CULTURE

Translator forgoes holidays to meet multiple press deadlines

David Connolly is one of the foremost translators of modern Greek literature into English and one of the most productive. Five titles published in the past year alone hint at the range and extent of his output. The crop includes poetry: Yannis Kondos’s «Absurd Athlete» (Arc Publications); history-based fiction: Rhea Galanaki’s «Eleni, or Nobody» (Northwestern Univ. Press) and Maro Douka’s «Come Forth, King» (Kedros); Petros Markaris’s crime novel «The Late-night News;» and short stories: «The Dedalus Book of Greek Fantasy» (Dedalus), a volume Connolly also edited. As if that weren’t enough, Connolly managed to pen a number of scholarly articles and work at Thessaloniki University, where he was recently appointed associate professor of translation studies in the Department of Translation and Cultural Studies in the School of English. He talked to Kathimerini English Edition about his work and about promoting Greek literature in translation. You have published a large number of books in the past year. Has this rate of work put you under any pressure as a translator? Five books in the space of 12 months (August 2003-August 2004) must be something of a record by any translator’s standards. Of course, most of these books have been in the process for several years. Only «The Late-night News» was actually translated and published during this period. The pressure, however, is intense as my work doesn’t simply end with my submitting the translation. There are also the editing and proof-reading stages which are extremely time-consuming and which have even stricter deadlines than the initial translation deadline. In addition, there’s the presentation and promotion stage. For example, I presented the Kondos book in Oxford and Brighton in December last year, the Dedalus book at Border’s in London in May and I’m presenting «The Late-night News,» along with Petros Markaris on the South Bank in London in September. And all these further stages in the process always have to be slotted in somehow while struggling with the next translation deadline. I no longer have the luxury of being able to work on one book at a time and see it through all the stages before beginning the next one. Currently, I have six different books in the pipeline at various stages of completion. In other words, no summer holiday again this year! How do you choose works to translate? With an established reputation, you no doubt get approaches from many writers and publishers, but do you also initiate projects? The works tend to choose me in one way or another. More often than not, I’m commissioned either by the author, or the author’s Greek publisher or by the English publisher. I’m happy to say, though, that the amount of work I’m offered allows me to choose which writers or works I want to translate. On the other hand, I am a professional translator and so if the terms and conditions are right, I will undertake a project for purely professional reasons. To put it another way, it doesn’t mean when I translate a particular writer or work that I’m necessarily recommending that writer or work to an English-speaking readership. This was more the case when I began as a literary translator. For example, my translations of Nikiforos Vrettakos and Odysseus Elytis fall into the category of projects I initiated myself. It has become harder and harder to find both funding and publishers for self-initiated projects, so I tended to accept more and more commissions. I do, however, have three or four ongoing projects of my own initiation, which simply get pushed further and further back because of all the commissioned work. An interesting and enjoyable compromise is when, for instance, I’m commissioned to translate an anthology where the initiative regarding who and what to include is left to me. This was the case with «The Dedalus Book of Greek Fantasy,» which is part of a series of books on European Fantasy. I was commissioned to do the Greek one, but I myself selected, compiled, edited, introduced, translated and provided the notes for it, and I’m very proud of it for that reason. Is there any kind of book or subject that you have not yet attempted but would like to translate? Confining myself just to the field of literary translation, I can say that I’ve translated all literary genres: poetry, novels, short stories, theatrical works, film scripts, essays and literary criticism. It’s specific authors and literary styles rather than kinds of book or subject that appeal to me. I’ve translated poets who are particularly resistant to translation into English such as Odysseus Elytis and Kiki Dimoula. I’ve also translated particularly difficult fiction, such as Giorgis Yiatromanolakis’s «Eroticon,» which is written in the erudite yet charming and humorous manner of Greek manuals written in the 17th century. I regard «Eroticon» as one of the most difficult and successful translations I’ve ever undertaken. Having said that, there are no easy translations. Even Petros Markaris’s detective fiction has its own translation problems which have to do with the slang, swearing and street language he uses. The problem for the translator is to come up with corresponding idiomatic language in English and also to tone down the bad language to some extent. What is acceptable (and often amusing) in Greek can come across as offensive or even taboo in English, unless toned down. You are keen on promoting Greek literature in translation. What progress has been made in that respect and what would you like to see done? It’s true that apart from my work as a translator, which to date includes over 20 books and over 60 submissions to anthologies and magazines, I also see my work as being to promote Greek writers abroad in general. In the last 10 years, I’ve given some 80 talks on translation and on Greek literature in Greece, the UK and the USA and often visit literary festivals and international book fairs as a representative of the Hellenic Authors’ Society. During this same period, I have also in various capacities been involved with the Greek Department of Letters, the National Book Center of Greece (EKEBI) and the European Center for Literary Translation (EKEMEL), so I am equally aware of all the initiatives that have been taken by the Greek State to this end. It would be unfair to say that no progress has been made in the last decade but, sadly, contemporary Greek authors are conspicuous only by their absence from bookshops in the English-speaking world at least. And despite what we often read to the contrary in the Greek press, the situation is little better in the other major European languages. A great deal of time, effort and, above all, money has been spent in the last decade to promote Greek books abroad, but with little tangible result. Greece may have had one of the most impressive (and costly!) pavilions as Guest of Honor country at the Frankfurt Book Fair in 2001, but the impact of Greek books on the international book market was negligible. The subject is huge and I have spoken and written at length on it. I remain convinced, however, that it is individuals – authors, agents, translators, publishers and reviewers – who are the key players in a free book market. There can be no successful state policy for promoting books abroad. The role of bodies such as the National Book Center should be to coordinate and support the individual players rather than persist in doomed attempts to «promote» Greek literature abroad. Foreign readers are not interested in Greek literature but in good authors and good books in good translations.