Fulfilling the Mission: A Conversation with Olga Tokarczuk’s Translators

By Jennifer CroftDecember 7, 2020

Fulfilling the Mission: A Conversation with Olga Tokarczuk’s Translators
I RECENTLY HAD the chance to catch up with a dozen friends and fellow translators of Polish Nobel Laureate Olga Tokarczuk at the finale of the summer series Translating the Future, organized by Esther Allen and Allison Markin Powell. We talked about our languages, processes, philosophies, and more — and while in many ways we’re all very different, we have one very important thing in common: a love of Olga’s work and a wholehearted dedication to carrying it over into our own cultures for more people to appreciate and enjoy. That conversation, facilitated by Susan Harris, was such a joy that I wanted to continue it further, so I followed up with everyone over email and am pleased to share their thoughts here.

Author image: Olga Tokarczuk in Stockholm, on the eve of her Nobel (Photo by Jennifer Croft)


JENNIFER CROFT: How did you feel when OT’s Nobel Prize was announced? Where were you when you heard the news? For example, I found out at 4:05 a.m. in Los Angeles and started screaming, terrifying my cats.

OLGA BAGIŃSKA-SHINZATO (Brazilian Portuguese): Some time before the announcement (one or two weeks before) I had a very, very strong feeling that Olga would win. It’s very hard to explain where this feeling came from. It was a very strong intuition, so when it was announced (I was at the university getting ready to teach a class), I was overwhelmed by an amazing feeling of peace, serenity, and a strong conviction, something like: “I knew it!” I was extremely happy. It was an amazing moment and an amazing feeling.

PAVEL PEČ (Czech): Well, it was actually my dad (!) who announced the splendid news to me. He was the first voice reaching out to me from the outside world. I was watching the live stream from the Swedish Royal Academy on my balcony as I do every year. My internet connection had frozen, though, and as Murphy’s law would have it, it happened just before the names of the laureates were about to be announced, and then, of course, it only came back the moment they were showing the caricatures of Peter Handke and Olga Tokarczuk on the screen while the announcer was reading out the laudation for Mr. Handke. I was puzzled as hell! I had been staring at the phone for half a minute like that, seeing a picture of Olga next to the Austrian writer, not knowing what to make of all of this (“Is there a playoff this year, or what?”) when the very same phone rang, and then my father fortunately broke the news to me. I was jogged out of my stupor by his enthusiastic voice and blurted out to him: “I know!” So, I suppose my answer to your question, Jenny, really is: “I felt so confused!”

Oh, and yes, and I screamed too afterward, and not just one time! I scared all the cats and dogs in the neighborhood!

LISA PALMES (German): The evening before the winner of the Nobel Prize was announced, Olga and I were at the launch of The Books of Jacob in Potsdam. Olga was discussed there as a possible winner. Whether she herself had some premonition, I could not say. She seemed quite indifferent. But the bookstore owner, a journalist, and I were still speculating about this possibility even in the car on our way back to Berlin. I must admit that I didn’t really believe it, it sounded too much like a fantasy to me — like something that could never happen in reality.

The next day the winner was going to be announced at 1:00 p.m. I was working on something completely different, and probably because I had not really believed it was going to happen, I had somehow gotten the possibility of OT winning the Nobel completely out of my mind and paid absolutely no attention to the time. At 1:20, our publisher called me and yelled into the phone excitedly. It took me a few seconds to recognize what she was talking about, which I hope she didn’t notice (and doesn’t read now!), but when I figured it out, of course I was as excited as she was. I immediately called my co-translator of The Books of Jacob, the also very excited Lothar Quinkenstein. As for the other work I had been doing, I definitely didn’t think about it any more that day.

