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!
From PS Publishing:
As if it wasn’t enough that he’s graced us with a couple of mightily fine short stories, two of the best novellas we’ve ever done (in Cloud Permutations and Gorel and the Pot-bellied God) and, with the forthcoming Osama, a gobsmackingly superb novel, Lavie Tidhar dropped us a line out of the blue to draw our attention to Sunburnt Faces, a novel by Shimon Adaf, one of the most highly regarded Israeli novelists and poets today. As Lavie was keen to point out, Shimon is a unique writer (and, on the strength of this outing, he’ll get no arguments on that score from either Nick or myself) — “one of the few people in Israel engaged with speculative fiction, with ‘weird’ fiction, to create real literature,” Lavie says anthusiastically. “His 2010 novel, Kfor, is to my mind the first true Hebrew SF masterpiece.” The book went to Nick Gevers in the first instance, who had this to say: “I found the novel compulsive reading, for its vivid description of life in Israel as well as for its subtle, incisive treatment of the fantastic as a phenomenon and as a literary genre.” Nick was not overstating the case.
Sunburnt Faces is one of those in-between novels, mainstream in tone and pace even as it discusses the fantastic. It strides the rickety and oft-times perilous fence between the real and the fanciful, falling into line alongside such gems as John Crowley’s Little, Big, Mark Helprin’s Winter’s Tale, John Irving’s A Prayer For Owen Meany, and Mary Wesley’s Haphazard House.
Hitting the wire at a shave under 150,000 words, Sunburnt Faces is at once a literary novel and a book about Wonderland . . . on the one hand a coming-of-age tale and, on the other, a what-happens-after story. It features as its principal character a girl, Flora, growing up of Jewish Moroccan parents in a small town who, one day, sees God appear to her in a television screen. The first part of the novel sees her trying to come to terms with the fantastical event and move towards adulthood, while the second part sees her, in her thirties, as a mother and a successful writer of children’s fantasy novels.
We’re all agreed here — and you must forgive us for being a bit excited (heck, if we didn’t get excited then there just wouldn’t be any point in doing anything, would there) — we’re agreed that this is a truly wonderful read. Mr. Adaf deserves to be experienced by the wider world. The simple and sad truth is we just don’t have enough writers like him, in any language.
The novel was translated from the Hebrew Panim Tzruvei Chama by Margalit Rodgers and Anthony Berris. Publication is tentatively scheduled for late 2012. This will be Adaf’s first novel to be published in English, though his poetry is widely available in translation. He is the author of four published novels and three poetry collections. His latest novel will be published in July in Israel.
Writers of science fiction and fantasy in Israel are faced with considerable challenges. For one thing, in such a small country, the prospective local readership is relatively small. This leaves very little room for dreams of fame and riches—at least as long as one relies exclusively on the local audience. For another thing, writers must find a way to ‘localize’ their stories, instead of imitating fiction from the USA or from the UK, with their characteristic motifs and cultural background. Israel is a small and relatively young country. It has its own nature and rhythm, and its citizens have their own traditions and mentality. This means that stories which fit perfectly on the streets of Manhattan or London seem out of place in Tel Aviv or Haifa; and behavioral traits which are natural for the British or for North Americans come off as artificial and unconvincing when attributed to Israeli characters. Therefore, until recently, as the anthology’s editor, Ehud Maimon, states in his introduction, it seemed impossible to write science fiction and fantasy in Israel, or at least have them set in Israel.