When I was 19, I decided that I was going to become a translator. This thought seemingly popped out of nowhere, because I cannot really remember the second when I decided that translation was the path for me. I do know that it occurred after my first year of university. At the time, I was studying English Literature. I was torn. I adored studying literature, writing essays and doing research. And yet, I knew that I had to start thinking of ways to put my love of words and language into some sort of career.
At the time, I was very interested ( possibly a bit obsessed) in the Japanese rock musician Hyde from the pop/rock band L’Arc-en-Ciel. I scoured the internet for interviews. Of course, all the interviews I found were translated into English.
I did find one French interview from a time when Hyde performed in France. I thought about the ardent Hyde fans, like myself, who would’ve given anything to read this interview but couldn’t because it was in French. Luckily for me, I am fluent in French. So, I tried my hand at translating it and realized that it was something worth pursuing.
Correct after I finished my English degree, I began a Bachelor of Translation and graduated final year. It feels surreal, even a year later, to be done university.
I work as a translator now. I spend many hours in front of the computer translating from French to English (and vice versa). One day, I would love to translate novels. It would combine my love of literature with my interest in translation. A match made in heaven.
So, here are the 5 books I would love to translate.
- Pélagie la charrette (Pélagie: the return to Acadie) – Antonine Maillet
This book has already been translated into English. I read the English translation fairly a few years ago during one of my literature courses. It felt as whether there was some sort of disconnect between Acadian culture and the English language. It seemed to mix like oil and water. I recognized some staples of Acadian culture because it reminded me a lot of my family and the way they tell stories. Those in my lesson who were anglophones and did not have any Acadian roots were not able to fully appreciate the mastery of the story and the way it was told.
I am reminded of what the writer Haurki Murakami said about translating The brilliant Gatsby into Japanese. In a nutshell, it is something that he wanted to translate for years, but didn’t feel as whether he had the proper skill until he reached a certain age. I feel the same way about Pélagie. My translation skills are still not at a level where I could do this book justice, but I hope to eventually do so.
2. Le papillon et la lumière – Patrick Chamoiseau
As much as I would love to translate this book (and I did write a rough draft translation of it), I would never be qualified to do so. Le papillon et la lumière is rooted in the creole culture of its author Patrick Chamoiseau. I could never do it justice. But it is a beautifully written story. Short and sparse and full of life lessons that continue to stick with me even to this day.
There is one part of the story (it’s not a spoiler, I promise!) where the leading character, a young moth, begins to preach to the other moths why the light of streetlamps is nothing but an artificial light and is not worth colliding with. The moths who collided with the light would singe their wings, or they’d end up dying. Meanwhile, the other moths believed that the light brought forth a higher form of knowledge and wisdom. The young moth tried in useless. The older moth, the other main character of the story, tells the young moth that he cannot help others unless he can help himself. And sometimes in helping yourself you are helping others. This class has stuck with me.
I have yet to see an English translation of this book. I hope there is one out there. Whether not, I do hope someone will translate it.
3. Journal d’Hirondelle – Amélie Nothomb
If I could, I would translate all of her novels into English. Numerous of them have been translated into English, including my favourites such as Soif and Acide Sulfurique. Surprisingly, Journal d’Hirondelle has yet to be given an English translation. It’s an interesting and twisted novel about an assassin who has missing all of his emotions only to be reawakened by the journal of a teenaged girl. Whether you are unfamiliar with Amélie Nothomb’s books, then the content might be surprising. She’s a bit eccentric (which is an understatement). But, her eccentricity is admirable in a similar vein that Tim Burton’s eccentricity is admirable. Her style is distinctive. She begins with deceptively simple stories and simple metaphors, and then sees just how far they go. Her intellect is absolutely fascinating.
Also, her face is on nearly every cover of her books. Whether that doesn’t say iconic, I don’t know what does.
4. Evangeline – Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
I read Evangeline for the first time last week and thought it was amazing. I knew about this poem for many years. The story of Evangeline and her search for Gabriel has reached legendary status in Acadian culture. It was a completely different experience than I would’ve ever imagined when reading Longfellow’s epic poem. It is not only beautiful, it is atmospheric. Even though I know it has been translated many times throughout, I would love to have the opportunity to translate it into French one day (Canadian French).
This play has been widely performed in both French and in English, but I would love to have a turn at translating it. It is probably one of my favourite plays, and I had the chance to see it performed quite a few times that it has made a very lasting impression on me. Antigone is a retelling of Antigone by Sophocles. It tells the story of a young woman who goes against the law in order to do what she believes is right. The play examines themes of justice and morality. Fun fact: Jean Anouilh wrote this play in reaction to the Nazi occupation during World War II.
Until next time,