The Storyteller Blog Tour: On Translating The Storyteller

Today, I am happy to be hosting this stop on 'The Storyteller' blog tour.

The Storyteller is a beautifully written, gripping and gritty story which was orginally written in German and the guest post that I am hosting today is written by the translator of the book into English!

‘We did it!!!’

This jubilant email from the Storyteller´s author, Antonia, reached me well over a year ago. The story that originally had been written in German would be published in America in January 2012! So now the complete book needed to be translated –which is where I come in.

I begin with reading the Storyteller:
The author takes me on a journey back into my past. We were school mates for nine years. Even when we were only teens, Antonia would ask her friends to help her with her latest story: Would we type out these pages of handwritten text for her? Imagine: Pages full of the tiniest handwriting you´ve ever seen, and the most fantastic stuff – someone I know wondered how anyone could write such stories without blatantly being on drugs. Turns out Antonia was/is a talented writer and lover of stories.

I read about the two antagonists of the story – and am promptly reminded of pupils that actually existed. When I get to meet the lighthouse keeper I recognize him instantly. Despite the slightly altered name and the description it was so obviously our former literature teacher! Never will I forget how he enthused about a couple he had watched kissing at the crowded bus stop (“They were oblivious to the world, as if they were on an island with no other person nearby – it was beautiful”). Or the disgusting and weird German poems he made us read (maggots in decomposing bodies .. ). Yeesh!

Further along the story I get worked up about how merciless the author treats her antagonists! How can she?! She created them, and then she lets them go through… HOLD UP, you don´t know the story yet. On the other hand I am fascinated by her beautiful, poetic language. Reading is like watching a film in your head anyway, but Antonia Michaelis paints these pictures like no other!

Then I start the actual translation. I`m a Brit (I´ll come back to that one later!), but grew up in Germany, and so the author had asked me to do translations or corrections quite a few times before. I enjoy the work – it´s a privilege to read the books before they´re out on the market. And I like working over the text until not only the words, but the feeling´s right too.

When a difficult word or sentence appears, I shove it to the back of my mind. The kids, 3 and 6 years old, are in bed and everything´s quiet and …
“MUM! I need more drink!” (The seventh in ten minutes.) “MUM! What happens when you die?” (This a favourite bed-time question.) The “front” of my mind is often so crammed with kids stuff I wouldn´t even hear if the back of my mind was yelling answers at me.

After the intro has been translated, the author decides to simply write her novel again, in English. Talk of an all-rounder, and no, it´s no use being envious! So my task changed: Now I should correct the author´s English. Working on the text, I note she has changed something: In the English version, she differs between the teen’s language, covering everything from good English to almost slang. (Author´s note: it probably didn´t help Antonia had just been reading Pynchon´s Inherent Vice) Good, this is something the American publisher had been a little worried about: Will the teens sound authentic? None of us is an American teen, so…
We had warned the American publisher that I was a native Brit, and yet, after “all was done”, we were told the following: This reads a little weird, it’s just so BRITISH!! There will be so much to Americanize. After that the teen dialogues had to be changed to sound a little more US centric.

Now the Storyteller will be published in the UK.I wonder if they will have someone re-British-ize it? Go figure!

Thank you so much for writing this post! I now understand how it was possible for the book to be written so absolutely beautifully but also so technically and grammatically correct but I now see that it's down to some awesome author/translator teamwork! Thank you both for making the book so easy and gorgeous for me to read!

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