Jaeyeon Yoo at Words Without Borders:
JY: Right—I think we tend to assume that the best translation is the most understandable, but I found your postscript to delightfully complicate that assumption. You also wrote that there was a lot of English in the German original; I wondered if you had more to say about English loanwords, and translating that type of material into English.
AP: So, it’s not just the presence of English loanwords, but also how much of the original German novel is about who speaks in English and how that is a marker [of identity]. Nivedita grew up in Germany; her cousin Priti grew up in England. They meet because Priti comes to Germany to study the language for several summers in their youth. In the original, you see her command of German develop: she speaks a lot of English at first, and then, as the novel progresses, she’s speaking more and more German. Nivedita comments, “Wow, you know, Priti’s German was really getting good.” Basically, Priti is marked as the most “English” or British—the most not German character starting out. This couldn’t be replicated exactly in English, so I had to look for other little ways to solve it (like Priti mixing German into her speech in the English translation). That was one of the tricky things, and I never know how successfully I’ve solved a challenge. Beyond the character of Priti, I wanted to find ways to make it clear that Identitti originates in another language and then was brought into English. Some novels are inherently built that way because they’re constantly mentioning places or names. There are markers such that the reader never forgets that it’s happening where it’s happening. I didn’t want the North American reader to forget that the story they’re reading is taking place in Dusseldorf, Germany. But I also didn’t want to weigh the translation down with these unnecessary reminders. It was a fine line to walk.