Thursday, October 8, 2015

Steffany Irawan on Translating Daughters of Papua into English

Stefanny Irawan talks to Alexander “The Engineer” Lim, host of AuthorStory by about being a translator and one of the latest novels she translated, Daughters of Papua.

“You gotta stay true to the nuance of the work, the language, but you need to transfer that to the new language that you’re working with, in the translated one.” ~Stefanny Irawan, on translating native language books

Stefanny grew up in East Java and attended college at Surabaya where, because of her love of reading and language, she majored in English literature and got hooked on theater, which she continues today. She began to write seriously during the last few years of college, which resulted in a collection of her short stories being published in 2006 by an Indonesian publisher, after which she became a translator. She acquired a Fulbright scholarship that enabled her to earn her Master’s degree in Arts Management from the State University of New York, in Buffalo, and is presently a teacher at Universitas Kristen Petra in Surabaya, where she teaches introduction to creative writing, playwriting and stage production. She is also the managing director of the college theater at that university.

Stefanny was inspired to become a translator after reading both good and bad translated works, with the good translations reminding her of the wonders of the different languages used in the world, powerfully breaking down language barriers and enabling people to enjoy great works. Bad translations, on the other hand, keep her mindful of the importance of her job as a translator and encourages her to do her work well. Indeed, after reading some badly translated works, Stefanny told herself that she could do a lot better, and this is what helped drive her to become a translator.

Stefanny sees her work as building bridges between cultures, between Indonesia and the English-speaking-and-writing world, and becoming such a bridge, being a cultural ambassador, is something she is passionate about. She chooses to translate works that are compelling to her, be these due to the issues covered or the stories themselves or the characters involved. Stefanny admits that idiomatic expressions are challenging, since an idiom in one language may not exist in another language. Nuance is also a challenge, as this likewise has to be transferred in the translated work.

Stefanny acknowledges Lian Gouw of Dalang Publishing as a mentor when it comes to translating, and she has had several discussions with her when it comes to staying true to the original work while being able to accurately deliver the original work’s intent.

Stefanny has translated around half a dozen works, including Daughters of Papua and the English book version of Gaston Leroux’s The Phantom of the Opera, and while she was translating the latter book she realized that the story of the book is a lot bigger than the musical, with more emphasis on the character of the Phantom. Daughters of Papua made her realize just how hard are the lives of the people of Papua, particularly the women, with the violence they endure.

Stefanny is also an author in her own right, and she finds it most difficult to translate her own work, as she admits that the first person she must please is herself. Interested as she is with women’s issues, such as violence against women, she hopes to work on more books that deal with such. She feels honored to have translated Love, Death and Revolution by the acclaimed Indonesian author Mochtar Lubis (1), and hopes to work with the Indian author Jhumpa Lahiri, whose work she admires.

Stefanny believes that “practice makes perfect,” particularly when it comes to translating, and encourages would-be translators to read a lot and to translate a lot, as translation is a never-ending learning process. She also recommends networking and finding a good mentor or mentors, people who care about one as a person and as a translator.

Stefanny loves being involved in theater production and, while it’s part of her job as a teacher, dislikes students who are hard to get through to. She hopes to own a theater company that will feature plays that present Indonesia in a way that not only Indonesians but an international audience will find meaningful and, perhaps, even thought-provoking. Steffany Irawan can be contacted through

(1) Mochtar Lubis was a co-winner of the 1958 Ramon Magsaysay Award for Journalism, Literature and Creative Communication. In 2000, he was named as one of the International Press Institute’s 50 World Press Freedom Heroes of the past 50 years. (source: Wikipedia)

Purchase on Amazon: Anindita Siswanto Thayf's Daughters of Papua

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