On the meaning of translation

28 February 2013 | This 'n' that

KirjojaTranslations of Finnish literature into English are booming, according to a new website set up by the Finnish-English Literature Translation Co-operative, or FELT.

Or at least there is a tiny boom, as translator Lola Rogers puts it in her contribution to ‘Reflections’ on the FELT website.

Whereas less than 20 translations were published between 1992 and 2002, the number of translations published in the decade from 2002 was more than 34.The reason, according to FELT, is the new availability of qualified literary translators, whom the new website has been created to represent; each of them (David Hackston, Emily Jeremiah, Kristian London, Lola Rogers, Owen Witesman) now have two or more published Finnish works of fiction under their belts.

A significant factor has been the training events organised by FILI, Finnish Literature Exchange, publisher of this magazine – and, we might dare to say, Books from Finland itself, which offers translators a forum (as well as payment) for translations of extracts from interesting or significant new work.

The FELT website is worth a visit by anyone with an interest in Finnish literature – or translation. As well as details of published and forthcoming work, there is a collection of essays on the art of translating particular works, from Kristina Carlson (also ex-Editor-in-Chief of Books from Finland) to the novelist Asko Sahlberg and the modernist poet Eeva-Liisa Manner.

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  1. Lola Rogers

    You might dare say indeed. My first jobs translating fiction were for Books from Finland, and they were pieces by truly great authors. Thanks.

  2. David McDuff

    Do we need a FELT? Aren’t Books from Finland/FILI enough? I appreciate the effort that has gone into creating the new website, but have to say that I feel more at home here.

  3. Lola Rogers

    The FELT website won’t be focused on highlighting unpublished works like Books from Finland – or your website Nordic Voices – does, David, but as a place for translators to talk about and post about their published and upcoming work.

  4. David McDuff

    Thanks for clarifying the role of the new website, Lola. Though I wonder whether Books from Finland really puts a special focus on unpublished works? After all, the work that appears here is de facto published by appearing in the magazine!

    Blogs are different, I suppose, and many translators have blogs and websites of their own. One of mine highlighted – or “rescued”(!) – published translations of Nordic poetry that now happen to be out of print. Another has dealt with a fairly wide range of published and unpublished material by different authors and translators.

    It’s good that there can be places for translators to discuss their work with one another, but isn’t there a danger of overkill? For example, FILI’s website already has the Kääntöpiiri/Nätgemenskap, which is an open forum for translators of Finnish and Finland-Swedish literature. And I also think that the rather sparsely-used comments boxes of the Books from Finland site have the potential to become an excellent venue for a more public and general, less technical, discussion of Finland’s literature. In my experience sites where general readers can meet with translators and talk about their work are much more worthwhile than “translators-only” sites.

    One further point: I couldn’t help noticing that FELT includes Finland-Swedish literature in its remit – on the site there’s an article about the fiction of Tove Jansson, for example. Is that a signal for the future, and does FELT plan to cover the translation of both Finnish and Finland-Swedish literature?

    This is turning into rather a long post. I guess I’m in search of information – would be interested to read your views and those of others on these issues.

  5. Lola Rogers

    You’re right that Kääntöpiiri is really the best possible place for translators to discuss their work with other translators. Their book-specific discussion groups in particular are a fantastic resource. And Books from Finland is the best possible place for a discussion of Finnish literature for the general reader. The FELT website, on the other hand, is meant to unabashedly promote our own work to general readers, publishers, and agents. At this point the group is confined to translators who work from Finnish, as there are so few in the world that they can sometimes be hard to find.

  6. Lola Rogers

    FELT also has Facebook and twitter accounts, where we would love to have comments and discussion of Finnish literature and translation.

  7. David McDuff

    The Facebook facility is certainly a useful one, and I look forward to seeing it develop. May I ask how many members FELT has at present? I see that five translators are listed on the website, but have more joined you since the organization’s launch?

  8. David McDuff

    This discussion seems to have ground to a halt. Anyway, I’ll look out for further developments at FELT, and hope that other Finnish-English translators will decide to join it in due course, as it appears to be a worthy enterprise. All the best.

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