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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

“My own writers”

I’ve been in the field so long that I can already look back on my career path with a critical eye. I have been blessed with many of “my own writers”, whose works I have translated in their entirety. I have translated all the works of the contemporary American author John Irving to date, with a Finnish translation of the latest novel manuscript forthcoming. The writer’s style and themes have become so familiar that I imagine I know him as a person better than I do, although we have met on a number of occasions over the years.

A few years back when I translated Irving’s first novel Setting Free the Bears (1968). I wrote the postscript. It’s been 25 years since I translated The World According to Garp and I wanted to translate the 1968 novel so the writer’s career trajectory would be complete. The first novel has the first shoots of the hit writer’s themes, subjects that later suffused his extensive output.

John Irving and his trusted Finnish translator, some time in the 1980's. Photo: Pertti Nisonen.​
John Irving and his trusted Finnish translator, some time in the 1980's. Photo: Pertti Nisonen.​

“My other writer” is Alice Munro. I’ve been working with her too for thirty years.

The Nobel prizewinner’s wisdom and carefully crafted story collections have been enjoyable to work with. I’m grateful that now, having had some experience of life, I’ve got to translate her tales dealing with sharply observed turning points in a woman’s life. I met Alice Munro in 1986 at the Toronto Literary Festival, having already translated two of her story collections. Not long ago I chanced upon a paperback in which she had written “Good luck, Kristiina!” Munro’s dry humour. Munro has talked about how she “wanders around in the short story like it was a house, touching and moving things from place to place”. The translator follows in the author’s footsteps in the same way experiencing and sensing different possibilities. As a translator, the visual is as important to me as heard experiences. My drama activities as a young woman have been a great help in getting a sense of a book’s characters.

An acquaintance writing in a newer way about a woman’s life is Siri Hustvedt, whose novels offer a portrait of contemporary urban reality in America and a woman’s place in it. Hustvedt is a writer I first drew to the attention of a number of publishers with no luck, until she was taken up by the publisher Otava. The way Hustvedt wraps her works in art, art history, the detailed descriptions of practising art, all this divides opinion among readers, but I like Hustvedt’s sense of aesthetics.

My third favourite American author is Philip Roth. Chancing upon my ancient study book, logging among others a course on sentence structure, I swore to myself that I would never structure anything again. But in ‘resolving’ the sentences in Roth’s American Pastoral, sentences which ran to several pages, I had no choice but to eat my words and grab my pencil! Nor has the grammar been allowed to gather dust at a later stage either. The work of the translator is a very specific exercise in dismantling and building up again. The structure of the source text has to be resurrected in a new position within the new language so that it doesn’t collapse and the joins don’t show. Roth’s trilogy was a profound journey into American society, seen through Jewish eyes.

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