Ask a translator: Bringing a deeply personal memoir to a new audience

The Local Sweden's Book Club has been reading Never Stop Walking, a memoir by Brazilian-born Christina Rickardsson who describes her childhood in poverty and her journey of reconnecting with her past. We spoke to translator Tara Chace about the experience of bringing Rickardsson's story to an English-speaking audience.

Ask a translator: Bringing a deeply personal memoir to a new audience
Translator Tara Chace has translated more than forty novels from Swedish, Danish and Norwegian. Photo: Libby Lewis

What was your personal reaction to reading the book itself, and to the task of translating it?

Rickardsson's story is riveting, and you so rarely read first-hand accounts by adults who grew up in circumstances like Rickardsson's. I particularly loved how beautifully she drew the distinction between a loving parent and a parent with the privilege or systemic supports to be able to provide a stable home.

But personally – although the details of her life make for gripping reading – I was most struck by what a talented writer she is. In her very unique voice, with her very unique story, she turned her biography into what I found to be an exquisite multicultural mystery/coming-of-age tale.

How much contact did you have with Christina Rickardsson during the translation process?

Almost none. She was very gracious and willing to answer questions, but I think I only had one or two questions for her from the whole book.


Were any parts of the book particularly challenging to translate?

The hardest parts for me were figuring out the Portuguese terms for things – especially the names of plants, animals, insects, foods – that were described only in Swedish! Each of these became a little puzzle for me as I tried to figure out what the correct Portuguese term might be. American readers tend to be very comfortable with food terms in other languages, so for that American audience I sometimes decided to leave terms in Portuguese and just add a description if needed.

As an example, when the Swedish text talked about ostbröd (a type of Brazilian cheese bread made with tapioca flour often eaten at breakfast), I ultimately decided to use the Portuguese term pão de queijo (along with a description of what it is) because I knew many North American readers would be familiar with the Portuguese name. There's a place that sells this not far from my house!

READ ALSO: What Book Club members thought of Never Stop Walking by Christina Rickardsson

Photo: Bezav Mahmod/SvD/TT

Which were your favourite parts of the book?

I lived in Hawaiʻi as a kid and grew up to be an American Scandinavian translator. So, on a deeply personal level, I really related to the multicultural, tropical vs. Nordic juxtapositions. But way beyond that, my favorite parts were her descriptions of life in the caves, life on the streets, her memories of her childhood friends, and especially the allegory of her skydiving. Oh – and I especially enjoyed her description of how welcoming her birth family was to her when she finally rediscovered them.

Do you have a particular routine, or a method when you translate?

I've been a full-time freelance translator for about 20 years. I approach my work the way it sounds like many authors do, generally working specific hours every business day. I try to have a goal in mind for how many words or pages to translate each day, but there are always sections that move more slowly because they require a lot of terminological research or nuance, or that move more quickly because they contain a lot of dialogue or straightforward exposition.

I always devote extra time after my first translation pass to do a careful read-through using my internal 'English ear' to listen to the flow and cadence of the text in English, once my brain is further removed from the Swedish. I imagine Swedish speakers who have studied English and struggled with adverb placement will chuckle that I spend a lot of time during this phase moving adverbs to better spots in a sentence!

Tara Chace has translated more than forty novels from Swedish, Danish, and Norwegian. Her Swedish translations have included works by Jan Stocklassa, Christina Rickardsson, Sven Nordqvist, Johanne Hildebrandt, Johan Theorin, Viveca and Camilla Sten, Simona Ahrnstedt, Caroline Eriksson, Åsa Träff, Camilla Grebe, and Per Nilsson. Her translation of Nilsson's You & You & You won the LA Times Book Award in 2006. An avid reader and language learner, Chace earned her doctorate in Scandinavian languages and literature from the University of Washington in 2003. She enjoys translating literature for adults and children. She lives in Seattle with her family.

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