Maureen Freely: How I got lost in translation and found my true calling
“Translation can be an underpaid, anonymous job. Yet it is crucial for the cross-fertilisation of literature and for Maureen Freely, it has become a deeply satisfying life’s work
Outside the Anglophone world, it is not unusual for novelists and poets to work at some point in their lives as translators. Though most will say that they did so mainly to subsidise their own writing, it is often clear, when you look at that writing, that it has been enriched by the imaginary conversations they’ve had with the poets and novelists whose words they have translated.
If there is such a thing as world literature, it is because today’s most interesting writers are also well‑travelled readers and a lot of what they read is in translation. An up-and-coming Colombian novelist might be inspired not just by Borges, Conrad and Faulkner, but by contemporary novelists from Asia, Africa and Europe; his literary response to their work will go on to influence what his contemporaries on the other side of the world write next. These complex patterns of cross-fertilisation would end overnight if it were not for literary translators and the publishers who support them. So you’d think people would thank us, wouldn’t you?”
Read this essay at The Guardian