Writers at Risk: Translating Rushdie, Saviano and the Others

Translation is a very special profession, between transmission and creation, which requires much of the time “, explains Vincent Raynaud. ” It’s doing, redoing… It’s made-to-measure, where each text is a unique model that calls for its own solutions. He highlights the need for a certain mentality, emphasizing that the translator’s work is lived alone, facing the text, which one immerses oneself in and which one must reshape to make it exist on its own — in a way, finally, to remove any sense of translation.

Despite this solitary image, he admits that, sometimes, ” we talk to the authors, either to check that we have understood correctly, or because they themselves wish to re-read our work “.

During his career, Vincent Raynaud has mainly worked from Italian into French, through the texts of authors such as Alessandro Baricco, Casera Battisti, Tommaso Melilli and, of course, Roberto Saviano. After the publication of his novel Gomorrahin 2006 (Gallimard), the latter saw his life changed because of a death sentence by the Neapolitan mafia. Since then, police surveillance and fear of being attacked have been part of the author’s daily life.

And although, for the moment, nothing seems to have happened, Saviano’s life is reminiscent of that of Salman Rushdie, an Anglo-Indian author recently stabbed in the United States during a conference. An event that shook the publishing world internationally, recalling the existence of a real ideological war against freedom of expression.

Portrait of men alone and in danger, who write despite everything»

In his conference, Vincent Raynaud returns to the situation of Rushdie and Saviano, highlighting “circumstances which [le] touch a lot“. He describes them as simple writers, who nevertheless risk their lives on a daily basis. ” They are two figures which are reflected one in the other. They are not just symbols: they live in a personal prison for what they have done, which seems to me deeply unfair.»

Salman Rushdie has, in the words of the translator, always written as a free man, very quickly becoming a major author – notably celebrated by the Booker Prize for The Midnight Children(Editions Stock, 1983, trans. Jean Guiloineau). It was not until the publication of hissatanic versesin 1988 (Bourgois, trans. A. Nasier) that Rushdie saw his life endangered.

REPORT: Salman Rushdie’s attack or contested freedom of expression

Although the reaction was not immediate, he was quickly accused of blasphemy:The irony, the mockery he showed was considered unacceptable with regard to the representation of the prophet“, explains Vincent Raynaud. “The book becomes hostage to a political situation that is beyond it. Manhandled by the excesses and distortions of religion, Rushdie still managed to lead a normal life in London – until this attack, which occurred 30 years after the announcement in Iran of the fatwa against his work.

Vincent Raynaud – ActuaLitté, CC BY SA 2.0

For his part, Roberto Saviano is the subject of another type of fatwa, for quite different reasons. WithGomorrah, the Italian author was able to draw the attention of readers all over the world, but also of governments, to a phenomenon which, however, was nothing new. He describes a new mafia system, made up of businessmen dressed in suits, who invest:On the surface, everything seems perfectly legal“, explains Vincent Raynaud.

But the money comes from crime, drug trafficking. And they have no limits: they kill, they break the law, while getting their hands dirty as little as possible.” If Saviano has been in danger for so many years, it is because of the success of his work and the “literary strengthof his text. But, faced with an elusive enemy, what to do?

READ: Saviano, Judge Falcone and the Mafia: “Courage is a choice

Sometimes he disappears», tells us Vincent Raynaud. “He becomes unreachable. And despite a privileged author-translator relationship, the publisher admits not knowing where Saviano lives. He explains to us that the author has, for a time at least, stayed in New York, far from Italy, where the Camorra can act much more freely. His life in hiding, Roberto Saviano recounts it in a graphic novel entitledI’m still alivedrawn by Asaf Hanuka and published at the beginning of the year in a Gallimard/Steinkis co-edition.

The worst is indifference»

Despite the support from the Pen Club International, the Nobels and even the media, who reacted en masse to the attack on Rushdie, Vincent Raynaud deplores the lack of reaction from governments. Sometimes reluctant to provide a close guard, because of the high costs of such procedures, the translator considers our democracies as “few armiesto push these fatwas to be lifted. “These people do not listen to us, do not understand us and will not hear our arguments.»

Rushdie and Saviano, physically hampered, both take refuge in writing. Described as “work animals» by Vincent Raynaud, these two authors each have a literary topicality for the year 2023. The translator announces in particular Saviano’s novel to come, entitledshout it outwhich brings together portraits of whistleblowers (Actes Sud).

To conclude this conference, Vincent Raynaud offers hope: “In both cases, they are alive, they continue to write, and that is already a lot.»

Photo credits: Raúl Nájera/Unsplash

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Writers at Risk: Translating Rushdie, Saviano and the Others