Discover the shortlist: Jennifer Croft, ‘Translation is an apprenticeship in creative writing’

Shortlisted for the 2022 International Booker Prize, Jennifer Croft is translator of The Books of Jacob.

Croft was awarded the 2018 Booker International Prize for her translation of Flights. Here, she tells us what draws her to the art of translation and where she finds inspiration in the community of translators around her. 

Jennifer Croft

Written by Jennifer Croft

How does it feel to be shortlisted for the International Booker – an award which recognises the art of translation in such a way that the translators and author share the prize money equally should they win?

I am so grateful to the Booker Prize Foundation for leading the way in recognising translators and the essential role we play in a healthy literary ecosystem. This year, in particular, International Booker jury chair Frank Wynne’s resounding call for fair remuneration, royalties, consultation during the editing and publishing process, and credit has been a source of strength and inspiration to so many of us in this industry.

What first drew you to working in translation and how do you find translating fiction in particular?

For me, translation is a kind of apprenticeship in creative writing, the best possible way to learn from great writers working with different linguistic tools. I am also drawn to the inherently collaborative nature of translation.

What’s your earliest reading memory?

I think the first books I read on my own were by Dr. Seuss. My favorite was Horton Hears a Who!, which may have shaped my childhood worldview to a certain extent, as well.

What did you enjoy most about translating The Books of Jacob?  What did you find most challenging?

I love translating Olga [Tokarczuk, author of The Books of Jacob] for so many reasons. Her prose is so lyrical, so beautiful, so soothing, even when tackling the most horrific subjects. I am always fascinated by her projects and her ability to balance accessibility with ambitiousness and range. The Books of Jacob was a bit more of a challenge than usual simply because it takes place in a variety of locations in the eighteenth century, which meant I got to learn a lot of new vocabulary in English as well as Polish.

2018 International Booker Prize

I am drawn to the inherently collaborative nature of translation

Aside from the book, what other writing did you draw inspiration from for your translation?

One of my main inspirations for this translation was Lady Mary Wortley Montagu (1689-1762), whose Turkish Embassy Letters offered moral and stylistic support as I was searching for the right voice for, among others, Polish politician Katarzyna Kossakowska, one of the main characters in Olga’s book. I loved the wit and keen observations in Turkish Embassy Letters and was fascinated, too, by Lady Mary’s life: She imported the smallpox inoculation from Turkey, for example, at a time when England was still highly sceptical of procedures like these.

Tell us about a book that changed your life.

Federico Falco’s A Perfect Cemetery is still changing the way I think about fiction, and about people, and about the world. It’s certainly made me a better writer.

What book haven’t you finished?

I am incapable of reading Philip Roth. Every time I try I fail to make it through the first page. Something about it just infuriates me.