Aside from the book, what other writing did you draw your inspiration from for your translation?
I naturally drew my main inspiration from the New Testament as the novel re-imagines some of the miracles. As I said, having lived in the Caribbean for many years, the landscapes, the sea, mountains, fauna and flora described in the novel were very familiar to me.
What was your path to becoming a translator of literary fiction? What would you say to someone considering translation as a career for themselves?
I started out as a technical translator with Kodak-Pathé in Paris and while working there, began translating Maryse’s first novel, Heremakhonon. It was really a labour of love and the more she wrote, the more I wanted to introduce her to English-speaking readers. It was difficult changing over from technical texts to literary ones where metaphors and imagery had to take precedence over the exactitude of technical manuals. The theories on translation throughout the centuries have always interested me and while in the US I introduced many of them into my teaching of translation.
It is difficult making a living out of literary translation and consequently, many translators survive by teaching. I would advise any potential translator to enroll in a school for translation or at least study comparative literature and translation at the university level.
Why do you feel it is important for us to celebrate translated fiction?
Because translation is not getting the celebrations it merits. I have always thought that one day the Nobel Literature Prize should go to a translator.
If you had to choose three works of fiction that have inspired your career the most, what would they be and why?
To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf, because she inspired me to translate Maryse Condé’s novel Crossing the Mangrove.
The Viceroy of Ouidah by Bruce Chatwin, because he inspired me to translate Maryse Condé’s novel The Last of the African Kings.
Cahier d’un retour au pays natal by Aimé Césaire, because he inspired me to translate Black Skin, White Masks and The Wretched of the Earth by Frantz Fanon.