Sunday, September 19, 2021

My heroes / George Szirtes and my other translators by László Krasznahorkai


George Szirtes, Hungarian poet and translator. Photograph: Graham Turner

My heroes: 

George Szirtes and my other translators by Lászlo Krasnahorkai

This year’s Man Booker International prize winner on waiting eight years for his first novel to be translated – ‘my publishers were in deep despair’

23 May 2015


have had six translators into English but the first was George Szirtes, who was born Hungarian but moved to England as a child and relearned the language as an adult. I knew his poetry and felt I understood his sensibility. When my publisher asked who would be a good translator, I suggested him. George said: “OK, but I’m not a translator, I’m a poet.” My publisher replied: “Krasznahorkai wants you, so we’re prepared to be patient.” He began with my second novel The Melancholy of Resistance and it took years. Afterwards, for Satantango – which was my first novel – there was no question as to who would be asked to do it. It took eight years and my publishers were in deep despair. For years nothing happened and then suddenly it was ready, and it turned out we were absolutely right to wait. After that, George said he wanted to go back to being a poet but he suggested a new translator, Ottilie Mulzet. It was a big risk because Seiobo There Below has unusually long sentences and the task was to somehow find a new Krasznahorkai English. As George is a poet he had always wanted to catch the essence, a mood; Ottilie wanted to make a more exact translation. In each language the relationship is different. My French translator found 100 mistakes, because the French language can’t play with shades of meaning in the way that Hungarian does. My Spanish translator let the whole text flow through his heart and found a very fine, very fragile language. In Ecuador, a circle of friends made a private translation of my book Animalinside, a collaboration with the artist Max Neumann. In China once, I was speaking at a university about my books and said that, unfortunately, you couldn’t read them there, and someone in the audience put their hand up and said that there was a translation of Satantango on the net that had been done chapter by chapter by people who loved it. Of course, I was delighted.

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