Monday, February 18, 2013

JESSICA KNAUSS: A TRANSLATOR'S VOICE






Jessica Knauss’s translation of Lidia Falcón’s Camino sin retorno -- the harrowing tale of the Spanish transition to democracy from the pen of Spain’s leading feminist -- has just been released by Loose Leaves Publishing.

Jessica Knauss
Jessica grew up in Northern California and began studying Spanish as soon as she could. She translates amazing stories she could never have written herself because they come from authors from different parts of the world who live in completely different conditions. She loves to bring these stories into English, where they can find the wide audience they richly deserve. Jessica graduated from the University of Iowa with an MFA in literary translation. She blogs at jessicaknauss.blogspot.com and would be happy to send you free No Turning Back bookmarks!

Q: A standard question to ask an author is “When did you begin writing?” In this case, perhaps you could talk about what first interested you in translation.

A: My experience has been that most Americans never learn any language beyond English. When I began to read stories in Spanish, I was disappointed that I couldn’t share them with everyone I knew. It became apparent that the easiest way for people from different cultures to get to know each other was through translation. It was a major advantage to translate into English, which is now the most international language.

Q: Is translation easy?

A: No. Although it’s easier for me than teaching foreign languages, translation has turned out not to be the simple transference of meaning from one set of sounds or writing to another. The main problem is that “meaning” is so contextual and subjective. We hardly ever realize it, but when we speak our mother tongue, each word carries with it centuries of history and connotation, and I’ve yet to find a single word that can transmit exactly the same load of meaning in another language as the original concept does.

Q: How did you find Camino sin retorno? Were there any special issues with its translation?

A: I now feel as if I’ve known the works of Lidia Falcón my entire life. But I came across her work randomly in the stacks at the University of Iowa library. As soon as I picked up Camino sin retorno, I knew it should be translated. It’s an incredibly important book. It was the first to really speak out about prison conditions during the Franco dictatorship and the first to openly criticize the leftist groups who resisted Franco because of their machismo and lack of respect for women’s contributions.

It was a difficult book to put into English for many reasons. First, I had to learn about the political context in Spain before I was born, and then I had to sympathize with the characters enough to figure out what kind of voice to give each of them in English. Also, the book is kind of experimental because it’s told from the point of view of Elisa. She has PTSD from her time in prison. Perhaps Falcón chose to tell the story from such a point of view because she suspects that everyone who lived under the dictatorship suffers from some kind of shock. Elisa’s thoughts and emotions are jumbled and erratic. In the end, I’ve added some clues so the reader in English can keep better track of what’s going on. By the end of the book, it makes so much sense, there doesn’t seem to be any other way it could have been written. I hope readers will love it as much as I do! Because as well as dealing with these important issues, No Turning Back is full of memorable characters.

35 comments:

  1. I enjoyed this post. I enjoyed to issues of translating books into different languages. I have heard it can be very involved in order to get the point across. I personally hope to have works translated into several languages. I anticipate it will be a very interesting experience if I have the opportunity. Thanks for writing the post.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks so much for stopping by, Roy! I've had one of my books translated into Spanish and i can affirm that it's a pretty bizarre process from the author's point of view.

      Delete
  2. This is a wonderul topic, Jessica. I admire you for your hard work. I must admit I am one of those who never learned to speak another language. At age 69, I'm attempting to learn more Spanish, however, not doing very well with it. The reason I'm trying is because I have daily communication with Hispanic speaking people here in the states now, as they too try to learn English. I'm afaid I'm a bit too old to learn a complete language, (and I do not mean that in a negative way), however, I'm learning a few words.

    Great job.
    Pat Yeager

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Pat, thanks for stopping by! I personally believe in neuroplasticity, meaning that age is no barrier to language learning. It takes a LOT of effort, at any age. In the meantime, translators like me can help you out. Thank you.

      Delete
  3. As a translator myself I was fascinated by your post. I have mainly dealt with commercial and scientific/academic texts myself (bread and butter stuff, as I call it) although my real passion is literary translation (into English). I have translated two novels from Spanish into English by a distinguished Spanish author but getting them published is a different matter! I have reached the conclusion, in the British market at least, that two factors seem to be operating, one, a general lack of interest in all but the very top authors, and two, a silent mafia among translators who feel that certain authors are their territory... I would be interested to hear any comments from you

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. What authors have you translated? What is the subject of the novels? I highly recommend submitting such materials to small presses. A small press will appreciate the work for its own sake and certainly won't have in-house translators for you to compete with. Thanks for stopping by and I wish you all the best luck!

      Delete
  4. Beautiful post...bridging the language gap with inspiring stories translated for English speaking readers.

    I have a friend from Spain that has written a novel in his native language Catalan. He is slowly reading my novel to "learn English better" as he puts it (God help him! hahahaha) His goal is to one day translate to English. I wonder what his chances of publishing will be when he does so. We are all a drop of water in a vast sea of books...hope springs eternal I suppose.

    Thank you for sharing...

