Question to our esteemed translators from our readers: could you please provide one or two examples of interesting translation challenges you encountered (and surmounted of course) when working on a Bitter Lemon book?
Here is Antonia Lloyd-Jones, translator from Polish of “Entanglement” and “A Grain of Truth” by Zygmunt Miłoszewski
Whenever I’m asked for an example of a spicy Polish phrase, the idiom that comes to mind is one that I first encountered in “A Grain of Truth” by Zygmunt Miłoszewski. You’ll find it on page 79, when the main character, Prosecutor Szacki, is relieved to hear that his boss will deal with the journalists asking awkward questions about his case. “Not his circus, not his monkeys”, he thinks – not his problem. I instantly translated that phrase literally, rather than using an English equivalent, because it’s funny and visual, and I was sure every reader would understand it. It appears again on page 97, when Szacki casually repeats his loathing of the media. But suddenly, on page 101, he’s forced to face them at a press conference, where the journalists ask provocative questions that he handles badly. And this time he thinks: “…even if the circus wasn’t his, the monkeys certainly were”. So I was right to keep the literal sense of the phrase earlier on, as here the author uses it to make a joke. Sometime later, in the run-up to International Translation Day, the Sunday Times asked me for a catchy idiom to feature in the paper. I told them about “Not my circus, not my monkeys”, and they put at the top of their list of phrases from around the world. Since then I have heard people using it, in English, as if it were a typical British expression!
In the first novel in the Szacki series, Entanglement, there’s a character who mixes up his words, so I had to think up funny mistakes for him to make in English. On page 48 he says: “I get slivers down the spine…” In Polish, the mistake was deszcz (“rain”) instead of dreszcz (“shiver”). On page 49, instead of “patch” he says: “we’ll botch it up again”; this time my solution was rather lame, because in Polish the character accidentally uses an obscenity to comical effect.