Updated: Jun 27
In the fifth of our Q&A features, we talk to author and translator Anatoly Belilvosky, who's been kind enough to provide some insight into the process of translation, and the many difficulties one faces during such. We also touch on Star Trek, and welcome some insight and perspective on his experiences in what is now known as Ukraine.
Anatoly Belilovsky was born in a city that went through six or seven owners in the last century, all of whom used it to do a lot more than drive to church on Sundays; he is old enough to remember tanks rolling through it on their way to Czechoslovakia in 1968. After being traded to the US for a shipload of grain and a defector to be named later, he learned English from Star Trek reruns, apparently well enough to be admitted into SFWA in spite of chronic cat deficiency. He has sold original and translated stories and poems to NATURE, F&SF, Analog, Asimov's, Daily SF, Podcastle, Kasma, UFO, Stupefying Stories, Cast of Wonders, and other markets.
So, Anatoly - to start, could you tell us a little about your translation process, and how you happened upon this path?
So, imagine a cartoon, without any words on it. Does it need to be translated?
How about a cartoon that shows a soldier wearing Russian style fatigues, sweating among palm trees, painting, with obvious tears in his eyes, dark horizontal dashes on white palm trunks?
It's automatically funny and poignant to a Russian because of the "home sweet home" symbolism of birch trees that permeates the Russian culture, but how do you translate this when there aren't any words to translate?
My entire translating oeuvre is an attempt to un-Darmok (vide infra) Russian (and Ukrainian) works. As for the process -- I don't think I start with "I want to translate this!" I think it's more like "I can see the English version of this in my head, why don't I write this down?" And that does not happen often. And of course, then come agonizing choices.