Burnsville native who dreams in Bulgarian wins share of international Booker Prize
When Angela Rodel studied linguistics at Yale University, she had no idea that translation was a legitimate career. On Tuesday, she shared the prestigious International Booker Prize for translating Georgi Gospodinov’s “Time Shelter” from Bulgarian into English.
“We had eight hours of interviews today. It’s insane! But I’m not complaining,” Rodel said by phone from London, where Booker’s ceremony took place. She and Gospodinov split the prize of approximately $62,000 for the best translation work published in the UK.
A 1992 graduate of Burnsville High School, Rodel studied Russian and German at Yale, in part because “I was a dark, anxious teenager. One of the French teachers also started teaching Russian.”
At Yale, Rodel joined a Slavic choir after hearing the music and thinking, “I want my voice to sound like that.”
She went to Bulgaria as a Fulbright scholar after Yale, then earned a master’s degree in linguistics at UCLA. On a return visit to Bulgaria in 2004, “I decided to stay. My husband at the time was a musician and a poet and Sofia is a very small town. We all knew each other, so I met all these writers. Someone would give me a poem or a story and I would translate it, just for fun.”
Almost by accident, she became a full-time translator, which she now balances with the position of executive director of the Bulgarian Fulbright Commission.
Rodel hopes Booker’s acknowledgment will help change the notion that translated works are “second-hand goods.”
“There’s a perception that it’s kind of ‘less than’ because it wasn’t originally in English. But there are brilliant, talented writers all over the world,” Rodel said, who speaks Bulgarian at home with her husband Viktor and daughter Kerana and often dreams in the language.
His job is not line-by-line transcription but something more astute.
“You want the reader to have a similar emotional experience in the translation as they would in the original. You’re trying to capture the atmosphere, the style of the work. So if there’s anything experimental , there should be something experimental about the translation,” Rodel said. “If there’s a humorous novel, with puns, maybe you can’t do exactly the same pun in a given sentence, but there may be an opportunity to do one a few sentences later that works in English.”
The Bulgarian language presents challenges for an English translator, including different verb tenses and gendered nouns.
The Burnsville native has often worked with Gospodinov, who also lives in Sofia. When the two learned that ‘Time Shelter’ was on the 13-book longlist in March, she said, “We thought, ‘This is amazing. A Bulgarian book has never even made it to the longlist. , so that’ll be the end of that.”
They won it all at a ceremony where actor Toby Stephens read “Time Shelter.”
“The invitation said to ‘dress smart,'” said Rodel, who nodded to translation art by pairing a cocktail dress with a Bulgarian folk art necklace. “It all started at 6am but they didn’t announce the price until 10am so we were all dying.”
Rodel is working on several projects, including the translation of a Bulgarian novel which will be published in January. Meanwhile, she and her daughter Karena will visit Eagan in July for a family reunion and lots of time in Minnesota parks.
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