Interview With Sandra Kathe

What drew you to the project A Story and a Picture that made you want to translate it?
I heard about C.D. Hermelin when someone shared a movie documentary on his other storytelling project „The Roving Typist“ on Facebook. That movie really made me want to read his work, so I did some research online and came across „A Story and a Picture“. I read a few of his stories and really liked them. Back then I was just starting my life as a freelance translator and journalist here in Germany and wanted to focus on literature translation. But with hardly any references and experience editors aren’t gonna give you translation jobs over here. And that’s what gave me the idea to ask Christopher whether he’d allow me to translate his work on the project which he kindly allowed. This gives me the chance to gain experience doing what I really like and at the same time translate something that in my opinion is really worth reading. I don’t do this because I have to or because I get paid for it, but as a free time activity. Just because I like stories and want to contribute that more and more people will be able to read them.

Are there particular themes in the stories that you chose that resonate with you? Why?
Actually, since the stories are so short I do something in my translation process of Christopher’s work that my teachers at University always told me not to do. I hadn’t read all of them completely when I started working on them. For me that not only saves time (which is not the main reason I do it) but also makes me use my language more spontaneously and feel rather like a regular reader than as a translator. If I later realize that the context requires another translation I can still change it, but I can never get back the spontaneous thoughts I had when I first read Christopher’s words. And in my experience the first thought is the best one, especially when it comes to creative translation. So I rather chose the stories because of their title or picture, because I’m wondering what they could be about and in the end, love the surprise when I’m done.

What does the photograph add to the translation process?
Apart from being one of the main factors why I actually chose to translate a story the picture always gives me an impression of what the feeling in the story will be like. When I started to translate my first story (Seek) the picture got me in the right mood right from the beginning. I keep the picture in mind all through the translation process as some kind of main setting.

Were there any American phrases that were particularly tricky to translate?
Thanks to modern methods of research like google and urbandictionary.com phrases are not really a problem anymore. You gotta look up some stuff, that’s in the nature of translation. That’s why we’re called translators and not dictionaries. For me in fact the main difficulty is the 1000 word mark. When Christopher asked me to stick with his 1000-word-rule in my translation after I sent in a first draft of ‚Suche‘ (the German version of ‚Seek‘) I had to get rid of over 100 additional words. In fact in German we apparently tend to use not only longer words but also more of them. In my second translation I started to save words as well as I could and this totally affected my translation, which felt wrong. Apart from that in the end I ended up with 865 words and had to add over 100 this time. After that I decided to just translate the full story and then make the first word count. That doesn’t affect my language and gives me the opportunity to translate without constantly thinking of the the rule. I always get nervous when I press the button for word count, however. 

Will you recommend some contemporary, well-translated German writers?
That’s a difficult one. I know lots of German authors but had no idea if their work has been translated already. I had to check the availability on Amazon to find out which is why I’m afraid I can’t comment on the quality of the translations. One of my favorite writers is David Safier whose first novel was „Bad Karma“, which has definitely been translated. The story is completely bizarre but extremely funny and positive. Another novel that has been translated for sure is „A Night Train to Lisbon“ by the Swiss author and philosopher Pascal Mercier. I read it ages ago and don’t remember all the details of the story but know I loved it back then (it also played a part in chosing Portuguese as my second language at university). Another novel I really love is „Love Virtually“ by the Austrian writer Daniel Glattauer. I saw it as a play a few months ago and afterwards practically ran through the book without being able to stop reading for a second.

Read Sandra’s translated stories here and contact her at s-kathe.com

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