LOTHAR QUINKENSTEIN (German): I was on a train from Berlin to Bielefeld. I left Berlin sometime in the morning that day, to travel — as an interpreter — to a reading Olga was giving, the second reading from The Books of Jacob in Germany (our translation had just been published). At 1:05 p.m., I got a text message from my wife Gosia that read: “OLGA!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”

I had to get up from my seat and walk on the corridor, otherwise I would have fainted — and when people started staring at me with these irritated faces, I realized I had a huge grin on my face, that I was smiling from ear to ear. From that moment on, I was traveling to a reading by Nobel Laureate Olga Tokarczuk …

The funny thing is, there’s been this joke going around Germany that Bielefeld actually doesn’t exist (it has to do with the alleged insignificance of the town). But on that evening, the whole world was looking at Bielefeld.

BARBARA DELFINO (Italian): Exactly one year ago, I was having lunch with my mother. She was watching TV, and I was watching the Nobel Prize announcement on my cell phone on the table, which I’d propped up against a glass. I was wearing my headphones, which I know is not polite — but it was for a good cause! The announcement began, and I didn’t understand any of what they were saying in Swedish, but I did recognize the name Olga Tokarczuk. Like you, Jenny, I started screaming, the phone started ringing (which it continued to do well into the next day), and I didn’t finish my lunch. I confess that I was excited almost to the point of tears. From that moment on, something changed in my professional life, and I began to fulfill my mission in a more concrete way.

SUNGEUN CHOI (Korean): I was at home after work when I heard the wonderful news. It was at 8:00 in the evening. At 8:03 I got a phone call from the editor who published Olga Tokarczuk’s book Primeval and Other Times in Korea. She and I started screaming. From then on, my phone rang for two hours. It was the first time in my life to receive so many phone calls in a couple of hours. I spoke to almost every newspaper and TV station in Korea, but the questions were similar. Who is Olga Tokarczuk? Why do you think she received the Nobel Prize for Literature?

HIKARU OGURA (Japanese): I received a phone call from a newspaper at 8:00 p.m. while checking the galleys of Primeval and Other Times in Japanese at my home. I was of course so excited that night that I could not sleep at all. From that point, the editor and I worked very hard together over the following month, and at last the book was successfully published at the end of November.

MILICA MARKIĆ (Serbian): That day, I was preparing for my trip to Radom, Poland, for a gathering of Witold Gombrowicz’s translators, and while I was hastily browsing the news on the internet, not yet seeing anything, the phone rang. The call was from the editor of the influential weekly Vreme, asking me if I wanted to write something for the next issue because Olga Tokarczuk had just won the Nobel Prize. In complete exaltation, I started screaming with joy, so that the editor laughed very sweetly — he was glad that I received the news from him. It would have been unimaginable to me before that I would receive so much space in the pages of Vreme, and I could not have been happier. In Radom, remembering that Gombrowicz should have received this award in the late 1960s, we all took the opportunity to make a toast to Olga’s Nobel. Then, somehow, the idea of going together to Stockholm was born, where we, her translators, would be close to Olga, and where we would celebrate this great event for all of us together.

CRISTINA GODUN (Romanian): I was at the airport, standing in line to board a plane that would take me to Poland, where I would attend a gathering of Gombrowicz’s translators. I got a message from my editor saying, “Congratulations!” I didn’t know why, so I asked him … You can imagine my uncontained joy. I wasn’t surprised though; I had been expecting this piece of news.

Pavel’s cat (Photo by Pavel)

Olga’s books are part of Polish literature, but they are also part of world literature. How do you explain her ability to strike that balance, and how does that balance play out in your translations?

OBS: OT, as incredible as it might seem, is both a local writer and at the same time a universal one. She has the ability to transform local elements, characteristics, and topics into universal ones. This, to my mind, is the philosophical and metaphysical key to Olga’s texts. She gets inside our unconscious, our collective memory, makes the process universal, but she also attaches it to a specific local environment. The crossing of the borders in her texts has a local (real and specific) dimension, but at the same time a universal dimension (crossing our human limits like our bodies, minds, cultures, etc.). Even when you read about 17th-century Poland or Ukraine, you can identify with the issues there, too. And the poetic dimension of Olga’s writing makes you feel and understand these issues and problems, and even become a part of the scenery and the landscape. Somehow, I feel that this might be the definition (or one of the definitions) of the “tender narrator” she spoke of in her Nobel lecture, for tenderness is something very universal, a primordial and basic emotion and feeling (or even the very first one) all (or most) of us experience immediately after birth. I would say it’s the first emotion we experience in contact with the first person we meet in our life: our mother. Given that, Olga’s writing has the power to caress, to involve, to make you feel part of the scenery, independent of your nationality, language, religion, background. And it has the power to wake up, to ignite all sorts of emotions in readers (and I believe in the translators as well). For me, Olga’s texts are like paintings, tender studies of the human soul, body, emotions, mind.

