Ollie Brock in Granta:
Bilal Tanweer is our latest New Voice, with his story ‘After That, We Are Ignorant’, published yesterday. Here, Bilal tells Ollie Brock about about his book of connected stories, of which ‘After That, We Are Ignorant’ is one, and the importance of voice in his fiction.
OB: You’re both a writer and a translator. Which came first? Do they exercise completely different parts of your brain, or is it similar work?
BT: Fiction writing came first, although it came very late – during the sophomore year of my undergraduate studies. I started translating even later, when I wanted to win a translation competition during my MFA at Columbia. Much to my surprise, I enjoyed it immensely and have been translating ever since. It also anchors me, keeps me thinking about words, writing and language.
For me, translating is very much like writing itself; and like every other translator, I also feel that literary translation is underrated and underappreciated (and underpaid) for the amount of imaginative and technical labour it requires. One has to make a lot of choices that are similar to writing fiction, and many that are specific to translation itself. On the whole, it could be as imaginative an enterprise as any other creative endeavour. William Weaver once used the metaphor of a performance for translation: you must act out the text in a different language. Ultimately, I feel every good translator is a writer first. Yes, translating can be tedious and oppressive if you don’t find some kind of personal affinity with the work you’re translating, or if you don’t believe in it. If you love the work, it’s like travelling to a new country with the person you love.