Monday musings on Australian literature: Contemporary Australian literary translators

Today’s Monday Musings was inspired by the shortlisting for the 2018 Stella Prize of Iranian-born Australian-based writer Shokoofeh Azar’s The enlightenment of the greengage tree. I first came across this book when Lisa (ANZLitLovers) reviewed it last August, commenting in her opening paragraph that the novel “is an exciting development in Australian publishing” because it was written in Persian by Azar and translated into English by Adrien Kijek for publication by Wild Dingo Press. I wonder how many other speakers of non-English languages in Australia would like to write – or do write – but are closed off from the majority of us because of a lack of support and money for translation?

I have written about translation here several times before, but in this post I want to specifically name some current Australian literary translators, many of whom are based in our universities. We do, in fact, have many literary translators, but I’m going to select just a few – somewhat randomly – to give a sense of the breadth of translators we have here.

Stuart Cooke and Juan Garrido Salgado

Sydney-born Cooke has lived in Hobart and Latin America, but is currently a lecturer in creative writing and literary studies at Brisbane’s Griffith University. The various bios I’ve seen for him describe him as a poet, critic and translator. I’ve picked him because one of his translation interests is the Aboriginal song poem. In 2014 he published a translation of George Dyuŋgayan’s Bulu line: a West Kimberley song cycle. His other translation interest is, apparently, Spanish. In 2007 his translation of Juan Garrido Salgado’s Once poemas, Septiembre 1973 was published.

And, just to complicate things a bit, this Juan Garrido Salgado is a Chilean immigrant to Australia (1990). His poems, says Red Room Poetry, have been widely translated, and he himself has translated works by Australian poets – John Kinsella, Mike Ladd, Judith Beveridge, Dorothy Porter and MTC Cronin – into Spanish. He has also translated five Aboriginal poets into Spanish for Espejo de tierra/Earth mirror poetry anthology (2008)!

Linda Jaivin

When I chose this post, one of the two translators to pop into my head – before I went to Google – was Linda Jaivin whose Quarterly Essay, Found in translation, reviewed a few years ago. American-born, she did Chinese studies at university in Rhode Island before spending time in Taiwan and Hong Kong. She’s perhaps a bit of a ring-in here because she doesn’t seem to have translated novels or other sorts of books, but she is a professional translator whose work has included subtitling (into English) Chinese films like Farewell My Concubine. She has written a memoir, The monkey and the dragon, about her experience as a translator in China. And, she’s an associate of the Australian Centre on China in the World at the Australian National University.

Meredith McKinney

Ogai Mori, The Wild GooseThe other Australian translator I remembered, before Googling, was Meredith McKinney. The daughter of the great Australian poet Judith Wright, she has made a name in her own right as an expert in and translator of Japanese language and literature. She lived in Japan for a couple of decades but is now a visiting fellow in the Japan Centre at the Australian National University where she teaches Japanese-English translation. She has translated both classic and modern Japanese novels and short story collections. You can see a pretty comprehensive list at GoodReads. Her translation of Furui Yoshikichi’s Ravine and other stories won the 2000 Japan-US Friendship Commission Translation Award.  A few years ago I bought her translation of The wild goose by Ōgai Mori (Finlay Lloyd) but it still, unfortunately, languishes on the TBR.

Ton-That Quynh-Du

Pham Thi Hoai, The crystal messengerVietnamese-born Ton-that Quynh-Du came to Australia in 1972 under a Colombo Plan Scholarship. He has worked as a translator, court interpreter, and as an academic at Deakin University, Monash University and the Australian National University. His translation of Pham Thi Hoai’s novel The crystal messenger – a book that has been on my bedside TBR for some years now – won the 2000 Victorian Premier’s Award for literary translation. (This award is now, unfortunately, defunct. I believe it was called the SBS/Dinny O’Hearn Prize for Literary Translation, and was only awarded three times, in 1997, 2000 and 2003. What a shame.) His translation of this same author’s collection of short stories, Sunday menu, won the 2007 ACT Book of The Year Award. While he mostly translates into English he also does some translation into Vietnamese (as does Pham Thi Hoai, who now lives in Germany)

Kevin Windle

I chose Kevin Windle as my fifth example because I found, via Google, that last year, 2017, he won a rather prestigious award, albeit one not known to most of us Australians. It’s only awarded every three years by the International Federation of Translators (FIT), and is the Aurora Borealis Prize for Outstanding Translation of Non-Fiction Literature. A press release said that “his work, translating into English from nearly a dozen different languages, and across a wide range of subject areas, is described by his supporters as ‘reliably brilliant’.” How I’d love to be descried as “reliably brilliant”! London-born Windle has worked at the University of Queensland but is now emeritus fellow in the School of Literature, Languages, and Linguistics at the Australian National University, where his expertise is in Translation Studies and Russian. Indeed, the Words Without Borders website states that in 2014 he was awarded the inaugural AALITRA prize for literary translation from Spanish, and in 2015, second prize in the John Dryden competition for a translation from Polish. Although the Aurora Borealis Award was for non-fiction, he has apparently translated fiction, drama, literary biography, and linguistics and ancient history texts.

