During Women in Translation Month, we want to highlight some of the excellent and often unsung work done by literary translators around the world to bring international stories to the US and other primarily English-speaking countries.
We spoke first to Jennifer Croft, who in 2018 shared the prestigious Man Booker International Prize for the novel Flights with its author, Olga Tokarczuk. She is also an author in her own right, with her memoir published in audiobook form earlier this year.
“Haunting and visually poetic, Croft’s book explores the interplay between words and images and the complexity of sisterly bonds with intelligence, grace, and sensitivity. Poignant, creative, and unique.”
Please tell us a little bit about your path to becoming a literary translator.
I started translating from Russian when I was in college, and immediately after college I did an MFA at the University of Iowa in Literary Translation. It was during that time I migrated to translating in Polish. Since then I’ve migrated to Spanish. German may be next.
What is your process for translating a book?
Every book is different. Many translators I know prefer not to read the books they’re translating in advance, but that’s the one thing I’ve always done. I read them and then decide whether or not I want to translate them. I’ve had the luxury of only translating the books I really fall in love with.
What would your advice be for somebody wanting to get into a career in literary translation?
As soon as possible, live in the country you plan to translate the literature of. There’s so much you can’t get from the Internet.
What is a favorite line from a book you’ve translated?
“My head was spinning and something in my theory had to do with revolution.”
Pedro Mairal, The Woman from Uruguay
It’s coming out next May with Bloomsbury (translated from Spanish).
Are you an audiobook listener? If so, what are some of your favorite audiobooks?
The book I’m listening to right now—which is spectacular—is Merlin Sheldrake’s Entangled Life. He reads it himself, and he is perfect for the job, making the fungal world sound exciting and sensual as well as incredible and fascinating.
I’ve listened to audiobooks since they were CDs—even cassette tapes. I remember carting around my set of twelve cassettes of Jeremy Irons reading Lolita for many years. That recording is splendid, as is Colin Firth reading [author] Graham Greene. I also love listening to books read to me in the accents their authors and characters might have. I’ve listened to Aoife McMahon reading Sally Rooney’s Normal People twice. It’s been a blissful experience both times. Ditto Conversations with Friends. I also really liked Bríd Brennan’s rendition of Milkman, by Anna Burns. It’s surprising how different the rhythms of English can be, and for me, it changes the way the story moves.
Follow Jennifer Croft on Twitter and on Instagram.