The struggle for visibility

Recent winner of the Trajèctoria prize, Casassas argues for greater recognition of the role of translators in publishing

‘More than being faithful, I try to be loyal to the author‘
‘I don't plan to write anything, because I don't have anything to say'

Anna Casassas is one of the leading, but also one of the most humble and discreet, translators in the country. Winner of the Trajèctoria prize, awarded by the Setmana del libre en Català, she has a long career in translation, having translated into Catalan authors such as Victor Hugo, Marcel Proust, Italo Calvino, and the contemporary authors Claudio Magris and Alessandro Baricco, to mention just a few.

What was your response to winning the award?
Surprise and gratitude because it's always good to see your work recognised, but it means a lot especially as a member of the translating community. It seems our struggle to become more visible has had results.
How has the job of translator changed?
Before, you had the feeling of being a nobody; you used to translate the book at home, and once it was handed in, your name didn't appear anywhere. It was frustrating. Now, most publishing houses let us know when the author comes, which didn't used to happen before, so we can now meet them, take part in presentations, and so on. It has improved a lot.
The translator's name now appears on book covers.
Only Quaderns Crema used to do it before. It's becoming increasingly common, and readers are starting to pay more attention to it as well.
Does this recognition improve the translator's economic situation?
As freelancers we always suffer from job insecurity: you never know when you have work. If you are ill, you still need to work because if not you won't get paid. Our economic situation is precarious, as with all freelancers. Thank god I have commissions coming in, and so I can manage.
Have you ever turned down a translation?
Only when I don't have time to meet the deadline. I've only turned down two books because I didn't like them and because I had enough of an understanding with the publishers to tell them I felt uncomfortable with those texts.
You translate from Italian and French into Catalan. Who are your literary favourites?
Marchello Fois, Franco Vegliani, whom I've proposed, and in terms of commissions, Claudio Magris, and also Wajdi Mouawd's Ànima (Soul), which Aniol from Periscopi had the great idea of asking me to do.
Is it easier with authors who are still alive?
It depends, if they are dead, you translate them and that's it. And if they are Balzac or Victor Hugo, their work is strong enough by itself. When they are alive, it depends on how you feel. Sometimes when reading a work, I've thought: “Maybe it's best if we don't talk, because we wouldn't understand each other“. And at the beginning writers didn't used to pay much attention to translators. Then I did my first Magris. He writes directly to translators, giving them instructions. I then realised there are authors who are aware of the importance of translators and who take us into account. So, if there is the slightest chance to do it, I try it, because I believe it forms part of our struggle to make translators more visible.
Are there any authors you have found particularly difficult?
Giordano Bruno. It was very difficult, because the text was written in the 1500s in Italian, and it's a complex text. As I couldn't talk to him, the only consolation I had was to go to see his statue in Rome, where I was staying for a while. I would tell him my thoughts and ask him questions. At least I felt I got it all off my chest.
How do you find the balance between being faithful to an author and making the translation readable in the other language?
I don't like talking about fidelity, but rather about loyalty. Sometimes I write a sentence I like a lot and then I think: “The author wouldn't have liked that.” But I need to be loyal to what I think the author wants to get across. The final result is necessarily different, but I try to get as close to what I believe that the author would be trying to say in Catalan.
How do you work?
I make a lot of word lists in my notebooks, then I try to read and re-read classics to find the many great expressions and beautiful lexical words that have become lost, and then I try to recover them.
Where is the balance between using archaic and modern Catalan?
The balance is marked by the original. For example, Fiston Mwanza, of whom I've recently translated Tram 83, is a young writer who bases his work on jazz, so you have to be careful about which words you use. However, you can invent words he would use, with a completely modern tone. But if you translate a book by Giovanni Verga, from the 19th century, you need to adapt to the vocabulary of those times. I don't use archaic Catalan, because I write in the Catalan we use today, but I do use some words that correspond to those times.
Translation is often seen as a writing school. Have you thought about writing?
No, never. It is true you can learn a lot, because you write in many different styles, but I've never planned to write anything simply because I've got nothing to say. Also, there are too many people writing and too many books get published. I read a while ago that there are more people publishing books than people to read them. I read originals to write reports for publishing houses, and most of them are dispensable. I like writing, but I'd rather put myself on the list of those we can do without!
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