Among the many stories and poems in 9 languages in Fae Visions of the Mediterranean is “The Scythe and the Hourglass,” translated from Vladimira Becić’s Croatian original by Dunja Ševerdija, a fascinating take on Balkan folklore and postmodern writing angst. We asked Dunja a few questions about her work.
TFF: “The Scythe and the Hourglass” is a mannered, folkloric tale. How did you approach the story and go about translating it?
Dunja Ševerdija: It helped a lot that I was already familiar with Vladimira's style and this wasn't the first translation I had ever done for her. But it wasn't easy. I have never translated a text that was set in such a distant time period. The most difficult thing to achieve in the translation was the archaic feel Vladimira achieved in the original with the type of language she used. I hope that came across well. I'm still very new to the translating business, so it was difficult for me to decide whether I should read the entire story first or just translate it sentence by sentence. Since Vladimira likes to use twists at the end, I didn't want my knowledge to affect my translation. I opted for sentence by sentence in the end. I think that was a good choice.
Do you feel a strong connection to the Mediterranean Sea itself?
Yes, absolutely. Water has always been my element. I have always loved the silence and the weightlessness of floating. I almost perceive sea as a completely separate world that has its own rules. The Adriatic Sea, which is a part of the Mediterranean, has always called out to me more than any other.
How do you negotiate between the two irreconcilable extremes: the beautiful translation and the faithful translation?
Ay, there's the rub. I think that is both the challenge and the art of translating, finding that balance between faithful and beautiful. I think a translator should always translate as faithfully as possible. If it is a beautifully written text, your translation should come out beautiful as well. It's not the translator's job to make a text more beautiful than it is. That's the author's job.
Do you find you need to take different approaches for translating different genres, or fiction and nonfiction, for example?
I do believe different approaches need to be taken, but they're not necessarily extremely different from each other. Of course translating a poem and translating a short story are two different things, because each genre abides by its own rules. There are some things that are allowed in poetry that are not allowed in fiction and vice versa. But I think it's just a matter of practice and personal preference whether a translator would be able to do a good job with what s/he takes on.
Has a total stranger, say on a train, ever told you a cool story?
I often find myself in a queue at the post office with this lady who once told me how she used to send letters to her husband in the army, but, instead of writing, she would draw what she could see outside her window. She said that she got bored of simply describing it and that nothing worth writing about was happening anyway. He loved it because it was like she was sending him photographs of his hometown.
Are there any Latin authors or works that you think would make a good contribution to a speculative or dark fiction anthology?
Which of the episodes you like in the Metamorphoses do you think would work best as a stand-alone story?
Since Metamorphoses doesn't have a unified storyline, I believe more or less any story from it could stand on its own. The best one, however, would probably be the creation of the universe with which Ovid opens. He describes it in a mixture of scientific and supernatural terms, and it is probably the most intriguing.
What is your favourite (real or literary) sea creature and why?
Sea otters. They allegedly hold paws in their sleep so they wouldn't drift away from each other during the night. I'm a sucker for adorable things like that. And although it technically lives in a lake, I have always had an inexplicable fondness for the Giant Squid from Harry Potter.
Would you use a piece of art to tell someone that you love them?
Of course I would. I have done so in the past. I'm a hopeless romantic. But I do understand that's not everyone's cup of tea.
Are you working on any other translations or fiction for publication at the moment? Or what else would you like to work on?
I'm not working on anything at the moment. I have only worked on short stories so far and I would really love to move on to translating a novel. Preferably something with dragons, but I'll take what I can get.
Thank you, Dunja!
Dunja is the translator of “The Scythe and the Hourglass” in Fae Visions of the Mediterranean.