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Anita van der Molen was born and raised in the Netherlands. She graduated from the University of Groningen with an MA in Slavonic languages and literature, majoring in Russian linguistics and with minors in Comparative Indo-European linguistics, Lithuanian and Polish. She is a certified translator and has worked as a freelance translator in all three languages.
For about fifteen years Anita has specialised in Lithuanian literature. Her translations have been published in a number of Dutch journals and read at several poetry festivals. She was the first to translate a Lithuanian novel into Dutch directly from the source language. With the support of the Dutch Foundation for Literature and the Lithuanian Culture Institute, she has translated five novels so far and is looking for a sixth.

 

Bibliography:

Kristina Sabaliauskaitė: Petro imperatorė II – Peters keizerin II. Uitgeverij Prometheus, 2023

Kristina Sabaliauskaitė: Petro imperatorė I – Peters keizerin I. Uitgeverij Prometheus, 2021

Balys Sruoga: Dievų miškas – Het woud van de goden. Uitgeverij Sterck & De Vreese, 2020

Leonidas Donskis: Mažoji Europa – Het Kleine Europa. Uitgeverij Garant, 2018

Alvydas Šlepikas: Mano vardas – Marytė – Mijn naam is Marytė, Uitgeverij Nobelman, 2016

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reflections on belonging

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Graphic Novels

Interview by Rasa Sagė

Translated by Markas Aurelijus Piesinas

 

Anita van der Molen is a Dutch translator who has translated some of the most notable books by Lithuanian authors into the Dutch language. These include Mano vardas Marytė by Alvydas Šlepikas, Mažoji Europa: esteto žemėlapis by Leonidas Donskis, Dievų miškas by Balys Sruoga, and both volumes of Petro imperatorė by Kristina Sabaliauskaitė. Anita chooses her own books to translate and is involved in all stages of the publishing process. Her last translation – a Dutch edition of the novel Petro imperatorė – ran out of print three times during the first year it was published.

How did Anita van der Molen learn the Lithuanian language so well, and what does she think about Lithuanian literature? Are our books becoming ever more interesting for a Western readership?

 

 

Dear Anita, please tell us about yourself. How and when did you take up translation work?

I was born in the Northern Netherlands, in the city of Groningen. I attended a secondary school in Southern Limburg before returning to Groningen, where I studied Slavic languages and literature at university. In 1983, I graduated with a degree in Russian language studies with secondary qualifications in Polish, Lithuanian, and Indo-European linguistics. At the same time, I became a qualified translator (I swore an oath as a translator in court) and began working with the three languages I just mentioned.

I was employed for many years at the Lada company in Groningen, where Russian engineers visiting the Netherlands would present the newest Lada car models. I translated patents and academic papers from Russian and Polish. At that time, I didn’t work with Lithuanian texts.

This changed when the Baltic countries became NATO and EU member states. Translation agencies reached out to me pretty quickly, as I was one of the few translators that were qualified to work with Lithuanian. There was a lot of demand for translating civil registration, law, and EU paperwork.

About ten years ago, I felt a lack of challenge and creativity in my work. That is when I switched to translating works of literature. The Lithuanian Culture Institute in Vilnius supported me financially to do some trial translations of Lithuanian books. Thus, I was able to build my portfolio so that I could reach out to publishers. In 2015, a publishing house in Groningen agreed to publish Alvydas Šlepikas’s novel Mano vardas Marytė. The ball has kept rolling since, and today I have translated five Lithuanian books into Dutch.

How did you learn Lithuanian?

I learned it myself. At the beginning of the semester, my professor gave me materials for my exam. After studying, I was allowed to take it. I passed the exam with flying colors.

You are a polyglot – you speak more than six languages. Do you translate only from Lithuanian?

I don’t translate from Polish or Russian. I haven’t switched to working with literary works in these languages. I’ve also never professionally translated from the other languages I speak, which are English, German, French, and Frisian.

What is the thing you enjoy most about your work?

