Sonia Alland’s Translation of Maria Mercè Roca’s Work
By Roger West; Poet, Translator, Songwriter, & Performer
As a poet and as a translator who has translated poetry from French to English and from Arabic, Persian and Spanish to English via French, I am painfully aware of the pitfalls as well as the pleasures of translating and Sonia has done a remarkable job here in bringing Maria Mercè’s writing not just to the page but to living, breathing, palpitating existence.
The first thing that is obvious is that Sonia knows the milieu, the culture, the language; as we know the three are linked, with language carrying so much more than different words for things. Good translation involves not just finding the right word in the destination language, it involves finding a way to re-present a text carrying and holding its essence in the writer’s choice of language and of everything that directs that choice through fresh images, metaphors and reference points that make it accessible in the new language. Good literature always treads that high-wire between the particular and the universal anyway; good translation recreates that balancing act.
Also obvious is the ongoing personal relationship between translator and writer. Living writers are (generally) easier to translate than dead ones - you can’t raise question or verify a point with Lorca or Cervantes - but where a translation really ignites is where there is an affinity, a mutual respect between translator and writer, even that kind of intimacy that produces leaps of faith and short cuts to understanding. What we have here is that frisson of excitement of the translator about the texts and the attendant desire to first immerse herself and luxuriate within them and then to share them, to regift them to the world.
It’s that to and fro that bears fruit here, that exchange that encourages each, writer as well as translator, to uncover new layers of complexity and delight in the texts, to the extent that the word ‘translation’ becomes a misnomer; ‘co-construction’ would be a far more useful term.