On Translation

Rachel Hunt Steenblik is a scholar and author, most recently of Mother’s Milk: Poems in Search of Heavenly Mother. The French translation of Mother’s Milk, “Lait maternel : poèmes à la recherche de la Mère Céleste” is now available. It is the first non-English language version of a BCC Press book, and joins the very rare group of LDS fiction available in a language other than English. Thank you to Amanda Rafidiarimanda for her exquisite, stunningly beautiful translation. She has carried over the powerful spirit of Rachel’s work. We’re very, very proud of the result.

I. On the first day of August, I tweeted an Amazon review for my Mother’s Milk book that said: “I have steeped myself in these tiny poems for several days. I am ready to buy my second copy, because I’m giving away my first. I’ll probably give away my second too.” I shared that the book I do this with is The Little Prince, and that I was humbled, and honored, and grateful that someone was doing it with mine. Someone else responded that, “When the first non-English Mother’s Milk is released, then we can have the full-on Le Petit Prince gifting experience.”

II. The first time I flew out of the United States was for a two-week bike tour and a move to Vienna, Austria. I landed in Nice, France. I napped on the grass outside of the airport while my husband of two weeks built our bikes. I woke up from the sunshine. We road past a pebble beach and marveled at the clearest, prettiest blue water. I learned that Miss Piggy’s “Excusez-moi” was real/legitimately how you say, “Excuse me” in French, and still remember my husband accidentally said, “Bonjour amigo!”

III. I made my way to Vienna and eventually to the University of Vienna (universität wien) bookstore. I marveled at the many books on the shelves with titles I knew, and read, and cherished, including Herman Hesse’s Siddhartha. Then there were the philosophy books that I didn’t always cherish (or understand) but that I knew, and read, and studied, including by Hegel, Kant, and Nietzsche. I opened them, gazing at the original German, consciously recalling that they were only open to me previously because of the careful, creative work of translation. I felt a deep gratitude and holiness, and left the bookstore after purchasing one book: Der Kleine Prinz; The Little Prince.

IV. I couldn’t go home for Christmas, so I went to Paris. There I visited at least half a dozen bookstores, including Shakespeare and Company. I bought Le Petit Prince and a Kierkegaard book (in English) that I needed to finish a paper due at midnight on solstice. On the longest night of the year, I turned it in and then walked with my husband from our AirBnB to the Eiffel Tower. We tried to take a subway back, but by then, they were closed. My husband accidentally asked a worker, “Sprechen sie Englisch?” (the German way to ask, “Do you speak English”). The worker answered, in accented English, asking how he could help us.

V. A summer or so later, I spent two months living in a small town in Minnesota studying Kierkegaard and Danish at St. Olaf’s Hong Kierkegaard Library. My classmates and I practiced creating our own Kierkegaard translations. We looked at multiple translations and learned how translators are the first interpreters, how Philosophical Fragments could have just as easily (or even more easily) been Philosophical Crumbs, how the Danish word for “the learner” and “the teacher” is the same. More recently, I laughed while watching NBC’s The Good Place when two characters, Chidi and Michael, separately asserted that Kierkegaard’s “leap of faith” would be better translated as a “leap into faith.”

VI. Today, or tomorrow, hundreds of my own words, my own poems, will be available in French: the translation I’ve generally benefited from in reverse. I feel the same deep gratitude and holiness I felt in the Vienna bookstore as I held Siddhartha in its native tongue and again in Paris as I held Le Petit Prince. But I also feel the humbled and honored that I felt when learning someone bought my book and gave it away, before buying another, to probably also give away.

I wrote the poems because I had to write them, because I have a deep hunger for my Eternal Mother. I didn’t know if they would mean anything to anyone else, but since their publication I’ve been told over and over, both publicly and privately, that they have. If there are other members of our worldwide church who could be moved by them, or comforted by them, or challenged by them, I want them to have them, in their own language, their own mother tongue. I want the words opened to them, unfolded as The Little Prince and so many of my heart books were unfolded to me. I am delighted that with this first start, this French edition, some will.

