Having worked as a translator in the field of Nordic literature for the past three decades or so, it occurs to me from time to time that the work has definitely had an influence on the way my life has developed over that span of time. It has taken me to places both geographical and intellectual which I might never have visited had I become involved in some other area of endeavour. I have met people who have told me things and given me insights that I would never have seen and heard if I'd stayed at home within the confines of the English language. And above all, I've had an opportunity to get acquainted with a part of European cultural identity and history that often remains hidden from the world of Anglo-Saxon culture - a view from the North that is often clearer and less encumbered with ingrained national preconceptions about issues that relate to international co-operation and co-existence, for example.
On the other hand, the world of Nordic writing is rather a small one. As a translator of Finnish, Danish or Finland-Swedish authors, one can easily become inadvisably involved in the tensions that affect these literary communities, and are often acted out in the columns of newspapers and journals, or on radio and TV. Also, because the languages of the Nordic countries are not widely known outside the Nordic area, the English-language translator is placed in a special position that he or she does not necessarily have in relation to languages like French or German. Authors in the Nordic countries have a particular motivation towards getting their work known and read outside the Nordic region, and translators are perhaps the main conduit for such aspirations. There can also be peculiar nuances of protocol and etiquertte - I can recall authors present at a Norwegian seminar for foreign translators insisting that they had no interest at all in being translated: among them it was simply considered indecent to be seen promoting oneself by seeking the translation of one's work.
And then there are the stories - the incidents and events and happenings that inevitably occur in the course of a translator's career. Many of these narratives are of a personal nature, and should probably never be told in public - they probably are akin to the experiences of members of the consulting professions in that they often involve deep-seated emotional responses on the part of their clients. After all, a translator working with a living author is frequently put in a position analogous to that of a counsellor or a confessional priest - and doubtless has the same obligation of confidentiality, though this is nowhere set down or defined.
My own feeling is that most of such stories should probably not be told. Yet from time to time it's possible that one or two of them may be posted here - and if that happens, we'll do our best to see to it that identities remain obscured, and that at least the authors, if not the translators, are protected by a cloak of anonymity.