The legendary editor and writer talks to VIOLA CAON about translation and sultry climes……
•VC: Do you agree with the expression "Translator, Traitor", or do you think that translating from one language to another always implies a minimum of change in contents?
MJ: Translation is an art. I think there are as many good translators as traitors. I have translated a few things myself, both from French and Italian, and wouldn’t actually consider myself a great one. A good translator has not only to be accurate but also sensitive and brave enough to be willing to modify the wording, when appropriate, to retain both the flavour and the mood of the author’s original work. It’s a delicate balancing act. Moreover, some translators can be on the right wave length for one author and simply can’t catch another. It’s a bit like in relationships. Some work, some don’t and there is no standard recipe to stick to. My personal view is that even if I feel that I am on the same emotional path as the writer I am translating, I am often hesitant to make too many changes for fear of not being sufficiently faithful. Maybe that’s because I am writer myself and it is best for a translator to be totally detached in that regard. For example, Baudelaire translated Edgar Allen Poe into French and the results are legendary. But was it actually a good translation or an adaptation? But when I read books in translation from languages I don’t know I always have that nagging feeling I am possibly missing out on the true essence of the work.
•As a writer who is also particularly involved in the publishing industry, you must have a view as to why crime fiction is so attractive to readers. What’s the reason?
Crime and mystery writing has always been of great appeal to readers. I think its most appealing virtue is that it has a story which goes straightaway from A to B. In much mainstream literature instead writers usually convey much profound messages and deal with much profound topic, but they sometimes wander along the way of ruminations and fail to entertain. That of course doesn’t mean that crime and mystery fiction is not serious: it can often examine questions of psychology, offer insightful social commentary and much more under the cloak of pure storytelling. As such, it has always been a popular segment of the reading spectrum and sold well in its many forms. Naturally, it has gone through phases: from the whodunit to the hardboiled, more realistic, genre through psychological thrillers, puzzles, existentialist angst and all that, but it has throughout always retained its talent for telling a story and pleased the reader. It is one of the only genres that can both be lightweight and serious.
•You often mention your passion for travel. What attracts you most to Italian culture?
I just feel comfortable with it. Having spent so much time in Italy, I got to know Italy, its culture and its people and the more I learn and experience the more I feel drawn to it. Ironically, I was educated in France and, even if I am fascinated by the country and its people, I can’t say the same about it. I’m also a great fan of the underdog and, generally speaking, I do feel that Italian criminal and mystery culture in terms of film and writing is still unknown in the Anglo-Saxon world and deserves more attention. Although much progress has been made in this field, it is still very much a fact that anything that is Scandinavian gets automatically translated and Italian works are still somehow neglected, which is sad as many of them are manifestly superior and more interesting than their Scandinavian counterparts.
•You’re a consultant for the International Mystery Film Festival, Noir in Fest, held annually in Courmayeur (Italy). What’s your view of the Italian publishing industry? How does it differ from English publishing?
Through my Italian journeys, I have become friendly with scores of Italian writers and met many of its leading publishers, but I can’t pretend that I know or understand enough about the Italian publishing industry (as I do, for example, when it comes to France, where I lived many years). Of course there are differences from the British (and American) model, but that is the case with every country, where the set-up of book publishing is intimately tied to socio-economic, distribution and other reasons. Moreover, all my business contacts with Italian publishing are done through my agent there, Roberto Santachiara, so I do lack an overall picture.
•You have close connections to many contemporary Italian Crime fiction writers…
I love many of them and feel they are innovative and adventurous in exploring themes and ideas that are often neglected by their counterparts in other languages. Better than many others, they prove capable of blending the essential Anglo-Saxon pulp and social web of influences with a somewhat unique vision that Italian history and culture has imprinted on them. Like so many European authors, Italian ones do possess an acute feel for political and social nuance but somehow they more often manage to integrate it better in their narrative than others (the French for example, when it comes to adding a political dimension to their books, can be too preachy and obvious). But again, due to lack of time and a deficit of actually translated books, there is still too much I am not aware of and haven’t been able to read. The same applies to Italian writing outside of crime, where there are some gems I have come across and which I feel are just the tip of the iceberg. People like Isabella Santacroce, Tiziano Scarpa or Francesca Mazzucato are not translated, and on the criminal front the same applies to Pinketts, Machiavelli, Bucciarelli and so many others I would love to discover properly.
•You are very involved in the English publishing industry as well. Have you noticed changes in terms of marketing choices over the last few years?
British publishing industry, in which I worked for many years, is going through a fascinating period thanks to the rise of the Internet and its retailers. Print On Demand, e-books and the domination of large book chains are expanding more and more. But it has always been the case; publishing and its industry are ever in fluctuation. At the moment many aspects start to worry the authors, who unless are in the bestselling category, are finding it harder and harder to make a living. Which is scary. It’s not really a question of marketing, although this is certainly a decade where the market agents are running the publishing the world and they are people who often do not see the larger picture. It takes time for an author to break through.
Maxim Jakubowski’s latest book is I WAS WAITING FOR YOU, Accent Press, to be followed by EKATERINA AND THE NIGHT, October 2011, also Accent.