Oonagh Stransky is a writer, translator, and editor based in Italy. She is known, most recently, as the English translator of The Name of God is Mercy, a book-length dialogue between Pope Francis and Vatican reporter Andrea Tornielli. Here’s the first part of a conversation Stransky had via e-mail with Interview Features Editor Ryan Mihaly about translating the Pope.
My first question is simple. What was it like to translate the Pope? I grew up Catholic, considered myself Agnostic when I was in college, and now, like many, consider myself on a spiritual journey but am unsure what to call myself. The Pope’s words are incredibly moving, especially as he reflects on his experiences as a young confessor, and can no doubt effect, I think, nonbelievers. What was it like to translate these words, and what were your goals as the translator?
Translating the Pope’s words and ideas was a challenging and moving experience for me, as most literary translations are. I would say it was even a transformative one, too. Because I had a limited amount of time to work on the translation, as I will explain, the experience was especially intense and personal, even more than if I had had a lot of time to work on it. I had to immerse myself entirely in the text. In so doing, I not only discovered a gentle, deeply human side to this Pope, I felt something change or soften inside me.
As I mentioned, everything about the experience was intense. One day, out of the blue, I was contacted by Will Murphy, a Random House editor based in New York. I worked with Random House many years ago but have not collaborated with them since then. Murphy told me about the project, asked if I was available and interested, and suggested I do a sample. I agreed and sent it back to him that same day. Three days later I walked in to the Random House offices in Manhattan and left with a handshake and deal. I have been living in Tuscany now since 2009 and moved here from New York—I missed this kind of efficiency and directness! My negotiations led to a contract—which did not include everything I hoped for—but it was a job that I cared about and, of course, as a freelancer I have to be ready to bite the bullet.