The Hedgehog and the Fox
Polly Barton: Fifty Sounds (part 1)
In this first part of my conversation with translator and writer Polly Barton, we talk about Polly’s early fascination with Japan and how she found herself on a remote Japanese island at the age of 21. ‘Sometimes’, she writes in her book Fifty Sounds, ‘I wonder how I ever thought I’d survive, setting out for a rural island with just a handful of Japanese words to my name.’ But survive she does and goes on to tell the tale...
Wednesday, March 2, 2022
Conversations with Translators: Laura Marris on Camus's The Plague
Translator Laura Marris discusses her experience of translating Albert Camus's 1947 novel, The Plague, during the Covid pandemic: 'I would be working on the scene where the doctors are meeting with the prefect of the city to try to convince him to put in more stringent public health measures. And then I would read the paper and there would be stuff about the CDC, Trump and I'd just think this is a very bizarre parallel. In the end, that was also something I had to think about, and potentially correct for, because this is a book about a plague that was translated during a plague, but it shouldn't really be like a COVID book. It should have like a longer life, I think.'
Friday, February 4, 2022
Laura Clancy: Running the (royal) family firm
When she tells people she’s researching the royal family, Laura Clancy, our guest on this week's episode, often encounters the response that the UK has more important things to worry about. Plus the associated responses that the royals don’t cost that much, that they’re good for the country, or that ultimately they don’t really matter. For a lot of Britons, they just are, a bit like the weather. Laura disagrees. She says: ‘we cannot talk about inequalities in Britain without talking about the monarchy’. Her book, Running the Family Firm (Manchester University Press, 2021), argues that ‘the principles by which monarchy works are key principles by which the whole system works, and in understanding monarchy we can begin to make sense of the system.’ In this interview, she discusses what she discovered in the course of her research...
Thursday, January 27, 2022
Polly Barton: Fifty Sounds (part 2)
This is the second half of the conversation I had last autumn with Polly Barton, a translator from Japanese and the author of a terrific memoir cum reflection on language and translation, Fifty Sounds. In the first part we talked about Polly’s early fascination with Japan and language, and her decision aged 21 to go to live and work on a remote Japanese island and her experience of learning the language. In this part we talk about her decision to become a translator, some of the challenges that presented, and presents, and also about her book.Fifty Sounds has fifty chapters, each of which takes a single Japanese word as its starting point or leitmotiv. All of these words are so-called ‘mimetics’, a distinctive and richly expressive class of word in Japanese that merits its own chunky dictionary, but which in the English language we generally pay little attention to. They’re words that give colour and individuality to storytelling; the kind of words that convey the speaker’s sense of being an embodied person in the world, alert to its texture and feel. In choosing to build her book around these words, Polly seems to get to the heart of Japanese, or if that is too grand a claim, to capture the essence of what it meant to her to learn Japanese and to begin to glimpse the world through the lens of Japanese.