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Chris Russell for Culture Trip

Introducing Culture Trip's 20 Translators Under 40

Picture of Michael Barron
Michael Barron
Books and Digest Editor
Updated: 13 March 2017
It takes a great translator to bring another language’s great writer into English, an understanding of the expression of language that goes beyond mere reproduction of meaning. Here are 20 translators from an emerging generation helping to keep the art form alive and thriving.

It’s easy to take literary translation for granted. Translators are often relegated to title page credits or rendered in the smallest font on book jackets; its community is niche and largely unknown to greater literary milieux. Bores take a malign pleasure in citing that statistic, the one that says only 3% of literary works available to English readers are works in translation. And it’s no wonder: advocates of international literature are made to jump over extra hurdles just to find publishers willing to promote writers with strange, sometimes unpronounceable names, and concerns seemingly alien to those at home.

Yet the art of translation is undergoing a renaissance. Just as the reality that international text don’t just magically appear in English is beginning to sink in, so is our appreciation (and dare I say hunger) for works written outside of the English language deepening. Publishers of international literature have multiplied in the past decade, and the regions and languages that make up this strata have expanded, due largely to a wealth of prizes and increased funding available for translations and translators. This community is also growing more expansive and youthful, with specialized practitioners emerging from various translation programs popping up at universities across the country.

In an effort to highlight this new generation, we have assembled an alphabetical list of 20 notable translators under the age of 40. This was by no means an easy process—the reach of Spanish and French extends far beyond that of Hindi or Farsi, and there are far more younger translators working in European languages than in others. This list, then, is not a list of the best translators under 40, but a nod to a new generation that is helping the art of translation prosper, and an acknowledgement that more languages exist in literary translation than ever before.

An interview with each translator can be found linked at the bottom of every profile. All illustrations are courtesy of Chris Russell.

KAREEM JAMES ABU-ZEID


Translates:
Arabic
Specializes in:
Contemporary Arabic fiction and poetry; classical Arabic poetry
Recent translations:
Confessions by Rabee Jaber (Lebanon)
Nothing More to Lose: Selected Poems by Najwan Darwish (Palestine)
What approach or procedure do you take when translating?
For me, the translator should never, under any circumstances, betray the poetic quality of the text – the poetic quality is the core of a poem. This is the primary criterion. Once this is met, then the secondary criterion comes in: Keep the translation as close as humanly possible to the source text, but without ever betraying the first criterion.

Read our interview with Kareem

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KURT BEALS

Translates: German
Specializes in: Modern and Contemporary German, Austrian, and Swiss literature
Recent translations:
Is that Kafka? 99 Finds by Reiner Stach (Germany)
The Country Road by Regina Ullmann (Switzerland)

What are you currently translating
The most recent translation I did was a non-fiction text by Nora Bossong about her visit to New York, where she interviewed refugees and asylum seekers. I previously translated an excerpt from her novel Gesellschaft mit beschränkter Haftung (Limited Liability Company), and Refugees International asked me to translate her new text right after the presidential election.

Read our interview with Kurt

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ZEYNEP BELER

Translates: Turkish
Specializes in: Fiction and political non-fiction
Recent translations: 
Turkey: The Insane and the Melancholy by Ece Temelkuran
More: A Novel by Hakan Günday
What are some of the more interesting literary developments happening in Turkey?
The literary sector in Turkey is still growing. It’s exciting that the work of translators is becoming recognized, with a new prize having recently been awarded for the second time last year. Less exciting are the arrests of writers and the closing of publishing houses and printed publications.

Read our interview with Zeynep

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HEATHER CLEARY

Translates: Spanish
Specializes in: Contemporary Argentine and Mexican literature
Recent translations: 
Poems to Read on a Streetcar by Oliverio Girondo (Argentine)
The Dark by Sergio Chejfec (Argentine)
What is a recent translation challenge you faced?
Trying to make crazy gangster monikers sound menacing in English.

Read our interview with Heather

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MARYAM MONALISA GHARAVI

Translates: Portuguese and Persian (literature and visual art)
Recent translations: Algaravias by Waly Salomão (Ugly Duckling Presse)
Who are some untranslated Portuguese or Persian writers that you would like to see in English?
In terms of Portuguese, I wish more people knew the works of Ana Cristina César, who was both a poet and translator. She is often compared to Sylvia Plath—and her suicide in 1983 may have entrenched this connection. Her Inéditos e Dispersos is something I carried around with me a lot in Rio. In Persian, I feel perhaps the strongest connection to Mehdi Akhavan-Sales, in terms of the impact of both his prolific writing and political commitments. He was incarcerated after the U.S. helped assassinate Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadegh.