SC: OT has said that “the provinces are those areas of human experience from which most essential things come to us. Not obvious, far from the center, questioning what seems natural to the mainstream …” I totally agree with her. I think that in the era of globalization and digital information, the value of locality has increased, and the concept of World Literature is different from before.

At the same time Olga Tokarczuk’s works (like all the great literary works) have universal humanism in them, despite the fact that their themes concern local problems, and many of them are set in small towns in Poland (as the author herself mentioned). Olga in her novels describes ordinary people, their feelings, emotions, and experiences in a poetic and genuinely poignant way. Olga’s work is full of tenderness for the world and for the others (not only humans, but also animals and plants), and this is what makes it so amazing and universal.It also seems to me that the subjects of OT’s work naturally attract the readers in the 21st century and draw their attention — for example, the nomadic nature of humans, the attempt to look at the world around us in a different way, myth as a universal model of human fate, the combination of realism and fantasy. World Literature should fill in the voids and gaps not covered in local literature. In my opinion that the “global universality contained in the specificity of the region and province” is a requirement for World literature in the 21st century. Maybe that's why Olga Tokarczuk won the Nobel Prize.

MM: Olga as a local and universal writer is highly recognizable in terms of topics that are the nemesis of the people in the region of the Southwest Balkans in dealing with identity-related issues, the mixture that Yugoslavia represented as a melting pot of ethnicities and religions. The first book of hers translated was The Journey of the Book People, and it is good that the reader’s adventure with Olga in Serbia (then still Yugoslavia, but in a mutilated form) started with that book, because the plot takes place in France in the 17th century, but already strongly raises the theme of religious persecution. In the afterword I wrote in the first edition of the book, in 2001, I touched on this seemingly incidental topic of the exodus of Huguenots from France. Then the late Tadeusz Komendant visited us on the occasion of the publication of Olga Tokarczuk and Natasza Goerke in Serbia and he told me that none of the critics had written about it in Poland. I was very proud of it, but it somehow naturally coincided with my way of living and existing at the time: as an ardent religious practitioner, I was very sensitive to religious issues. Had the topic been narrowly Polish, the book certainly would not have had such an echo. Almost 10 years later, in 2010, when Flights was published in our country, this was only confirmed. Namely, the chair of the jury for the biggest Serbian literary award (the NIN) stated that instead of any of the domestic candidates for the prize, she would choose Flights, a book that is out of competition as a foreign literature, because: “This Polish woman writes like no one else in our country! She taught us a lesson! It is an unsurpassed work, both in terms of genre, topic, and style.”

PETR VIDLÁK (Czech): The genius of her work and the well-deserved admiration she’s received stems from a rarely seen combination of this accessibility with a clear and repetitive, predictable structure, a precise poetics, and a focus on the universal themes of today. In my opinion, this is a feature of every world-class writer. From this point of view, Olga is more European, Czech, German, American, and Ukrainian, or even Brazilian and Japanese, than merely Polish. Her art is totally in the service of humanity. This is my attitude as a translator and, therefore, the most careful reader.

LQ: Speaking in terms of The Books of Jacob, which is for us — Lisa and me — our most intense experience of Olga’s writing to date, I would say that the enormous power of this novel consists in the meticulous local settings, which transcend the specific at the same time and attain a kind of universal significance (“Write local, think global!”). The history of Central Europe, in which the Jews played an essential role, as Milan Kundera put it in his legendary “Tragedy of Central Europe” essay, reveals everywhere how each local Central European microcosmos with its rich diversity (in language, culture, religion) becomes a mirror image of a universal experience. (OT’s earlier novel House of Day, House of Night would also be a good example, of course.)

