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Kristiina Rikman

Born November 23, 1947

Bachelor of Arts (Finnish, Finnish Literature, Phonetics), University of Helsinki

Freelance Translator specialising in literature, 1972-
Teacher of Finnish Translation, University of Helsinki, 1981-1989

Finnish translator of children’s and young adults’ fiction, detective novels, travel guides, non-fiction, and contemporary novels from the Swedish and English for various publishers.

Positions of trust
Board member, Finnish Association of Translators and Interpreters (SKTL), 1992-1993
Chair, literary branch of SKTL, 1993-1995
Chair, SKTL, 1996-8 and 1998-1999
Board member, Forum Artis Registered Company, 1994-1995, 1996-1997; Deputy Chair, 1997-1998.
Ministry of Education, Taisto II Commission, 1999
Deputy Chair, Arts Promotion Centre, 2001-3, 2004-2006
Member of Panel of Judges, Finlandia Prize, 2011

Awards and Honours
Pro Finlandia Medal, 2014
Erkki Reenpää Prize for Translation, 2012
SKTL, Gold Award, 2000
SKTL, Silver Award, 1990
Artist’s Pension, 2008
WSOY Publishers, Translation Award, 2004
Bursary from City of Helsinki
Bursary from Finnish Cultural Foundation, 1982, 1988, 1998, 2000, 2006 and 2008
State five year Artist Bursary, 2001-5
State three-year Artist Bursary, 1984-1986 and 1995-1997
State one-year Artist Bursary, 1981 and 1992
State Award, 1981 and 2008

Photo: Riitta Virtasalmi
Written by Kristiina Rikman (Tero Juutilainen ed.)
Translated by John Calton

Four shelf metres

A number of people have asked me why I don’t write something of my own. My response is that all my translations are “my own”. The Finnish translator’s most important tool is their own language. On the basis of source language the translator generates writing in their own language, writing which should fulfil the same quality and artistic criteria as writing by a Finnish writer. A good translation is read with no sense of the original. The Finnish translator is expected to have a passionate relation to language, particularly their own, a creative artistic talent, endurance, tenacity and the ability to work independently. The loneliness is compensated by the countless literary characters in whose company daily reality can often become blurred! Of course your foreign (in my case English) language skills need to be kept up. I read a lot of English literature, newspapers and I watch a ridiculous amount of television. Spending time in the source language is important, not least for a sense of atmosphere.

The translator’s task is often said to be hopeless. In my experience everything can be translated. It’s another matter whether the translation meets the reader’s expectations. We should never forget that languages are not a perfect fit. The translation is always the translator’s interpretation, the outcome of a viewpoint. The reader, be it of the original text or the translation, always shapes their understanding according to their own experience. The Finnish translator will have to ransack the text again and again and get to know it more thoroughly than the general reader. But there is no absolutely correct translation. The fact that you get to translate different writers’ styles and subject matter is invigorating and keeps your own sense of language sharp. I have been fortunate to get to do this work among these pleasant writers.

The small, but cozy, office. Photo: Laila Nevakivi.​
The small, but cozy, office. Photo: Laila Nevakivi.​

I have translated all kinds of writing. From detective novels to children’s books, from travel guides to demanding literary works. Every job has taught me something new, the translator’s vocation being something of a renaissance calling: you get to find out about apple growing and abortions, the legal system of ancient China and Italian criminal investigations.

Work has taught me many things which might seem trivial, but are important to the translator. At present my translations take up nearly four metres of shelf space. I can’t even imagine how many pages that would be.

The translator’s work has changed in the forty years I have been doing the job. I have progressed from the heavy Triumph travel typewriter to a light laptop, and with the internet fact checking and information searches have made things much easier. By the same token, the demands made by the publisher have grown: schedules are tighter. But the actual translation process is still what take place between the translator’s ears.


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