You are here

What floats a translator’s boat?

What floats a translator’s boat?

The Adventures of China Iron by Gabriela Cabazón Cámara is the latest International Booker Prize shortlistee to go under the social media microscope. The prize, of course, rewards both writer and translator equally, as a way of showing that translation is an art in itself. The Adventures of China Iron, however, has not one but two translators: Fiona Mackintosh and Iona Macintyre. They have been discussing what the novel means to them and how rendering it from Spanish into English was no mere technical exercise: “I am hugely invested in the characters,” said Iona Macintyre, as she explained how she interpreted the need for “fidelity” to the original text as doing the characters justice. Fiona Mackintosh, on the other hand, was excited by the challenge of translating rhyming verse from one language to another and confessed that it helps that “I’m a bit of a nerd.” The author herself relished the interactions with her interlocutors: “It’s a very beautiful thing and a great honour.” One of the judges, Jennifer Croft, herself a former winning translator with Flights by Olga Tokarczuk, had a touch of envy in her voice in discussing the book. “It’s really sexy. It’s really fun and it’s really frightening at times as well,” she said. What more could a translator – or a reader – want? Next week, the action moves from the hardscrabble life of the Argentinian pampas in the 19th century to the adventures of the jester-prankster Tyll Ulenspielgel during the Thirty Years War, as recounted by Daniel Kehlmann and his translator Ross Benjamin in Tyll.

The nation’s independent bookshops are among the businesses that have been having a particularly hard time during the Covid-19 lockdown. They are book people though, and therefore undaunted, so have spent some of the long empty days by getting together, virtually, and coming up with summer reading recommendations. Their fiction of choice is the current Booker Prize joint-champ Bernardine Evaristo’s Girl, Woman, Other. One of the other novels she saw off was 10 Minutes 38 Seconds in this Strange World by Elif Shafak, a fellow 2019 Booker Prize shortlistee. But perhaps the best way to celebrate the reopening of our indies is, if you haven’t already, to buy both.

Evaristo and her fellow Booker Prize winner Margaret Atwood were among the high-profile women (Jane Fonda, Gillian Anderson and others) asked recently what advice they would have given to their 20-year-old selves. Atwood was pithy: “It’s 1960 in Canada, few writers make a living, and everyone knows women writers are crazy and doomed to be single. My advice: times will change and so will attitudes. You can help change them.” Evaristo would tell her younger self that a positive mental attitude would: “make her more compassionate towards her fellow humans, which is important for a writer who needs to understand and be non-judgemental towards their fictional creations”. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Man Booker longlisted in 2004 with Purple Hibiscus, was another of those asked and was more regretful than full of advice: “Looking now at photos of myself at 20, I cannot believe how much time I wasted believing that I was not enough just as I was.” What none pointed out, however, was that at 20 they possibly wouldn’t have listened to wise words from anyone.

If you are a Thomas Keneally fan – and who isn’t? – then there’s a chance coming up to buy a piece of the 1982 Booker Prize winner’s soul. The author of Schindler’s Ark is putting up some of his art collection for sale. “My wife is 85, I am about to turn 85,” the veteran novelist explained. “We have many, many, more stacked up here, too many, so it’s time to loosen up.” And it’s not for the money either. As the irreverent Keneally put it, the four pictures he is selling “have been valuable beyond words for me but I am such a rotten businessman I got them for pure joy and sometimes it’s better to follow your joy rather than follow some shonky deal put together by some accountant.” Advice to be bottled: avoid shonk.