Sunshine Abroad

The trials and rewards of French translation and beyond

Santa makes me happy.

Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus. So he can make people happy. As usual, half of the things on my Christmas list this year were books. (The other half was divided between music, knitting supplies, the odd gift card, and a new heavy winter coat -- I live in upstate NY now). This is both because I love to read and because it's my job to read and write. I buy lots of books for myself and frequent the library and read articles online, but Christmas always means that I get even more books than usual. Which I love.

So, without further ado, here are three of this year's favorites:


This year, I even got something useful in my daily work: the Collins Robert French Dictionary. This thing is a bible, both in size and scope. It's bilingual, and as close to comprehensive as a print dictionary can get in this digital world. It's going to replace the pocket dictionary currently on my shelves.

But, you ask, why? Didn't I just read that this is a digital world? Why is this necessary?

And that's a valid question. For me, it's a matter of variety and security. Different dictionaries tend to have slightly different definitions, and being able to research many options for one word can sometimes make the difference between an okay choice and the best contextual choice.

And as for security, well, I usually use lots of online dictionaries, both free and subscription-based (I'm currently on a test run of the Oxford Language Dictionary online) because they're faster. But the Internet is a fickle creature, and can crash, disappear, or not be available on travels.


In October, I went to the ALTA Annual Conference in Rochester, and heard Marian Schwartz talk about her new book, Maidenhair. It's "an instant classic of Russian literature," and I am so very excited to sink my teeth into it. I'll let it speak for itself:

"Day after day the Russian asylum-seekers sit across from the interpreter and Peter—the Swiss officers who guard the gates to paradise—and tell of the atrocities they’ve suffered, or that they’ve invented, or heard from someone else. These stories of escape, war, and violence intermingle with the interpreter’s own reading: a his­tory of an ancient Persian war; letters sent to his son “Nebuchadnezzasaurus,” ruler of a distant, imaginary childhood empire; and the diaries of a Russian singer who lived through Russia’s wars and revolutions in the early part of the twentieth century, and eventually saw the Soviet Union’s dissolution."

So. Excited. And I even met the wonderful translator, because as it turns out, people in the literary translation industry are categorically wonderful!


Another wonderful translator, who I hope to meet someday, is Gregory Rabassa. He's the only reason that any Americans have read Gabriel García Márquez's One Hundred Years of Solitude, which is one of my favorite books. Rabassa wrote a memoir of translation in 2005 called If This Be Treason: Translation and Its Dyscontents. Rabassa is one of those people whose life and work proves that translators are writers, too. He's one of those people who makes my job awesome, because he's made my job exist. And he wrote his own book eight years ago.

Yes, please.


So, all I have to do is finish sobbing through reading Stone Upon Stone, which is my current obsession. I should really stop reading it before bed, though; it's messing with my dreams.