Tag Archives: Knut Hamsun

How did those Norwegians get here?

I just had to link to this article about translations from Norwegian.

Well, I suppose I didn’t ‘have to’ have to, but when finding a description of four Norwegian authors like this one, I sort of felt I had to: ‘I’ve mentioned a grand literary master, a literary smut peddler, a philosophical weirdo and an ex-footballer turned crime writer’. Nice turn of phrase, right?

Do most people wonder how literature from other languages turn up here, in English? Maybe they don’t. Maybe it’s by magic. Maybe some countries feel it’s worth their while helping literature along by throwing money at it?

You’ll find out, if you read the article. I thought it was quite good, even if I am biased. Daughter felt it was very long. It is.

But it’s not as if you have anything else to do right now, is it?

They all helped

You might know that Son translates for a living. Recently he was asked to make Swedish words into English ones, for an American customer with Scandi roots.

Trouble was, he couldn’t read them. Joined-up handwriting from a hundred years or more, can be hard. Especially in the other language. But he has a mother, who is older, although not that old, but old enough. She can read. I mean, I can read. He asked me.

There was lots of it! Everything from a school report to a ten page diary entry for travels round the US. We agreed on a couple of samples, so I soldiered on with lots of verses of religious songs the joiner ancestor had composed. By the time my transcribing of the handwriting had gone through the keyboards of the translator, and then his proofreader editor – who also happens to be a published author – those songs brought joy to the client’s heart.

Or so I would like to think. He was happy and wanted more.

Then came the rest of all those texts, apart from some that were farmed out to other, equally ancient readers of old handwriting. There was a really short one; just a receipt for travel tickets. But where to? And when? Once I applied myself, I could make out most of it.

Daughter helped, spurred on by the clue-solving aspect of the whole thing. She suggested she try it on her iPad, with this newfangled handwriting stuff, reckoning she could write on top of the illegible words. And she could. But not all of it. We couldn’t agree where the man had travelled to. Or from.

The receipt was emailed over to our ‘old’ minister from church, and when he’d pored over it it for a while, we had the destinations. I’d like to think that he, too, enjoyed the puzzle.

An old letter, about three cows and a horse, and what hard work it was to look after them, had our translator harking back to Hamsun. The actual transcribing was done by the witch’s friend from school, being pretty old (I mean, sprightly and agile) and experienced at deciphering ancient letters.

When all pull together, the job gets done. Though how our boss will divide up the earnings between us, I have no idea.

Nordic grey – The Origin Story of Nordic Noir

I have a certain bias, but I felt that the Translation studies research seminar at the University of Edinburgh yesterday afternoon was pretty good, and really interesting. Even for me, with some prior knowledge as well as interest in the subject of Nordic Noir.

Nordic Grey with Ian Giles

The talk by Ian Giles, aka as Son, was part of a series of seminars in the next few months, and it was merely a happy coincidence that they kicked off on what was International Translation Day.

The Resident IT Consultant and I both went. We were pleasantly surprised to find Helen Grant there too, but shouldn’t have been, as she’s both a linguist and proficient translator, when she’s not simply killing people. I introduced her to Peter Graves, making rather a hash of it. Translator Kari Dickson was also in the audience, as were other Scandinavian studies people and aspiring translators. And I was surrounded by a whole lot of Chinese whispers. Literally.

Nordic Noir didn’t begin with something on television five years ago. It’s been coming a long time, and Ian is on its trail, trying to determine where and when we first met ‘dark storylines and bleak urban settings.’ It’s more than Sarah Lund’s jumpers or Lisbeth Salander’s hacking skills.

The trail might begin (or do I mean end?) with Stieg Larsson and Henning Mankell, via Peter Høeg to Sjöwall and Wahlöö. But that list is not complete without mentioning the murder of Olof Palme or Kerstin Ekman’s Blackwater. And apparently some critic recently accused the new Martin Beck on television of imitating itself.

Here there was a slight sidetrack to a Turkish writer, translated twice in the last twelve years, long after his death, and only because his compatriot, Nobel prize winner Orhan Pamuk said he liked him. Knut Hamsun had something similar happen to him.

Because yes, the trail goes a long way back. Before Sjöwall and Wahlöö we had Maria Lang and Stieg Trenter, for instance. Earlier still, Hjalmar Söderberg’s Doktor Glas would have qualified, as would Norwegian Mauritz Hansen. And maybe even Carl Jonas Love Almqvist and Zacharias Topelius.

And when it comes to the crunch, Peter Høeg’s Miss Milla’s Feeling For Snow is not a true progenitor of Nordic Noir. It seems to be, but isn’t. People would have read the book no matter what. Hindsight tells us Peter Høeg doesn’t belong to the origin story.

Anyway, there are many more books translated into English than there used to be. The 3% of translated books has recently become more like 4 or even 5%. Swedish books come sixth if you look at language of origin, but make that Scandinavian books and they end up in third place, and if you count all the Nordic languages, they are the second most translated.

Nordic Grey with Ian Giles

So, it’s not all jumpers, and Scotland has just claimed to have more words for snow than the cold Nordic countries. The latest idea for selling books on the international market is to translate the whole book into English, rather than a few sample chapters, making it possible to offer an almost finished product, as well as facilitating sales to countries where they don’t have a steady supply of translators from Scandinavian languages.

As I said, I found this interesting. And Ian’s a tolerable speaker, too. The right amount of jokes, and a good selection of slides and videos to show what he’s on about. The beard, however, was rather a surprise.


