International meeting of experts on Czech language and literature kicks off in Prague

An international meeting of Czech language and literature experts, among them teachers and translators, kicked off at Prager Literaturhaus, a Czech institute that promotes Prague’s German literary heritage. For the next four days, lovers of the Czech language will be discussing their field of expertise and exchanging their findings in a number of seminars, panel discussions and lectures. On the first day of the international get-together, we speak with Kristin Kilsti, a Norwegian literary translator who works from Czech into her native tongue.

Prager Literaturhaus
“It’s of course very important for us as translators because we are so lonely, working in our offices all around the world, and despite having the internet and other ways to connect virtually, it is wonderful to meet. I would say that the 34 of us who are here now, from Japan, Russia, Germany, Norway and so on, we are a group of people that already know each other. And it is of highest importance that such meetings and seminars are organized here in Prague.”

What are some of the highlights on the program?

“The program today is very interesting. We have been working with contemporary prose and drama. And last night was very enjoyable and also very interesting. We had a literary meeting in the literary café Fra, and the topic was Jáchym Topol and his translators. There were four of us translators on the panel and we had a nice discussion with Jáchym, he is a great person to be on a panel with, because he is such a natural showman. We were discussing the linguistic and literary challenges of translating Jáchym Topol’s prose into different languages. And it was very useful and interesting, I would say.”

You are from Norway, where of course Czech is not widely spoken. How did you discover your interest in the Czech language?

“I was very fond of literature growing up; I remember reading Milan Kundera and Václav Havel in the 1980s. And I absolutely loved Czech fairytales like Tří oříšky pro popelku (Czech version of Cinderella). I was so lucky to have been invited to teach English for absolute beginners at a summer school out in Roudnice nad Labem. That was the first time I was in the Czech Republic, and I was amazed by the language and the culture. So I thought I should at least learn a little bit of Czech. And one thing led to another, and in the end I had a university degree in Czech language and literature and now I work in the field of literary translations.”

You translate contemporary Czech literature into Norwegian. How is the market for such translations, is this sort of niche in danger?

“I think that this is actually seen as an issue today, that translators are some sort of endangered species, but I think that despite this, translated books will always be in demand. And with smaller languages it is even more important. So I think that even with e-books becoming more and more popular and cutting into the regular book market, an end of translated literature is not in sight.”