Translating Maciej Miłkowski: Harvill Secker Young Translators’ Prize

“To write a novel (or indeed a short story) you need two ideas – equally strong, equally developed – and only later it turns out that they were one idea after all, two pillars of one foundation.”

“Żeby napisać powieść (opowiadanie zresztą też), trzeba mieć dwa pomysły — równie silne, równie rozbudowane — i dopiero później się okazuje, że to jest jednak jeden pomysł, jeden dwubiegunowy fundament.”(Maciej Miłkowski, Tatuaż/Tattoo, my translation)

Maciej Miłkowski, Wist, Zeszyty Literackie 2014

Maciej Miłkowski, Wist, Zeszyty Literackie 2014

Do you need the same to write a translation?

I you’re 18-34, you can test this idea on the author’s own work. Enter the Harvill Secker Young Translators’ Prize and translate the whole story from Polish into English. It doesn’t matter where you live; you’ve got ten weeks to do it.

Sadly I’m too old, but I’m glad I found the story to be translated. Wist (Whist), the collection from which this story is taken, is Miłkowski’s debut, but he has more than a dozen translations from English to Polish under his belt, and judging by Tatuaż, it’s brilliant. The story can be read in full on the prize website.

It absolutely captures the feel of Poland in transition, when the “Russian tanks had left not that long ago at all and might return at any moment,” when the country could have gone either way – would the tanks come back or would Poland turn into a second Japan? It was a time of suspension – not from making decisions, but of literally hanging things on the hooks on the bare walls, making the future take shape. But all that could only be done in the shadow of the past, which is not easy to remove…

Check out the prize website again in October 2015 to see the winning translation published.

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