The Chat with 2017 Governor General's Award Winner (for Translation) Oana Avasilichioaei

Oana Avasilichioaei_Author Photo_Credit Pam Dick

Today we’re in conversation with Oana Avasilichioaei, translator of Bertrand Laverdure’s novel Lectodôme. Her English translation, Readopolis (BookThug) is the winner of this year’s Governor General’s Literary Award for Translation (French to English).

The jury citation reads: "In Readopolis, Oana Avasilichioaei has risen to and matched the stylistic acrobatics of Bertrand Laverdure’s Lectodôme. The many voices of Quebecois writing sing through in this intelligent translation – a vertiginous ode to the pure, if rarely rewarded, pursuit of literature."

Montreal-based writer, translator, and editor Oana Avasilichioaei has published five poetry collections, including Expeditions of a Chimæra (with Erín Moure; 2009), We, Beasts (2012; winner of the A.M. Klein Prize for Poetry from the Quebec Writers’ Federation) and Limbinal (2015). Previous translations include Bertrand Laverdure’s Universal Bureau of Copyrights (2014; shortlisted for the 2015 ReLit Awards), Suzanne Leblanc’s The Thought House of Philippa (co-translated with Ingrid Pam Dick; 2015), and Daniel Canty’s Wigrum (2013).

TheChat-GGs-2017

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Trevor Corkum: This is your first Governor General’s Award for translation. How does winning such a prestigious prize feel at this point in your career?

Oana Avasilichioaei: It feels fantastic! I never imagined winning such a prize at any stage of my career, let alone now. Any art field, and translation is definitely one, involves a great deal of quiet, interior, rigorous work, so it is incredibly encouraging to receive such overt and public affirmation for the results of this effort.

TC: Can you share one or two of the particular challenges you encountered translating Readopolis?  

OA: One of the most challenging (and intriguing) aspects of translating Readopolis was thinking of how to create and reinvent all the various voices/genres of the book in English. The inserted dystopian novella, for example, is written in a very different mode (fast-moving almost telegraphic writing) than the inserted screenplay (dialogue form, some of which combines French and English, word play, etc.). The novella also has a fair number of neologisms and I always have a lot of fun coming up with those in English.

TC: What do you feel is the key to an exceptional translation? Are there particular mentors or giants in the field you’ve learned from over the years?

OA: Being attentive to the music of one text, of how it impacts and affects a language, then re-composing that music in another language and as the new text re-emerges, being willing to have that music evolve the language, irrevocably and productively alter it. The act and art of translation expands, develops, enriches any language, and as most translators, I definitely work within a community of writers-artists-translators and learn from many other amazing translators, some of whom I only meet through their translations, while with others, I interact more directly.

Being attentive to the music of one text, of how it impacts and affects a language, then re-composing that music in another language and as the new text re-emerges, being willing to have that music evolve the language, irrevocably and productively alter it.

There are too many to note, but I would like to mention George McWhirter, the mentor I worked with when I first began translating (Romanian poetry) in the late 1990s, as well as the great writers and translators Erín Moure and Robert Majzels.

 
TC: Why is it important for English Canadians to read the translated work of French Canadian writers, and how can this be encouraged?

OA: Because it is enriching and because there is excellent writing to be discovered, writing that comes out of a different cultural, historical, linguistic context. I think this can be encouraged by supporting more exchanges between English and French publishing houses, and encouraging more presses to publish work in translation. BookThug is one of the presses that has worked so hard to support such work, and I am very grateful to them for this. As well, I think this can be encouraged by increasing reviews of work in translation, particularly ones that account for the work specifically as a translation.   

BookThug is one of the presses that has worked so hard to support such work, and I am very grateful to them for this.

TC: 49th Shelf is built around a large community of readers and fans who love great CanLit. What Canadian authors are you reading these days? Any recommendations?

Recent readings (in no particular order) include Chantal Neveu’s La vie radieuse, Stephen Collis’s Once in Blockadia, Anahita Jamali Rad’s For Love and Autonomy, and David Chariandy’s Brother.

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Excerpt from Readopolis

I’m resting.

Dozing off. Doing nothing, just resting.

All I want is to lie in bed, arms out like a cross, left cheek on the pillow, legs and chest at on the mattress. I haven’t read anything today and won’t read anything before one in the afternoon. I am a reader—what publishing houses call “a member of the editorial board.”

Yet there is no editorial board, no summit meeting, no secret gathering to formulate impartial, obvious decisions, ones that are democratic and positive. I am a reader because I have my own view of literature; what it should be; what buttons to sew on a novel’s sleeves; what zippers to place throughout a narrative; the ideal length of writers’ detestable pipe dreams.

My plight is to rule over the ghosts haunting the world of letters. Deep down, I will always be Hercules standing before the Augean Stables. I devote myself to a soldier’s anonymous life. I am sent to the front of others’ words, the unbearable, lachrymose bundles of Monsieur Patenaude and Madame Lefebre, Monsieur Hogarteen and Madame Willoska. The unbelievable heap of manuscripts pollutes my consciousness.

Who wouldn’t slam into the first wall they see, having realized the sheer madness of human beings, their disrespectful desire to impose all their misfortunes and opinions on us? If it were up to me, I would decree a law against abominable books.

In fact, I abhor all these smooth talkers, these idolaters of the freedom of expression. Ok ne, I get it, people need to express themselves, rejoice, appease their egos, pour out their bitterness, recount their troubles, but then they get it into their heads to publish this mother of vinegar, this thick syrup—no, I say! Asinine nonsense. Kill o the whole lot of blowhards, wipe these battalions of human expression o the face of the earth.

I’m resting.

Reprinted with permission of the publisher.

November 28, 2017
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