Books·How I Wrote It

How Oana Avasilichioaei translated Readopolis and won a Governor General's Literary Award

Oana Avasilichioaei won the Governor General's Literary Award for translation for the book Readopolis, originally written in French by Bertrand Laverdure.
Readopolis is the second book by Bertrand Laverdure that poet Oana Avasilichioaei has translated. (Pam Dick/Courtesy of Oana Avasilichioaei)

Oana Avasilichioaei won the 2017 Governor General's Literary Award for translation for her work on Readopolisoriginally written in French by Bertrand Laverdure. The book follows a disillusioned man named Ghislain whose frustration with the Quebec literary world and obsession with literature leads him to invent a strange new world.

Below, Avasilichioaei describes the process of translating Readopolis into a literary award winner.

Multi-disciplinary writing

"One of the things I find interesting in the book is that it's many books in one. It has many forms. There's an epistolary portion, there's a Socratic dialogue, there's a film script, there's a dystopian novella embedded within it and various other kinds of dialogue. It's a book about books; about reading books and being in the world of literature. I was interested in the many forms and how the different voices of those forms change so I found it exciting at the linguistic level. Also it's Bertrand Laverdure's version of the microcosm of Quebec literature and what it means to be a writer and a reader in Quebec."

Personal policy

"This is not the first time I've translated work that isn't unilingual. If the work I'm translating is not purely written in French, I feel a need to respect that. I can't flatten it out by creating a purely unilingual English translation. Bertrand uses English at times in Readopolis, so I wanted to create little dents into English by sometimes inserting French. They're not always necessarily at the same moments that Bertrand used English words in his French book. There are reasons why he's using an English word there, and so I had to use French in places where it would make sense."

Poetry in the morning, translation in the afternoon

"I tend to like starting the day with reading some poetry and and working on writing or sound and then doing the translation in the afternoon. I think at the beginning of the day one is a little bit emptier and sharper because things haven't yet accumulated throughout the day. I find that kind of space very conducive to creative work, when you're trying to do something new or make something.

"For me, by the time it gets later in the day, more has accumulated in my mind. I find that kind of accumulation can be quite productive for translation because translation you need to draw on many types to fields — vocabularies, ways of thinking, syntaxes etc. — so having that more layered space in your mind is useful for the type of work that it requires."

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Oana Avasilichioaei's comments have been edited and condensed.