The English language is probably more my home, than any particular place. Yet, for a Brit, I don’t do badly. Dutch, French, dormant Spanish, and nascent German. Well, the latter may not grow much in the coming months as translating a novel from Dutch to English is going to be taking up most of my time. The novel is ‘Mede Namens Mijn Vrouw’ by Aliefka Bijlsma. We’re not entirely sure what the English title will be as yet. I’m going to be blogging here about my experiences. What is it like for me as a writer, translating a novel. I’m between my own first and second novels. Will translating have an impact? I’ve only been working on the translation for a week, so it’s hard to tell, but these are some of my basic observations.
I suspect that what I like most about writing is creating voice. So far, translating prose feels much like rewriting, the stage when, as a writer, I am polishing voice. Character needs voice. It’s like air, breath. I’ve translated screenplays before, but this is a bit different. Translating this novel, it feels as if one of the hardest things for me, will be to make sure that the two central characters are as significantly whole and different from each other, in English, as they are in Dutch. The novel swaps from one point of view to another for quite substantial chunks. The reader must be able to get back under each character’s skin again after each swap. Recognition is important. This may sound obvious but, at the moment, it feels like a very sensitive thing. Sometimes I get a little unnerved by the responsibility.
One peculiarity of ‘Mede Namens Mijn Vrouw’ is that it is a Dutch novel, with Dutch central characters, but set in Brazil. The story takes place in the Dutch diplomatic world. Among other things, it has to do with how different people tackle living in cultures that aren’t their own. On a practical level, this makes the trappings of Holland, such as an Etos plastic bag (Etos is the Dutch version of Boots), or pindakaas (peanut butter - which the Dutch eat like the British eat Marmite), stick out in a way they wouldn’t if the story took place in Holland. They have relevance as objects from ‘home’ - objects from one culture in another - that needs translating in a broader sense than just the words. Such codes are interesting for me because I’m very aware that, because I lived in Amsterdam for almost eleven years, my English has acquired elements of Dutch code, even though I don't live there anymore.
I'm at a very early stage in the job. I’m sure there will be lots more to tell and that I may change my mind about some things. Any thoughts are welcome.