lost in translation part 2

Here is the good news: the translation of Systemisch werken. Een relationeel kompas voor hulpverleners is finished, with its new title Systemic perspectives in mental health, social work and youth care: A relational compass.

Fortunately, the translation task spared us from blood, sweat and tears but not from agony, grey hairs and extended screen hours. The final finetuning as I call it, such as cross-checking references, correcting phrases or words in earlier chapters that were changed over time, re-reading the text for the umpteenth time, crossing all those t’s and dotting all those i’s, was like running a marathon. Those last few miles are the hardest, everything hurts and you wonder why you embarked with enthusiasm and spark on that first training run. You have to dig deep mentally to keep going, trusting that the finish line is around the corner and your support crew ready with fluffy slippers. Tired and satisfied we can now look back on completing that run.

Halfway the 12 chapters, I finally felt confident enough to loosen the grip of literal translation*. I chucked out repetitions and words that did not add much to the content, such as sentence starters like maar/but, soms/sometimes, of/or. I chopped longer sentences in two or three, I changed the sequence around within sentences, I rewrote paragraphs, I consulted with friends to find English equivalents for Flemish or Dutch expressions and I changed first and last names.

Let’s tell you a bit more about the name issue. We decided to keep the surname of the family that features throughout the book, the Dufour-de Soek family. We were reluctant to lose the unique Dutch-Flemish context of the original. The matriarch of the family is called Joke. My friend Chris, my translation shadow, pointed out that an English-speaking audience would read it as ‘joke’. We immediately came up with Agnes, corresponding with the woman’s age and era. The editors liked it.

As I progressed through the chapters I realised more names needed to be anglicised. Never expected to see such an extensive list of names! I decided to keep the same initial of the first or last name where possible and searched for appropriate alternatives, in keep with the age of the person. I thought of friends and other people of similar age and I consulted lists of popular names of a particular era. Renaming Joanneke, a teenage girl, as Jean was out of the question. She became Gemma. English sounding names in the original text such as Vera, Benny, Jaco, Carla, Thomas, Steve and Marion were keepers. Others changed: Ans/Alison, Evert/Eddy, Roos/Rose, Koen/Tom, Pieter/Paul, Thies/Rhys. The surname Boone became Bosh and Driessen Drayton. Thank you, friends, colleagues and acquaintances for [unbeknownst to you] providing inspiration!

I have learnt so much during the translation, not only about my native tongue and my second language, but also about how culturally and socially embedded language is. Thank you Chris, Ellen, Anke and Justine for the inspiring and enlightening discussions.

* Did anyone notice the difference? In the ensuing chapters the editors made less comments and requested less changes, my shadow translator commented on the drastic reduction of his work load. I think that counts as a YES.

P.S. Would I do it again? The jury is still deliberating …          

public libraries: a fragile history

I am posting a review of The library: a fragile history, written by Professor Pettegree and fellow historian Arthur der Weduwen about the fascinating history of how public libraries came to be.

One of the photos in the review reminds me of stepping into the State Hall of the National Library of Austria in Vienna, absolutely stunned by the absolute beauty of this Baroque library hall. A memorable visit in 2015 when I tried to not cough (I was terribly unwell with the flu) in the quietness of ancient books and visitors shuffling around.

I am so proud to be a part-time librarian, offering the community a priceless source of knowledge, learning and refuge.

kiwi as

Something dawned on me while reading Auē, Becky Manawatu’s debut novel. The first paragraph drew me in immediately. Ārama speaking: “Taukiri and I drove here in Tom Aiken’s truck. We borrowed it to move all my stuff. Tom Aiken helped. Uncle Stu didn’t. This was my home now.” Straight into the unique flavours of our Kiwi context. That felt surprisingly so familiar and made me actually feel quite happy.

Just before opening Auē,I had finished Sydney Bridge Upside Down by David Ballentyne. It is a lesser known book, but now considered a classic (and therefore reprinted). Ballentyne shows his craft in his incredibly clever depiction of long-ago-yet-still-recognisable New Zealand prepubescent summer experiences. A recent review of the book and its curious title had piqued my interest because the book was published in … 1968!