Or Authors & Artists for Young Adults, volume 88, as published by Gale, Cengage Learning. It’s a reference book, and as the more astute of you have worked out, there have been 87 volumes before it, and I suspect (and hope) there will be many more after it as well.

Authors & Artists for Young Adults, vol 88

No, I’ve not taken to reading and reviewing piles of reference material, but this came my way four months ago when someone wanted to use ‘my’ photos of Michael Grant. They were really my Photographer’s pictures, and after thinking about it she gave her consent and they chose the ones they liked best.

It took me a while to even work out the publishers were in the US, and once I’d established what kind of book they were producing, I asked if we could see the finished copy, which they generously said they’d send us. It’s not really the kind of book you’d go out and buy as a private individual. The edition is fairly limited and the price is high, so I’m guessing it’s mainly for libraries and similar.

Michael Grant in Authors & Artists for Young Adults, vol 88

But it’s such a good idea, collecting information on people who write for Young Adults, or illustrators. The selection process seems a little random, since it’s not alphabetical, nor chronological. There is an index listing who has been in all the 88 volumes, and in which one.

It’s not your ordinary list of YA people, either. Adèle Geras sits tantalisingly near Mel Gibson and Paul Gauguin. Staying with the Gs we have Michael Grant as well as El Greco and Graham Greene. There are disproportionately more Americans, but in volume 88 we have Matt Haig, and he and Knut Hamsun and Stephen Hawking are close, index-wise.

Jane Austen is there, and so is Mrs Michael Grant, K A Applegate. Walter Dean Myers gets a lot of room in volume 88, which he also shares with Anna Godbersen and Aprilynne Pike and Kenneth Oppel. As you can see, a varied lot of writers. ‘My’ volume has just over thirty names, and I’m guessing the older volumes are similar. Some names are listed more than once.

Michael Grant in Authors & Artists for Young Adults, vol 88

Michael gets six pages in this edition, and unlike some he doesn’t have either his address or his email listed. I suppose it’s up to each person how easy to find they want to be. Since this isn’t intended for the young readers, I imagine contact details are more for people who might want to book someone for events.

It’s a nice idea. You can – probably – never have too much information about what young people want to read.

Fire alarm ringing? Then it’s Tuesday in Manchester

In his hotel room on Tuesday morning the fire alarm went. Lars Saabye Christensen debated what to take with him; laptop, shoes or photo of lovely wife? As he descended to reception he wondered why everyone was so calm. Seems they test the alarm every Tuesday.

Well, it beats possibly cooking your grandfather day in and day out. Maybe.

Lars visited Manchester Literature Festival on Tuesday, and I’m hoping you’ve never heard of him either. Me, I’ll blame it on having left Sweden in 1982, so a Norwegian author published after that is unlikely to feature on my – possibly narrow – horizon. I asked Lars afterwards if he gets recognised in the street. Yes he does. And all that attention can get tedious.

Lars Saabye Christensen

Well, when it gets too much he can just come over here where we will be cynically cool the British way. And also we’ve never heard of him. But from what I learned yesterday I think it would be a good idea if a few more people did get to know Lars and his books. After his talk I abandoned several of my principles in one fell swoop. I don’t spend money on books, if I can help it. Decided to buy. Have no time to read more, especially not 600 page novels. So I bought two. (Sorry, boss.) I prefer to read in the original. So I got two translated books.

There you go.

A hardy group of book fans gathered in Manchester’s Town Hall at lunch time to hear Lars talk about his novel Beatles, now recently translated into English after 25 years of success in Norway. Apparently Lars is (one of?) Norway’s most popular author, and Beatles is a significant and important book.

He read an excerpt from the English translation, stumbling a little on some of the words. Lars then read in Norwegian which he did absolutely perfectly. A poem about tightropes that end halfway along, which doesn’t sound a good idea. And we get the cooking of grandpa from Beatles, which has to do with India, but I won’t go into more detail here. You could always buy the book and read it yourself.

Like all Norwegians Knut Hamsun played a big part as inspiration for his writing, and whether you like Hamsun or not, you can’t avoid his influence. Hamsun is the reference frame for all Norwegian writing after him. According to Lars, if Hamsun had had a decent English translator we wouldn’t think of him as a Nazi first and foremost. He reckons translators are literary ambassadors, and they can do what they like to his books as long as they keep the basic feel to the story.

And I hope you have worked out what happened then? Lars (and the rest of us) experienced the day’s second fire alarm, so out we went. You can empty the impressive Town Hall impressively fast, even with tired bookwitches carting birthday cakes around. The only thing Lars forgot was his hat, which the moderator picked up for him. And then we had ten minutes in Albert Square (no, not that Albert Square) before they sent us all back in again.

Lars Saabye Christensen in Albert Square

The moderator wanted to move on to questions, but Lars needed to talk fire alarms for a while first. He thinks we need more of them. His Leonard Cohen bomb alert caused him to meet his wife (Which I secretly thought was very convenient indeed. Just think if he’d met someone else’s wife.)

The Beatles book almost didn’t survive an early trip to Paris, many years ago, disappearing in a suitcase on the plane home. The – temporary – loss of his only handwritten manuscript got Lars started on writing his next book, but the characters have become his own universe. (I take this to mean they recur in several novels.)

‘Do I talk too much?’ he asked as our time was nearly up. Well, he did talk quite a bit, but it’s nice when people go off on a tangent and tell us unexpected stuff.

Then we flocked to the buying table, after which we queued up for our books to be signed. All but the Norwegian fan who already had her well worn Norwegian paperback. After that lovely encounter, a Swedish bookwitch isn’t much to write home about.

And Lars – your English is not ‘lousy’. Most authors can’t do events in another language.