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Madame Asterix: Promoting local elements in literary translations

Juliana Harsianti
Juliana Harsianti

The Jakarta Post

Jakarta | Mon, February 19, 2018 | 08:59 am
Madame Asterix: Promoting local elements in literary translations

Reading literary works in Indonesian translation with local elements makes an enjoyable pastime, which is the case with the Asterix comic series translated from French by Maria Antonia Rahartati Bambang Haryo, aka Madame Asterix. (IFI Jakarta/File)

Reading literary works in Indonesian translation with local elements makes an enjoyable pastime, which is the case with the Asterix comic series translated from French by Maria Antonia Rahartati Bambang Haryo, aka Madame Asterix.

The local version of Asterix is loved by fans of all generations for being rendered in the familiar ambience of Indonesia by Tati, as Maria is commonly called. Besides adapting character names, she has modified the lyrics of the French song of Roman soldiers, using those written by songwriter Titiek Puspa.

“Uderzo, one of the creators of Asterix and Obelix, once visited Indonesia and asked me how I translated Asterix,” said Tati.

She revealed that she had made many adaptations for the Indonesian version, because a literal translation from French would not have conveyed the humor in the story.

“At first I was anxious in case Uderzo disliked my approach, but then he responded with a laugh and said it was the most appropriate method,” she added. Uderzo himself acknowledged that Asterix could not simply be translated directly into foreign languages because of the French nature of its humor and conversations. Tati felt relieved to hear that her efforts had paid off.

With her 33 years of translation experience, Tati indeed strives to be a conscientious translator by conducting proper research, if possible by communicating with the author. She related her extensive consultation with American writer Junot Diaz when she was translating The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao.

Tati sent her questions by email, asking about the various aspects of Dominican culture in America and the possibility of changing some features to make them more palatable for Indonesians. Her questions were answered in detail by the author.

“Everything was clearly explained, including the suitability of some alternatives for the Indonesian audience,” said the South Jakartan.

“A translator should always be humble and keep asking as well as learning to increase knowledge,” Tati said.

She was referring to her previous translation of a book about the Catholic faith.

“I misinterpreted a term, which could have been avoided had I asked the editor, a priest who I know,” she admitted. As a Catholic, Tati felt she sufficiently understood the writing, making her reluctant to question the point.

The local version of Asterix is loved by fans of all generations for being rendered in the familiar ambience of Indonesia by Maria Antonia Rahartati Bambang Haryo, aka Madame Asterix.The local version of Asterix is loved by fans of all generations for being rendered in the familiar ambience of Indonesia by Maria Antonia Rahartati Bambang Haryo, aka Madame Asterix. (IFI Jakarta/File)

Despite her many other translations, Tati has been nicknamed Madame Asterix as she was made famous by the comic books. She enjoyed reading Asterix so much that she didn’t hesitate to accept the offer to translate the comic books, which chronicle the daily life and adventures of the people of Gaul in the Roman era. She finished her translation test quickly, even though she used a typewriter.

“It usually took me around three days to translate each comic,” Tati said.

While working on the translations, she could not help but admire the authors, Uderzo and Goscinny, for managing to slip social criticism and French history into the amusing tales.

“It serves as proof that criticism does not have to be serious but can be conveyed through humor, which is just acceptable to the public at large,” she pointed out.

The job Tati loves most has nothing to do with her family’s profession, though.

“My father is a musician who has introduced gamelan lessons to schools,” she said. But she takes note of her entire family’s great sense of humor, which she believes comes through in her comic translations.

According to Tati, her family spontaneously joke with each other whenever they are talking. This strong sense of humor makes it easier for her to come up with amusing scenes for the comic series, which has been received well by Indonesian readers. “Without growing up in this family steeped in humor, the funny dialogues in Asterix wouldn’t appear,” she said with a laugh.

Yet Tati also expressed her dissatisfaction with the status of translators, who were currently still accorded meager appreciation.

“It’s actually translators who present foreign works in the Indonesian language,” she stressed. In spite of their as yet less important position today, Tati appealed that translators value their own abilities by charging higher rates.

In her view, many translators are still unwilling to charge higher rates for fear of losing jobs to newcomers. Tati, who has finished translating the latest volume of Asterix, affirms that experienced translators who offer a high quality product will never lose their clients.

“I think the honorarium issue concerns the way we value ourselves, despite the absence of a proper place for translators yet,” she said.

Tati is now working on a novel, Dora Bruder, written by French writer Patrick Modiano, the recipient of the 2014 Nobel Prize in Literature.

“I’ve made some notes on questions to ask the author,” said Tati, who also has other translations on the go, and takes care of some plants in her yard.

“Gardening serves as exercise for me, especially after sitting too long,” she said.

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