It then hit me: after more than 20 years in New Zealand, I ‘get it’, I understand deeply, with head and heart, the kiwi vernacular, how people (used to) live, young people’s mischief, children’s frightened experiences of domestic violence, backgrounds of poverty and misery, long cheerful summers, whānau relationships.

When I opened Auē, recommended by friends and the best-selling NZ book in 2020 and 2021, it felt like a home coming. In spite of the story foreboding tragedy (I am only 80 pages in), it is a magnetic page turner. Perhaps a great storm could envelop my house this afternoon so I can disappear in Ārama and Taukiri’s story of grief, adaptation and survival after their parents’ tragic, gang-related deaths. Fiction and reality sometimes cross in disturbing ways.

lost in translation

For anyone who has ventured in the dark woods of translation land, my amateur experiences below may bring a smile (or grimace?) of recognition.

No matter whether a translation piece is short, long, professional, unofficial or purely out of interest or necessity, it is serious, and I mean serious, business. Negotiating the nuances of (at least) two languages, variations in meaning depending on the context, odd or unusual vocabulary and expressions uniquely cultural, it is no mean feat to get it right or as close to the gist of the original text as possible.

When I − not being a translator or interpreter but fluent in spoken and written English as I have been living in New Zealand for more than 20 years − stared at the first page of a significant translation assignment, I had many debates with myself and other language buffs (I have many friends!) about issues such as: How to honour the intention and the meaning of the words without being too literal? How to make the text flow when the sentence structures of both languages are dissimilar? How to decide which verb to choose for ‘to think’ each time or which is the best adjective in a particular context to describe something small, little, petite, mini, tiny, wee, slight, diminutive … And how to decide on an appropriate equivalent for professional jargon?

Anna Aslayan recently documented her decades of experience as a translator in Dancing on ropes. I am impressed by the background research she undertook for many historical-political intriguing examples of translation near misses and suspense. Her statement that a great translation should never read or feel like a translation stuck as a mantra in my mind when, on request, I embarked on a four-month journey of translating a book on systemic therapy from Dutch/Flemish into English.

I should be more specific. The work is not at all finished. Just before Christmas the three editors of the original book and I discussed, questioned and commented my first ‘solid’ draft of the twelve book chapters. That first ‘solid’ draft is the result of hard work and multiple previous drafts, ranging from an initial rough, speedy translation, a second careful sentence-by-sentence edit, to a third reading including in-depth research and checking of terminology, theory and original referenced authors. Three chapters at the time made their electronic journey to the editors of the original book, subsequently reviewed and adorned with comments and suggestions, followed some time later by a collective elaborate discussion over Zoom.

Halfway, at chapter 7, I felt confident enough to loosen the translation with permission from the editors to make the text mine and beautiful. So, what did I do different and did anyone notice the difference?

Liliane – in memoriam

Our house was a comic strip heaven – my two sisters and I read comics like other people eat porridge or toast for breakfast. In Belgium and some other European countries, it’s a common sight for children (young and old) to be engrossed in a comic strip without adults worrying why it’s so quiet…

Our house was a book heaven – my two sisters and I took to books like ducks to water. I am not sure where all those books came from, I don’t recall visits to the library as a young child, but I remember books as gifts and perhaps my mother bought some for us when she bought for herself.

Liliane, my mother, was a devote member of the Book Club ECI, not the kind of club where you meet and discuss a book, but an exclusive membership that allowed you to buy (compulsory in fact) the newest published works at a reduced price with for-the-booklover-tantalising-extras on top. In later years, her eyes needed help from a magnifying glass (just like her father’s) to keep reading. I mentioned talking books to her, but she wasn’t keen. When you can’t decipher the words anymore, what is your next best option as a voracious reader?

