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Back to Reality

What a cliché! The title is hardly an eyecatcher, but I cannot help it – such are our lives.

I HAVE JUST submitted a translation of a very very long novel. It took me a few months to complete it. Every time, when I finish a translation of a book and after I post it to the publisher, I feel as if I‘ve resurfaced from very deep waters and am gasping for air: ‘Air! Air! I need more air!’

It takes me a few days to adapt to normal life, to come back to reality. Often you have to stop and think for a while what chores you usually do at a particular time of day – such can be the power of the story which has held you in its embrace for months. And the better the story, the deeper you plunge into it. It is no wonder that some nations tell a fairy tale of a young girl who falls into a well only to discover another world which is bustling with life.

Certainly, the same happens when you read a book, but when you translate it, you take a much deeper plunge, I can assure you. You walk into the story and not simply wander in and out of a chapter, but linger there for much longer, for hours at a time (with a cup of coffee steaming your side of the story!), literally living among the characters, and eating and sleeping and worrying and rejoicing.

As you render the novel into your own language, you ponder over each word, its every shade, trying to understand whether it conveys truthfully the sounds of the buzz of the protagonists’ world, the smells wafting around, the feel of the air, the charged sensuality… You cooperate with the author in the act of creation in a near godlike fashion.

Imagine, this is how I spent time with Elizabeth in her German garden (‘Elizabeth and Her German Garden by E. von Arnim). This was the first work of fiction that I translated. I discovered by chance an old book published in 1901, with the word ‘garden’ on the cover and grabbed it immediately as I was (ant still am) garden-crazy. Only after I read it did I realize that this was the book of my life and nearly fifteen years later I found a publisher who decided to publish it. Then I spent a whole ‘Enchanted April’ (by the same Elizabeth) in an Italian villa. You cannot but admire Elizabeth von Arnim whose insights and judgement make her like one of us, despite the ‘age gap’ of over a century.

My other favourite books that I’ve translated from English into Lithuanian are ‘The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society’ (Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows), a beautifully reconstructed life of Jane Austen in ‘The Lost Memoirs of Jane Austen’ (by Syrie James) and a couple of detective stories written by M. J. Arlidge with such a gusto that it sweeps through you like a whirlwind, despite the horrific crimes that the stories revolve around (‘Enny Meeny’, ‘Pop Goes the Weasel’). I’m not going to tell you how much I enjoyed translating all these books, how much I revelled in the narrative of these talented authors. Take the plunge yourself!

Now I’m back in my real world. The five hundred translated pages were whisked off through the invisible and incomprehensible channels of the virtual reality and landed safely on the publisher’s desk. Ant right on time, because I was not late for the first song of two larks hovering above my seemingly dead pastures, that look so inhospitable; for the call and the dance of a beautiful couple of cranes in the field behind my house, and for the snowdrops whose deceptively tender shoots made it through the ground frozen solid and are about to open their buds of dazzling white. The energy you need to fly in freezing cold, to push through frozen ground! It‘s invisible, incomprehensible, but it’s real.

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