Andreea Iulia Scridon
Monica Cure on The Censor’s Notebook, winner of the Oxford-Weidenfeld Prize
“If in this very moment I were to meet with any Romanian scribbler, I would stroke his head, maternally, paternally, I’d kiss his forehead, maternally, paternally, and again maternally.”
Liliana Corobca, The Censor’s Notebook (trans. Monica Cure)
Please tell us about yourself as a translator, and your relationship to literature in general.
I grew up in a Romanian-American community in the suburbs of Detroit. My family and I came from Romania when I was two years old as refugees from the totalitarian communist regime. Some of my earliest memories are about learning English, about the need, which was urgent in my mind even at that age, to learn English. I threw myself into reading and writing starting in first grade when I wrote my first stories—it was both a survival strategy and an escape. Given my religious background, my grandfather had been a Romanian Baptist pastor imprisoned for his faith, I also received the message at a young age that stories were meant to change their readers and in that way to change the world.
I went on to double major in English with a concentration in creative writing and Spanish literature at university and then got my PhD in comparative literature. Being bicultural, translation was a way of life but I began translating literature more formally when on a Fulbright fellowship right out of college. I took a long break from it during graduate school and after, when I became a professor. I only returned to translation when I returned to Romania on another Fulbright in 2017, and as I was making the decision to leave academia. It was definitely a factor both in leaving academia and staying in Romania.
What are the mechanics of the thought process that leads to the selection of a text for translation, versus another?
When I think about what I’d like to translate, I think of the English language reader, first and foremost. I want to give them something in which they can both see themselves and their concerns mirrored, something surprisingly familiar because it comes from another culture, as well as be stretched beyond the limits of their knowledge and way of thinking. I also want to give them something important, something they should know about and experience but have no other way of doing so. And with this, I also think of myself. If it’s something the reader should know, it’s something for me to remember as well and there’s no better way of doing that than through the close attention, I would even say devotion, translation requires.
Why do you think an Anglophone reader should read Romanian literature in translation? What does Romanian literature have to offer?
My first reaction to this question is to feel that it’s impossible to answer. It’s a bit like asking why someone should be friends with a person. Because they are someone you don’t know yet who is a human like you but who is not you? When you become friends with someone you learn who they are, but in relationship to you rather than abstractly, you begin to see things from their perspective, you get angry about what they’re angry about, you find new things beautiful.
How do you view the ways in which Romania is and has been perceived in the western world? Do you see this as a challenge? How do you believe these factors are decided, and do you think they are relevant for a translator?
Most people in western Europe and the U.S. have limited knowledge of Romania at best and stereotyped notions at worst, but to be fair, that’s true not just of Romania. I think this lack of knowledge, or in some cases interest, is especially acute with countries that are considered less well-off economically. I absolutely do see this as a challenge. I think the beauty of the literature of places different from our own can create interest in those places when it’s available in excellent translations. Stereotypes are reductive and foreclose possibilities—stories pique our curiosity and open our imaginations.
How welcoming to Romanian literature have you find the contemporary publishing world?
I’ve been very fortunate. Seven Stories Press, for example, had already become interested in Romanian literature among its other foreign titles and I got to translate its first Romanian novel. My second translation of a novel by Corobca, Kinderland, is already coming out with them in the fall. Other presses have been asking for reader reports. I think there’s a general openness, maybe more so recently. Important works have been translated in the past couple years by Sean Cotter, Gabi Reigh, Jozefina Komporaly, Cristina Tudor-Sideri, James Christian Brown, and yourself among others. Many of us involved in the process of proposing Romanian books have been working on finding better and better ways of collaborating with each other, so I’m hopeful that this is the beginning of something bigger.
Have you been surprised by reactions or feedback to the texts you have translated and which have gone out into the world?
To be honest, I can’t say I’ve been surprised per se, only that the positive reactions to The Censor’s Notebook, including the Oxford-Weidenfeld Translation Prize, were everything I could have hoped for, especially for a first novel translation, and I’m very aware that things might not have gone that way. I don’t take that for granted.
The Censor’s Notebook is a detailed, propulsive account, with an alert pace that doesn’t allow for slip-ups on the translator’s end. What sort of research did this translation entail? And what did you learn in the process?
Like for many translators, my work translating The Censor’s Notebook began long before sitting down with the book. My interest in life under the Romanian communist regime and previous research had prepared me to get a handle on certain concepts more quickly and to understand the novel as a whole on a deeper level. This made knowing what I needed to look up easier. I also benefitted greatly from Liliana Corobca’s generous assistance whenever I had a question that was giving me trouble. It made me realize that for translators, nothing we read or learn is lost, and that each text we translate prepares us for the next in ways we can’t anticipate.
What does your work table look like? What tools, physical and metaphysical alike, do you use?
I love this question and I’ll start, as I was just saying, with the sum of my life experience. This includes all the books I’ve read, in English as well as in Romanian. That’s why I find it wild when literary translators are devalued or when people think that AI could ever do the same thing. That’s not to say that technology isn’t extremely helpful for translators, of course. The only physical item on my desk is my laptop but my browser always has too many tabs open: DEX (the definitive Romanian dictionary), various online English dictionaries (thesaurus, rhyming dictionary, idiom search, word game solver), the results of various searches (some for background knowledge and some to see the different ways a phrase in Romanian or English is used in discourse). I also have my own notes of “common translation” questions that come up for me, both in general and specifically for any longer text I’m working on. I have the writer’s voice—ghostly or audible—in my head. Travel is invaluable to me as a translator and I often say that I co-translate with time.
You’re also a writer yourself – and have called yourself a cultural architect. Can you tell us about your personal cultural theory or vision?
I think architecture is a fantastic metaphor for the concept of culture itself, its complexity. An architect has to have a vision not only of the entire building, which includes practicalities (structural, mechanical, electrical), as well as legal aspects, environmental aspects, aesthetics, and more, as well as its relationship to other buildings and to the neighborhood. In the same way, a writer is always in dialogue with others and oftentimes the more neglected the dialogue partner, the more interesting and needed the writing—it digs a deeper foundation. My cultural ideal is dialogue itself, both as concept and as practice.
Andreea Iulia Scridon is a poet and translator. She studied Comparative Literature at King’s College London and Creative Writing at the University of Oxford. She has a poetry pamphlet forthcoming with Broken Sleep Books and a poetry book forthcoming with MadHat Press in 2022.
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