Many things bring me joy: books, chocolate, my kids (when they’re behaving), languages, books, opera, embroidery, and did I mention books? One thing that has recently been bringing me joy is translation. I’ve always loved languages, going back to when I was 6 or 7 and watching “Pepe le Pew” whisper sweet faux-French nothings into the ears of very uninterested cats. I started buying dual-language dictionaries around that time and never looked back. I’ve studied Hebrew, French, Russian, and Italian, and would have learned Chinese next but life got crazy and I’ve had to postpone it until…probably retirement.
Nonetheless, I started translating Italian SF this past year as part of my effort to promote SF in translation. It had been several years since my Italian courses, so I started out by relying heavily on dictionaries and working only on very short pieces. Slowly but surely, my knowledge of Italian and its rhythms returned. Soon, I had the opportunity to translate longer stories by award-winning Italian SF authors, and I fell completely in love with the act of translation.
While I’ve never taken any translation courses, I’m familiar with some of the more common issues regarding how to bring a text from one language into another. With every word and every sentence, the translator must figure out how to capture the author’s original meaning and style and convey that in another language, preserving said meaning and style. Sometimes, I’ll translate a sentence almost word-for-word, and other times (for instance, in the case of colloquialisms or slang) I’ll choose a phrase in English that, while not an exact translation, captures the spirit of the author’s words. These issues are as old as translation itself, but I find it fascinating to experience these tensions in my own work.
I’ve had the privilege of translating stories by Clelia Farris and Nicoletta Vallorani recently, and working with them to hone each piece until it sounds right to both author and translator has been quite rewarding. After much trial-and-error, I’ve finally found an approach that works well for me: I first hand-write my translation, which I do slowly and carefully; then I go back over the original text and the translation as I type up a draft, correcting errors, revising phrases, thinking of more appropriate word-choices. Then I send the draft to the author, along with margin questions, and the author answers those, asks others, and lets me know if I’m on the right track. I’ve had a great experience with the authors I’ve been working with, and it’s been exciting translating multiple stories by each author, because I get a sense of their style and preoccupations.
The act of translation is itself joyful, but seeing my translations published in prominent SF magazines like Clarkesworld and Samovar has been very gratifying indeed. I’m so happy to be able to do my part to bring more Italian SF to English-language readers. I wouldn’t be able to do this, though, without the help, direction, and encouragement of Francesco Verso, himself a prominent SF author in Italy and editor of Future Fiction.
Translating Italian SF and working on the SF in Translation site accounts for about 5% of each of my days, but brings me an unquantifiable amount of joy. Thanks to Skiffy and Fanty for helping me share my enthusiasm with you!
Rachel Cordasco earned a Ph.D in Literary Studies from the University of Wisconsin, Madison in 2010, and taught courses in American and British literature, and Composition. She now works as a developmental editor at a press and is the founder and curator of SF in Translation. You can find her reviews of SF in translation at Book Riot, Strange Horizons, and World Literature Today; and her translations of Italian sf on SF in Translation, Anomaly, and Clarkesworld Magazine