K is for Kaaberbøl

Lene Kaaberbøl to be precise, who is interesting because she translates her own books into English from her native Danish. I don’t know of any other instances in children’s literature, although I’m sure someone will be able to correct me on that. Self-translation undoubtedly has many advantages – the author/translator knows their own text better than anybody and never has to wonder exactly what some phrase or other means. It also requires a bilingual fluency of a sufficiently high level to be able to write as well in another language as you can in your own – a skill of which I am frankly in awe!

To get a taste of her writing for this A-Z project, I read Kaaberbøl’s Silverhorse. The publishers, MacMillan Children’s Books, have let this and the sequel Midnight go out of print, which is a shame because it’s an excellent book. It is set in a post-apocalyptic world where nobody is allowed to own the land, but it is passed down from mother to daughter. Women are the rulers with a duty to care for the land, and men lead an itinerant life. The main character is 12-year-old Kat, daughter of Tess, the maestra of Crowfoot Inn. Kat has a fiery temper and fights constantly with her stepfather. In the end, Tess has no choice but to send Kat away, despite it being very unusual for a girl to travel in this society. After a disastrous apprenticeship to a dyer, she ends up at the academy for Bredinari, who ride the strange and dangerous hellhorses – wild nightmares crossed with sturdy mountain horses – and serve justice and law in the land of Breda. Here, Kat has to learn to control her temper so she can master the weapons and horses she will need to handle. Events come to a head when she gets caught up in power politics beyond her control or understanding, and finds herself fighting for survival.

The plot rattles along at a good pace and Kat is an engaging and sympathetic, if flawed, character. Her struggles with both authority figures and bullies her own age are all too recognisable and the book also tackles the reverse-sexism of her world, snobbery, loyalty, betrayal and true friendship.

I found that as I was reading, I was constantly trying to second-guess Kaaberbøl – had she used this word or that (injust, for example) deliberately for archaic effect or by mistake? – a trap that is all the easier to fall into when the author/translator is known to be writing in a language not her mother tongue. I also found myself irritated by the interjection ‘Sweet Our Lady!’ – coming from a Christian tradition, I would have found ‘Our sweet Lady’ or even ‘Sweet Lady!’ more natural, but then perhaps she was deliberately trying to distance herself from ‘Our Lady’ as the Virgin Mary… That said, the writing is truly fantastic, in every sense of the word.

Highly recommended!

About forwardtranslations

I'm a freelance literary translator from German and French to English. The title of my blog comes from Mary Schmich's description of reading: it struck home with me, and seems especially apt for translated fiction. Here are some of my musings on what I'm reading, re-reading, reading to my children, and translating.
This entry was posted in A-Z of Children's Fiction in Translation, Books, Children's Books, Translation and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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