap the book up in the last 150 pages. I won't say it happened in a totally satisfying way but it was very appropriate for the rest of the book, and yes we did have some great chats about the book at our meeting and on the train yesterday. We also talked a lot more about it after hearing from the author and the translator and were very proud of ourselves that we had spotted what he was trying to do!
The second book I had to read was The Detour by Gerbrand Bakker (translated from the Dutch by David Colmer) and back in April I was looking forward to reading it as light relief from Traveller of the Century. It really drove home the maxim of not judging a book by its cover. It might have been short with a large font and lots of small chunks but it, for me was also so unrealistic and stylised that it ranks with some of the least enjoyable books I've read. If there was a 'deeper meaning' to be found it was so deep that I couldn't find it and made the books feel very shallow.
Before the Readers' Day I also managed to read Bundu by Chris Barnard (translated from the Afrikaans by Michiel Heyns) which was enjoyable but although sharing similar themes with Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie came nowhere near the latter's brilliance.
The Readers' Day was held at the Free Word Centre in Farringdon and gave us the chance to hear from translators, authors, judges, bloggers and readers. I hoped to be able to make lots of notes and to tweet form the day but I found myself so engrossed that all I have are odd notes and phrases that have stuck in my mind.
We heard from the authors and translators of the six books on the IFFP shortlist and this really altered my thoughts on some of the books I'd read and cemented other opinions! What really came across was the authors' views on their translators. We've heard a lot from translators at our reading group but not really met many of the authors who've been translated. We've thought about and researched the original work but yesterday it was interesting to hear from the authors and how generous they can be to their translators. Andres Neuman for instance sees a work that has been translated as being only 49% his...
After an incredible lunch we took part in a focus group thinking about the IFFP, book groups, translated fiction, book buying and anything else that came up. This was followed by 2 short talks - one from a blogger who spent a year trying to read a book (translated into English) from each of the 196 UN recognised countries - ayearofreadingtheworld.com and one from the English branch of PEN talking about the importance of reading books from other languages.
After this there were some fun creative writing exercises.
The last session of the day was great fun - a translation duel. No violence or swords involved just the mighty pen! Two translators had been given the same passage to translate independently and then these were put side by side and compared. Not even the title of the chapter was the same!
The first few lines were then discussed with a third person (also a translator) as he got them to explain their choices, decisions and thought patterns. It has been many years since I did any (minor) translating but this session reaffirmed how hard it was and how there weren't really any right answers of how to do it - just personal preferences!
At the very end of the day the winner of the IFFP as chosen by us readers was announced and a book that has been translated from Croatian was declared the winner - Trieste by Dasa Drndic, translator Ellen Elias-Bursac. My copy is still on reserve from the library but the notes I made yesterday lead me to believe that although hard going this is going to be a fascinating read.
I was left with a few thoughts from the day that are going to be hard to shake and will influence my reading:
In English we are spoiled by being able to read in our own tongue so many books form so many places but we have to also read books translated into English to get a real feel for the world.
Only 4.5% of the books we find in the UK are in translation and of these women are woefully under-represented. We realised that this is something we've unconsciously noticed at our Reading Group as we were actually struggling to remember more than 2 books by women that we've read in the 3+ years we've been meeting.
As readers we are all translators - what we actually take in from a book is our version of the text and can't be what the original author had in mind as he/she wrote.
Pens must be bisexual - it shouldn't matter if a man writes a female and vice versa just as it shouldn't matter if a female translates a man. The quality of the writing and content should make any scenario work and if it doesn't then this is the problem not the gender of the author/translator.
I'd really like to thank The Booktrust, The Reading Agency, English Pen, BCLT, The Free Word Centre, the authors, judges, translators and speakers (plus anyone else I've forgotten) for making the shadowing process and the Readers' Day such a great experience. I hope we can take part again next year and I'm really looking forward to finding out which book the judges pick as the winner!