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Interview with

a Translator:

Julia Meitov Hersey

Julia Meitov Hersey


Q: It is clear that there is a lyricism persisting throughout your translations. How do you maintain this poetry of a work’s original language as you are transitioning it into English? For example, your work on the Dyachenkos' novel Vita Nostra.


A: All credits for the lyricism go to the Dyachenkos :). Their writing is deceptively simple and straightforward, so the challenge is to watch how that simplicity morphs from emotional to cerebral to metaphysical and back within a single paragraph. The only way I can do it is by rereading everything a couple of times. Once you fully understand the characters’ journey, the language follows and the linguistic choices become more natural. In some cases, I have to walk away from the seemingly logical choice and go with something more symbolic and more stylistically fitting. And then there is the question of Russian idioms and their English equivalents... The Dyachenkos sprinkle them throughout quite generously, which usually sends me into a research rabbit hole.


Q: How did you meet the Dyachenkos?


A: About ten years ago I started dabbling in amateur translation, and one of my projects was their novel VITA NOSTRA, which I absolutely loved. The translation was not commissioned or approved, so at the time I couldn’t get the rights to it. I emailed my translation to the Dyachenkos’ website just in case they wanted to show it to their English-speaking friends. To my surprise, they responded, thanking me for the translation. That’s how we met, then became friends. Eventually, they signed with my incredible agent, Josh Getzler of HG Literary, and we secured the rights to VITA NOSTRA, which was sold to David Pomerico at Harper Voyager.


Q: There is such attention to diction in your translations. Do you consult with the primary authors before making decisions on dialog and dialog tags to maintain character consistency?


A: This is such an interesting question. The short answer is no, not really. The long answer is that my approach has changed dramatically. When I was translating VITA NOSTRA, I had no hope of ever publishing it, so I never considered any technical issues such as diction, etc. That’s why when the book was sold and an audio version was produced, Jessica Anne Ball, an extraordinary voice actress, was stuck with having to say things like “a sheathed scythe.” I just never thought my translation would be read out loud! It’s only thanks to our editor David Pomerico and his team that the text ended up being that readable. Now I’m much more conscious of my choices, especially in writing dialogue. I read every sentence out loud to make sure it sounds natural. I also have a small group of friends, all writers and translators themselves, with whom I remain in nearly daily contact. We have a group chat where we discuss our translation challenges and collectively come up with some rather creative choices. I owe a lot of good lines to these guys.


Q: What genres do you primarily write within when not working on translation?


A: When I am not translating, I am writing training materials and user guides -- my day job is a documentrix :). Information designer, if you want to be less cheeky. I also write an occasional review of new books -- when I’m asked. I don’t really write any original stuff because I don’t have enough original ideas :). I think I’m a better translator than a writer, and I absolutely love the mind-bending art of translation. Even my day job involves taking complex technical concepts and rewriting them into something a user can understand, a process very similar to translation.


Q: You are a theatre lover—are there any plays and/or musicals from the past 50 years that you absolutely adore?


A: How did you know I am a theatre lover? Yes, theatre is my second passion! One of the things I miss the most this year is our regular theatre trips to NYC.


It’s interesting that you picked the last 50 years -- somewhat significant, because I turn 50 in March… So, if I were to go with the plays and musicals written in my lifetime, I’d have to go with the following (in no particular order):


The Real Thing


Jesus Christ Superstar

The Band’s Visit


The Lehman Trilogy


Angels in America


God of Carnage



Born in Moscow, Julia Meitov Hersey moved to Boston at the age of nineteen and has been straddling the two cultures ever since. She lives north of Boston with her husband, two daughters, and a hyperactive dog, juggling a full-time job and her beloved translation projects. If you would like to know more, you may find her on facebook and twitter.

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