Tuesday, March 1, 2011

I'm going to be published!

Well, not really me, per se.

So last year, a friend introduced me to a book editor at a publishing house in Ho Chi Minh City and the editor asked me to translate a book for them from English to Vietnamese. The book? Brand New World by Max Lenderman.

Whilst it is a very very interesting book about marketing in BRIC countries, this post is more to talk about the art of translation in general.

I have just received the final edit of the translated book and it's due to be published at the end of this month. Let me tell you, there's something about seeing your name on a book, even as just the translator, that is just...I can't describe it. I was literally jumping up and down. Thankfully I took the day off and wasn't at work because I wouldn't be able to concentrate on work after receiving that. (My taking two days off work had nothing to do with the book).

Of course I knew that it was going to be published sooner or later (they paid me, after all) and that I translated it, but it wasn't until you see the actual page, with the book's name and your name on the same page, that it really starts to sink it. I can't wait to have the actual book in my hand though.


Anyway, I'm looking at the pdf of this book. It's 328 pages in full, with cover pages and end notes which I did not translate, but for this book I did translate about 280 pages, which now when I'm looking at all of it one place, I'm sort of in disbelief. I'm even more in disbelief reading back at it, because I don't remember writing any of these words but nonetheless, the words are here on the page. The unfamiliarness wasn't due to the edits, most of it was actually my words when I compared to my manuscript. I swear I'm reading it, and the first chapter sounds familiar but that's because I agonised so much over it but then as I go on, I start reading it as if a book someone else had written and translated, that I was reading this for the first time. Which is weird because at the back of my mind I knew I translated it but it doesn't feel like it. I think it's partly because the actual original words and the ideas behind the words weren't mine to begin with, so it doesn't feel I'm reading myself.

The only problem with actually having translated a book is that for a while you go a bit funny and read everything with the intent to translate it. I was reading a translation of Eat, Pray, Love and I kept translating it back into English from Vietnamese. But that's partly because the translation wasn't that great to begin with and it distracted me (I don't mean I am by any means a perfect translator, but this particular translation of Eat, Pray, Love wasn't to my style. Then again maybe that's just the original book itself). Then I watched the movie and was bored and so right now it doesn't look like I'm going to be finishing the book.

Back to translation. Now that I look back at it, my whole "career" in translation is rather scary, mostly because I'm totally making things up as I go and I'm not remotely qualified to do it; I still feel like I have no business translating a book that is going to actually be published. The most obvious reason for that is that my Vietnamese isn't even that good to begin with. I went to Vietnamese school for exactly 3 years of my life and the rest of it was spent in English-speaking schools and university with very limited expose to learning Vietnamese as a language. My grasp of vocabulary is woefully limited and when it comes to marketing lingo? I swear I looked up every single marketing term on the internet for the Vietnamese translation. And yet it was because I had so lost touch with Vietnamese in my education that prompted me to get into translation in the first place.

It started when in my first year of university in Australia, having too much time on my hand and in an environment with too little opportunity to use Vietnamese and I was afraid that after three years here, my Vietnamese would be even worst than it already it. At the time, for reasons now unknown to me, I was member of an online forum about movies and they were starting a group who would translate movie news from English into Vietnamese. I joined. I totally didn't intend to stay there for the whole three years of university. The circumstances in which I left the group and the forum wasn't the most...cordial, shall we say, but looking back, I can't help but be grateful for that time because as useless as it sounded, spending all that time online, I learned so much and met some people who are now really close friends (including said friend who introduced me to said book editor who offered me said book :P). So yes, I went to translating gossip news about Lindsay Lohan's DUI cases to translating a book, but hey, you had to start somewhere, right?