IN TRANSLATION: ROSIE HEDGER TALKS ABOUT TRANSLATING THE BIRD TRIBUNAL BY AGNES RAVATN

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Today I’m delighted to be hosting a stop on THE BIRD TRIBUNAL blog tour, and I’m joined by Rosie Hedger who translated this fabulous book by Agnes Ravatn from the Norwegian original.

Over to Rosie …

I was thrilled when Karen announced she would be publishing The Bird Tribunal by Agnes Ravatn – the book was very popular in Norway, and Ravatn is a well-respected writer in her homeland. However, I must admit to feeling anxious at the prospect of translating her work, fearful that I might not do the book justice. Every translation has its own unique challenges, but as much as I might tear my hair out in my attempts to find the right word or phrase, these challenges are really what make the job so interesting.

One particular challenge when translating Ravatn’s work was the style of the writing, which has an almost breathless quality at points: sentences would often be very short and staccato-like, and these would often start without pronouns. Whilst this works in Norwegian, it doesn’t have the same effect in English, so the challenge was often to replicate these aspects of the style in sometimes different ways, retaining the tension for readers that is evident in the prose, as well as in the plot. Short sentences did not present the only difficult, however, and equally challenging were those much longer sentences, as Allis’ mind churns over and over things, analysing everything she does in minute detail – one sentence on p. 63 leaps to mind, with one sentence coming in at around half a page! I always read the entire manuscript aloud at least once, and this sentence troubled me for many weeks before I felt that Allis’ obsessive inner monologue sounded right.

I’m hesitant to say too much about the ending for those who have yet to read the book, but I will say that it was one of my favourite sections to work on, as well as being one of the most challenging from a translation perspective. When I first read the final chapter, I returned to it three or four times to get my head around exactly what was going on. Agnes plays with language and form throughout the novel, but particularly in the final few pages, where she also weaves in the elements of Norse mythology peppered throughout the text. The final few sentences are some of my favourites; while translating, I did quite a bit of research and reading on ‘Völuspá’, the first poem of the Poetic Edda. According to this poem, a new world emerges after Ragnarok, but even here the dragon Nithhogg is seen ‘sweep[ing] through the air from Nithafjoll and into the new world with human corpses nestled among its feathers.’ This dark image has stuck with me ever since – it seemed the perfect symbol for Allis’ own shame, which taints her attempts at building a new life, and is a sublime conclusion to the novel.

The Bird Tribunal offers astute commentary on many topical social issues – it touches upon the expectations woman place on themselves (and other women) to exude perfect femininity, and the impossibility in achieving these arbitrary targets. It looks at notions of shame and vulnerability, and unhealthy relationships between damaged individuals. Allis worries about every word to cross her lips, idolising Sigurd in ways that he almost certainly doesn’t deserve, and finding her only validation in his approval. It takes a long time for reality to bite for Allis, and when it does, the consequences are severe. One of the most interesting aspects of the work for me, though, is the unreliability of Allis’ narration – her perspective is the only one that we have, leaving the reader with a number of questions, and making for many an interesting and enjoyable translation challenge.

A big thank you to Rosie Hedger for coming on the CTG blog today to talk about translating THE BIRD TRIBUNAL.

THE BIRD TRIBUNAL is out now from Orenda Books. You can buy it here from Amazon

In the meantime, here’s the blurb: “Two people in exile. Two secrets. As the past tightens its grip, there may be no escape … TV presenter Allis Hagtorn leaves her partner and her job to take voluntary exile in a remote house on an isolated fjord. But her new job as housekeeper and gardener is not all that it seems, and her silent, surly employer, 44-year-old Sigurd Bagge, is not the old man she expected. As they await the return of his wife from her travels, their silent, uneasy encounters develop into a chilling, obsessive relationship, and it becomes clear that atonement for past sins may not be enough … Haunting, consuming and powerful, The Bird Tribunal is a taut, exquisitely written psychological thriller that builds to a shocking, dramatic crescendo that will leave you breathless.”

And be sure to check out all the fabulous THE BIRD TRIBUNAL blog tour stops …

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3 thoughts on “IN TRANSLATION: ROSIE HEDGER TALKS ABOUT TRANSLATING THE BIRD TRIBUNAL BY AGNES RAVATN

  1. Mrs P. says:

    Thanks Rose – I’ve just finished The Bird Tribunal, so it was fascinating to read about the translation challenges you encountered. You’ve done an excellent job!

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