December 5, 2017
Becoming familiar with another world
Interview with Ariuntsetseg Ganbold. As part of the Merck Social Translating Project, Ariuntsetseg Ganbold is translating Thomas Melle’s „Die Welt im Rücken (The World at Your Back)“ into Mongolian. In this interview, she spoke about her impressions after the initial meeting with the other translators at the Goethe-Institut Seoul.
Ms. Ariuntsetseg, you just returned from the meeting to kick-off the Merck Social Translating Project. What was especially exciting, nice, or surprising?
A total of ten translators from nine different countries in Asia are participating in this project. We are translating the novel Die Welt im Rücken (The World at Your Back) by Thomas Melle into ten different languages. An online platform is available to support our work, which allows us to interact with the author, the other translators, the project coordinators, and a moderator. All of the participants met each other in Seoul, and we discussed how the platform works and the next steps. It’s good to meet everyone in person since the online platform, of course, cannot replace personal interaction. It also lowers inhibitions to ask questions when you have met everyone in person.
We just spoke about that during the meeting in Seoul. It was interesting that the ten translators not only come from different countries, but also had different backgrounds and opinions. For example, Le from Vietnam held the view that: “Translating is lonely work. With social translating the translator is not alone and is more motivated that he or she would be otherwise.” For me as an editor at a publishing house, it is incredibly important that the translation is free of errors. Especially when the book has challenging language, things can quickly go wrong. Social translating helps a lot when it is important to clarify difficult terms and figures of speech. If there’s something that I don’t understand, I can even ask the author and other translators right away. That helps a great deal and shows me what I need to pay attention to in particular. That also saves me a lot of time and work.
We often have the same questions and problems with the translation, perhaps because all of us are from Asia. It starts with the title Die Welt im Rücken (The World at Your Back). Do we all have to translate the title literally or can you translate it loosely and differently to suit your respective culture? After all, the same book will be published in different languages at the same time. And then there are a lot of technical terms from the fields of psychology and psychiatry. The autobiographical book focuses on the author’s manic depression (bipolar disorder) and how he attempts to deal with the illness. This illness is hardly ever discussed in our society. Do the English terms have to be borrowed in the translation or should you try to describe or explain the terms? There are also many words and terms that are familiar to German readers, but not to Asian readers such as Prenzlauer Berg. Should we simply write the name or explain that Prenzlauer Berg is a district in Berlin known for its hipster café culture, many organic stores, etc.? We discussed these kinds of questions.
What is the greatest challenge with the Mongolian translation?
As previously mentioned, I worry about the unknown scenes in the book. Our readers might not know some of the people or things that appear in the book. It is a literary book, which is why everything can’t be paraphrased or explained in footnotes. There are a lot of things that you have to leave exactly as they are in the book. After all, there are also native-speaker readers who don’t know certain things. Becoming familiar with another world and making it accessible is challenging. But I don’t see that as a problem, but rather as a challenge and motivation to experience new things.
Through his novel you can experience and understand what it is like to have a mental illness. The author has bipolar disorder and wrote very vividly about his illness. Mental illness is rarely discussed in Mongolia. But according to experts, even in Mongolia more and more people are suffering from mental illness. The family members and friends of those affected often don’t know how to deal with it, and the mentally ill are often ostracized from society. By translating the book, we are also helping to raise awareness about this topic in society. Perhaps this will spark a discussion about how mental illness is dealt with in Mongolia. Apart from that, it is an impressive autobiographical novel that convinces both formally and in terms of its content, and is even entertaining. I can certainly recommend it to anyone interested in literature.
What are the next steps for the project? When can we read the translation of “Die Welt im Rücken” in Mongolian?
Over the next few months all of the translators will continue to work on their translations and stay in contact with each other and the author on the platform. In October of 2018, all of the translations will be done and will be presented at the Frankfurt Book Fair. The Goethe-Institut is organizing all of this, and Merck Korea is financing it. I would like to express my sincerest thanks to the Goethe-Institut Korea and Merck Korea for this fantastic idea and work.