    Taylor Fulks
    www.taylorfulks.com

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I can't recommend translating into anything but your first language. I've done translations into my second language, Spanish, and it was a psychological torture because I could never be sure I was doing the language a service or not! Thanks for stopping by, Taylor!

      Delete
  5. I really enjoyed this post! I have a good friend that struggled through acquiring his degree in translation in his retirement and he is now happily working as a freelance translator. I remember his struggles as he fought for command over two languages and their nuances and I admire you guys greatly that do this work!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks for stopping by! Good to know the story inspires struggling translators.

      Delete
  6. Dear Jessica, having grown up in Lebanon where a trilingual education is par for the course I appreciate the difficulties in conveying sense (cultural/idiomatic) in various languages. Translators work hard to bridge the literal world and had it not been for people of your profession we, as readers, would've missed out on great literature and, dare I say, enlightenment. Your skills and flair do not go unnoticed and when reading a book in translation, I often stop and think that the beautiful turn of phrase, the exquisite imagery, the flow in the prose were realised by the translator. Good luck with your hard work.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you for the nice comments. Translators too often go unnoticed!

      Delete
  7. Marta,

    I enjoyed this interview as you brought me into a new world of translation. Thank you!

    Tracy Leigh Ball

    ReplyDelete
  8. Very interesting and how true…translation from one language to another is a very difficult task.

    Steven Nedelton

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks for appreciating this crazy art, Steven!

      Delete
  9. Dear Jessica and Marta,
    As a Belgian (Flemish) author whose books are currently being translated into French and English (my mother tongue is Dutch), I wish to thank you both for this truly interesting interview. I am now revising the translation of my novel "Return to Hiroshima" and mostly I tip my hat for my translator, and again sometimes I notice that, although he is very good, he has not "felt" the delicate meaning that is hidden underneath certain phrases (as you say, Jessica, indeed centuries of history and connotation). But, when I signal him these subtleties, almost always he comes up with a brilliant solution. Literary translation is very hard work, indeed and demands from the translator not only a thorough knowledge of the language in which she or he translates, but also a literary flair that can't be learned....Best wishes!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you, Bob! It's always helpful to be able to talk with the original author, so I'm sure your translator appreciates you!

      Delete
    2. Bob, thank you so much for having stopped by!I'm delighted to hear that we will soon be able to read your book in either French or English. Please let us know as soon as it is out.

      Delete
  10. What a wonderful article! I thoroughly enjoyed this insightful piece.
    Cynthia B Ainsworthe, Author

    ReplyDelete
  11. Marta and Jessica,

    Thank you for this insightful interview on the art of translation. I have read books from many languages in English translations and it is wonderful that they are available for those who do not understand the native language of the author.

    I am also very interested in this particular book and am delighted that an English translation is now available. I am an international human rights lawyer and activist and I believe that making books like this accessible in other languages contributes to cross-cultural understanding.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you for your interest. No Turning Back could be a very useful book for you. Let us know how you like it!

      Delete
  12. Jim, thank you so much for your support!

    ReplyDelete
  13. I'm posting this on behalf of Amanda Cordner, who was unable to eneter the comment herself:

    I read the article! Very interesting. I always wondered what challenges a translator may face when trying to translate the meaning of words that sometimes only fully makes sense in it's mother language.
    I am in awe that skill/talent!

    ReplyDelete
  14. Jessica and Marta, thank you for sharing such an insightful interview. Writing is an art within itself but to be able to translate from one language to another is truly remarkable...for it is not just the translation of words but requires skill in maintaining the emotion within each character as intended by the author. I find such talent quite awe-inspiring!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you, Sharla. Jessica will be answering too, but I want you to know how much I appreciate your insight.

      Delete
    2. Thank you so much! I hope this chapter has inspired awe, for sure.

      Delete
  15. Ok, found the article!!! Trouble with english, can't imagine being a translator!!

    ReplyDelete
  16. I really enjoyed reading this blog. What a brave and courageous girl to remain steadfast in her quest to translate, but to "get into the heads, or the roles of the characters" in order to do so, makes me have such respect for Jessica and her passion/work.

    Being married to a man who is fluent in both English and Spanish and raising a biracial child who is learning Spanish makes me realize exactly what Jessica has said in her article.

    You are talented, Jessica. Go forth and continue to do well.

    Cherrye S. Vasquez, Ph.D.
    Books That Sow: Strength, Character & Diversity, DBA

    ReplyDelete
  17. Congratulations for your work, Jessica! And thanks Marta for this great interview.
    Translation is a very hard work, not only because of the language, but because of the author's mind and the context. I'm from Spain and although I haven't lived the Dictatorship time, I know that it was particularly a hard time for intellectual people: you couldn't express yourself openly.
    Lidia Falcón is a well-known writer and political activist in Spain. She's been fighting for women's and social rights for years now. I think it's worth reading her work.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks so much for stopping by, Ana. I found you on Facebook. I hope you'll contact me!

      Delete
  18. I wish to thank everyone who took the time to read this post and leave their comments, as rich and enlightening as Ms. Knauss's text.

    ReplyDelete