2 February 11 | Chad W. Post

The following was written by Mima Simić regarding her recent experiences in publishing “My Girlfriend” in the Best European Fiction 2011 anthology. Enjoy!

Best European Fiction for 2011 has hit the bookstores and review sections of your favorite cultural papers, but there’s some pretty bad non-fiction behind the best fiction Dalkey offers.

Sometime in April of 2010 I was informed that my story (“My Girlfriend”) was to be included in the 2011 Best European Fiction edition (as the Croatian representative, yay!). This was, naturally, quite a delightful piece of news for me; an opportunity to reach the vast English speaking market, as writing in so-called small languages can be quite a limitation to one’s literary ambitions. Dalkey received my story not in Croatian, but in English; it was I who translated it. As a conscientious author, and not wanting to be misread nor derided for my command of the lingua franca of the universe, before I’d sent it in, I had it (proof) read by a few native speakers, including my American professor of creative writing (American as in born, raised, writing and teaching in the U.S.).

All seemed well; no one from Dalkey contacted me except to sign a contract that allowed the publisher to use the story, or parts of it, for their advertising and other purposes. There was nothing in the contract about the text of the story itself, nothing about editorial interventions, proofreading etc. And why should there be? Even in “uncivilized” non-EU and non-U.S. countries (such as mine) we know that a publisher/editor ought to consult the author should they think it necessary to change their text. And one would expect this to be doubly true of Dalkey who are hailed as the trailblazer of translated fiction in the English-speaking world, are producing a report on best practices in publishing translations and have in fact published a guide to editing translations (!)

As no one contacted me about any edits, I presumed everything was fine with the story. Imagine then my astonishment when the Anthology arrived at my doorstep (in December 2010) and I realized that a diligent Dalkey editor not only made quite a few interventions in the text, but they also inserted (!) a piece of text that changed/determined sex of my narrator! As this gender/sex ambiguity is one of the thematic pillars of my story, this benevolent editorial intervention (which made the narrator a man and the relationship heterosexual!) completely changed my story, its aims and effects. To be sure, the author is not, nor can they be, the owner of the interpretation, but surely they should be the owner of their text? The copy editor’s job is not to rewrite or retell the story in their own words—but rather to intervene as little as possible and if they do change something, to check with the author before the text goes to print. Is this too much to ask of Dalkey? And is it unfair to ask this: Would this have happened to me if I had been an American author?

Needless to say, I was utterly shocked, appalled and flabbergasted by this act—especially as Dalkey (and this ambitious publication) was the last publisher I expected to get this kind of treatment from (I had my stories published in the UK before; in Chroma Journal and on Pulp.net, and both editors communicated with me about any/every edit). Also, this editorial gender-(re)assignment surgery was to me not only an artistic but also an ideological insult. I’m a lesbian writer, or rather—a writer who happens to be a lesbian—and I also happen to be a gender theorist—so whenever I write I’m absolutely conscious of the factor of identity and how important it is to play with it, subvert it. I would have thought that a reputable American publisher would be aware of such issues and of how language constructs reality and vice versa.

I don’t write straight stories; and I don’t want anyone to be straightening my stories, in any way, sexual or textual—and certainly not without my consent. I wrote to Dalkey to say I was sorry my story was ever published in the anthology under my name because their “editing” turned it into somebody else’s. It’s a piece of fiction I would never produce. This didn’t impress them much. The editorial director, John O’Brien said he didn’t know why these changed were made and offered to have a conversation (between myself and Dalkey) published in their magazine CONTEXT in which we would, in a civilized manner, discuss the matter (and presumably allow them to call the shots again). A barbaric creature from the Balkans, I never replied to his email.

Finally, I’d like to share with you the concrete details of editorial/proofreading interventions, so you can judge whether they were needed. To be sure, even if they had been, the mere fact no one ever contacted me to confirm I was OK with them (and they had at least half a year to do so, for the meager 5 pages of my story), they never asked for my authorization. If you have a look at the list of the “edits,” you’ll notice that not only did they change the rhythm of the story, the syntax and the sound but they went so far as to (re)interpret the story for the reader. How patronizing—both on myself and the readers.

Here are some of the more problematic edits (the first one is horrific, but the other ones weren’t pretty to look at either):

original:
Although she is blind, when we go out my girlfriend likes to make herself up. Sometimes I get a feeling she is flirting, but I suppose I’m just being paranoid.

edited:
Although she can’t see herself (why change this?), my girlfriend likes to make herself up when we go out. Sometimes I get a feeling she is flirting WITH OTHER MEN (nb: nowhere in the story do I suggest the narrator is a man!) etc.

original:
Some will say it’s as good as cheating, but those are the dull people always ready to explain to you the difference between love and fiction.

edit:
Some might say this is cheating, but only the same sort of dull people who’re always happy to explain the difference between love and make believe to you.

There is a big difference between the word FICTION and “make believe.” FICTION also refers to WRITING. why they had to change this one is BEYOND ME.

original:
Maybe some of the girls were boys, too.

edit:
Maybe some of the girls were actually boys anyway.

