Image credit: Julie Delporte
Aleshia Jensen is a French-to-English literary translator and former bookseller living in Tiohtià:ke/Montreal. Her translations include Explosions by Mathieu Poulin, a finalist for the 2018 Governor General’s Literary Award for translation; Prague by Maude Veilleux, co-translated with Aimee Wall; as well as numerous graphic novels. She is also the co-founder of Writers Bloc, a community of translators centered around continued learning and knowledge exchange. Click here to access her profile in the LTAC directory, and access her website here.
1. What are you reading at the moment and would you recommend it?
I’m reading Valentino and Sagittarius by Natalia Ginzburg (trans. Avril Bardoni), a book of two short stories. And yes, would recommend!
2. Do you read translations? More specifically, do you read translations in the language from which you translate?
I often read translations. Some I particularly enjoyed in the last year have been the Tove Ditlevsen Copenhagen trilogy (trans. Tiina Nunnally and Michael Favala Goldman), The Memory Police by Yōko Ogawa (trans. Stephen Snyder), Abigail by Magda Szabó (trans. Len Rix), Will and Testament by Vigdis Hjorth (trans. Charlotte Barsland) and Notes of a Crocodile by Qiu Miaojin (trans. Bonnie Huie).
I do sometimes read French books in their English translation, yes. I find it fascinating how some translations seize and render the voice so much clearer than others; and I’m interested in why. Reading translations from any language helps me see the myriad ways that languages can land in English.
3. Are you working on anything at the moment ?
I’m currently translating Le drap blanc by Céline Huyghebaert, a daughter’s archive of her father’s life and death told through an excavation of memories—memories experienced or recounted by others, altered by time and their retelling. (It’s a blend of dialogues and prose, facts and fiction). The book is forthcoming in its English translation from Book*hug Press in 2022.
I’m also co-translating two graphic novels this spring: This is How I Disappear by Mirion Malle and Secret Passages by Axelle Lenoir.
4. What was your first translation? How did this experience impact your career?
It was a little paragraph translated for a Spanish class in university—an excerpt of a novel but don’t remember which, something about a house falling to ruin. The class was taught by literary translator Hugh Hazelton, and I really loved it, and eventually switched programs to the French translation program because of it.
5. If you could travel back in time to the start of your career, what advice would you give yourself?
Maybe: it’s okay to say no to projects that you’re not a good fit for. (But would probably not alter a timeline just to tell myself that).
6. What is your dream project? In other words, if you could choose any book to be translated, regardless of publishing rights, or if the text had already been translated, what would it be?
If it hadn’t already been translated: Héloïse by Anne Hébert.
7. What is your chief characteristic as a translator?
Collaborative. I like to work with other translators, writers, editors, etc.—to have them as readers or revisors or co-translators.
8. What is the quality you most like in a translator?
Stunning Scrabble skills.
9. What is your main flaw as a translator?
Indecision: the tendency to second-guess perfectly good choices made the first time around.
10. What is it that you most dislike in translations?
A translation that flattens a text because it assumes the reader will not understand the cultural references.
11. What is your current state of mind?
Something like a drawer full of brightly coloured mismatched socks.
12. For what fault have you most tolerance?
The inability to keep a tidy desk.
13. What is your favourite motto?
Assign unanswered letters their proper weight.
(After a Joan Didion line in “On Self-Respect”).