Effi Kallifatidi – Umberto Eco

Effi Kallifatidi has translated 15 books – novels and essays – by Umberto Eco since she first came across his work. When was your first encounter with Eco? In 1980-82 I was in Rome. My Italian wasn’t very good, but when I saw the great success of «The Name of the Rose» I bought it and tried, completely unsuccessfully, to read it. The half-read book was set aside. In 1984, Manolis Bouzakis from Gnosis publishers, which was just starting up, asked me to translate a sample. I don’t know if my Italian or my Greek had got better in the meantime, but the sample was deemed to be very good… and then it was love. And how did that relationship develop? Eco was a success in Greece, I proved to be a competent translator of his work, and I got more proposals to translate him. That was when I realized he was «easy» for me, not in terms of language but in terms of way of thinking and method. I often find I know what he’s going to write next, or find myself translating a phrase in advance, ahead, without having closely read it. Sometimes I joke that I translate him without reading him, so the next stage will be to translate without him even writing. What are the special difficulties in translating his books and what are the pleasures? The breadth of his knowledge was the greatest difficulty. Besides, classical Western education makes references not well known to Greeks and, for a while, before the Internet, some things weren’t readily accessible. On the other hand, Eco does his best to help his translators. He sends notes with his texts, and he allows the translator to modify elements that he thinks might not mean anything to the target audience in their original form. This gives you the freedom to play with the text in the same way that he himself does. How do you usually approach a text you are translating? I was going to say I approach it like a reader, but that would be a lie. The truth is that I try to make my mind work as closely as possible to the way the writer’s mind works. During the first stage I’m not interested in whether I can understand a word or not; the basic thing is to understand the way he thinks and feels. That is the challenge, to solve the puzzle between the writer’s way of thinking and his way of writing, while putting in the conditions and cultural set of another country and probably another era.