I joked in a previous chronicle that people shouldn’t blame me if my words lost
their impact in translation. A week later, I read an article about a writer whose
English translator had made such a pig’s ear of his work that the writer actually
wrote a letter to the English book reviewer who had rubbished his book, fully
endorsing his criticism. Luckily, I’ve been spared that fate. Rhian Heppleston,
the translator who was given the task of tackling my texts on a daily basis, did a
brilliant job. My voice resonates powerfully through the English translation, as if
the translator had crawled into my head in search of the right tone. It was quite
something to hear that she had watched my film clips and looked at photos of me
on the Internet in an attempt to gain a true impression of me. This again proves
that translation is not a dead, mechanical process requiring nothing more than a
dictionary, but that it’s a human art-form. Finding the right tone and making the
right choices are the most important ingredients for a good translation.
My admiration for good translation work has steadily grown. But I still stand
by what I said earlier: that it’s asking too much of me to form an emotional
bond with my translated texts. I can appreciate the professional work of a good
translator, but I’d be lying if I said a translated text meant as much to me as the
Dutch original. Dutch, and Dutch alone, is the language in which words acquire
their true meaning for me.
In the summer of 2007, I was one of six European writers taking part in an essay
competition which took us on a short tour of Germany. We visited different
German cities where each evening a German acting duo would perform our work.
I remember quite clearly how unaffected I was by the performance of my texts,
as if a stranger had written them, despite it being an essay I had put my heart
and soul into and one in which I had broached subjects that really concerned
me. Even though I could follow the German text from start to finish, listening
to it did absolutely nothing for me. When later approached by lots of friendly
Germans wanting to compliment me on my text, I was at a total loss for words. I
felt as though I was accepting compliments on someone else’s behalf. Perhaps the
translator’s. Not mine at any rate.