NBG interviews the translator Lyn Marven

NBG interviews the translator Lyn Marven

How did you get into translation?
Translation is something I fell into – and I didn’t know I would enjoy it so much until I gave it a go. I’m a university lecturer, and have been working on contemporary German literature for years. I’ve come across so many fascinating, funny, intelligent and memorable books in my work, and I want to bring them to a wider Englishspeaking public. So for me, translation has grown out of my academic research. Studying and translating literature are two sides of the same coin, and the two aspects feed into each other. Both are about an intensive engagement with the text – about reading it in depth, and reflecting on the words on the page.
What was your first translation?
My first translation was for Comma Press, a short story by Larissa Boehning, set in Berlin for their collection Decapolis, which features ten cities, and ten languages. I’ve continued to have a good working relationship with Comma. Their focus on short stories is a fantastic avenue for introducing new writers, and they are committed to European and world writing in translation. That first story led to them asking me to translate Maike Wetzel’s collection of short stories, Long Days, for their new series of translations. The first story was also included in Berlin Tales, a collection of short stories about Berlin that I translated, so it sparked almost everything I’ve done since!
Do you get in touch with the writers you translate?
One of the joys of working on contemporary literature is the possibility of corresponding with authors, and the writers I’ve translated have been very generous in discussing their work with me. When I translated Long Days, Maike Wetzel and I bounced ideas around for the titles of her stories, which were particularly tricky. The title of her short story ‘Geister’ took us from Goethe’s Sorcerer’s Apprentice (‘die Geister, die ich rief’, ‘the spirits I have summoned’) to Dickens’ ghosts of Christmas past, present and future, via Tolkien and Cassavetes, before we fixed on ‘Shadows’, from Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream (‘if we shadows have offended’).
It’s also been a pleasure to be able to introduce writers to a wider public not just metaphorically but literally: as a result of my translation work, we invited Maike Wetzel and Larissa Boehning to Liverpool as writers in residence, in 2009 and 2011 respectively.
What is your most recent translation?
Most recently I’ve translated a piece by Irmtraud Morgner, a favourite of mine for many years. Her novel The Life and Adventures of Trobadora Beatrice was the one that got away – the novel I would have most liked to translate (it came out in 2000, translated by Jeanette Clausen). I’ve translated a short story of hers which comes from one of the sequels to that novel. It’s a rewrite of ‘Beauty and the Beast’, and in just fourteen pages the language encompasses everything from traditional Provençal songs through contemporary insurance terminology to the flight feathers of owls.
Which books would you most like to translate?
I’ve only really just started out in translating, and there are so many texts and authors I would love to get my hands on! It’s hard to single out particular favourites but I’d have to mention Ulrike Draesner; her writing is so intelligent and at the same time playful. And Annett Gröschner’s Moskauer Eis, a darkly humorous novel about a young woman who finds her father frozen to death in his own freezer just after the demise of East Germany, would be a joy to translate.
Lyn Marven
is Lecturer in German at the University of Liverpool. She researches and translates contemporary German-language literature.
Larissa Boehning, Die Nacht die Lichter, Irmtraud Morgner’s novels and Annett Gröschner’s Moskauer Eis have all been reviewed in previous issues of NBG.