God Påske with Don Bartlett. Petrona Award translators – part 1.

God Påske 🐥Happy Easter 🐣. Petrona Award translators – part 1.

The current (Raven Crime ReadsEuro CrimeNordic Lighthouse and Nordic Noir) and past Petrona Award are celebrating 10th anniversary of Petrona Award this year. Last December Margot Kinberg wrote a moving tribute In memory of Maxine Clarke.

Maxine’s memory is preserved in reading, writing about, discussing and enjoying crime fiction from Scandinavian countries, translated into English. In the spirit of Påskekrim and to celebrate translators whose work contributed so much to popularise Scandinavian literature, including crime fiction, I want to present eight translators whose incredible work – masterful craftsmanship, sensitivity, hard graft, feeling for the language and understanding the context of the book in both cultures – made it possible for literature to cross international linguistic bridges. 

A couple of days ago I heard Gunnar Staalesen on the radio. He was talking about Påskekrim tradition that started a hundred years ago, so I decided that the first translator to be presented here is the legendary Don Bartlett. I am not exaggerating. In 2016 Don Bartlett was awarded the Royal Norwegian Order of Merit in rank of Knight, class I for his formidable efforts as a translator of Norwegian literature. Several of the authors whose books Don have translated, often point out that Don’s contribution in many cases has been one of “co-writing” and rendering the book, rather than translating it. Don translates from Danish and Norwegian mainly, but he also knows Swedish and German.I won’t summarise all his achievements here but would like to reach for one or several novels by Karl Ove Knausgård (My Struggle tomes), Jo Nesbø, Gunnar Staalesen, Kjell Ola Dahl, Roy Jacobsen. The list is exciting and huge indeed. 

Gunnar Staalesen, his wife Ellen and Don Bartlett at CrimeFest in Bristol in 2017. Staalesen’s novel Where Roses Never Die was the winner of Petrona Award that year.

Here’s what Don says about the translation process. 

Maxine Clark and Karen Meek were the first crime fiction ‘bloggers’ I ever met. So I write this with a nod of warm appreciation to them. When I talked to Maxine & Karen – a good twenty years ago – I used the term ‘blogger’ with some trepidation. I still wasn’t 100% sure what a blog was and didn’t want to understate or overstate its value. I remember asking for and receiving a comprehensive explanation. Now I know, Ewa, we can all relax. And this is a kind of blog.

At the moment I am in the middle of translating Gunnar Staalesen’s latest novel, ‘latest’ in the sense of the ‘next’ Staalesen for Orenda, because the original came out in Norway in 2002. I know Varg Veum pretty well now as I have translated nine of Gunnar’s novels (seven for Orenda; two for Arcadia) and this will be the tenth. I am into double figures and still a big fan. 

I have just finished the first draft of my translation and would like to tell you what is going through my head. First, there is the title: Som i et speil, literally translated  ‘As In A Mirror’. This makes perfect sense in terms of the plot – it is very accurate – but to my mind, and the publisher’s, it doesn’t flow or attract. I have come up with an alternative, which flows better, and I am still mulling it over with respect to the places where this phrase comes up in the novel and the various contexts. At present, I think it works, but that could change as I go through more drafts. 

The first draft is really a rough and ready translation, with several bits in red, where I have to check the geography or cultural details, or I am not happy with my interpretation / translation, and may have to check with Gunnar. He is always happy to help, and a very good sounding board, but I prefer not to disturb him unless it is absolutely necessary. After all, this novel first appeared quite a few years ago, and his mind will be on his new publication this year. 

However, I have to confess I was intrigued by a jazz tune that is mentioned early in the novel. I knew Gunnar was playing on one of its associations, but I was unsure which. So I did ask, and it turned out it was a geographical allusion. Good job I asked. It wouldn’t have been my first guess, but this shows the immense value of having Gunnar there.

The next draft is the one I enjoy most as I begin to nail down who characters are and how they speak. I find myself muttering things like ‘No, no, no, Berit wouldn’t say that. She’s more in-your-face, confrontational.’ And I am clear now about what the ingredients of this novel are. Some Varg Veum novels bristle with cultural and geographical references. This one has a clear Bergen setting, but Gunnar’s focus is very much on the characters and the plot. And there is a narrative technique he hasn’t used before. I have to make sure it works in English as well as it does in Norwegian. Usually at the second stage I go back over jokes or idioms or puns I have highlighted in red. There are not so many in this particular novel, but there is still enough to chew on. I am still a long way from polishing what I have done. Deadline: June 2023.’

The latest novel by Gunnar Staalesen is due to be published later this year by Orenda Books.

3 thoughts on “God Påske with Don Bartlett. Petrona Award translators – part 1.

  1. Pingback: A Fan’s Perspective. Petrona Award translators – part 3. – Nordic Lighthouse

  2. Pingback: God Påske with Don Bartlett. Petrona Award translators – part 1. — Nordic Lighthouse | Nordic Noir

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