On Translating Simone Buchholz’s Blue Night

Blue Night Proof cover.indd

There’s much excitement at the moment because my translation of Simone Buchholz‘s wonderful German noir Krimi Blue Night (Blaue Nacht) is coming out in paperback at the end of March, published by the equally wonderful Orenda Books. It’s already available as an e-book and there are plenty of reviews available via the blog tour, so if you want to know more about it, there are lots of things to look at (and isn’t that cover pretty?!).

I don’t seem to have written much about the actual business of translating, so perhaps this is a good place to start. Or maybe I should go back a bit further to the bit about finding a project, or a project finding me… Or back to the gender imbalance in translated literature noticed in earnest a few years ago, a realisation that led to Women in Translation Month, the Warwick Prize for Women in Translation and various other articles and initiatives. One such project was Lit Hub‘s Women to Translate series.

All these strands came together for this book after I had a meeting with Karen Sullivan of Orenda Books at the London Book Fair in 2016 and we began looking for a project to work on together. Among the books I read and reported on for Orenda was Blaue Nacht, and the German publisher, Suhrkamp, had flagged it up to them as having been included on Katy Derbyshire’s piece 10 German Books by Women We’d Love to See in English, which was exactly the desired effect.

So. Suffice to say that I was hooked. There’s a hard-boiled poetry to Simone’s writing, Riley is an engaging, sardonic, feminist heroine like a 21st-century, female, Hamburg-based Philip Marlowe, and there’s a gripping, fast-paced plot – what’s not to like?

Then, the wheels of international publishing ground on slowly, eventually resulting in a translation contract. Followed immediately by self-doubt. Could I do this? Could I really recreate Riley’s voice in English? One of the things I love so much about Simone’s text is the way every word is precisely placed, carefully chosen, doing its job. Could I really have the nerve to pull off the same trick in another language that works so differently? Would it risk tipping over into a Chandleresque pastiche?

Blue Night has been such fun to work on, and so full of challenges. There are the linguistic difficulties, the cultural differences, the need to convey the sense of Hamburg (a city I’ve never visited, but long to see) and occasional snippets of Austrian and Hamburg dialect. I’ve done my best by the voice and tried to convey the same effects, even if not always by the same means. I’m enormously grateful to friends and colleagues in real life conversation, professional forums and social media for their help, inspiration and flashes of genius, which have found their way into the text, and to everyone who’s read various drafts, especially my long-suffering husband! I’m thrilled that Karen took up my suggestion of including a map so that readers can see how the various streets, cafés and bars etc relate to each other. I’m also grateful to West Camel for his careful and sensitive edits.

Now, having laboured and agonised over every word, and read the whole thing aloud to check for the music of the text, it’s nearly time to release it into the wild and see if English readers share my enthusiasm.

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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.
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One Response to On Translating Simone Buchholz’s Blue Night

  1. Pingback: Interview with Simone Buchholz: Hamburg Noir and why everyone needs a ‘beer family’ | Mrs. Peabody Investigates

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