Sunshine Abroad

The trials and rewards of French translation and beyond

The Dramatic Irony Inherent in a Simple Bio

Repeating the same story ad nauseam can get boring. (Well, when you're learning a foreign language, introducing yourself and explaining what you study and why you're in Paris to forty-five people in two days is actually a good practice drill, but that's neither here nor there.) And granted, there's a good reason that lots of people in lots of different situations want to hear how I got started in literary translation, but it still eventually gets to the point where I'm dying to find different ways to spice it up a bit.

Well, I've figured it out.

Kind folks, I now present to you: the revised bio of Allison M. Charette.

So, you know the dramatic irony when you’re watching a really cheesy murder mystery on TV, and the killer hides behind a curtain just as the detective sweeps into the room? And the detective looks everywhere, getting closer and closer to the curtains, making you want to scream at your TV set “DUDE HE’S RIGHT THERE JUST GET CLOSER A LITTLE CLOSER COME ONNNNNNN”, and then finally, after what feels like forever, he sweeps aside the curtain—but it’s the wrong one. And he looks, carefully, painstakingly, then straightens up and says “Well, that’s that! A thorough search of this room: complete.” and he turns so confidently to leave and you’re like “NO YOU IDIOT THE OTHER CURTAIN YOU MISSED THE OTHER CURTAIN!!!!!!” and you start swearing at the detective and he can totally hear you through the TV set, can't he? And then it takes another forty-five minutes for the detective to finally catch the murderer, through a really circuitous series of roundabout wanderings, and you’re like “but if ONLY you’d just searched both curtains back at the beginning, you could have a whole month of your life back!”

Yeah, that’s how I got into translation.

Let me explain: I majored in French and even took two translation courses in undergrad (the first of which was taught by Emmanuelle Ertel, who’s just the most fabulous French translation professor). And I loved it, I spent half of my psychology lectures puzzling out new solutions to the translations we were doing. But I didn't look behind the second curtain, where there was a flashing sign that said “NEWSFLASH: YOU CAN DO THIS AS A CAREER”, so I didn’t get around to that revelation until three years later. Three years, a teaching stint in France, an admin job at a language school, a soul-sucking time at a mega-agency, and a publishing internship later. That's when I finally started translating for anything more than my own personal edification. And while I'm not really looking for those three years of my life back, because there were plenty of other wonderful, enlightening things that occurred during that time . . . I really could have caught the murderer sooner.