Read our interview with Maryam

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YARDENNE GREENSPAN

Translates: contemporary Israeli fiction, poetry, and plays
Recent Translations: The Secret Book of Kings by Yochi Brandes; Last Bullet Calls It by Amir Gutfreund
What is a recent translation challenge you faced?
I recently translated a book called The Third by Yishai Sarid. It’s a totally original allegory, taking place in Jerusalem in the near-future, after all coastal cities have been evaporated and the Kingdom of Judah has been restored to its biblical glory. It was challenging and exciting to combine the biblical atmosphere of the book and the many biblical passages included within it, with a contemporary setting and modern dialogue. Which biblical translations to use? When to make the transition seamless and when to enhance it, creating an intentional disparity? The process was subtle and exciting.

Read our interview with Yardenne

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MEGAN MCDOWELL

SPLASH Translatorsu6654 FINAL 3 copy_0019_Background copyTranslates: Contemporary Spanish-language literature
Recent translations: Multiple Choice by Alejandro Zambra; Fever Dream by Samanta Schweblin
What kinds of works or regions do you gravitate toward?
I tend to look for contemporary writers, often (but not always) from Latin America (mostly Chile and Argentina). I learned Spanish in Chile and I live here, so I translate a lot of Chilean books, but I also like to challenge myself by looking further afield. Maybe it’s obvious, but I look for books that will be fun to read over and over again, because that’s what translation entails; if they don’t hold up under that kind of scrutiny, the translation can get onerous.

Read our interview with Megan

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CANAAN MORSE

Translates: contemporary Chinese fiction and poetry
Recent Translations: The Invisibility Cloak by Ge Fei
Who or what are some untranslated writers or works that you would like to see in English? Why?
Younger writers who have decided to eschew the traditional career path of membership in China’s Writers’ Association excite me the most; the work of maverick writers and editors like Chen Wei promises to turn up newer and more exciting ideas than can be found in mainstream print magazines.

Read our interview with Canaan

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ANDRÉ NAFFIS-SAHELY

Translates: French and Italian
Recent translations: The Confines of the Shadow by Alessandro Spina; Beyond the Barbed Wire: Selected Poems by Abdellatif Laâbi
What are you currently translating?
I am working on a graphic novel entitled Une éternité à Tanger (An Eternity in Tangiers), which was jointly produced by the Ivorian author Titi Faustin and Cameroonian illustrator Nyoum Ngangué. An Eternity in Tangiers tells the story of a teenager named Gawa on his journey to emigrate from his hometown, the fictional African capital of Gnasville, to Tangiers, a waypoint on his journey to Europe, where he hopes to escape the economic, political, and social suffering that plagues his home country.

Read our interview with André

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KATRINE ØGAARD JENSEN

Translates: Danish
Recent translations: Third-Millennium Heart by Ursula Andkjær Olsen
What approach or procedures do you take when translating?
There is a polemic quote by Yevgeny Yevtushenko that goes: “Translation is like a woman. If it is beautiful, it is not faithful. If it is faithful, it is most certainly not beautiful.” I don’t know about the woman part, but I do think there’s some truth to that statement when it comes to literary translation—especially in poetry, which is what I mainly translate.

Read our interview with Katrine

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MUI POOPOKSAKUL

Translates from: Thai
Recent translations: The Sad Part Was by Prabda Yoon
What is a recent translation challenge you faced?
Because I translate from Thai, a constant one for me is how to deal with pronouns and honorifics, which are highly specific and nuanced in Thai – they go much, much beyond the French tu/vous or the German du/sie. Different texts require different solutions. I’m getting more used to thinking about the issue, but I never want to treat it lightly, because these markers can be so identity-shaping.

Read our interview with Mui

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ANNE POSTEN

Translates: German
Recent translations: Walks with Walser by Carl Seelig (Switzerland); This Place Holds No Fear by Monika Held
What is a recent translation challenge you faced?
My last major translation, Carl Seelig’s Walks with Walser, brought several interesting challenges. The book is a series of conversations between the Swiss modernist Robert Walser and his friend and guardian Carl Seelig during the last years of the former’s life. The biggest challenge was that Seelig himself was not always as poetic or fluid a writer as he fancied himself to be. It was important of course to distinguish Seelig’s own voice from Walser’s (itself filtered through Seelig’s reporting), but there were also many choices to be made about Seelig’s more self-aggrandizing passages and occasional infelicities. I didn’t want to make him a better writer than he really was, of course, but neither did it seem right to preserve phrasings that were unnecessarily confusing or clunky.

