Sunday, May 22, 2016

On the Joyful Tears of a Translator

When Deborah Smith, Translator of Han Kang's The Vegetarian, Won the Man Booker International Prize

May 20, 2016  By Sophie Hughes  LitHub

The supposedly live stream of the announcement of the inaugural winners of the newly reconstituted Man Booker International Prize came so many minutes after the winner had been revealed by other tweeters, fewer people than intended probably ended up watching it. I did. But then, I am a literary translator, so it makes sense that I should want to witness the moment one of my colleagues received a perfect and symbolic half of the full £50,000 book prize for their translation (“symbolic” because it marks a sea change in the reception of our work; not “symbolic” in the way translators are used to understanding the word in reference to prizes).

When chair of the judging panel, Boyd Tonkin, announced Han Kang and Deborah Smith as the winners of the prize for their novel The Vegetarian (Portobello Books, 2015), a very composed but smiling Han Kang kissed her publisher on the cheek, stood up, hugged Smith, and waited to be called up on stage. Smith, her translator, broke down in tears, and she was still crying when she received her award. By the time Kang took to the podium to give her half of their acceptance speech, her translator was drying her eyes and controlling her by now dry heaves. “Don’t cry,” Kang said softly into the microphone, her head turned towards Deborah.

It was a tender moment, and one that also shone a light on the two different relationships born out of translation: your relationship to your author, and your relationship to your book. Because a translation is always your book –it is yours and the author’s book, as new Man Booker International Prize money split openly recognizes     MORE

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