Blue Night by Simone Buchholz
Translated by Rachel Ward
After convicting a superior for corruption and shooting off a gangster’s crown jewels, the career of Hamburg’s most hard-bitten state prosecutor, Chastity Riley, has taken a nose dive: she has been transferred to the tedium of witness protection to prevent her making any more trouble. However, when she is assigned to the case of an anonymous man lying under police guard in hospital – almost every bone in his body broken, a finger cut off, and refusing to speak in anything other than riddles – Chastity’s instinct for the big, exciting case kicks in. Using all her powers of persuasion, she soon gains her charge’s confidence, and finds herself on the trail to Leipzig, a new ally, and a whole heap of lethal synthetic drugs. When she discovers that a friend and former colleague is trying to bring down Hamburg’s Albanian mafia kingpin single-handedly, it looks like Chas Riley’s dull life on witness protection really has been short-lived… Fresh, fiendishly fast-paced and full of devious twists and all the hard-boiled poetry and acerbic wit of the best noir, Blue Night marks the stunning start of a brilliant new crime series, from one of Germany’s bestselling authors.
#GuestPost by Rachel ward:
There isn’t really such a thing as a typical day for me as a translator, as everything varies so much from one project to another. I was working on Blue Night at the same time as translating a book on the history of human rights policy in the 20th century, so I’d work on that in the mornings and switch to Riley’s Hamburg in the afternoons.
Both books had their own set of challenges. The human rights book is long, dense and complex, and it involved a lot of untangling convoluted academic sentences, trying to get to grips with what the author wanted to say. So Blue Night was a lot more fun to work on but it had a whole set of difficulties of its own, starting with the self-doubt. Could I do this? Could I really recreate Riley’s voice in English? One of the things I love so much about Simone’s text is the way every word is precisely placed, carefully chosen, doing its job. Could I really have the nerve to pull off the same trick in another language that works so differently? Would it risk tipping over into a Chandleresque pastiche?
There were linguistic difficulties, cultural differences, the need to convey the sense of Hamburg (a city I’ve never visited, but long to see) and occasional snippets of Austrian and Hamburg dialect. My first attempt at Joe’s slipping into Austrian dialect, reverting to childhood speech as he falls asleep, was “I were a good lad, a right good lad.” It mirrors the original quite nicely, except that then he sounded like he came from Yorkshire… I’ve done my best by the voice and tried to convey the same effects, even if not always by the same means.
For my first book translation, I was working at a rickety computer desk with my dictionary in my lap, dial-up internet (remember that?) and little feedback from anyone but my very patient husband. I could use the university library to find bigger dictionaries, and more technical ones, but now I’m staggered by how few resources I used. Now, with all the wonders of the internet at my disposal, I can research practically any subject under the sun without moving from my desk. I turned to friends and colleagues in real life conversation, professional forums and social media, and they provided much needed help, inspiration and flashes of genius. We discussed slang terms for eyes (English doesn’t have enough that don’t sound horribly dated – ogles, peepers…?!), football terminology, how to convey in English what an Austrian accent sounds like to a German and much else besides.
To take one example, when Riley travels to Leipzig, she visits a bar called the Ost-Pol, and Simone’s description of it is a typical of her style. I was struggling with the sentence, so I turned to a Facebook group for translators working between German and English. In the course of the conversation, it turned out that not only was this a real bar, but that one of the group members had been there the night before. Now I had an eye-witness of the place to help me fine-tune the translation. And here’s what we ended up with:
“’At the Ost-Pol,’ Wieczorkowski said earlier, when I asked him the best place to get a few beers.
‘Like the North or South Poles, but in the East.’
I can’t think of a name that would suit this place better. Clear and uncompromising and dark and glorious and perfectly off-beat. The predominant colours are light brown, dark brown, and orange, or all at once, preferably in decades-old wavy or checked patterns. All the men have untrimmed beards; lots of them are wearing peculiar caps. A punk band is playing in the next door room. They’re torturing their guitars; a woman with a very loud and very sad voice sings: Now it’s broken.”
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