In Conversation: Abnousse Shalmani on the Politics of the Female Body

an interview by nina sparling for asymptote, december 2016

December 15, 2016  |  in InterviewsTranslations  |  by Nina Sparling

To cover the female body with a veil, a burqa, a hijab, a burkini, is to accept that said body is a site of desire and only that.

The first time I heard Abnousse Shalmani speak was her TEDxParis talk, which opened with: Oh, putain de bordel de merde [oh, motherfucking shit]. The auditorium echoed with scattered titters of discomfort and appreciation. “It’s ugly, all these curse words in a woman’s mouth, at least that is what parents tell their daughters,” Shalmani continued, “but I think the opposite: that all these swear words—words of the mouths of men—in the mouths of women, are indispensable.” In the remainder of the talk Shalmani exhibited through personal anecdotes and precise historical and literary analysis how sexism and misogyny, through the constraints on women’s bodies, permeate the Republic celebrated for equality and liberty.

To Shalmani, freedom begins with the liberation of the body and the assurance of one’s ability to fulfill corporal desire without limits or restriction. In her first book, Khomeini, Sade, et Moi [Khomeini, Sade, and Me, tr. Charlotte Coombe, World Editions]—which toes the line between memoir, manifesto, and novel—Shalmani expands and elaborates upon these foundations. In September 2016, I had the opportunity to interview the author about her book, feminism, and the conundrums facing contemporary France...

Read the full interview on Asymptote's website, here.

English PEN's World Bookshelf

downloadKhomeini, Sade and Me by Abnousse Shalmani received a PEN Translates Award in 2015, among a large number of other women writers, I was very pleased to note. #readwomen

This means that I have earned myself a place among other (intimidatingly better than me)  translators on the English PEN World Bookshelf.

For more on English PEN's wonderful Writers in Translation programme, which aims to "champion literature beyond national and linguistic borders and beyond conventional literary expectations", visit their website: http://worldbookshelf.englishpen.org/Writers-in-Translation-about

 

FireShot Capture 23 - English PEN_ Writers in Translation_ - http___worldbookshelf.englishpen.o

In the spotlight

Spotlight on Literary Translators is a regular feature here at Intralingo. The aim of these interviews is to get the word out about our profession and the works we bring into other languages. The insight the interviewees provide is also sure to help all of us who are aspiring or established literary translators. Enjoy!

Spotlight on Literary Translator Charlotte Coombe By Lisa Carter, Intralingo Inc.

Lisa Carter: What language(s) and genres do you translate?

Charlotte Coombe: I translate from French and Spanish into my mother tongue, English. I suppose I am open to any genre, and have translated a few works of fiction, children’s fiction and some poetry. I have a particular interest in literature by women writers, not least because I think they tend to be under-represented in translated fiction. #readwomen

LC: How did you get started as a literary translator?

CC: I have been freelancing since 2008 as a translator, reviser and proof-reader, translating in various fields, but increasingly with a focus on more creative fields, literature and the arts. I always knew I wanted to translate literature, from the moment I set out on my translation career. I was a member of the ETN and other networks from quite early on, as I started to try and understand the literary translation industry and how to find opportunities within it, while honing my translation skills by studying for the IoL Diploma in Translation (which I passed with a merit in Literature).

Escape from Veracruz Charlotte Coombe IntralingoA chance encounter with a publisher at the London Book Fair led to me translating my first couple of children’s books, and after that, while still doing commercial translation, I pursued my dream of becoming a literary translator through relentless networking, researching new books in my source languages and contacting agencies and publishers. Like so many translators, I started doing some reader’s reports for publishers, and then finally got the opportunity to translate my first full length fiction work throughPontas Agency, and then my second. Since then I have translated a few more fiction and non-fiction works, one for a self-published author, one non-fiction eBook and a co-translation for Cahiers du Cinema’s Anatomy of an Actorseries. I now have the confidence and the means to find books I am interested in, as well as a growing network of publishing contacts to pitch those potential books to. The whole way the industry works is something that took me a long time to get to grips with, as it is quite a daunting industry for beginners, what with so many talented and experienced literary translators around, as well as so many ‘ways in’ for translators. I now see that the translator plays many roles: they are not only responsible for translating, but also for discovering new books, making publishers aware of them, persuading them to commission translations, and promoting translated fiction and the visibility of the translator, among many other things. Translation opportunities do not tend to land in your lap – you have to put in the groundwork.

