Is translating books fun?

Renate Warren

It all started in 2012, when the author had just finished writing his first book. At that time, Graham was sitting in Luxor his "box", as he called his office, and was struggling with bad Internet connections and constant power cuts. To write his first book took him twice as long as all the following ones.

I started translating this book when my English skills were just about A-level. No more. The translation also took twice as long as that of the subsequent volumes. And it was bad, oh how bad.

Anyway, we got amazingly benevolent reviews. One German reader, whilst enjoying the story, quite rightly criticized the many mistakes. Because of my own life in Luxor and after that in England, my English quickly improved. The second volume was still too wooden, the third was better and articulated, and with the fourth I was satisfied from the outset. I revisited the first three volumes in the second half of 2016. After months of work they have gone through a complete revision. I have not rested until I felt: I can offer this to my readers. Though, being self-critical, it is never good enough!

Sometimes, after having translated hundreds of pages and refined so many phrases and single words, with so much English in my head I could not think of the equivalent in my mother tongue German. Spelling mistakes too put me in a position where I could not see the wood for the trees. As a translator, one should not do the proofreading of one’s own text, as there is too high a risk of becoming professionally blinkered.

I'm not a professional translator. By this I mean that I have not attended courses or anything of the sort. But back in Germany, after graduating, I have worked with editors and have done a lot of proofreading. I could not even look at a menu without spotting spelling mistakes … In the meantime, I have, or at least I hope so, developed a strong feeling for the English language. I no longer have to reflect much, or look up lots of words, I know how freely or how close I have to work with the text. My feeling for the German language is owed to my career in the publishing industry and to my love for literature.

Even if literature, like so many other things, comes off badly when I'm back working on a translation, the answer to my initial question therefore clearly is: Yes, translating books is fun!

So much so that I have begun to translate books by other authors. My love is for the Arab world, and as most British authors already have fixed contractual partners in Germany, I have turned to Arabic writers who write in English to translate their books and make them available for German readers. I can speak, read and write Arabic, but not good enough to use it as a source language.

The world of books, the world of languages, and literature just won't let me go. Nor does Egypt. It is my second home.