Casanova to Catarella: Detectives Beyond Borders interviews Andrea Camilleri's translator Stephen Sartarelli, Pt. II
[Read Part I of the Detectives Beyond Borders interview with Stephen Sartarelli, Read more Detectives Beyond Borders interviews. (Click link, then scroll down.)]
"I, as a translator, have always taken to heart the injunction made by Pouchkine where he said (I forget where) that the translator must create `new space' in the language into which he translates, since each language has many spaces peculiar only to it. Thus my "cursing the saints.'"What further examples can you give of these new spaces a translator creates, whether in your own work or that of other translators?
Stephen Sartarelli: Well, for example, there is the Italian expression of “far girare le palle,” literally to “make [someone’s] balls spin,” which I’ve translated more or less literally, though using the Spanish cojones, which is familiar to some US readers, as an exotic touch, since Camilleri always uses the Sicilian word for testicles, cabasisi, a word that is hilarious in and of itself. In Italian/Sicilian, it’s actually a way of saying “to get on someone’s nerves.” Another example would be my literal rendering of certain dialectal pleonasms, such as “poissonally in poisson” for di pirsona pirsonalmente, and so on. (I’m sure there are many more possible examples, but I can’t think of any right now.)
DBB: What is the relationship between Camilleri and Luigi Pirandello? I have read that there was some distant family relationship. I thought of this also because of a bit of meta-fiction in The Dance of the Seagull, where Salvo and Livia argue about the possibility of Salvo's running into "the actor who plays me? ... What's his name—Zingarelli."? (The reference is to Luca Zingaretti, who plays Salvo in the excellent Italian Inspector Montalbano television series.)
SS: Pirandello was a distant relative of the Camilleris, but above all he was a good friend of the family, to whom he was known as “don Luigi.” And there’s no question that he had a strong influence on the young Andrea, who had a long, successful career in the theatre. Incidentally, there’s another example of Pirandellian metafiction in one of the short stories that will figure in the forthcoming “Stories of Montalbano” collection, but I’ll let that one be a surprise.
SS: Well, I’ve been at this for a long time, over thirty years, so, yes, there are plenty of other authors. Gabriele D’Annunzio, Francesca Duranti, Gesualdo Bufalino, Gianni Riotta, Umberto Saba, as well as classic French authors such as Jacques Cazotte, Gérard de Nerval, Xavier de Maistre, and Casanova, who was of course Venetian but wrote mostly in French.
Camilleri and Vichi are the only crime writers I’ve translated, though later this year I’m supposed to be translating a two-author duo, also Italian, but I don’t have the contract yet.
SS: Catarella serves as a good example of the evolution of my approach to translating the Montalbano novels. At first I was fairly daunted by the oddity of his language and would groan whenever he entered the scene, because I knew it would take me much longer to get through his lines of dialogue. Shortly thereafter, however, I began to view him as an opportunity for freedom and creativity in my interpretations. Very often, however, I have to look for different sorts of word play in the English, because a literal rendering of the character’s quasi illiterate Sicilian-Italian tends not to lend itself to the kinds of distortion necessary to carrying over the same effect as in the original.
People also often seem mistakenly to believe that with Catarella it’s only a question of dialect. It’s actually quite a bit more complicated than that. Catarella is an example of a dying breed of provincial Italians who don’t really speak Italian, but only their regional dialect. And since he’s a policeman, an employee of law enforcement, the majority of the Italian he comes into contact with is bureaucratese, which in Italy can be very convoluted and ornate, and it is, moreover, the only form of Italian he really knows. Thus he tends to conflate proper Italian with bureaucratic Italian, to predictably comic effect. If you then throw in a good dose of heavy dialect (also often misused) and a sort of written and oral dyslexia, you get the sort verbal chaos that is Catarella. All I can say is that I try to do my best to reproduce more or less the same effect in English. Some people, coming at the series for the first time and reading one of the episodes at random (a mistake, in my opinion), complain about Catarella as being incomprehensible, but that’s only because they’re unfamiliar with the character. It would be a mistake to clean up his language in translation. He’s supposed to be incomprehensible, or almost.
SS: Actually, that was one of those rare instances where I was able to use what were more or less exact English equivalents of the Italian expressions. Not literally exact, of course, but occupying the same semantic space in the language. For example, “sowing your wild oats” is correre la cavallina; “eating like a horse” is mangiare a quattro palmenti, or “to eat [the equivalent of] four millstones.” But in that little paragraph I also took some liberty, since two of the English expressions I used involved a horse. Camilleri cites two consecutive clichés to mean “counting your chickens before they hatch,” but I separated the two English expressions of more or less the same meaning so that I could write “or eat like a horse, when you’re not putting the cart first!” That way I could recover some of the humor of Montalbano’s exasperation at the “incomprehensible variant” of “selling the bearskin before you’ve killed the bear,” which is “don’t say four if you haven’t got it in the bag!”
© Peter Rozovsky 2014
Labels: Andrea Camilleri, Casanova, interviews, interviews with translators, Italy, Luca Zingaretti, Luigi Pirandello, Sicily, Stephen Sartarelli, Stephen Sartarelli interview, translation, translators