VII. Then there are Ashley Mae Hoiland’s beautiful, simple line drawings that don’t need to be translated, like Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s own sheep, baobab tree, and rose. They are like music; they communicate just as they are, speaking without speaking. Each viewer becomes her or his own translator: the very first.

Comments

  1. .

    Which illustration, I wonder, is the equivalent of a snake who swallowed an elephant…?

  2. Great to see this happen. BCC Press going around the world.

  3. thmazing, hahaha.

    WVS, thank you! We’re very excited.

  4. The translation is just so poignant. It evokes feelings and thoughts for me that the English version didn’t, and I’m not sure why.

  5. I love this, Rachel. Felicitations!

  6. I’m so happy for you. Maybe my four years of High School French will be useful in helping me read this! ;)

  7. Congratulations, this is very cool. Okay, I accept the challenge, what other Mormon literature (fiction, poetry, and other literary works) have been translated into other languages? I know several devotional works have been translated, but not so much literature. Two Spanish-speaking Mormons have been translating a few pieces of literature on their own blogs lately. Mario Montani, from Argentina, has translated short stories by Roger Terry and Ryan Shoemaker that appeared in Dialogue. https://mormosofia.wordpress.com/category/arte-y-religion/literatura/ficcion-mormona/ Gabriel Gonzalez Núñez, from Uruguay, and currently teaching at University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, has translated poems by James Goldberg and William C. Harrison (“Our Mother in Heaven”) as well as other pieces. https://gabrielgonzaleznunez.wordpress.com/traducciones/ Both Gabriel and Mario are involved in a new newsletter dedicated to Spanish-language Mormon authors and their work, “El Pregonero de Deseret”. They are part of a new organization, Cofradía de Tetras Mormonas, which aims to foster Mormon literature in Spanish. Although translations is part of what they do, the organization is more about encouraging Spanish-language authors to create their own works. http://associationmormonletters.org/blog/2018/01/a-spanish-language-mormon-literature-newsletter-el-pregonero-de-deseret/

  8. Then there are Mormon-related works published by national publishers, which have been translated because of the author’s reputation, not so much because of the Mormon content. I have written about Japanese translations of Orson Scott Card’s books, including Mormon-heavy books like “Folk of the Fringe”, here: http://associationmormonletters.org/blog/2015/06/mormon-literature-japanese/

  9. Amanda in Paris says:

    I am so excited about this. It was such a pleasure to immerse myself in these poems and tease out the best way to convey their imagery in French. Thanks, BCC Press!!

  10. Andrew H. says:

    My first comment seems to be stuck in moderation. I’ll try it again.
    Congratulations on the translation, this is very cool. Okay, I accept the challenge, what other Mormon literature (fiction, poetry, and other literary works) have been translated into other languages? I know several devotional works have been translated, but not so much literature. Two Spanish-speaking Mormons have been translating a few pieces of literature on their own blogs lately. Mario Montani, from Argentina, has translated short stories by Roger Terry and Ryan Shoemaker that appeared in Dialogue. Gabriel Gonzalez Núñez, from Uruguay, and currently teaching at University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, has translated poems by James Goldberg and William C. Harrison (“Our Mother in Heaven”) as well as other pieces. https://gabrielgonzaleznunez.wordpress.com/traducciones/ Both Gabriel and Mario are involved in a new newsletter dedicated to Spanish-language Mormon authors and their work, “El Pregonero de Deseret”. They are part of a new organization, Cofradía de Tetras Mormonas, which aims to foster Mormon literature in Spanish. Although translations is part of what they do, the organization is more about encouraging Spanish-language authors to create their own works. http://associationmormonletters.org/blog/2018/01/a-spanish-language-mormon-literature-newsletter-el-pregonero-de-deseret/

  11. Andrew, that is awesome. Thank you for those links!

  12. Steve and Tracy, I wish I knew enough/any French to be able to read it. <3

    Jason K., thank you!

    Amanda, the biggest THANK YOU! You made this magic possible. I am so grateful. <3 <3

    Andrew H., thanks! So interesting.

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