Translation and Collaboration: UK Dutch Students Combine Forces to Translate Fikry El Azzouzi’s De Beloning

Rachel West
18/04/20

February 2020 marked the beginning of a collaborative translation project on an excerpt from Fikry El Azzouzi’s De Beloning. The project saw the coming together of three universities which are home to the last remaining Dutch language departments in the UK: The University of Sheffield, The University of Nottingham and the University College London. Three universities, twenty-one students and one book extract to translate from Dutch to English, the project aimed to promote cultural exports from Flanders while providing students an opportunity to gain real, hands-on experience in translation. Despite the unexpected curveball of the Coronavirus outbreak, a complete commitment to the task prevailed. Here’s how we got on!

Aan de slag – Getting going!

Fikry El Azzouzi, UCLDutch Writer in Residence 2020Phase one consisted of being split into groups that mixed students from the three universities, introducing ourselves to one another (virtually!) and then getting to grips with the source text – award-winning author and playwright Fikry El Azzouzi’s latest novel, De Beloning (The Reward in English). The coming-of-age story of Zakaria, a Flemish-Moroccan youngster who constantly fights to be seen as the former instead of the latter, De Beloning revolves around themes of loss, identity, family and society. With cultural tension between the Belgian setting and the main characters’ Moroccan roots and the witty satire that kicks life into the dialogue, this 2019 novel was a great challenge for us final year Dutch students. Many of us spent time working or studying in Flanders and the Netherlands last year developing both our linguistic and cultural knowledge, and this project posed an exciting combination of the two. So, full of anticipation, we wielded our book copies and began page turning.

Teamwork makes the translation work…

After reading De Beloning and then being assigned a section of the text to translate per group, each of us set to work on completing an individual translation. Standard translation practice applied, the ultimate aim being to preserve the precise meaning of the source text as much as possible. Of course, this is easier said than done. Cultural factors, the plot, the nature of the characters and their relationships with one another, as well as El Azzouzi’s lively writing style all had to be taken into account with every translated word, sentence and paragraph. Even punctuation mattered – would we add a comma there? Would this be better as two sentences instead of one? Every translation task involves a lot of difficult decision-making and so we were especially fortunate to have professional translators Jonathan Reeder and Alice Tetley-Paul on hand, who kindly offered advice and assistance as we began to work collaboratively within our teams. We discussed our initial translations and any striking differences between them, and gradually worked towards creating a combined team translation. Sentence by sentence, we battled to create the best collaborative effort possible by fending off the over-literal, the awkward, or the (luckily few) occasions where we had simply got it wrong. After much debate and deliberation, as well as the occasional “phone a friend”-style query to Alice or Jonathan, each group submitted a final translation of their section.

A world-wide webcam conference

VertaalprojectOn Wednesday 18th March, all of this hard work culminated in the form of a video conference with Fikry, Jonathan, Alice, all of us students and our lecturers. Covid-19 may have prevented us from assembling in Sheffield as planned, but it did not prevent us from discussing the project via webcam! Minor technical issues aside, the video conference proved highly productive as we began working through any queries that arose in each group’s section. Many of these were important to other groups too – a particular word choice made in one section might also need to be made in another. One of the main examples of this was the words “mama” and “papa” which appear frequently, especially at the beginning of the text, where young siblings converse in their family home. “Mum” and “dad” felt too stiff while “mummy” and “daddy” proved too juvenile – it felt like we were stuck between a rock and a hard place until Alice suggested actually keeping the words the same in the English translation. Although they perhaps seemed a bit hooty-tooty to our English ears, it was universally voted the best solution – the main reason being that it maintained the Belgian setting of the novel. We were keen not to “over Anglicise” the text where culture and national identity are notably crucial themes.

And thus the project progressed – from one mind, to five, to more like twenty-five, our team spirit grew and our translations improved. It was great to have the opportunity to exchange ideas and hear new perspectives, and we felt especially lucky to have the author there to approve our suggestions and offer alternatives. Each section therefore became a part of something bigger and ensuring consistency and continuity became a new priority in our work.

Final steps

The sections were then combined to form one entire excerpt in English – it’s really satisfying to see a final version that reflects all of our blood, sweat and tears (or all of the digging through dictionaries, head-scratching and web-searching). The last step was to recruit a small editorial team consisting of two of the students from the project, John Cairns (Sheffield) and Emily Green (Nottingham) who were then tasked with making any final changes with the help of Jonathan and Alice. And just like that, the project was complete!

Thank you to the Dutch Language Union and Flanders Literature for making the Dutch Translation Project possible. Thank you to our tutors, Christine Sas (UCL), Bram Mertens (Nottingham) and coordinator Henriette Louwerse (Sheffield). And of course a huge thank you to Fikry El Azzouzi, Alice Tetley-Paul and Jonathan Reeder. May this project continue for a long time, so that more students can benefit from real-world translation experience, great literature and wonderful community spirit.

NTU LogoFlanders Literature

Fikry El Azzouzi will be 2020 Writer in Residence @UCLDutch

Fikry El Azzouzi, UCLDutch Writer in Residence 2020The Dutch Department’s annual Writer in Residence 2020 will be Flemish author and journalist Fikry El Azzouzi.

Dutch department finalists will be translating a section of his latest novel De Beloning (‘The reward’), in collaboration with their counterparts at the Universities of Sheffield and Nottingham.

Fikry El Azzouzi (b. 1978), a Flemish-Moroccan author, writes novels, columns and plays. He debuted in 2010 with ‘The Feast of the Sheep’. For his novel Drarrie in the Night and his play ‘Jihad Travels’, he was awarded the 65th Arkprijs van het Vrije Woord. She Alone is the love story of a Flemish woman and a Moroccan man, and at the same time a dystopian warning about Europe and its growing fear of everything that is different. The Reward is a satirical coming-of-age story.

