Luckily for me Gili graciously agreed to an interview, and I preceded to inundate her with questions, all of which she patiently answered (including the second batch, that came after I discovered that Gili now works in the YA acquisition department for an Israeli publisher. What a job!)
Thanks so much Gili for taking the time to do this interview.
Can you start of by telling me about your job as a translator?
GB: I'm less of a translator than I used to be: nowadays I'm more on the publishing end of things. That is, I read and evaluate books in English, decide which books are appropriate for my imprint (the Young Readers series for Graff Publishing), negotiate rights, select the translators, push the translation through the different stages, have final say in editing decisions, cover design, marketing... I don't translate for my own imprint because I believe there needs to be a system of checks and balances and I can't edit myself. I've been turning down new translation projects because I simply don't have the time, unless I'm offered something particularly delicious.
How do you begin the process of translating a book from English to Hebrew?
GB: Usually translators are approached by publishers and offered a project: a translator who is in demand can afford to be choosy. I've been fortunate enough that in some instances I was able to suggest projects to publishers and have them take me up on my offer: that's how The Annotated Peter Pan came about. With a book I haven't read before, I usually ask to read the book before deciding if it's something I want to translate. I've been very fortunate and to date all the books I've translated have been books that I liked, and several were books I absolutely adored. Reading a book once just for the experience is important in several ways: it helps to understand the emotional impact of different parts of the book, to establish a roadmap of the plot, to mark out potential challenges in advance... then I translate, then reread what I translated and edit as necessary, then it's off to the publisher for outside editing. My preferred way to work is to be in touch with the editor, and to see and approve all the changes. This is important both because I don't always agree with the editors and I can sometimes catch their mistakes, and because reviewing good changes is the only way to learn and improve.
How closely do you work with the authors whose work you translate?
GB: It really depends on the author. I mean, obviously, some authors are already dead... but living authors run the gamut from those who want absolutely nothing to do with their translators, like J.K.Rowling, to those who are thrilled to be in touch with their translators and will share all sorts of insights. I've even heard of an author who added a few paragraphs especially for the Hebrew translation. Obviously it's most fun when the author does answer questions, and I believe authors benefit from this as well, because few readers develop a relationship with the text that is as close and detailed as a translator's.
Do you just work with genre books or non-genre as well?
GB: My first steps in translation were not even in literature: I once translated a manual for contractors working at Intel. Boring as all hell, but pays about three times as much as literature. I translated "Predictably Irrational" by Dan Ariely which is non-fiction. And several of the children's books I've translated are not genre books, but I do prefer children's and/or YA books to adult literature, simply because it's my forte and my favorite reading material.
How many books have you translated so far?
When last I counted it was about 40...
How did you get started as a book translator?
GB: I wanted to be a theater director but theater did not love me. Children's books did, and they stalked me down and MADE me translate them.
What are books are you currently working on?
What is the most challenging aspect of translating a book?
GB: Dealing with cultural gaps and differences in idiom. Sometimes there are things that are deceptively simple in one language, but completely alien to another. Verbs like "frown", "gasp", "scuttle"... the meaning is very clear but Hebrew just doesn't do that.
Do you only translate from English to Hebrew?
GB:I translate from English to Hebrew and more rarely from Hebrew to English, which is a completely different way of translating... It's like the difference between pouring from a washtub into a jug, and pouring from a jug into a washtub.
What has been your most interesting experience as a book translator?
Fantasy books are often full of imaginary words created by the author and I am curious how you go about translating such words. Do you rewrite them in Hebrew, make up your own words to replace them, or use some other method?
GB: I play it by ear, depending on my understanding of the original. When an author is as playful and inventive as Rowling, I feel the translation should be playful and inventive as well, and I enjoy making up my own words. But sometimes invented words are just a brand name or something pseudo-scientific, and the Hebrew should follow that as well. I give many detailed examples in my lectures, and do have an FAQ set up on my website in Hebrew where I discuss many examples, though I haven't updated it in a while.
Have there been any Hebrew scifi or fantasy books translated into English? Is there any particular Israeli speculative fiction book that you would like to see translated into English?
Do you ever get to meet the authors whose books you translate? If so, which author were you most excited to meet, or, which author would you want to meet the most?
GB: I met Diana Wynne Jones, an author I absolutely idolized, and I had translated her Howl's Moving Castle. Dan Ariely who wrote Predictably Irrational is a colleague of my mother's and specifically asked for me to translate his book. Some authors I've translated have been so friendly online that I feel I've met them, for example Wendy Orr who wrote Nim's Island. It's always nicer when the authors are forthcoming, but you translate the book to the best of your ability either way.
And since you mentioned that you work in acquiring books for translation, I'd love to ask you some questions about this as well.
Can you tell me how you decide which books would be suitable for Israeli teens and kids?
GB: I go by my gut. Israeli kids are not that different from kids in other countries, and the differences seem to be diminishing with global culture and the internet.
How do Israeli YA readers' taste in books compare to American readers?
GB: Again, not that different.
For what reasons would you choose to not translate a book into Hebrew?
What is currently the most popular YA book, translated from English?
Fads come and go. The Hunger Games is doing well now, Diary of a Wimpy Kid is a big hit in Israel. I don't get too excited about bestsellers. I'm more interested in books that have staying power, classic qualities that you can imagine future generations still appreciating. At the same time, bestsellers are our bread and butter, and they allow us to continue working. The Percy Jackson books that we publish are such bestsellers: I enjoy them and believe in them, but I can't say I'm confident they will still be loved 20 years from now; however they do allow us to publish books like The Homeward Bounders or Archer's Goon by Diana Wynne Jones, which don't sell nearly as well but which I feel are classics for the ages.
What books are you currently reading?
GB: I'm reading Tantony by Australian author Ananda Braxton-Smith, set on the same island as her stunning book Merrow. So much of the appeal of these books is in the language, I can't decide if they would even translate into Hebrew without losing too much of their soul.
Thanks again Gili for a fantastic interview!
For more information about Gili Bar-Hillel you can visit her blog (though it's mostly in Hebrew) or follow her on Twitter.