Every book, every story is different: each author, writing style, theme, and vocabulary is unique. There is always the challenge, or the puzzle, of conveying these differences in a way that would sound natural in Dutch. It helps me stay sharp as a translator.

Do you have any rituals or habits when translating a book?

I’m not a morning person. I never begin working earlier than 9:00 AM. I begin by taking a stroll around the neighborhood and getting some fresh air. Then, I read what I had translated the day before. Full of ideas after my night’s sleep and morning walk, I begin to work. I usually take another stroll in the afternoon.

I try to translate a few pages every day, and I do this very consistently. I’ve learned to concentrate and not be distracted. I work in silence and don’t listen to any music when I’m translating. My work hours end around six o‘clock in the evening. I then pursue my hobby, which is dancing.

What is your method for ensuring the accuracy and quality of a translation?

I give someone else excerpts of the book I’m working on to read aloud. If that person struggles with the flow or meaning of some words or thinks they’re unsuitable, I then know I should reconsider the translation. The internet is my best friend, especially Wikipedia articles and Google Images (for example, the novel Petro imperatorė has numerous descriptions of attire, interiors, paintings and other works of art, people’s appearance, etc.). Also, I couldn’t make do without paper dictionaries. Lastly, and this is very important, I can always consult with a dear friend of mine, who is Lithuanian.

How do you pick your books for translation?

I trust my intuition. Personally, I’m a big fan of biographies and historical novels. If a novel falls into these categories, I will do some research about it. If I’m still drawn to it, I buy the book and begin reading. After I’m done reading it, I reach out to potential publishers and try to get them interested in publishing a translation. The latter aspect of my work is perhaps the most difficult.

Have you ever refused to translate a book which had been offered to you?

I haven’t yet refused to translate a book. For me, every book is a new challenge, and I like challenges.

What are some of the challenges in translating Lithuanian literature for the Dutch readership?

One particular issue is the frequent usage of circumstantial participles in Lithuanian. A word-for-word translation of such forms into Dutch sounds very old fashioned, so I do my best to avoid them. I have also found that in Lithuanian, a word (or forms derived from it) is frequently used several times in the same paragraph. This would irritate the Dutch reader. Thus, the translator must look for synonyms. The average Dutch reader is also not very fond of long sentences, especially if they must read them several times to understand what is being said.

Describe the Dutch reader. What kind of literature do they prefer?

I’m afraid the Dutch are a people who don’t have a lot of time to read. They like to trust recommendations from the media and lists of bestselling books.

Was there a particular book that was a special experience for you to translate?

That would be the novel Dievų miškas (nl. Het woud van de goden) by Balys Sruoga. I found it a very moving story, especially considering how Sruoga wrote it down – his morbid humor style makes you laugh even though you don’t want to. Since I oversaw the whole publishing process of the Dutch translation, it really does feel like “my” book. I picked the story, translated it, found a publisher, and made sure the subsidies for printing and translating were available. I gave my translation to a beta reader, a well-known translator himself, who made some valuable suggestions. I also visited the former Stutthof concentration camp in Poland so I could directly visualize the story I was translating.

It is a shame that the book was published during the pandemic and didn’t garner the attention it deserves.

How would you compare Dutch and Lithuanian literature?

What seems to characterize Lithuanian literature is that a lot of the stories deal with life and trauma experienced during the Soviet regime. It is, of course, completely understandable.

Books that were published in the Netherlands during recent years mostly deal with social issues: old age, growing up in an unsafe environment, transsexuality, identity. Other topics include football, (auto)biographies, and spirituality.

Do you have a favorite Lithuanian author?

As I mentioned before, I always prefer books that deal with history. I also enjoy historical films and documentaries. That’s why I was so glad to translate Petro imperatorė. Speaking of other authors – Granauskas, Šlepikas, and Rokas Flickas all have their place in my home library, always at arm’s reach.

Is there a particular book that you have in mind as an ideal candidate for translation?

I’m currently focused on poetry, even though there’s a small market for it in the Netherlands.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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