Jan Bilitewski - Schilder / Painter

I recently received a surprise package in the post - my copies of the short book I had translated from Dutch on the young German painter Jan Bilitewski.  It was written last year by the Dutch art historian and critic Jet van der Sluis for the HeArtpool Foundation. 

Bilitewski won last year's HeartFund Scholarship for the paintings he exhibited at the 2014 Degree Show of the Academy for Art and Design, Enschede, where he was studying.  The jury which selected him as the 2015-16 recipient of the Award were unanimous in their decision: Bilitewski's work was outstanding and well deserving of recognition. 

The work is mature and deeply touching, drawing on iconic imagery of the Madonna and Christ, and perceiving parallels to their suffering lives in the contemporary world.  A series of paintings which can be seen on Bilitewski's website illustrates very well the intersection between contemporary relevance and traditional imagery. Titles like 'recession', 'slump', 'pieta' and 'resurrection' point to both the now and the then.  There is a very modern mind behind the work, but one sensitive to and deeply moved by the archetypal elements of the Passion Story which Bilitewski clearly perceives as playing out in our contemporary situation.  Apparently impersonal economic forces can create immense suffering and pain for ordinary people, which is why the titles 'recession' and 'slump' are applied to these modern versions of crucifixion imagery.

I'm delighted with the little book which was the outcome of Jet's essay, Jan's paintings, and my translation, and hope that it will lead to more people being introduced to the work of this very fine artist.

A Brave Book - More About Cellar Child

Cellar Child - Kelderkind in Dutch - is a brave book and really deserved the prize it won in 2013.  Yet most English-speaking readers will not (yet) have heard of it...

Dutch is a language spoken by about 23 million people, mainly in the Netherlands and in Belgium, but also in other countries worldwide.  Afrikaans - a daughter language of Dutch - is spoken (to some degree at least, according to the Wikipedia article) by a further 16 million people.  It is not, therefore, a minority language, but it is one of the lesser-translated languages of Europe, even though, or perhaps because, it is closely related to English.  Nevertheless, without the help of translation a book such as Cellar Child will not be read and known by the many millions of people throughout the world who read English.  Nor is it likely to be translated into other languages which rely on using an English translation as their own Source Text (so-called 'relay translations'). 

If it is ever published in English, whether in my own or someone else's translation, expect a lyrical, psychologically penetrating, intriguing, and sometimes challenging read. 

So why do I say that Cellar Child is brave?

There are some obvious reasons, such as the fact that it tackles difficult and strong issues in a non-stereotypical fashion.  By immersing its readers in a meticulously researched yet vibrantly real historical world, Dieltiens is able to shine a light on hot topics such as child abuse, bullying, prejudice, and intolerance without sensationalism, voyeurism, or hasty judgementalism.

It's brave too because, although it is a Young Adult cross-over novel, with real interest for adult readers, it assumes that Young Adults have reading stamina, that they will enjoy finding out about lives and customs different to their own, that they appreciate experimentation with voice, viewpoint and chronology, that they love language, that they are perceptive and can understand complexities of character, situation and theme, that they can cope with darkness and mystery, and can look in depth at the slippery truths of human nature.

The Dutch edition of the novel (and I very much hope that there will be an English edition) has an intriguing layout.  Instead of the book being divided into chapters or numbered sections, the white pages are interspersed with black, signalling the start of a new section.  Each of these black pages has an epigraph - in white - relevant to the forthcoming section, and to the development of the book as a whole.  They include quotations from Hegel, from Verlaine, from Goethe, from Chinese folklore and culture.  They provoke thought.  

Then, most of the black pages - apart from those preceding the Prologue and Epilogue - are headed by a simple woodblock-type silhouette, again in white, of either a hare or a broken wooden horse.  The reader gradually realizes that these are associated with the two main characters: Kaspar's symbol is the broken wooden horse; Manfred, whose story is intertwined with Kaspar's, is the hare.  The symbols are potent and wordless, and when the two elements of the story meet each other right at the end of the book, the reader knows without being told that something positive has emerged from the tale.

The illustrations and book cover of Kelderkind are by the renowned Belgian artist and illustrator, Carll Cneut.
You can find some examples of the Cellar Child illustrations here.



It's official.  My sample translation of the YA cross-over novel Cellar Child,  by the Flemish author Kristien Dieltiens, has been selected as one of six translations to be presented to a jury of top publishing professionals at a celebratory event on June 9th as part of the 2016 European Literature Festival.

Dieltiens is a prizewinning author - writing in Dutch - with many novels and children's books to her name.  Cellar Child - Kelderkind - is her fiftieth work and won the prestigious Woutertje Pieterse prize in 2013.

It's fantastic news, not only for me, but more importantly for Kristien Dieltiens and her work I'm hoping that my presentation of the novel will be able to attract the attention of the right publisher and / or agent - one who will love the novel as much as I do. 

You can read more about the competition and the Translation Pitch event on the English PEN website.  You can also download a booklet which contains all the prizewinning translations and sample the best that's coming out of Italy, Turkey, Germany, Spain and France, as well as from Belgium, Kristien Dieltiens' home country.

Why I Translate

I translate for love.

I translate because there are so many good writers that the English-speaking world doesn't know about.

I translate for pleasure.

I translate to feel how the rhythms of another tongue can dance on my tongue.

I translate to discover something new.

I translate because English doesn't tell me everything.

I translate to understand.

I translate because words can make things happen.

I translate to keep my other self alive.  And the more languages I meet, the more selves I find.

I translate to travel - across time and space and bodies.

I translate to find someone who speaks to me.

I translate so that you can find someone who speaks to you.

I translate poems and stories and songs and words that like being words.

They're looking for you.