One very poignant childhood memory I’d like to share is watching a youth series on tv on Wednesday afternoons (school finishes at noon on Wednesdays in Belgium!). It made such an impression on me that for years I have wondered what the series was called. I remembered some details: it was definitely Scandinavian, the protagonists were a boy and a girl, one with the whitest of hair. They exchanged a white stone backward and forth, the stone was magic, something really precious. As a child I sensed the tenderness of the two children’s friendship, their unique bond and a bit of secrecy. It was as if they were not allowed to play together (that’s correct I found out).

Some persistent googling led me to some clips of the programme on YouTube. The white stone tv-series from 1973 is based on Swedish Gunnel Linde’s book Den vita stenen from 1964. Perhaps the series’ piano intro (still beautiful) and the appearance of a piano teacher also drew my undivided attention to this series at the time. Finding a copy of the book is proving very very difficult. I’d love to read the original story.    


Liliane, my mother, my moeke, was an avid reader and passed on her love for stories/books/literature, imperceptibly woven in her love for her three daughters. At her eulogy recently, her partner’s eldest son commented that he had been oblivious of the number of books in the house (and that is, I know, after mum had been culling her book collection in recent years). These books are now a tangible visual reminder of her, her favourite spot on the couch and the pile of books on the side table, waiting.

post book fair

When the five-minute call – ‘We’re closing the book fair for today!’ – comes, I normally go into overdrive. Quickly I empty my red fabric book bag (a long-term favourite for this occasion: it can be draped across to free BOTH hands for browsing) and scan the loot: what to keep, what to discard? This year time has run out and I have to trust my selection without a second look.

Filled with a wonderful sense of pleasure and joy I drive home and park the book bag for the evening. I believe that books need natural light for inspection and true appreciation, particularly picture books. So not until the next day, Saturday, after housework and other chores completed, the moment of reveal has arrived. I empty the book bag’s rewards on a clean kitchen bench and make three piles of books: one for work, one for myself, one for my husband Wiel. First things first. I lightly clean each cover and sides with a damp cloth (and additional antiseptic wipe in Covid-times) to remove stains, dirty fingers and dust.  

I marvel over the picture books and comics I scored for work. I make a point of reading each book first before it lands in the waiting room, to ensure that it is in a reasonable condition and has appropriate content. Jordan Watson’s How to Dad, Vol. 2 is so typical Kiwi: a father illustrating in pictures and words what parenting is really all about, or not. Hilarious! Next I smile over some cute picture books and move to the Christmas themed books. I love providing our waiting room (not before December though) with a variety of Christmassy books for big and small. I have a weakness for old fashioned style pictures and Christopher discovers a secret and The night before Christmas (a Golden Book) make me glow inside and starry-eyed.

Wiel’s books end up in the bookcase without further ado. It’s not that I am not interested, and they too get a clean-over, but let’s get to the really good stuff!

That’s my pile, you see! The few novels I bought are placed in full view in the bookcase in the living room. I read almost everything I purchase or receive (although it can take weeks, months or years) but you, as an avid reader, know that your mood has a big say in dictating what kind of story or genre you need at a given point in time.

I lovingly stroke the picture books (nobody is watching). I’ll read them later, in daylight, when the time is right. And that’s right now! I laugh with Daniel Kirk’s story of Sam, the Library mouse (impossible to resist such title) and the cute books Sam produces for library visitors. And then, the gentle drawings by Tomie dePaola in Four stories for four seasons. I recognised his name from Quiet, a wonderful picture book about mindfulness he produced in 2018.

The rest of the books are patiently waiting their turn. Each time I’ll pick one up and settle down for reading, I’ll be smiling. I am in the best place one can be.

book fair fever

Each year in the July winter school holidays, the Whakatane Salvation Army organises a gigantic book fair, one of their major fundraisers. Three days of secondhand book heaven, spread over Thursday, Friday and Saturday morning in the second week of the holidays, visited often more than once by thousands of people, families and children.