At the Bruno Schulz Festival in 2018 in Drohobych, Olga created a wonderful metaphor, which is actually more a precise description of a real loss than a metaphor, namely that we can look at Schulz’s lost novel Messiah as the epitome of Central Europe, and that our awareness of that irreplaceable loss radiates an enormous power of inspiration until this very day. So, extending the metaphor, the Central European literature is, in a way, still “searching” for its lost Messiah. This holds true for The Books of Jacob, in which, by the way, the alleged first sentence of Schulz’s Messiah is quoted! But beyond that, also the journey of the eternal stranger is the epitome of a universal experience — a reflection of the human condition.

What stylistic elements of OT’s work are most important to you as a translator, and how do you strive to preserve or transform them in your language?

OBS: The poetry, the tenderness of descriptions, and of the language. A peculiar sense of humor (as in Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead).

HIKARU OGURA (Japanese): I believe the poetic aspects of her prose manifest through her style and use of metaphor. Her writing style is sometimes quite simple and is pleasing to the ear when read aloud. I take great care not to break that feeling of “comfort” when translating her work, which I feel is reflected in my word choice, word order, and other aspects.

Additionally, her novel contains a variety of metaphors that convey vivid images. In a previous interview, she explained that “well-written prose includes poetry.” That interview is now around 20 years old (or more, I don’t remember), but I believe that “prose incorporating poetry” is a faithful description of her work.

For example, from House of Day, House of Night, in ALJ’s translation:

If I weren’t a person, I’d be a mushroom. I would be generous to all insect life; I would give away my body to snails and maggots.

This is my favorite part of this book. The “mushroom” functions in her work (and not only House of Day) as a metaphor for “tolerance” and the acceptance and recognition of others. It is a feminine representation that destroys the patriarchal hierarchy. I love the fact that she expresses such philosophical and “arcane” ideas in a simple and rhythmic style, and I would like Japanese readers to enjoy this as well.

How much of your own style comes out in your translations?

PP: A lot of it, as I am often aware, and I’m not entirely sure if it’s right or wrong! For the most part, it amounts to some indefinite, largely instinctive way of thinking about different metaphors, situations, and characters’ minds, but also about the physical and tangible reality present in the books and characters I “re-interpret” (rather than translate). Naturally, I am trying my translator’s best to overcome my own personal ways of thinking and writing, both so very often working their obnoxious way into the text, but I’m not sure I can overcome this burning desire every single time. And I guess every translator can relate to this, at least I like thinking that I’m not alone. After all, a translator is human, too! So, my sincere apologies to all “my authors,” but I think especially Olga would agree that it’s for the most part a good thing to put one’s own mind into the special shoes a writer wears called “language and style.” And kill me if she wouldn’t!

CG: I think it’s impossible not to leave something of our own imprint on the text when translating it. I filter the original through my own blueprint and education, and even if I try to be in a complete state of neutrality toward the original text and to detach from my own cultural upbringing, I have to rely on my intuition as well when I opt for one particular word in a context and not another one with a synonymous meaning. I delve so deep into the text when I translate that rendering it into my own language seems like channeling the original.

LQ: That’s a good question! And a tricky one … Being a writer myself, and being a reader with an enormous interest in style with any author I read, I think it is inevitable that something from my own style makes its way into my translations. But being aware of style also means being able to change registers. So I would say the whole thing is about making your own inclinations and preferences “useful” for the translation — being aware of sound and rhythm, syntax and melody, “ritardandi” and “accelerandi,” and trying to transfer that — to make the melody you hear in the original “work” in your own language.

OBS: It definitely comes out in my translations, although I always try to transmit Olga’s style, maintain the most important characteristics of it.

MM: This is a very good question that often preoccupies me. Is it me or is it a writer speaking through me? Because I chose the writer myself, it’s no coincidence. Do I put my words in his or her mouth? No matter how hard we try to be “objective,” “accurate,” “faithful,” something personal will always come out of us, and that is probably inevitable. On one occasion, Olga said that she did not have a biography of her own, because how else could she dedicate herself to creating so many lives in her books? But isn’t it also the case that each of the characters in her books hides a part of her?

