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Intimate Enemies

Translation in Francophone Contexts


Edited by Kathryn Batchelor & Claire Bisdorff

Francophone Postcolonial Studies, New Series, Vol. 4

Liverpool: University Press. 2103


Cased. pp viii + 264. ISBN 978-1846318672. £70


Reviewed by John Hewson

Memorial University of Newfoundland


There are 15 contributions to this collection, including those of the editors, one of whom, Kathleen Batchelor, also writes the 13-page Introduction; the other articles run from 8 to 20 pages. The longest text also has the longest title, and the shortest texts are also the most direct and concise. There are three subsections, covering (i) The Translation  Market: Publication and Distribution, (ii) Writing and Translation in Practice, (iii) the Challenges and New Avenues in Postcolonial Translation Theory.

The Introduction covers all the major features of translation, which, as any translator knows, are quite convoluted. Kathleen Batchelor informs us that the title Intimate Enemies was originally proposed by Maryse Condé and Richard Philcox. As author with her translator (who is also her husband), Condé and Philcox present a wonderful 9-page conversation on this topic as the opening text [89-97] of the Practice section. It is a profoundly insightful overview, fascinating to read, and like poetry, delightful to re-read. Condé even suggests that the original text, in putting human experience into words, is itself a translation, which is a profound recognition of what the translator goes through. Writers, she points out, write because they love to write; there is an element of adoration. And translators, her husband notes, come to translation because they want others to experience the pleasure and delight that they have found in the originals.

In the first section [17-86], the opening chapter by Moradewun Adejunmobi is concerned with “Literary Translation and Language Diversity in Contemporary Africa” [17-35]. It is wide ranging, and looks at the problems in terms of the global village of the third millennium: multilingualism, and world languages. Peter Hawkins reports on “Francophone writers from the Indian Ocean” [35-48], and Ruth Bush on “Francophone African Literature” [49-68]. This section is rounded out by Audrey Small with a chapter entitled “Publishing, Translation and Truth” [69-86], which looks at Aimé Césaire’s play Une saison au Congo, and its role in the “mythologization of Patrice Lumumba”.

The second section [89-159] begins with the conversation of Condé and Philcox [89-97] which gives the book its title, and gives us insights into what it is like to have your work translated with all the concomitant pleasures and aggravations, and what it is like to be the translator, confronting the difficulties and acknowledging the inevitable inadequacies.

There are five other chapters in this section: Véronique Tadjo’s Translation: Spreading the Wings of Literature [98-108] takes the form of an interview with Kathryn Batchelor. The author, from the Côte d’Ivoire, was born in Paris and had begun her career with an MA in African American studies at the Sorbonne. She is now Head of French Studies at the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, and discusses writing as diverse as novels on political themes to children’s literature, both of which are found in her work.

Marjolijn de Jager, born in Indonesia and raised in the Netherlands translates from both French and Dutch, and has a “special place in her heart” for Francophone African literature; she writes on “Translation – A Listening Art” [109-116]. A Mauritian of Indian descent, Ananda Devi, is also presented by means of a brief interview: “Ananda Devi as Writer and Translator: In interview with Julia Waters” [117-123]. A winner of many awards, she is a prolific writer who has been translated into Hindi, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, Slovenian and English. She has some very interesting comments on the problems of translating Guyanese and Mauritian Creole: there is no one straightforward solution to such problems, and the skilled translator needs to be aware of the options.

The remaining two chapters in this section are both substantial: “The Négraille’s Testament: Translating Black-Label”, by Kathleen Gyssels and Christine Pagnoulle [124-140], and Christine Raguet’s “Translating Heterophony in Olive Senior’s Stories” [141-158]. The first of these is a detailed account of the problems and trials of translating a strikingly powerful book-length French poem from the African diaspora into English, and the second the similar problems of translating the “many-voiced” utterances of Jamaican writer Olive Senior from English into French. As one who has translated mostly from French to English, but sometimes the other way, I was intrigued how these two essays brought out significant cultural differences between French and English, such as the rigidity of standard French vocabulary (mentioned by Raguet [145] with a quote from linguist André Martinet), as opposed to the vast resources of English, with its massive borrowing from French during the bilingual period from 1066-1400, the Greco-Roman vocabulary from the Renaissance onwards, and the borrowings from around the globe in the last 400 years.

The third and final section contains five chapters. The first, by Carol Gilogley, “Subverting Subversion? Translation Practice and Malpractice in the Work of Patrick Chamoiseau” [161-180], immediately plunges us back into the problems of translating Creole, particularly in the complex writing of Chamoiseau, described by Kundera [citation p. 161] as a “français chamoisisé”, with a long critique (and long paragraphs, one over a page in length) of Linda Coverdale’s translations. The second, Claire Bisdorff’s “Un art de la fugue? Translating Glissant’s Poetry, Fiction and Prose d’idées” [181-195], and third, Kathryn Batchelor’s “Postcolonial Intertextuality and Translation Explored through the Work of Alain Mabanckou” [196-215], both look at translating particular authors, and the traditions to which these authors belong.

The fourth chapter brings us back to the remarkable range of Ananda Devi, “Ananda Devi as Transcolonial Translator”, by Julia Waters [216-234], and the fifth and last, “Translation and Current Trends in African Metropolitan Literature”, by Paul F. Bandia [235-251], creates a fitting conclusion by a wide ranging overview of the relationship between the former African colonies and the metropole, the good, the bad, the different, and the indifferent, all seen through the eyes of African francophone writers, with the author’s interlinear commentaries on his translations of some of these. The humour (even black humour, pun accidental), of some of this writing is delightful, a very pleasant conclusion to the book.

I trust the writers of these essays will forgive me for the inadequacies of this review, since reviewing a collection of chapters is every bit as difficult and as frustrating as is translation: the problems of what to include, what to omit, and knowing all the time that one cannot, in a simple review, give an adequate account of all. But the very diversity of this volume will be of interest to all translators, who will find in its pages the confessions, concerns, and insights of their fellow workers at this ancient trade, who need to be not only linguists, but technicians and artists as well.


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