Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

TRANSLATING CANADIAN LITERATURE: AN INTERVIEW WITH FRASER SUTHERLAND

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In this interview, I am talking with Fraser Sutherland from Toronto about his experience with translation projects. He is the author of 17 books, several of them have been translated to French, Italian, Serbian, Turkish, and Ukrainian.

VICTORIA SEDOVA. Throughout your writing career you’ve had several books translated from English to various languages. How do you feel about having your work presented to readers across the world with different cultures and different languages?

FRASER SUTHERLAND. Needless to say, I am extremely pleased. I can't think of a better compliment to a book than to have it appear in other languages. Translation is the lifeblood of literature, and one of the principal ways that books remain alive. My poetry collection, "Whitefaces," appeared in Serbia as "Bledoliki" in 2005, and a co-authored, non-literary book, "The Making of a Name: the Inside Story of the Brands We Buy," came out in Turkey and Korea. But to have a biography translated was something special.

VICTORIA SEDOVA. Your latest translated book, "Lost Passport: The Life and Words of Edward Lacey" was recently released in Ukraine. Please share your experience about this translation project.

FRASER SUTHERLAND. The Ukrainian publication was special because "Lost Passport" had been such a difficult book to market, even in English. Whatever his merits as a poet, Lacey was only famous to his friends: I could only trade on the world-travelling incidents of his life, not on his celebrity. After I'd spent so long researching and writing the book, BookLand's publication of it was a huge relief. When a publisher in Ukraine took it up, it was a bonus; it certainly spoke in favour of that publisher's cosmopolitanism.

The questions asked of me during the process of translation were always apt and intelligent. A useful byproduct was that answering them helped identify a few minor errors. The Ukrainian translation may well be more accurate than the English original!

VICTORIA SEDOVA. Your Canadian publisher mentioned that one of your poetry books, "The Philosophy of As If," is currently being considered by a publisher from Russia for translation to Russian. Could you please tell Open Book Toronto about this book?

FRASER SUTHERLAND. The collection, which BookLand published in 2010, takes its cue from a rueful, self-composed epigraph, "I would like a different mind, a different body, a different life. Is that too much to ask?" It's about the gap between wishes and their fulfilment, and the fictions we use to fill the gap. The book takes its title from a 1911 book by a German philosopher named Hans Vaihinger later translated as "The Philosophy of 'As If': A System of the Theoretical, Practical and Religious Fictions of Mankind. Truth, Vaihinger says, "is merely the most expedient error." Art allows for expedient errors guised as fictions, and permits wishes and desires to yield fulfillments and vindications. The ultimate fiction is the afterlife, which is the matter of the long final section, “And All Shall be Redeemed.”

VICTORIA SEDOVA. Anything else you would like to share with Open Book Toronto’s readers?

Only that the few fumbling attempts I've made to render French poetry into English taught me how demanding the art of translation is. In their own way, good literary translators are artists. They deserve much more credit than they get.

The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book: Toronto.

Victoria Sedova

Victoria Sedova is an accomplished author and literary translator. Her latest poetry collection is The Bay of Lost Love (BookLand Press).

Go to Victoria Sedova’s Author Page