On the other hand, if we are talking about communicativeness within literature and getting into life by means of this, I am quite convinced of some higher powers that govern events. As we translate, we take what is strange and implement those elements in our environment. Thanks to the translation of Olga’s books, I took the word “udostępnić” from Polish, which we do not have in such a form in the Serbian language — we, like English, use the description “to make something available.” Quite boldly I coined a new word that was well received, because it has a good logical-creative principle, so this word entered the Dictionary of Synonyms, which I am very proud of.

PV: I think I can responsibly state that the influence of my idiolect undoubtedly exists. But I feel that it benefits the final text and maybe even enriches it with something, thanks to which the Czech reader is not forced to decode Polish-Czech cultural differences because I do this work for him in my Czech. For more than 20 years, I have thought that Olga writes exactly as I would if I could. I wish every translator into all languages and from any language could have this feeling. I was just lucky …

BD: I recognize that I have my own writing style, but I try not to let it out, especially when the writer’s style I’m translating is very far from mine. With my work, I want to give Italian readers who do not know Polish the opportunity to read writers who would otherwise remain unknown to them. When I finished my studies and was ready to enter the world of work I gave myself this mission. If I wanted to be famous and visible, I would have chosen another job.

How do differences between the Polish language and your language condition your translations? For example, I found it funny that OT’s sentences seem short, even “telegraphic,” in Italian, according to Barbara, while English-language editors often divide OT’s sentences into two or three. 

LP: In German, Olga’s sentences are mostly longer than in the Polish original. I think the reason is here that German — similarly to English — is a language where the position of the words in the sentence is instantly important, and their inflection is not so visible, whereas in Slavic languages like Polish the inflection is more visible and the word position less important, which results in more structural variety. Additionally, Polish is often more economic than German, a language that cannot stuff so much information into single words or phrases like Polish. These two facts — and surely many others — are the reason why a translator into German is forced to create more subordinate clauses and divide long sentences in two or three.

Olga’s language in the German “sound” is mostly considered to be long sentences and slow descriptions. This is how structural language specifics co-decide about a writer’s voice.

OBS: Definitely the formality of the Polish language and the informality of Brazilian Portuguese are the main issue. Sometimes you have to be more descriptive in Brazilian Portuguese. Because of cultural differences it’s difficult to find the exact vocabulary or terms that are as concise as in Polish. I would say that one of the characteristics of the Polish language is that it’s descriptive in a concise way (especially with all its prefixes and suffixes). Brazilian Portuguese is quite not as concise, but it’s very malleable and poetic.

MM: Slavic languages ​​are related to each other, but that is exactly why there are huge traps that can easily swallow you — they are false friends, words that sound the same but have a completely different meaning. Polish is a very baroque language, and as a mirror of Polish culture it offers a wide space for creative interventions. A big problem for me is the participles that we do not use in the Serbian language, although we know about them. With the great language reform in the 19th century, they were thrown out of use in literary language, which is a big handicap, because participles are a sign of a good language economy.

In addition, the Polish language fits very well with the plural form which is natural, while in the Serbian language it is very difficult to make a plural form for certain nouns (for example we have no plural for word “snowman”), and the passive forms are also natural, while our language feels better in active form. One of the difficulties is also the rule of transcription, that foreign names and titles must be orthographically adapted to the Serbian language, and this requires considerable research.

Antonia, how do you think the English-speaking world reacts to Polish literature, and has this reaction evolved over the course of your career?

ANTONIA LLOYD-JONES (English): Polish literature has generally had a hard time on the English-language market, where it must compete with other translated literature in what we all know to be a very small space. Unlike some other European literatures, Polish isn’t represented in English by any major 19th-century writers, because the country was effectively nonexistent for 123 years until 1918; the strongest representative of Polish literature abroad was Joseph Conrad, who wrote in English. Another disadvantage is the stereotypical thinking that associates Poland with nothing but World War II and the Holocaust, ignoring the fact that postwar and contemporary Polish literature has far more to offer than just harrowing ordeals, death, and destruction.

