Monday, November 9, 2020

Nerds on Tour: Interview with Translator Rachel Cordasco

When I first got into blogging, and widening my SF reading horizons, I'd often visit The World SF Blog, run by Lavie Tidhar.  That site came to a natural end back in 2013, and I waited patiently for someone to take up the mantle of showcasing international speculative fiction. My wait paid off! In 2014, Rachel Cordasco became a fellow irregular at SFSignal, and then she started her own website, SF In Translation, which offers running lists of translated speculative fiction, reviews, interviews, essays, and more.  SF In Translation was the new World SF Blog I'd been waiting for! (You can also follow her on twitter at @Rcordas)

Cordasco is herself, a translator,  she translates from Italian to English.   She's translated work by Clelia Farris, Serena Fiandro, Maurizio Cometto, Nicoletta Vallorani, and had their stories published in magazines such as Samovar, Clarkesworld, World Literature Today, and elsewhere.   Cordasco has written essays and reviews promoting international voices at, SFRA Review, Book Riot, Locus, and many other magazines and websites. 

I've interviewed plenty of writers, and editors, and artists, so it is very excited for me to get to interview translators as well!  What do you do when you run into a phrase or pun that just doesn't quite work in English? How do you get something you translated published in an English language magazine? Cordasco answered those questions, and many more, below.   Let's get to the interview!

 NOAF: How did you get started with translating science fiction and fantasy? What languages do you translate?

RC: I started translating short speculative fiction about a year after launching At that time, I noticed that relatively little Italian speculative fiction was available in English and, having studied Italian several years before, I decided to give it a try. I’ve always loved learning languages, and I translated a bit in college (French Symbolist poetry), so bringing Italian sf into English was a rewarding challenge. If I had unlimited amounts of time, I would brush up on the Hebrew, Russian, and French that I learned in my younger days and try to translate some sf written in those languages, but for now, I look forward to bringing more Italian sf into English.

NOAF: How do you find works to translate into English? Does the author contact you, or do you contact the author?

 RC: My route to translating Italian sf was definitely unusual. I initially reached out to an Italian editor whom I knew on social media, and he sent me a few stories. Then other writers started contacting me directly, asking if I would be willing to translate their work. Eventually, I connected with Francesco Verso, who started sending me stories by Nicoletta Vallorani and Clelia Farris, with whom I’ve built a great translating relationship. Additionally, a couple of years ago, I found an Italian sf e-zine and started reading some stories there, which is how I met Serena Fiandro, for whom I’ve translated two stories.

NOAF: As the translator, what's your role in getting the short story published in an English language magazine? (are you involved with the submitting the story to magazines, writing cover letters, dealing with editors, etc?)

RC: I always offer to be the one who submits the final English version and discusses the details with the editor if the story is accepted. All of the authors with whom I’ve worked have been happy with this arrangement, but of course they are looped in to all final decisions.

NOAF: What do you do, when you run into a word or phrase in another language that just doesn't translate to English? What about rhymes or word puns, how do you deal with those?

RC: I love this question because it goes to the heart of what I enjoy about translation. My mind loves to chew on words and phrases in Italian in order to reflect them accurately and appropriately in English. I’ve had many wonderful discussions over email with Clelia Farris, for example, about how a particular Italian idiom might be reflected in a similar kind of English expression. In some of her stories, she uses Sardinian terms and puns, which is challenging but quite rewarding to think through. In some cases, I add a footnote to explain the pun, thereby giving the reader a kind of mini-lesson in Italian while showing them just how fun the language can be. Two of my favorite examples are from Clelia’s story “Gabola”: in one case, she uses the Sardinian word “nonnixedda,” which contains the word “nonna” (Italian for “grandmother”) and a diminutive (-xedda), leading me to choose the English word “Granny.” In the second case, Clelia uses a word that refers to heaping curses on someone, which I thought through by falling back on my knowledge of Yiddish curses!

NOAF: When you first started translating, did you have any misconceptions? If yes, what were they?

RC: Since I never formally studied translation practices, I found myself working through many of the usual questions translators face (which I subsequently read and heard about thanks to books on translation theory and some translation podcasts). Like some translators just starting out, I stayed so close to the texts I was working on that the English version seemed a bit stilted. Only after several translations was I able to relax and feel comfortable straying from the text in order to make the English readable and enjoyable. The authors I’ve worked with have been crucial in helping me do this and in supporting my choices.

NOAF: As a translator, what are some of your biggest challenges?

RC: I still struggle with how literal I want my translations to be and how confident I am in my word and idiom choices. Only time and experience will help me gain that confidence.

NOAF: How does it take you to translate a short story? How about a novel? 

RC: I haven’t tackled any novels yet, though I did translate six of the seven stories in Clelia Farris’s collection Creative Surgery within a three-month period. Because I translate slowly and I only have time in the evenings and on weekends to do it, short stories can take me several days.

The authors I work with understand this and never rush me, knowing that I’ll take the necessary time to make the translation the best it can be.Because I translate slowly and I only have time in the evenings and on weekends to do it, short stories can take me several days. The authors I work with understand this and never rush me, knowing that I’ll take the necessary time to make the translation the best it can be.

NOAF: Thank you so much Rachel!


 POSTED BY: Andrea Johnson lives in Michigan with her husband and too many books. She can be found on twitter, @redhead5318 , where she posts about books, food, and assorted nerdery.