Translation was a theme at this year’s Edinburgh International Book Festival. In their words, ‘Talking Translation … champions the role of the translator and the creative, linguistic and political challenges required to take stories across borders.’ As part of the series, translators Sarah Ardizzone and Daniel Hahn ran a ‘Spectacular Translation Machine’ event at which members of the public were invited to help translate an entire book from French into English in one day. The book was Barroux’s latest graphic novel Alpha, the heart-rending story of one young man’s journey from the Ivory Coast to France in search of his family. The stunning text is by prize-winning French novelist Bessora.
Every piece of artwork from the book was pegged up with its original text. Participants chose images and provided their own translation, which Sarah and Danny then pegged up at the end of the two-day project.
We went along and took part. Here’s Emma (right) checking her translation in the traditional manner and Julie-ann checking hers using more modern technology a.k.a Google.
We fell for Alpha hard. Mairi went home and stayed up all that night creating a plan for a website of resources on immigration and asylum ”“ and a plan we very much hope we can fulfil for a facility for schools, groups and individuals across the UK and further afield to translate Alpha into their own community languages. Sarah Ardizzone and Barroux took time out of their busy schedules to talk it all through with her (‘elle est fou’ might have been said but it was said kindly). The marvellous Emma Langley of ACE (previously publisher at Phoenix Yard) advised. We put together an offer shortly thereafter and it was accepted by the original publisher Gallimard. We were going to publish Alpha!
The book excites us because it is deeply empathetic, an answer to the sort of discourse that sees human beings dismissed as a ‘swarm’. It gives a face to Alpha and to the many people he meets on his travels ”“ and there are many. With a visa, his journey would take a matter of hours. Of course, Alpha has none, and his journey takes many months, encompassing people traffickers, refugee camps and a perilous crossing of the Mediterranean.
We are incredibly excited to partner with Amnesty International UK on the book. Nicky Parker, Amnesty’s Publisher, says, ”˜It’s with huge sensitivity that Barroux shows the horrors of life as a refugee, his drawings providing a moving insight into this kind of journey. Alpha is emblematic of the refugee crisis today ”“ he is one of millions on the move, some fleeing war and others in desperate hope of a better life for their families. He, like so many, is willing to face a journey full of dangers rather than stay in a place without a future. Alpha shows the human condition at a time of extreme stress and Amnesty International UK is proud to partner on it.’
Sarah Ardizzone is running the Spectacular Translation Machine Alpha event again this weekend at South Ken Kids’ Fest where there will also be a chance to meet Barroux.
We have many other developments and events planned, around the artwork (which Barroux chose to create in felt-tip pen and wash, materials that Alpha might be able to access), the story and the wider resonance of the book. Keep an eye out for more in the new year. In the meantime, here are a few spreads to show you why we think it is so very special.
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