Over my career, which began in 1990, I have seen increased interest in translated literature in English as a whole, largely thanks to the efforts of translators, who have become well organized and have formed a supportive community. There are more Polish books in translation, though the numbers are still quite small compared with, for example, Spanish. Mentorships have proved a useful way to equip translators with the practical skills they need to get their work published, and Polish publishers have become much better at selling foreign rights, with a small number of agents operating now as well. Support from Polish state-funded organizations has made a huge difference too — the Book Institute has been a godsend over the past two decades by providing translations grants and various forms of support for translators, and the Polish Cultural Institutes in London and New York have funded promotion and mentorships.

The combined efforts of translators, publishers, and cultural institutes in Poland and abroad gave Polish literature in English a huge boost in 2017, when Poland was the “market focus” country at the London Book Fair, an opportunity to cast light on authors including OT, whose novel Flights was fast-tracked for publication to coincide with that book fair, and went on to win the Man Booker International Prize.

So things have definitely moved in the right direction in the past 30 years, and I hope the trend will continue. As well as prompting huge sales of her books in English, OT’s Nobel Prize has been very positive for Polish literature in English in general, reminding the world that it exists and that it isn’t just about World War II.

Milica, you’ve adopted Polish as a kind of second first language. What does Polish mean to you?

MM: For me, the Polish language represents the second homeland, independently chosen. I exist in both languages ​​every day, and that has a significant impact on me. It happened to me twice that I dared to translate two of our poets into Polish, and those poems were published by two Polish periodicals (Fraza and Fabularie), but it is a process that requires the intervention of a native speaker. I maintain ties with Polish Slavists and we often exchange opinions. Whenever I feel insecure, I consult with them. They translate Serbian writers into Polish, so they know our language and culture very well. It is an inevitable litmus test for me to pass my translations through. It is a great cooperation and enables the opening of a special vision of cultural exchange, taking over cultural models and transforming them. Today’s age of accelerated communication has opened many windows for us and encouraged our hidden potentials to manifest more comprehensively. For example, ecopoetics has not been developed in our country at all, and the translation of Julia Fiedorczuk’s poetry has opened that window in domestic literature.

Milica gives an interview in Stockholm (Photo by the author)

Olga, I was very interested to hear that the adopted language into which you translate, Brazilian Portuguese, feels more like “your” language to you than your first language, which is Polish. I’m curious what translation means to you, given that feeling, and how important it is to you to bring over works from Polish into Portuguese. Do you translate in order to share certain aspects of Polish culture or literature with the people of Brazil? Do you write in Portuguese?

OBS: To me translation is a way of life, a bridge between people and cultures. Ever since I can remember (when I was a child), I grew up in circumstances that shaped me to be a kind of a medium between people, languages, cultures, mentalities, and realities. I write in Portuguese. Actually, I prefer to write in Portuguese (or English) than in Polish. I feel that I can express myself more clearly and freely than in Polish. The Polish language for me is limiting, too formal, maybe. Writing in Portuguese or English gives me a sense of pleasure and satisfaction. I actually thought about it after reading your question (I don’t remember thinking about it ever before) and came to a conclusion that feeling more comfortable writing in Portuguese or English probably has to do with the fact that I started writing and learned to write in English (also creative writing) before I learned to write in Polish (due to the fact that I went to school in the US), so for me it was more natural to express myself in a language which (in theory) was not my mother tongue. I feel that Brazilian Portuguese gives me the possibility to be “me,” to express my emotions, to transmit what I feel without having to use an “armor” or “carapace” to hide my emotivity. That’s probably why I feel very comfortable translating Olga’s novels, exactly because of their emotivity, something I would say is not very common in Poland. Unlike the Brazilians, Polish people tend to hide their emotions — that’s why I perceive writing in Polish as something rigid (probably because when I returned to Poland after living for many years in the US I had already learned to communicate in English and did not feel very comfortable writing in Polish because of some sort of insecurity that it awoke in me).

