Ian McGillis has a Montreal Gazette piece on translator Lazer Lederhendler, who specializes in Quebec’s young French-language writers. His life is a story in itself:
Born and raised in Montreal, Lederhendler is the second son of parents who came to Canada in 1949, having met in a displaced-persons camp after the war. His father was from Warsaw and spent the war years as a refugee in the Soviet Union; his mother was from Lithuania. […]
At home, Lederhendler’s parents were careful to see that the life of the mind was nurtured, as he recalled in a St-Henri café last week.
“My mother and father were working people,” he said. “They’d had very little formal education, but because of certain cultural particularities, books were important.
“We were part of a circle of maybe 1,000 who would meet almost every weekend — for recitals, concerts, choir singing — at the Workers’ Circle, located where La Sala Rossa is now.”
In those divided days, French and those who spoke it were barely in the picture for Lederhendler. (“It’s an Ashkenazi name. It means leather merchant. Nothing too glamorous.”) […]
At McGill, starting in 1967, Lederhendler got involved in the political scene — radical theatre, strike support work, Vietnam War protests. Compelled by both the document’s anti-capitalist perspective and the challenges of rendering the joual in English, he translated the FLQ manifesto (“It seemed the natural thing to do”), and mounted a “weird” version of Hamlet with French-speaking actors.
By the way, does anybody have the same problem with that last sentence as I do? I started off reading “Compelled by both the document’s anti-capitalist perspective…” and immediately thought “What document?” and went back looking for a referent before discovering it was later in the sentence. Bad writing, or lazy reading?
At any rate, he fell in love with a French-speaking woman and that pushed him farther into the language, as it will, and he got into literary translation, winning awards and getting more work as a result. I found this conundrum interesting:
Every year, when the Giller’s long and short lists are announced, an elephant reappears in the room: If translations are to be eligible alongside books written in English, why are nominations still so much the exception, and a win still seemingly an extreme long shot? Lederhendler has some thoughts on the question.
“For the media who cover books, there’s a difficulty there,” he said. “Who gets the credit? How do you talk about it? If the words that you’re reading are the words of the translator, who are you really giving the award to?
I can see that being a stumbling block, but it shouldn’t be. Just value the experience of reading the book, and don’t worry about whether it’s filtered through translation. (Thanks, Trevor!)