From 31 October until 4 November HLO was granted free reign over Litera's Netdiary column. Daily for five days we uploaded a diary entry in Hungarian from three of our editors—past and present—Mark Baczoni, Ágnes Orzoy and myself, Owen Good, and two guest contributions from friends of HLO and fellow literary translators Claudia Tatasciore and Jim Tucker. And just as we had hoped, each one told an entirely different story.
On Monday, Mark Baczoni shared with us the curious lesser-known truths of translation:"So what does a literary translator do all day? Good question. It mostly involves sitting around prevaricating. But it's not only that. There's some occasional work involved, and even more rarely – progress."
On Tuesday, Ágnes Orzoy, editor of HLO for twelve years and now foreign rights director at Magvető, showed us her new desk over at the publishing house, which this week happened to be located at the Frankfurt Book Fair: "The men in suits, the kids in torn T-shirts and jeans, the bespectacled girls of the Arts, the red-haired and black-nailed ladies: the book business."
On Wednesday, Claudia Tatasciore, who this year has been translating Magda Szabó's Fresco, and Noémi Szécsi's Communist Monte Cristo into Italian, told us what it takes to see another's world clearly: "To translate is to swallow whole, and to breath in deep."
On Thursday, Jim Tucker, who translates into English, dropped us slapbang in the centre of the invisible translator's life in Budapest. "I take up no space in the world, I bounce off it like a ping-pong ball. Forever the outsider, but that's the translator's role, neither in, nor out."
And on Friday, I invited Litera for the morning to join a literary translation class out in the Pilis valley. "Three dictionaries are opened. I look out the window. Dóra: Got it! Ahem ... Gee! Gee whizz! Blimey! Crikey! By Jove! Gosh! Gracious! Goodness! Crumbs! Laughter."
So if you haven't yet had a chance, have a look now, sit down with our diary, it's fine with us, as long as you can make out our Hungarian between the smudges and the doodles.
And for those who don't read Hungarian, here's the English version of Mark's as a taster:
Hello, and welcome to this week's edition of Netnapló, dedicated to Litera's English-speaking arm, HLO (Hungarian Literature Online). I'm one of the new editors, alongside Owen Good and Dóra Szekeres, and in this series of short blog entries, we'd like to introduce readers to HLO and share some thoughts on literature and translation.
Both Owen and I translate from Hungarian into English, a reasonably rare combination. This makes us 'rarae aves' – rare birds, but even rare birds find a home. And we'd like to make HLO a home not only for the latest news in and around Hungarian literature and publishing, but a showcase for good Hungarian writing, new and old.
So what does a literary translator do all day? Good question. It mostly involves sitting around prevaricating. But it's not only that. There's some occasional work involved, and even more rarely – progress. It does, of course, depend on what you're translating how quick that progress is.
Translation is all about choices; why one word and not the other, why this way and not that; a good translator is someone who can make good choices, and defend them (if needs be). There's an awful lot of thought that goes into the choices you make when you translate.
Over the years, I've translated everything from guidebooks and philosophical articles to fiction and poetry. I must say, I've always found poetry the hardest – but also incredibly rewarding. It really pushes you to think about your choices, because there's not one or two ways to say something in poetry, but an almost limitless variety.
Translation is a funny thing – sometimes it's a craft, and sometimes it's an art. If you're doing it right, it's a combination of the two, with a delicate balance of each. In Hungary, we're very used to reading in translation, even if most of us don't think about the translator or the process. This is maybe less true for the English-speaking world, where 'translation' occupies a sort of odd, liminal space. Somewhere between something we admire, and something so obvious it doesn't need thinking about.
But translation does require our attention – and our support. You don't have to think about it in a technical way, or even a very in-depth way, but the next time you're reading a book in translation, you could take a moment to think about the amazing process by which the words you're reading managed to get from its author to you, without you having a language in common.
And, if you need some ideas for what to read, look no further than HLO... Happy reading!