For emerging translators, (of which I still consider myself one), I cannot stress enough the importance of joining associations (ITI, IoL, Translators Association) and networks and attending events like LBF with its wonderful Literary Translation Centre. Without these, I would not be in the position I am in now. It is not just about ‘who you know’, although contacts do help. It is about putting yourself forward for opportunities, and proving you are the best person for the translation – even if they don’t know it yet! With my first book, for example, the agency told me they had already found a translator. Most people might have given up at that point, but as I liked the book so much, I let my enthusiasm get the better of me. I wrote back, persuading them to let me send them a sample anyway and then to see whose sample they liked best. In the end, the author much preferred mine and I got the contract. So it definitely pays to be a bit ‘go-getting’ in this business, especially when you feel strongly about a book. You can feel it, you know when you are going to be able to do a great translation – you definitely have to love the text you are working on, otherwise it tends to be struggle, and that will show in your translation.

LC: What do you love most and least about this work?

Intralingo Solomon Islands Witness Charlotte CoombeCC: What I love: Playing around with words. Creating. Searching for the perfect phrasing. The variety of subject matters that a novel can bring up (it is strange what you find yourself researching – a literary translator’s internet browsing history must make for very bizarre reading!). That moment when you find the author’s voice or when that devilishly difficult paragraph finally clicks into place. The joy of bringing a text to an English readership; knowing that people will get to read a story that they might otherwise never have had access to. I love being that invisible bridge between languages and cultures (although of course, I would like literary translators to become a bit more visible in the publishing process, and am keen to campaign for this). Seeing your words in print (the smell of a new book is always incredible, even more so when the words inside are yours). I love it when an author tells you how happy they are with the result, with seeing their novel ‘reborn’ in another language. When a translation flows out of you effortlessly, when you have found the voice, got inside the author’s head and manage to transfer their tone to your text in English, that is what I love most. I love the fact that literary translation is a learning curve; as the years go by, I will always be improving and developing my translation skills. It is an endlessly diverse profession, in that sense, in terms of the things you end up researching, taking you into worlds you might never have known about otherwise.

Of course, literary translation is endlessly challenging and frustrating. You could spend hours re-writing one line, or one paragraph. I find that I never feel completely satisfied with a translation, and this is evident especially when you go back to read something you translated a couple of years ago – I try to avoid reading old translations, as you always see things that you would do differently, with the benefit of hindsight. You have to keep in mind that there are countless different ways to translate most texts. Eventually, as a translator you have to make a choice, over one word, or one phrase and run with it. Or you will go mad. When you do find your way to a translation that clicks, and that you feel pleased with, that really is the best feeling in the world. Those days when nothing seems to click, those are the dark times.

Another thing that irks me about literary translation as a profession is the vast lack of acknowledgement of the work that translators do: crediting the translator, and making them visible. Often, translators are not named on the cover of a book and are not mentioned in promotional material. They should be named whenever the author is, in my opinion. It is something that all literary translators feel strongly about and many of us are working to improve, either directly through means such as the #namethetranslator Twitter campaign, or through general nudging, cajoling or telling off of publishers, writers, reviewers, online magazines and anyone who will listen, whenever we get the chance. Sometimes, readers are not even aware that they are reading translated fiction, and this needs to change. Publishers should be making sure that they credit translators properly and clearly for their work, increasing the visibility and importance of translators in the publishing industry.

LC: Can you tell us a little about a recent project?

Intralingo Khomeiny Sade et MoiCC: I am currently working on the English translation of Abnousse Shalmani’s fascinating first book, Khomeiny, Sade et Moi, for the publishing house World Editions (the English language imprint of De Geus) who publish world literature and non-fiction with an emphasis on translations from Dutch and international literature. The translation will be finished by the end of the year and published in 2016. Iranian-born French journalist Abnousse Shalmani bares all in her book, from rebelling against the regime by getting naked in the playground as a six-year old girl, to the challenges of learning how to live as an exiled Iranian with her family in her new homeland of France, via her discovery of nudity, her sexual awakening and the freedom that comes with reading the libertine literature of French 19th-century writers such as the Marquis de Sade… It is the story of one woman’s search for freedom from oppression in all facets of her life and it is recounted with fiery conviction and humour. Each chapter of the book takes the reader back and forth between her life in Paris and her childhood in 1980s Tehran, moving gradually through time, and unveiling her views on issues of feminism, (especially the oppression of women’s bodies, which is her main focus) freedom, politics, religion, ignorance, identity, exile and integration. I am incredibly honoured to be translating this book, by such an interesting and bold female writer – she is intelligent, unabashed and funny, to boot – although I feel that by the time I have finished translating this book, my bookshelves are going to be full of erotic 18th-century French libertine literature. People might start to wonder! The book has been granted a PEN Translates award 2015, along with a host of other international women writers, which is excellent news for the author, the publisher, et moi!