In 1991 the first book fair, the brainchild of Jim Kennedy, took place in the Salvation Army church. He took the idea home when visiting the Wellington Salvation Army at the time. Originally a summer event, the book fair was not particularly popular because everyone was outside having summer fun (as Kiwis do) and not interested in buying/reading books. The event was shifted to the winter school holidays, quickly outgrew the church space and found a new home in an old supermarket building across the road. Jim’s wife Cath opened this year’s fair with a 30th birthday cake in honour of her husband who died in 2010.  

It is Friday and I can hardly contain my excitement while patiently working through the day with my clients. I shoot out the door as soon as I finish work. It’s 4pm, only one and a half hour left until the lights dim over the books today. But boy, what an end-of-the week highlight!

As I enter the vast space and see hundreds of rows of books, neatly organised per topic (novels, history, New Zealand, children, cooking, gardening, sport, religion, humour, art, magazines, foreign languages) I smile and pause. It happens each year, that feeling of never going to get through all of this! Unable to revisit the book fair the next day, I ever so briefly consider conjuring a strategic plan, but with temptation lurking everywhere, that idea is abandoned quickly.

Firstly, a visit to the rare books, then scooting to the tables with fiction and browsing almost everything, scanning constantly, and hoping to find that amazing book, title or topic. I always bring home a book or author that I am unfamiliar with, to broaden my reading experience. This year the lucky (young adult) book is Fairieground Wish, by (author names without capitals on the cover, perhaps that appealed!) beth bracken & kay fraser. It resembles a graphic novel but in hard cover book format. Looks different!

Next I visit the New Zealand books, quickly walk past the cooking and gardening books, loiter around the biographies and gems of now unwanted gift books. Occasionally I recognise a book I donated back after my pre book fair routine: weeding my personal library (so painful), the stock for our community little library, the waiting room reads at work and a neighbour’s discarded books.

The final and favourite section is the children’s corner. I am on the lookout for picture books that will fit nicely in my private collection (I have a weak spot for picture books since I studied children’s literature many years ago) or are worthy for our waiting room bookcase (a space shared by many families and pregnant women). Another woman is rummaging through each box systematically, I follow suit. When a volunteer announces they’re closing in ten minutes, our rummaging becomes more frantic. The five minute call comes, we continue until we have to scoop up our finds, pay (plus an extra donation for this organisation) and leave with a book bag heavy and full. It is not finished. The book fair post routine is kicking in soon!   

books, on your marks!

Hopefully your days of creasing the top corner of a page as a reminder of where you’ve left your book before nodding off or being pulled away for something less fun are over. I admit, I still impart dog ears (or in Dutch ezelsoortjes – donkeys’ ears) on my house & garden magazines, occasionally only, not so much to remember where I left, but to remember something that caught my attention: a renovation project, a website, an interior design idea. For ‘proper’ books I use bookmarks – bladwijzers or boekenleggers in Dutch.

Wikipedia explains:    

‘A bookmark is a thin marking tool, commonly made of cardleather, or fabric, used to keep track of a reader’s progress in a book and allow the reader to easily return to where the previous reading session ended. Alternate materials for bookmarks are papermetals like silver and brass, silkwoodcord (sewing), and plastic. Some books may have one or more bookmarks made of woven ribbon sewn into the binding. Other bookmarks incorporate a page-flap that enables them to be clipped on a page.’

What is missing in Wikipedia’s blurb is that not all bookmarks are made for all books. In fact, I take great care in selecting a bookmark; it needs to be ‘just right’ with the book I am reading. It’s not hard science, it’s more a gut feeling. What bookmark fits the genre of this book, the content of that book, the book cover? Or do I sense a nexus between the book’s story and a particular bookmark? The happy heart book marker with the red checkered ribbon does not belong between the pages of a crime story. The paperclip with the crocheted flower is a trusted travel companion for paperbacks. Made by the mother of Jo, our friend in Anchorage, Alaska, it’s the perfect lightweight, unobtrusive and impossible to lose bookmark while underway.

