THE TRANSLATOR’S (INTER)VIEW. LINDY FALK VAN ROOYEN ON TRANSFER WINDOW.
A utopian reimagining of wealthy suburbs north of Copenhagen as a luxurious hospice for the terminally ill. An intense book, making us feel – using the translator’s words – “the tension between the gravity of death and a certain lightness of being”. Transfer Window by Maria Gerhardt (Nordisk Books), translated by Lindy Falk van Rooyen, is definitely the next book to put on your reading list.
While waiting for Transfer Window to be released on 27th June (pre-order it on Nordisk Books’ website here!), read our interview with the translator Lindy Falk van Rooyen and discover more about this powerful book and the author, who sadly died of cancer in 2017.
Transfer Window is a peculiar book. How would you describe it?
Yes, peculiar in a good way, though. It’s a very personal book of short fragments, no longer than a page each, which read like ‘attempts’ to articulate deep-seated feelings that reminds me of the tradition of Montaigne’s Essays, albeit in a very compact form. We know from the first page that the narrator is in the final stage of terminal cancer, and even though death is certain – sooner for the narrator than it is for most of us – the overall tone is not as bleak as one might expect. The prose has a meditative rhythm, which draws you into a universe that is not didactic or intellectual at all, even though the subtitle suggests that Maria Gerhardt intended her book to be much more than an autofictive re-imagining of her experience of terminal cancer. Maria Gerhardt was a DJ and a poet, but also an author with a political conscience. And I loved the unexpected playfulness of this book, Maria’s self-effacing humour, the tension between the gravity of death and a certain lightness of being; the narrator is terminally ill, but she reminds us that she is still alive, a human being, who loves and laughs and hurts. And she doesn’t suffer fools with their well-meaning, yet often inane attempts to comfort her.
What can you say about the subtitle 'Tales of the Mistakes of the Healthy'?
Subtitles can create certain expectations with the reader, and the word ‘fortællinger’ used in the Danish original subtitle also suggests some kind of genre classification. I toyed with options like ‘stories’ or ‘sketches’, which is probably the closest translation, if you’re interested in categories, but I don’t think that Maria Gerhardt was particularly interested in the niceties of genre, certainly not in this book. Rather, I think the subtitle points to our awkwardness in relating to death and the dying, to our own human fallibility. I settled for a relatively literal translation of ‘fortællinger’, and I’m indebted to a friend for suggesting the word ‘tales’, which I felt was the best translation for Maria Gerhardt’s unfussy, down-to-earth style of ‘telling’ or sharing her episodes from a life in a hospice that she re-imagines as an idyllic village for the terminally ill on the stretch of Danish coastline north of Copenhagen, expropriated by the Danish government for this particular purpose. Life can be very grave at this Hospice, but the author’s quips and conversations with fellow patient and friend Mikkel is from the real world experience of death. ‘Tales’ has the added advantage of the phonetic correlation to ‘fortællinger’, which also sounds similar to the English word ‘foretell’. Our awkwardness with death is our human ‘fejl’, which I again chose to translate in the literal sense of the ‘mis-takes’ we make in life: when I read this book, our lives feel like a ‘stage’, but her life is not; for the narrator, death is more than a fear of mind, it is imminent reality.
“… as a translator, I was constantly asking myself: where is she writing from, exactly? But I think that’s the magic of this book, if not the whole point: the narrator is writing from a ‘Transfer Window’, which can mean many things to many people.”
The translator Lindy Falk van Rooyen
on Transfer Window
And how would you describe the structure of the book?
It consists of passages or fragments of varying length from one sentence to a maximum of one page and is roughly divided into three ‘books’ or sequences. From the outset, the title itself, actually, there is a very strong sense of place in the book. And, as a translator, I was constantly asking myself: where is she writing from, exactly? But I think that’s the magic of this book, if not the whole point: the narrator is writing from a ‘Transfer Window’, which can mean many things to many people. In the first fragment, she is sitting on a bench in garden, smoking. What does she see? I kept coming back to this image, as she tells me her story, shares her memories, her hopes and dreams of the future she could have had.
