Sunshine Abroad

The trials and rewards of French translation and beyond


When I was a junior at NYU, I took my first translation course.  In it, we had an exercise to translate the children's book Madeline from its original English into French -- a good brain-stretching exercise, but not one I would undertake for professional work, as French is not my native language.  My group finished the translation in class, but one particular couplet bugged me -- the rhyme and rhythm weren't great, and the meter was virtually non-existent.  So I spent my next lecture period working on that one couplet.  I have no idea to this day what that psychology lecture was on.

That's what I love about translation -- the puzzles of language and tone, with infinite ways to solve them, and no one set "right" way.  Literature provides the most opportunities for this, with an author's tone, style, word choice, and countless character voices.  This, above all else, is what appeals to me.

So last night, when a friend brought a particular book on classical music by a French filmmaker to my attention and said he really wanted to read it, my first instinct was, "can I translate that?"  Just a thought really.  But there isn't an existing English translation.  No idea if anyone already owns the English sub rights to it.  So what do I do?  I send an email shooting into the ether in the general direction of a renowned film critic who wrote a blog post on this filmmaker for a prominent magazine last year, who had a few English excerpts from the book in his post.

There's no harm in throwing a few crazy fishing lines out into a frothing ocean, is there?