World Literature Today Translation Prize

World Translation prize image

Mattho Mandersloot, a student of the MA Translation programme at SOAS University of London, has won the inaugural World Literature Today Translation Prize for his translation of Zopor, a short story by the Dutch writer Jamal Ouariachi.

World translation prize winner Mattho

Mattho describes some of the challenges he faced translating the work:

Can you describe the work Zopor?

“In Zopor, Dutch writer Jamal Ouariachi stretches the possibilities of language and pushes the boundaries of prose writing.  By way of neologisms, he creates a parallel reality, which the reader enters, exits and re-enters.  Guided by an equally inventive use of punctuation, the reader is drawn into the protagonist’s private world, where he seems to hide away from the problems of real life.”

“It is an extraordinary piece of storytelling, with some of the most deeply evocative imagery I’ve come across in contemporary Dutch fiction.”

How did you first encounter this short story?

“Ouariachi’s short story collection Herinneringen in Aluminiumfolie was recommended to me by a friend, himself a writer of children’s and young adult literature.  From this collection, Zopor immediately stood out as the most progressive, experimental work.  I’ve always had a strong interest in writers who are bold enough to break literary conventions.”

What were the greatest challenges you faced translating Zopor?

“Unsurprisingly, I spent quite a bit of time chewing over the neologisms.  In order to recreate the atmosphere of Zopor (the protagonist’s imaginary world), it was absolutely essential to maintain the playfulness of Ouariachi’s language.  I’ve tried to come up with words that are equally colourful and suggestive, leaving the reader with a similar ‘intuitive’ impression of the protagonist’s mind.  Luckily, Ouariachi reads English and I was happy to hear that, in his opinion, my translation manages to get this impression across.”

Literature has a proud history of neologisms, with such works as A Clockwork Orange and Jabberwocky.  What was the inspiration for some of your neologisms?

“As with all literary translation, it is important to pay close attention to voice.  In order for the neologisms to work within the narrative, they had to sound authentic (ie. ‘something the protagonist would say’).  By the same token, if the neologisms were out of line with his character, it would render the translation flawed.  I didn’t take inspiration from anything in particular (eg. another language, as Burgess did), but kept toying around with sound associations in my head until I found the right word.”

How has your time at SOAS helped your work?

“Literary translation is ultimately an act of writing, a notion which should at once dispel the conventional idea that ‘when you know two languages, you can translate’.”

“The MA Translation has enabled me to conceptualise what translation is and where its boundaries lie.”

“There are many more ways to think about translation than ‘literal versus free’, always trying to assess the degree of ‘equivalence’.  Knowing what translation scholars have said about the practice, I felt that much more confident tackling the text.”

What are your plans for the future?

“Next year, I will pursue a second master’s in Korean Studies at Oxford, after which I envisage a fruitful career in literary translation.  The grand plan is to put Korean literature on the map in the Netherlands, where I grew up and where almost nothing is published translated from the Korean.”

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