As I spend most of the year here in Marrakesh, I am also exploring new Moroccan literature in French, trying to uncover new gems and bring interesting new writing to a wider audience. I feel that now would be a good time to translate a Moroccan author, as I am immersed in the culture of the country.

Finally, on the subject being an Anglophone literary translator living abroad, I must briefly mention the Translators Association Diaspora, which I have been helping to set up this year with my colleague Jamie Searle Romanelli, who succinctly explains it at the end of her Spotlight piece here. Please get in touch on Facebook or Twitter if you are interested in joining!

Charlotte Coombe is a British literary translator, currently living in Marrakesh with her husband and a fluctuating numbers of cats. She translates literature, poetry and other creative texts from French and Spanish. Recent published titles include A Single Decision by Maria Paulina Camejo, and Johnny Depp: Anatomy of an Actor (Phaidon, 2015) for Cahiers du Cinema. She translated Edgardo Nuñez Caballero’s collection of poems Landscape with Beasts and also recently translated a short story by Rosa María Roffiel for upcoming online publication by Palabras Errantes. At the moment she is working on the translation of Abnousse Shalmani’s, Khomeiny, Sade et Moi, for the publishing house World Editions. In her spare time she is mainly exploring Moroccan-French literature in the hunt for her next book to translate, eating tagine and learning Darija. She likes the occasional tweet (@cmctranslations) and you can usually find her procrastinating on Facebook. For more info, visit www.cmctranslations.com
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The original feature can be found here:

Thinking ahead to 2015...

Next year might finally be the year I manage to attend a summer school in literary translation... London would be handy for me! Now to start saving the pennies... Save the Date_FINAL_YD337_Translate_the_City_2015

‘LANDSCAPE WITH BEASTS / PAISAJE CON FIERAS’ BY EDGARDO NÚÑEZ CABALLERO AND CHARLOTTE COOMBE

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This year I have started trying my hand at poetry translation. It is so hard, but I love doing it. I love the challenge of translating complicated, sometimes ephemeral imagery and implied meaning into another language.

 

Here is my first ever online publication of my work. I translated a little collection of poems by the poet Edgardo Nunez Caballero. I found them really beautiful and a challenge to translate, but he seemed pleased with the result... and if the poet is happy, then I am.

You can have a look at them on Palabras Errantes, a collaborative online project that publishes contemporary Latin American literature in translation.

http://www.palabraserrantes.com/landscape-with-beasts-paisaje-con-fieras-by-edgardo-nunez-caballero-and-charlotte-coombe/

Let me know what you think!

The Lonesome Translator

Just two weeks ago, I was sitting in a beautiful town called Asilah in northern Morocco, reading Jack Kerouac's Lonesome Traveler as I sipped my morning half-half coffee and waiting for my boyfriend to return from the bakery (having sent him to fetch breakfast pastry goods, of course). We had travelled from Marrakesh up the coast, via some very remote and breath-takingly beautiful beaches, hills, rural villages and through some of Morocco's big cities. Warmed by the African sun, and about to set off on the next leg of of our journey north to the 'blue city' of Chefchaouen by hitch-hiking, I was far from the realities of my everyday life, without a care in the world. Yet here I was watching the people go about their daily lives with their cares in their worlds, their problems, their very real realities. I felt a sense of detachment, yet at the same time involvement in the big wheel of life that goes on turning no matter what you are doing, who you are, or where you are. The world is such an enormous place. If you start thinking about it, it really blows your mind. But life is what you make it. I was far from being a lonesome traveler, experiencing hardship and the wilderness like Kerouac did. But the people I had talked to on our travels so far, my boyfriend included, had traveled extensively throughout Morocco, the endless white beaches and deserts of the south, the hills and mountains and forests of the north, camping, taking only what they needed, living wild for weeks... And they all seemed to have gained an insight into life that I had yet to discover. But which I hope to. I was in a contemplative mood that day (partly brought on by the choice of reading material). I felt philosophical, and I in fact I still haven't managed to shake that feeling off. I spent a lot of time navel-gazing and star-gazing during my two weeks in that amazing country (I think this is an important element of travelling) and as I drank my coffee, I was thinking about the true meaning of happiness and how it differs from one incredibly different person to the next. The levels of importance attached to certain aspects of life. And essentially what is important in the end. Too many of us can get lost in the little things and let these rule our lives.... Society, routine, responsibility and all those things are, after all, a human construct. And while they are important to the smooth running of the world, it is nice to step outside of the construct for a while. To let go. I was struck by one of Kerouac's sentences in particular, which in fact sparked this little piece I am writing now: life is a great strange dream...