The above-mentioned press release for Kevin Windle’s Aurora Borealis win notes that the award aims

to promote the translation of fiction literature and non-fiction, improve the quality thereof and draw attention to the role of translators in bringing the peoples of the world closer together in terms of culture.

And that seems a perfect point on which to end, I think.

Do you read translated literature? I’d love to hear your favourites – or anything else you have to say about translation.

Linda Jaivin, Found in translation: In praise of a plural world (Review)

Linda Jaivin, Found in translation Book cover

Courtesy: Black Inc

Reading synchronicity strikes again! In the last couple of months, the issue of language, translation and culture has been crossing my path – in Diego Marani‘s The last of the Vostyachs, in Gabrielle Gouch’s Once, only the swallows were free, and on Lisa’s blog post about the AALITRA Symposium on Translation. I was consequently more than happy to accept a review copy of the latest Quarterly Essay, Linda Jaivin’s Found in translation.

Now, as some of you know, I have mixed feelings about reading books in translation. I want to read them because I want to read not just about but from other cultures. Not being fluent in all the languages of the world, the only way I can do this is to read works in translation, but when I read a translated work I am very conscious that there is a mediator between me and the work. This bothers me. Linda Jaivin, herself a translator, knows exactly what I mean:

… it is absurd to speak of issues of literary style, rhythm – or any aspect of a translated work aside from its structure, characters and plot – without acknowledging that the language of the text is at once a creation of the translator and an interpretation of the author …

And she gives good examples to support her statement. I was pleased to see her acknowledge this, because she knows of what she speaks! But, this little point is only a very small part of Jaivin’s wide-ranging, entertaining but also passionate essay. Jaivin, if you haven’t heard of her, is a multi-skilled woman: she subtitles Chinese film and television and translates Chinese text; she has worked as an interpreter; and she has written novels, stories, plays and essays.

As a reader and lover of words, I enjoyed Jaivin’s discussion of the technical and philosophical challenges faced by translators. She peppers her discussion with an eclectic but fascinating array of examples. And she quotes other translators, such as Edith Grossman who wrote that

a translation is not made with tracing paper. It is an act of critical interpretation … no two languages, with all their accretions of tradition and culture, ever dovetail perfectly.

Take swearing for example. How we swear is highly cultural. Swear words, Jaivin writes, “expose what is forbidden, what is permitted and what is held sacred” in a culture, and consequently “can  throw differences in worldviews into sharp relief”. However, you’ll have to read the essay, if you want to see her examples!

I was intrigued by her argument that translations of classics go out of date! So, this means that the Spanish will always read the same Don Quixote but English speakers are very likely to read a different translation depending on which one is currently in vogue.

“… a culture doesn’t grow just by talking to itself …”

But, the critical point of her essay is not the act of translation. As the title of her essay implies, Jaivin is passionate about pluralism, and more, about cosmopolitanism. By this, she means not just living side by side, not just accepting each other, but “sharing a common vision”.

Australian Women Writers ChallengeFor Jaivin, “translation” is not a narrow concept. Its implications extend far beyond the “simple” translation of words from one language to another, because attached to language are meanings and ideas. When ideas are translated – via words – from one culture to another those ideas change. Jaivin describes how concepts such as Confucianism and yes, even democracy, change when they cross cultures. This can lead, she says, to misunderstanding but it can also provide “room for the kind of creative interpretation that allows cultures and the conversations between them to grow and evolve”.

She argues that, because of Australia’s particular history and geography, and because Mandarin is the most commonly spoken language in Australia after English, “Australia is … in a unique position to translate the shift from the ‘American century’ to the ‘Asian one’ …”.

Building successful international relationships, she believes, requires genuine communication, which includes knowing, recognising and respecting other languages. It

does not require the weak to adopt the language of the strong – as reliance on English threatens to do, given its global and frequently imperial reach.

Jaivin argues that learning a foreign language should be a compulsory part of year 12 and university education, because “we need to have every possible line of communication open to us” if we are to successfully traverse the changes coming.  Not everyone agrees. What do you think?

Linda Jaivin
“Found in translation: In praise of a plural world”
in Quarterly Essay, No. 52
Collingwood: Black Inc, November 2013
ISBN: 9781863956307

(Review copy supplied by Black Inc.)