I translate to share the best that Poland and Polish culture has to offer to the world. I was born in Poland and despite growing up and living abroad for many years, I have a strong identification with the Polish culture, which I catalyze in translating Polish literature. At the same time, there are many aspects of it that I would change (if I could), or that I don’t like, for example, the lack of openness to other cultures (cultural empathy and cross-cultural awareness) or ideas that I feel Poland has lost (or is in the process of losing) and that literature is still able to rescue, or redeem. I believe that Olga’s works play a very important role in the process of redeeming what we’ve lost or forgotten as a nation, or what has been repressed into the unconscious over time.


Olga Bagińska-Shinzato is a translator, literary scholar, linguist, and Brazilianist. She graduated from the University of Warsaw and the University of Brasília, where she majored in Literary Studies. She currently lectures on Brazilian literature and Brazilian Portuguese language at the Faculty of Modern Languages at the University of Warsaw, where she is also the co-founder of the Brazilian Studies Department at the Institute of Iberian and Latin American Studies. Her translations into Brazilian Portuguese include Olga Tokarczuk’s Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead, Flights, Andrzej Sapkowski’s Witcher saga, Polish 20th- and 21st-century poetry, and children’s literature, including A. Mizielinska and D. Mizielinski’s Maps and Piotr Socha’s The Book of Bees.

Barbara Delfino is an Italian translator who translates from Polish, Russian, French and English into Italian. She is specialized in translation of fiction and non-fiction from Polish and Russian into Italian and among the authors that she has translated are Katarzyna Grochola, Hanna Kowalewska, Adam Michnik, Olga Tokarczuk, Mariusz Wilk, Ivan Turgenev, Evgenij Zamjatin. Since 2015 she is director of the literary prize “Premio Polski Kot” for the best work of the year translated into Italian from a Salvic language. The literary prize is an important event of the international Festival Slavika held in Turin (Italy) every year in March, to which she collaborates for the organization of literary events.

Cristina Godun is an associate professor of Polish language within the Department of Russian and Slavic Philology at the Faculty of Foreign Languages and Literatures, University in Bucharest, author of a monograph on Tadeusz Różewicz’s dramaturgy (Teatr Tadeusza Różewicza, București, 2008), A contemporary grammar of Polish language. The morphology of nouns and determiners (București, 2009), The Phonetics, Phonology and Morphonology of Polish Language (București, 2010), co-author to three dictionaries of Polish and two textbooks for learning Polish. She has translated 30 books (from English and Polish) of prominent writers (e.g., Andrzej Stasiuk, Olga Tokarczuk, Witold Gombrowicz, Szczepan Twardoch, Lidia Ostałowska, Mariusz Szczygieł, Marek Krajewski, Zygmunt Miłoszewski, etc.). Her translation of Olga Tokarczuk’s Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead was awarded with the Special Prize for Translation for 2019 from the Writers’ Union of Romania.

Antonia Lloyd-Jones has translated works by several of Poland’s leading contemporary novelists and reportage authors, as well as crime fiction, poetry, and children’s books. Her translation of Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead by 2018 Nobel Prize laureate Olga Tokarczuk was shortlisted for the 2019 Man Booker International Prize. She is a mentor for the Emerging Translators’ Mentorship Programme, and former co-chair of the UK Translators Association.

Sungeun Choi is a professor of Polish Studies at Hankuk University of Foreign Studies. She holds a PhD in Polish Literature from the University of Warsaw. She has translated 30 books (from Polish) of prominent writers (i.e. Adam Mickiewicz, Henryk Sienkiewicz, Bolesław Prus, Maria Konopnicka, Witold Gombrowicz, Zbigniew Herbert, Tadeusz Różewicz, Wisława Szymborska, Sławomir Mrożek, Ryszard Kapuściński, Adam Zagajewski and Olga Tokarczuk). So far she has translated three books (Primeval and Other Times, Flights, and Drive Your Plow over the Bones of the Dead) by Olga Tokarczuk into Korean.

