Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Casanova to Catarella: Detectives Beyond Borders interviews Andrea Camilleri's translator Stephen Sartarelli, Pt. II

In the second part of his interview with Detectives Beyond Borders, Stephen Sartarelli, Andrea Camilleri's English-language translator, talks about translating poetry. cursing the saints, Casanova, Catarella, Camilleri's relationship with Luigi Pirandello, and about future projects in crime fiction. He also fleshes out the list of crime writers he read to familiarize himself with the genre when he began translating Camilleri: "Well, let's see: Chandler, Goodis, P.D. James, Vargas, Mankell, Vázquez Montalbán ... "

[Read Part I of the Detectives Beyond Borders interview with Stephen Sartarelli, Read more  Detectives Beyond Borders interviews. (Click link, then scroll down.)]
Detectives Beyond Borders:   I'd like to bring back something you wrote in a comment here at Detectives Beyond Borders about the expression you render in English as "cursing the saints":
"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.

DBB:   You have also translated work by the Italian crime writer Marco Vichi. What other authors have you translated, crime writers or otherwise? What special problems do they present?

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.

Casanova was a particularly interesting case because, as an 18th-century Italian writing in French, his style is full of Italianate quirks and tics that are utterly foreign to the simplicity of 18th-century French. I tended to clean up his prose, however, in the translation, especially since there’s already a complete translation, by Willard Trask, of his immense, 3,000-page Story of My Life that renders his style pretty much the way it was written, and I find it for the most part unreadable. Ours was a selection (about 600 pp., Penguin Classics) of several outstanding episodes from the Story of My Life, and we decided to make it as readable as possible for the contemporary audience. (I say “we” because I translated it in collaboration with my wife, Sophie Hawkes, though I did the lion’s share of the work.) I also now have a large selection of the poetry of Pier Paolo Pasolini forthcoming with the University of Chicago Press (July 2014), a critical edition entirely curated and edited by me. That was rather difficult simply because it’s poetry, sometimes fairly regular in meter and rhyme. Poetry’s always much harder to translate because of the way that poetry (or good poetry, I should say) normally condenses as much meaning as possible in as few words as possible. Once you’ve unraveled the meaning of the original, it’s quite a long and arduous process to forge it back into as economical a form as it came from. But I try, and it sometimes works.

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.

DBB:   Talk about Catarella's malapropisms and about why you decided to render them they way you did. What alternative ways, if any, did you consider for portraying his mangled speech in English?

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.

DBB:   The Smell of the Night (Scent of the Night, for tender British noses) has Salvo growing exasperated with Livia's clichés. You render these into English as "count your chickens before they hatch," "eat like a horse," and "sow your wild oats."  Talk about the Sicilian/Italian/Camillerian originals, about why you chose the English versions that you did, and about any shades of difference in meaning between the originals and the translations.

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!”
[Read Part I of the Detectives Beyond Borders interview with Stephen Sartarelli. Read   more Detectives Beyond Borders interviews. (Click link, then scroll down.)]

© Peter Rozovsky 2014

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Blogger Simona Carini said...

Thank you Peter and Stephen for a thoroughly interesting and delightful duet in two parts. I don't seem to be able to keep up with Italian crime writers: every time I visit, I discover a new one whom I like. The next time, I must read Marco Vichi.

April 28, 2014  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Thanks for the kind words. I always think of you when I think of Camilleri.

In re Italian crime writers, I have started reading Carlo Emilio Gadda, and my opinion of Giorgio Scerbnanenco's Venere Privata is a matter of record.

I also read an astonishing italian novel not too long ago that ought to interest crime fans: La Pelle, by Curzio Malaparte.

April 28, 2014  

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