Maureen Freely’s Joys of Translating

The Guardian has a brief essay by Maureen Freely on why she enjoys translating and its importance. If her name isn’t quite familiar, you might better know her as one of Oran Palmuk’s translators. While she isn’t throwing up any deep insights into the art of translating, the life of the translator she describes is interesting, especially if one is translating a controversial author. Translation occasionally is a dangerous business.

I was initially drawn to this art because, after many years of journalism, I longed for a quiet life. I imagined weeks and months of solitary reflection in my favourite chair. And of course there were periods like this. But if you are translating a controversial author, the world is never far away.

My first rude awakening came while I was translating the first chapters of Pamuk’s 2002 novel, Snow. A Turkish newspaper got in touch; having heard what I was up to, it wanted to know what I thought of the headscarf issue, about which Snow has a great deal to say. My innocuous answer (that a woman should be able to choose what she wears on her head) was transformed into a provocative headline (“I curse the fathers!”), following which I was bombarded with emails from an extremist Islamist newspaper. I could not help but notice that their questions were almost identical to those asked by an Islamist extremist in the chapter I’d just translated. It ends with said extremist pumping a few bullets into his interlocutor’s head.