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Translation or creation?

Translation or creation?

The next big event in the Man Booker calendar is the announcement on 14 March of the longlist for the Man Booker International Prize. Some light has been shed on the complexity of what the judges have to deal with by an exchange at a symposium on translation at Yonsei University in Korea – the home country of Han Kang, the reigning Man Booker International laureate. During the discussions Professor Jeong Gwa-ri raised the role of Deborah Smith, the translator of The Vegetarian. ‘Smith added emotional adverbs in descriptions and amplified the emotional context by making something ordinary more special,’ he said. ‘I'm literally lost in translation in how to interpret the definition of translation.’ Smith herself had no such problems, for her a few added words are not important: ‘Translation is to bring something new to literature and to language which wasn't there before,’ she said. ‘If the translator is enabling the readers to appreciate the book and many of the same things that made them fall in love with the original text, and bring out a similar reception to that of the original country, and if the author is pleased, that's the most important thing.’

Hanya Yanagihara, Man Booker shortlisted in 2015 for A Little Life, recently gave an interview in which she discussed America's, and specifically New York's ability to integrate outsiders:  ‘In some circles where your standing in Manhattan society is the binding factor, gender, race and ethnicity matter less. It is only in these circles that integration is fluid.’ New York is not then the melting pot of lore: ‘Far from it. Assimilation happens in many cities but only in specific social circles where money, success and position matter more than sexuality and ethnicity.’ Her words seem particularly pertinent as the new Trumpian world order commences.

Trump is inevitably on the mind of the 2016 Man Booker winner Paul Beatty too. In a recent interview he said that ‘The weird thing about Trump is that people are seeing a clearly drawn line – 'I'm on this side, I'm on that side' – and I think for a lot of people that line's not always so clear. I think people are sometimes uncomfortable when it looks like you might have to take sides.’

Is there a harder-working writer than John Burnside, Man Booker judge in 2015? The next few months sees not one but three new books from the poet/novelist/memoirist/nature writer. First there is a collection of poetry, Still Life with Feeding Snake, then his new novel, Ashland & Vine – both of which come out on 2nd February – and finally a novella, Havergey (3rd April). The poems are multifarious; the novel is about a curious friendship between a hard-drinking film student and an old woman; the novella looks at community, the environment and Utopia through the prism of a remote Scottish island. Burnside, to date, has at least 16 poetry collections, nine novels, five books of non-fiction and a screenplay to his name – an innumerable book reviews and nature articles too. Whatever he's foraging on his nature hikes, it works.