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So, in Monday’s post I basically failed to decide on an adequate translation of the first two words (!) of this book, Blue Flowers, by Carola Saavedra. After this rather tentative beginning, I’ve positively hurtled ahead (well, relatively speaking), with a first draft of the opening thousand words or so. Now, however you imagine an initial draft to look, I can assure you that this one will be worse. But that’s fine – it's no cause for concern.
For me, a first draft has three purposes:
In short, my first drafts are altogether undignified things. What they are not for, then, is being read. God forbid – no, definitely not that. And yet, foolishly, I’m about to share a paragraph with you anyway. You’ll see what I mean. Here goes: chapter one, para one, draft one:
My love [*],
They say that separation is never UM NÚCLEO, [add “it’s never”?] UMA URGÊNGIA. They say it starts EM SEU AVESSO. And that it’s precisely at the MAIS SUAVE [softest/mildest/gentlest] moment, the [or “that”?] first meeting, the [that?] first look/glance, that [X] separation [or “the separation”?] begins to exist. I prefer to believe that [the?] separation never ends, and that the last/final day, the last/final night, is a moment that is repeated [add “again and again”?] with every waiting, with every return, every time I feel your absence [or I miss you?], every time I speak your name. I believe that, when I call you [call out to you?], a strategy, an enchantment, I should be able to make you turn and look, and, without realizing it, extend between us a ATALHO, a bridge [rev.?].
My doubts here are not, mostly, to do with the meaning of the original. As I suggested in my last post, things get interesting for me when I’m past that point and the translation has become mostly an act of writing. Whether or not I add an extra “it’s never” in that first sentence, or whether I add “again and again” to the verb “repeat” in the fourth, is nothing to do with meaning, and everything to do with rhythm. It’s about sound; it’s about the cadence and momentum that a sentence has, or ought to have if I can get it right. When I come to read it all through again later, I might decide to replace all those uses of “every” with “each” – just because the monosyllable might sound better. At some point I have to decide whether “feel your absence” should just be simplified to the natural “miss you”, but I can’t make that call just yet.
And – hmm – what about that last line? “… I should be able to make you turn and look, and, without realising it, extend between us a ATALHO, a bridge.” (An “atalho” is a byway, a shortcut. I can’t think of an English word that sounds sensible in this context, so will keep contemplating.) To me it seems better poised if I reverse the order of the English ending, to conclude the paragraph thus: “… I should be able to make you turn and look, and, without realising it, extend a ATALHO, a bridge, between us.” But I'm not 100% sure – read the two alternatives aloud and see if you agree.
Carola’s original is a wonderful, beautiful, careful thing; I know that my first draft will be none of those. But I have to trust that it will come to be, in due course. I know translators who will work on a sentence carefully, who will resolve all the dilemmas it throws up and get it as right as possible before moving onto the next sentence, and work through methodically until they have a complete first draft which isn’t too far from what the final draft will be. My first drafts are not like that. They are the rawest of raw material: they are about possibility, I think, and about process. Pleasing results come later.
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If you missed any part of International Translation Day 2017, then you can find recordings and some notes from many of the day's sessions here.
How translated works push the boundaries with language and form | The Impossible Fairy Tale by Han Yujoo | Translated by Janet Hong | Reviewed by Alex Duffy, English Literature Work Placement