The Translator Relay: Frank Zuber

Written by Anna Schüller, NORLA

This time, the spotlight focuses on none other than Frank Zuber. The 2018 NORLA Prize for Translation will be awarded to Frank Zuber on 11 October at the Frankfurt Book Fair. Norway’s Minister of Culture, Trine Skei Grande, will present the prize to Frank.

Frank Zuber, Photo: Sabine Felber

Translators and their outstanding work have made Norwegian literature the worldwide success story it is today and we are deeply grateful to them. To cast a light on their demanding work and get to know the individuals better, we have initiated a series of interviews - the Translator Relay - with the men and women who translate from the Norwegian into the German.

Frank, please tell us something about your place of work.

One great advantage of working as a translator is that you can do it practically anywhere. Internet access is the only real necessity. Often, for example, I would have preferred to take a day-long train journey because I work really well in trains. Back home, it’s hard to switch off from other obligations, not the mention the inevitable distractions. I experienced a particularly creative period during a stay in a ‘translators’ hotel’ that came with a study in one of the rooms set aside by NORLA. I would like to have a separate office to go to but I can’t afford it. Fortunately, at home there is a bright room with a view where I can work without being disturbed too often.

When did you decide to become a literary translator and what motivated you

I studied Nordic Languages, German and English, with emphasis on language and literature. Even as a student, I had become intrigued by literary translation. Later, I ran a course in language and translation at the Institute for Scandinavian Studies at the Goethe University in Frankfurt. At the same time, I began to make forays into the world of professional translation. I attended numerous NORLA seminars, which were exceptionally helpful. It turned out to be a rather long drawn-out process but I finally reached a level where I felt able to concentrate wholly on one of my jobs and decided to go for ‘practical’ work with language, which was what I enjoyed most among my different tasks.

As a translator, what do you do to improve your work?

The best approach, I find, is to read a lot. In good books, and in good translations of good books, you often come across things with an ‘aha!’-effect, as in: ‘Yes, that’s one way of saying it’ or ‘Of course, that’s how I should have translated it’. I regret having so very little time to spare for reading literature in my native language because of my ambition to keep up with what’s happening in Scandinavian literature – and also because I want to keep reading English language books in the original. On top of all that, there are great readers with whom you can discuss stylistic matters and who will alert you to any rashly included Scandinavian turns of phrase. Translating together with colleagues is another exercise that helps to widen your linguistic horizons.

What do you find are the specific problems posed by translating from Norwegian into German?

The relatively small Norwegian vocabulary is a particularly troublesome problem. Calculating the precise number of words in any one language is very difficult but it’s fair to say that there is a greater number of German words than Norwegian and, if one moves on to English, the figure is many times greater still (lucky translators into English!). That is probably one of the reasons why there tend to be so many repetitions in Norwegian texts. You should try to avoid these in the translation – unless the repetitions are deliberate stylistic traits. Otherwise, you have to try varying the words used or else simply cut them out. You also have to be aware of the syntactical issues and watch out for them. For instance, always see to it that the German doesn’t contain too many grimly awkward relative clauses. And beware of ‘false friends’ in the Germanic languages, though that’s hardly worth mentioning again in this context.

How important is it for you to be in contact with the author and how often do you usually get in touch?

It varies from case to case. Generally, it’s true to say that the better written the book is, the fewer questions arise. It is especially true of non-fiction works but it has of course also to do with where one’s personal sympathies lie. When the chemistry between us is right, the contact becomes correspondingly closer. Most writers like hearing from their translator but some are less keen. Not least thanks to NORLA, I have by now met face-to-face almost all the Norwegian writers whose works I have translated. The need for consulting the writer becomes perhaps especially important if a non-fiction book has to be adapted for the German market. In such cases, the collaboration can become strikingly creative.

To whom among your colleagues would you pass on the translator’s baton and what would you like to know from him or her?

Günther Frauenlob. Günther, since some time back, you’ve been working as a literary agent, though in the other direction, as it were – selling German rights in the Nordic market. What has been the effect on your translating?

Find out about Günthers answer here.

Translated from the German by Anna Paterson

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