Author Spotlight: Robert Finn

FinnBook: The Emperor Tea Garden by Nazli Eray

The translator of The Emperor Tea Garden, Robert Finn, is not only known for his books and translations, but for his previous title as the US ambassador to Afghanistan.  From March 2002 to August 2003, he served as the first ambassador in over twenty years.  He currently is a nonresident fellow at the Liechtenstein Institute, a principal investigator for the Century Foundation Task Force on Pakistan, and a visiting scholar at Columbia University.  Finn is the author of The Early Turkish Novel and translator of Nazli Eray’s Orpheus and Orhan Pamuk’s Silent House (shortlisted for the Man Asian Literary Prize).  His newest Turkish translation by Nazli Eray will be published by Syracuse University Press this spring.

Could you tell us about The Emperor Tea Garden?

“The Emperor Tea Garden is a delightful fantasy novel about love.  It takes place in several different locations in this world and the dream world, in the minds of lovers and in the shadows of the soul.  Characters transcend time, space, gender and place as the narrator lives in and through several different realities.  From the women men see in their minds in a tavern on the Black Sea to the  lovers lips hovering in the night in the Emperor Tea Garden itself, the author takes the reader on an exploratory trip through the world of the mind and he heart.  Funny, surprising and very down to earth, Nazli Eray’s novel catches the reader at every turn. Autobiographical in parts, surreal in others, The Emperor Tea Garden is a magical tour de force that carries us with it into ways of thinking and being beyond the imagination.  The reader will be touched and fascinated.”

What made you want to translate this book?

“The novel has always been one of my favorites of Nazli’s works, and one of her own favorites.  We both thought it would be an approachable novel for the English-speaking reader and a wonderful introduction into a world that is quite different than conventional portrayals of Turkey, or reality, for that matter.”

Could you describe the process of translating this book?

“The process of translating is different with every book and every character.  In the case of Nazli Eray, I find that her prose, because it is so fresh and enjoyable, lends itself easily to translation into English. I simply work page to page, not doing too much at a time, to make sure I keep the freshness of her prose in the English text.  Then I do revisions and re-readings to fine tune the translation. I usually have one or two questions about details for Nazli, who knows English quite well.”

How did you preserve the meaning and keep the voice of the writer while translating the book? 

“It is not difficult to keep Nazli’s meaning and voice faithful to the original, because her Turkish is very clear and open.   Sometimes I hesitate over a particular word or phrase that has layers of meaning, but usually I can find the right phrase to convey her intent easily.  Since the book is narrated by one person, most of the text is in that voice, but of course there are many other characters, living and dead, who have their own personalities and sociology.  I try to give each character his or her appropriate voice.  Since English has separate words for many nuances that can be inherent in one word or a few words in Turkish, I utilize that richness of vocabulary to distinguish individual characters.”

Emperor Tea GardenWith The Emperor Tea Garden being your third published translation, will you continue translating Turkish novels?

“I do plan to continue translating.  Right now, I am almost finished another novel by Orhan Pamuk and I have begun a third novel by Eray.  In addition, I have a draft translation of another novel which I am editing.”

As a diplomat with a background in Turkish Studies and International Relations, what made you decide on pursuing literary translations?

“I have been translating from Turkish for decades, ever since I was a student.  As a diplomat, I found that I could find time to work on translations while being very busy as a diplomat.  Turkish literature is rich and interesting, but little known, especially to English readers.  I want readers to be able to experience this important literature which had much to teach us about human nature and the mixing of cultures.”

Congratulations on your translation of Silent House, which was just shortlisted for the Man Booker Award! Does this recognition influence any future projects that you might take on?

“Of course I was very pleased to see Silent House be shortlisted for the Man Asian prize.  I first translated part of it when it first came out back in the 1980s, before Pamuk was ever translated into English. Now I am nearly through with the draft of Cevdet Bey and Sons, Pamuk’s first novel.  I intend to keep translating from Turkish in the future, including perhaps Tanpinar’s seminal work, the History of Nineteenth Century Turkish Literature.”


To learn more about Robert Finn’s translation of The Emperor Tea Garden, visit the Syracuse University Press website.

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