Iglika Vassileva. Great Books reach their translators by themselves

Bulgaria OnAir magazine published a series of my interviews with translators in the issue from 14.05.2012, dedicated to the literature. 

Iglika Vassileva, in Sofia, 16.04.2012. Photo by Svoboda Tzekova.

Some of the greatest names in English literature are known to us through the translations of Iglika Vassileva – a translator of uncompromising style, expression and melody. The Alexandria Quartet of Lawrence Durrell, az well as the books by Virgignia Woolf and Henry James, are among her greatest achievements. Her translation of James Joyce’s Ulysses, which took her three years, became a big event in the Bulgarian book market.

Anton Staykov: In one of your interviews you said that only the translator can appreciate the depth of a writer’s work. At the same time you think the re ader should not be underestimated.

Iglika Vassileva: Yes, after all, books are for uninitiated readers and not simply meant for literary criticism. Sometimes, with statement that books like Ulysses are difficult to understand, critics take them out of the hands of many readers who might have otherwise experienced the wisdom in such a book, even if they didn’t ebtirely understand its avant-garde achievement in form and style.

A.S. Are you attracted by the similarities between authors who belong to the sam eintelectual circles? The friendship between Miller and Durrel, for example, has been frequently discussed; their letters to one another have been published.

I.V. I don’t like Henry Miller, but I do Lawrence Durrel. He is a stylist who takes the English novel beyond the limits of the Victorian traditions. Like Conrad, he too is a foreigner; he was not brought up in England, but with his family on the island of Corfu.

A.S. In Dublin you discovered a city that lives thanks to the legend of Joyce. Were there traces of Lawrence Durrell in Alexandria?

I.V. In 2011 I had unforgettable encounters with writers and critics in Ireland. Joyce’s Ulysses has become a “carnival” book for Dublin; the city celebrates it as a national holiday – on June 16th everyone dresses up like characters from the novel, and they eat rasted kidney and drink burgundy, just like Joyce depicted. Unfortunately, today’s Egyptian Alexandria is a ruined city. Cars drive chaotically; formerly glamorous colonial houses are crumbling.

A.S. Is there anything missing from present-day Bulgarian translations?

I.V. I miss the editor’s profession. In years past there was an assessment regardingwhich book would be suitable for a specific translator. Having translated one book is not enough expirience to take up translating Virgignia Woolf, for example.

photo by Svoboda Tzekova, 2012

A.S. Do you correct a writer when you see repetitions, incongruity, mistakes?

I.V. I have come across a lot of mistakes. I do not correct them; I add a footnote. With Joyce I came across mistaces, too, but it is understandable with such a big book with such complex substance. On the other hand, Nabokov, who criticizes Joyce for his style, is a typical example of a writer who destroys texts in translation – his own Lolita, as well as Pushkin’s Eugene Onegin. The translator’s proffession requires a specific disposition to relive an experience, but to do wit incredible loyalty.

Sofia, 16.04.2012
The conversation is between Iglika Vassileva, Anton Staykov and Svoboda Tzekova. Photos: Svoboda Tzekova.