From my BFF
The Dutch collection

From Alaska and Japan

Bookmarks easily find a place in the suitcase of other travellers. Over the years I have been delighted by bookmarks brought back from Singapore, The Netherlands, Japan and overseas museums. In an exquisite paper shop in Japan I bought beautifully folded kimono paper bookmarks. Recalling that I gave my library colleagues one, it makes me wonder where I left mine… Did I leave it in a book? Did I really not finish a book???

I cannot recall buying a bookmark in the last twenty years or so, most bookmarks have been a gift. My bookmark box is a treasure and memory cove.

The New Zealand collection

I love the metal clips with Māori designs; beautiful, different, functional. I gaze at the everchanging picture of the huskies. I reminisce while using bookmarks from my BFF.

Huskies in 2D

The latest edition was a birthday gift from her to me. Much thought has gone into this purchase: this metal bookmark is sturdy, it has a magnifying glass that I can use to explore my stamp collection (another tiny side hobby of mine) or to read small print when the light is not bright. It has a different ruler on each side and doesn’t its Victorian-like pattern look gorgeous?

Let the reading begin.


featherston booktown

We had it all planned. Time off work. Accommodation. Dogs booked in the kennels. Neighbours on mail collection duty. Our hearts full of anticipation and excitement and hungry for books and more. Because we were heading to the Featherston Booktown Festival! Then the borders closed, the world stopped its usual turning. Early May 2020 New Zealand was still in lockdown with slightly less restrictions at level 3, but gatherings were out of the question. The festival was cancelled…

In a previous blog I relayed our recent visit to some of Featherston’s bookshops, a month or so before the upcoming festival. In a way it offered some consolation for missing the big event last year.

The festival’s programme oozes fabulous, confrontational and inspiring conversations and events. If you’re short of ideas for this weekend (7-9 May) and fancy a drive to the stunning Wairarapa autumn scenery, do not hesitate, just go. You may need to beg a friend or relative for a bed as accommodation is probably booked out, but hey, a small sacrifice for this wondrous festival of authors, illustrators, readers, books, stories, book sellers, book shops and the ever supportive Featherston community.

Not able to attend? Allow the programme to inspire or pique your interest on booktown.nz.


The Featherston Booktown Karukatea Festival adds new Chapters for 2021

bookshops forever

It surely has not escaped your attention that the almighty bookshop still exists. Their existence was presumed doomed when e-books loomed in every corner of the internet. But for those (like me) who firmly believe in the magic of holding a book, turning real pages and being mesmerized by a cover, the bookshop (and the library obviously) would always be the preferred portal to other worlds.

What is truly amazing is the increase in independent bookshops in most notably smaller New Zealand towns, as if the pandemic thrusted people in finally plunging into the deep unknown but oh so exciting dark and murky waters of pursuing dreams.

Point in case is Chicken & Frog in Featherston, opened about 8 months ago by Joanna Ludbrook, a retired school librarian.

We visited just a couple of days ago, because Featherston, New Zealand’s own booktown, was on my to-do list. We didn’t manage to visit all of Featherston’s bookshops (a simple reason to revisit), in fact we only got to number one, two and three out of seven. We enjoyed time browsing and lounging with a hot chocolate in Loco Coffee and Books (second hand) and loved inspecting every corner of The Featherston Ferret (second hand).

And number three was Chicken & Frog, housed in previous medical rooms now transformed into themed spaces, cozy spots and reading nooks. The bookshop is filled with such an inspiring collection of children’s books including a wide range of non-fiction books because that is Joanna’s passion.


Greytown, only a stone’s throw away from Featherston, has not had an independent bookshop in decades until Mrs Blackwell’s Village Bookshop opened its doors a few months ago. The old Greytown Library building has been put to excellent use with book covers demanding to be picked up for a closer look and fine stationary to drool over (I’m like Pavlov’s dog when I see or smell stationary).

Looking into the topic of independent booksellers in NZ, I came across so many wonderful bookstores, each making their mark in a unique way and surviving. Does anyone have a list that I can share?

When you visit a new place, check out their local library and if you manage to restrain yourself to buying only one book in the local bookshop you’re a legend.