Theodor Kallifatides was born in 1938 in Greece and moved to Sweden in 1964. He writes his books in Greek and Swedish, thus he is one of the rare authors working with two less widespread and less translated languages. I first came across his name in an article on Greek self-translators (which unfortunately is no longer online) and tried to find out more about his self-translations. Unfortunately I neither speak Greek or Swedish, so when Alex Plasatis contacted me on my blog I asked him if he can check some Greek sources. He came across a great interview with Kallifatides conducted in Greek, available on youtube and he was so kind to transcribe and translate some passages for this blog:
I have written in Swedish for so many years now, about forty years now, inside
me I still have the feeling that my self, my true self, my true feelings, my
true rhythm – they all lay in the Greek language. So when I write in Swedish, I
have this sensation of non-fullness.
- In the beginning I wrote in Greek, then adapted* the Greekness of my writing in Swedish [*Here, Kallifatides does not use the word ‘μεταφράζω’ which means ‘translate’; instead, he uses the word ‘μεταγλωτίζω’, which, literary, it means ‘trans-languagism’ and could be translated as ‘adaptaion’.] Now I am doing the opposite: I write first in Swedish, then adapt it into Greek.
- [F]or my Greek publications I do not want to write a book that will appear to be written by a Swedish writer and has been translated by someone into Greek. For my Greek publications, I want to write like a Greek writer. Therefore I change things. It does not work to simply translate my books into Greek. I want to re-write them. During the process of the adaptation, there are changes regarding state of affairs, characters, jokes, references, sometimes even the ending. Many things change.
Reasons for changes
Q. Has this got to do with the language itself or is it because you look again at your own work?A. Both. Of course, a fresh look in your own work will definitely reshape it – when you look at your own work objectively, that is. But it is also the language itself that will bring about changes: the rhythm of the Greek language is different, its efficacy is different, the images are different.
Simultaneous publication / Method of self-translation
- In the last few years, I have realised that, because of this process of re-writing from Swedish to Greek, my books became better. So I say to myself, ‘Why hurry the Swedish publication of my books? I will always do this re-writing.’ So I write my books in Swedish first, then re-write them in Greek, then back in Swedish, and send them for publication. This is what I do. And these are my best books, regarding the literary aspect at least.
[Many thanks to Alex Plasatis for sharing his transcription and translation!]
The interview shows that Kallifatides is a regular self-translator. Moving to Sweden he continued to write in his first language and translated his work into Greek. Later he inversed the process. In each language he is aware of his intended readers thus in his self-translations he adapts his work for the respective audience. The statement "Many things change" confirms the well-known tendency of self-translators to take liberties while translating. Because of the degree of these changes Kallifatides prefers to speak of adaptation instead of translation.
Alex Plasatis is a part-time Ph.d. student in Creative Writing at De Montfort University in Leicester, U.K. One of his short stories has been published in Overheard - Stories to read aloud, edited by Jonathan Taylor.