Sun, 13 Jul 2003

Harry Potter translator taking it one page at a time

Jock Paul, Contributor, Jakarta

Talk about pressure: Imagine having over 100,000 children eagerly waiting for you to finish their newest toy. They loved the last four you gave them and have already heard that this is the biggest and best one yet.

The impatience is understandable, said Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix translator, Listiana Srisanti, but even bookstores and parents are already bugging her about when her translation is going to be ready.

Since the release of the book, Listiana has been bombarded with questions about when the book will be ready. Kids have already tracked down her office line and some are demanding she translate 100 pages per day.

The huge marketing success of the book's simultaneous worldwide release resulted in record breaking sales, but has also created a voracious demand for translations.

All the hype and the genuine interest are credited with making this latest Harry Potter novel the first English-language book to top the best seller list in France.

Here, most of the attention has focused on Listiana, who is not only the translator of this edition, but also editorial and production manager of fiction at Gramedia Pustaka Utama, the owners of the book's Indonesian translation rights.

But the tough lesson that Indonesians and Harry Potter fans around the world are learning is that it's going to be a while before the latest novel is available in their native tongue.

Despite the English language editions success in France, a French translation will not be available until Dec. 3. It takes a day to translate 10 pages and then 90 days to proofread, publish and distribute the French edition.

Readers here face about the same time frame. "We hope it will be ready by early next year, January or February," said Listiana.

The rush to get the book out has changed the way that Listiana will translate this edition. While she was able translate the first four Harry Potter novels at her own leisure, this time she has been forced to give up some of her duties at work, and cut out any other reading.

She has been translating books for over 26 years, but like Harry Potter author JK Rowling, she had planned on becoming a teacher. But two months after graduating from the English department at Satya Wacana teacher training college in Salatiga, Central Java, she got freelance work translating Harlequin romance novels for Gramedia. Two months later she was hired permanently as a fiction editor.

For the first few years, Listiana was assigned romance novels to translate, but since then she has translated only the books she was wanted to. Many of these books have been children's novels, and she has also translated children's books from Dutch, German and French.

Her position as Harry Potter translator came about by chance one night three years when she was listening to the British Broadcasting Corporation. "I heard a bunch of kids laughing and clapping at the launch of the third book," she said.

Her interest was piqued and the next morning she made some calls and got in contact with Rowling's agent.

She began reading her first novel and "liked Rowling's descriptions, her creation of language and the storyline of Harry learning how to 'become' a witch," she said.

She knew that translating Rowling's poems and puzzles in the form of poems, would be difficult, so she decided to do the translation herself. "But there was no pressure then," she said.

Compared to other children's novels, Harry Potter is especially difficult to translate because of Rowling's clever use of words, Listiana said. "She has created a lot of new words and terms which are very interesting to read, but quite difficult to translate if we want to keep the terms as interesting as the original."

She keeps the names that Rowling creates for spells, but will explain if there is a French or Latin meaning in the terms.

She translates a sentence at a time, and chooses words that she thinks will be understood by children. For the first four novels, "I would often ask my daughter who is now 16 if she understood... and also tried to use words she and her peers use," she said.

When Listiana has finished the translation she will pass it on to editor Komolawati Suhendra, who is also impatient and looking forward to getting the translation. "T

he fourth book took three weeks, but this one should take at least a month," Komolawati said.

Despite the wait, Listiana is confident that kids, and adults, will be happy with the finished product. The critics are right, she said, in that Rowling has gotten a lot better with books four and five.