How did you learn Serbian?
I learned the language through the Hrvatska Matica Iseljenika, the Croatian Heritage Foundation, in Zagreb. In 1998 I left my job as a Spanish interpreter and moved to Sarajevo, where I worked for a few years as a freelance proof-reader and translator. So many writers in Bosnia back then had scholarly monographs they wanted to publish in English: it was a fantastic way for a beginner to learn about everything from beekeeping to poetry. My first official translation was about the artist colony in Počitelj: they paid me in paintings. I later ended up in Novi Sad, Serbia, where I taught conference interpreting for a decade. So I work in all three of the B/C/S languages, although today I speak the Serbian ‘Ekavica’ variant of the language. Now that I’m back in the US, I’m a full-time Spanish interpreter again, but I’ve stayed in touch with many organisations and still do lots of technical translations. Right now I’m working on a collection of papers about the architecture of Sarajevo between the world wars.
What are the joys and frustrations of this Slavic language, and can you give us one of your favourite expressions?
I love the shape of the letters themselves: ž, š, č… And some of the case endings are so pleasing to look at and hear. The first poem I ever learnt by heart in Bosnian is by Mak Dizdar: there’s a line, “Tvoje duge ruke neće nikada doprijeti do mog malog uplašenog srca…” I love that -og, -og, -og. (Translation: Your long arms will never reach my small and fearful heart).
Is this your first literary translation, and if not, what do you think your past experience has brought to the text?
Mirjana’s novel was the first literary translation that I truly enjoyed reading in the original! She has a witty, engaging style.
How would you describe this work to readers just about to experience it in the English language? Are there themes that particularly interest you, or things you would like to highlight?
Her devil seems like someone I’d enjoy having coffee with – Although I wouldn’t sign anything, obviously!
How much contact with the author did you have during the process of translation and how would you describe the author/translator relationship?
I was living in Novi Sad at the time and my department head introduced us so that we could discuss the book. I was unreasonably doctrinaire about a translation being its own new, independent text, and so on. And that’s how I ended up missing one of her references to Emily Dickinson. Anyhow, once I got over that pose, it was a delight to have the author’s guidance. I hope to work with her again.
Can you tell us something about your experience with Serbian literature in general and are there any common features?
Some Serbian literature can be a bit gloomy and off-putting to those who don’t subscribe to rigid ethnic identities. But that makes the exceptions all the more interesting. Unfortunately I don’t speak any other major European language besides Spanish, so I’ve read French, German, and Russian authors in Croatian and Serbian translation. You may know about the knjige na metar that everyone seems to have from the former Yugoslavia: those shelves and shelves of matching hardcover books. The government-funded translations from the 50s through the 80s are often excellent–at least, the Serbian or Croatian is excellent. So whatever knowledge I may have of European literature is thanks to those books ‘by the yard’. Sometimes I wonder what the translators would think of that: an American who is still reading their work and learning from it.
How did you feel knowing that this book would be published as part of a series? (Have you read the other two books?)
I’m thrilled that this book is coming out, and I look forward to reading the others in the series!
Terence McEneny was interviewed
by Susan Curtis-Kojaković
Written by Mirjana Novaković
Translated by Terence McEnemy
Published by Istros Books/Peter Owen
as part of their World Series Serbia
Terence McEneny is from Upstate New York. His MA from the University of Nottingham examined irony in the poetry of Dryden. From 2005 to 2014 he taught conference interpreting at the University of Novi Sad, Serbia, before moving to Texas and becoming a staff interpreter in federal court. He translated Mirjana Novaković’s Fear and His Servant, as well as Destiny, Annotated (“Sudbina i komentari”) by Radoslav Petković and a collection of Montenegrin short fiction. He can be reached at email@example.com