I was tempted to title this post, The Art of Translation because without the translated version, I probably would have taken long to discover one of the most inspiring and great writers I’ve read, Henning Mankell. It is through Mankell’s work, I admire translators and it is through translators I continue to enjoy his work. In fact, at some point I aspired to become one but the truth is I suck at translation. Nothing is as humbling as those culture-bound words. So I have huge respect for translators and consequently, the art of translation. I find their ability to produce text that reads as if an original work by echoing the style and tone of the original author, outstanding.
The post, therefore serves two purposes: first to pay tribute to Mankell, a gifted and provocative writer who touches the core of human life and connects the reader with reality through his stories. Many know Mankell for his internationally-acclaimed Wallander series and/or his political views, I came to know this writer through his book, Daniel. I have read some of his books but Daniel left a lasting impression on me, which brings me to the second purpose of the post. To express gratitude to translator(s), who not only have a feeling for language but are passionate about their work.
After a number of years living with one foot in South Africa and one in Finland, in year 2010 and after South Africa had hosted the Soccer World Cup, we finally decided to return to Finland and put down roots. It was the same year Daniel, the English-translated version was published. The timing was perfect. I was coming to terms with life in my new home and the ‘honeymoon phase’, almost all expats experience was starting to wear off. I was no longer a ‘tourist’, this was my reality and my life. The challenge of learning a new language, Finnish which is not related to any language I know, and the difficulty to find books (even magazines) written in English was a big deal to me. I was living in the countryside then, with the nearest city about 110 km away and no guarantee that I’ll find books, even if I took time to travel to the city.
So, imagine my joy when I stumbled upon a very small section of English books in a local library. Never mind that most of those books were by unfamiliar authors and even in genres I didn’t particularly enjoy, it was enough that they were in a language I can understand. Even more joy, when I came across a book cover with a face that resembles mine. Oh yes! roles are reversed here, I now fall into the minority group. Anyway, I didn’t know the writer and I hadn’t even looked at the blurb of the novel to find out what the story was about but I borrowed the book, simply based on the language and it’s cover. And yes, as a reader I do judge a book by its cover. Imagine the added rapture as I sat in the bus and now reading the blurb; the story is based in Southern Africa, a place I know very well.
As I continue to discover local and other Scandinavian writers, Mankell remains one of the writers I hugely admire for his poignant and well-crafted stories. He is no longer part of this world but the gift of his written word will continue to inspire me.
“You can have more than one home. You can carry your roots with you, and decide where they grow.”
~ Henning Mankell