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'The sound to my voice': Norman Erikson Pasaribu on translator Tiffany Tsao

Devina Heriyanto
Devina Heriyanto

The Jakarta Post

Jakarta  /  Tue, January 22, 2019  /  03:32 pm
'The sound to my voice': Norman Erikson Pasaribu on translator Tiffany Tsao

'Sergius Mencari Bacchus' by Norman Erikson Pasaribu. The book was translated into English as 'Sergius Seeks Bacchus' by Tiffany Tsao. (Shutterstock/*)

Sergius Seeks Bacchus author Norman Erikson Pasaribu is on a mission to bring translator Tiffany Tsao to London.

Norman was among 12 writers selected to attend the 2019 London Book Fair, to be held at Olympia on March 12 to 14, to promote Indonesian books abroad. Indonesia was named the Market Focus Country for this year’s fair, marking the first time a Southeast Asian country has received the honor.

To fund Tiffany’s trip, Norman put up pre-order sales for the English version of Sergius Seeks Bacchus on his personal Twitter account @nrmnp. For Rp 220,000 (US$15.46), one can get the book and a bonus chapbook that contains a poem and illustrations by Norman.

Sergius Mencari Bacchus won the 2015 Jakarta Arts Council (DKJ) Poetry Book Competition. Tiffany Tsao’s translation of the book was one of the winning entries of PEN Presents East and Southeast Asia and received a PEN Translates Award from the English PEN in London. The book is slated to be published by UK publisher Tilted Axis Press this March and Australia’s Giramondo in May.

“The need to bring the translator there is because the translation is her work. The book is no longer my work alone,” Norman said when speaking to The Jakarta Post on Monday evening.

“A translation is an act of reassembling a body. Tiffany has given a sound to my voice. The translation process is as important as the writing itself.

Norman said that translating queer poetry was very political and required great care, citing as an example his poem Curriculum Vitae, which tells the story of a queer in Bekasi, West Java, who is also a minority in terms of religion and race.

“How do we read a queer text written with non-gendered pronouns? How do we render the experiences inside, which can be comfortably non-binary because of the language itself, into English, a language where everything is so defined? Are we going take this person as a male based on their sex at birth? How we answer is political and important,” said Norman.

Deciding on the use of gender pronouns was made even more complicated by the fact that some characters in Norman’s book are divine beings.

“Indonesian is more flexible about this. But what about English? Are we going to continue translating the divine as a he? Shouldn’t we start using female and non-binary pronouns more?” he said. “Especially in today’s context, where the Pope invalidates trans-lives. In translating Indonesian text to English, choosing a pronoun is a political act, and we know translation plays a big role in decolonization. We need to acknowledge this heavy lifting in order to progress.”

Tiffany and Norman worked together closely during the translation process of Sergius Seeks Bacchus. He admitted that his idea of gender changed a lot during the translation process, and he started to think more about gender from different perspectives the more he used English.

“In Indonesian, trans-people can use the same pronouns as cis [those whose gender identity is the same as their sex],” said Norman. “In a way, for me, this is more inclusive.” (wng)

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