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Linguistic detective at a Lithuanian literary translators’ residency

In August, Austrian writer, critic, professor and Lithuanian literary translator Cornelius Hell brought his creative work to Vilnius by participating in the Lithuanian literary translation residency program organised by the Lithuanian Culture Institute.

This ongoing project is intended for translators living abroad whose creative and professional lives are related to Lithuanian literature and its distribution in their own countries. In 2017, Lithuania will be the guest of honour at the International Leipzig Book Fair, so translations into German are one of the most relevant priorities in the spread of Lithuanian literature.

During his residency in Vilnius, Hell used the opportunity to spend some time with the authors of the books he was translating – Giedra Ravilavičiūte and Renata Šerelyte: “Understanding the authors is the most important goal of my residency. The best example of this is Giedra Radvilavičiūtė. I’m translating her collection of essays – Šiąnakt Aš Miegosiu Prie Sienos – and there are many decisions that I do not have the right to make without the author. For example, she signs her name as Giedra Radvila the Brown. Austrian readers know about the Radvila family, but “the Brown” will confuse them. Giedra said to cross it out. There are other nuances, like feminine surnames and their suffixes. Or ‘Čeburėkinė,’ which Austrians and Germans will not understand. Giedra let me write ‘Pizzeria.’ Also, for example, there’s a paragraph where the story is retold using the titles of books well-known in Lithuania. We decided on telling the story with titles that would be clear to German-speaking readers. There are many examples like this. In all of these cases, one might be able to write explanations underneath the text, but the author does not want this. It was important to her that the essays remain works of artistic, not academic, literature. We sit together at a table and, page by page, analyse the text. I am also translating Renata Šerelytė’s Vėjo Raitelis, which has many elements from the Soviet era – and I don’t know or understand all of them,” the translator said, explaining how he worked.

“One could say that this is the work of a true linguistic detective!,” Hell admitted. In addition, the translator also participated in the Šiaurės Vasara international modern literary forum, where he spoke about the distribution of Lithuanian literature in Germany, Austria and Switzerland. Cornelius Hell is also working on the translation of Undinė Radzevičiūtė’s novel, Žuvys ir Drakonai.

Cornelius Hell (born in 1956 m. in Salzburg) has translated the work of Vienuolis, Žemaitė, M. Katiliškis, R. Gavelis, J. Ivanauskaitė, R. Granauskas, J. Erlickas, M. Ivaškevičius, R. Šerelytė, A.A. Jonynas, V. Bložė, N. Miliauskaitė, A. Nyka-Niliūnas, J. Kunčinas, A.Mackus, J. Vaičiūnaitė, E. Ališanka, L. Katkus, R.Stankevičius, K. Platelis, D. Kajokas, D. Čepauskaitė, D. Zelčiūtė, H. Kunčius, J. Mekas, T. Marcinkevičiūtė, V. Juknaitė, G. Radvilavičiūtė, M. Zingeris, S. Parulskis, T. Venclova and other authors. After receiving an Austrian grant in 2010, he researched connections between Austria and Lithuanian literary figures K. Boruta, V. Krėvė-Mickevičius and H. Nagys and also translated R. Šerelytė’s novel Mėlynbarzdžio Vaikai.

Since 2011, the following translators have held residencies in Lithuania: Alina Kuzborska (Poland), Klemen Pisk (Slovenia), Reeta Tuoresmmaki (Finland), Mirjana Bračko (Croatia), Darius Sužiedėlis (USA), Aleksandra Vasilkova (Russia), Beata Kaleba (Poland), Cornelius Hell (Austria), Anita Van der Molen (The Netherlands), Vytenė Muschick (Germany), Adriano Cerri (Italy), Darius Ross (Canada) and others.