Tuesday, 30 September 2014

international translation day

The 30th of September is International Translation Day. It's also the feast day of St Jerome, who translated the Bible and is the patron saint of translators. I thought I would honour this by reading a translated book, which also happens to be one that has been sitting on my TBR pile for quite some time. I've chosen The Summer Book by Tove Jansson, translated from the Swedish by Thomas Teal in 1974. The original title was Sommerboken.

Thomas Teal has translated at least four of Jansson's works into English, and has even won awards for doing so (2009, Best Translated Book Award; 2011, Bernard Shaw Prize for translation from the Swedish). So it shouldn't really be surprising that his work is described in the Acknowledgements as a 'flawless translation'. I just thought it was odd that they went out of their way to add the 'flawless', as I've never seen that before. It's usually just a standard 'Translated by ...' or sometimes, 'Translated by ... and ...'

Publishing digressions aside - and without intending to disparage the work of Teal -  can any translation be described as 'flawless'? Surely something is always lost when words are picked apart, analysed and set down again in a foreign tongue. Perhaps you could argue that something is gained too - the perspective of a different culture, or the clarity that comes with hindsight, when a work is translated many years after being written. Whatever comes of this give and take, the words are not the same as those set down by the author. This is why we have Definitive Editions, either where the author can approve the translation as as accurate as possible, or where a panel of subject experts (in the case of classic works of fiction) can agree that the meaning has been  conveyed accurately.

Returning to the book I've chosen, my copy is a modern paperback, published by Sort Of Books in 2003. It's a slim book, not even two hundred pages long. The front cover has a colour photograph of an island, which is the actual island in the book: flat, rocky and covered with pine trees. Prior to the text there is a black and white photograph of the 'real' Sophia and Grandmother - looking at each other, oblivious to (or ignoring) the photographer, absorbed in their own world.

And there you have the main characters of the novel. Others may come and go - the father is always napping, or appears as Sophia is on the edge of sleep to add more wood to the stove. The mother is dead, and this is why Sophia and her father have returned to the island for the summer. This is a book about many things, but to me this is a book about being a child, and about seeing the world the way a child does. It's as if someone has cut a window into the past and through it I can feel the wind from the sea whipping onto my face. And because this is Tove Jansson, each word has an isolated beauty to it - a feeling of realness that makes you feel that, yes, this is how it is.

The rain during the summer nights that dries up in the morning, swimming in icy cold water on a hot day, the way the seaweed looks when it's floating, the ground under pine trees being 'shiny with brown needles'...these are all things that make me think of childhood holidays Up North (always Up North, even when sometimes it really should have been Out West or Away East) with aunts and uncles and cousins and grandparents - a sort of organised chaos that is quite different to the world inhabited by Sophia and Grandmother (but not so different from the world of the Moomins).

I can't write about Tove Jansson without mentioning the Moomins, and I don't need to - bits of them are scattered throughout The Summer Book, which is Jansson's first book for adults. There is a bit where Sophia imagines that 'all their luggage floated out in the river of moonlight' that brings to mind The Moomins and The Great Flood (written in 1945 and only translated into English in 2005) or the flood in Moominsummer Madness. Driftwood and bones and bits of ship are found along the shore, just as in Finn Family Moomintroll when the Moomins and friends are shipwrecked on the Island of the Hattifatteners. Grandmother even makes bark boats while sitting on the veranda, just like Moominmamma does.

There is no plot. Nothing much happens, apart from the sort of ordinary things that make up each day. Grandmother loses her false teeth, Sophia is still scared of swimming in deep water, Berenice is scared of everything. There is moss that mustn't be walked upon, the magic forest, and visitors to hide from. Grandmother and Sophia talk about Hell, and Venice sinking, and the Latin names of plants. It's about love, for people and places, and about seeing the beauty in sea-weathered tree roots and blades of grass. It's the story of a summer spent on an island by the sea - a window cut into a different world.

Bibliography: The Summer Book, Tove Jansson; Sort Of Books, 2003
Thomas Teal -  http://www.nybooks.com/books/authors/thomas-teal
International Translation Day -  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/International_Translation_Day

Thursday, 11 September 2014

blog link-up, beautiful people, villains

So this is September's BP link-up, and it's question time for a villain. For this one, I have chosen Mirren Jones, also known as Doctor Mirren Scott, who is a villain to half of my main characters. She's not your typical 'villain' - but Dee, Kay, Zed, Abe and Ade would disagree...

1. What is their motive?
Creating a strong society and protecting her family.
2. What do they want, and what are they prepared to do to get it?
She wants her family to be together, happy and healthy. To do this, she is prepared to: kidnap and isolate children, work for an organisation with somewhat dodgy aims and morals, destroy a way of life because she doesn't understand it, and then possibly commit an act of terrorism.
3. How do they deal with conflict?
Not violently. With words and conversation - when that doesn't work, then she sends someone else to deal with it. Probably violently, but she doesn't ask, and doesn't want to know.
4. Describe their current place of residence.
It's a two-level house in Residential Sector 3 of Garden City. Bedrooms upstairs, kitchen and washroom on the ground floor. The kitchen is large, and has a stove that heats the house and the water, as well as being used for cooking. At the back of the house there is a plot of land used for growing food, and the front door leads out onto the bridge over the canal.
5. If they were writing this story, how would it end?
She'd be living in Garden City with her husband and two children, continuing her work at the hospital, and would be able to keep her collection of Outsider objects on display. Her husband would be able to keep working on the new train line, and Garden City would become an Exchange rather than a Terminus.
6. What habits, speech patterns, etc. are unique to them?
She's very precise, and quite self-effacing, in a way. She'll gesture with her graphite stylus while she's working, or use it to scratch an itch, which leaves marks that her husband Ander will wipe away with his thumb.
7. How do they show love? What do they like to do with/for people they love?
She kisses her daughters on the top of the head in the morning before they go off to school. She likes to give people little bundles of flowers that she's grown around the outside of her vegetable patch. Even though she doesn't like cooking, she discovered Ander's favourite food and will cook it for him sometimes (it's a spicy tomato soup with pickles and sour cream).
8. Do they have any pets?
No. No one in the Cities has pets. Here is Mirren when faced with a dog: "The dog is with him too – a large bitch with a brindle coat and ears that come to a point. Before coming Outside I’d only ever seen a dog in the testing facility, and before that, only in books. I suppose out here they are useful for hunting and guarding. Garm seems to have the animal well-trained, but it still makes me nervous."
9. Where would they go to relax/think?
Her garden. Mirren loves gardening - she has to grow most of the vegetables that they eat, but she also grows flowers just because she loves them. For appearances sake they are 'useful' flowers too - such as dill flowers, lavender, or marigolds.
10. What is their weapon of choice? 
She doesn't use violence as a rule, but she threw a chair at someone once. Also, I reckon she'd be pretty comfortable with swinging a garden spade if she felt threatened.