A rewarding book

So… as I promised, once in a while I will write something in English to give non-Polish readers a chance to get acquainted with my blog. Or to give bots a chance to try and spam it. Whatever. Today I would like to focus on my translational work, and specifically, on the differences between translating a boring book from a language you know better and translating an interesting book from a language you know worse.

You might ask why I should translate anything from a language I know worse (or why I should translate a boring book, for that matter – but that question should be addressed to publishers rather than to me). There may be several answers to that question. A more presumptuous one would be – because I know enough of it nevertheless. That may be regarded true or false depending on the way you look at it. It is false in the sense that there are many people in this country with a better knowledge of that precise language. However, it is true in the sense that not all of them are/would be better translators than me, and those who could be, may have other, more interesting/better paid things to do.

Another answer is – because they let me. You know how it is when you have managed to convince someone of your skills. Until that moment everything was hard and you had to really, really apply yourself to be given a chance. Once you’ve grabbed it, however, everyone starts to trust you and unless you really, really f*ck up, rarely will anyone try to call your bluff.

Yet another answer, and the one I like best (although I think truth is the combination of them all), is – because I want to. Being absolutely aware of the fact that translating from my third language (my first being Polish, of course) will cost me more time and effort than translating from my second one, for some reason I have decided to take on the task. Sometimes the reason would be money or lack of other opportunities, but given the fact that my third language is far less popular with publishers in Poland than my second one, that is usually not the case. More often it will be because I like the book they want me to work on.

This is the case with the book I am working on now (as opposed to some books I’m not working on). I first read it a few years back and thought it was worth publishing on our market. Alas, being only a humble translator, all I could do was try to get publishers interested in it. After a few failed attempts I gave up, and just then, miraculously, an opportunity arose. Looking for a publisher or for a job is a bit like looking for love: it usually appears when you’re looking in another direction. You need to be prepared, though, and to recognize a chance when it comes.

So here I am, browsing through dictionaries and racking my brains over what in bloody hell this or that particular word might mean in this or that particular context. On the plus side I have my enthusiasm and the author’s email. On the minus side – scarce vocabulary and too little experience with collocations. Now before you ask, I had to write my master thesis in that language, which probably means I have some knowledge of it, but still not as much as of the other one. So there is definitely more dictionary work involved in my present work than when I work with English (yep, that’s my second language as opposed to third, which is Spanish). On the other hand, when you’re doing nonfiction, there are loads of things to check in various sources, and on top of that, you don’t have a relief of dialogues which usually translate more easily. If I were to choose between doing the Jim Morrison biography again and doing the present stuff, I’d choose the latter even on the basis of difficulty level alone.

It is harder to choose, though, when on one hand you have a fairly easy book in your second language, and on the other an exciting one in your third one. I won’t pretend to give anyone advice on that matter, as the choice is difficult even for me. All I know is I can get really tired when I’m doing stuff that doesn’t excite me, even if it’s not very complicated, and since translating a book is a monotonous work per se, the best way to make it less monotonous and more rewarding is to take on a rewarding book, at least from time to time. By a rewarding book I mean one that is nice to work on, one that you consider good and thus try hard to make it equally good in the target language, and one that you will feel proud of when it is finally released. Oh, I’m fully aware of the situation on the book market and I know that when it comes to getting a job, there are many other factors involved than personal tastes. If you look at the list of books I’ve translated – not that I recommend it, mind you – you’ll know I’m speaking from experience. And yet, and yet… and yet it’s good to try and find a rewarding job, or even a rewarding hobby, once in a while for your own sanity.

By which, of course, I don’t mean there are no rewarding books written in English. It just so happens that this time I have to refresh my castellano.


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