Author Interview: Bibbi Lee, Peaks and Bandits
- Wednesday 21 April 2021
Bibbi Lee is a writer and translator, born in Norway but now living in France. First published in 1943, Peaks and Bandits has been newly translated by Bibbi for the first time into English. Its author, Alf Bonnevie Bryn, tells the story of his expedition to Corsica with Australian climber George Ingle Finch before either of them had achieved notoriety. Bibbi plans to translate more Norwegian classics in the future and is currently working on her own book about her time in France. Here, she tells us about her process of translation and the Norwegian love of adventure.
Peaks and Bandits has been a Norwegian classic for almost eighty years – why do you think it has never been published in English before?
Peaks and Bandits, although a classic in its genre, has had an unfortunate publishing history. The events took place in 1909, the story was written in 1937 and the book was published 1943, a time in world history when people had concerns other than mountain climbing. On the subject of seeing Norwegian writers translated and promoted by English language publishers, let’s just say the road is long and arduous and work by English authors is plentiful. Competition is stiff.
Tell us about your process for translation. Do you write a rough translation first and then go back and refine it?
My first step in the translation process is reading with an eye to catching the mood, the rhythm and the underlying spirit of the work. I take notes at this stage, scribble with pencil and paper and ask questions of dictionaries, Roget’s Thesaurus and Norwegian friends. Depending on the difficulty of the text, I set myself a daily goal of the number of pages I can translate in a day, anywhere from three to ten. When I think the job is done, I hand it over to a reader or two, pay attention to their comments and corrections and go over the entire text once again before submitting it.
On that point, when translating, how do you strike the balance between accurately capturing the author’s voice and making sure it sounds natural and engaging in English?
Finding the balance between an author’s voice and the correct vocabulary in another language is an age-old subject in the world of translation. A good translation is immediately detectable, as is a bad one. A translator can kill a text or make it come to life. Translations age, hence new translations of well-known work often appear.
Was it difficult to translate a lot of technical climbing terminology? Did you find that most words could be rendered naturally in English?
Mountain climbing vocabulary is particular to the activity and I found help in old mountain climbing books in a second-hand book shop in Menlo Park, California. They were on a dusty shelf in a back room and I bought them all. They were invaluable.
Do you think there are any similarities between you and the writer, Alf Bonnevie Bryn?
Other than both of us being Norwegian and therefore of a culture that values adventure in the outdoors, there are no similarities between Bryn and myself. Come to think of it, we are both writers.
Are you tempted to follow in the footsteps of Bryn and Finch and explore the rural Mediterranean island? You could maybe write your own narrative about your experience?
I did follow in the footsteps of Bryn and Finch and went to Corsica where I translated the book. But I am no mountain climber, mostly because I fall asleep at altitudes above ten thousand feet, and my knees don’t like going down hill. I stayed in Calacuccia for a few days, long enough to appreciate the ruggedness of the terrain and the considerable physical prowess of our young adventurers, Bryn, Finch and his brother Max.
What do you think is the most exciting part of their journey through Corsica?
I can’t say which is the most exciting part of their journey but I do know which is the most touching. It appears in the chapter about Valle Tartagine and Capo Al Dente (pages 52–54) wherein they manufacture skis from barrel staves for the forester and his sons.
Bryn and Finch encounter a lot of obstacles throughout Peaks and Bandits. Have you ever found yourself in a dangerous situation in the outdoors? If so, how did you overcome it?
Yes, I was once trapped in a white-out on the Hardanger Plateau in Norway. We were rescued by a team on snowmobiles. And I was once made shockingly aware that I was standing on the edge of an overhanging ice shelf, looking down into the void. I scrambled up and away on all fours.
Who would you recommend to read this book?
I am recommending this book to nature lovers and adventurers, young and old.
Are you planning on translating more Norwegian classics in the future?
Yes, I hope to translate two additional works by Torborg Nedreaas whose books I translated in 1988 and 1989 and which are now seeing renewed interest. Other than that, I am working on my own book, ‘Cooking Snails and Other Tales from the Heart of France’, and am aiming to have it finished by the end of this year.