LetterenfondsFlanders Literature

Creative writing with Dutch author Vrouwkje Tuinman

How do these people know each other? Why is the one young woman looking to the side? Who or what is she looking at? Why are they posing the way they do? Is this their car? Where and why is this picture taken?

Formulating these and more questions about this intriguing picture led our current finalists to writing a synopsis of a potential backstory, expertly guided by Vrouwkje Tuinman, novelist and poet, who had just published her latest collection of poems contemplating the loss of her long-term partner, former City of Amsterdam poet laureate F. Starink.

Starink is known for writing poetry and performing at funeral services for lonely and unknown people. Vrouwkje Tuinman posthumously finished his last manuscript about this remarkable and laudable initiative.

The 2-hour session with our finalists did not involve death and mourning, but rather various techniques for creating stories based on the above picture, and a range of key words. Students enjoyed playing around with this and listening to each other’s creations.

We are working with our current Harting exchange student to publish these stories at the Utrecht University student writing platform, so watch this space!

BBC3 Radio on modern Dutch literature (9 Oct. 2019, 10pm)

BBC3

Laurence Scott looks at the way Dutch writers are addressing history and contemporary life with Rodaan Al Galidi, Eva Meijer, Onno Blom, Herman Koch and Toon Tellegen.

Eva Meijer is an author, artist, singer, songwriter and philosopher. Her non-fiction study on animal Communication, Animal Languages has been published this year and her first novel to be translated into English Bird Cottage, has been nominated for the BNG and Libris prizes in the Netherlands and is being translated into several languages.

Rodaan Al Galidi is a trained engineer who fled his native Iraq and arrived in the Netherlands in 1998. He taught himself Dutch and now writes both prose and poetry. His novel De autist en de postduif (The autist and the carrier-pigeon) was one of the books in 2011 given the EU Prize for Literature.

Onno Blom is an author, literary reviewer and freelance journalist who has appears regularly discussing books on the Dutch radio show TROS Nieuws, has worked as editor-in-chief at the publishing house Prometheus and whose biography of the Dutch artist and sculptor Jan Hendrik Wolkers won the 2018 Dutch biography prize.

Herman Koch is an actor and a writer. His best selling novelist, The Dinner, was published in 55 countries and sold more than a million copies. His new book, The Ditch, is a literary thriller.

Toon Tellegen is is one of the best-known Dutch writers. In 2007 he received two major prizes for his entire oeuvre. He considers himself in the first place a poet and has published more than twenty collections of poetry to date, among them Raptors. He is also a novelist and a prolific and popular children’s author.

Events put on by the Dutch Foundation for Literature, New Dutch Writing and Modern Culture take Dutch writers to Norwich, London.

Producer: Zahid Warley

Release date: 09 October 2019
44 minutes

https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/m00094ck

 

New Dutch Writing campaign kicks off with focus on literary translation

[text from www.thebookseller.com]

The New Dutch Writing campaign launched last week, with a focus on literary translation and presenting a new generation of Dutch authors.

Dutch and British representatives from the world of books and translation gathered to celebrate the launch at The Union Club in Soho on Wednesday evening (3rd July). Speeches were given by Brechje Schwachofer, deputy ambassador of the Dutch Embassy, and Bas Pauw from the Dutch Foundation for Literature.

Pauw said: “New Dutch Writing will focus on presenting a new generation of Dutch authors, an exciting young literature written at the heart of Europe, by Britains closest neighbours on the continent – both geographically and psychologically. A literature that feels familiar and exotic at the same time.  

“The other central theme of the campaign will be literary translation. Literary translation as a vital culture – not as a threshold for foreign authors, not as a nuisance for publishers, but as an intriguing intellectual skill and as a cultural richness. We will give centre stage to the people who make it possible for UK readers to read Dutch books. We will get translators on stage, organise residencies for translators and reach out to the young generation of aspiring translators. The campaign will be celebrating the work of translators and capitalising on the growing interest in international literature among UK readers.”

The launch saw The Union building specially dressed in the New Dutch Writing livery and attendees received goody bags including samplers for forthcoming Dutch books from John Murray and Picador, a gift voucher for new Dutch restaurant Gezellig and a bespoke NDW bicycle bell.

More information here and here.

Joost Zwagerman Writer in Residence at UCL Dutch in 2010/11

9 September 2010

Joost ZwagermanJoost Zwagerman will be Dutch Writer in Residence at UCL in 2010/11. The Writer in Residence, supported by the Nederlands Letterenfonds, will engage with students and staff in the department and actively contribute to undergraduate and postgraduate teaching.

Joost Zwagerman’s debute novel De houdgreep was published in 1986. His second and third novels Gimmick! (1989) and Vals licht (1991) were adapted for theatre and screen (by Theo van Gogh) respectively and he received the prestigious AKO literatuurprijs for the latter. The acclaimed novels Chaos en Rumoer, Zes Sterren and De buitenvrouw followed. Besides books, Joost Zwagerman also publishes poetry and essays and writes regular columns for the for the NRC Handelsblad. For his most recent poetry bundle Roeshoofd hemelt he was awarded the Awater poetry prize. Among his essay work are Pornotheek Arcadië and Het vijfde seizoen, published in 2001 and 2003.

To a Dutch audience he is also known as host of the programme Zomergasten on Dutch television and appeared on stage with fellow Dutch writer Ronald Giphart. In Januari 2008 Joost Zwagerman was awarded the ‘Gouden Ganzeveer’, as a reward for his work as an extraordinary addition to the Dutch written culture. He lives with his wife and children in Amsterdam. The work of Joost Zwagerman is translated into a dozen languages, including English, German, French and Japanese.

More information about Joost Zwagerman can be found on his website.