Tag Archives: Fiona Graham

Bookwitch goes speed dating

Seems the trolleyful of wine wasn’t for us. It was Jackie Kay’s, for her Black History Month event at the University of Edinburgh’s language department.

Oh well. I was on a date night, as was the Resident IT Consultant. We had come to speed date a new generation of Swedish authors, who’d been invited to Edinburgh to talk writing and translation, with a group of translators from SELTA. Their debut novels had not been previously translated, but the translators present had worked on some parts of the books, which we were able to read.

Not being entirely sure where we were heading, I decided to follow Son – because this was his baby – when he took his group of authors and translators off to the meeting room. And then they just disappeared!

I was only three steps behind and saw them go down the stairs and turn left. They were not in that room. The only thing remaining was the unlabelled door next to it, which led to a short corridor, from where Son appeared again, letting me through a door on which it said No Access.

So that was straightforward enough… Tried to text this info to the Resident IT Consultant, but there was no signal. He got there in the end.

Swedish Speed Bookclub

I wasn’t sure about this speed dating thing. One author and his or her translator sat at each table. The rest of us joined one of the tables for a brief reading, followed by a discussion. And then we were rotated anti-clockwise to the next author and translator. I was with two of my favourite translators, A A Prime and Guy Puzey, plus another translator and ‘Mrs Perera’ who belonged to one of the authors.

Adrian Perera and Kate Lambert

We started with Adrian Perera, who is that very unusual thing, a Swedish-speaking Finn, with a Sinhalese parent. His book Mamma, written mostly in Swedish, also features Finnish, English and Sinhalese; some of it spoken badly by the various characters. I gathered this made translating the text a bit tricky for Kate Lambert, because how do you convey how bad the Swedish or the English spoken by the Finnish doctor is?

But it wasn’t until I asked how old the main character is (seven) that sentences like ‘The whole Looney Tunes gang is covered in vanilla ice cream,’ made sense. Really fascinating.

Joel Mauricio Isabel Ortiz and Hanna Löfgren

Anticlockwise movement brought us to Joel Mauricio Isabel Ortiz and his Aussie translator Hanna Löfgren. Himself coming from Latin America, Joel had borrowed the title of a poem by Gabriela Mistral for his novel, The Story of a Son/Sången om en son. I enjoyed his reading from the book, and we were amused to be told that Joel feels there is so much sex in his novel that he won’t ever write another one like it.

He also reckons he has finished the book and moved on, and he had worried whether he’d be able to discuss it with us. (Seems to have gone just fine.) Translator Hanna brought up the necessity for her to add the word ‘I’ in lots of places. Joel had been told by his publisher to remove most of them, because that’s how people speak these days. Except it doesn’t work in English.

Fiona Graham and Balsam Karam

Up and on to Kurdish Balsam Karam and Fiona Graham, whose translation of Event Horizon/Händelsehorisonten was very beautiful. It really got to me when I read it. Balsam read a page out loud, if rather quietly, from this story about refugees and some kind of rebellion, where the punishment when getting caught is either execution, or being sent into a black hole in space.

I’d be interested to know how that goes, but understand that there is no clear description of what actually happens. Balsam feels that Swedes don’t have much idea of what martyrdom means, whereas Fiona had been shocked by the torture described in the book.

Kayo Mpoyi and Alex Fleming

Last but not least we came to Kayo Mpoyi and Alex Fleming, where Kayo was exclaiming about reading the same extract for the fourth time. But for us it was new, and I’d like to think that the subsequent discussions didn’t all go in the same direction for every group. Set in Tanzania, the story is about a family, two young siblings, maybe a curse on a name, and there is – possibly – a young god who appears every now and then. More a god like the Greek ones, rather than the One Up There, whom so many of us think about.

Kayo has a lot of thoughts and theories about life, and she’s not sure what language she uses to think about it in. Her characters are not Swedish, although the book is written in that language. She herself thinks in several languages.

Swedish Speed Bookclub

This whole speed dating was a lot better than most of us had been expecting. We got up close to four authors and four translators and got a brief look at a book we’d probably never otherwise have encountered. Also, what good English they all speak!

It was fun.

And I didn’t have to marry anyone.

1947

I love the cover of 1947. This ‘literary scrapbook of the year’ by Elisabeth Åsbrink consists of a somewhat odd collection of facts from the year ‘when now begins’ as it says on that attractive cover.

Elisabeth Åsbrink, 1947

Maybe it’s true that life as we recognise it came into being two years after WWII ended. I don’t know. I began reading 1947 with the expectation of finding out; discovering some startling proof. But the book is mainly a series of unrelated stuff happening to people or countries during that year. I was waiting for a reason why George Orwell was in there, and what the significance of Simone de Beauvoir’s romantic interlude with some man in America might be for me.

There are flying saucers. I like flying saucers, but why were they in there? About the most interesting fact – to me – was the possible background to the disappearance of Dagmar Hagelin in Argentina in the 1970s. That was part of my growing up.

