Söyleşi: Cristina VEZZARO
Emrah Imre is a literary translator from Turkey based in Brazil. He speaks Turkish, Portuguese, English, Spanish and French. He decided to answer our questions in English.
How did you start translating literature? What are “your” authors and languages?
The first time I seriously thought about translation as a concept was through metal music when I was a teenager. Back then, some metal fanzines included Turkish translations of song lyrics, but these were quite literal translations. So I translated a bunch of Slayer songs by myself and tweaked them around until I thought they looked better. That might’ve introduced me to what the translation process entails.
My first literary translations were a couple of short stories by Donald Barthelme, mainly chosen due to their catchiness and brevity, as I assumed editors wouldn’t read entire books to judge the quality of translations. I took them to a publishing house I liked, we talked, and I ended up with some other book to translate. Soon I met other literary translators, started working with other publishers and found myself immersed in translation. Nowadays I also work as an editor, which seems to complement translation quite well, as I believe translators must become harsh editors of their own texts.
Although translations from English currently make up around half of my published works, in recent years I focussed almost entirely on translations from Spanish and Portuguese into Turkish. At the moment I’m translating Barba Ensopada de Sangue (Blood-Drenched Beard) by a promising Brazilian writer named Daniel Galera.
I’ve been lucky enough to translate books by authors I really like, such as Carlos Fuentes,José Saramago and Gabriel García Márquez. Still, I’m not sure if there are any authors I adopted as “mine” yet. Perhaps Saramago could be one, as his other translations into Turkish are mostly from secondary translations in English, Spanish, etc. Steven Brust could also be one, as I translated the first six books of his Vlad Taltos series, but it’s been a while since I translated fantasy fiction. So far I’ve been César Aira’s only translator in Turkish, if this doesn’t change and I translate a significant amount of his work maybe I can call him mine (and he can call me his… translator!).
What do you like/dislike about your job as a literary translator?
Language and literature are two of my favourite things in the world. Being involved with them on a daily basis is like heaven.
The worst part must be the lack of social security benefits and syndication, and difficulties stemming from these, such as relatively poor and unstable pay, constant overwork, having to work other jobs, and so on.
What is the most enriching experience you have had?
This may sound like a cliché, but translating texts, even the seemingly uninteresting ones, teaches you a lot. You always end up absorbing factual and fictional information about stuff you’d never think about. It might be some detailed sacrificial ritual, it might be the dynamics of time travel, or the weather conditions of the pampas, or some obscure hip hop slang.
While translating the last few pages of Luis Sepúlveda’s Un Viejo Que Leía Novelas de Amor (The Old Man Who Read Love Stories) I remember getting misty-eyed, both from the intensity of the text and that liberating relief of finalizing a translation. In a sense such an experience shows how intimate you tend to get with the text during the translation process.
What made you feel closest to an author?
In order to understand and convey their intended meanings I think translators have no option but to feel close to the authors. Yet things might turn a little weird when one goes beyond the authors and feels close to the books.
During the translation of Saramago’s O Homem Duplicado (The Double), in which a man incidentally encounters his doppelganger, I felt like I was in an episode of The Twilight Zone on two occasions. The first time, I was in my apartment with my girlfriend when the doorman, who had seen her enter earlier, buzzed to say that my girlfriend was at the entrance of the building (actually he had buzzed the wrong apartment). The second time, an unidentified man phoned in, saying he wanted to talk to me. When I asked who he was he said, “I am you.” Pure coincidence, but it felt quite uncanny at the time.
What have you found most difficult to translate?
Sloppy writing. When authors don’t give much thought to what they want to say and how they want to say it the text turns into torture for the translator.
What have you enjoyed most translating?
Translating Saramago is always fascinating. His elaborate sentences, at times rolling page after page, may seem a bit intimidating, but while translating you realize how well constructed and tightly written his work is, nothing feels redundant. Transferring the same feeling into Turkish while maintaining the form is quite a challenge, hence highly enjoyable, especially when you consider the immense differences between Turkish and Portuguese syntax.
César Aira turned out to be quite interesting to translate as well. His works are eccentric, unpretentious and fun. He has a very playful style and when you delve deeper into his texts you see that he has a penchant for dancing around the main themes (he could read this, scoff, and write a book about a translator who imagines he understands his author, but actually doesn’t at all). Each book he writes feels distinct from the previous ones in terms of approach and topics. So you always look forward to the next one.
Which author would you love to translate?
Perhaps two books from New Zealand: In a Fishbone Church by Catherine Chidgey and Two Little Boys by Duncan Sarkies. I think they provide interesting insights into New Zealand psyche from unusual perspectives and translating them into Turkish would be a rewarding challenge. There’s also the Brazilian cult figure Nelson Rodrigues. I had translated one of his articles for a Turkish magazine, but his short stories are true gems and they are still out there. I’d love to translate Kurt Vonnegut and Vladimir Nabokov, but most of their books should have already been translated into Turkish.
If you were not a literary translator, what would you do?
Probably something related to music. Also it’d be great to have the opportunity to go back to university and lose myself in linguistics.
Translated authors: José Saramago, Carlos Fuentes, Gabriel García Márquez, Mario Vargas Llosa, Luis Sepúlveda, César Aira, Luisa Valenzuela, Amit Chaudhuri, Gilbert Adair, Ross Thomas, Paulo Coelho, David Baldacci, Nicholas Christopher, Patrick Neate, Steven Brust, Fred Saberhagen, Michael Moorcock, Alfred Kubin