CULTURE

Translator Ino Balta is the very model of a modern, multilingual European

Dutch writer and translator Ino Balta (born Ynn Van Dijk) is the very model of a modern, multilingual European. Fluent in several languages, she translates Dutch literature into Greek and writes fiction in Greek, which she now looks on as her mother tongue. She talks to Kathimerini English Edition about her work and offers advice to aspiring translators. Growing up in the Netherlands, where children learn French, English and German at school, Balta developed her natural linguistic talent. «I was always very good at foreign languages,» she says. After graduating from the School of Interpreters in Geneva in 1968, she married a Greek and has been living in Greece since 1969. At first she worked mainly with technical translations from Greek and French into English, and also at conferences, mostly from French into English. Like most translators, she did her share of less remunerative work in the early days, but it did lead her into a new field. «For a while I did subtitling of Dutch series and films for TV, which pays very badly, as you get paid per minute and not per subtitle, so the best films to do are those of somebody like Angelopoulos where nobody talks! The subtitling was my first serious experience with translating into Greek.»   Most translators work from another language into their mother tongue. «It is unusual for a translator to translate into a language which is not his mother tongue,» explains Balta. «You have to have a really good grasp of the language, which I guess I have. Indeed, I have never written anything in Dutch. I have tried, but it doesn’t work. I can only write in Greek. So I guess one could say that Greek is my mother tongue now.» Around 1985, Balta started writing poetry. «It happened all of a sudden,» she says, «I don’t know why. I had a friend who was a poet, and perhaps I was influenced by him.» She never attempted to publish her verse, however, and it was only after she had written some short stories that she showed her work to writer Pavlos Matessis. «He offered me constructive criticism and introduced me to Kastaniotis Publishers,» who brought out her first collection of short stories, «The Nightmother,» in 1995, and the second, «Love’s Long Winter,» in 1997. In her work, Balta says, she looks at «what makes people tick.» Though set in Greece, her stories portray the dark underside of family life, as it might be experienced anywhere. She is working on a novel, a modern version of «The Murderess» by Papadiamantis, but has so much translation work that she doesn’t know when she’ll be able to finish it. It was at her publisher’s suggestion that she started translating Dutch literature and she has since translated more than a dozen books for Kastaniotis, Polis and Diifisi. Does she see herself primarily as a writer or a translator? «I don’t presume to be a writer; I find that I have not written enough to claim to be that. I am a translator who also writes, although in the future I would like to reverse that.»   Unlike many translators, she has the luxury of being able to choose which books she works on: «The publishers depend to a great extent on my opinion of a certain book. Usually they give me books to read which they have received from Dutch publishers and if I find the book worth translating, they usually go along with that. Or the reverse: If I reject a book, they don’t buy the rights. So, although the books are offered to me by the publisher, in a way, they are chosen by me and I do not translate books that I do not like.»   Balta also works closely with the author. «When the translation is more or less finished, I usually have a list of questions for the author, mostly on matters of interpretation or the correct pronunciation of certain names. I think that it is very important to work with the author in this respect, in order to avoid mistakes. I find that authors are usually very cooperative in this respect.» While Balta has an excellent rapport with all her publishers, she thinks translators in general receive insufficient recognition. «There are critics who dedicate a few lines to the quality of the translation, but usually not a word is said about it.» The nitty gritty How would she advise aspiring translators? «If you want to make a living out of translating literature, you have to translate a lot, that’s for sure. Technical translations generally are better paid. The remuneration depends also on the language one is translating from. There are lots of translators from English or French, so, in general, the pay is less. For a language like Dutch, where there are but a few translators officially approved by the Dutch Literary Production Fund (which subsidizes the translation of Dutch authors, making it financially more interesting for a publisher to publish a Dutch book), one can command better remuneration.» On the nitty gritty of translating, Balta comments: «The biggest challenge is to preserve the style and the ‘voice’ of the writer in the translation, which is not always possible, especially when two languages are totally different in structure, as is the case with Dutch and Greek. However, in this way, one loses something of the style of the original text, but that cannot be helped. The biggest problem with translation occurs when the author ‘plays’ with the language, makes up words of his own, or uses unusual metaphors.»   Her question for aspiring translators would be: «Are you sure that you want to do this?» «It is a very lonely job, although it has the advantage that you can do it anywhere and work during the hours that you choose. «Ask yourself if you have enough literary talent to do this kind of work. Even if your knowledge of a language is perfect, that does not necessarily mean that you are qualified to do literary translations. Often I choose a certain word purely by intuition. There may be other words that mean exactly the same and if you ask me why this word and not that, I would not be able to give you a specific answer, except that this word ‘feels right.’ If you have answered ‘yes’ to the above, then read, read, read! Reading a lot helps improve your knowledge and feeling of a language without you noticing it. «My Greek has reached the level it has now by reading tons of Greek literature. From a technical point of view, once you have translated a book, put aside the original and read the text as if the translation was the original text. Only by removing yourself from the original text can you make sure that the translation is good from a literary point of view. When in doubt, rely on your intuition.»