Posts filed under 'french canadian literature'

Meet the Publisher: Simon Dardick, Co-Publisher of Véhicule Press, on Publishing Translations of Francophone Literature and Social History

It’s wonderful working with translators. I love the whole complex process and appreciate how translators must have a foot in two cultures.

Véhicule Press is a Canadian publisher of fiction, non-fiction, and poetry. Located in the city of Montréal, where French is predominantly spoken, Véhicule has been publishing francophone authors in translation since 1980. In recent years, half their catalog has been dedicated to works translated from the French. Véhicule started out in 1973 on the site of the artist-run gallery Véhicule Art Inc. with a printing press and equipment inherited from one of its members. In 1975, they became the only cooperatively owned printing and publishing company in the province of Québec. Nowadays, the press is run by Simon Dardick, who stayed on when the coop broke up in 1981, and archivist Nancy Marrelli. From the beginning, Véhicule has focused on titles that celebrate and examine Canadian culture and society. Asymptote’s Editor-at-Large for Argentina, Sarah Moses, stopped by Véhicule’s office in Montréal to chat with Simon Dardick about publishing francophone literature in translation and some of the titles he’s excited about. 

Sarah Moses (SM): I’d like to begin by asking you about the origins of Véhicule Press.

Simon Dardick (SD): It grew out of an art gallery called Véhicule Art. It was at a time when artists were renting large spaces—for performance art and for large-scale colour field paintings. Véhicule Art was an artist-run gallery—the second one in Canada; the first was in Vancouver.The artwork was interesting—it was very international but also showed work from local people from Montréal and Québec. The press was situated at the back of the gallery. One of the artists had bought a huge printing press and printed, I think, one or two copies of a magazine called Beaux-Arts. The apocryphal story is that the printer got his hand caught in the press and it stood silent for many months until some people gravitated around it and decided to learn how to use it.

That was six months before I arrived in 1973. I became typesetter and general manager. We were all middle class kids, lots of long hair, who were involved in literary stuff. We were painters, writers, dancers, and video artists who came together. There was at various times seven or eight of us. We were incorporated in Québec as a cooperative printing and publishing company. We really wanted just to publish, but we would print our books on offcuts, the paper left over from jobs we had printed for other folks. We were the popular grassroots printer in town. We printed posters and invitations for artists and flyers for demonstrations and community groups. So essentially we started publishing more and more books of our own although near the end we still did jobs printing for people. The end was really 1980, 1981. The technology was changing—printing was becoming more electronic, rather than lithographic. We did low-end printing, except for our own books. We didn’t envision committing to a life of commercial printing. So we dissolved the printing company and my wife, Nancy, and I continued the publishing end of things. In 1981, we moved to a greystone in central Montréal—we live above the office—and immediately eliminated tremendous overhead in terms of rent.

Our approach has been very much influenced by visual arts—I was a painter. So for me the look of a book is important: the cover art and the text of the book has to work together. To this day I still typeset all our books, with the odd exception. We’ve been doing it here since 1981. We have a poetry editor and a fiction editor. My wife and I do the non-fiction.

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Translator’s Profile: Peter McCambridge

My first favourite writer was Roddy Doyle. I’d also enjoy sitting down for a pint of Guinness with Roddy.

Originally from Ireland, award-winning translator Peter McCambridge holds a BA in modern languages from Cambridge University, England, and has lived in Quebec City since 2003. He runs Québec Reads and now QC Fiction, which recently published Eric Dupont‘s Life in the Court of Matane, excerpted in Asymptote’s Translation Tuesday showcase on the blog and at The Guardian here.

Who is your favorite fictional character of all time?

At the risk of starting off a little lowbrow, I’d have to say Bernard Samson, the glass-half-full spy of Len Deighton’s “airport thriller” series. Nobody else comes remotely close, off the top of my head. I first read more or less everything Len Deighton had ever written when I was 11 to 14 and I’ve recently gone back to them in the new audio version. They go down perfectly after a hard day’s work. A hearty German meal in Berlin with Bernie and Werner and I’d be a very happy man, I think.

Who was your first favorite writer and how old were you when you discovered them?

In high school, the only thing I read and really loved was Edith Wharton’s The Age of Innocence. Thomas Hardy and a lot of other writers who were forced upon me left me cold. It’s funny: I’ve spent a lot of my life reading books that I’ve had to read. At university, I studied French and German literature, which didn’t leave much time for reading for fun. Looking back, a very small percentage of those books were ones that I really enjoyed and would happily read again. When I was younger, around 10 or 11, I remember reading The Secret Seven and a Hardy Boys adventure every night. To answer your question, I think my first favourite writer was Roddy Doyle. I’d also enjoy sitting down for a pint of Guinness with Roddy.

What is your favorite word in any language? Which word do you find most difficult to translate?

I’ve always liked tamisé in French, just for the way it sounds. I always think it sounds soft, like the lighting it describes.