Read our interview with Anne

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EMMA RAMADAN

Translates: French
Specializes in: French and North African literature
Recent translations: The Shutters by Ahmed Bouanani (Morocco), Sphinx by Anne Garréta (France)
Who or what are some untranslated writers or works that you would like to see in English? Why? More poetry! More women! More poetry by women! More queer writing (in all senses of the word)! And more women writers from the Middle East—Marcia Lynx Qualey has written up lists of Arab women writers she would like to see translated on her blog, Arabic Literature (in English). I hope soon there will be enough work published from the Middle East and Africa that we can finally stop publishing all books from those regions that only serve to proliferate stereotypes. Tilted Axis Press is helping on this front.

Read our interview with Emma

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JULIA SANCHES

Translates: Portuguese, Spanish, Catalan and French.
Recent translations: What are the Blind Men Dreaming? by Naomi Jaffe (Brazil); Now and at the Hour of Our Death by Susana Moreira Marques (Portugal)
What approach or procedures do you take when translating?
There’s of course been a lot of debate about whether translations should or should not be domesticated; I fall more on the side of yes, but only to an extent. I’d say most of us fall rights in the middle. In essence, I want the writing to read fluidly, and beautifully, if that’s what it calls for, but I don’t want the reader to forget that this is a text that was originally written in another language by a person from another country and likely also living in another country, no matter where the text is actually about.

Read our interview with Julia

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BELA SHAYEVICH

Translates: Russian
Specializes in: Contemporary Russian-language literature and poetry
Recent translations:
Second-Hand Time by Svetlana Alexievich 
Who or what are some untranslated Russian writers or works that you would like to see in English?

More women. Weird women. Queer women. Non-slavic women. Young women. Old women. Forgotten women.

Read our interview with Bela

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DEBORAH SMITH

Translates: Korean
Regions in focus: South and North Korea
Recent translations: Human Acts by Han Kang (South Korea); The Accusation by Bandi (North Korea)
What’s a project you’re excited about working on?
Last year I founded Tilted Axis to publish cult, contemporary writing from Asia. We have some exciting stuff coming out, including works by writers from Thailand, Uzbekistan, India, and South Korea.

Read our interview with Deborah

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LYTTON SMITH

Translates: Icelandic
Recent translations: The Pirate by Jon Gnarr; Children in Reindeer Woods by Kristín Ómarsdóttir
What are you currently translating?
I’ve just submitted the Icelandic modernist classic, Tómas Jónsson–Bestseller to Open Letter; published in 1967, it’s sometimes dubbed the Icelandic Ulysses, and marked a sea-change in the Icelandic novel, away from romantic notions of the rural, national self and towards a grittier realism. It’s very meta-textual, very stream of consciousness, and very timely.

Read our interview with Lytton

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JAN STEYN

Translates: Afrikaans, Dutch, and French
Recent translations: Suicide by Edouard Levé; Orphans by Hadrien Laroche
Who or what are some untranslated writers or works that you would like to see in English? Why? Willem Anker is the best untranslated writer—and one of the best writers full stop—that I’ve read in Afrikaans. Reading him, I feel that it is absolutely imperative that someone makes his frontier novel, Buys, available to readers of Cormac McCarthy.
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ASA YONEDA

Translates: contemporary Japanese fiction and films
Recent Work: Moshi-Moshi by Banana Yoshimoto
What kinds of works or regions do you gravitate toward?
I’ve been using and translating between my languages since childhood, so I’m drawn to work that gives me opportunities to explore/transform my relationships with the communities and cultures I participate in. Often, this means pieces that are very much in and of the language they’re written in, like Aoko Matsuda’s irrepressible, fannish critiques of the quirks and contradictions of contemporary culture.

Read our interview with Asa

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JEFFREY ZUCKERMAN

Translates: contemporary French and Francophone African literature
Recent Translations: Eve Out of Her Ruins by Ananda Devi (Mauritius); Radiant Terminus by Antoine Volodine (France)
What approach or procedures do you take when translating?
That of unhealthy monomania: when I’m deep in a book, I forget everything else—sometimes even to drink water and eat food. This is not always advisable, especially for extended periods.