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

Translation Workshop with Lisa Weeda (5 March 2019)

Lisa Weeda

UCL Dutch 2019 writer in residence, Lisa Weeda, worked with students of Dutch from the Universities of Sheffield, Nottingham and UCL on our annual Translation Project, in collaboration with professional translator Jonathan Reeder (known for his English translations of Peter Buwalda and Christine Otten among others). Together, they translated Lisa’s text for a virtual reality project which will premiere at this year’s Passa Porta Literary Festival at Huis de Buren in Brussels. Continue reading “Translation Workshop with Lisa Weeda (5 March 2019)”

Subtext: an evening with Lisa Weeda (5 March 2019)

Lisa Weeda

Please join us and the Comparative Literature students of Subtext for an evening with the Dutch writer-in-residence Lisa Weeda on Tuesday 5 March at 6:30 pm in Gordon Street 25 – 105 Public Cluster. Lisa and Subtext editors & contributors will be reading from their work, which will be followed by a discussion on themes related to home, belonging and the creative process. Refreshments will be available throughout the event. A conversation between Subtext and Lisa can already be found here. Continue reading “Subtext: an evening with Lisa Weeda (5 March 2019)”

Lisa Weeda Dutch Writer in Residence 2019

Lisa Weeda

UCL Dutch will be welcoming its annual writer in residence in March. Dutch author Lisa Weeda, author of De benen van Petrovski (2016), will  meet with our language students, as well as present at an evening event, and assist our students in translating one of her recent works.

UCL students will virtually collaborate on this with students from the universities of Sheffield and Nottingham. They will be assisted by a professional translator, Jonathan Reeder,  and the final text will be published by the Dutch-Flemish Cultural Centre De Buren in Brussels. Continue reading “Lisa Weeda Dutch Writer in Residence 2019”

Travelling and Translation: Abdelkader Benali (31 January 2014)

15 January 2014

Students, alumni and friends of the UCL Dutch department are warmly invited to a talk and wine reception organised by the UCL Centre for Low Countries Studies.

Abdelkader BenaliIn the first part of the programme, Dutch writer Abdelkader Benali will be reading from his 2009 novel My Mother’s Voice (‘De stem van mijn moeder’) in which a boy from Morocco becomes a photographer and infiltrates the cultural elite of the Netherlands, leaving behind his parents’ world. Reconciliation becomes possible when the family confronts one tragic event and one life-affirming event.

The programme continues with Abdelkader Benali in a wide-ranging conversation on travelling, border crossings, east meets west, translating between languages and cultures, and how this affects lives.

Biography

Abdelkader Benali was born in Morocco. When he was four years old, he and his family, of Berber background, migrated to the Netherlands and settled in Rotterdam. When he was twenty-one his debut novel Bruiloft aan zee (‘Wedding by the Sea’) appeared and was a huge critical and commercial success (1997). It was translated into many languages and nominated for the renowned Libris Prize for Literature that he received for his second novel, De langverwachte (‘The Long-Awaited’, 2002) in 2003.

Where and when?

This event is organised by the UCL Centre for Low Countries Studies and will be held at: Arts and Humanities Common Room G24, Ground floor, Foster Court University College London

Friday 31 January, 6.00–7.30pm.

Attendance is free but subject to registration: click here to register.

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.