The author Maria Gerhardt died of cancer in 2017. What does this mean for the translator? Did this affect the translation process and how?
Due to Maria Gerhardt’s death I never had the opportunity to meet her during the translation process. Every translator has his or her preferred method to tackle the immense responsibility and privilege involved in the act of literary translation. It is very important to me that I can relate to the original text on a personal level, which includes the author, but my particular modus operandi depends on the nature of book, rather than the author. If I’m translating a highly literary book, I usually contact the author during the translation process in order to get a better sense of the author’s intentions, or to discuss aspects of style. It is clear that this book is a very personal one, but I approached this translation in a way that I think Maria Gerhardt would have intended it to be read: as a fictional work of art, rather than a memoir or a deathbed diary.
Did you have any particular difficulty in translating this text? If so, which parts of the text and how did you solve them in your translation?
I have never lost a loved one to terminal cancer, and thankfully I am one of the ‘healthy’ that Maria Gerhardt addresses in her book. Reading the original, I soon became aware that the author and the narrator often have a specific addressee in mind in the individual fragments, and yet there is a sense that she is talking to me, her reader, personally. Also, starting with the tone of the subtitle, there is a sense that the narrator is acutely aware that, more often than not, our own fears overshadow or interfere with our concern for the well-being of the terminally ill. So I think the particular challenge I faced in translating this book was deciding how to convey this undefined emotional undercurrent - part appeal, part ridicule, part self-effacing irony - into English. I can only hope that I solved this problem in a way that is faithful to the original as well as to Maria Gerhardt’s memory. The author’s two previous works – also deeply informed by the author’s personal life – gave useful insight into the way she saw the world. I don’t think it’s meaningful or even possible to list the wealth of emotions driving this book – each reader will experience their own – but for me, as translator, the second greatest challenge was the rendering of the author’s humour or ‘lightness of being’, as I experienced it, alongside defiance, courage, anger, bitterness, intense sorrow and ultimately, a profound gratitude to be alive.
I noticed that the epigraph of the translation is different to the one that appears in the original Danish?
Yes. Unfortunately, we weren’t permitted to publish the epigraph that appears in the Danish original, a line from the lyrics of ‘Don’t give up’ (1986) by Kate Bush and Peter Gabriel. So the epigraph that introduces the translation is a departure from the original. But I hope that our epigraph, one of Maria Gerhardt’s own poems from her debut collection, is still in line with the spirit of the author’s original intention. And it is intended as an homage to Maria Gerhardt and her art as an author and poet.
Do you have a favourite passage from the book?
Yes, I do. There are many passages that moved me deeply, but the rhythm and heart of the first image stays with me:
“I wait for the sun, smoking cigarettes while I wait, smoking cigarettes, even though it’s not allowed. When I close my eyes, I’m roused by the sounds.”
We kindly thank Nordisk Books and translator Lindy Falk van Rooyen
for their contribution to our blog.
Transfer Window is the second book published by Nordisk Books in 2019, following Termin: An Inquiry into Violence in Norway by Henrik Nor-Hansen (May 2019), our selected Translated Book of the Month in May, translated by Matt Bagguley, whom we’ve also interviewed (read our interview here) to explore the text’s style and tone’s peculiarities and how these are handled with in translation. Transfer Window and Termin were launched last month at Whitlit.
More about the translator:
Lindy Falk van Rooyen is a Danish/South African translator of Danish fiction. She holds an LLM in Commercial Law and an MA in English and Scandinavian Literature. Her translations have appeared in Blue Lyra Review, Asymptote, The Missing Slate, and Lunch Ticket Magazine. Book-length translations include What my body remembers (Soho Press, 2017) by Agnete Friis, which was short-listed for the Petrona Award for the Best Scandinavian Crime Novel of the Year 2018. Most recently, she was awarded a PEN Heim Translation Grant in 2018 and an excerpt of her translation of Up Close & Distant (Nær og Fjern, Gyldendal, 2015) by Dorrit Willumsen was short-listed for the John Dryden Translation Prize 2018. She is based in Hamburg, Germany.