"Happiness consists in realizing it is all a great strange dream."

Having returned to London, Morocco seems like a dream. (It may become more of a reality when I make the move to Marrakesh later in the year but that is another story, or should I say, the next part of my story). I have been thrown back into my own (self-constructed) daily routine of responsibilities. Of translation, proofreading, emails, invoicing, worrying about my bank balance. And constantly staring out of the window longing for the sun to put its hat on, or even to just think about maybe putting its hat on, or even to just touch the brim of its hat and think wistfully, ‘well maybe I could put it on, maybe just for an hour’. In these endlessly grey English days (Bill Bryson once described living in England like "living inside Tupperware" ), it is easy to get caught up in the stresses of daily life. Especially when you are living the lonesome life of a freelance translator. So it is important to make your daily life a life you enjoy, in any little ways you can: take a break, get away, travel and see the world when you can, or failing that, just pick up a book and dive into someone else’s world.

“Thinking of the stars night after night I begin to realize 'The stars are words' and all the innumerable worlds in the Milky Way are words, and so is this world too. And I realize that no matter where I am, whether in a little room full of thought, or in this endless universe of stars and mountains, it’s all in my mind.”

kerouac-lonesome

Who am I?

So, here's my first ever blog post, by way of an introduction (this text will actually appear on my 'about' page, but I have to start somewhere with my blog posts!)

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Hello! I am a freelance translator currently living in Marrakech with my Moroccan husband.
Since I set out to become a professional translator in 2008 armed with a modern languages degree, a love of translation and some extremely valuable experience working in translation companies, I have gradually established myself as CMC Translations by building client relationships and earning a solid reputation as a competent and creative translator working from French and Spanish into English.

Although I professionally translate, revise, edit and proofread various types of texts on a daily basis, including everything from fashion catalogues to marketing brochures, advertising headlines to children’s literature, travel articles to hotel websites, and cookery books to festival guides, I am now also trying to find more time to focus on my passion which is literature. Whether I’m reading, writing or translating – words are a very important part of my life and I want to work at becoming a skilled literary translator.

I am finding my way slowly but surely. Having studied for the IoL Diploma in Translation (Spanish to English) which I have now achieved, with a Merit in Literature, I am attempting to find my way into the world of literary translation through networking with other emerging translators, seeking advice from already established translators, practicing my translation skills and reading literature from around the world in English, French and Spanish.

It is a long road to becoming a good literary translator, but it is definitely a path I want to travel. Along the way, I thought I’d write this blog, not only as a means of ensuring that I write regularly (she says, optimistically) – because a good translator, is after all, a good writer – and a means of hopefully helping other translators out there who are either at the same stage, or further behind me on the journey. My posts will be a mixture of musings, interesting quotes, ramblings, observations about language, the challenges of translation, books, travel and the world.

Creative translators also have a role in promoting the art of literary translation, which as arts go, tends to be a rather misunderstood and under-appreciated one. I have been inspired by the growing number of emerging literary translators out there who are writing excellent blogs on this topic as well as organising events and networks for people like me. This is my small contribution to helping promote an understanding of the hard work, skill and effort that goes into breaking down language barriers and making great literature available to readers around the world, as I learn for myself just how hard it is...

Please feel free to comment - this site is intended to be a way of interacting with other linguists, translators, book lovers or wordsmiths out there :)