Translating the untranslatable: Indonesia’s Laksmi Pamuntjak and her editors
(From Publishing Perspectives. Link to the complete article given below)
The bilingual author and translator Laksmi Pamuntjak easily drew a crowd to the Amazon Publishing stand in Hall 3.0 at the Frankfurter Buchmesse earlier this month, not least because her first novel, The Question of Red, won the 2016 LiBeraturpreis, a 30-year-old award in Germany for women writers of Asia, Africa, Latin America, and the Arab world in Germany.
The surprise for the audience about that title, published in its English translation by AmazonCrossing (2016), was that Pamuntjak translated it, herself.
“And for the most part, it was an excruciating process,” she said, eliciting immediate laughter from the audience. “The most difficult thing is that there’s always something lost in the act of rewriting, of translating something into another language. There’s a reduction of things not transferable, such as cultural collective memories. Contextualization is very difficult.
“And when you talk about self-translation, it can enrich the process but can make it more difficult because you must negotiate all the time. You’re probably not the best person to do it because while you know the work well,” that requirement of compromise makes it “something I don’t want to do again.”
Pamuntjak actually had tried writing The Question of Red in English, abandoned the effort, wrote it in Indonesian, then translated it, herself, to English.
“I recommend you not do this,” she said. “I think I’ve learned my lesson.”
More recently released by AmazonCrossing, her novel, The Birdwoman’s Palate (February 2018), is translated into English by Tiffany Tsao, and its grounding in the vast culinary life of her native Indonesia is based in this author’s work as a journalist and food writer.