Mathias de Breyne: The adventurer of words

Mathias de Breyne, above all a writer, became a translator, travelling to the four corners of the world. It’s with the poems of the Baby Beat Generation that his experience in the field of literary translation began. He then lived in Argentina for five years where he took a very close interest in the literature of the country of the gauchos and translated the works of many authors such as Julio Cortázar or even Angélica Gorodischer.

Today, to his three passions, he adds fatherhood. Overwhelmed by the arrival of his son, the cosmopolitan author decided to share their story in his book entitled Quotidien heureux d’un père et de son bébé (Happy everyday life of a father and his baby) published by Sciences Humaines in 2014.

In this interview, this travel writer tells us about his unusual career path.

Why did you turn to translation?

Its thanks to travel and encounters. I started writing about twenty years ago and one day, I found myself in a beautiful bookshop in Dublin, Ireland in which I came across the poems of an American writer, Thomas Rain Crowe, who was part of the Baby Beat Generation movement. I got in contact with him and one thing led to another, I translated his poems but it was really for fun, for the exercise, for the discovery, etc. Already at this time, it was a little logical continuation of the writing itself. And then it made me want to continue. I translated Ma vie dans les Appalaches (My life in the Appalachians), the story by the same author in which he recounts his life. For 4 years, he lived in self-sufficiency, independent all alone in the woods. Then I traveled, I met authors and I continued to do literary translation. The perfect example is what happened in Buenos Aires. I lived there for 5 years, I read almost all the classics in Argentinian literature and I worked on a bilingual anthology, entitled Direct dans la mâchoire (Straight into the jaw) there too by inviting writers, poets, short story writers, etc. After that, when I returned to France, I brought back books by these authors that I proposed to publishers. Notably, Cortázar’s unpublished work, La Racine de l’ombú (The Root of the Umbu), that I found in Buenos Aires. And right now, I am translating a really exciting Argentinian novel by one of Latin America’s cult authors, Angélica Gorodischer, who is almost 90 years old and lives in Rosario. Her book, Kalpa Imperial, was translated in the United States a few years ago and will be translated in France by a Parisian Publisher.

How do you choose the books that you translate?

It’s really a story of taste and affinity. I have translated for example the novel by Perla Suez, The passenger. It is a magnificent novel that talks about very current themes which can happen in Argentina. Right now, I am in the middle of translating the Angélica Gorodischer book. Although it is a bit of fantasy on the edges, this novel is very topical and deals with a truly universal theme which speaks notably – without really quoting them – of the dictatorships of Latin America, Argentina and those which still exist today everywhere in the world. That´s why these books have me hooked, because first of all they are very original and the writing is really extraordinary. Personally, I really like female authors, Argentinian women. I invited more women than men to the bilingual anthology which brings together 60 authors. And, in all the poems, all the news, all the stories that I’ve selected the authors discussing either the history of their country, or what is happening today.

And for writing your own books, what is your approach?

I always work on two or three projects at a time. I’ve just finished a novel which came out this summer by Belfond publisher called The house. At the same time, I’ve started another, as well as starting the translation of an Argentinian novel. For writing my books, I make plans, and once I’ve tied up the story, the characters, etc., I really start writing but not before. For example, I wrote a book, Quotidien heureux d’un père et de son bébé, which describes my relationship as a father with my son. It was more of a story in which I recounted our daily lives for about a year. So, I wrote day by day what we did, what we experienced, what I thought, etc.

Do you prefer to write or translate?

I prefer to write but I take a lot of pleasure in translating especially when I like what I`m translating. The book by Angélica Gorodischer which I am currently working on is extraordinary so for me, literary translation is somewhat of an extension of writing. When I translate a novel, it’s as if in some way I have written my own book. And I love it. Sometimes, I really take time to look for a specific word so that it really is the right word. For example, we don`t literally translate “men desirous of power”; we translate it according to the way we speak as “power hungry men”, just like we say “surprise attack” and not “surprisingly attack.” In short, they are idioms rooted in our language and we cannot ignore these mechanisms, we are “obliged” to respect them if we want to make ourselves understood, in most cases, or if the translation sounds good and is not wobbly in others.

As an author and a translator, what do you think of the translator’s unrecognized status?

Translators meet each year to try to change pay and it gets things moving. For example, in France, for five or six years, the press and media have been forced to quote translators. That is, when you listen to a broadcast on the radio or TV or you read the press, when there is a translated book or a foreign author, the media is forced by law to quote the translator. There are more and more publishers, who, out of respect, put the translator´s name on the cover. Many don’t do it yet, but at least they are forced to put it on the back cover. On the other hand, what has not yet evolved are the percentages of pay. The translator receives around 2 percent. And when it gets into my pocket, its 0.5 percent so it’s completely ridiculous. In addition, a translator, in general, when they have been paid and had their advance, they know full well that they will never receive any rights on the book unless they’ve translated Harry Potter or Fifty Shades of Grey. The kind of book that is a hit. Otherwise, they will get little money. So it’s true that there’s still work to do to get translators recognized, but it’s slowly evolving.

What author´s works would you like to translate?

I would like to translate, for example, the poetry of Juan L. Ortiz, the great Argentinian poet.

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