What 5 books would you want with you if you were stranded on a desert island?

To the Lighthouse and The Age of Innocence were both amazing and really left a mark on me. I’d also bring Ulysses and finish working my way through it with the help of Frank Delaney’s wonderful Re:Joyce podcasts. The next two books on my hopelessly long to-read list would make up the five.

Which under-translated author do you think deserves wider recognition worldwide?

The obvious, truthful answer is Eric Dupont. He’s been compared in Québec to our very own Gabriel García Márquez and John Irving. I’m working hard to raise his profile through QC Fiction and Québec Reads.

Do you have a translation philosophy that guides your work?

I worked for a few years translating advertising copy, legal contracts, recipes, and healthcare leaflets before thinking about translating a novel. More importantly, I was revised the whole time and I learned a lot. My employer’s philosophy rubbed off on me and that was to write what the author would have put had they been writing in English. It’s harder than it sounds. “The original sentence tells the translator what the sentence should say but not how exactly to say it,” Lazer Lederhendler told me recently, and I think that sums it up well.

Which of the translations that you’ve worked on was the most challenging? Why?

I felt a lot of pressure translating Lori Saint-Martin’s The Closed Door. But Lori is one of Canada’s best and best-known translators into French so she was a big help along the way.

How did you learn your foreign language and how did you begin working as a literary translator?

I learned French and German in high school in Ireland, then studied French and German literature at Cambridge. But I like to say that I began speaking French when I moved to Québec City in 2003. Moving to Québec meant I forgot all my German. Only for me to meet and marry a German girl here. Which meant I suddenly had to relearn everything. And then try to understand Schwäbisch. Now we speak German at home and French to our friends and children.

If you could have been born in a culture other than your own which would you choose to be a member of? Why?

That’s an easy one: Québec. I moved here so that my children would have that chance.

If you hadn’t been a translator what profession would you like to have tried?

At the minute, I’m kind of switching professions as I try to devote more time to being a fiction editor. But otherwise I think I’d be writing for a magazine somewhere (since soccer goalie is probably not a very realistic answer).

Finally, in your bio, you mentioned that Life in the Court of Matane is the book that made you want to be a literary translator. Could you explain briefly why?

It’s hard to explain. I read Bestiaire, as it’s known in the original French, when it first came out and just fell in love with it. I still love it today—even after spending a year translating it! Now it’s like living with someone: you can’t quite explain what attracted you in the first place, you just know your life is better with them in it.

 

Translation Tuesday: An excerpt of “Life in the Court of Matane” by Eric Dupont

"The funny thing about memory is that it always ends up chasing its own tail. The most important thing is to keep it moving."

Nadia Comaneci’s gold-medal performance at the Olympic Games in Montreal is the starting point for a whole new generation. Eric Dupont watches the performance on TV, mesmerized. The son of a police officer (Henry VIII) and a professional cook—as he likes to remind us—he grows up in the depths of the Quebec countryside with a new address for almost every birthday and little but memories of his mother to hang on to. His parents have divorced, and the novel’s narrator relates his childhood, comparing it to a family gymnastics performance worthy of Nadia herself.

Life in the court of Matane is unforgiving, and we explore different facets of it (dreams of sovereignty, schoolyard bullying, imagined missions to Russia, poems by Baudelaire), each based around an encounter with a different animal, until the narrator befriends a great horned owl, summons up the courage to let go of the upper bar forever, and makes his glorious escape.

***

From the first lot we lived on, if you went down a big grassy hill and crossed the road you’d find us by the river. In the summer, the sand could become burning hot in the sun, despite the glacial currents that flowed down from Labrador. Reels of dried-up seaweed revealed how high the tides rose and stretched out in arcs from east to west. We found green sea urchin skeletons, blue shells, and pink tampon applicators. Sometimes we would step on a piece of glass polished by the salt. It would slide so smoothly between our fingers that we could barely imagine its sharp past. When we held it up to the sun it would look like part of a stained-glass window washed up on the beach at Matane. Coke and Pepsi bottles produced translucent shards of polished white. The green bits of glass came from 7UP bottles. Beer bottles splintered into small, dark amber pieces. On this strip of beach, the waves deposited at our feet the shattered stained-glass windows of a church sunk off the Matane coastline. My sister and I picked up the pieces without ever beginning the impossible task of putting them back together. We knew that they had once been part of a whole, but that an earthquake had probably separated them. The sea salt had made them smooth so that their edges no longer fit together. They had taken on a shape all their own. They could be traced back to a family only by their colour. A distant kinship. They had ended up where the Gulf of St. Lawrence melts into the northern blue sky, leaving ships arriving from the Atlantic in July dangling from an invisible thread. The horizon gives way to a blue void that draws the soul northward. The trip is pleasant enough. When you really let yourself go, you soar high above the gulf, the taiga, and the permafrost, until you reach the tundra, where on a sunny January day you can drift off into the light of the north. READ MORE…