Les portes closes

I’ll resist the temptation to squeeze in a reference to doors opening and closing here.

No sooner did I send off my translation of The Adventures of Radisson II to Baraka Books, than I signed a contract with Ekstasis to translate Lori Saint-Martin’s wonderful Les portes closes. The novel is a series of alternating monologues in which both halves of a couple examine close to 35 years of marriage. I reviewed it for ambos some time ago. Back then, I said:

There is a great deal to be fond of in Les portes closes: genuinely profound, well thought-out questions about relationships, characters that stay with us for a long time after we put down the book… In a word, it is impressive. It reminds me of a well-tended garden: considered, but not pretentious. It’s clear that a great deal of thought went into every word choice and yet the writing never feels overdone or self-conscious, just elegant and refined. It’s enough to make you want to call it Saint-Martin’s very own masterpiece.

And a masterpiece it is. It’s easily going to be the best book I have translated so far. Although its perfect word choices do make it somewhat terrifying to translate. We’ll see how I get on. But in the meantime I can’t wait to get started.

(If you’re curious, you can read a few extracts I translated on ambos.)




What am I working on?

So what am I working on right now? Yes, I’m translating a novel called Radisson and a long extract from another novel called La Fiancée américaine, but what type of books are they? What are they like to translate?

First and foremost, both pass the “Would I rather be doing something else right now?” test. There is nothing I would rather be translating today as I enter the home stretch for Radisson. I’m working on volume 2 of The Adventures of Radisson. I translated volume 1 (also for Baraka Books) in 2012. And the good news is that once volume 2 ends I can go straight into translating volume 3, which is due for later this year.

Calling the books action-packed barely does them justice. They are expertly written by local historian Martin Fournier, who had the excellent idea of converting the actual diaries of Pierre-Esprit Radisson (the guy they named the hotels after, as I’m fond of reminding people), a French fur trader and explorer, from very dry diaries written in very old-fashioned English (yes, he wrote in English) into adventure books that people want to read. Radisson led an unbelievably exciting life, living into his seventies back in the 1600s, being captured by the Iroquois, and getting married three or four times.

It’s great fun to translate and it reads something like this:

On a radiant day in February, Garagonké returned happy as could be from the Dutch with a couple of tomahawks, a beautiful musket, and abundant ball and powder. Radisson took advantage of his good humour to put his plan into action.

“Father, you know I am an Iroquois. You know that I love my father, my mother, and all my family. So please let me go and avenge the people of my nation. Please let me go to war with Ganaha! I want to risk my life by his side out of love for the people who have adopted me. I will fight the nations of the south with Ganaha. The enemies I kill will make my father proud. The prisoners I bring back will make my mother happy. I will prove to you that I am the equal of the son Orinha that you lost. I will be as courageous, as brave, as valiant as he. You will see I am worthy of the name you have given me. I am ready to die for my family and my nation! I beg you, Father, let me go to war with Ganaha!”

Upon hearing these words, Garagonké jumped to his feet and cried out with joy.

“Orinha, you have returned, my son! Take courage, for the man you are replacing in my heart died in battle and not at home like a woman. Orinha was brave and daring. He died in combat outnumbered ten to one. So, yes, since that is what you desire, you too may go off to war. Go with Ganaha! You will avenge my two sons who fell in combat, and make me happy! Rejoice, my son, because the time has come for you to prove what you are made of.”

You can read more about The Adventures of Radisson at petermccambridge.com.

More on La Fiancée américaine next time. I still have plenty more of Radisson to translate today, although all being well the countdown has begun: I should be finished in 4 more days.