Wednesday, 5 September 2012

Housemaid in Translation

Writing a book about South Africa that will appeal to readers not only within the country but beyond its borders is somewhat of a tightrope act. How do you balance the dialect and nuances that give the story its fizz, with the need to make it broadly understandable?

I wanted to include local language as much as possible because there are words in Xhosa and Afrikaans, for example, that convey so much more than you would be able to get across with an English equivalent. How to portray the langasem grasshopper (pronounced lung-arse-em, see June blogs) without using the Afrikaans word? Or the tokoloshe beneath the bed?

Well, a glossary helps. And, where possible, I slipped simultaneous translation of phrases into the text, which allows English speakers from beyond SA's shores to understand the new words and - hopefully - appreciate the vibrant world they describe.

But now the challenge is about to go global. The Housemaid's Daughter is going into translation. How, I wonder, will the intrepid translators deal with words for which there is no easy English equivalent, let alone an equivalant in Icelandic, for example? Icelandic? Yes! In fact, not just Icelandic. Here is the list of languages into which Housemaid is due to be translated over the next year or so: Dutch (coming out in Oct), French, German, Italian, Spanish, Chinese, Polish, Croatian, Turkish and Bulgarian. How extraordinary! All I can say is Good Luck, Bonne Chance, Viel Erfolg, Sretno, Buona Fortuna, Gangi Per Vel, 祝你好運...!

And let's not forget the all-important American edition which is to be published in Spring 2013. That won't be a problem, surely? Although wasn't it Winston Churchill who said that Britain and America are two nations divided by a common language? Watch this space.

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