Milica Markić (1966, Belgrade). Graduated from the Department of Polish Studies at the Faculty of Philology in Belgrade in 1991. Until 2009, she worked in the publishing houses Nolit and Clio, and in the Library of State Authorities. Member of the Association of Literary Translators since 2004; freelance artist status since 2009. She is engaged in popularizing contemporary Polish literature, in choosing works that will enter into a creative dialogue with domestic culture, but also in refreshing translations of Polish classics, in revaluing binding models, and finally in establishing bridges between Serbian and Polish writers. She has translated forty books written by Polish authors, nine of which by Olga Tokarczuk. She translates Polish prose, poetry, and essays.

Hikaru Ogura is an associate professor of comparative literature in the department of Japanese Literature and Culture at Toyo University. She holds PhD in Russian literature from the University of Tokyo, her lectures in comparative literature concern Slavic literature and culture. So far, she has translated four books by Olga Tokarczuk into Japanese. She is currently translating Olga’s Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead. 

Pavel Peč is a Czech translator from English and Polish and teacher of foreign languages. After graduating from Palacky University, he received a translation fellowship at the Book Institute in Kraków, Poland, and stayed behind in the city for five more years, teaching Czech for foreigners. Among the authors that he has translated into Czech so far are Krzysztof Varga, Paweł Huelle, Olga Tokarczuk, Zygmunt Miłoszewski, Stephen King, etc. His main areas of focus in translation are prose, drama, visual arts and AV media, film, and TV. He also interprets at international film festivals. He currently lives in the town of Český Těšín, Czech Republic, just a few hundred meters from the Czech-Polish border on the Olza River.

Petr Vidlák is a Czech translator of Polish literature, he is also teaching Polish literature and translation studies at the University of Ostrava. He has translated dozens of books by Polish authors, dominated by the work of Olga Tokarczuk, most of whose books he has translated. In addition, he has translated Stefan Chwin, Witold Gombrowicz, and other Polish authors, including scholarly works. He collaborates with Czech Radio on the popularization of Polish literature in the Czech Republic. He lives in Ostrava.

Lisa Palmes studied Polish and German Studies in Berlin and Warsaw, and since 2008 has been working as a translator of Polish literature. She has collaborated with Lothar Quinkenstein on the translation of the autobiography of Ludwik Hirszfeld and on Olga Tokarczuk’s The Books of Jacob, and they will be working together on her short story collection, Playing Many Drums.

Lothar Quinkenstein is a writer and translator of Polish literature, and he teaches Intercultural German Studies at Collegium Polonicum in Słubice. Together with Lisa Palmes, he translated Olga Tokarczuk’s The Books of Jacob (2019). His translation of Olga Tokarczuk’s Bizarre stories will come out next spring. Last year, he published his second novel Souterrain, and recently a book with autobiographical prose: Wiesenzeit. In 2017, he was awarded with the Jabłonowski-Prize, in the same year, he received the Spiegelungen-Prize for poetry.


Jennifer Croft is a writer and translator. She is the author Homesick (Unnamed Press, 2019), which was originally written in Spanish and will be published in Argentina as Serpientes y escaleras in 2021. She holds a PhD from Northwestern University and an MFA from the University of Iowa. Her work has appeared in The New York Timesn+1BOMB, VICE, GuernicaElectric Literature,Lit Hub, The New Republic, The Guardian, The Chicago Tribune, and elsewhere.

LARB Contributor

Jennifer Croft is a writer and translator. She is the author Homesick (Unnamed Press, 2019), which was originally written in Spanish and will be published in Argentina as Serpientes y escaleras in 2021.  She was a 2018–’19 Cullman Fellow at the New York Public Library, and is also the recipient of Fulbright, PEN, MacDowell, and National Endowment for the Arts grants and fellowships, as well as the inaugural Michael Henry Heim Prize for Translation and a Tin House Scholarship. She holds a PhD from Northwestern University and an MFA from the University of Iowa. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, n+1, BOMB, VICE, Guernica, Electric Literature, Lit Hub, The New Republic, The Guardian, the Chicago Tribune, and elsewhere.


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