Since 1986, the French-American Foundation has awarded annual translation prizes for the best translation from French to English in fiction and nonfiction. We’re extremely pleased to see the translators of three HUP projects among the five nonfiction finalists for the 2017 prize: Nicholas Elliott, for his translation of Michel Winock’s Flaubert; Catherine Porter, for her translation of Élizabeth Roudinesco’s Freud: In His Time and Ours; and Jane Marie Todd, for her translation of Olivier Wieviorka’s The French Resistance.
The Foundation conducted interviews with each of the finalists about the path that brought them to translation, their process for translating, and the life of the translator. Elliott, who shared the 2013 Translation Prize with Alison Dundy for their work on another HUP book, Davi Kopenawa and Bruce Albert’s The Falling Sky: Words of a Yanomami Shaman, spoke of the “lonely business” of translation:
The translator works alone and must aim to be invisible. Some of the books I translated have received long, glowing reviews that omit to mention the translation. I have come to accept that for a translator, particularly a translator of non-fiction, not being mentioned is equivalent to a good review. Most readers would prefer to pretend there is no translator between them and the author.
And of how translating Winock’s biography deepened his sense of Flaubert’s greatness:
His sentences can be difficult, his word choice occasionally obscure to the modern reader, but once I made my way through the thicket, often by consulting a nineteenth-century dictionary, I always found him astonishingly precise. I understood the famous stories about Flaubert agonizing for days over a single word and was thankful to him for the effort—I never had to guess at his meaning, which is the worst situation for a translator to find himself in when translating a dead or otherwise uncommunicative author.
Porter offered advice to aspiring translators:
Revise! And then do it again, and again, and again… Another piece of advice I’ve found myself giving to undergraduates who think they may be interested in translating fiction or nonfiction professionally is to read the New York Times and Le Monde (or comparable target and source language newspapers) every day. This usually surprises them, but I try to convince them that it’s important for translators to be informed about a wide variety of topics and to be familiar with the terms in which they’re discussed in both languages.
And Todd, who was a co-winner of the 2010 Translation Prize for bringing Dominique Charpin’s Reading and Writing in Babylon into English, described the fun and the challenge of translating wordplay:
There were a few plays on words, usually taken from pro-German or anti-German propaganda: for example, members of the Resistance said of Radio-Paris, the collaborationist station, “Radio-Paris ment, Radio-Paris ment, Radio-Paris est allemand,” playing on the verb for lying, mentir, and the word for German, allemand. I translated it as “Radio-Paris lies, Radio-Paris deceives, Radio-Paris is Germendacious.” On the pro-German side, it was said of those who listened to Charles de Gaulle’s broadcasts from England, “Le dingaullisme s’attrape, surtout, par les organes auditifs.” Dingaullisme is a portmanteau word, a combination of dingue, meaning “crazy,” and gaullisme, “Gaullism,” as in “de Gaulle.” I translated it as, “Dengaulle Fever is caught primarily through the auditory organs,” and was happy to learn that one of the symptoms of Dengue Fever is insanity.
This year’s winners will be announced at an Awards Ceremony on June 8th. Our congratulations to Elliott, Porter, Todd, and the other translators and publishers recognized as finalists.