LBF 2011

This year’s London Book Fair is over. I attended the all three days, and had a very productive time for my research. (Hopefully this is the last book fair of my PhD!)

I spent most of my time at the Literary Translation Centre, listening to panels and trying to take in all the information and ideas. I heard about a few publications that I found fascinating. One of them is the Diversity Report 2010, prepared by Rüdier Wischenbart and Miha Kovač and others, about the status of translation in various European countries. Interesting methodology: they’ve put together a list of 187 contemporary European authors and tracked their translations in 15 countries, factoring in sales and literary prizes and so on. I knew about the 2008 version, and the updated and expanded version came out just in time!

The other is Translation in Practice, prepared by members of the UK Translators Association and edited by Gill Paul. It gives concise and hands-on information on translation and how to go about it, by leading professionals in the industry. It describes, for example, the process through which publishers find translators, how they should ideally set the terms of the contract and then work on the translation together. As translators find themselves in a position of promoting and advocating for potential translated books in this country, it is very important that young translators learn how to approach a publisher with their chosen book and also know what to expect from them. I would definitely use it as teaching material if I ever got to teaching translation in this country.

During a panel on reviewing translations, I heard about Tony Briggs’s recent retranslation of Tolstoy’s War and Peace. In this version, apart from modernising the language, Briggs has made sure that the stylistic differences between the various characters’ voices are reflected in English. Amanda Hopkinson explained that, as someone who has done national service for this country, Briggs is in a unique position to reproduce soldiers’ slang, and he has done so in his translation. I’m quoting here a passage from a review:

But time after time they [previous translators] use language for peasants and soldiers that is a little too refined. A soldier staggering into camp suffering from frostbite won’t say: ‘Comrades, when one has walked this far one doesn’t feel like walking any further,’ or ‘I say, fellow countrymen… ‘ Can you hear a rather posh voice speaking? You’ve got to find a more natural way of saying that.” His method has been “to think of an ordinary Russian reading War and Peace, and recreate that same experience for an Anglophone.” Even a fleeting comparison of selected passages reveals that Briggs has succeeded in attaining a thrust and directness that the Maude translation lacks (Gurria-Quintana, 2006).

That book, has been of course, added to my shopping basket on Amazon.

Although this doesn’t have much to do with the book fair, I discovered my favourite second hand bookshop in London (my favourite in all of the UK still being at Blackwell’s in Oxford) during these three days: Judd Books. They stock great books in brand new condition (remaindered?) and in prices like £2.95 for paperbacks. Although I’d actually gone there to look for a literary criticism title for someone else, which I couldn’t find anyway, I couldn’t resist the temptation to buy four novels for myself: Nick Cave’s The Death of Bunny Munro, Arundhati Roy’s The God of Small Things, Margaret Atwood’s The Year of the Flood – I love its cover – and Roberto Bolaño’s Nazi Literature in the Americas.

Other highlights from the fair: I caught glimpses of Turkish authors Elif Shafak and Ayfer Tunç, and met my editor from YKY, who is now copy-editing my translation of Chomsky’s biography. I also met lots of translators (including Maureen Freely) and my colleagues from Literature Across Frontiers, the Free Word Centre and the Global Translation Initiative.

Yesterday I joined a reception to mark the official launch of Oxford Brookes Publishing Alumni Network. There were drinks, and also a delicious and cute looking cake, made in the exact image of a book co-authored by one of our lecturers at Brookes. How funky is that?

Among unbookish observations: Book fairs are always tiring, there are never enough chairs, and you too quickly accumulate a heavy load of catalogues to carry around. So this year, Reed Exhibitions have hired professional osteopaths to give you a quick head, neck and shoulder massage while you sit on their comfy poufs. (They were interestingly called Ibiza Angels) I didn’t get a massage (partly because they were positioned a bit too closely to the Literary Translation Centre) but I’d really like to try!

And I think, among the several international book fairs that I attended, this one is where I saw the most men with big beards… There just seems to be a fashion for it in the publishing industry worldwide – coupled by the fact that a number of Orthodox priests attended the fair, from Russia, the market focus of this year.

Well, that was a busy and very stimulating book fair, and I’m quite looking forward to my Easter break right now!

My supervisor recommended that I discuss the English translation of Yaşar Kemal’s İnce MemedMemed, My Hawk – in more detail in my dissertation. What better excuse to read it in English now? Reading a book in a translation, actually, gives you a very good idea of what sort of an audience it “speaks to” in the target language. So, that will be my treat during the holiday.

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