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Editor's Note
by Olga Stein

This year's Giller gala took place on November 8 at the Four Seasons Hotel. It was, as you'd expect, quite the shindig. Food and service were superb. Even the short films made from the shortlisted books¨comprised of dramatizations and author readings/commentary¨were engaging, as was Justin Trudeau himself, the evening's Master of Ceremonies.
One of the memorable parts of the evening was the conversation at our table before the winner was announced. I piped up, a little too confidently, that I didn't think Vincent Lam would win. I said this not because Bloodletting and Miraculous Cures isn't impressive (Anne Cimon reviewed it in the Summer edition of BiC, writing that "Lam's acerbic vision and black humour recalls some of John Cheever's darkest stories," and calling it "an edgy and brainy debut collection"), but because it is hard to imagine a short story collection, not penned by Alice Munro, standing up to novels, especially when it's a first book competing with works by literary veterans. One guest told me that there had been some discussion in Saturday's (November 4) Globe and Mail regarding the status of Gaetan Souci's Immaculate Conception and Pascale Quiviger's Home Schooling as translated works. Apparently, one Globe aficionada had pointed out that in the past a translated French-Canadian novel wouldn't have received a Giller nomination. As if on cue, another guest at our table opined that the French novels wouldn't win because they were translated works.
I didn't pay much attention to the comment at the time because translation never struck me as vexing issue. However, in retrospect, it should have occurred to me, given that this was the first time Quebec novels were nominated for this award, that a certain bias existed not just in the past, but until very recently. I always believed that just about everyone felt about translation the same way I did. Anyone whose native tongue isn't English, but who has spent, say, three-quarters of their lives speaking, reading, and writing in English, knows from personal reading experience that great translations exist, and that they are, even with shortcomings of stylistic equivalences, fully reliable portals to the worlds conjured in other languages. There can be no replacement for the original text, but there can¨as master translators like Sheila Fischman routinely show us¨good recreations. Those who speak only English can verify this with innumerable other Canadians who, like me, have read translated works and found every subtlety of expression, every nuance conveyed, as if a linguistic barrier had never existed.
That is an illusion of course. But our sense of world literature¨Flaubert, Marquez, Amichai¨is constructed from such illusions. I have no real reason to suspect that either Mr. Souci's or Ms. Quiviger's chances were undermined by the fact that their novels were originally written in French. Yet the very thought is troublesome, for it would mean that all French-Canadian fiction, the translators of these books, and the very craft of translation could be relegated to a literary hinterland outside the prize-giving range of nearly all major English-Canadian literary awards (the GG award for translation, with its broad category, encompassing works of fiction, non-fiction, and poetry, would be the exception). Let us hope my concerns are groundless. Let us hope that in years to come there will be plenty of French-Canadian nominees and winners.
OS
Letters to the Editor can be sent by e-mail to:
olga.stein@rogers.com
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