Translator wins Governor General literary award

Jim Day
Published on December 4, 2014

Peter Feldstein, left, who divides his time between P.E.I. and Montreal, accepts a 2014 Governor General’s Literary Award from Gov. Gen. David Johnston in a ceremony at Rideau Hall in Ottawa.

©Submitted photo

Peter Feldstein works hard at finding just the right word or phrase.

In fact, the 52-year-old Feldstein needs to come up with the most fitting 500,000 or so words each year.

That is the rough count of his annual translation of the written word from French to English or from Spanish to English.

Interesting work considering Feldstein, who spends about five months a year in P.E.I. on a farm in South Melville and the remainder in Montreal, grew up as an anglophone in New York.

The ability to both speak and write the French and Spanish languages well would come later.

Feldstein has tallied more than 20 years experience as a translator and simultaneous interpreter.

His published translations include Quebec Identity, Hummocks, African American Pioneers of Sociology, and The Idea of Liberty in Canada during the Age of Atlantic Revolutions.

His most recent work has earned Feldstein the prestigious 2014 Governor General’s Literary Award in the translation category French to English for his translation of Francois-Marc Gagnon’s comprehensive biography of Paul-Émile Borduas, a Quebec cultural figure renowned for both his art and his thought.

“Oh it’s just wonderful,’’ Feldstein says of the esteemed professional acknowledgement. “It’s a delight.’’

Feldstein describes translating academic books from one language to another as an adventure.

Often faced with a sector or culture that is quite foreign, he must work deligently to become versed in a specific subject matter “to a pretty significant degree.’’

Feldstein reads the author very carefully to get a sense of how he or she writes. He works in close collaboration with the author, editors, and publisher of a work he is translating.

He approaches all of his written translation with the somewhat contested working assumption that people are all the same no matter what language is spoken.

“So a translator assumes that the correct translation is out there and just goes gets it,’’ he says.

“A book has been well translated when it has preserved the content and style of the original ... the more creative it gets, the more there can be issues.’’