On Translating “Qayqa” and some other thoughts

23 Apr

Here’s what I do in the mornings: I go to the shop and buy vanilla soya milk. I make myself a cappuccino extraordinaire with lots of cinnamon, open Qayqa up and turn my mp3 player on to music that will help me dive into Qayqa’s strange world. Currently, it’s Four Tet.

And when I feel silly because I’m locked up in an apartment staring at my computer screen, well, I blog.

This week’s plan is to finish translating Qayqa into German. I have an endlessly brilliant best friend who has agreed to go over the entire manuscript and police any grammatical errors or weird sentence structures. This is followed by little arguments in which I whine: “But it sounds beautiful like that…” and she sensibly opposes: “It makes no sense like that. No one will understand it.” I then grumble darkly about the misunderstood revolution of changing nouns into verbs and verbs into noun, and how I knew all along that translating was a bad idea, while she patiently changes my strange sci-fi sentence into something grammatically coherent.

What an amazing woman. Qayqa is sounding beautiful in German thanks to her.

And let’s be honest: there are some sentences you really can’t string together in German – sentences that you perhaps can’t string together in English either, but thanks to rhyme and rhythm, it works. I love testing out weird combinations: using adjectives that would normally be foreign in describing certain situations. Like:

this bending howl, this sweltering desert

I think they’re funky, but in translating, they are a b****. I can either remodel the sentence completely because my Crazy Adjective Experiment isn’t going to work in a different language … OR kick the sentence out completely.

Either way, it’s based on freedom. It’s taken me a while to stop reigning total fascist control over my work and allow the Leftist Breeze of Change make some constructive, delightful suggestions. Thanks to that, we now have some interesting twists and bends in the German version of Qayqa, which don’t exist in the English version!

Sweet, sweet irony…

The next issue is the strangeness of GENDER. In English, it’s all pretty simple gender-free: “the”. In German everything has a gender, including “it” which is gender-free except when you’re talking about “it”, in which case “it” is hinted to being male.

All of a sudden I’m told Ochoa is a girl because “die Kartoffel (the potato) is female. If we stuck to Ochoa being male and wrote “he”, no one would know who the hell we’re suddenly talking about. 

Actually… I’ll bet no one thought until now that Ochoa was supposed to be male. We’re talking about a POTATO after all. All bets on “gender-free”?

Truth be told: I love translating Qayqa. It’s like writing her all over again. I love the air in her world, I love the strangeness of the desert and the beauty of the circus caravans. I want this world to go on and on! I’m glad I have Munay for when Qayqa is done, to continue dreaming and writing. The other day I had an idea for a third book… So I thought: perhaps this world needs a name?
Translating is also a great opportunity to edit the original English text and I’m enjoying that I can add sly little hints that will only make sense in Munay
I have a week to finish translating the remaining 30 pages into German, then I’ll hand the manuscript over to my amazing friend who will iron out the grammatical mistakes. After that, I’ll look over it and edit some more… Ah, the work never ends… But so far, I’m enjoying that because I feel very cosy in the crazy world.

He pulled his hair, he covered his eyes. In the dark of his eyes’ hollows, Damian saw a pattern unfolding in the distance. It was a brilliantly coloured curve, much like a mathematician’s sinus, and it unravelled like a snake. Seeing it move took Damian back to the caravans. For a moment, he forgot the heat and the screech of the wind, and all he saw was Anna Maria standing barefoot on a dark field under a black sky. Her arms were stretched out towards the sky and frozen in that position. Her head was bent back. She had just thrown the cloth up into the sky and was watching its descent. Damian remembered following her stare up into the sky and watching the brilliant red cloth falling in curves.

The sinus pattern against the black of his closed eyes was much like the cloth against the night sky. It spun and shone in brilliant colours, fading from reds into greens into browns into pinks. Damian watched it grow in the distance – or perhaps coming closer – and again he felt he was standing the presence of something far superior to him. Like a water snake, it glistened and moved. As it came closer, its voice rose. Its movement changed at every new note, with the ease of a sound wave. Damian was fascinated by it. He stared, frozen in the sweltering desert, watching the wind with his eyes closed.

This June I’m off to Perú to go into hiding and write. The plan is to continue work on Munay, who knows, perhaps even finish her. Since I returned to Germany, I honestly haven’t worked on her very much. I’ve dedicated my time to the other projects that need to be completed while I am here. It actually feels brilliant to know that Perú is reserved for working on Munay, while Germany is perfect for film projects, workshops and translations…. It’s bizarre to divide my work into geographical regions…
… Which made me ask myself:  Perhaps this is the future? The thought made me smile. I’ve lived in Ulm for over 15 years now, and it is a beautiful city with brilliant people, but I’ve also been restless and the thought of travelling to write entices me greatly. Maybe this is the start of something new?
It’s INCREDIBLE to know that people in Germany are interested in what I do, and that over the last few years a readership and an audience has established itself. I am so grateful for this and I promise I’ll always come back to present my work. Many writers go into hiding to concentrate on their writing, and I think I’m just about ready to do that. Well, as of June, I will. So perhaps this IS the start of something new. Either way, I’m taking you with me and I’m so happy about that.
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5 Responses to “On Translating “Qayqa” and some other thoughts”

  1. Andreas April 23, 2012 at 8:31 pm #

    i love this four get album 😉

    • rittisoncco April 23, 2012 at 8:33 pm #

      o god yes 🙂

      • rittisoncco April 23, 2012 at 8:40 pm #

        Four Tet has proven amazing for writing… but so has Explosions in the Sky! You’re the expert, have you got any more of this sort to recommend? I wrote some of “Qayqa” while listening to the Cirque du Soleil discography, it helped, but I’d be grateful for some suggestions. 🙂

  2. Najeeb April 23, 2012 at 10:55 pm #

    So I guess, this is where you comment. Its like conquering a new land.

    Exquisite and formidable choice in the music

    • rittisoncco April 23, 2012 at 11:22 pm #

      Thanks for the comment, crazy. You need comment-land to conquer on your blog too.

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