Making World Literature

Russell Scott Valentino

At the Banff International Literary Translation Centre (BILTC) for three weeks of working with translators from around the world as they do what they do. It's really not possible to describe this work other than to say it's humble and humbling at the same time.

The last two sessions have focused on translating Cynthia Ozick into Spanish (by Eugenia Vasquez Nacarino), Eduardo Galeano and Rodrigo Rey Rosa into French (by Alexandre Sanchez and Alba Marina Escalon respectively), Evelio Rosero into Dutch (by Jos den Bekker), and Abdellah Taia into English (by Rachael Small).

Yesterday we talked at some length about methods of reading, preparing a text, working with authors, and revising. It is sometimes said that translators can't do anything about the plot of the works they translate, but this seems to me an oversimplification and not really correct, because the effectiveness of the plot is always dependent on pace, and pace is a function of language at the level of phrase, sentence, and paragraph, which is what translators have control over. They can easily make a plot ineffective, so the obverse must also be true. Our conversation reminded of Amy Leach's discussion of "exhilirated intermediaries," which at times seems apt here.

Alistair MacLeod came to yesterday's session. His work is being translated into Lithuanian by Violeta Tauragiene, and they'll have a session next week. Also upcoming are sessions with Nathalie Boisvert and her German translator, Heinz Schwarzinger; Francisco Prieto and his Italian translator, Carlos Ciade; Margaret Atwood and her Arabic translator, Talal Abdalla; and Jeffrey Yang and his German translator, Beatrice Fassbinder. And that's just a sample. There is really nothing else like this.

I hope the snow (which has been falling now for the last several hours) doesn't keep any of our visitors away, but even if it's just us, it would be hard to imagine a more interesting group of people to be snowbound with.