In conversation with... Leah Janeczko

Hi Leah! Thank you for joining me today. I have just finished reading Le assaggiatrici by Rosella Postorino and it makes me happy to see that this great novel is available to the English-speaking public thanks to your translation from the Italian.

Today I’d like to ask you a few questions both on this specific book and more generally on translation. So let’s begin…

How did you get started in literary translation?

A: When I first moved to Italy in the early ’90s I taught English to businesspeople. I soon ended up teaching at the Disney Italy offices and translating for them in my spare time. Within a few years I was a full-time translator for Disney and other Italian companies, working primarily on comics and YA fiction. Fast-forward to 2017, when I began translating book samples for Vicki Satlow, Rosella’s literary agent. It’s thanks to this that I had the opportunity to submit a sample translation of At the Wolf’s Table to Flatiron Books and be chosen for the project. 

Can you describe the process of translating At the Wolf’s Table

A: I used my customary approach. The first step is to read the book. Then I quickly lay out the base translation, typing directly over the original in the Word file and leaving in Italian things I need to research, puzzle through or adapt. (I go back and work on those when I need a break.) Once it’s all down in English I check my translation against the original line by line. Then, if I need to, I contact the author with questions. At that point I start reading my translation over (and over and over) all on its own. The next step is one of my favourites: reading the entire book out loud, which helps me catch awkward rhythm or structure, unintentional rhyme or consonance, and other issues that might make things difficult for the audiobook narrator. When I feel the translation is finished (Oh, am I tempted to put that word in quotes!) I set it aside for a week or two and then reread it once or twice with fresh eyes. 

Did you have any contact with the author? In general, how do you find that having access to the author impacts on the translating process?

A: Yes, I was fortunate to be directly in contact with Rosella. She’s not only an author but also an experienced editor, so her carefully-worded explanations were exactly what I needed. In general, I love being in touch with the author because my main purpose is to express their voice in English, and knowing them brings them more fully to life in my mind as I translate their work. 

Without giving too much away, can you please describe a scene that you loved translating or that was particularly difficult to render in English?

A: The opening scene was compelling to translate, with a hungry, terrified Rosa taking her first bites of Hitler’s delectable yet potentially lethal food. It starts out slow, stark and silent but speeds up, building to a crescendo. 

What do you think contributes to a good translation?

A: Passion, creativity and empathy. Knowing when to stick closer to the original and when to let English have more of a say, keeping both the author and the reader at heart as I try to connect them. And, absolutely, the invaluable contribution of the editors and copyeditors, who are there for me as a safety net and help me hone my skills for translations to come. With this novel I was doubly fortunate, with both Caroline Bleeke and Amy Einhorn actively involved in the editing process. 

What are you working on at the moment? 

A: I’m translating a novella by Roberto Piumini, an outstanding Italian children’s author, and writing a synopsis and chapter outline for a YA novel whose authors are looking for a publisher.

What are you reading at the moment?

A: A Christmas gift from a friend: the novel Il pattinatore by Marco Bacci. To be honest, unless I’m on vacation I don’t read many books in my spare time. With English novels, it’s because I don’t want the style of the book I’m reading to influence the style of the translation I’m working on. With Italian novels, I find myself translating the text in my mind as I read. (Not relaxing, to say the least.) 

Is there one genre that you prefer translating? Does this reflect your preference as a reader?

A: No, I’m open to translating a variety of genres for all ages. However, I particularly enjoy translating novels written in the first person, like At the Wolf’s Table, since they really let you delve into the main character’s mind. I also love a good puzzle, so translating puns and jokes and riddles and rhymes is always a treat. 

Many thanks for your time!

A: Thank you, Silvia!

Comments

  1. Great interview as always Silvia! Literary translation seems like a hard job. There are so many idioms, inside jokes or slang words that don't have another translation in another language. Even puns! I wouldn't know how to even translate those things haha.

    Elle Inked @ Keep on Reading

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