Today it is my great pleasure to introduce to you one of my earliest and dearest blogging friends. Known only by his code name Dezmond (or Dezzy as he's affectionately called), he runs the infamous blog site HOLLYWOOD SPY.
The coolest of all the hottest movie and TV exclusives are in this spy's sights at night, but did you know that during the day this dashing secret agent works undercover as a mild-mannered book translator in Serbia?
It's probably fair to say that many published writers aspire to someday sell the foreign rights to their novels and see their stories translated into multiple languages. I got curious about what that process might be like from the translator's POV, and Dezzy was kind enough to
1) So my first question to you, Agent Dezzy, is how many languages do you speak?
I think that in most countries outside of USA, especially here in Europe, most people speak two or more languages. It's not just a cultural or educational thing, but more of a way to survive in today's world. Besides my Serbian mother tongue, I've also studied Russian, and I have an MA in English language and literature. I wouldn't consider myself fluent in Spanish and Turkish, but I do know quite a bit from those two as well. I have also studied Latin.
2) Besides being an overachiever type fluent in multiple languages, you must also have a rich understanding of literature and storytelling to be a successful translator, yes?
Yes, in order to be a book translator, you need to analyze the sentence structure, the style of storytelling, the language used, the nuances and hidden messages, the way the writer thinks and writes...You also need to have a wide general knowledge since all the things you writers take months and months or even years to research, all the historical and scientific facts you put into your books after reading tons of material, us translators need to translate accurately, even when we hear about some of these things for the first time. You also need to know how billions of things are called in your own language in order to translate them from a foreign language, since dictionaries can't always help you. You need to turn your little brain into wikipedia. I now have almost 30 books behind me.
3) How do you preserve an author's voice, a thing that so often depends on specific word choice and imagery, when shifting from English to Serbian?
I've always said that a good translator (I emphasize a good one) needs to be a writer himself. You need to be a psychologist, a writer, and even a poet in order to deeply understand the author's voice, his message, his subtext, his style...everything. If he's harsh you need to be harsh, if he's tender you're tender, if he's an idiot you have to make yourself an idiot too :). If he's wise you need to be wise, if he's stupid you can't make his work in translation a wise one.
When it comes to word choice and imagery, it's not easy. Serbian and English language are extremely different. English has more words, and sometimes for ten synonyms in English I have only one word in Serbian, so you often don't really have a choice. But Serbian is also more poetical and lyrical and has more ways of giving your sentence life and spice, so that sometimes helps.
4) You left a comment on my blog once about how difficult it is to translate our English curse words. For instance, you don't use the F word in your culture the way we do (some of us more than others :P ). So how do you deal with that in a translation?
Oh, effing yes. :) And to add to the problem I'm kind of a posh little elf who says "poop" not the S word and such things. So my arsenal of curse words really isn't a dwarvish one. LOL. We do have a flamboyant tradition of using very vivid swearings and bad words in Serbian, but the F word not so much. There is a kind of benevolent censorship among us translators in which we either leave out some of the bad words (especially when translating films and TV programs) or we use softer equivalents. For example we would rather use "damn it" than "eff it" and so on. And the F word used as an adjective is something we just don't translate, and you have to just effing excuse us on that. :P
5) Not sure I'd appreciate my F words getting tossed. :P Does the original author have any say over how their book gets translated? Once they sell the rights, have they given up control over how it gets released in other countries?
Authors generally have zero say in the life of their books at foreign markets. It's quite possible that you don't even get paid when they sell your book. Or maybe only for the biggest markets such as Germany, UK, Asian countries, etc. Those big countries have special rights. I heard that for the latest Dan Brown novel, translators from 15 of the biggest markets were taken to a villa in Italy where they were locked under tight security for two months until they finished their translations -- and without access to phones or internet so that they wouldn't reveal any details from the novel before it got published in the USA. I've only had communication with a few authors, but that was over social networks, not through our publishers.
6) How does your publisher decide which books they want to translate? Is it based on bestseller status or something else?
Depends on the publisher. There are those who publish highly valuable artsy books and they have their principles in choosing titles. And there are bestselling publishers which choose popular books and follow trends. There are also some titles which become hits in certain countries and not in others, so you need to follow the taste of the readers in your own country. In Serbia chicklit is the most popular genre, since about 90% of all readers are women.
7) Which book was the hardest for you to translate?
Not sure. To me, the hardest to translate are books which I find boring or shallow or even bad. I did once have to translate an extremely popular vampire saga, and although it was easy to do it, since the writer had the simplest of sentences, the weakest of structures, and the most common vocabulary, it was a torture because I hated the book itself. Such things happen. Sometimes you work for the money in order to pay the bills.
8) Which book are you most proud of?
I love how I translated Sarita Mandana's sweeping saga Tiger Hills because, beside the exotic language, I also had to convey the lyrical aspect of the tragedy from the story. The same goes for Jiang Rong's bestseller Wolf Totem, another sweeping saga in which I had to delve deep into Chinese culture and harsh political systems and at the same time transfer the lyrical beauty of the picturesque descriptions of Chinese nature and landscapes.
And please check out The HOLLYWOOD SPY for the latest movie news if you aren't already a follower. :)
Warning: This post will now self-destruct in three, two, one...
Have you ever wondered what it would be like to see your stories translated into other languages? I think it would be effing fabulous.