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Profs To Give Bilingual Reading Of Translated Finnish Novel

Nov. 20, 2013
SHSU Media Contact: Jennifer Gauntt

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Two Sam Houston State University English professors will close out the department’s fall MFA Reading Series by sharing their heritage via an exploration of a lesser-examined writing form—that of translation—with a bilingual reading on Dec. 2.

The presentation, which will begin at 6 p.m. in Austin Hall, will feature English department chair Helena Halmari and Master of Fine Arts in creative writing program director Scott Kaukonen, who will read from their translation of Finnish author Anja Snellman’s Pet Shop Girls.

"Pet Shop Girls" Cover“We'll read from both the original novel, in Finnish, and from our translation. Well, Helena will read from the Finnish; I'll stick to the English,” Kaukonen said. “We'll also talk about the process of translation and why we think translation is important.”

Halmari and Kaukonen selected the work by Snellman, who is widely regarded as one of Finland’s leading contemporary novelists, after the two discovered a shared heritage. Halmari was born and raised in Finland, and Kaukonen is a fourth-generation Finn from Michigan.

Their translation was published in August by Ice Cold Crime, LLC.

“It took quite a while to bring the book to press. Despite Snellman's success in Finland, where she's a major Finnish author and a television celebrity, and despite her success in Europe—two of her books have been turned into movies, for example—she hadn't yet been translated into English,” Kaukonen said.

“Americans are notorious for not reading works in translation, let alone works from Finland, one of those small Nordic countries that enter our consciousness every four years during the Winter Olympics perhaps, but the success of Stieg Larsson and other Nordic crime writers led to the creation of Ice Cold Crime, by Jouko and Jarkko Sipila, with the intent of marketing specifically Finnish crime novels, and eventually to our partnership with them.”

Though less often discussed as a form of writing, translating books from other languages is important because literature is one of the ways readers can get to know the world beyond what is immediately around them. In this case, the two hope their translation will “expand the horizons of their (people’s) reading,” by providing them works that go beyond American or British writers.

“Translation is its own art. It's certainly a much different experience than creating your own novel,” Kaukonen said. “You're trying to transform, as best you can, a novel written in one language—with its own idioms, its own connotations, its own cultural contexts—into another language that often lacks equivalent idioms or connotations and that has its own, sometimes quite different, cultural context.

“Often Helena and I engaged in significant conversations about particular words or phrases, and how those words or phrases would be understood by a Finnish audience,” he continued. “Helena would provide me with a literal translation of a word's meaning—which might require a couple of sentences to communicate to me a fuller sense of the word's meaning—and then my task was to find the best way, the best word choice(s) in English to communicate all that that word or phrase was intended to communicate.”

Since taking on the translation project, their professional partnership has come to include working with the Journal of Finnish Studies, the leading English-language journal of its kind. Halmari serves as editor-in-chief of the journal, and Kaukonen is associate editor.

“Strangely, I've learned more about Finland and Finnish North America here than I did growing up in Michigan,” one of the places Finns immigrated to during their diaspora, Kaukonen said.

For more information on MFA Reading Series, contact Kaukonen at 936.294.1407.



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