This article is the first in a series of translator spotlights. We'll hear from both new and experienced translators, who will discuss their work and tell us how they got started.
In this article, Rachel Cordasco, a member of our Advisory Board, who runs SF in Translation, and is just starting out in Italian-English translation, talks to us about her work.
Foreign languages and translated literature have been a part of my life since I was very young.
I've always loved learning languages, and I had studied Hebrew, French, Russian, and Italian by the time I reached my late twenties.
I was planning to start studying Chinese when I finished grad school, but work and kids and general day-to-day craziness got in the way of that plan. My new plan: to encourage each of my three kids to study a different language so I can study it with them!
For all of this, it hadn't occurred to me to translate anything myself until just recently. Having never taken an academic course on translation, nor known many translators while studying, I focused more on what was already in print and translated into English.
But a few years ago I was drawn into the world of translated speculative fiction, and all of that changed.
I was enthralled by the stories and books from around the world that I would never have heard about, or been able to read, without the work of excellent translators.
The more I read, the more I wanted to learn about Polish science fiction, Italian fantascienza, Hebrew dystopias, et cetera. I decided, then, to open up sfintranslation.com to flash speculative fiction in translation, as a way of highlighting both well-established and emerging authors writing speculative fiction in languages other than English.
It was because of this initiative that I started translating Italian speculative fiction. I had received a few stories for the site, and, not personally knowing any Italian-to-English translators, I decided to take a crack at them myself. It was slow going. Since I hadn't taken Italian for a few years, I relied heavily on my thick Italian-English dictionary, workbooks from the class I had taken, and very helpful native speakers of Italian! My first few thousand-word stories took me—a long time to translate.
But it was then that I first felt the thrill of translation: when you get a real feel for the story and confidence that you're coming very close to bringing the body and soul of a piece from one language into another.
As I said, I never took courses on translation or translation theory, but as a literature major I often read translators' introductions or afterwords that discussed their various approaches. Questions about how "literal" a translator should be, how one should approach translations of slang or culturally specific expressions, how best to capture the spirit of a text while making it understandable to English readers: all of these made me think more deeply about what it means to read a translated novel or story. Since my favorite author is Thomas Mann, and I've never studied German, my only access to him is through the work of translators, to whom I'm eternally grateful, because I treasure everything Mann ever wrote.
Lately I've been translating longer pieces of Italian speculative fiction, and I've found that I want to translate all day long. Since that isn't possible, however, I work on it when I can: when the kids are watching a show, or after I've cooked dinner, or after everyone else is asleep. I continue to rely heavily on dictionaries and workbooks, as well as native Italian speakers (of whom my mother-in-law is one!) and fellow translators, as I work to bring into English some fascinating stories about clones, dragons, ghosts, androids, and other stories about what our world(s) is/are or might become, that would otherwise never be read by English-language readers.
Because of the internet, translators and authors are able to correspond quickly and efficiently about translations and approaches, and for this I am very grateful. I've spoken online with professional translators, authors, editors, and publishers, all of whom have helped me get a better sense of what it means to translate and then bring that translation to the public by means of magazines or presses.
As I translate more, I find myself, little by little, relying less on dictionaries for so many things, and I'm becoming more confident in my knowledge of the lovely and sonorous Italian language. I hope to improve with each story I translate, and thus introduce more English-language readers to the wonderful and complex world of Italian speculative fiction.
On Rachel's site you can find some of her recommendations for works of Italian speculative fiction still to be translated into English.
And as part of her 'Flash Fiction From Around the World' series she features 'The Rivers of Deneb-763' by Alessandra Cristallini, translated by the author.