Saturday, March 24, 2018
Q&A with Rachel Hildebrandt
Rachel Hildebrandt is the translator of the novel The Happiness Bureau by Andreas Izquierdo. She has translated many works of fiction and nonfiction, and she is the founder of Weyward Sisters Publishing.
Q: How did you come to translate The Happiness Bureau?
A: I am firmly convinced that this book found me at a time that I really needed it.
Two years ago, I was early in my days as a literary translator. I knew very little about the publishing industry, but I stumbled across the New Books in German website, where I learned that books chosen for review on that platform were guaranteed a translation grant from the Goethe Institut.
I began to skim the reviews, thinking that I might have better luck convincing a publisher to publish a translation if a grant were attached to it, and after reading about a dozen reviews, I found the one for The Happiness Bureau.
This book stood out to me because, unlike many of the other books, it was clear that there was something less heavy and more hope-filled about it. It wasn’t as darkly serious many of the other reviewed books were.
I contacted duMont Verlag, the German publisher, which sent me a copy of the book, and I fell in love with it by page 20. I spent over 18 months working on the text - which I translated in full before I even had a U.S. publisher lined up for it - and submitting it to various publishers in the U.S., before Gene Hayworth at Owl Canyon fell equally in love with it.
I believe this book was just as fortuitous a blessing to me as a reader and translator, as Anna’s request is to Albert in the book itself.
Q: When you’re translating, how do you convey not only the words the author is using but also the flavor of the author’s writing style?
A: Andreas Izquierdo writes some of the most sparkling and intoxicating fiction that I have ever read. I have never encountered an author who had the ability to make me both laugh out loud and cry within the span of a single page. As I told him once, I can’t read his books in public for this very reason.
As a translator, this beautiful and dextrous use of language presents some very unique challenges. With fiction, it is always about capturing the voice of the author. As I worked on Happiness, I kept thinking that I needed to reflect Andreas’ effervescent use of language.
I also needed to create a crescendo effect, since the book opens quietly and builds from there. I intentionally used certain words to evoke the still depths of the book. I selected color adjectives and time-bound nouns, such as “accordion file,” to convey Albert’s old-fashioned character.
Lastly, I was very fortunate to have Andreas as a co-creative partner in the translation process. I was able to share and discuss the translation with him, and there were points when he would say, “This isn’t quite what I meant. Can you look at it again?”
This challenged me to be more creative, to make my language more elastic, in order to convey the charm and light-filled depths that are critical to Andreas’ style.
Q: You’re also the founder of a publishing company that tries to bring the works of women writers from German-speaking countries to English-speaking readers. What can you tell us about that?
A: One of the many parts of the international publishing space that needs attention is that of contemporary women authors. If translations only compose 3-5 percent of a given year’s publishing output in the U.S., of that number, only 30 percent of the works being published are written by women.
I founded Weyward Sisters as a means of helping to remedy that weakness in the industry. I focus on contemporary Germanophone women authors who write political crime fiction.
I want my readers to realize that there is fascinating international crime fiction being written outside of Scandinavia, and that women authors are writing some of the most socio-critical and illuminating fiction out there.
Q: What are you working on now?
A: Right now, I am translating SPQR: The Falcon of Rome, an adult science fiction novel from Sascha Rauschenberger. It is my first work of science fiction, and I am learning about all the interesting challenges that are part of this genre.
Q: Anything else we should know?
A: To truly transform the way Americans read and accept international literature, we need to expand our vision beyond the sales / commercial framework.
I am actively involved with the Global Literature in Libraries Initiative, which strives to raise the visibility of global literature in public, school, academic, and prison libraries around the U.S. As one of our country’s most democratic and equalizing institutions, libraries present an ideal context in which to engage readers and community members of all kinds.
--Interview with Deborah Kalb