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Monthly Archives: September 2018

Word of the week

Because translation is all about words, I have started a ‘word of the week’ post on my Facebook page. The process of translating something from one language into another is not merely a case of systematically replacing each word with its equivalent in another language. Even machine translation has moved on from there to a certain extent, although it still has a long way to go (not surprisingly this is a hugely controversial subject in the translation community, so I will discuss it more fully in a future post).

A translator, especially in the field of literary translation, must have a ‘feel’ for both languages – the language of the original text (the ‘source’ language) and that of the translated version (the ‘target’ language. This deeper understanding of language can only be acquired by using the language as much as possible, for example by living in a country where it is spoken, being immersed in its culture, talking with other speakers of the language, reading, watching TV and films, listening to the spoken word and songs, and so on. Then, with experience, you begin to realise that no words are absolute equivalents: they all have their own nuances, cultural backgrounds and connotations, variation in usage etc., so that every word becomes a subject in itself.

As a translator, I work with words all the time, juggling them and trying to find the best fit into the great crossword that is the translated text. As a result, I encounter so many fascinating words and am constantly adding to my vocabulary as well as learning new things about words I thought I already knew. So, I decided I would choose just one word each week – often Russian, but also English, French, or any other language – and share what I have discovered along the way. There are so many words in the world, and how they are used is changing all the time, so there will be plenty of material to keep me going for a lifetime of learning!

This week I have picked a rather weighty word to kick things off: Cудьба [sud’ba], meaning ‘fate’, ‘destiny’, or perhaps something else…

One Heart Is All I Have

Over the last few months I have had so much fun working with author Nataliya Lang on the translation of her new book One Heart Is All I Have. Having already translated The Driving School, a few years ago, I was very excited to be asked to work on another of Nataliya’s novels. Nataliya is a talented writer and a wonderful person who cares very much about her writing and ensuring that the characters’ emotions and psychology are properly explored and conveyed, at the same time as giving her readers a story to enjoy.

The narrator of One Heart is Anna, a young woman who is just embarking on a writing career and is looking for a subject for her new novel. By pure chance, she meets Eduard, a cantankerous woman-hater, in an airport waiting room, and is annoyed when their paths cross again and he ‘serenades’ her with his misogynistic songs one evening in a park in Leipzig. When Eduard suggests she should write a book about him, she boldly accepts the challenge and, although this leads to some gruelling emotional adventures, she also meets a selection of other interesting characters along the way. Agnieszka, a widow with a seriously ill son, Bertha the café proprietor, Laura the cat-loving housekeeper, the enigmatic Iola, and many more have all played a part in Eduard’s life. Intrigued by his complex personality, Anna sets about trying to figure out how a lovestruck student became an irritable middle-aged man and why he has such fond memories of the GDR with its bland cuisine and political prisoners.

Despite the psychological subject matter and the careful attention to emotional detail, the story is simply told and easy to read. The characters are serious yet entertaining and the accounts of their lives interweave with those of Eduard and Anna, gradually adding pieces to the puzzle that is Eduard. Not all the questions are answered, though, as the story is to be continued in Part 2. I can’t wait to read it!
One heart cover