Aglika Markova on the Art of Translation

When did you start translating?
When I was at the University. My fingers were itching at the thought that I could read things no one else in my circle of friends had access to. Mind you, that was in the 1960s, English was just the third preferred language after German and French. In addition, English-language books were not that easy to find. I wanted my friends to read what I read and admired, and I felt capable of recreating it in Bulgarian.

What was the first literary work you translated?
The first ever short story I translated and saw published was one by a very popular US writer. Much to my shame, I cannot remember his name - or the title for that matter. It was the poetic love story of two young Americans, and it was published in the “Narodna mladezh” daily. For those who are in their twenties and thirties now, this was one of the ideological mainstays of my time, the newspaper of the Communist youth organization. Yet the editors welcomed the story. Which comes to prove that, despite official censorship, good taste predominated in Bulgarian intellectual circles and ideology did not succeed in destroying it.

What are the most common difficulties in your work as a translator?
It used to be to convince the official censorship that the book, albeit written by an English or an American, truly reflected the life of the average person in the West, thereby automatically criticizing capitalist society and its regressive ideas. Now the difficulties are much more genuine. I think the most difficult task for a translator is to find a writer, with whom he/she “speaks the same language”, i.e. shares the same values. Once you have found your writer, your task becomes easier. You “only” have to rewrite the book in your native tongue.

Could you tell us something about the influence an author, an editor or a publisher can exert over your translation?
A good writer could literally take you by the hand and lead you through his/her text to help you to make a most successful and adequate translation, presenting the reader with a Bulgarian original of the book. I have just come back from the first PETRA - The European platform for literary translation - congress where it was officially declared that “The Translator creates an original work” in the sense of the Berne Convention of 1886). In another interview I mentioned J. Coetzee, whose “Disgrace” I translated into Bulgarian. He is not the only writer who leads and guides his translator but he is a case in point. The editor, if experienced and delicate, could transform your work into a gem.

What makes a good translation?
Delicate, learned, tactful, inspired co-authorship.

What were your greatest challenges with the translation (s) which won the award?
Translating the lingo. Four-letter words and all related modern expressions of emotion, especially in US English, are very difficult to translate since in Bulgarian they have not yet been deprived of their semantics and can be taken too literally. I so wanted to keep to the safe dividing line between modern coarse yet colourful, vivid and expressive slang and a de facto pornography.

Do you consider yourself as a co-author?
I hope my translation is as close to the original novel as was creatively possible. I take greatest pride in what all my close friends telephoned to tell me: “We believe, they said, that you have actually written the book, under an assumed name”.

Does translating inspire you to write yourself?
I must confess I have written short stories and essays, published in the periodicals. Luckily, I have always known that one needs more than writing skills to be a real writer so the reading public was spared.