Why change this sentence?

original:
And now, after four years, it’s sort of passé, a matter too inappropriate to discuss

edit:
And now, after four years, it’s sort of too late – it would be too delicate to bring it up.

PASSE is not the same as too late. It has its own register, meaning and TONE. If I used it, that’s because I WANTED to use it. There was NOTHING wrong with the original, so why change it?

original:
She can tell the time by the smell of the stuff in the pan.

edit:
She can tell how long something’s been frying by the way it smells.

Why change this sentence? why, why, why?!

original:
When they hear my girlfriend is blind, most often people will first remember the downsides of dating a blind person, like missing out on the best part – the exchange of meaningful looks, the foreplay of signals, the silent innuendos.

edit:
When they hear my girlfriend is blind, most often people will first remember the downsides of dating a blind person, like missing out on the best partS OF BEING IN A RELATIONSHIP – the exchange of meaningful looks, the foreplay of signals, the silent innuendos.

WHY ADD THAT BIT? Those are NOT the best parts of being in a relationship, actually.

They’re part of the DATING.

I hope this letter will be a valuable lesson to the reading/writing/translating community and the publishers of the world. I know editor’s job is stressful one, but this fact by no means should relieve them of the responsibility for the mistakes they make. If I had a dentist pull out a wrong tooth or plumber flood my bathroom instead of fixing the pipe, I’d do my all to make them face to the consequences of the crappy job they’d done. As I’m sure Dalkey editors would do, too. Because no one likes walking the world toothless; and this is how things are done in the civilized world.

Sincerely,
Mima Simić


Comments are disabled for this article.
....
The Cold Song
The Cold Song by Linn Ullmann
Reviewed by David Richardson

Linn Ullmann’s The Cold Song, her fifth novel, is built much like the house about which its story orbits: Mailund, a stately white mansion set in the Norwegian countryside a few hours drive from Oslo. The house, nestled into the. . .

Read More >

This Life
This Life by Karel Schoeman
Reviewed by P. T. Smith

Karel Schoeman’s Afrikaans novel, This Life, translated by Else Silke, falls into a genre maybe only noticed by the type of reader who tends toward Wittgenstein-type family resemblances. The essential resemblance is an elderly narrator, usually alone—or with one other. . .

Read More >

A Dilemma
A Dilemma by Joris-Karl Hyusmans
Reviewed by Christopher Iacono

In Joris-Karl Hyusmans’s most popular novel, À rebours (Against Nature or Against the Grain, depending on the which translated edition you’re reading), there is a famous scene where the protagonist, the decadent Jean des Esseintes, starts setting gemstones on the. . .

Read More >

Walker on Water
Walker on Water by Kristiina Ehin
Reviewed by P. T. Smith

There are books that can only wisely be recommended to specific types of readers, where it is easy to know who the respective book won’t appeal to, and Kristiina Ehin’s Walker on Water is one these. What makes this neither. . .

Read More >

The Nightwatches of Bonaventura
The Nightwatches of Bonaventura by Bonaventura
Reviewed by J. T. Mahany

Imagine the most baroque excesses of Goethe, Shakespeare, and Poe, blended together and poured into a single book: That is The Nightwatches of Bonaventura. Ophelia and Hamlet fall in love in a madhouse, suicidal young men deliver mournful and heartfelt. . .

Read More >

Pavane for a Dead Princess
Pavane for a Dead Princess by Park Min-Gyu
Reviewed by Christopher Iacono

In 1899, Maurice Ravel wrote “Pavane pour une infante défunte” (“Pavane for a Dead Princess”) for solo piano (a decade later, he published an orchestral version). The piece wasn’t written for a particular person; Ravel simply wanted to compose a. . .

Read More >

Tram 83
Tram 83 by Fiston Mwanza Mujila
Reviewed by Caitlin Thomas

Fiston Mwanza Mujila is an award-winning author, born in the Democratic Republic of Congo, who now, at 33, lives in Austria. From what I could find, much of his work is influenced by the Congo’s battle for independence and its. . .

Read More >

Twenty-One Days of a Neurasthenic
Twenty-One Days of a Neurasthenic by Octave Mirbeau
Reviewed by Lori Feathers

Twenty-One Days of a Neurasthenic is not a novel in the traditional sense. Rather, it is a collection of vignettes recorded by journalist Georges Vasseur in his diary during a month spent in the Pyrenées Mountains to treat his nervous. . .

Read More >

Sphinx
Sphinx by Anne Garréta
Reviewed by Monica Carter

Founded in 1960 by such creative pioneers as George Perec, Raymond Queneau and Italo Calvino, the Oulipo, shorthand for Ouvroir de littérature potentielle, came about in when a group of writers and mathematicians sought constraints to find new structures and. . .

Read More >

Morse, My Deaf Friend
Morse, My Deaf Friend by Miloš Djurdjević
Reviewed by Vincent Francone

There’s little to say about a series of prose poems that willfully refuse to identify pronoun antecedents. Or perhaps there are a million things. The poems in Morse, My Deaf Friend— the chapbook by Miloš Djurdjević published by Ugly Duckling. . .

Read More >