Sunshine Abroad

The trials and rewards of French translation and beyond

International Translation Day!

Happy International Translation Day, everybody!

We celebrated early in Tana. ITD, celebrated every year on September 30 (the feast day of St. Jerome, patron saint of translators), falls on a Sunday this year, and there is zero point trying to organize anything on a Sunday in Madagascar. Besides church.

So yesterday, we all took over the bar at Madagascar Underground for a Café littéraire de la traduction — the very first celebration of ITD in the entire country that we know of. There were writers, translators, slam poets, writers who also translate, translators who also write, a singer-translator, and a really awesome number of people who are ready to take a flying leap into literary translation.

Also Mexican food, which is something of a novelty here. I got to introduce several people to the concept of burritos. But I digress.

This event was probably the most joy I’ve felt in my entire stay here in Madagascar. Clearly, I’m passionate about literary translation, so anything that focuses on that is good by me. I also got to talk about my experience in translating “Beyond the Rice Fields,” which is always fun. It was especially rewarding to be able to tell a bunch of Malagasies just how much Malagasy we kept in the English translation, and how many American readers are learning about their country.

But it was also so excellent to be able to share the knowledge that I have of translation and the industry with a bunch of people who are dying to get started, if only they had a direction to go in. Most of the questions during the Q&A session were some variation of “I do X for a living but I’ve always been interested in translating books/poems/literature. How can I start?” That, I can help with.

Some other choice moments and quotations from the afternoon:

  • Tsiky, a writer who’s just starting out in translation, said that “Une langue est toute une universe,” a language is a whole universe.

  • In response to a question about his translation process, one of the slam poets (Joak Kely, I believe) said “Il faut de la patience et il faut de l’amour,” it takes patience and love, to translate.

  • Fara, another writer here, was asking me about how I handled certain things in translating “Beyond the Rice Fields,” so I whipped out the classic translator’s line, “Ça dépende du contexte !” It depends on the context. Most of the audience laughed — they understand.

And probably the coolest part of the whole event wasn’t even a scheduled part of the event: There was a journalist from Viva, a bilingual TV station, who came to report on the event and interview a few of us. Less than four hours later, there was a really flattering segment in the evening news of us and our event. Two segments, in fact — one for the French-language news, and another 30 minutes later in the Malagasy-language news. So now I can say I’ve appeared on Malagasy TV, which is already pretty cool. But what’s even cooler is that I got a message from one of the younger writers right after the program aired. She’s a law student at the university, and her family hasn’t really understood or accepted “the whole writing thing.” But her mom was watching, and the young woman’s appearance on the evening news made her mom very proud and started to legitimize the writing work she’s doing.

The literary scene here is growing. It’s gaining attention and acceptance. Happy ITD, indeed!