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Books

Two Solitudes in Translation

Posted by Caitlin / September 22, 2011

20110922-books.jpgPut on by the Literary Translators' Association of Canada, Lire: An act of love or Reading: un acte d'amour (depending on which way your tongue rolls) took place on Monday night at Sala Rossa as a part of the Festival international de la littérature. Two Quebec authors, Mary Soderstrom and François Barcelo, who write in English and French respectively, were invited to choose a book by a Québécois author and discuss not only the book itself in its original language, but also in its translation to the other official language.

I think a night devoted to crossing linguistic and cultural boundaries for the greater love of literature is a sign of the times in this city where bilingualism is so rampant, it's almost a cliché. We're looking for common ground rather than borders and the chosen novels, Tarmac by Nicolas Dickner and The Unyielding Clamour of the Night by Neil Bissoondath illustrate this, as the legitimacy and absoluteness of place is called into question in both works.

This event did a great job of using the craft of translation as an example of the society at large: it's impossible to have a carbon copy of anything when crossing borders, but it allows for a whole new realm of stimulating creativity.

To spice things up, the Quebec Writer's Federation also had the translators of the novels present onstage to talk about the choices they made in their work and to expose this important and often overlooked profession.

As Paul Gagné, a translator of Bissoondath's work into French, said: a translator's memory is like a sieve through which information passes. However, it was emphasized throughout the event that the work of a translator is crucial to the success or failure of literature in this country, and that a good translator leaves his or her mark on the page.

I find that there are few things more entertaining than listening to a discussion between extremely educated and articulate individuals because of the creative ways they come up with to verbally poke at each other. Like fencing, the literary world expresses itself in polite terms, with the weight of tradition behind it, but, my God, the jabs are entertaining.

When Ms. Soderstrom called some of Bissoondath's dialogue "stilted... the characters speak like... like...", translator Lori St-Martin offered, "Like characters in a novel?" Touché. To be clear, I actually know nothing about fencing.

Something that everyone seemed to agree upon, however, was the threat of cuts in government funding to the literary world's budget. The Public Lending Right Commission, which allows Canadian authors to be paid for having their books in librairies, has seen its budget be cut in the last week. There's understandably a certain amount of fear looming over our wordsmiths. Translation is a very prolific domain in Canada, as it is a subsidized industry. That is unless "'He' decides to get rid of [grants]," expressed the host Sherry Simon.

So we'll just have to wait and see if the world of words holds any importance to a certain (to remain unnamed) government, or if cross-linguistic Canadian literature is going to go the way of the dodo.


Photo courtesy of UNEQ

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