Archive for June 19th, 2018

What’s next for Man Booker winners Olga Tokarczuk and Jennifer Croft? A 900-page epic – in English next year.

Tuesday, June 19th, 2018
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Author Olga Tokarczuk and translator Jennifer Croft (Photo: Janie Airey/Man Booker Prize)

We posted about last month’s big win for Olga Tokarczuk and Jennifer Croft, winners of the Man Booker International Prize for the Polish author’s Flights (Fitzcarraldo Editions). Croft is the translator. She also translates from the Spanish and Ukrainian and is the founding editor of the Buenos Aires Review. In a new interview in Scroll, she discusses her craft. A few excerpts:

The original Polish title of Flights, which is Beiguni (or Wanderers), gestures to the Slavic sect who have rejected settled life. I also read elsewhere that an early title for the book was Runners. Tell us about your choice for the English title – and how this captures the book’s central themes.

Signing books in London.

The original title of the novel is Bieguni, which comes from a Slavic root that means “to run”. But the word in Polish is a strange one – not a word people use, though they would recognise the root. The word “runners” in English is much more prosaic, much less evocative. I chose a word I thought would accurately reflect Olga’s tendency throughout her work to create networks of associations, a tactic that is especially important in a book like this one, where fragments may appear at first glance to be disconnected from one another, yet in reality they’re linked conceptually as well as though subterranean formal bonds, including the resurgence in different sections of related words. “Flights” suggests plane travel, imagination (“flights of fancy”), fleeing (which is closer to the original Polish title), etc.

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It’s taken a decade for the English-language version to hit the bookshelves since the book was first published in Poland. And for this reason Tokarczuk has said that while she’s pleased it has gained renewed pertinence, she also feels “conversationally jet-lagged” talking about it now. With this distance in mind, what are your thoughts on translations as the after-lives or second-lives of a book?

This is a fascinating topic that also gets at the question of what a translation is, whether it constitutes its own artwork, how independent it can be from an original, how independent an original can be from it. I’m planning to write more about this in the future.

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You’re also translating Tokarczuk’s magnum opus, the 900-page epic The Books of Jacob, which won the “Polish Booker” [That would be the Nike – ED.], and which is slated to be released in 2019. What can readers expect?

Olga Tokarczuk’s The Books of Jacob is a monumental novel that delves into the life and times of the controversial historical figure Jacob Frank, leader of a heretical Jewish splinter group that ranged the Habsburg and Ottoman Empires and the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, seeking basic safety as well as transcendence. Tokarczuk’s twelfth book, considered by many critics to be her masterpiece, The Books of Jacob is also a suspenseful and entertaining novel that remained a national bestseller for nearly a year after its November 2014 release.

Although set in the eighteenth century, The Books of Jacob invokes a decidedly twenty-first century zeitgeist. It encourages its readers to reexamine their histories and reconsider their perspectives on the shape Europe will take in coming years. It celebrates and problematises diversity in its plot and characters. It subtly participates in the debates dividing Europe – and the world – on how to protect tolerance, how to define intolerance, how to set and abide by the limits of contemporary sovereignty, and on specific issues such as how to handle an influx into Central Europe of refugees in both practical and moral terms.

Read the whole Q&A here.