Discover the longlist: Sophie Hughes, ‘When you translate fiction, the masquerade frees you’

Longlisted for the 2022 International Booker Prize, Sophie Hughes is translator of Paradais.

She discusses the challenges she faces in the art of translation and tells us how reading J.M. Coetzee changed her life.

Sophie Hughes

Written by Sophie Hughes

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

I read a novel I wanted to share with friends but it wasn’t translated into English, so I started to translate it. I knew within a few lines that translation would become a central part of my life.

Almost like carnival, when you translate fiction, the masquerade frees you. There is so much freedom within the parameters of a really well-conceived story and tightly-controlled prose.

What’s your earliest reading memory?

Hundred Acre Wood. I lived there.

What did you enjoy most about translating Paradais? What did you find most challenging?

Fernanda’s meticulously-drawn characters, her screenwriter’s ear for dialogue, and the seamless shifts in narrative voice and tense she performs are a dream to translate. Some of the content is graphic and upsetting, but I greatly value literature that reminds us of the banality of evil, its terrifyingly normal face.

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

Actually I re-read parts of my translation of Hurricane Season by Fernanda Melchor. They are set in the same region and have lots of language in common. I wanted to preserve the consistencies between the two works where I saw them in the Spanish.

Sophie Hughes

I greatly value literature that reminds us of the banality of evil

What steps do you take in your process to marry your work with the author’s, beyond literal translation?

Probably the most important practical step I take is to protect my translation time.

Which seminal books would you recommend to people interested in learning about Mexican culture?

These living writers in translation will help readers scratch the surface of Mexican cultures! Emiliano Monge, Yásnaya Elena Aguilar Gil, Laia Jufresa, Guadalupe Nettel, Brenda Navarro, Cristina Rivera Garza, Valeria Luiselli, Aura Xilonen, Jazmina Barrera, Jorge Comensal, and the list goes on…

Tell us an interesting fact about the book.

I translated the climactic scene of Paradais’ final fifteen pages in one sitting and then discovered Fernanda did the same when she wrote it.

Tell us about a book that changed your life.

The Life and Times of Michael K by J.M. Coetzee. I was about twenty. I distinctly remember the feeling I had when I finished reading the final paragraph: one of wonder and – inexplicably – hope. I’ve always got a lot out of very well written miserable books.

What book haven’t you finished?

My current translation!