Utrechts Maria Postema, bringing novels to life

It was a great pleasure to have a conversation with translator Maria Postema.

Maria is 37 years old, and lives in Utrecht-Oost. She work s as a freelance children’s book translator and has translated books from English to Dutch like the Twilight series, the Hunger Games, Divergent and many more. Her current project is a YA-adaptation of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein for Dutch publishing company Blossom Books.

She can also be found behind the counter of the Utrechtse Kinderboekwinkel at an irregular basis. Maria studied English Language & Culture and Film & Television Studies at the University of Utrecht, specialising in Translation. I thought it would be fascinating to get an insight into the translating world and Maria didn’t let me down.

What got you into translating?
“I have always loved books, stories and reading. In high school I read The BFG by Roald Dahl and realised for the first time that someone had translated that into De GVR – the Dutch version I read as a child. It seemed like a dream job and I was determined to become a children’s book translator when I grew up. And here I am!”

How do you make sure you keep the authors meanings?
“Translators are probably the best, closest readers of a written work: we read it many times to make sure we don’t miss anything. When in doubt, I ask other translators for help or ask the author for clarification.”

What is the favourite book you have translated?
“That must be The Hunger Games – not only a great book, but also one that has been read by many, many readers. A translator’s dream! As for more recent work, I really like the Blackthorn series by Canadian writer Kevin Sands (Dutch title De sleutel van Sleedoorn), about an apothecary’s apprentice in 17th century London, and Long Way Down (67 seconden) by Jason Reynolds, a novel in free verse about an Afro-American teen who has to deal with gang violence and the rules of the street.”

Do you want to write your own children’s novel? You must have learnt a lot about how to and how not to write!
“As a matter of fact, I already wrote one! Together with Maarten Bruns, a good friend of mine, I  wrote Dertiendagh. It is a YA novel about a group of teens who secretly explore the old WWII bunkers near The Hague and Scheveningen. When they discover that an international group of scientists conducted secret experiments in the bunkers during the war, things start to go horribly wrong… Dertiendagh was published by Uitgeverij Leopold in June 2017 and Maarten and I are currently working on our second novel, to be published in the fall of 2019.”

Do you think a book ever becomes the translators? I read a lot of Scandinavian crime and I often wonder who is saying what. How do you stay neutral?
“Of course translating is to some extent a personal matter –

give a book to ten translators and you will get ten different versions.

But I think the job of a good translator is to capture the author’s words in smooth Dutch (or any other language), to the point that your readers might not even realise they are reading a translation. Of course you have to keep paying close attention and keep asking yourself which word or phrase would work best in the given context, and make sure you are not using certain words out of habit.”

Do you often challenge the author if you find that something doesn’t work?
“Sometimes you discover small mistakes or continuity errors in a book, and I usually ask the author how they would like to solve these. If something is unclear or doesn’t seem right, I also ask the author whether I should leave it this way or if we can find a different solution.”

What are main differences between English people and Dutch? Do you have to think of these differences when translating?
“I only translate books for children and young adults, so I have to make sure that Dutch children or teenagers will have the same ‘reading experience’ as their British or American peers. That means that I sometimes add a few explanatory words when it comes to a brand or other cultural phenomenon that we don’t know in Holland and is important for the story. I also have to find Dutch solutions for puns and jokes – always a puzzle, but also the joy of translating. For younger children I sometimes find more Dutch sounding alternatives for very Anglo-Saxon names, because a lot of unfamiliar names do not make for a very smooth reading experience. I also translate quite a lot of fantasy, where I of course have to find Dutch alternatives for made-up places and objects.”

Does Utrecht inspire you as a person?
“Most certainly! I went to both high school and university in Utrecht, so there’s a lot of history in these streets for me. I love the fact that Utrecht is still a city that feels like a village, although it does seem a bit crowded lately. I have many friends here and I also play drums in a band that is based in Utrecht: Le Garage. I have an office near the Neude, together with other translators and copy writers, and we often pop into town during lunch breaks. So I feel a strong connection with Utrecht in both my personal as my professional life.”

Where is your favourite place in Utrecht?
“I love the Utrechtse Kinderboekwinkel, where I have worked many years – and still do, occasionally. What a joy to be surrounded by books all day! I also really love the secluded Kloostertuin besides the Dom church, where you are immediately transported back to the Middle Ages. On nice days I like to walk from my home along the green banks of the Kromme Rijn to Amelisweerd and Rhijnauwen.”

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Jon Wilkins

Jon Wilkins is Welsh and lives in England. He is a writer. A Europhile and Remainer, he is a regular visitor to Utrecht and has set his crime novel series in the city.

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