Translator Gili Bar-Hillel interviewed
What has been your most interesting experience as a book translator?
GB: Translating the Harry Potter books was a life altering experience, mostly because it brought me celebrity (and sometimes notoriety) on a scale very seldom experienced by translators. I was not merely a translator, I was an ambassador of Potter, with all the implied diplomatic complications.
Fantasy books are often full of imaginary words created by the author and I am curious how you go about translating such words. Do you rewrite them in Hebrew, make up your own words to replace them, or use some other method?
GB: I play it by ear, depending on my understanding of the original. When an author is as playful and inventive as Rowling, I feel the translation should be playful and inventive as well, and I enjoy making up my own words. But sometimes invented words are just a brand name or something pseudo-scientific, and the Hebrew should follow that as well. I give many detailed examples in my lectures, and do have an FAQ set up on my website in Hebrew where I discuss many examples, though I haven’t updated it in a while.
Have there been any Hebrew scifi or fantasy books translated into English? Is there any particular Israeli speculative fiction book that you would like to see translated into English?
GB: I’m not a good person to ask this question of, I don’t read a lot of Israeli fiction. Some would argue that Meir Shalev writes magical realism, and all his books are translated. Shimon Adaf’s book Sunburned Faces is being translated and it’s highly worthwhile, it’s not clearly fantasy but dabbles in fantasy… his book The Buried Heart is a much more classic there-and-back-again children’s book, I’m sorry it has not been translated. And Assaf Ashery has written an urban fantasy, Waiting in the Wings, that could easily be translated. (I should mention that both these authors are personal friends of mine.)
Do you ever get to meet the authors whose books you translate? If so, which author were you most excited to meet, or, which author would you want to meet the most?
GB: I met Diana Wynne Jones, an author I absolutely idolized, and I had translated her Howl’s Moving Castle. Dan Ariely who wrote Predictably Irrational is a colleague of my mother’s and specifically asked for me to translate his book. Some authors I’ve translated have been so friendly online that I feel I’ve met them, for example Wendy Orr who wrote Nim’s Island. It’s always nicer when the authors are forthcoming, but you translate the book to the best of your ability either way. – read the full interview!
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