2 April 2015

Spot the Translation

Posted by Katy Derbyshire

What makes a good translation? Can we spot them in the wild? In my non-language-specific workshop at the Bookshop, we’ll be looking at pieces of contemporary writing to see whether we can tell if they were originally written in English or another language, to think about whether that matters, and to see what we can get away with as writers and translators. Here are two short passages by two different writers. Both are published by Berlin-based Readux Books, who bring out beautifully designed teeny works of “(mostly) translated literature”, often with a focus on cities. Can you spot the translation? Is it:

The fisherman sits on a squat stool, rod resting on a stand between his legs, his hat pulled low over his head. He looks at peace, eyes cast forward across the calm waters of the canal, his thermos flask of coffee on one side, a cool box filled with supplies on the other. I can see him an hour or so earlier, stepping out from his nearby apartment, walking along the river to his regular patch on the canal bank. He’s been coming here for years, since a time when no-one came to this corner of the city.


A vertically stacked container village has been planted between the street and the track bed. Like in a doll’s house, people act out scenes behind the windows. In the fourth container from the left, third floor, someone takes off his helmet; in the second container from the right, ground floor, there’s someone in bed in his work clothes; in the middle of the second floor someone’s sitting at a table, his head cushioned on his folded arms. Every person is self-contained and yet only inches away from the others.

Katy Derbyshire's masterclass has sold out, but tickets are still available for other translation masterclasses in May and June. View the full list here.