Elisabeth appears to have grabbed facts as she found them, putting them in for artistic effect. It feels a rather Swedish thing to be doing at the moment. For that’s what this is, the latest ‘historical’ offering from a woman whose own father escaped Hungary after the war. But that doesn’t explain all the rest; the UN, Palestine, Mahatma Gandhi, Christian Dior, Swedish nazis and fleeing nazi war survivors.

I was hoping it would be fascinating, that it would teach me something new. Instead it was a return to the Emperor’s New Clothes, all over again.

It’ll be fun to see how the rest of the world receives 1947. I found the English translation by Fiona Graham good enough to make me forget I was reading in the ‘wrong’ language.

Quest – the Aarhus 39

Quest is the ‘younger’ half of the two Aarhus short story collections, edited by Daniel Hahn. I use quotation marks, because I am less convinced of the age ‘gap’ than has been suggested. Yes, it is a little younger than Odyssey, but I felt many of the characters in Odyssey were not proper YA material; they were children who tried out older behaviour.

It’s not important, as both collections offer a great range of stories from all over Europe. As with Odyssey, the authors are occasionally quite famous, and so are the illustrators, and I’ve come across several of the translators before as well.

Quest - Aarhus 39

Of the 17 short stories in Quest I chose to start in the middle, because I just had to read the one by Maria Turtschaninoff first. I might have a crush on her. The story, The Travel Agency, did not disappoint. In fact, I could want to read a whole book based on it.

It’s unfair to pick favourites, but I did enjoy Maria Parr’s A Trip to Town, about a girl and her grandma. And as for Journey to the Centre of the Dark by David Machado; you’d do well to have a hand to hold. In the end it didn’t go quite as far as I kept being afraid of, but I’d be happy to offer my idea to anyone who feels like writing scary stories.

The Quest stories are not as dark as in Odyssey. Maybe that’s why they are offered as children’s stories. And perhaps that’s why they suited me better. But, in short, I can recommend these two collections as a starting point for fun with unknown [to you] names in children’s literature.

What was I thinking???

Have you any idea how often I ask myself this? On Tuesday I asked the question so often and so loudly that you could be forgiven for thinking it had been a while, whereas the question had popped up only last Friday.

Do you remember SELTA? I blogged about them last year. They are the Swedish-English Literary Translators’ Association, and they do things I’m sort of interested in. And on Tuesday it was time for their AGM in London, and they thought it’d be good to ask a few ‘translated literature’ bloggers over for some light entertainment at the end. I was one of them, and why anyone would think I can speak in the first place, and why I might measure up next to two people who read almost exclusively translated, and literary, books, is beyond me.

But there I was, pretending to speak about translation and other linguistic stuff. This is when I wasn’t feeling petrified at the mere idea. I garbled a few things at them, and I distinctly recall them laughing at one point, so I must have said something amusing. Shame I can’t remember what. I could use it again, if I did.

Wait a minute! No, that would suggest I’d ever do this again. No need to know what was funny.

They encouraged the asking of questions, so I asked whether they read the book before they translate it. Interesting reaction. Some do, some don’t. Those who do were shocked to find others don’t.

My co-speakers were Stu Allen of Winstonsdad’s Blog, and Ann Morgan from A Year of Reading the World. As you will find if you look them up, they read adult books in translation. Ann spent a year reading a book from every country in the world, a while back. And Stu reads books from all over the world, as long as they have been translated.

And then there was me. Let’s just say I wasn’t the most accomplished speaker in the room.

But it was fun. Afterwards, I mean. Never again, though. Most likely.

I threw them a challenge. I spoke to Fiona Graham who was the one who did the sample translation of My Mum’s a Gorilla – So What? that I so enjoyed last year. Dr Death was there. So was Deborah Bragan-Turner who did me the honour of interviewing me a year ago. She did it so well that when the Resident IT Consultant re-read the Swedish Book Review, he felt I’d get on well with ‘that person.’ Until he discovered that was me. Ruth Urbom, who was the one who invited me, and many others. They could all tell what was wrong with ‘sugar cake’ but hamburgerkött was less obvious. (Horse meat…)

Afterwards we went to the pub. And after that Son and I went to Diwana Bhel Poori, before we slept our way north (where I was – accidentally – greeted on the platform by Helen Grant). And that’s where I am now.

(Home, not on the platform. Obviously.)

My Mum might be a Gorilla…

It’s easy to despair of the lack of translated books, sometimes. There’s the xenophobia, and I suppose lack of money for publishers. Maybe. But for every iffy homegrown book, there might be a tremendously good foreign book, just waiting to be translated.

Frida Nilsson, Apstjärnan

SELTA, the Swedish-English Literary Translators’ Association, have a blog, and recently Fiona Graham, one of their members, published her sample translation of a chapter from Frida Nilsson’s Apstjärnan, under the title My Mum’s a Gorilla – So What? and I have to say I love the title, and I really enjoyed reading it. Yes, I know I could read the whole book in the original, but I didn’t know about it until I read the SELTA blog.

What could beat a gorilla teaching a small girl how to drive? Ridiculous, funny, entertaining. I can’t drive. Should I get a gorilla to help?

Occasionally I email publishers and suggest foreign books they might look at. I think it’s a losing battle, but every now and then I feel strongly enough to do it anyway.